The early weeks of pregnancy can feel like a drag, but it's not long until time starts passing at a much faster rate and the finish line is suddenly visible in the distance. As D-Day and labour draws closer, it's natural to feel a little apprehensive, particularly if it's your first baby or if you've previously had a difficult birth experience.
There are, however, a few things that you can do to prepare for labour and birth - things that can help to relieve some of the trepidation that you may be feeling and help to ensure you're in the best possible place when baby decides it's time to meet its adoring public.
Attend Antenatal Classes.
These classes are often run in the maternity hospital, but they can also be accessed privately and locally. During the classes, you will learn all about the stages of labour, how breathing techniques can help you to manage the pain, the pain-relief options that are available, and what to expect if your baby needs to go to the SCBU (Special Care Baby Unit). You'll also learn what to expect in those first minutes and hours after baby's birth and how different your experience may be depending on whether you have a vaginal or Caesarean-section delivery
The classes are a fantastic resource and a comfortable environment in which to ask any of those awkward or embarrassing questions that you may have. Classes that take place in the hospital sometimes also include a tour of the labour ward, which can be a demystifying experience as you'll find there's not a single weapon of torture in sight. Furthermore, antenatal classes are not just for first-timers. Refresher classes are available for those who have had a large gap between pregnancies or possibly had a C-section the first time around. As they say, "knowledge is power".
Massage your perineum
This didn't sound too appealing the first time that I heard of it, or even manageable to be honest, taking into account the size of my bump. It's claimed that massaging your perineum with a lubricant such as almond oil or Vitamin E oil, in the weeks beforehand, can help the area to stretch during childbirth and reduce tearing. It seemed to help me the second time around and anything that might work is definitely worth a try.
Estimated due date is just that - estimated
Approximately 5pc of babies actually arrive on their due date, and yet we place huge emphasis on it. If the day comes and goes without as much as a peep from baby, it can lead to you feeling very frustrated and completely fed up. Patience is a virtue that you may need to call upon here. Some babies just need that little bit longer to be ready, and most hospitals won't consider an induction until you are over 41 weeks pregnant
The flip side of this is that other babies arrive without warning and before that aimed-for date, surprising mum and possibly leaving her totally unprepared in the process. For that reason, pack your hospital bag well in advance, and always make sure there's petrol or diesel in the car. If you have other children, make sure the person who has agreed to take care of them keeps their mobile phone switched on, and if you have your hospital chart or notes at home, make sure they're easily to hand at all times.
Allow for the unexpected
While we might create an ideal birth scenario in our heads, the reality is that birth can be unpredictable. In the weeks leading up to the big day, try not to over focus on a 'picture perfect' birth that you're aiming for, and allow yourself to consider the possibility that things may turn out differently. Sometimes intervention is required and while everyone accepts that mother and baby's safety is of paramount importance, it can still be upsetting if you end up needing a C-section for example, when your heart was set on a natural birth. The same can be the case if you planned a drug-free birth, but decided during labour that you needed some pain relief. Keeping an open mind is important. Speaking with trusted friends and family members about their own birth experiences can help you to feel more prepared for every eventuality.
Distract from the scheduled
Scheduled inductions and elective C-sections are usually planned for medical reasons and not, contrary to some suggestions, because mum is "too posh to push" or wants to give birth at a convenient time. Medical necessity aside, an elective C-section is usually a much calmer affair than its emergency equivalent, while a scheduled induction can mean that a potentially panicked middle of the night hospital run, is ruled out. In spite of appearing very civilised, organised and calm, it's not unusual to feel very nervous in the days beforehand. With the surprise element of when things will happen supposedly removed, there is great awareness about what's coming. Distraction is the best tool here. Go for a cuppa with your friends, do some last-minute shopping, get your hair done, anything that removes your focus from your flagged D-Day. And, if the night before you really can't sleep, don't torture yourself trying, watch a boxset and chill.
But be warned - even babies scheduled for delivery can upset the applecart. My sixth child decided to begin his entrance into the world in the middle of an end-of-year dinner with some fellow senior infant mums. Along with providing plenty of material for the after-dinner chit-chat, his planned elective section for three weeks later became an emergency one instead!
Those last few weeks can be exhausting, as the weight of a burgeoning bump and late pregnancy niggles kick in. There can be a real temptation to take up residence on the couch and only move when you absolutely have to. However, maintaining some degree of fitness in pregnancy is linked to an easier delivery and a quicker recovery. Getting out and about for a walk can help you to feel better, both mentally and physically, and as you get closer to your due date, may even encourage a comfy lodger to vacate his/her womb cocoon-like premises. In addition to this, your fitness levels can contribute to how quickly you get back on your feet after delivery.
Beware of Scaremongering
As advantageous as it can be to hear birth stories and coping methods from friends and family, there are always those happy to share horror stories and traumatic tales. If you find yourself in the company of someone only too keen to tell you their terrifying and dramatic childbirth anecdotes, explain that you're nervous and you'd rather not hear them. There is no point in listening to something that will only stress you further. And chances are, the story is wildly exaggerated anyway.
Doing something nice for yourself, or taking a little break with your partner before baby's arrival is a great way to relax and get into the right frame of mind ahead of the birth. Everyone knows that the early weeks and months with a baby are pretty full on, so doing something relaxing, before your bump is too big to truly enjoy it, can help you to recharge your batteries and enjoy the special time that's left.
Inform your birth partner of your wishes
Chat with your birth partner ahead of your baby's birth about the ways in which you would like him/her to support you during labour. Remember to cover every eventuality. Birth partners can feel at a bit of a loss during the whole process so speaking with them in advance gives them a clear indication of what you would like and offers you the comfort of knowing that there is someone else to vocalise your wishes while you're coping with the contractions.
You might decide that you'd like your partner to reveal the gender, if you don't already know, or cut the umbilical cord if that option is available to you. Talking all these things through in advance makes them more likely to actually happen.
Trust your instincts
Prepare as much as you can and educate yourself as much as you can, and then accept that much of it will depend on how the actual birth goes on the day. Trust your instincts and if you have any worries in the build-up, contact your doctor or midwife immediately. Above all, remember that it's not true that a baby's movements reduce as you get closer to labour or your due date. Normal fetal movements vary from baby to baby. If you notice any change in the frequency or pattern of what is normal for your baby, don't delay in seeking medical attention. Apart from all that, relax and enjoy what's left of your pregnancy. The rollercoaster of parenthood awaits!
Hospital Bag Checklist
ø Old nightdress or oversized T-shirt for labour
ø 3 pairs of PJs (button front are easier for breastfeeding), or more if you know you're having a C-section
ø Light dressing gown (hospitals are very, very warm)
ø Several pairs of oversized dark knickers (the disposable ones tear too easily)
ø Nursing/maternity bras
ø 2 packs maternity pads (have more at home, at the ready)
ø Breast pads
ø 3 dark-coloured towels
ø Flip-flops for the shower
ø Going home clothes (you'll most likely still need maternity clothes)
ø 6 babygros
ø 6 baby vests
ø 2 baby cardigans
ø Baby hat
ø Baby scratch mittens
ø 2 baby towels
ø Newborn nappies
ø Cotton wool
ø Petroleum jelly
ø 2 baby blankets
ø Moses basket-sized sheets
*Remember all baby items should be pre-washed
**Don't also forget to bring things like your phone charger, hairdryer, books/magazines, camera and above all, your hospital notes if you keep them at home.
Donna Taggart met her husband Colm McCaughey 10 years ago when she was working as a cleaner in Omagh County Hospital to help pay for college. Colm was working in IT there, and he introduced himself rather cheekily on a Christmas night out.
Mothers & Babies
‘It’s natural that your baby will crawl up to your breast and suck away,” proclaimed the midwife at my antenatal class. After a lengthy induction process followed by an emergency caesarean, a medical team swooped in to latch my baby girl on to the breast. Whacked out of it on morphine and an epidural, it’s a blur; hardly Mother Earth stuff.