May 20, 2008

My Labor Has Started. Now What?

Very few occasions in life have the expectations and anticipation that compare to those of pregnancy – the whole pregnancy is called ‘expecting’! So of course, the onset of labor is going to be a big deal – but maybe it shouldn’t. I am not saying that you shouldn’t be excited about finally meeting your baby and starting this new phase in your life, but at times over -excitement can lead to downright exhaustion.

When I teach a childbirth education class or am working with a couple as their doula, I advise them that when they suspect labor is starting they should notify the important people that are involved: Their doula, doctor, babysitter, etc. – just to give them the heads-up. And then ignore the situation. Put the watch away- don’t time the contractions. Early labor can take many hours or even days. I guarantee you will know when things have shifted to where they need more attention. If it is nighttime, try to sleep. If it is daytime, alternate between rest and doing a ‘birth project’. (A birth project is anything that is distracting that you like to do. Some women I know have started baking projects or crossword puzzles or just gone for a walk.) A good indication that labor is shifting is that the mother can no longer focus on her birth project, and the cookies she started earlier are burning in the oven!

The reason I give this is advice is that if she doesn’t rest, a woman will focus solely on the early contractions and will start to pull out all the tricks she has to deal with labor – and not have any energy for later in labor. I was having an in-depth conversation with a friend who is currently pregnant with her second child about the length and exhaustion of her first labor. (Granted, her baby was posterior which explains the lengthiness of the experience.) But one thing she recognizes is that she jumped the gun a bit on ‘dealing with her labor’, and by the time it got really difficult she had already exhausted herself.

For a woman giving birth for the first time, it’s hard to know how to pace herself for an experience she has not yet had. Over the years as a doula, I’ve had the benefit of seeing many births – and now I’m better at knowing when it’s really time for mom to gear up for labor. But I remember several years back, when I was just starting out as a doula, when I too was drawn into the excitement of early labor. I was called into my client’s birth, and she explained that her contractions were rather intense and she felt she was ready for me. I thought it was pretty early on for her to be so far along in her labor, but being a novice I didn’t really question the situation, and I didn’t know the emotional signposts to look for to indicate where in labor she was really at. When I arrived, she was bouncing on her birth ball with a big smile across her face and doing her “breathing”. Needless to say, we were miles away from the more active part of labor. But we breathed, we walked and we rocked – and ultimately by the time she really needed her energy reserves, she was pretty tired. (Just to give you the ending to this client’s birth story, she went on to have a beautiful baby girl and all was well.) Had we ignored her labor for a bit longer, she might have had a bit more energy, hydration and stamina for her marathon labor.

So I guess what I am trying to say is do less. Let your body and baby give you the signals – you’ll know when you need to put a little more energy into your labor. Until then, continue to nourish, hydrate and rest until you just can’t ignore your new arrival.




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