Understanding signs and stages of labour, as well as how your personality is likely to handle birth, will help you to prepare for this life-changing day.
Classic signs of labour (which can occur in any order) are:
Show: The discharge of the mucus plug from the vagina over a few hours or even a few days; may include some blood.
Contractions: These often begin as back pain or lower pelvic cramping, gradually becoming stronger, more regular and closer together.
Breaking of waters: Amniotic fluid (which has a sweet smell and is straw-coloured) either trickles or gushes out, depending on where the membrane has broken.
The stages of labour
Labour is divided into three main stages, which makes it easier to understand. However, you don’t need to remember these. Try to concentrate more on the fact that you are birthing your baby, and that it’s simply an awesome life experience.
The cervix starts to soften and open up during the last few weeks of pregnancy and is usually 1–2cm dilated when labour begins. You may experience a latent phase (i.e. labour may come and go) – this is normal. However, first stage ‘officially’ starts from when you are aware that labour has begun, and ends when the cervix is fully dilated (10cm). ‘Active’ labour begins when your contractions are 5–10 minutes apart.
Your cervix is almost 10cm dilated, and your body is preparing for the second stage. The release of adrenalin may cause you to feel irritable or anxious. Contractions may disappear for a while, or an urge to bear down may overtake you.
It’s time to birth your baby! Your cervix is fully dilated and with each contraction, Baby moves down the birth canal. As Baby’s head crowns (i.e. the largest diameter of the head is born), you may feel pressure or burning. As Baby’s head emerges, she starts to turn for the birth of her shoulders, after which the rest of her body should slip out easily.
Your uterus will contract further to expel your placenta. You may receive an injection to speed this process up, but the oxytocin that is released when you begin breastfeeding straight after birth will trigger this naturally, and is something you could ask for if you have an uncomplicated birth.
The importance of individuality
An ancient system of medicine called Ayurveda (meaning ‘Science of Life’ or otherwise called ‘Mind-Body Medicine’) takes bio-emotional influences affecting all of life into consideration.
Ayurveda identifies three inherent ‘types’ of people, although there can be overlaps. One type is not better or worse than the others – these influences simply form the basis of your inherent make-up. This approach enables you to understand individuality, and avoid a ‘one size fits all’ approach, especially for labour and birth.
Type 1 – change is the name of your game
In a nutshell, you’re enthusiastic, but impatient and anxious. Typical characteristics are:
Petite build, poor endurance with bursts of energy
Talkative, using quick movements
Dry skin and hair, cold hands and feet
Vivacious, imaginative, moody and restless
Dislikes loud noise and loves change
Sensitive and emotional
Prone to insomnia, constipation and IBS
Often forgets to eat or is very hungry but for small meals. Your core labour challenges are your low pain threshold, impatience and irritability.
Massage, especially between your eyebrows and over your temples, will help improve your endurance
Drink and snack throughout labour for energy
A private midwife, doula or a trusted birth companion can quietly encourage you
Comfort objects like music and a pillow from home can allay anxiety
Alternate movement and rest to pace yourself
Type 2 – you’re intense about life
In a nutshell, you’re determined but need to feel in control. Typical characteristics are:
Medium build, medium endurance
Ambitious, precise and punctual
Enterprising, a natural leader
Can be stubborn, sarcastic, critical and prone to anger
Analytical, wanting to know the options
Worries when not in control, often becoming demanding
Prone to headaches, acne, skin rashes, halitosis, piles, heartburn and indigestion
Meals must be on time, and often very hungry
Your core labour challenge is to let go of control enough to ‘open up’ to birth your baby.
Have a flexible birth plan for focus and a greater sense of control; explain to your care provider ahead of time why this will help relax you, and that you’ll be flexible should the need arise
Explain that you might prefer not to be touched during labour as you can then more easily switch to ‘internal’ mode, a very good coping mechanism for you
Visualise how your baby moves down and is born
Use water – deep baths, relaxing showers or moist sheets wrapped around your belly
Arrange to play music of your choice
Type 3 – you’re a natural Earth Mother
In a nutshell, you’re serene but can be complacent. You seemingly have natural talent for life, pregnancy, labour and mothering. Typical characteristics are:
A strong, big-boned, athletic build; excellent endurance
Tolerant and forgiving, slow to anger
Smooth lustrous skin and thick hair
May be prone to paranoia, possessiveness and depression
Indecisiveness and procrastination
Can skip meals easily, slow digestion, a very slow eater and tends to comfort eat
Slow, groggy start to the day; sleeps deeply
Prone to mucus congestion, allergies, obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol
Excellent memory, methodical nature
Dislike of damp and cold
Type 3 moms-to-be often don’t feel the need for special labour and birth preparation. Unexpected challenges might be difficult to deal with, but these five tips will help you:
As one of the lucky souls who gives birth quite easily, simply make the most of the experience!
Request that your relaxed nature is supported by natural oxytocin promotion with dimmed lights, quiet sounds and music
Massage calf and thigh muscles with Arnica oil to relieve the bruised, lame feeling from impeded circulation in labour
Stay mobile (as inactivity is not your natural state), ask that the labour room is not too cold, and drink warm beverages to sustain your energy levels
Plan for your baby to not be separated from you at all – not only is this best for Baby but for your recovery and sense of maternal prowess too