Once your contractions have started, it’s a good idea to phone the maternity unit and discuss when’s the best time to come in. You may be asked to fast, in case you later need a caesarean.
After you arrive at the hospital, you or your partner may be asked to fill out a consent form. You’ll be asked about any medications you’re taking and any allergies you may have. Don’t forget to mention complementary or herbal remedies.
Usually, you’ll then be taken to the delivery suite or birthing centre. A midwife will do several checks on you and the baby including:
- your blood pressure
- your pulse
- your temperature
- how dilated your cervix is
- your baby’s heart rate.
The hospital will contact your obstetrician or midwife to let them know when to attend.
Because labour and childbirth can cause significant pain, it’s important to understand your options for pain relief.
Non-drug methods of pain relief include:
- changing position, moving or applying firm counter-pressure for back pain
- hot and cold packs
- touch and massage
- a TENS machine (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulator)
- having a warm bath or shower
- using distractions such as your favourite music.
You may be able to bring your own music as well as your own TENS machine if the hospital doesn’t supply them.
Medical methods include:
- gas (nitrous oxide mixed with oxygen) given by mask or mouthpiece
- morphine or pethidine injection, usually given into a muscle in either your leg or buttock
- epidural (spinal analgesic) into your back to block pain signals. With this option, the nurses may ask you to wear compression stockings on your legs. They may also insert a urinary catheter to drain your bladder. You may temporarily lose some or all of the feeling in your legs.
Although most women want to deliver their baby as naturally as possible, sometimes they need extra help. Interventions to help you deliver the baby could include:
- starting or boosting your contractions with medication or devices (induction of labour)
- episiotomy — making an incision to widen your birth canal (later repaired with sutures)
- using forceps or a vacuum extractor to help guide the baby through your birth canal
- If labour doesn’t proceed as expected, or if unexpected problems occur, your midwife or obstetrician may decide that an emergency caesarean is necessary.
Do your own research on pain relief and interventions, and talk to your obstetrician or midwife about any concerns you may have.