Avoiding a disappointing trip to the hospital
One of the biggest concerns for first time parents is how to know when it is ‘time’ to go to the hospital. As labor nears, your body will be cycling in and out of periods of contractions that can be confusing. Many families make the trip to the hospital only to be sent home because it was ‘false labor.’ You can avoid the mad rush to the hospital for a false alarm if you prepare yourself with an understanding of the labor process, use tools to determine if you are in true labor and prepare your body for true labor.
The Labor Process
Contrary to popular movies, labor seldom begins with a sudden strong contraction that makes the mother double over. Instead, your body begins preparing for labor weeks before your baby is born. This is because the labor process is controlled by hormones. It takes time for your body to build the hormones to the levels necessary to maintain labor.
As your baby becomes ready for birth, his brain and the placenta begin releasing a series of hormones to prepare his lungs for breathing. These same hormones cause his body to produce oxytocin, the hormone that stimulates your uterus to contract. Because hormones transfer between your blood and your baby’s blood, the hormones your baby produces affect you as well.
Your baby’s oxytocin increases your estrogen production. Increased estrogen production increases your uterine sensitivity to the oxytocin your baby is making causing an increase in contractions. The estrogen your body made increases your body’s production of prostaglandins. Prostaglandins help to soften the cervix so it is ready to stretch to allow the baby to pass through. The stimulation of your uterus and cervix signals your pituitary gland to produce oxytocin, which causes more contractions.
This process of hormone stimulating the production of more hormone continues, spiraling closer and closer to actually starting labor. Eventually, the hormone levels will be high enough that the contractions produce enough hormones which cause enough contractions to make more hormones to begin true labor. Until that day, you will experience more frequent periods of contractions that end because the hormone levels are not yet ready to maintain the contraction cycle.
Identifying True Labor
There are some differences between the normal periods of false labor and true labor that can help you identify which you are experiencing. The main difference is during true labor your contractions will get closer together, last longer and become more intense. To test for this, time about five contractions, wait a few hours and time them again. If the contractions have stayed about the same, you are not in true labor.
A faster way to identify false labor contractions is to change your activity and see if they change. For example, if you have been up walking around or working spend some time sitting and relaxing. If the contractions stay the same or go away then it is not true labor. You can also try eating a small meal or snack and drinking a glass of water, which may lessen or stop false labor contractions.
Going to the hospital will not help you determine if you are in true labor any faster than staying home. The hospital can tell if and how far your cervix is dilated, but that doesn’t tell them when the dilation occurred, or if the contractions you are experiencing now will change the cervix. Even if it is true labor the hospital will recommend you go home if your cervix is not dilated far enough. Being in the hospital is also boring, and puts unnecessary pressure on you to labor faster.
For the best chances of not coming home from the hospital disappointed, do not go until you are showing other signs of true labor, not just contractions. In early labor most women experience soft bowel movements. You may have seen your mucus plug or have some bloody show which are both signs of early labor. These are good signs that the contractions you are feeling will move into true labor, but you will still want to wait. You can be sure you are in true labor when you have most or all of the following:
- Contractions have gotten progressively stronger and more frequent
- Contractions are lasting at least 60 seconds
- Contractions cannot be ignored
- You are no longer hungry or have lost your appetite
- You are no longer modest
- You no longer want to talk or move much during contractions
Getting Labor to Start
While you cannot force your body to produce hormones, you can give it the environment it needs to work efficiently. A healthy body has a much easier time building its hormone levels than a body that is tired, undernourished and lacking physical activity.
Make sure you get plenty of rest, especially if you are experiencing sleepless nights. Take naps during the day and go to bed earlier to make up for any missed sleep. Fatigue prevents your body from performing at its best.
Make sure you are eating well, especially if you are finding it difficult to eat. Have smaller meals more frequently throughout the day, and eat nutritionally dense foods such as vegetables, beans, fruits, lean meats and whole grains. Your body needs the nutrients in the food you eat to help make the hormones.
Make sure you are getting exercise every day. Take short walks, swim or just turn on the radio and dance. Exercise is not only important for weight loss, it actually affects the way your body produces different hormones. Your body needs the stimulation from exercise to keep it working properly.
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