1. What are some tell-tale signs to watch for before going into labor?
Some women experience very distinct signs of labor while others do not. No one knows what causes labor to start or when it will start, but several hormonal and physical changes may indicate the beginning of labor. The fi rst stage of labor is called “lightening” or the process of your baby settling or lowering into your pelvis, which can happen anytime from a few weeks or a few hours before labor. Passing of the mucus plug or “bloody show” and experiencing contractions are alsocommon signs of labor.
2. What is “false labor?”
Before “true” labor begins, you may have “false” labor pains, also known as Braxton Hicks contractions. These contractions can be described as a tightening in the abdomen that comes and goes but do not last long, increase in frequency, get stronger, or get closer together over time. These are perfectly normal and may start to occur in your second trimester, although more commonly in your third trimester of pregnancy. These are your body’s way of getting ready for the “real thing.”
3. How do I know if I’m having true labor?
Check out the table below so you can distinguish false labor from true labor.
4. How often are vaginal exams performed during labor?
Upon admission, vaginal examination is very important especially if the patient complains of watery vaginal discharge. During labor, the frequency of vaginal examination would depend on the rate of progress of the labor. If a patient is in early phase of labor, vaginal examinations are minimized since there aren’t many changes expected yet. But as soon as the patient enters the active phase of labor—where the cervical dilation is at a faster rate—then vaginal examination is done every two hours.
However, if the patient’s bag of water already broke, lesser vaginal examinations are performed to prevent infections that can affect the baby.
5. What can I do to relieve early labor pains?
The first stage of labor is best experienced in the comfort of your home. Try to distract yourself: take a walk, or watch a movie. You can also soak in a warm tub or take a warm shower with the approval of your physician. If early labor pains happens at night, try to sleep; you need to store up your energy for active labor.
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6. How do I know when it’s “time” to go to the hospital or birth center?
Regular checkups become frequent as your pregnancy reaches full term. At about your 36th week of gestation, you doctor will instruct you to go to the hospital when you have:
regular uterine contractions occurring every 10 to 15 minutes
extreme abdominal pain
watery or bloody discharge
symptoms like swelling of the feet and hands, decreased or no fetal movement, headache, body weakness, difficulty in breathing, dizziness or even visual disturbance; these can be manifestations of complicated pregnancy or labor.
7. Will anesthesia affect my baby’s health?
Anesthesia inducted by a specialist will be safe for the mother and the baby. The obstetrician and the anesthesiologist are partners in caring for a patient: from wanting to get pregnant to the pregnancy itself, to delivering the baby. There are always two patients to consider—the mother and the unborn child. So, all the safest procedures and medications are given to ensure that both patients are not harmed. However, the mother may have adverse reactions to the anesthesia due to individual sensitivity or low level of tolerance to the drug. If such occurs, this may decrease the oxygen supply of the baby and/or cause inactivity. These are unwanted circumstances which can be best managed with early and prompt recognition to avoid any complications. The key is to have a good and trusted anesthesiologist.
8. Can a short labor be harmful to my baby?
Short labor isn’t always as short as it seems. Oftentimes, the mother has been having painless contractions for hours, days, even weeks, which would mean gradual dilation of the cervix. This slow-build up, quick-resolution labor places no extra strain on the fetus, and may even be less stressful than the average 12-hour labor. There is no evidence to support the notion that an infant must go through a minimum amount of labor in order to be considered healthy at birth.
9. Why is fetal monitoring important during labor?
A baby spends nine months of her life floating peacefully in a warm and comforting amniotic bath. The trip down the narrow maternal pelvis will be no joy ride. The baby will be squeezed, compressed, and pushed during labor. This is a risky, stressful journey, so a fetal monitor gauges the response of the baby’s heartbeat to the contractions of the uterus. The monitor printout may show signs of possible fetal stress and distress through variations from the normal reactions to labor.
10. How can uterine contractions be stimulated without using drugs?
There are two ways—direct and indirect. Direct stimulation is when you massage or lightly squeeze the abdomen over the uterus. Indirect stimulation is when you stimulate the nipples. The principle here, as in breastfeeding, is that touching the nipple sends signal to the pituitary gland in the abdomen to release the hormone pitocin to the blood stream, which will then target the smooth muscles of the uterus to contract. Another indirect way is to rupture the bag of water if the cervix is already opened.
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Julia Bulaon-Beltran, M.D., ob-gynecologist
Teresa Luna, M.D., ob-gynecologist
What To Expect When You’re Expecting by Arlene Eisenberg, Heidi Murkoff, and Sandee Hathaway