From Ideal to Real: A Labor and Delivery Nurse’s Tips to Prepare for Childbirth

Nicole S. Didizian, RN-BSN, CCE, CBC

There is no such thing as a perfect labor… or a perfect birth.

You may be thinking, “Well, that’s obvious. I know I can’t completely control what my body does or doesn’t do in labor.” But, let’s be honest. How many of us, deep down inside, are wishing for our delivery to go according to a birth plan that we have in our minds? I certainly did. Both times!

Facebook photos and Instagram stories highlight the best-of-the-best moments. Your friends might share their birth War Stories that make you fear the worst. Everyone’s birth journey is unique, so please remember this: you can only control it up to a certain point. After that, it’s time to put your trust in Mother Nature and your chosen medical professionals. The following tips can help you stay calm if your ideal birth takes an unexpected turn.

1. Keep an Open Mind

Mamas, I am going to be real with you. I can almost guarantee that your birth story will end up being different than your ideal. But please be reassured that different does not have to mean disappointing! It can simply mean unexpected. Or surprising. Or unplanned.

My first tip to share before you go into labor: do your best to keep an open mind. If you focus on the end goal, you will be more able to go with the flow and feel confident about the decisions you and your healthcare team make together. We can all agree that the most important labor outcome is a healthy mom and a healthy baby. We will help you to get there, even if there are some surprises along the way.

2. Pain with a Purpose

Pain is something we are all thinking about long before we go into labor. How many times have you heard references to how awful the pain of childbirth is? It’s a society staple. But before the thought of those Hollywood labor scenes make your anxiety go through the roof, I want you to take a moment to consider something: Labor pain differs from every other pain you have experienced in your life. Why? Because it is purposeful and anticipated. Mamas, this is a huge deal. Unlike injury or illness, you can prepare for labor pain ahead of time by creating a plan. For all my fellow Type-A personalities out there, this is great news!

There are many ways to manage the discomfort of early labor and active labor. And guess what? You have up to 40 weeks to research, choose and practice which methods work best for you. I want to emphasize practice here. A tool such as meditation is not something you will be able to utilize if you have never done it before. Breathing patterns feel foreign the first time you attempt them. If you try them often and they still make you giggle, it’s time to move on to something else. Choosing coping strategies that work best for you is critical to success.

Remember: your mind is your most powerful tool in labor. You can choose to let it work for or against you. Think of focal points, massage, hot/cold compresses, aromatherapy, breathing and meditation as a variety of tools you can place into your labor toolbox. If you have several options available and one stops working, you simply select another.

In this case, practice does make perfect! Even if your ideal labor involves an epidural as soon as you can get one, having a Plan B for pain management is always a good idea. After all, we never know at what point we may encounter our first fork in the road during what might be a long labor journey.

3. Partner Communication

Let’s face it, our labor partners have a difficult job. Their calm, loving presence is often critical to the expectant mother’s emotional well-being, and yet their exact role often remains undefined. Sure, we suggest and expect that they will offer support to the new mother and baby, but what exactly does that mean? Our partners are not mind readers, and we shouldn’t expect them to be.

Before welcoming baby, it is important to take a moment to evaluate the communication within your relationship. I often ask parents-to-be in my Childbirth Prep class the following questions: What can your partner do for you in the labor room? What do you not want them to do? What is your biggest fear surrounding labor? What are you most looking forward to? It is important for both of you to answer these questions, not just the moms!

I worked with a dad-to-be recently who shared that he wants his wife to tell him exactly what to do in the labor room and when. He shared that his fear is that she won’t be able to verbalize the best way for him to help if she is in pain. He feared that she would be left feeling unsupported and as a result, he would feel helpless and like a failure. His sincerity brought tears to his partner’s eyes. She didn’t realize how invested he was in making sure that he did everything he could to make her labor experience a positive one. This wasn’t something they had talked about before because the topic seemed obvious and the mother-to-be assumed she already knew how her partner felt.

Moms, please don’t hesitate to have these conversations before your labor is imminent. Plan ahead and practice. Talk with your partner about topics that may seem silly or obvious. Trust your healthcare providers. Last, but not least, believe that whatever path your labor ends up taking, advanced preparation and flexibility in the moment will allow you to be mentally present for the birth of your child. My wish for you is that your childbirth experience is everything you hope and dream it will be. And most of all, that you feel empowered to create happy memories that will last a lifetime.

Nicole Didizian, founder of Main Line Family Education, RN-BSN, CCE, CBC

Nicole Didizian is the founder of Main Line Family Education (www.mlfed.com), a Learning and Support Center located in Devon, PA that offers childbirth classes, parenting classes, and postpartum support for new parents and young families. Nicole is a Registered Nurse and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Literature and a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. She has over a decade of experience working in Labor and Delivery, Newborn Nursery, Postpartum and NICU units and is a Certified Childbirth Educator and a Certified Breastfeeding Counselor. She is the mother of 2 young children and resides in the Philadelphia suburbs.

Main Line Family Education: www.mlfed.com

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