Tuesday, September 13, 2011

getting ready for baby: what to expect at the hospital for labor and delivery

if you haven't had a chance to read any of our other "getting ready for baby" posts, you can catch up on those here:

we are nearing the end of our "getting ready for baby" series and this is the post that i've been looking forward to the most. i have to tell you that for my first baby, i had no idea what was going to happen. i had read all the pregnancy books, had been to the hospital tour but no one had told it to me straight. "excuse me, you're going to do what?" kept running through my mind. so, here it is in all it's glory. i've had four babies and no c-sections so i'm definitely not an expert in that field but i will share what i know.

here's my one disclaimer. i was told after my last hospital post by one of my young married male friends with no kids that i should have put in a warning for all of those guys who can't handle this sort of stuff. so here it is. if you are squeamish, turn away. i do have to say, however, that there is nothing particularly clean or pretty about childbirth. it is messy, there is blood involved, usually some choice words are spoken to the husbands that caused the whole ordeal. miraculous, yes...cleanly, not so much. if you can't handle a blog that talks about the realities of childbirth, perhaps you aren't ready to be a dad. here's the thing...kids are messy too. words like poo poo and pee pee become a part of your everyday language. it's all a messy, packaged deal. man up.

okay, here we go...here's what to expect for labor and delivery.

every delivery is different. i've had four very different experiences with each of my four children. sometimes things move fast. sometimes you will be praying for your labor to progress. i'll try to give you some basics of things that happened to me so you can be a little bit more prepared. i'm hoping this opens the floodgates for other mothers to share their horror stories. no one really ever gets to tell these so, please, feel free to let your stories fly. i can't wait to hear them.

when you finally get to the hospital, you'll go to check in. if you managing your contractions well and they are not too close together, you might be a part of this check in process. most hospitals will have you pre-register. take advantage of this and get your paperwork to the hospital well in advance. take the time to check with your insurance ahead of time to make sure that the hospital you are hoping to deliver at is covered by your insurance. i have heard stories of people showing up to hospitals ready to deliver only to be told that they would have to got elsewhere because their insurance wouldn't cover the costs. check this out before going into labor. you won't be in the mood to deal on the day of.

sometimes the hospital staff will leave the check in process to your husband or whomever is there with you. if they are capable of doing this, let them. you can be taken to your room and start to get settled.

you will be asked to change into a hospital gown. this will mean stripping down to completely naked and putting on the the gown the hospital supplies. here's where you'll want that robe if you've brought one. the gowns open in the back and you may be walking the aisles. crazy things can happen while you are getting dressed. i had my water break in the bathroom while i was changing. this can make a big mess on the floor. don't clean it up yourself. call the nurse and ask for help. they will have towels for you to use and something to clean the floor with. your only job in the hospital is to have a baby. leave everything else to the people who are hired to help you.

once you are settled in bed, someone will check to see how far you have progressed. this will be the first of many times that a complete stranger will put on gloves and stick their hands inside you to see where the baby is. they will use their fingers to measure how many centimeters you are dilated. this basically will check how big the opening of the cervix is at that moment. you may hear different things from different health care providers. this, i have found, is fairly subjective as people tend to measure the openings differently. three centimeters with one nurse could mean two centimeters with another. don't get mad at the nurses. it will all work out.

at some point, they will strap two big bands across your belly. one of them will be a mini-baby monitor, put there to monitor the baby's heart rate. this is attached with some jelly to get a good reading. the second band will measure the length and strength of your contractions. this will be helpful so that as a contraction peaks, your husband can tell you that things are calming down. if nothing else, this will give him something to do while he's waiting.

the magic number for giving birth is ten centimeters. once you are there, you are ready to go. before that happens, a bunch of other things will take place.

if your contractions are not very close together and you aren't dilated much, you may be walking the halls, bouncing on a birthing ball, pretty much doing anything but jumping jacks to get that baby to move its sweet self along. be prepared. this could take some time. at some point in this process, you'll be given an i.v. this is always one of my least favorite steps in the whole process. i always found the tubes and the i.v. bag cumbersome. still, they'll give you an i.v. which will stay with you until they are sure they don't need to administer any more meds to you. this could be through the first day and night and sometimes into the next day.

you will have various people coming into the room to check you. at some point, a doctor will come in to check you. it is rare that you will have the doctor deliver you that has been your doctor through all your prenatal visits. more than likely, some other stranger with an md attached to their name will shake your hand introducing him or herself, put on plastic gloves, and examine your nether region. i've also had medical students, nurses in training and at some points i think cleaning people come in to see how i was doing. i one time had six medical students pop in to see if they could all check me out. at that point i drew the line and told them no. you do not have to be accommodating if you don't feel like it. they will respect your wishes. just be prepared for your private parts to be private no more.

during this time, no matter how long it may be, you will be given little to nothing to eat or drink. a couple of my labors lasted a while and i was starving. if they are willing to bring you something, don't be afraid to ask for it. some nurses will help a girl out. if you have a chance, eat something before you get to the hospital. this one little meal can hold you for a while.

use the restroom often during this time. even if you don't feel like getting out of bed, make it to the potty. sometimes a full bladder can keep the baby from moving down like it needs too. if you decide to get an epidural, you won't be able to use the bathroom once it is in and they'll need to empty your bladder with a catheter. go on your own before this has to happen.

at some point, if you choose to do so, you will be offered an epidural. this will usually happen before you get to four centimeters. these are not comfortable to have inserted. you will have to crouch over your belly, putting your back into a "c" shape. they will give you a shot in your back to "numb" the area and then they will stick a very long needle into your spine. they make dads sit down during this process because they are afraid they will pass out. it isn't pleasant. still, epidurals that work properly can literally take the pain away from labor and delivery. you'll feel like you could host a party in your room.

if your water hasn't broken on its own, your doctor may also break your water. this is done with an apparatus that looks like a hook. this will be inserted inside you, guided in place by your doctor and your water will be broken. it's not horribly uncomfortable but it doesn't feel great either. there will be towels placed underneath you to collect all the "water."

eventually, you will be far enough along to push. most rooms let you labor and deliver in one room. other hospitals will require you to move rooms for delivery. the labor and delivery beds come apart toward the foot of the bed to make room for the doctor to sit. there will be a bucket at his feet to catch things other than the baby as they fall. it sounds primitive but it's reality.

pushing can take time. sometimes babies get stuck and need to be vacuumed out. sometimes they pop right out. sometimes you will need an episiotomy. this is a small cut that is made in your va-jay-jay to make it easier for the baby to get out. i've never had one but i've heard it's better to get cut than to tear. eventually, the baby will arrive and all the preparation will be worth it all. you'll get to see your baby, the umbilical cord will be cut (painless), and you'll deliver the placenta. the doctor will also be pushing on your belly this whole time, like wringing out a wash cloth, to get everything out that he or she can.

are you horrified yet? this should get you through delivery. sometimes things don't work well and they need to do a c-section. this is happening more frequently in the u.s. in recent years. don't freak out if this happens to you. the doctors know what they are doing. just relax and know that at the end of the ordeal, you will still win the prize.

i know that's a lot to take in. next week i'll let you know what happens next. the fun truly continues. you learn that there is no such thing as privacy anymore or personal space. it's all sacrificed for the magic of delivery. still, you get a baby out of the ordeal so that is a pretty great trade off if you ask me.

do you have some stories you could share about labor and delivery? we'd love to hear them...and i can't wait to share post delivery stories next week. love it all!


  1. What about hiring a doula? I am surprised that was not mentioned here, because this is a pretty complete list of what labor and birth are like in a hospital.
    Having a doula with you will make everything seem more friendly. Having one continuous person is reassuring. Your partner will be glad of this, too.

    Or: Have you considered having a baby at home with a midwife?

    1. This seems like a list for people who deliver in hospitals, which is important and relavant. Midwives are wonderful for home births, however some women must deliever in a hospital. It is not an option for everyone, and not every blog about labor and delivery must include it.

  2. I was only 16 when I gave birth to my now 9 month old daughter. I wasn't afraid of labor at all. Christmas Eve morning I started having contractions at 7:00. My mom and I monitored them all day, finally around 5:00 I was ready, I wanted my baby so we went in and they kept us there till about 10:00 then sent me home due to me not dilating. I had horrid contractions all night that i woke up every time! Needless to say my family's christmas was basically everyone catering to the girl in labor. I was told not to go back to the hospital until they were three minutes apart. Finally around 4:00 I couldn't take the pain (i was finally afraid of giving birth). They emitted me, attached everything and left me to relax. Who relaxes while having a baby?! At about 11:00 they gave me the epidural. I passed out, don't remember anything after signing the papers. At around 6:30 my doctors (i had three of them, two of which were in training) broke my water. Then at around 7:00 I started to push. It was seriously the worst feeling in the world! at 7:35 that morning my beautiful daughter was born. Only 48 and a half hours later!

  3. Also, it may be pretty uncomfortable when they check you and once your water is broke, it isn't a one time thing-you keep leaking the fluid as your body makes it. Finally, you may poop when pushing. Don't be embarrassed. It happens ALL the time and the nurses are used to it. Using the muscles that make you poop are the best ones for getting baby out anyway so it's bound to happen.

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