When labor begins, things may develop quickly, leaving you with little time to take care of all the final details that can help put your mind at ease. Planning ahead and knowing you are fully prepared can help keep you more relaxed and focused when the time comes, which in turn may impact your labor experience. It’s also important to know what you can expect as labor approaches, as your body may offer you several signs. If you can pick up on these signs, and perform your due diligence preparing for labor, hopefully you can lessen any anxiety around the countdown to your due date.
#1 PREPARING FOR LABOR: A CHECKLIST
Here’s a pre-due date checklist to help you plan ahead for your labor and delivery:
- Know your job’s maternity benefits and make sure all required paperwork is completed at least four weeks ahead of your due date. You may also want to proactively send your co-workers and/or clients an email letting them know that you will be out of the office soon, as well as set up an out-of-office message for your email.
- Plan who will drive you to the hospital and who will be with you during labor. And know how best to reach your contacts on short notice!
- Make a list of all phone numbers to call in an emergency, as well as a list of anyone else that should be informed once you go into labor, such as family members, employers, babysitters and/or pet sitters. Post this list in a visible location and keep it in your phone.
- Learn your driving route to Norwalk Hospital, as well as a backup route in case there’s any delay, and learn the best place to park your car. Try driving practice runs from your home or workplace, and take into account such factors as time of day and weather conditions that may affect traffic. (Dr. Garofalo attends his Fairfield County area patients at Norwalk Hospital’s Childbirth Center, located on Rhodonolia Park, off Stevens Street. Dedicated spaces are available 24 hours a day in the Dana Lot in front of the Childbirth Center for maternity patients.)
- Make a list of phone numbers to call after the baby is born and store it in your phone.
- Install a car seat in your car at least four weeks ahead of your due date, just so you don’t have to stress over this at the last minute. Hospital staff must ensure that you have an installed car seat in your vehicle before you will be allowed to leave the hospital. You can also go to CT Safe Kids to find a local Connecticut resource to help with car seat installation.
- Pack a small personal bag with items that you will need at the hospital, such as ID and insurance documents, glasses, cell phone and charger, keys, etc.
- Pack a larger bag for your hospital stay and include the following:
- A comfortable change of clothing to go home in
- One or two nightgowns and a robe
- Reading materials and/or a notebook
- Toiletries and personal effects such as cologne and cosmetics
- A camera
- Nursing bras, nursing pads, nursing balm
- A few sets of baby clothes, including socks and mittens
- Diapers and baby wipes
- Bottles and formula if you will be bottle feeding
- Favorite non-perishable snack items, such as nuts or protein bars
#2 KNOW WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN LABOR STARTS
As labor begins, the cervix begins to dilate and the uterus, a muscular organ, begins to contract at regular intervals. During these contractions, the uterus and abdomen become hard to the touch. Between contractions, the uterus muscles relax, and the uterus and abdomen soften. Although it’s possible for labor to begin suddenly and without warning, in most cases your body will provide the first signs of labor. Below are some signs of early labor and what they mean:
False labor pains
False labor pains, also known as Braxton Hicks contractions, may begin well ahead of real labor. While they subtly help your body prepare for birth, they don’t do much to open your cervix (the lower, narrow portion of the uterus where it joins with the top of the vagina). These contractions, which may range from mild to painful, tend to occur during the last month or two of pregnancy, and often occur after physical activity or if you are tired or dehydrated.
Braxton Hicks contractions are distinguishable from true labor pains because they are usually felt only in the front, and they may change or cease when you move or rest. Also unlike true labor contractions, Braxton Hicks contractions usually occur at irregular intervals, which is why they don’t advance dilation or help the birth to progress. To help determine whether you are really in labor, time your contractions from the start of one contraction to the start of the next. Keeping a record of the timing and intensity of your contractions can help determine whether you are experiencing false labor or whether real labor has begun.
When your baby’s head drops down into your pelvis and gets into the birthing position, you may notice that your baby has dropped lower into your uterus, this is called lightening. Although not all mothers can identify this sensation when it happens, it may mean that labor will be begin anywhere from a few weeks to a few hours, or even in a few minutes.
During pregnancy, the cervix is protected and sealed off by a thick plug of mucus. Once the cervix begins to dilate, this mucus plug is released allowing the baby to pass through the cervix during delivery. What you’ll see, if you notice it at all, is a vaginal discharge that may appear clear, pink, or slightly bloody. This can occur any time from a few days before labor up to the actual onset of labor.
Rupture of membranes
Either at the start of labor or at any point during labor, the amniotic sac that surrounds your baby breaks and released amniotic fluid, resulting what may be either a trickle or a gush of fluid. This is also known as “breaking water.” It’s not always easy to tell if your water has broken, for example, you may not be able to tell the difference between amniotic fluid and urine. When uncertain, it’s best to consult your health care provider or head to your delivery facility right away.
WHEN SHOULD YOU CALL THE DOCTOR?
If you experience any of the following conditions, immediately call the hospital or your prenatal care provider:
- You think you may be in labor, and your contractions are occurring regularly at intervals of 5 to 10 minutes
- You have symptoms of labor prior to 37 weeks of pregnancy
- Your water breaks
- You experience vaginal bleeding
- You have chills or fever
- You are experiencing severe and constant pain
- Your baby seems to be moving less or not moving at all
About the Connecticut OBGYN Practice
Dr. John Garofalo, M.D., is an OBGYN located in Fairfield County, Connecticut, providing care for Norwalk, Darien, New Canaan, Weston, Rowaytan and the surrounding areas. He has more than 20 years of practice and surgical experience covering many facets of obstetrics and gynecology.
Laury Berkwitt, APRN, is a nurse practitioner specializing in women’s health in Fairfield County, Connecticut. Laury has a passion for providing quality women’s healthcare in a safe and comfortable manner by creating a trusting patient-practitioner relationship. She has been in practice for more than 10 years, caring for women of all ages.
For more information on preparing for labor or prenatal care, go to www.garofaloobgyn.com. John Garofalo, M.D., and Laury Berkwitt, APRN, can be reached for personal consultations by calling 203.803.1098.