Birth is beautiful. You welcome your new baby into the world and into your arms. As they say, “it’s the only blind date where you will always meet the love of your life.”
However, birth is known as labor for a reason. It is work. While you can’t guarantee your labor and delivery will happen a certain way, you can give yourself the best odds by preparing. AND most importantly how you prepare for birth can dramatically change how your “4th trimester” will go.
Where should you start when you’re trying to prepare for labor and delivery? You have a few options. You could try a birth class. You could write a birth plan. You could also focus on preparing your home for baby’s arrival or on the aftermath of birth.
Really, you should do all of that. But in addition to that, these are the 11 things I know now that would have made a big difference. I would have been less tired and more able to enjoy, breastfeed and tend to my baby after giving birth.
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My 11 Lessons to First Time Moms Preparing for Birth
1. Know that labor is on average longer for a first-time mom.
There is a VERY big difference between a first birth and any birth after that. This is important to know as you prepare for birth. While your labor could be very short or very long, having an idea of the average will give you a guide as what to prepare for.
The three stages to labor are early labor phase, active labor phase and transition labor phase. Early labor is when you start having regular contractions until your cervix is dilated to 3 cm. Active labor phase is from 3 to 7 cm. The transition phase is from 7 cm to 10 cm.
The average times for each stage are 8 to 12 hours for early labor, 3 to 5 hours for active labor and 30 minutes to 2 hours for the transition. After that, you can spend 1 to 2 hours pushing. First-time moms average on the longer side.
When I was laboring with my second baby, the nurse asked how long my first labor was because she said a good estimate is half the time for your second birth.
My first labor was 19 hours with 2 hours pushing. My second labor was half that time and I only spent about 10 minutes pushing. The difference is simply your body has done it before and has muscle memory.
If I had known the average times it takes to reach different stages of labor the first time around, I could have built my pain management plan around that fact. If you are a first-time mom, prepare for the marathon.
2. Go on the hospital tour and take it seriously
A hospital tour before baby is born is an absolute must. Preparing for your hospital tour is also a must if you want to get anything out of it. Your goal for your tour is to know what tools, pain management options and techniques you will have available and what support will be provided. You also want to pay attention to how the medical staff interact with each other. Is there a sense of teamwork?
Alli has created a fantastic worksheet that covers everything you would want to know during your tour. It is part of our Nesting Planner. If you sign up for our free weekly preparing tips, we give the hospital tour worksheet packet away for free as a thank you.
I gave birth at the same hospital both times. I was literally in the same birth and recovery room, even though they have many. I can’t tell you how helpful it was to really know the hospital well.
3. Don’t just have pain management tactics, have a plan of action
Labor can be long, very long. I know, my first was not a walk in the park. I had a lot of ideas on what I could try to help with pain. My plan was that I would just keep switching if one stopped working. The problem was that I didn’t know which ones to try at which points.
I started doing my breathing exercises during early labor, which was more tiring than helpful at that point. However, I didn’t know better. I spent 2 hours in the shower standing during the early phase. While it was helpful, I was so tired after that. I then switched to the tub a little while after and couldn’t stay in very long because my skin was so itchy from being in water for so long. I then had to get out and didn’t know where to go next. It is also hard to think logically when you are in the process.
I ended up getting an epidural at 8 or 9 cm because I needed to rest. I was so tired that I was falling asleep between contractions when it was time to push. This really hurt my ability to care for my baby during the next few days. Since I was so exhausted I wasn’t able to focus on learning to breastfeed as well or even just enjoy my baby as much.
Instead, what I should have done was learn about my pain management tactics and when to use them. If you plan on doing a birth class, the KOPA Prepared class will teach you this.
4. Have ways for your partner or husband to feel helpful
It doesn’t matter if you do or don’t want your partner or husband to help you labor, you need to find things for him to do during that time. Even if you have a doula, find ways for him to contribute such as taking photos or updating family.
Watching your other half go through labor and not being able to help is not fun. If you want him to help you with labor, then he needs tools. If you are a first-time mom, remember it’s his first time helping too. I really like the birth class Supporting Her. If I could go back, this would have been a great movie night during that last trimester. It would have made such a big difference for my husband. It has so many ways that your other half can really help.
If you are wanting to take just one birth class, check out Alli’s birth class roundup to learn about classes that will help dad prepare along with you.
5. If a natural birth is important to you, you need to learn from the experts
If you plan on having a natural birth without the use of pain medication, you need support during labor. You also need to have a plan on how you will get through labor without the use of pain meds. The medical staff will ensure you and baby are safe, but they won’t be massaging your back or doing hip compressions.
The best way to learn about how to have that natural birth is to learn from the experts. There is a lot of good ideas from mom bloggers, nurses and doulas but if you are really serious, I would head over to Mama Natural and check out her birth course. Her course also has some fun freebies like a beautiful bracelet that says breathe. She also has free weekly pregnancy tips on how to have a natural pregnancy.
6. The benefits of an epidural you never hear about
For those of you who are not sure you want an epidural or are sure you want one, here is why I went for one the second time. I got the epidural because my birth the first time was so long that I was too exhausted. After baby was born, it was very difficult for me to get through those first few days. I was trying to recover, trying to catch up on sleep and trying to nurse a newborn around the clock. It took me so much longer to recover from all that.
The second time around, I got the epidural right after I got to the hospital when I was about 4 cm. I then slept through my entire labor until it was time to push. I was so rested when I met baby that it was more enjoyable for me. My toddler came to visit later that day and I wanted to be able to be mom for her as well. Since I was able to rest during labor due to the epidural, I was rested and able to really spend time with my toddler.
On a side note, I truly feel that if I had prepared for the natural birth by taking a course such as the one by Mama Natural, I wouldn’t have been in such bad shape after birth the first time around.
7. Pick Three goals
You can’t control how birth will go so pick three goals. My three goals were that I wanted delayed cord clamping, my husband to cut the cord, and to breastfeed in the first hour. Delayed cord clamping has amazing benefits for baby. Almost 1/3 of baby’s blood is in the cord at birth. Delaying that clamping until it stops pulsing means that baby will get all of that blood full of iron, stems cells, etc. I go into more detail in my birth plan article. Breastfeeding during the first hour was also important to me since doing so lowers infant mortality rate by 50%. Again, I go into more about this in my birth plan article.
Picking three goals will give you a good number of birthday wishes to aim for and if one doesn’t happen, you have a few others. If you just pick one such as wanting a natural birth, then you might be disappointed if it doesn’t happen. You want this to be a wonderful memory and not one where all you feel is that you failed.
8. Prepare for the birth you don’t want
I really focused on the birth I wanted. It seems like it only makes sense to focus on what you want to achieve. However, things happen. It is important to not only prepare yourself for the different types of birth you might have but also prepare your house. For example, if you end up having an emergency c-section, you won’t want to be doing a lot of stairs during recovery. You will want a changing station on each floor. You will also want to utilize nursing and diaper caddies, so you don’t need to get up but instead can have everything right there.
Birth is also very emotional. You just met your baby, how could it not be? If you aren’t prepared that birth might go differently than you want, it could take away from that special moment when you meet baby. Remember, at the end of the day you just held in your arms for the very first time, your child and that is what matters.
9. Postpartum hormones don’t hit until 3-4 days after birth
You will be on a high for the first few days you are in the hospital. You have help in the hospital and you haven’t had the hormonal shift yet. Once you get home, at around 3-4 days, you will probably be very weepy. This is really normal. It isn’t postpartum depression. Postpartum depression is where you want to do nothing. It also doesn’t just go away. After about a week, the weepiness will subside.
I also didn’t take postpartum recovery seriously. Your body does go through a lot during birth and recovery is an arduous process. Consider preparing a postpartum care kit when you’re still expecting and become educated about what to expect after a vaginal birth.
10. You need to be nursing like crazy
Your milk doesn’t come in till around day 4. Instead you are giving baby sips of colostrum. It might take baby a whole 20 minutes of nursing to fill their tiny belly, which will then empty fast. Additionally, newborns are night owls. They like to nurse constantly through the night and for a good reason, it is the best way to ramp up that milk supply.
Know the early signs of hunger. Crying is a late hunger cue and it means you missed my early cues. If your newborn is awake, they are hungry. They also are super sleepy, so they might sleep through a feeding. If it is day time, don’t let this happen. Baby will just be extra hungry, extra upset and harder to latch. Not to mention, they will be up more during the night.
Ask for lactation support from the lactation consultant on staff while at the hospital. Also learn as much as you can now. I wrote up everything I learned from my lactation consultant and share it because it is the only reason I succeeded. Alli and I also compiled everything we learned from nursing our babies and from blogging about breastfeeding into a Breastfeeding Handbook.
11. You need to prepare for your recovery stay
There is more to birth than just the labor and delivery. I would say that your hospital stay after birth is just as important. During this time, you are learning about baby and learning how to breastfeed.
Now is the time to write down all of those questions you already have for the mid-wife, pediatrician and lactation consultant. All of these people should be visiting you during your stay. Additionally, add a pen and paper to that hospital bag so you can write down questions during your stay as they come up. That way when the pediatrician or lactation consultant visits, you will remember all of the questions.
Remember to ask about a pump and if your insurance covers one. Most hospital lactation consultants can send you home with one if your insurance covers it. Remember to also ask the lactation consultant what you should do if you get home and are struggling with pain or latch. Are there support groups? Can I come back and see you, etc.
Now get out there and prepare for birth
You are about to undergo one of the most amazing experiences of your life with the best reward at the end, a new baby. Use your remaining days of pregnancy, whether it’s just a few days or still a few months to take a birth course, plan for birth, and prepare your home. Good luck mama!
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Dr. Trina Fitzpatrick is a wife, mom, blogger, and a breastfeeding advocate. She is the co-author of the Week-by-Week Bump Smart Course, the Nesting Planner and the Breastfeeding Handbook. She attributes her success at breastfeeding her own children into toddlerhood with working with lactation consultants in the hospital in the early stages and on a weekly basis afterwards. By writing at MomSmartNotHard, she educates mamas-to-be on all things pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding. Read more about Trina.