Labor and Support
In a healthy pregnancy, the best way to know that your baby and your body are ready for labor and birth is to wait for labor to begin on its own, or spontaneous labor. Researchers believe that the most important trigger of labor is a surge of hormones released by the fetus. In response to this hormone surge, the muscles in the mother's uterus change to allow her cervix (at the lower end of her uterus) to open. By waiting for labor to begin on its own, you decrease your risk of complications to yourself and your baby.
Induction of labor is the use of medication (for example, Pitocin) or other interventions to get labor started. Unless you or your baby has a health problem that requires induction, it is recommended to deliver at full term, or 39 weeks or beyond. Learn about the medical reasons for inducing labor.
Inducing labor for a medical reason, is not an elective induction. An elective induction is done when a patient and her provider decide to induce for non-medical reasons. Elective induction before 39 weeks clearly increases risks for babies, including breathing problems, infection and possible admission to a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
Early Labor (Latent Phase)
Many women find that the best place to be during early labor is at home, where you can move around and do things for yourself.
Early labor is the phase that comes before active labor. You can stay comfortable during early labor at home by:
- Resting and relaxing
- Drinking plenty of fluids and eating what appeals to you
- Going for a short walk
- Moving around or changing positions
- Focusing on slow, deep breathing
- Using a warm pad or ice pack on your lower back
- Reading a good book or watching TV
- Asking your support team for a gentle massage
What do I do if I think I am in labor?
Active Stage – Time to Go!
You should come to the hospital during the active stage of labor. Active labor begins when contractions are about three to five minutes apart, lasting one minute and have been that way for one to two hours. However, if you feel like it is time to go to the hospital, follow your instinct.
What to Bring
You will want to have your items packed for the hospital a couple weeks in advance of your due date. This way, you will be ready to go when the time is right. Download our packing checklist here.
It's important to also read the following information on Child Seat Safety Laws & Guidelines.
Fetal Monitoring Preferences
Electronic fetal monitoring (EFM) is when an ultrasonic fetal monitor is used to observe the baby's heart rate while simultaneously using a pressure sensor to monitor the mother's contractions. The sensors are placed on your abdomen and held in place with a soft band. There are 2 types of EFM: continuous and intermittent.
At Stanford Health Care – ValleyCare, we offer telemetry electronic fetal monitoring. Telemetry monitoring allows you to walk around or shower, even if you need continuous fetal monitoring. This is beneficial because movement and position changes can make labor easier.
Labor Support Team
Continuous emotional and physical support can make a big difference on your birth experience. Your childbirth team is highly skilled and focused on a healthy delivery for you and your baby. You can expect your doctor and nurses to provide seamless coordination and support throughout your hospital stay.
The use of birthing balls, showers, repositioning, and ambulation are some examples of techniques our clinical staff practices to support you during labor. And of course, you can always expect compassionate coaching and encouragement from our care team. Learn more about your care team here.
Creating Your Support Team
You may want to have one or more of the following people on hand to aid you throughout labor and birth:
- Your spouse or partner: While many partners are worried about accompanying a woman during labor, most find that providing help and comfort in labor is very rewarding and that being present at the birth of their child is one of life's highlights.
- Relative or friend: Think about someone you feel comfortable sharing this important and intimate time. She or he should be a warm, relaxed and calm person who views labor and birth as healthy, normal events in a woman's life.
- Trained labor support specialist or doula: a woman trained and experienced in childbirth who provides continuous and informational support to a woman during labor, birth, and the immediate postpartum period.
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