What to Expect: Labor and Delivery
Giving Birth: What to Expect in Labor and Delivery
As the third trimester comes to an end, parents start actively preparing for their child’s birth. You may turn a spare bedroom into a nursery and purchase toys and clothes. Many first-time parents want to plan for labor and delivery too. Knowing what to expect can lessen your concerns and make preparing for your big day a little easier.
Dr. George Sean Tucker, an obstetrics and gynecology specialist with Baptist Medical Group-Women’s Consultants, has been a practicing physician since 2004. He answered our questions about giving birth for the first time, from labor pain and pain relief options to what post-delivery care looks like for you and your baby.
Labor causes a dull ache in the back and lower abdomen. Contractions move from the top of the uterus to the bottom. It may be difficult to recognize a contraction with your first pregnancy. Some pregnant people describe labor as very strong menstrual cramps.
“When labor starts, it’s common to fear you won’t get to the hospital in time,” said Tucker. “However, you probably have more time than you think. It’s usually time to go to the hospital when you experience painful contractions every five minutes that last for one full minute and continue for an hour.”
According to Tucker, your water might break before you get to the hospital—or it might not.
“Your water doesn’t always break when you’re in labor,” said Tucker. “But if you experience a big gush of fluid or just leaking fluid, we need to address that. We want you to get to the hospital so we can evaluate you and make sure everything is normal. Baptist Memorial Hospital-DeSoto has an OB emergency department, so you can walk in and be evaluated.”
Once you arrive at the hospital, labor can last hours or days. Each person is different and each pregnancy is also a little different; although in general, people tend to labor longer in their first pregnancy than in subsequent pregnancies.
Pain Relief Options
There are several ways to manage labor pain, including medical and non-medical techniques.
“Slow, deep breathing can bring relief for many people, as can a warm bath or shower, changing positions and back massages,” said Tucker.
You can also request an epidural during labor. An epidural is administered continuously and can last as long as you need pain relief.
“Some doctors prefer to give an epidural only after you’re two to three centimeters dilated,” said Tucker. “But more doctors are open to giving epidurals almost immediately, as long as the laboring person is committed to not leaving the hospital until after delivery.”
After birth, you will experience painful uterine cramps, which keep you from bleeding and help the uterus start shrinking back to its normal size. You’ll require stitches if you have a perineal laceration or a C-section incision. Those stitches could be uncomfortable as your body heals.
“We generally give aspirin or ibuprofen for muscle pain,” said Tucker. “Opioids are reserved for incisional pain.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced restrictions for laboring people, their families and health care teams. For safety, you will receive a COVID-19 test before you go to your delivery room.
Most deliveries are vaginal deliveries, but there is a chance you may require a Cesarean section. In the United States, the C-section rate is just over 30%. You may need to deliver your baby by C-section if labor does not progress or if the baby is in distress.
Most people who deliver their baby vaginally will have a perineal tear with delivery. When this happens, doctors repair the tear with stitches while you are holding your baby for the first time.
After you deliver your baby, doctors make sure you are hemostatic, which means you aren’t bleeding or hemorrhaging. If you need stitches, you’ll receive those before the physician leaves the room.
Babies who are delivered vaginally will have a temporarily elongated head from passing through the birth canal. Babies delivered by C-section don’t have an elongated head at birth. Most babies, despite how you deliver them, will have some bruising on their skin.
“When you’re back in bed with clean sheets and blankets, we encourage skin-to-skin contact with your baby,” said Tucker. “If you choose to breastfeed, a lactation consultant will be there to help you. A team of nurses will care for you, while others are dedicated to monitoring your baby.”
One to two hours after delivery, as long as your bleeding and blood pressure are stable, you will move to a private postpartum room to recover.
Many parents are eager to take a new baby home. You may be surprised at how quickly you can leave the hospital after giving birth.
“It keeps getting earlier and earlier,” said Tucker. “People used to stay for three days, sometimes four days. Right now, if there are no problems with C-sections, people are going home in two days. If there are no problems with vaginal deliveries, people can often go home the next day after they have rested and any anesthesia has worn off.”
When you go home, it’s important to rest as much as possible. Accept help if family, friends or neighbors offer it. Giving birth is an achievement, and you and your baby deserve to recover peacefully.