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Ask the Midwives…

Updated: Mar 31, 2023

Labour + Birth

We took some of your most asked questions and have made a little blog post about them so you get look back on them when you need to.

Welcome to our new mini series, the first of 2023! Ask the midwives…

What do contractions feel like?

We get asked this question all the time during antenatal workshops and in our antenatal clinics at work. It is a great question! I can’t describe what contractions feel like completely but I can say that you will absolutely know when you are having them. Imagine a big giant wave that takes over your body completely, leaving you little room to do anything else but close your eyes and breathe. Contractions (or surges if you don’t want to use that word) are powerful, intense things. I guess the textbook answer would be that they feel like very intense period cramps that might start at your back and then move round to your stomach which will tighten and relax. I would say contractions are all consuming but remember you will get lovely long breaks between each one. A time where you can rest and close your eyes and gather your energy.

I am worried I wont be able to cope.

When I was expecting my first baby I was working on a labour ward in a busy London hospital. I remember watching so many women birthing their babies and thinking, how will I manage this? It looked like such hard work! On one particularly busy shift I cried some tears in the sluice - mostly hormones and tiredness but also anxiety about this huge physical feat that lay ahead of me. An incredibly wise midwife, who had seen and looked after so many women in labour, told me that if all is going well, if the baby is in a good position, contractions regular and rhythmic, the body is responding and the mind is letting the body do what it needs to, then birth is completely manageable. Sometimes when things go a little of piste; a baby gets into an awkward position, contractions don’t seem to dilate the cervix, mums get exhausted or dehydrated, it can be hard to remain calm. Remember to breathe. Try and take each contraction as it comes. Start telling yourself now, in pregnancy, that you can do this. Move around as much as you need too. Ask for pain relief if you need it. Remember, it is not about having a ‘perfect birth’, it is about making the best decisions for you and your baby at the time.

When do I need to call the midwife/how will I know when I am in labour?

I think this question worries expectant couples (and their birth partners!) the most. Suffice to say that there is not necessarily a ‘perfect’ time for calling the midwives. Whether you are planning a homebirth or going into hospital, it is worth remembering that (generally speaking) first babies can take their sweeeeeet time. I know films and TV wouldn’t have you believe this but there really isn’t any rush. Your body has been working to keep this baby safe inside you for nine months, reversing this process isn’t going to happen in turbo time. Be patient. Listen to your body. Really only you know the answer to this question. However, if you need a second opinion, ring the midwives. They might not necessarily ask you to come into the hospital but we can reassure you that all is going well. Ideally, midwives would recommend waiting until the contractions are strong, regular and rhythmic and have been coming for a little while.

But what if I leave it too late and the baby is born in the car/side of the road?

Birth is essentially a pretty slow, unhurried, calm event. Movies are always going to depict birth as a big drama with women popping out babies on the side of the road/up a mountain/in the shops etc etc It’s not good viewing otherwise! And just because your friend’s friend’s cousin had her baby on the bypass, it doesn't mean you will. Occasionally babies are ‘born before arrival’ of any health professionals but it doesn’t happen often and it is far more likely to be women expecting subsequent babies and not those in labour with their first. That said, babies do have a habit of surprising us so if your baby decides to make a very quick entrance into the world, call the ambulance, grab some towels and just let your body do what it is made to do.

What can I do to prepare myself for this awesome, incredible life event?

A lot of women say to me that they don’t have any preferences for their births or that they will wait and see how things go on the day. And I totally respect why you might want to do that. But personally, I think birth preparation is pretty crucial. I get that we can’t make plans that are set in stone and that things may change on the day. For sure. And that’s ok. But if we don’t at least give it a bit of thought then how can we be fully part of the process? Or make the best decisions? Interventions during birth are really common and if we don’t know why something is being done or the fact that we can say no or yes or maybe in an hour….then we might come away from our births with some negative emotions. I am obviously biased but I think that non-judgemental, evidence based antenatal classes are pretty important. Heck, maybe even an active birth class too. If that is too costly an option for you, speak with the people who run the classes. Read some good books (blog post coming up!). Practice how to relax. Envisage how you will manage early labour at home. What can your birth partner do to help? Practice long, slow deep breathes with all your muscles relaxed. Tell yourself; I can do this, I can do this, I can do this.

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