After more than 15 years in the baby-birthing business, one consistent thing I’ve noticed is that many women have inaccurate or unrealistic expectations of the labor and birth process.
Television and movies don’t help. Women in labor are most often shown screaming and cursing and out of control. On the screen, labor usually happens quickly and dramatically, which makes for great entertainment, but is not an accurate depiction of most births.
In reality, most labors are longer than 30 minutes and uneventful to the point of being almost boring, at least when compared to television portrayals. Most women find the discomfort of labor very manageable with breathing and relaxation techniques, pain medication, or epidural anesthesia.
Pain management during labor is an important topic to discuss at length with a pregnant patient prior to her due date. Some women plan to have natural childbirth, but do no preparation beforehand, which is a recipe for disaster. Some moms plan to have an epidural at the first twinge of a contraction, and then expect to feel absolutely nothing during birth.
Every woman will experience her labor differently, and I try not to tell anyone what they will or will not feel, but I find it very helpful to discuss expectations long before the first contraction. For most women desiring natural birth, extensive preparation is helpful. Lamaze, HypnoBirthing, and The Bradley Method are just a few of the methods available.
For moms who plan to have an epidural, it is important that they understand that for most women, this choice does not guarantee a sensation-free labor. Epidurals aren’t usually an option for early labor, so some breathing and coping methods should be reviewed, as well as appropriate timing for epidural anesthesia.
I encourage all of my patients to read as much as possible or attend a childbirth preparation class. Discussing labor and birth in each visit during the third trimester gives me an opportunity to assess a woman’s expectations and provide appropriate education.
Robyn Carlisle, MSN, CNM, WHNP, works as a full-scope midwife at University Doctors and Kennedy University Hospital in Sewell, N.J.