OPINION: Labor and delivery advice you actually need
By Dr. Shannon Huff
When you’re pregnant, you’re a sponge for information. The week-by-week updates and message boards can be helpful — but the advice can sometimes be too general, or even scary.
To help you get ready for labor and delivery, here are a few unique things we’ve heard expectant parents say they wish they’d known before heading to the hospital.
Before you go to the hospital
Once you’re at the hospital, a nurse will check your baby’s heart rate, how dilated you are and if it’s time to be admitted.
Here are a few things to think about before then:
1. Know when you’ll go. Ask your pregnancy care provider when they recommend you go to the hospital. This can vary person to person depending on your pregnancy history. Keep your provider’s phone number handy, and be sure to call if you think it’s time to go.
2. Have a backup route. Ever notice how traffic is worse when you’ve got somewhere to be? Make sure you have a safe way of getting to the hospital, and know alternative routes, in case traffic is an issue.
3. Eat something. Once you’re at the hospital, you might not be able or want to eat. If there’s time, grab a light bite before you head in. The hospital has several food options, but if you have a favorite snack you’ll want after your baby is born, pack it.
4. Focus on comfort. If you’re deciding what to wear before and after childbirth, consider soft, stretchy clothes, plus no-slip socks and slippers if your feet swell. Also, the hospital has pillows, but some patients say they’re more comfortable with one from home.
5. Don’t stress too much about what you pack. Forgot a toothbrush? Left your hairbrush at home? Don’t sweat it. The hospital has all the essentials for you and your baby.
Off to labor and delivery
If you’re in labor, you’ll be admitted and will head to your labor and delivery room — also known as your home away from home for the next little bit. Now’s the time to put your birth plan into action. This could include soft music, a sound machine, a yoga ball or whatever relaxes you until you’re 10 centimeters dilated.
Also, in case you didn’t know:
1. Ask questions. Your care team will explain what’s happening throughout your labor and delivery. If there’s something you don’t understand, don’t hesitate to speak up. The more you know about what’s going on, the more at ease you’ll be.
2. You might meet different nurses and doctors. Depending on how long you labor, it’s normal for there to be a shift change — rest assured everyone’s there to make you feel comfortable and cared for.
3. There are four stages of labor. The first stage of active labor starts when you’re dilated to 4 centimeters and ends when you’re about 10 centimeters. The second stage is when
your baby moves through the birth canal — this is when you start pushing. After your
baby is born, you enter the third stage and deliver the placenta. And at last, the fourth
stage — which is when you begin recovering.
4. Don’t worry if plans change. Labor and delivery is different for every patient and for
every baby. Some are fast; some are slow. Some are easy; some are challenging. Plans
can change in a moment. But know your care team will be helping you every step of the
After your baby is born
You’ll get to hold your little one right away to begin bonding and breastfeeding. Your doctor will perform a few basic tests and make sure you and baby are headed into recovery healthfully.
As you start recovering, remember:
1. Rest, hydrate, snack, repeat. Take time to rest as much as you can in the hospital, and drink lots of water. You might not be hungry yet, but especially if you’re breastfeeding, try to snack on high-calorie, nutritious foods, like peanut butter and nuts.
2. Contractions after birth are common. These are called afterbirth pains, and it’s just your uterus going down in size.
3. It might hurt to go to the bathroom or sit. This is common after vaginal deliveries. Your nurses will help you find ways to get more comfortable, like spray bottles of water, numbing spray and a waffle pillow.
4. Don’t leave until all your questions are answered. Whether it’s a doctor, nurse or lactation consultant, now’s a great time to ask all those last-minute questions.
5. The hospital might give you new undies. After childbirth, it’s normal to have
discharge, bleeding and even difficulty controlling urine. The hospital will send you home with something to help, like pads or mesh underwear.
When it’s time to go home
Most moms and babies can leave the hospital within a few days. After one last checkup, you and your baby will be cleared to go home.
Some final advice:
1. Find a pediatrician if you haven’t yet. You won’t be able to leave the hospital without picking one. At Atrium Health, we’re happy to help you choose one if you can’t decide.
2. You might be emotional. In addition to the changes of becoming a parent, your body will go through changes of its own. It’s okay and very normal to feel like you’re on an emotional rollercoaster. Even right after birth, mental recovery can be just as challenging as physical, so talk to your doctor if you need extra help — they can connect you to support resources, like a maternal wellness program for postpartum depression.
3. Install the baby’s car seat before you’re sent home. Try to have your baby’s car seat ready to use before you go home. Sometimes the pediatric team will need to make sure your baby is safe in their seat before discharge and will need the car seat to be in your room. Your medical team will let you know when this is needed.
4. Breastfeeding might not be easy. Books and articles make it sound so easy, right? The truth is, breastfeeding doesn’t always come naturally for mom or baby. Take your time as you learn together and listen to your body and your newborn. Lactation specialists and your medical team — including your child’s pediatrician — are there to help you achieve your feeding goals.
5. Take care of yourself, too. All your focus is on the baby — it’s easy to forget about someone else: yourself. Ask for help, and rest when you can, even if it’s just closing your eyes for a few minutes.
Still have questions about labor and delivery? The best advice comes from people you know, like your doctors, nurses, family and friends. For more information, contact Atrium Health Stanly Women’s Services at 980-323-5330 or visit https://www.atriumhealth.org/locations/stanly-womens-services .
As an Atrium Health patient, you also have access to Babyscripts, an app led by your healthcare team that guides you through every step of pregnancy.
Dr. Shannon Huff is an OB/GYN with Atrium Health Stanly Women’s Services.