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Everything you wanted to know about giving birth but didn’t want to ask

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Whether you are currently pregnant or want to have children in the future, you are sure to have plenty of questions about giving birth.

During the journey you will have lots of opportunities to ask your midwife about the big day – but to get you started, a team of midwives from NHS Highland have answered some frequently asked questions.

How long can labour last?

Labour is the proverbial piece of string!  Every woman is different and all labours are different too.

However, as general rule most women will have a longer labour with their first baby and shorter labours with their other babies.  Some women will have a few false alarms before labour starts properly.

Most women find that time passes quite quickly while they are in labour and they are surprised at how much time has gone by. The important thing to remember is that your midwife will be keeping a close eye on labour and if labour is taking too long help is at hand.

What is skin-to-skin contact?

Skin-to-skin contact is now the standard care at birth for all well babies in the UK.

It means drying your baby thoroughly at birth and then placing baby on your  tummy skin-to-skin.

This is a lovely way of saying hello to your new baby and it also helps your baby to adjust to the outside world.  Babies who have skin-to-skin contact stay warmer, have steadier breathing and hear rates and cry less.  If you want to breastfeed your baby skin-to-skin contact will help you get off to the best possible start.

It’s not just for the delivery room either, skin-to-skin contact is a great way to calm a baby at any time and dads can do it too.

Will I know when my waters go?

Most women will be sure their waters have gone.  Your waters can go before labour starts, during labour or just before your baby is born.

Sometimes the midwife will break your waters during or before labour with your consent.

Usually there will be a big gush of fluid but sometimes the waters behind the baby’s head break first and this can cause the waters to leak gradually and may even feel as if you have wet yourself.

You should always contact your midwife or labour ward if your think your waters have gone.  It’s best to put on a pad so that you know how much fluid is leaking and to keep you comfortable.  The waters should be clear, if your waters are blood stained or greenish in colour phone the labour ward straight away.

How can my birth partner support me in labour?

Your birth partner is a really important person. He/she can keep you calm, encourage you, offer you a massage and keep you supplied with cool drinks.  We know that being with someone you love while you are in labour will help you to produce the hormones that encourage good contractions.

We also all produce hormones which act as natural painkillers and touch from your partner will help you to produce these while you are in labour.

It’s important that your birth partner knows what is important to you during labour and what you have written in your birth plan if you have one.

This means that he/she will be able to talk to your midwife if your are having a nap and explain what your wishes are.

Most women treasure the memories of their birth and this can be a shared memory with your birth partner.  He/she may also be able to remember things that you have forgotten.

What are pelvic floor exercises?

These important exercises will help your bladder control now and for the rest of your life.  They are also great for your sex life.

Pelvic floor exercises involve tightening the band of muscle between your vagina and your anus or back passage.  There are two different types of muscle; one which tightens quickly to prevent any leakage when you cough or sneeze and one which tightens over a longer time period for when you’re queuing for the loo.

Try tightening the muscle quickly and releasing ten times.  Then try pulling up and holding for a count of ten.  Try to do this every time you wash your hands.

What are the best positions for labour and birth?

Most women find being upright and moving around helps to make labour more comfortable.  Gravity also helps to bring the baby’s head down into the pelvis ready for birth.

Lying down might seem like a good idea but it can actually be less comfortable and it tends to cause contractions to be less frequent and regular which can make labour last longer.

Leaning forward slightly during contractions helps to open up the pelvic and make lots of room for your baby’s head.  During birth women also tend to find an upright position ( kneeling, squatting or standing) more comfortable and it’s better for baby too.

Will I be able to use water for labour?

It is best to speak to your midwife to find out if your local maternity unit has a birth pool.  If you are planning a home birth you can hire a pool to use at home.  Most maternity units only have one pool so you may find that someone else is using it and it won’t be available.

In some circumstance water is not suitable for use in labour or for birth and your midwife will be able to advise you whether or not water is a safe option for you and your baby.  Many women find relaxing in the pool a great way to labour and birth their babies.

How does an epidural work and how much pain relief does it provide?

An epidural works by numbing the nerves around the womb.  Most women get complete pain relief from an epidural but it does take about forty minutes to put in.  Occasionally a woman might have an area where the epidural does not work but an anaesthetist can often adjust the epidural so it works more effectively.

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