Linda Murray: Hi, I’m Linda Murray, editor in chief of Baby Center and a mom, and I’m so glad you’ve joined me for BabyCenter’s online labor class. The goal of this class is to get you ready for your own labor by explaining what labor is and what can happen during childbirth. There are some important things to know and some choices you might want to make ahead of time. When you’re done with the class, we hope you’ll feel less anxious about your baby’s birth and more empowered and confident about the incredible experience ahead of you.
Some of the most common questions asked by moms-to-be are, “What will labor be like? Will it be the worst pain I’ve ever felt? And can I really do this?” Yes, you can do it, but there’s no way to predict exactly how it will feel for you. Not only is every labor different, but every one experiences and copes with pain differently. Some women say it’s the hardest thing they’ve ever done. And others say that surprisingly it wasn’t that bad. Of course, no matter how labor unfolds, meeting your baby at the end of it makes the whole journey worthwhile. The first step in understanding what labor’s like is to know the 3 basic ways it can go.
The most common way to give birth today is vaginally with the help of pain medication such as an epidural. If you want an epidural, which blocks pain in your lower body, you’ll need to give birth in a hospital. Some milder forms of pain medication might be available at a birth center or if you decide to give birth in your home.
The next most common way to give birth is by cesarean section or c-section. You might have a planned c-section or you might find yourself having unplanned surgery if your vaginal birth doesn’t go smoothly. C-sections are only performed in hospitals because a c-section is major abdominal surgery; pain medication is a must.
The final and least common way to give birth is vaginally without drugs. This is called natural birth, and you can do it anywhere: in a hospital, at a birth center, or at home. When you give birth naturally, you have more freedom to move around during labor. You can even birth underwater if you want to.
How long does labor last? Labor lasts different amounts of time for different women. One large survey showed that among first-time moms, the median length of labor was 11 hours, which means that half of the women labored for less than 11 hours and half for more than 11 hours. Women who had given birth before had shorter labors. Their median length of labor was 6 hours. Looking at all of the moms together, more women had short labors, which you can see here in the blue, than long ones, in yellow. Short labors are defined here as 6 hours or less, and long labors as 24 hours or more. The majority of women, the gray part of this chart, labored for somewhere between 6 and 24 hours. Many women find it best to be mentally prepared for a long labor and then be glad if it ends up shorter.
Mom 1: Cut down the expectations of what a labor is supposed to be like and what it’s going to be like, because there’s no planning it at all.
Mom 2: As much as you trust your practitioner, you always need to go with your instinct as well, your gut feeling.
Mom 3: What I found out is that labor is hard work. It hurts. And you can do it.