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Childbirth Preparation 101


Over the weekend, my husband and I attended an 8-hour childbirth preparation course (aka Lamaze after a French man who taught techniques he observed in Russia to make childbirth more tolerable in the 1950s). I can’t say that I learned very much from the course, but I would highly recommend attending one before your first child as it really took away a lot of the intimidation.

Our instructor spent the first half reviewing “natural” childbirth and the stages of delivery/when to go to the hospital. The second half was spent discussing medication options, cesareans, and general comfort methodologies such as breathing techniques and focal points. I found the discussion on the stages and duration of labour very interesting: early (5-8 hours), active and transition (30 minutes to 2 hours). The average labour is apparently 14 hours. This distribution of labour pain sounds more manageable than the movies portray, but then again, I haven’t done it yet so what do I know!

I’m hesitant to even touch on the subject of medications in this blog because it is a topic that stirs up very deep emotions in a great number of soon-to-be and already mothers. That being said, I started this blog to provide scientific information and rational discussion so I will spend a few lines reviewing the medication options below – note that options are summarized on the Mayo Clinic’s website as well. I have broken them into two categories: shots and an epidural.

  • Shots: Basically this option falls under the category of narcotics. There are several types and you should consult your OBGYN regarding which ones are available to you. They lessen the pain, but still allow you to walk around (which I’m told is a positive for your comfort). Shots are put directly into your IV or injected into your muscle depending on the specific drug and start acting nearly instantaneously to about 30 minutes depending on the method of delivery, but they don’t last for very long without another dose. I am personally forgoing this option due to strong (negative) reactions to narcotics during previous operations. One non-narcotic shot that I did learn about during our class was the four-point injection of water into the lower back – similar to a TB test where they inject fluid under the skin and it causes a raised bump. This apparently reduces lower back pain during labour and is more in the realm of acupuncture.
  • Epidural: An injection performed between your vertebrae into the epidural space (just outside the spinal cord) which numbs feeling between your abdomen and your mid-thigh. A lesser discussed companion to an epidural is the urinary catheter because obviously if you’re numb through the hips you’re not going to be doing much walking around to say, the bathroom, for example. Though some facilities do offer a “light” epidural which may allow you to walk around so ask your doctor if that sounds like something that might be for you. An epidural can take up to an hour or so to take effect so our class instructor said it is best to have it when you are approximately 6 cm dilated to get the biggest “bang for your buck”. I plan to discuss this option with my OBGYN because I have naturally very low blood pressure and an epidural can cause your blood pressure to go down further.

The second most interesting part of the course was an exercise to determine how you deal with discomfort. The instructor had us put a handful of ice in our palms then let it sit there until she had us squeeze the ice then we were allowed to have it in our open palm before dumping it. The first time we did this, we just did the exercise with no distractions, the second time she had us look at a picture we had with us, and the third time she had us close our eyes and visualize (like meditation). Personally, the third time was the easiest for me – and as it turns out, she was timing them and it was the longest simulated contraction we did. Some people reported that it was easier with the visual distraction of the picture or focal point. So now I know, that when I have a really bad contraction, I’m going to close my eyes and visualize floating on my back in a pool. I’ll report back on how effective this was after I’ve had the baby.

So, in short, take a class. Even if you’ve read it all, it was nice to see other people in the same situation and hear their questions. It made us feel more prepared for this huge event in our lives and removed a lot of the fear of the unknown.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. 09/17/2011 18:39

    I just had my baby. Yay! I didn’t take a class, but that was what was best for me. I say do what’s best for you. Sometimes classes can lessen your intimidation, we decided being around other worried mothers might have the opposite effect for us. You just have to do what’s best for you. I definitely recommend educating yourself. If you don’t take a class, you need to watch DVDs, read books, and find other ways to get accurate information to prepare yourself for childbirth.

    Now that I’ve had my baby, I don’t regret the decision to skip the class.

    One thing I did was mentally prepare myself for the epidural to not work. They don’t always work. I’m so glad mine did not take an hour to take effect. I felt it immediately. It felt like stepping into a warm bath.

    My blood pressure did drop after I had an epidural. My blood pressure is usually 100/60. At one point I think it was 83/43, but the nurse stayed by my side and monitored us until my blood pressure returned to normal. She was so calm that I was never even worried (just felt a little queasy).

    • 09/19/2011 10:35

      Thanks for this helpful comment and congrats on having your baby! Did the baby’s heart beat drop with your lowered blood pressure?

      • 09/19/2011 13:56

        No baby was fine! Her heat beat dropped a couple of times during major contractions. The nurse said it was because of “head compressions?” I think it helped that the nurse was calm, I was calm, and my husband stayed calm. No doctor even came by to check it out, although it seemed low for a while.

  2. kate C. permalink
    09/18/2011 18:01

    I really enjoyed hypnobabies (HB) CDs to relax during my second labor. If you’re worried about the possible side effects of epidurals and closing your eyes and visualizing was helpful to you, I’d look into them. During both of my labors, I never once wanted an epidural (the possible side effects and not being able to move and needing a catheter = not for me! Plus, as a scientist, I actually really wanted to feel and experience everything) and I relaxed best listening to someone telling me to relax and soothing mustic, etc, so it was great.

    But I don’t believe everyone wants to or should labor the same way! (However, even if you absolutely know you want an epidural, like the previous poster said, it may not work (or worse, like someone I know, it might only work on half your body!) and so you’ll still need to know some relaxation stuff for before you get to 6cm… Getting to 6 cm is easy for some lucky people, but for most you’ll still want to breathe and relax through things for part of it! (Let me know if you’re interested in exploring the HB… may be able to hook you up with a ‘sample’! 😉

    The one thing I’m sure of is that every woman *CAN* birth completely naturally if she has the support and chooses to (excepting emergency complications, of course), I mean, that’s just how women did it for thousands and thousands and thousands of years!! HOWEVER, I don’t believe every woman wants to or should – it should be an individual choice and I disagree with pressure from both sides that either ‘natural is the only way’ or the idea that ‘you wouldn’t get your leg cut off without drugs, so why birth naturally? you’re just showing off.’ There are many personal, individual things that go into the choice – I just hope everyone gets to make a free choice in the matter without pressure!

    • 09/19/2011 10:38

      I have a dr appt on Wed where I’m going to discuss my options in more detail with her now that I’m better informed. I’ll look into those HB CDs and let you know. I’ve been meditating for years so not sure I’ll need any outside help on that front, but never hurts to be prepared, just in case!

    • 09/19/2011 13:59

      I agree! I think natural is a choice that people think is crazy, but might not be that bad. My contractions weren’t even uncomfortable until the doctor broke my water, which I don’t think he would have done if I wasn’t planning on having an epidural. I reached 6 centimeters without even knowing for sure I was in labor. Next time, I’m really considering going natural! Like the other poster, I kind of want to feel it. I’m a little disappointed they didn’t offer me the mirror to let me watch it.

  3. kate C. permalink
    09/19/2011 10:43

    They claim a lot on HB that it makes things pain-free… I wouldn’t say my experience was like that. If you’ve meditated a lot you may not need anything else, but yeah, maybe a back-up wouldn’t be a bad idea if it gets harder to concentrate! 🙂

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