Because I feel like I had such a terrific labor & delivery experience as well as a remarkably easy recovery period (thus far anyway), today I’d like to share my tips for how other women can also achieve a satisfying & easy (ok, easier- it’s never going to be easy) labor & delivery & postpartum phase. While I am a nurse I am certainly no expert on labor & delivery or postpartum care. I am just a regular first time mom trying to survive each new day. Interestingly enough I went into nursing thinking I wanted to do L&D because I had volunteered on an L&D unit as a teenager & thought it sounded fun & exciting. However, once I got to OB clinical I realized I just wasn’t that interested in this area of nursing. I found I liked old people better. Who’d have guessed? Anyway, as with most things in life I truly believe the key to having a satisfying birth & postpartum experience is setting yourself up for success . . . aka being as prepared as possible. Here are my tips for how to make that happen.
- Hire a doula: I remember learning about doulas in nursing school & thinking they sounded a bit “hocus pocus.” I couldn’t fathom why I’d need/want to pay someone other than my husband or best friend to be my labor support person. However, as my own pregnancy progressed & I started to realize how difficult labor might be, particularly with my goal of avoiding pain meds or an epidural, the thought of a doula suddenly sounded brilliant. I remembered seeing a card for Emerald Doulas in the waiting room of my midwifery office, so I started Googling them. Within minutes I knew I’d found the perfect group for me. I was 34 weeks when I contacted the group & was thrilled to find they still had openings. At 35 weeks my husband & I met with two of the doulas (Melanie & Chelsea) & reviewed our goals for our childbirth experience. Immediately I knew we were in the perfect hands. At 37 weeks they came to our house to further review our goals for birth. I can’t say enough wonderful things about my husband & how he handled my L&D experience, especially toward the end when I was getting pretty hysterical & difficult to console. He was absolutely perfect & my love for him has grown exponentially because of how wonderful he was during this experience. However, I truly believe part of why he handled everything so well was having the doula there to provide support for him as well. If he needed to step out for a drink/snack/bathroom break, he didn’t have to feel guilty that he was leaving me alone. Nor did I have to worry about him becoming overwhelmed because I knew he had a support person too. I’m so incredibly glad I took the advice of a friend & hired a doula. Both my husband & I swear I wouldn’t have survived a natural, unmedicated birth without her (Chelsea turned out to be the doula on call that day). Remember, no matter how much your mom/sister/best friend loves you they are not (normally) versed in coaching a woman through childbirth, so having an objective labor support expert is often a better choice because they are more likely to remain coherent & logical when you’re not so coherent & logical. Also remember labor can be a long process so having a backup person to help your partner is worth its weight in gold.
- Hire/find a lactation consultant: The nurses in the hospital were great but they simply didn’t have enough time to devote to each patient for really detailed breastfeeding teaching. As a nurse myself, I totally understand this so I made plans in advance to meet with a lactation consultant (Victoria) from our doula group. I ended up having to put this off a few days when Rachel was readmitted for bili light therapy, but I am so, so glad I didn’t cancel it altogether. At the beginning of Victoria’s visit I told her I was mainly interested in pumping because I liked knowing exactly how many mL Rachel was getting with each feeding. But I also told her that our pediatrician (who is also a lactation consultant!!) told us we no longer really needed to worry about that because we could tell by her weight, labs, & output (# of dirty/wet diapers) that she was getting enough milk. Victoria encouraged me to focus more on actually feeding at the breast, at least for a few days, before relying mostly/solely on the pump. With her help, we had the best breastfeeding session up till that time. Victoria gave me a list of personalized suggestions & tips including buying a larger nipple shield & larger flanges for the pump. The former of these turned out to be the perfect solution for us. I‘ve now exclusively fed at the breast for three days & I couldn’t be happier with how it’s going. Rachel has far less gas & hiccup issues & sleeps better between feedings (for the most part; cluster feedings ARE real but that’s true whether you’re pumping or not). A few more helpful hints for breastfeeding are listed below:
- Target has great nursing bras, & they’re half the price of the ones at the mall. The Gilligan O’Malley brand makes great ones.
- Get a Boppy pillow. You will not regret it. It makes nursing so much easier, especially since it frees up your hands. Plus it has multiple uses outside of breastfeeding as the baby grows.
- Invest in some lanolin.
- Stay in shape . . . Better yet, be in good shape before you’re even pregnant! Seriously, I do not think I could have pushed through a natural labor (literally pushed!) if I weren’t in as good of shape as I am. Trust me, I’m no supermodel, marathon runner, or Olympian, but no matter how hard it got I kept up some type of exercise throughout the entire pregnancy. Honestly the hardest time to do that was the first trimester when the fatigue & nausea were overwhelming at times. The last few weeks were pretty rough too, but I still forced myself to take the stairs as often as possible & to sneak in short workouts at the gym, even if all they consisted of was 10-15 minutes of free weights/machines & 5-10 minutes on the elliptical. If nothing else, I tried to walk Chaucer (our corgi) around the community at least a few days a week. I never counted that as exercise before I was pregnant but by the end of the pregnancy I definitely did. There is so much research that shows that women who are in good physical shape before & during pregnancy have shorter, easier labors with fewer complications. I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of a better reason to get my butt moving!
- Drink lots of water, including during labor: This is one I definitely struggled with at times. I was never a big water drinker before I was pregnant but I knew how important it was so I did my best to make it a priority. During labor, if you can’t tolerate anything else, at least suck on some ice chips. Whether or not you’re getting IV fluids your body needs as much hydration as it can get. Plus your mouth will definitely be dry & a few ice chips or sips of water here & there can make a huge difference.
- Bring popsicles & other clear liquid (or solid) snacks to the hospital: My midwives are pretty relaxed so I didn’t have many restrictions on eating during labor. However, once I was on the Pitocin I was only allowed clear liquids, which is pretty standard. Prior to that I was eating saltines & Kind granola bars every few hours to keep up my energy. Once the Pitocin was initiated I was so grateful that I had thought to bring popsicles with me. Every hospital is different but many places won’t deny you snacks but won’t necessarily provide them either. This is where bringing your own comes in handy. Toward the end of pushing I was so exhausted & I’m so glad I had my husband & doula there spoon feeding me little bites of popsicle between pushes.
6. Walk often, both during labor & afterward: I knew from the childbirth class I had taken as well as my own research that staying mobile during labor is a great way to both manage pain & help labor progress. As it turned out whether I wanted to ambulate frequently or not I had to because I had to pee every 30 minutes to an hour! As the contractions increased in intensity & frequency I found that lying in bed was the worst possible position. Yes, I was tired so I wanted to lie down but it was actually the most uncomfortable position. Plus I knew the more I was up the more likely labor would progress faster. I was out of bed within two hours postpartum (to use the bathroom) & taking walks in the hall as soon as the next day. Some of the nurses seemed surprised to see me up & moving around so much (I’ll admit I saw almost no other moms in the hall despite the unit being very full), but I knew the worst thing I could do for stiffness & pain was to lie in bed all day. 7. Take the stool softeners the hospital offers you: Ah, the dreaded first postpartum poop! I had read so much about how horrible this experience would be. At the risk of TMI, let me just say that if you drink plenty of water, get out of bed frequently, & take the stool softeners the hospital offers you, your chances of surviving this experience with minimal to no “trauma” are excellent. I will say that only having required 2-3 stitches probably made this experience much easier for me than it is for some others. Just remember, the longer you put if off, the worse it will be.8. Take ibuprofen regularly postpartum, even if your pain is only mild: One of the greatest things that has shocked me about the postpartum phase is how little pain I’ve had. Considering the intense pain of labor, I was expecting MUCH worse. Again I’m sure this is partly due to having a small(er) baby (6 lbs 12 oz) & only requiring a few stitches. But I also think that taking the ibuprofen regularly, even when I didn’t really feel like I needed it, has helped immensely. Remember, ibuprofen is an NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug) so it will help with the swelling which will in turn help with the pain. 9. Ask for/bring a mirror to help you during pushing: When you tour the birth center, make sure to inquire whether they provide mirrors. If not, bring your own. Our hospital provided a nice large mirror & I can’t tell you how helpful that was during pushing time. I was so close to admitting defeat, but every time I looked down & saw Rachel’s little head I knew how close she was & that gave me the strength to keep going.10. Take a childbirth class: And don’t be afraid to take it early in the pregnancy. The sooner you have a birth plan in mind the better. If at all possible, make sure your partner accompanies you because you’ll be amazed at the things they might remember when you’re in the throes of labor & can’t remember anything at all. If you’re in the RDU area, I highly recommend Birthing With Confidence by Anne Brand. My husband & I were both extremely impressed with this class. It will be particularly useful if you’re trying for an unmedicated birth because she focuses a lot on the psychological aspect of labor.11. Take a breastfeeding class: Even if you’re planning to hire a lactation consultant, I still recommend taking a breastfeeding class if possible. I took the one offered at the hospital where we delivered. This definitely can’t replace one-on-one time with a lactation consultant but it’s still a great way to learn the basics before you’re faced with the real thing.12. Keep an open mind & remain flexible: This might be the most important one on this list. From everything I read during pregnancy the biggest theme I found in regards to having a satisfying birth experience was to remain flexible no matter what happens. So much of the time things do not go according to plan, & if we want to be able to move forward with a positive attitude we need to adapt accordingly. I definitely wasn’t planning on having an induction at 38 weeks. In fact throughout the entire pregnancy I said over & over again that I wanted to avoid Pitocin if at all possible because I feared it would be so painful that I’d have to give up on my dream of an unmedicated birth. But of course I wasn’t planning on developing preeclampsia either! So I rolled with the punches & when it came time for the Pitocin I kept an open mind. As it turned out with the amazing support of my husband & doula I survived even the dreaded Pitocin without an epidural or any pain meds. So I still got my wish of an unmedicated birth despite hitting a few speed bumps along the way. The point is that I adjusted my expectations to fit the reality I was given & made the best of it. Remember, there is no need to compare your L&D experience to anyone else’s. Childbirth is not a competition. Neither is motherhood. Focus on your own situation & make the best of it.