If you’re carrying your baby to full term, after a long 40 weeks of pregnancy, you might be completely ready to finally meet your baby. But babies don’t always want to make their appearance when you want them to. Unlike a C-section, vaginal births don’t happen by the clock. Contractions can begin in the middle of the night or the middle of your lunch. They can even go past your due date. Indeed, the only thing you can predict about a vaginal delivery is that it will be unpredictable. And such unpredictability is unnerving, to say the least, for new and veteran moms alike.
While every vaginal delivery is different, we tapped Dr. Banafsheh Bayati, MD, OB/GYN, FACOG for some of the things you might be able to expect.
Meet the Experts
Dr. Banafsheh Bayati, MD, OB/GYN, FACOG is a board-certified Obstetrician and Gynecologist and medical co-founder of Perelel, the first and only OB/GYN-founded prenatal vitamin.
Vaginal delivery doesn’t happen as it does in the movies
We’ve all watched those scenes in movies where the woman’s water breaks and needs to be rushed to the emergency room, but that’s not how it happens in real life. For one, Dr. Bayati says, “most vaginal births do not start with the bag of water suddenly breaking.” Instead, she explains, “the majority of the time, labor starts with contractions that develop over time and become more intense as they become more regular in time.” You’re only in labor when contractions come every five minutes, lasting one minute each, for at least one hour. It’s more of a process than shown on the big screen. Furthermore, she tells us, “hopefully, you never have to run to the emergency room — labor is not an emergency in the majority of cases.”
You could be induced, and it might take a few tries
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) reports that up to 40% of labors are now induced. So if you’re part of the 40% projected to go past 40 weeks of pregnancy (a.k.a. your baby isn’t dropping), an induction is almost always scheduled. However, Dr. Bayati says, “there are other reasons why your doctor may suggest induction of labor, including medical conditions (such as high blood pressure or diabetes), post-term gestation, and growth restriction of the fetus, to name just a few.”
But induction is not a magic pill that makes your baby slip out. There are multiple induction techniques, and they can all be used simultaneously on you over hours and even days. For example, Dr. Bayati says, “some [induction techniques] are mechanical such as the use of a Foley or Cook balloon, which are devices placed inside the cervix to help soften the cervix and begin the process of dilation. Most are chemical, such as prostaglandins or oxytocin, to help soften and open the cervix.”
“Inductions of labor can be associated with a longer hospital stay and increased risks of a cesarean depending on the patient,” she explains. However, because inductions in a first-time mom can last several days, she encourages, “the key to an induction of labor is patience.”
As with any medical procedure, there are risks
As expected, Dr. Bayati tells us, “vaginal births can be traumatic to the perineum, vagina, bladder, rectum, and pelvic floor nerves and muscles.” However, it all depends on the size of your baby, the length of your labor, and the structure and anatomy of your body. If everything aligns, you may not have much trauma at all.
“In assisted vaginal births, the use of a vacuum or forceps can lead to increased vaginal trauma,” she explains. “Thankfully,” she adds, “these are not common, and the majority of the time, the vaginal and surrounding organs heal incredibly fast and well.” Still, she assures, “vaginal deliveries can be easier to recover from than cesarean sections.”
Pack your hospital bag right
“Most labor and delivery and postpartum units will provide you with the essentials needed to help you recover in the immediate days following vaginal birth,” says Dr. Bayati, but be sure to inquire before you head to the hospital. Just in case, a few extra items in your kit that focus on mom’s postpartum care will help the recovery feel more comfortable.
- Peri bottle: For about a week after delivery, while you’re healing, you won’t be able to cleanse with toilet paper. Instead, a peri bottle (try Frida Mom Upside Down Peri Bottle for Postpartum Care) gently spurts water to rinse and cleanse the affected area.
- Anesthetic spray: Vaginal delivery often comes with post-delivery pain, burning, and soreness. Applying an anesthetic aerosol mist after using the bathroom or changing a pad cools and numbs the area.
- Witch hazel pads: Tucks Hemorrhoidal Pads with Witch Hazel can reduce swelling, pain, and bruising, plus relieve itching and inflammation associated with hemorrhoids (which can occur during vaginal delivery).
- Large pads and mesh underwear: Postpartum bleeding is normal and expected after vaginal births. Be prepared with extra-absorbant, overnight large pads and mesh underwear or disposable mesh panties.
- Anti-inflammatory vitamins: Dr. Bayati says, “most women recover very quickly with minimal pain meds required — a good postnatal prenatal vitamin such as Perelel Mom Multi Support Pack and occasional anti-inflammatory medication is often all you need postpartum.”
- Belly support band: After giving birth, sometimes it might feel like your insides will fall out. Trust us, they won’t, but some moms rely on a belly support band like Kindred Bravely Soothing Maternity Belly & Back Support Band to stabilize the pelvis and reduce muscle strain.
Be flexible and ready to pivot at any moment
“Pivoting to a cesarean in labor depends on each individual labor progress and is recommended when a provider is concerned over the health of the mother or fetus during the labor progress,” explains Dr. Bayati. While there can still be a stigma associated with C-sections, it’s common to have risks associated with vaginal birth. Situations like a breech baby or placenta previa can not be prevented, and it’s important to know that a cesarean is always possible in worst-case scenarios. However, keep in mind it will only be presented if it’s the safest route for you and your baby at that moment.
Now that you know what to expect, this should take some anxiety and mystery out of the entire process. And at the end of the day, remember this is the most common procedure there is. Good luck, mama. You’ve got this.
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