Rock your labor like the boss you are!
Labor…so scary…so exciting…so many unknowns!
I remember feeling excited for labor with my first pregnancy! I thought, “I can handle it! At the end I get to meet my BABY!! How bad could it be?!” When they started my induction with Pitocin, I said, “Pitocin?! Ha-ha-ha! I laugh in the face of Pitocin!” (If you got my Lion King quote, I love you.)
But MAN, I knew NOTHING about labor.
It was after this first birth, and the terrible traumatic drama that ensued, that I decided I would change my field of nursing to become a labor and delivery nurse. Birth should be empowering, exciting and wonderful. But mine was full of the opposite…I felt out of control, manipulated, and abused.
I decided to become a labor and delivery nurse for these reasons:
- I wanted to make sure no one felt the way I did in labor. It’s a story for another day, but it was horrible.
- I wanted to learn everything I could about labor and delivery so I could teach my patients and families how to rock their births, but also so I could ensure my future births wouldn’t go the same way (mission accomplished!)
- It’s magical. Watching a baby be born is absolutely thrilling. I love watching how families change and grow with the addition of a little one. And (most) of the time it is truly a gift to watch how these families look at their little ones with awe and adoration.
Fortunately my second birth was amazing. I trusted my providers, my providers trusted me, and everyone worked together to bring my sweet Annie into the world. I am so grateful for that experience!
I am going to give you the run-down of what to expect in labor, and how to make it through each phase. Through education is power!! Please, please, please…always feel free to ask your doctor, midwife, and nurse any questions about your health, baby’s health, or the birthing process – that is what they are there for!
My mission is to prepare and inform, not advise. There is no place for shame or guilt in labor – you are entitled to give birth however you see fit. Pain meds, no pain meds, vaginal or c-section, you rock it, mama!!The information in this post is purely for entertainment and is not meant to replace the advice of a medical professional. I always adhere to HIPPAA policies, any similarities to yours or anyone else’s story is purely coincidental. Please see my disclosure policy for more information. This post contains affiliate links, meaning I may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you if a purchase is made using the links. This helps fund this site, and keeps These Hungry Kids up and running. Thank you!
You may be also interested in Tips for Giving Birth and Managing Labor WITHOUT Pain Medications and 7 Myths about Epidurals.
I don’t want to minimize the discomfort and pain of early labor, because it definitely hurts.But until you experience active labor, it’s hard to understand the difference. Early labor is typically the longest, and by definition ends around 3-4cm. However, some people (especially those who have had babies before) may be in early labor beyond 3cm.
Early labor contractions are:
- Irregular – they may be every 5 minutes for a while, and then every 30 minutes, then every 2 minutes, then stop altogether (it can be reallyfrustrating!)
- Short – lasting between 30-60 seconds
- Uncomfortable – they may feel like period cramps, a back ache, or you may just notice intermittent tightening of your belly, similar to Braxton Hicks
- Can last hours to days
If early labor contractions continue to get stronger, more painful, and closer together, you are likely progressing to active labor. Early labor is a great time to relax at home, if possible. Many people feel they need to rush to the hospital, and that may be necessary if you are pre-term, live far away or if your provider has instructed you to come to the hospital right away. It is important to know yours and your baby’s health.
However, if you can, try the following:
- Take a shower
- Sit in a warm bath
- Try listening to music, lighting candles
- Have your partner give you a back or foot rub
- Stay hydrated, eat small, light meals and snacks (keep in mind many women vomit during active labor – don’t eat anything that would be ruined forever if it came back up)
- Try some Spinning Babies techniques to help ensure your body is ready for labor — side lying release is my favorite place to start, but the Spinning Babies website is FANTASTIC and I reference it often.
Enjoy your early labor! Take it as a time to rest, prepare, and get psyched for active labor!
This is when sh** gets real, baby!! These contractions HURT. This is the time where most people should head to the hospital (see above!). These contractions tend to be 2-3 minutes apart, lasting 60-120seconds and are more painful than early labor contractions. They are regular, and change the cervix from 3-7cm. Most people are in active labor for several hours (approximately 3-8 hours), though there are people who deliver much quicker than that!
Active labor contractions are:
- Intense and painful
- At regular intervals
- May cause nausea, loss of appetite
- May cause your water to break
If you can, try to rest between contractions. Focus on relaxing your face, shoulders, hips, and legs in between contractions. Your support person should encourage you to drink water or suck on ice to stay hydrated.
When your water breaks:
- Take note of time and color of fluid
- Normal fluid is clear. If the fluid is brown, has brown/black flecks in it, or is bloody, you need to call your provider head to the hospital right away
- Amniotic fluid should not have a strong odor. If the odor is foul, call your provider and head to the hospital
- There should never be umbilical cord visible. If the umbilical cord is visible, get onto your hands and knees and call for an ambulance. This is an emergency.
When you are in the active labor phase, try the following:
- Change position frequently
- Ideally, every few contractions
- The first contraction after each position change tends to be extra intense
- Move intuitively – if you need to squat, then squat. If you need to sway, then sway! Let your body guide you!
- Gather your support team
- Get your epidural if you want one
- If you get an epidural, don’t stop moving! Ask your nurse to help you change positions in bed. Roll side to side, sit up, lay back, etc! I LOVE using peanut balls on my patients after an epidural.
- Take advantage of the rest. Sleep between your position changes.
- Let your nurse know if you notice more sensation on one side vs. another. Epidurals work by gravity to some extent, so if you feel more on the right side, you may want to lay on that side to help the epidural settle more on that space.
- While epidurals are great for covering labor pains, they do not cover the pressure of the baby’s head moving down. It often feels like you’re going to poop. Let your nurse or provider know if you feel the urge to “poop” – it is usually the baby’s head nice and low
- Use a The Birth Ball birthing ball or peanut ball (!!! THIS IS HUGE!!!)
I LOVE birthing balls. I sat on one throughout the end of each of my pregnancies, and labored for a LONG time on one with each baby! Birthing balls are not just for sitting on. You can also use them by kneeling and leaning over, as a footrest while sitting on a sofa or rocking chair, and to lean against sideways for support. I ALWAYS get them out for my patients – very, very rarely does someone not use it.
Birth Balls help labor by:
- Opening up the pelvis to make room for baby
- Taking the pressure off your butt and back during contractions
- Allows you to squat and sit with support, and you can move side to side during contractions
- Gives you something to focus on during contractions – think about moving your hips in a circle, side to side, or a figure-8 during the painful contractions
- Keeps you from feeling stuck in bed
- Can offer support for your chest and belly if you choose to kneel
I really like The Birth Ball brand. It’s a high quality, thick ball, and a highly recommended company. They come with their own easy-to-use pump so the ball can be as firm as you like it. It also comes with a guide full of exercises for each trimester of pregnancy. They are intended for use from the first trimester through after the baby is born! Their balls are created specifically with a pregnant woman in mind – they are much thicker and safer than a regular exercise ball. There are few things worse than the thought of a ball breaking under a pregnant woman!!
I could not have gotten through the last few weeks of my pregnancies without a Birth Ball and a bathtub. It made a tremendous difference to my comfort.
You may be interested in this post, where I compare my birth with an epidural vs. my natural birth
Remember: the key to active labor is movement! It can be hard to focus on moving, but it can be crucial to getting your baby into the birth canal and ready for transitional labor.
MAN, I HATE THIS PHASE.
I kid you not, I know I’m in transition because I start to have suicidal thoughts. I am a rational person, but I’m sure I said the words, “just kill me,” “this pain is NOT normal” and “I am NOT OK” on repeat.
In fact, I asked to be checked when I was in this phase of my last pregnancy because I was SURE I was at least 8cm. I was told I was 7cm, and I yelled back at the resident “NO I’M NOT. YOU’RE WRONG. I’M 8CM!” I was looking for reassurance that I was in transition, and I was sure I was near the end of labor, and 7cm was not good enough for me! I ended up getting up, using the bathroom, and accidentally started pushing. My nurse (and good friend) helped me into bed (and she said “Lindsey, you are NOT having this baby on the toilet!), where I was checked again and I was 10cm, ready to push!! I was definitely transitioning, but was clearly not of sound mind. The resident (who is a fantastic doctor!) said it was the first time a patient (and coworker, lol) told her that her exam was wrong. It was not funny to me at the time, but its funny now!
Support person: this is your time to shine, baby!!! Moms need a LOT of reassurance during this phase. Your support person should be chanting the following words:
- You are amazing.
- You are doing great.
- This is normal.
- You are doing exactly what you need to be doing.
- You are strong.
- Each contraction is one step closer to meeting the baby.
- Rest your body between contractions.
- Here’s a sip of water.
- You were made for this.
- You are incredible.
- You are safe.
Actually, just print those out and repeat them over and over again until the baby is born. Everyone will thank you. She will probably not have many words to say to you, may curse you out, may tell you to shut up…but it is what she needs to hear. Don’t take ANYTHING personally at this stage. The mind is not clear.
The transition phase starts around 7-8cm and goes until 10cm (YAY!). It is the quickest, but most intense phase of labor. I don’t even need to check a cervix to know if a patient is in transition, because her whole demeanor changes.
Transition labor is characterized by:
- Intense, long, painful contractions
- Feeling extremely hot or extremely cold
- Mom may seem “out of it” or “distant”
- Sayings like, “I can’t do this” or “I need help”
During transition, it’s common to feel overwhelmed by pain. I remember thinking “there is NO way anyone else has ever experienced this level of pain.” The contractions come back to back and seem like they won’t quit. But eventually, they do!!!That’s the most important thing to remember! It’s important to continue changing positions. Many moms feel it’s most comfortable to labor on a toilet, squat, be on hands and knees, or lean against the bed, birthing ball, or their partner.
The best advice I ever got in ANY phase of labor (but especially transition) is “DON’T FIGHT THE CONTRACTION!!!”Let it come, and let it go! It’s going to happen either way, so it’s best to breathe through it, let your body relax, and let your cervix dilate. It willbe over soon!!!!
And now, for the grand finale….PUSHING!! WOOHOO!
You did it! You rocked your labor like a bossand it’s time to get this little babe OUT of your body!!!
Here is my pushing advice:
- “Don’t be a pretty pusher” – this one comes from my mom (holla to you Kimbo!)
- PUSH LIKE YOU MEAN IT! You won’t look good doing it. It’s impossible.
- It’s OK to poop, and it actually feels like you will. And you know what, you MIGHT! A nurse I work with says “it’s like rolling a bowling ball over a tube of toothpaste.” You probably wont even know you are, because your nurse will just wipe it away
- Push into the pressure – it will be SO intense and it’s OK – make it stronger! There’s one way out and the only way is to make the pressure feel unbearable. I promise you – once the baby is born it’s an indescribable wave of relief, and all the pain is gone! And there’s a wet, slimy person that looks JUST LIKE YOU in your arms. It’s magical.
- Listen to coaching from your provider – if they tell you to give little pushes or stop pushing for a second, try to listen even if it’s hard. It’s important to allow the skin to stretch and the baby to rotate to prevent tearing
- You don’t have to push on your back! Try different pushing positions to see what’s comfortable and effective. You can try a birthing bar, squatting, hands and knees, and side lying. See what feels best!
- Remember: it’s a two steps forward, one step back kind of process
- Eventually the baby rocks under the pubic bone and stays there, but it can take awhile to push a baby out!
- It can be normal to push for a few hours for your first baby
- WHAT!? OMG?! REALLY?! NO. WAY. Yes. Yes it can. But sometimes pushing feels better than laboring. It’s difficult to explain!
When the baby is out, CONGRATULATIONS! You did it!! This gorgeous little person is yours forever, love and cherish them.
You’ll have to deliver the placenta, which typically happens within 10-20 minutes after the baby is born. Your provider may ask you to give a little push while they tug gently on the cord, but it’s nothing like childbirth because the placenta is soft and squishy (no bones, yay!).
After the baby is born, if all is well, I encourage you to stay skin to skin with them for at least an hour. Tell your family and friends they can come in a few hours. Take the first few moments to soak up your little one. It’s a great time to start breastfeeding if you are planning to do so, and it’s a time to rest and recuperate.
I hope you learned a lot from this post. I LOVE my job, I love my babies, and I am so passionate about this subject. Please leave me a comment below if this article taught you something, or if there’s a new subject you’d like me to touch on!