I’d really like to start getting other parents involved in my blog right from the off – largely so that I can get to know some of my (hopefully) regular readers, but also because I would love to hear other people’s opinions on certain topics. And I know that no group of people have stronger opinions than mums!
To that end, I’d like to share with you an interesting subject I am busy researching at work at the moment – the latent phase of labour. This is basically the extremely frustrating period of time when you are just about ready to pop but are not yet considered to be in ‘active labour’. I realise at this point that I have just alienated anyone who is either entirely disinterested or has no experience of this, but stick with it; you might learn something.
I find myself at a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to this part of the whole childbirth process as I had a controlled early induction in hospital so missed out on the exciting waters-breaking-in-Tesco part (which I’m sure doesn’t actually happen very often but sounds very dramatic – “clean up, aisle 3!”). I’ll have to imagine the next bit – you may have some very vivid memories of it.
Picture this: your due date approaches, you’re waddling around the house like Danny DeVito in Batman Returns, and you’ve had the ‘show’ (and I don’t mean going to see Mamma Mia). You may or may not have had an embarrassing supermarket incident at this point – more likely you may have had a bit of a leak of your waters, or maybe nothing at all. Either way, you’re contracting with frustrating irregularity and you know something is happening down there but you’re a long way off yet.
24 hours later, your contractions are getting stronger, you’ve had three baths, and bouncing on your birthing ball like an excitable child on a Space Hopper is no longer helping. You’ve attempted various relaxation exercises – deep breathing, gentle massage, an irritating CD of whale noises – but over-the-counter painkillers and your hired TENS machine aren’t doing the trick anymore and you’re sure that your baby’s arrival must be imminent. Maybe you won’t even make it to the hospital. You imagine your other half weaving wildly through traffic before being stopped by police, to whom your hysterical partner yells “she’s in labour!”, and you screech up to the maternity unit doors with a lights and sirens escort. Your actual journey to the hospital is less dramatic but you are glad to be in capable hands, who will surely have your little one delivered within the hour.
“You’re about 1-2 centimetres dilated. Go back home and try to have a rest.”
Is there any sentence more disheartening for a mother-to-be to hear than this? You’ve arrived at the maternity unit, hospital bag in hand, doubled over at the admissions desk and after a bit of poking and prodding, some midwife tells you that you’re nowhere near. You’re in considerable pain, if it’s your first baby you’ll undoubtedly be fairly scared, and after a day or so without proper sleep you’re already feeling exhausted. The last thing you want is to be turned away at the door when you really feel like you need some help. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
I am looking into how effective antenatal education can be at preparing women for the latent phase, and the importance of good telephone triage (when women are assessed by a midwife over the phone) to encourage women at this early stage to stay at home for as long as possible, and to recognise when they really should come in. There is good evidence to show that the further along in labour a woman is when she arrives at hospital, the more likely she is to have a ‘normal’ birth with fewer interventions. If she is well prepared for the onset of labour through having plenty of information beforehand, and has the benefit of a supportive birth partner, she is likely to be more relaxed and will cope much better than women who panic and feel that they don’t know what is happening. On the part of midwives, they should not underestimate the positive effect of their advice and reassurance over the phone when a woman most needs it.
I would love to get some feedback on your experiences of this early stage of labour. Did you feel prepared when you had your first baby? Do you think women should be turned away when they come into hospital, regardless of how far dilated they are? And do you think you should get your shopping for free if your waters break at the till? I’d at least expect a voucher or something.