Birth Boot Camp® is honored this year to be voted “Best Childbirth Class” by the Fort Worth Child Magazine. We are so excited about the overwhelmingly positive response we have had to our natural birth classes (both live and online). We look forward to many more years of teaching couples that they CAN have an amazing birth!
What does labor feel like? This is a question that almost every soon-to-be mother asks. It fills us with trepidation, excitement, and even fear. So what DOES labor feel like?
The answer is a little different to everybody because, of course, labor is as individual as the women who experience it. To begin deepening our understanding of labor, let’s talk about the basic stages of labor as defined by medical professionals, generally, and then describe common ways women describe the “feel” of each part of labor.
Labor can be broken down into these parts:
Pre-labor, Early labor (first stage), Active labor, Transition, Pushing (second stage), and Delivery of the placenta (third stage).
Pre-labor is often called “braxton-hicks” and can begin early on in pregnancy, sometimes as early as 20 weeks. Women often begin feeling braxton-hicks earlier in their pregnancy the more babies they have. Named for the man who first described them, an English doctor named John Braxton Hicks, they have been talked about for hundreds of years.
Some people like to think of pre-labor contractions as a practice for labor. While they are usually spotty, irregular, painless, and don’t cause dilation of the cervix, pre-labor contractions may serve to “warm up” the uterus and help prepare the baby and body for labor.
For most women, braxton-hicks feel (usually) painless, cannot be regularly timed like serious labor contractions, and may stop and start. These pre-labor contractions can be brought on by excessive activity, lack of food or water, and even stress. Unlike true labor contractions, pre-labor contractions are often felt in “spots” rather than over the entire uterus. The sensation is different for each woman and can feel like simple baby movement or even gas.
Early labor is aptly named and just defines the part of labor that is early, or the beginning. Unlike pre-labor contractions, early labor contractions are regular, will not stop with eating, drinking water, or rest. Early labor contractions will be regular but not close together. If timed, they usually last less than a minute and are not intense, though they are noticeable. Early labor contractions can feel like tightening or rhythmic menstrual cramping.
Often women are excited to experience these regular and consistent early labor contractions because it means that they are really “in labor” and will be meeting their baby soon. With longer breaks between them (often 5 to 20 minutes apart or more), early labor contractions are not typically overwhelming but are a signal to the woman and her partner to start preparing for the work that comes ahead as labor progresses.
The beginning of labor signifies what is medically known as “first stage labor”.
As these contractions become more regular, stronger, longer and closer together, a woman will enter what is known as active labor. The majority of labor is, most often, experienced here. Dilation is happening as the cervix opens and shortens and the baby may start to move down.
What does active labor feel like? This part of labor feels more serious and like the “work” that labor is named for. At times, there are feelings of pressure as the baby turns and moves downwards putting more pressure on the cervix. Women will feel these active labor contractions closer together, often about five minutes apart and lasting about a minute or so long.
Contractions are stronger, longer, and closer together. They may feel like rhythmic cramping, intense pain in the low back, or even warm shooting sensations down the legs. Some women feel contractions over their whole stomach area, while others feel them very low, where the cervix is opening. The work of the uterus in labor is to pull that cervix back, so that the baby can come down and out.
Still, there are breaks between the contractions and a chance to catch your breath, relax, eat, and enjoy the journey of labor. This certainly is hard work and, to some, may feel a little overwhelming. Active labor requires support, a wonderful birthing environment and knowledge of what is going on so that the sensations and intensity of contractions do not take a woman by surprise.
Transition is the part of labor that people often fear. This intense part of labor happens right before the pushing phase and can be a time of rapid dilation. Not all women will notice an overwhelming transitional phase of labor, but those who do certainly don’t forget it.
Transition is often the shortest part of labor, typically lasting between 15 to 30 minutes. It can feel overwhelming and what many would call “painful”. This time of hard work will yield a reward, though! When transition is over, pushing begins and the baby will soon arrive.
What does transition feel like? Physically and emotionally intense to some, contractions can come right on top of one another, even double peaking. Transition can be accompanied by vomiting, shaking and strong sensations of pressure as the baby moves into position to be born.
Often gone are the breaks between contractions. Transition contractions leave little time in between for chatting and laughter. Mom will be serious and focused. She will need reassurance and support. Emotionally, she may want to give up, so this is the time when she needs the most strength and respect from those around her. This physical and emotional sensation of surrender is vital to the birth experience and helps the mom let go of her body and open up so that the baby can descend and the cervix can open.
While sometimes feared, transition labor is usually brief and is so rewarding because when it is over baby will be here soon.
Pushing (second stage labor)-
The urge to push is often an exciting change of pace. Pushing, like any other part of labor, can feel different for different people.
For some, pushing is painless and exciting. The feelings of pressure can be overwhelming and impossible to fight. Many women describe the initial pushing sensations as the “need to poop”. The baby is big and is pressing down on the same parts of the body and triggering the same reflexes as a bowel movement would. The urge to “go” or “poop” is a good thing and helps direct the body to effectively push. When mom has triumphantly passed through transition labor without any medication, she will be aware and able to feel and work with her body through this important and physically active part of labor.
Pushing can be intense but can also be enjoyable. Every woman experiences pushing in labor differently. Pushing contractions often space out with five or so minutes between them, giving mom a longer break to recover. She may, once again, be excited and able chat and talk with those around her. Upright positions will speed and encourage this process.
Part of the second stage or pushing part of labor is crowning. Some women notice a sensation called a “ring of fire” during crowning. This feeling is usually very short and is caused by the tissues of the vagina stretching tightly over the head of the baby. The “burn” that some women notice can be temporarily painful but is an important thing to feel. This “ring of fire” helps mom back off of pushing during the time of crowning. This pause gives the tissues time to gently stretch over the baby’s head, helping her vaginal tissues not tear. Another benefit of an unmedicated birth is that mom can feel this burning sensation and listen to her body accordingly, helping prevent excessive vaginal tearing.
The delivery of the placenta (third stage of labor)-
The last stage of labor is the delivery of the placenta. Many women barely notice this part of labor.
Breastfeeding can help the uterus contract after the delivery of the baby and cause “after-pains” or mild contractions that help the uterus clamp down and help the placenta deliver. Often care providers will just tell a woman to “cough” as they gently tug on the cord AFTER the placenta has detached. The placenta is soft and usually comes out easily, with little or no pain. Once the placenta detaches and is sitting in the uterus it can feel heavy and delivering it will feel like a relief.
When it comes down to it, each labor and each woman is unique. We all experience labor in our own way and would describe it differently. Think of the labor of each baby as a unique journey and gift to help bring it into the world rather than something to be avoided. Certainly the sensations and even pain of labor serve a purpose, as they tell us what to do and when to do it. The feelings of labor are not useless, rather they teach us how to move and more efficiently birth our baby.
One day you are pregnant, and the next day a mother! One of the most important things a new mom can have is a fridge and pantry stocked with healthy, easy to grab foods for those first few weeks.
Nursing a baby frequently, recovering from the work of labor and birth, while adjusting to a new sleep schedule all require optimal nutrition and frequent healthy snacks. Here are our top ten ideas for great, easy snacks when you are caring for a new baby.
1) Yogurt- Yogurt in serving size cups is full of protein and easy to grab and eat one handed while nursing.
2) Cheese sticks- Buy a big pack of cheese sticks and keep them in the fridge. You can grab one with a handful of whole wheat crackers to munch on the go. With seven grams of protein per serving they are a great snack. If you have older kids, they will love them too.
3) Cherry tomatoes- Cherry tomatoes are sweet without being junk food and an easy way to get some vitamin C rich foods when you need a quick snack.
4) Berries- Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, etc. are easy to grab and full of nutrients and anti-oxidants that your body needs when healing post-baby. Throw them in your yogurt to add some flavor.
5) Granola- Granola is packed with protein, carbs, fat and energy. Easy to eat with some milk or yogurt or even by itself. It is easy to grab and eat on the go or while you sit and nurse.
6) Nuts- Stock up on different nuts at your local health food store. Keep them on hand and you will always have some yummy energy food when you get a moment. Try raw nuts to avoid too much salt or sugar.
7) Clementines- Small, sweet, and full of vitamins, these easy-to-peel orange are a great snack for both mom and older kids. And the children won’t need your help to get them ready, so they can feed themselves.
8) Bananas- Bananas are a power food for the whole family. Full of potassium, easy to grab on the go and great for adding to other foods. You have got to keep bananas on hand.
9) Edamame- Fresh shelled soybeans are so good with a little sea salt and can be eaten alone or added to salad. Even kids will love them!
10) Hummus and pita chips- Easy to dip, healthy grains and protein packed hummus makes this a perfect snack for a nursing mama.
Take care of yourself postpartum and you will have more energy to devote to your baby. Easy snacks for the new mama make the transition to a bigger family so much easier.
At Birth Boot Camp, we believe that the education our instructors receive will help make them teachers who can change birth, impact couples, and improve the world. We strive to give our instructors the best childbirth educator instruction out there. We are so proud of them and the impact they are making. We are excited to share some of their thoughts with you.
What got you interested in becoming a natural childbirth educator?
I believe in natural birth and believe education is a huge part of helping families achieve this.
There are lots of different birth educator training programs out there. Why did you choose Birth Boot Camp?
Birth Boot Camp offers a lot the information I was looking to share on breastfeeding and attachment parenting. The detailed information and education that couples are provided with on how to have a successful and satisfying birth was key to my decision to teach BBC.
What most impressed you about the Birth Boot Camp training?
The pre-training reading and study requirements.
How is teaching your own classes going for you? What do you enjoy most about it?
Teaching has its joys and its challenges. I enjoy seeing the light bulb moments and being challenged by my students to know and learn more.
In what ways did the Birth Boot Camp teacher training help prepare you for teaching actual classes?
I enjoyed the mock teaching topic. It was helpful to see others present and gain ideas. It also helped calm my nerves as a teacher about to start a class.
Tell us a little about your students. Can you see how having a comprehensive natural childbirth education is positively impacting their birth experiences?
My students love class. Since June, I have had 20 couples come through class. Four hospital birth, five home and eleven birth center births. All have given birth and when I hear from them, they are all eager for the reunion and to share their birth stories with their fellow classmates. I can definitely see how the classes have helped my students prepare for birth, especially the emotional aspect. Watching the birth videos has been helpful for them as they prepare as well.
We would love it if you would share with us your favorite student birth experience so far.
One of my couples from my first class was having their second baby. Her first labor was 56 hours before she transferred from the birth center to the hospital for maternal exhaustion. She had an epidural. Her mother had been sitting at the end of the bed she was laboring in at the birth center. Each time a contraction came on, her mother would grip the arms of the rocking chair. The tension in the room was obvious, as she felt like a watched pot. During Birth Boot Camp, she discovered that having her mother come to the 2nd birth was not a good idea. She hired a doula and prepared for a home birth. When labor came on late one night, she sent her husband for last minute necessities and she labored alone and was happy. Her midwife arrived 30 minutes before the baby was born. Doula and birth photographer missed her short, 4 hour labor. She was very happy with what class had taught them and that they had chosen the birth support team that they did this time around.
To close, tell us how you see natural childbirth education changing lives and birth in the world.
The more that women have natural births in a variety of settings, the more stories that can be told to provide inspiration, hope, and encouragement for others who desire to do the same. I believe that a lot of women feel empowered when they hear stories and think “if she can do it, then so can I!”
Some minor swelling in pregnancy is not uncommon for women, especially in the final trimester. Any swelling should be discussed with your care provider as it can, in rare instances, indicate a bigger problem. Typical swelling, however, can be relieved with a few simple tips.
Exercise~ Light exercise like walking, swimming or yoga can help with blood flow and relieve the swelling in the feet so common in the end of pregnancy. Though it may be difficult to muster the energy to get outside or get up and be active, it can really be worth it for the relief it brings.
Healthy eating~ Eating a balanced diet that includes healthy protein, leafy greens, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and which avoids any processed foods or sugars can also alleviate excessive swelling. In fact, when your diet is this healthy, it is often fine to salt your food to taste since you will be avoiding overly salted processed foods.
Pelvic rocking~ Many women find that the simple exercise known as pelvic rocking can help with better circulation while pregnant. Ask your childbirth educator how to do this exercise properly. She can train both you and your partner in good technique.
With care, effort and proper education, even the common complaints of pregnancy can be eased.