Are you expecting a baby? How much do you and your husband know about the coming experience of childbirth? For many couples the picture of childbirth is hazy and dotted with fallacies that cause unnecessary fear, even panic.
When I became pregnant, my husband and I decided to do all that we could to prepare for the day that our child would come into the world. We attended eight classes that provided instruction about the development of the fetus and the processes leading to birth. The course included films and practical discussions. It was our desire to have a family-centered birth, with my husband participating.
Let me share with you some of the things we learned.
Early in the course we reviewed the outstanding importance of good and balanced nutrition during pregnancy. Iron is especially important, because in its uterine home the baby is storing up enough iron to last for about six months after being born. Members of the class, therefore, submitted recipes for that seldom-liked yet iron-rich food—liver. Something else that I needed, we learned, was increased intake of milk and cheese, since baby was using up a lot of calcium for bone building. And my diet would require setting limits on carbohydrates to avoid excessive weight increase.
Cooperating with Labor Pains
Slides and films helped us to learn about a new human creature’s development in the uterus and the process of birth. Labor can be divided into three stages. First, there is a series of increasing contractions of the muscles of the uterus, or womb. These cause the cervix, or mouth of the womb, gradually to open up over the baby’s head. Second is passage of the baby through the birth canal into the outside world. The third stage is expulsion of the placenta, which had been baby’s link with mother for nourishment and disposal of wastes.
Considered most difficult is the end of the first stage. This is when the cervix attains its greatest diameter or dilatation—about 10 to 12 centimeters (4 to 5 inches). Understanding that the labor pains are working for arrival of the long-awaited baby should motivate mother to cooperate with the contractions by relaxing between the pains. Tensed voluntary muscles will only clash with the contracting involuntary muscles of the uterus, increasing discomfort. Hence, we learned the value of total relaxation and of certain breathing techniques. In this way mother’s total energy is available for use by the uterine muscles.
The husband can have an especially important role as coach, particularly during transition from the first to the second stage of labor. He can keep reminding his wife to relax and maintain the prescribed breathing pattern, while he gives soothing massages. We learned of the need to push during the second stage, panting in between pains so as to avoid tissue tearing from too rapid delivery of the baby.
What about anesthesia? Our course of instruction emphasized that each woman must make her own decision on this matter. Many are able to have their babies without anesthesia. On the other hand, no woman who requests it during childbirth is viewed as a failure. This we found very comforting.
“It’s a Girl!”
As my baby neared the completion of its passage through the birth canal, I gave a last gentle push. The baby’s head appeared, leading to excited speculation. “It looks like a boy’s head,” exclaimed my husband. “No, it looks like a girl’s head,” retorted the nurse-midwife. Then came the thrilling moment—“It’s a girl!” How marvelous and delightful that moment was!
Shortly thereafter our precious infant nuzzled at my breast to receive her first meal, a unique fluid called “colostrum.” This, I remember learning, is especially fine for the newborn. There are three reasons: (1) Because of a very low fat and carbohydrate content, colostrum is easier for a newborn to digest. (2) It is richer in immunity factors than true milk. (3) Colostrum has a slightly laxative effect, clearing out the “meconium” (an accumulation of cells, mucus and bile) that collects in the infant’s bowels before birth.
I knew that within a few days our baby would be getting my true milk. This is far superior to any substitute. Breast milk is easier for the baby to digest and provides immunity to certain viral diseases. Breast-feeding would help me too. The sucking action of my baby would assist the uterus to contract, controlling blood loss. Certain studies have indicated that in some cases, though not all, complete breast-feeding may postpone the resumption of ovulation, a natural means of spacing children.
Our classes also helped us to set aside certain unfounded beliefs. For example, one mother-to-be had been told not to stretch her hands above her head, as this would wrap the umbilical cord around the baby’s neck and strangle it. Our instructor pointed out, however, that a mother’s movements cannot determine the position either of the fetus or of the cord. In the case of my own baby, the cord was wrapped twice around her neck, yet she was born healthy and lively.
Some claim that they can predict the sex of a child from the shape of the mother’s belly. “If you carry low and round,” they say, “it’ll be a girl.” These beliefs, however, are unfounded. The only way to determine in advance a baby’s sex is by taking a sample of amniotic fluid from the uterus and examining the cells therein.
My three postpartum days spent in a special “maternity center” permitted close family relationship for the new baby. Our daughter was not handed to me only at certain preordained hours and then whisked away, with Daddy getting only occasional glimpses of her. Instead, she and I were at each other’s beck and call. Helpful for this was a crib on wheels for easy transport to and from my room. How nice, too, that Daddy could be there with us whenever he so desired. For my husband and me, preparing in advance for childbirth proved to be altogether worth while.
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