What to Expect in Labor and Delivery

Getting the room ready, buying baby clothes and dreaming of a future with your new baby is one of life’s most treasured gifts. Pregnancy is also a time when the unknown can be quite overwhelming and scary! Being informed about the birthing process is one way to relieve this anxiety!

What is the birth process like?

Pre-registering at the hospital is an important first step. Also, inquire about childbirth classes and a tour! Pre-register by about 28 weeks, so when you arrive in labor there are not so many forms to fill out. If you don’t pre-register, be prepared for a “paperwork delay”. This may not be pleasant if you are having labor pains. When labor comes, most hospitals will initially evaluate you in an area known as Triage; if your labor is very early, or maybe even your contractions have stopped, you might be asked to stay home a little longer or to walk for a while until your contractions are stronger and closer together. Labor is defined as contractions that cause your cervix to start dilating, and this is what gets you admitted to Labor & Delivery.

Once admitted, your blood will be drawn and you may have an IV placed in your arm. You will no longer be able to eat or drink except for ice chips, and you may be offered an enema. Monitors will be placed on your belly to evaluate your baby’s heartbeat and to measure your contractions; sometimes this monitoring stays on throughout labor, but sometimes you can walk or shower and be monitored intermittently. Your blood pressure, pulse and oxygen level are checked periodically. Your nurse, midwife or doctor typically examines your cervix with their fingers every few hours to assess your progress, and once in labor you will dilate about 1cm each hour. When it comes time to meet your baby, your cervix will be 10cm. Some people choose a labor without medications, and there are a number of non-medical things you can do for pain control. If you have midwifery care, the nurse midwife will be at your side to help you through the labor process. If non-medical is your goal, make sure to discuss this with your clinician ahead of time, because preparing for it is critical! Otherwise, you can choose pain relief in the form of IV medication, or epidural anesthesia. IV medication is best used in early labor, and will also help you sleep. Epidural anesthesia is a safe alternative that takes most of your pain away, but temporarily makes you numb.

Once you are completely dilated (10cm), it is time to start pushing. The process can be short, or can take 2-3 hours for some first time moms!

Your beautiful baby is now delivered and placed on your chest. Dad is encouraged to cut the umbilical cord. The nurse may take the baby to do a quick exam, and will dry and wrap up your baby in a blanket to return to you if you and the baby are doing well, and early skin to skin contact is encouraged. You may breast feed .

Enjoy your pregnancy, and look at your delivery as the start of a great adventure!

Stephanie Fink, MSN is a Nurse Practitioner and Graduate Nurse Midwife at in-Touch Midwifery, a division of the Miami Center of Excellence for OB/GYN. She delivers at Baptist Hospital in Kendall.