What are signs of labor?! What tips do I really need to know about giving birth? How do I go into labor? Is it as bad as I think it may be – what if I poop?! These are super valid, REAL questions. Like me (before ever experiencing childbirth), you might be feeling more and more uneasy about this whole labor and delivery thing as the due date draws near.
There’s good news. You can breathe. It will be okay.
Women have been having babies since forever and ever. It’s a completely natural thing. Most importantly, if you prepare for your labor day with the tips below, you can avoid the surprises, fear, stress, and anxieties that may come from this big day.
So, let’s dive into the most IMPORTANT things you need to know about labor and delivery. All these tips are a culmination of labor and delivery classes taught by an RN, first time experience from having a baby and advise from other moms who’ve been there. This might just be the best labor and delivery advice you’ve ever stumbled upon!
10 Vital Labor Tips For First Time Moms
1. Know the signs of labor
Your water breaks, everybody goes crazy and you rush off to the hospital to have the baby!
Hollywood has given us this picture for-everrr, so much so that I had just accepted it as fact.
This couldn’t be ANY further from the truth! Labor classes like these helped me understand exactly what to prepare for. I highly recommend them!
But labor, for most women, is a slow process that sneaks up. At first, I felt like the “contractions” were like gas moving down there or extremely mild stomach cramping. You can read more detail on how contractions really feel here:
10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Having A Baby
Only 15 percent of woman have their water break at all. Did you know that? I didn’t. And if it does, it can be so small and slow that many women mistake it for urination.
As time progresses, the contractions will become more intense. It’s very important to time the contractions. The best way is to be prepared now and download a super simple app. I used Full Term. It’s supperrrr easy to do. Just push the GIANT green start button when you feel you may be having a contraction and the GIANT red stop button when it’s done. Above the button, it will give you the duration time in bold and start showing you how frequent your contractions are. No math needed or paper and pencil.
Your doctor probably recommended heading to the hospital when your contractions last one minute and are spaced five minutes apart for at least an hour (this is called 5-1-1). Give the hospital a call first and they’ll let you know if you’re ready to come in.
My contractions were 5-1-1 and when we called in, they told us to come on in. It was 9 am. I was dismissed pretty much right away to go “walk around” four times because I wasn’t dilated enough! It took until about 3 pm to be submitted. Most clinics/hospitals won’t take you in till you are dilated about 4 centimeters. Good to know!
2. How to go into labor
Some babies get super comfy in the womb and stubbornly want to chill and relax in there. It’s not uncommon to go a week or two past your due date. Our babies don’t have calendars and stay in there as long as nature wants them to grow.
You can plan on being induced on a certain timeframe after your due date but be a little wary of this. Statistically, a first-time mom’s chance of a C-section doubles when induced and that postpartum recovery is no joke. You’ll be recovering from a major surgery.
Tip: eat or dunk them in milk and be careful how much cayenne you add. Cayenne is supposedly the main helpful “labor inducing” ingredient but it tastes not so awesome.
3. How to push during labor
There are 3 stages of labor:
1. Early labor where the cervix is dilated up to 10 cm
2. Active labor where the delivery of the baby happens
3. The delivery of the placenta
During stage two, your doctor or nurse will say, “It’s time to start pushing now.” On the monitors clicking around you, the nurse will be able to read the intensity of a contraction. Likely, when thos contractions are 60-90 seconds apart, the nurse will have you being stage 2 but you may automatically know this magic time and feel an intense urge to push. I did!
What to expect has a FANTASTIC article on exactly what will happen during this stage: what you will feel, how it will happen and tips on how you need to push. Definitely give this a read (it’s not too long either): Childbirth Stage: 2 Pushing The Baby Out.
4. Have a delivery plan but DON’T stress out about it
Usually, your doctor will go over a birth plan with you. Mine gave me a pretty simple sheet to fill out. This included certain options like pain management preference, breastfeeding or not, positions, and other things.
Have a birth plan and learn your options (for sure) but try as hard as you can not to cling to it. I had a coworker tell me that she absolutely did not want to be induced but for the safety of the baby, she had to be. While telling me this story, she visibly became upset. She told me, “I was SO pissed off! That wasn’t what I wanted!”
Nature plans things out in the end, we don’t! What is best for you and your baby in that moment may not be in your birth plan. The number one priority for your doctors is for a safe delivery and sometimes this means going off the birth plan. It’s okay!
5. Stress-free environment
One of the best tips you will hear to help with your labor is to de-stress your environment. This paves the way for a much smoother delivery and helps you with the whole process. It’s so very important. Here are some extremely helpful tips I learned from labor and delivery RNs:
- Choose people to be in the delivery room who are givers and not takers. This means you don’t have to soothe, comfort or care for them. This is the last thing you want to do while in labor!
- Choose calming music. I’ve been highly suggested instrumental music. Imagine choosing some of your favorite songs and then being in active labor, wanting to throw your phone across the room because the lyrics are driving you crazy!
- Consider going “scent-free”. Many women decide to have essential oils in their delivery room but what if during labor, the smell suddenly makes you want to puke? I’ve read horror stories about this very thing happening. While essential oil sounds calming, it may not be the best for that short timeframe. What if you are trapped in a delivery room clouded with essential oil while you’re hooked up to all these machines in labor! Consider skipping out on the scents.
6. Labor and delivery tips
My BIGGEST advice and the BEST advice I was given: learn as much as you can about the details of labor and delivery. Take an AH-mazing class like Hilary Erickson’s FREE prenatal class. She’s an RN with over 16 years experience in labor and delivery, teaching prenatal classes just like these. Take it at your own pace on your own schedule.
You don’t want to be in labor and not know the risk factors of different pain management choices you have or other things they may ask you in the moment where you need to make a decision. Learn what sorts of pain management you can choose, the pros and cons + risk factors and labor positions.
I went through a labor class and I feel like it should be required for every woman who is having a baby. Again, if you haven’t already, seriously check out Hilary’s class here. That way, you don’t have to register with your hospital during the hours they choose and sit in class for a whole weekend (that sucked!).
Here are a couple other vital labor and delivery tips I learned:
- Understand that labor can take as long or longer than 24 hours. Mine was 26 at least (I woke up at 5 am in labor).
- Don’t be opposed to the epidural. Natural birth is extremely painful and while woman have been doing it for ages, we don’t get a trophy at the end saying: “Congratulations, you did a natural birth!” Although, I think maybe we should. Hospitals give out a TON of epidurals. In fact, I don’t see how I could have gone natural. Eight hours into labor I was throwing up after each contraction and the pain was SO intense. I ended up having 17 more hours of labor. I shudder to think of doing all that without an epidural. It was amazing.
7. Pack your bag, daddy’s bag and baby’s stuff the right way
I read many articles on what to pack in my hospital bag, preparing for the big day. I loaded our bags up with everything everyone said to pack! We used almost none of it. I felt so silly lugging around those huge bags. We had to leave the hospital several times, waiting for further dilation. Each time we carried the heavy bags in and out. Finally, a couple of the nurses kindly offered to stow our bags in a closet so we wouldn’t have to keep bringing them in! Embarrasing. So, I removed all the extra stuff that I didn’t use and created the perfect list:
Check out: Hospital Bag Checklist, For Mom To Be
Pack your hospital bag at least a month before you are due or whenever is best for your situation. Make a list of what you still need to pack the day of (like your phone, phone charger, toothbrush). Finally, pick the bag up and make sure the weight is comfortable.
8. Get your money’s worth at the hospital
Call your insurance and ask them how many days are covered at the hospital. It’s best to know this now!!!
We left early the second day and I wish we would have stayed the entire three days. There is a HUGE difference when someone delivers you hot food (at the hospital) compared to scrounging for food at home after you deliver. Especially because you will be more sleep deprived, exhausted and emotionally drained than you may have ever been in your life.
Also, make sure to ask what you can take home from the hospital when you are leaving. The nurse that discharged us may have been just simply amazing or flat out done working that night. She gave us ALL THE THINGS. Heck, she grabbed boxes of those mesh underwear, packs of newborn diapers, 2 hospital blankets, 2 hats, another box of pads and more. When you leave the hospital, just be sure to ask and don’t forget the peri bottle!
Note that some hospitals will let you take close to nothing, so it’s best to be prepared with your own postpartum recovery things. Make sure you check out: 10 Unbelievable Postpartum Recovery Tips For Healing After A Vaginal Birth and prep what you need.
9. If you opt for the epidural, remember to eat!
I had decided to do the epidural. 11 pm that night while I was still in the first stage of labor, my stomach began churning in knots. It had been over eleven hours since I had eaten. After an epidural, you can’t eat so make sure you grab a meal, if possible, before that time. The last thing I had on my mind was food (which isn’t usually typical) because everything was just so hectic! Take food with you and if you can, eat something before you get that epidural.
10. Prepare for postpartum NOW
During pregnancy, it’s SO important to understand postpartum recovery. Labor and delivery may last for 24 hours but then you have nurses and doctors there to take care of you. Postpartum recovery is HARD, there are no nurses to take care of you or your newborn in your home and it takes at least six weeks! I had been SO nervous about delivering a baby but I should have been MUCH more stressed out about the whole postpartum recovery thing.
Check out my top postpartum posts below. I even made an Amazon “idea list” that shows everything recommended from the hospital for your postpartum recovery kit. Trust me, you don’t want to be running to the store during your recovery to pick up pads, trying to find Dermoplast (because it’s a literal postpartum vaginal life savor), and wishing to God you had ordered those mesh underwear.
Top postpartum recovery posts:
10 Unbelievable Postpartum Recovery Tips For Healing After A Vaginal Birth
20 Must Have Supplies To Speed Up Healing Postpartum After A Vaginal Birth
5 Shocking Truths: What Postpartum Recovery Is Really Like
1. Know the signs of labor – Familiarize yourself with how contractions should feel. Check out 10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Having A Baby for more details on contractions. Download the Full Term app and be prepared to easily track your contractions.
2. How to go into labor – It’s not uncommon to go a week or two past your due date but there are some things you can do to try to get labor going. The BEST thing that I tried was eating labor cookies. Check out the recipe here.
3. How to push during labor – What to Expect has the best article ever on exactly what you need to know when it comes to the delivery, including specific tips on how to push during labor. Check out their article here.
4. Have a delivery plan but DON’T stress out about it – If your doctor doesn’t provide a delivery plan worksheet, make sure to download one. Try to use this as a loose(ish) guide. What is best for you and the baby during labor may not be on your plan.
5. Stress-free environment – Create a stress-free delivery space. Choose people to be there that will SUPPORT, calm and help you; not stress you out. If you like music, consider calming instrumental playlists and if you like scents, think about opting out of them just in case!
6. Labor and delivery tips – If you take away anything from this post, remember this: take a labor and delivery class. It educates you on every single option you have for giving birth. More importantly, it lays out the pros, cons and risk factors with each of these choices. With everything clearly laid out on the table, you can plan the birth knowing what to expect beforehand. Hilary Erickson is RN with over 16 years of labor and delivery experience, she has a FREE prenatal class and other BOMB classes created to educate you the best way possible at your convenience.
7. Pack your bag, daddy’s bag, and baby’s stuff the right way – You don’t want to be in labor, lugging around the kitchen sink but forgetting your underwear is not ideal either. Pack a solid hospital bag for you, daddy and baby here: Hospital Bag Checklist, For Mom To Be
8. Get your money’s worth at the hospital – Give your insurance a call and make sure you understand what is covered because staying at the hospital for the full three days is SO much better than going home right away! During checkout, don’t be shy, ask what you can take home. I really do not recommend depending on the hospital to provide everything you need to recover postpartum. Be just as prepared for birth as healing (I would say even more so): 20 Must Have Supplies To Speed Up Healing Postpartum After A Vaginal Birth.
9. If you opt for the epidural, remember to eat! – After the epidural, you won’t get to eat anything solid except for some “clear liquid” kind of things. Make sure to get some food in if you can!
10. Prepare for postpartum NOW – With Baby #2 on the way, I know now that my focus will be more on preparing for postpartum recovery rather than just the birth. Be prepared with your own postpartum recovery kit and pave the way for a stress-free, quick recovery. Check out top postpartum recovery things recommended by hospitals here.
Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with the whole birthing process, you can breathe easy. Labor isn’t a cake walk but you’ve got this. It’s not all that scary when you know what to expect and roll with the changes that will come. When you’ve taken a labor and delivery class, learned the signs of labor, created a delivery plan, packed your hospital bag and prepared for your delivery, you will be as ready as possible for the big day. Remember, woman have been having babies for ages. You’ve got this. Congrats on your little one and best wishes to you on delivery day! ♥