How to Prepare for Labor and Delivery

James N. Martin, Jr, MD

By James N. Martin, Jr, MD
President, The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

For some women, the thought of labor and delivery causes a lot of anxiety. However, preparing mentally and physically early in pregnancy can help you have a smoother delivery.

Many women choose a childbirth partner. This person can be a spouse, partner, friend, or relative who can provide support through your pregnancy, labor, and delivery. He or she can accompany you to prenatal visits and childbirth classes. You can practice breathing or relaxation exercises together, and on delivery day, your partner can coach you through contractions and help carry out what you’ve learned in your classes.

Some women also choose to have a doula, or professional labor assistant. Doulas support both women and their childbirth partners and can take some of the pressure off during a long labor.

Childbirth education classes help prepare women for what to expect in labor and delivery. The techniques taught in popular classes, such as Lamaze, Bradley, and Read, can vary, but the idea is the same—that fear and tension make pain worse. They aim to relieve pain through education, emotional support, relaxation techniques, and touch. Your doctor can give you information on the different types of classes available.

During childbirth classes, you will learn about a number of different ways to approach labor and delivery. Topics that may be addressed include having a natural childbirth vs. using pain relief medication during labor, episiotomy, breastfeeding after delivery, and who will be in the delivery room.

If you choose to work with a midwife, ACOG recommends using a certified nurse-midwife (CNM) or certified midwife (CM). Unlike lay midwives, CNMs and CMs are accredited, have passed a national certification exam, and are trained professionals. They work with qualified doctors to care for women and their babies through early pregnancy, labor, delivery, and the weeks after birth.

Women must also consider where they will deliver. It is important to be in a setting where trained emergency medical staff are available in case any complications arise that threaten the life or health of the mother or baby. Therefore, ACOG recommends that all births take place in a hospital setting or a birthing center within a hospital complex.

Discussing these details beforehand can ease confusion at the time of your delivery. You can make a list of options that appeal to you and share them with your doctor for review. He or she can let you know if your preferences conflict with hospital policy. ?

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