Wednesday, July 18, 2012

What to Expect When You're Expecting

The other day I had the absolute privilege of being asked to teach what I learned in the Bradley Method of Natural Childbirth.  My friend who is pregnant (but who has received no formal instruction on what's to come) asked if I would spend an afternoon with her, sharing what I learned while she took copious notes.

I could not refuse!  After all, the experience would be great review for me and would help me to better understand and process what I learned in the 12-week course!

So, I'd like to share with you, dear reader, a few golden nuggets of information that I gleaned from our Bradley course.  Since my Bradley instructor is a reader of this blog (Hello, Becca!), I'll ask her to PLEASE let me know if you see anything incorrect written below -- and then I shall revise it.  Thank you!

But before I go on, let me say this:  As our teacher taught us, there is never a "never," "always," or "only" in childbirth!  So the tips below are general ideas for most normal labors, and parents should always consider the information from their birth team before making any decisions.

Getting Ready Emotionally and Physically
  • Each day, a pregnant woman should envision her beautiful birthing experience!
  • Each day, she should exercise, stretch, practice relaxation techniques, try various birthing positions, and flex the Kegel muscle 200 times. 
  • Squatting is, perhaps, the most important position to practice.  Doing so will open the pelvis by approximately 10% on the day of delivery, and this could make a HUGE difference!
  • Learning to relax is so important.  If a woman is tense, the adrenaline that she produces will slow or stop her labor.
  • While pregnant and if everything is progressing normally, it is good for a woman to avoid interior vaginal exams, lest it accidentally cause labor.  The routine swab at 36 weeks, however, is OK.
  • Don't panic if your body does a few practice contractions months before your baby's birth.  These are called Braxton-Hicks contractions, although not every woman gets them.  I haven't!
  • The true average gestation time for an unborn baby is 41 weeks and 1 day.  Even if you go a little longer than this, in most cases, there's no need to panic or induce labor.
  • A woman may expel her mucus plug several weeks before labor begins.  This bloody show could be hard or soft.
  • Only when a woman's body is nearing birth can a man's semen actually assist in the laboring process by softening the cervix.  Semen contains anti-infection agents that will keep that area of the woman clean for baby!
  • Father should expect to evaluate Mother and help her stay calm on the day of delivery.  He should expect to TELL the doctor how she is doing when the doctor enters the room, rather than ask the doctor how she is doing.
  • Write a birth plan and review it with your doctor.
  • Know that your water could break but labor might not begin for 12 hours later.
  • Consider buying a plastic cover for your mattress or at least sleeping on towels when you get close to when your water might break.
  • A woman should take solace in the knowledge that although labor can be long, God has built into the process regular periods of rest for the woman.  Contractions will not be continuous.  Pushing will not be continuous.  Your body will naturally give you regular intervals of rest!  Feel empowered by this!  :)

What We're Packing in our Hospital Suitcase
  • Plastic bag or tarp plus fluffy towel to sit on in car
  • Basin to throw up in while in car
  • Bradley Method workbook for reference
  • Purse, wallet, licenses, insurance cards 
  • iPhone timer app to measure length of contractions
  • Pen and notepad for taking notes on what doctor says
  • Frozen meal to microwave and enjoy after delivery 
  • 1 or 2 changes of clothes
  • Father's swimsuit (so that he can join mother in the shower or tub)
  • Toiletries for shower, teeth brushing, personal hygiene
  • Phone, camera, charged batteries, and charging device
  • iPad in order for Dad to play birthing soundtrack and surf the net, plus charging dock
  • Bottle of water
  • Copy of birth plan to display
  • Tape and paper to cover clock on wall
  • Baby's going-home outfit
  • several onesies
  • several receiving blankets
  • outer blanket or swaddle
  • diapers
  • Nursing bras or zip-up hoodie
  • Dry washcloths to later wet with cold water and put on forehead, plus plastic baggies to bring them home in
  • Two tennis balls in a sock for massaging of lower back
  • A cheat sheet for your husband to look at and read, with sentences on it which he can use to calm the doctor and buy us more time if decisions need to be made
  • nightgown
  • lightweight bathrobe
  • comfy slippers or socks
  • granola bars, orange juice, snacks
  • disposable cups, plates, napkins, plasticware
  • Infant car seat already affixed in car

Labor Stage 1, Part A (Early)

In this part of Stage 1, a woman will experience contractions but will still be able to go about her normal routine.  She may be not be sure if this is true labor or just Braxton-Hicks practice contractions.  A good way to test her hypothesis is to (1) walk, (2) shower, (3) eat, (4) drink, and (5) nap.  Only true labor contractions will continue despite these activities.  Eating is essential during this time so that the woman has energy for what is to come.

If a woman's water has broken by this point (although it could happen later on in Stage 1), it is recommended that she call her doctor and calmly report the quantity of water, its color, and whether or not it has an odor.  The more calmly she speaks, the more chances she has for her doctor allowing her to stay home and labor a bit longer.  This is desirable! 

Labor Stage 1, Part B (Active)

In this part of Stage 1, a woman's focus will turn inward as her contractions intensify.  The good news, however, is that a contraction will never get more intense than it is at the 30-second mark.  She will no longer be able to eat.

After each contraction, she should be offered water or ice chips.  A woman will typically feel confident and committed during this phase.  She knows this is the real thing and that it takes a lot of work, but she feels ready to do it.  If her contractions are 5 minutes apart for one hour, it's time to call the doctor, report that, and probably depart for the hospital!

Labor Stage 1, Part C (Transition)

This is the most intense part of labor, but it usually the shortest, lasting only lasts 20-30 minutes.  A woman will probably be dilated around 8 centimeters at this time and will experience her most intense contractions; but, again, they will never be more intense than they are at the 30-second mark.  Her body may throw up or have diarrhea in order to clear the body of anything that could cause further discomfort during labor.

A woman may shake nervously, have hot flashes, have literal cold feet, burp endlessly, or begin to question her ability to give birth during this time.  Many woman will begin declaring that they are ready to give up!  Encouragement from the father is essential during this time!  He should reminder that she CAN do it and that this is the SHORTEST phase of labor.  It is about to get better!

The Natural Alignment Plateau

At any time during Stage 1, a woman's body is likely to unexpectedly appear to stop dilating and/or laboring altogether.  While the tendency is for the woman (and, often, her doctor) to think that something is wrong and needs to be fixed, the Natural Alignment Plateau is so common that Dr. Bradley feels that your body must be doing something important but non-observable during this time.  Your body could be making colostrum (the special beginning breast milk that is full of antibodies), your bones could be expanding, or your muscles could be softening in order to stretch more very soon.  Take this opportunity to rest and relax.  Do not rush your body!   You might even want to consider covering the clock on the wall with a sheet of paper so that you do not worry about how long things are taking.

Also, bear in mind that the progression to 10 centimeters dilated is not steady.  For example, some women may take a long time to get to 3 or 4 centimeters dilated but then will quickly dilate to 9 or 10 centimeters within a short period of time.  Dilation seems to happen more quickly toward the end.

Labor Stage 2

This is the beautiful stage in which a woman will birth her baby!  She will feel calm and determined to bring her baby into the world.  Her contractions will now feel expulsive.  She will feel the urge to push, and pushing will bring her relief.   The conclusion of Labor Stage 2 is holding a beautiful baby in your arms!  

While pushing when your doctor says to is usually best, listen to your body and do what you feel is natural for you.

Many women push when a contraction is at its most intense.  If a woman is asked to wait but really wishes she could push, she could tuck her chin down to her chest in order to "hunker down" and feel a sense of relief.  When she is told to push, she should continue to keep her chin to her chest, and she should keep a curved-inward spine, keep her knees back, and keep her elbows up and out -- regardless of what birthing position she is in.  Every 20 minutes, a woman should change her birthing position in order to give baby more flexibility to wiggle down and out.  The pressure of the baby's head on her perineum will actually help to eliminate its throbbing.  When the baby is birthed out through the vagina, the baby will be squeezed in such a way that fluid debris will be expelled from the lungs and healthy breathing will begin!

The six best birthing positions are:  (1) squatting by yourself, (2) squatting with assistance, (3) rocking the pelvis while on your hands and knees, (4) laying on side with spine curved inward and only upper leg pulled to chest, (5) standing while being held or holding onto father, and (6) an asymmetrical position, squatting with only one squatting leg and one kneeling leg.

Labor Stage 3
Typically within 10 - 30 minutes after the delivery of baby, a woman's body will naturally deliver the placenta.  This is usually a very easy, since the placenta is just like a ball of soft jelly!

Attempting to have the baby nurse immediately after birth will stimulate the woman's nipples which will tell her body to dislodge and birth the placenta naturally.  This is more desirable than having the doctor pull it out.

Don't cut the cord until it stops pulsing.  Keep the baby on the belly, level with the placenta inside.  Rub into the baby's skin the conditioning mucus that is on him or her.


Nursing right after delivery might consist of only a few drops of colostrum, but it is full of antibodies and good nutrients for your child.  Your milk might not come in for another 3-4 days, but your baby's body fat knows this, expects this, and is ready for it.  

Drink a full cup of water each time you sit down to nurse.

If you are away from baby, use a breast bump at the same time that the baby is being fed a bottle at home to keep up with your milk production.

Breastfeeding makes for healthier babies that have hardier immune systems.  There is a two-way communication between the baby's lips and mother's nipple.  The baby's lips can actually communicate to mother what germs the baby has encountered since his last feeding, and the mother's body will tailor the antibodies in the milk to be just what baby needs!

Thanks for letting me share what I've learned!  Please email me at if you have any questions or see any errors!