As a first time mom, it feels like you can never be fully prepared for your first labor experience. There are so many things I wish I knew about labor as a first time mom. You know you need to prepare to some degree, but since every birth and baby is unique, preparation only goes so far. As I head into my third pregnancy, I reflect often on my first labor and all the things I know now that I wish I knew then. If you are a first time mom, hopefully some of my experience can give you the real preparation you are looking for!
I will preface this by saying I am extremely fortunate to have had two easy births so far, and I am very aware this is not the case for all moms. My experience is unlike anyone else, and your experience will also be unique to you. But there are some common threads that run through the birthing experience and some things I would go back and tell myself as a first time mom.
You Know Your Body Best
The most important thing I realized after my first birth that needs to be shouted from the rooftops: YOU KNOW YOUR BODY BEST. Yes, labor is new and your body is doing crazy things. It is okay to have unknowns. Even still, that body has been yours for 20, 30, 40 years and you have been carrying this specific human for several months up to this point. You know that little bean and you know yourself. As soon as our triage nurses and hospital staff heard we were first time parents, they automatically decided they knew more than I did about how I was actually feeling.
I would tell them I was feeling a lot of pressure, and they would say, “No, its not pressure yet. It is your first time, and you have hours left. Get comfortable.” I would tell them I think my water broke and they would tell me, “No, most people do not have their water break yet.” My husband told them I was having contractions 2 minutes apart on the car ride there, and we were told, “This is your first. I am sure they seemed fast, but they were much longer than that.”
We had to ask them repeatedly to take us seriously with how I was feeling, and by the time I got a nurse to actually check me per my request, I was already at the point of needing to push. Looking back, I knew how I was feeling and where I was with my labor more than they did. I understand that they have to deal a certain way with first time mothers, but I also felt like I was not listened to for most of the birth. Be confident in how you are feeling, and make sure you are heard.
Your Nurse Matters. A LOT
I always worried with my first that “my doctor” would not be the one to deliver my baby. During my visits I tried to see all the doctors in my practice to feel like I knew most of them. I remember thinking that getting the best doctor for me was so important. Turns out, my doctor was with me for about 4 minutes, and I hardly remember interacting with him. BUT MY NURSE. That woman was glorious. Other than actually catching my first babe as she came flying out, that nurse did literally every other thing.
Trusting your nurse and getting comfortable with your nurse is essential for a confident and exceptional labor experience. She made me laugh when I needed to, talked to me about baby names, breathed right along with me, and made my husband and I both feel like we were her only patients even when we weren’t. Shout out to all you fantastic nurses out there. You are the real MVP!
You Can Have It Your Way
It is the job of your delivery staff to provide you with all information and recommendations to keep you informed and allow you to make decisions. With that understanding, you can do things the way you want. If you are not comfortable with something when they describe it, ask for additional information or just say no. I remember feeling lots of pressure to do things “the normal” way with my birth. Lay the normal way, follow all post birth routines etc. Barring medical complications and other unknown scenarios, your baby is yours and you can do what feels right to you.
I remember asking my nurses to bathe my daughter in the room with us and keep her with us during her exams instead of taking her to the nursery. I asked my husband to be the one to help with her post birth cleaning and stats and to be asked before any vaccines or medication were used. You do not have to have a rock solid birth plan going into the day. You just have to have the confidence to know that you are the driver and your baby is only yours. Do what feels right to you.
Pack Lots of Snacks
This one is a joke (but not really.) I literally could not stand the hospital food and sent my husband on several Panera Bread and Chic-fil-a runs. Pack snacks for you, for your husband, and for visitors if you plan on having any. It makes for a much more enjoyable stay. I learned the second time around when I came armed with drinks and my favorite foods!
Take All The Photos
I am not talking about professional newborn photos (which are totally great and something I also am a huge advocate for!) But, I am also talking about the raw, in the moment pictures of your birth and your babe. Do not stress over the custom swaddle set, perfect sized bow, and making sure your hair and makeup is done. If you have the time and focus to do those things, more power to you! If you don’t, take the pictures anyways. My favorite pictures of me as a mom, are some of those first few pictures of me holding my daughter. She was slimy, I was wearing glasses and unwashed hair, and my boobs were out in more pictures than I can count. But those are the pictures that I cherish.
My belly is still big, she is still so fresh, and my husband and I are becoming parents literally in front of the camera. Just take the picture! You won’t regret it. No matter how your birth experience goes, the important thing is having a safe delivery for you and your babe. Whether a home birth or hospital birth, meds or not, natural or not, all births are exactly as they need to be.
All the best,