What to expect before and after birth

Due date: so how does it all happen?

It’s perfectly natural for some first time mums and dads to feel a little apprehensive approaching the big day, but the more you know, the less unnerving it is. Here’s what you can expect from the start of labour, till the time you arrive home with your newborn. Remember there is a lot of support out there for you, don’t ever feel like you’re alone.

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You’ve heard of Braxton – Hicks contractions –these are contractions of the uterus that start early on during pregnancy. You’ve been having them all along, but you may not have felt them until now. As your baby’s head moves into the pelvis they will become stronger and more frequent.

When your contractions kick in – this is the first sign of labour for a lot of women. There’s no telling exactly when this will happen, but you will recognize it. Contractions usually start off 15 to 20 minutes apart, and by the time the baby is ready to be born, they’ll be more intense and probably two to three minutes apart.

What about my waters breaking – not all women will have this – it’s rarely like that giant gush of fluid you see in the movies. Waters breaking means that the amniotic fluid surrounding the baby leaks out because the mucus plug or “show” has moved from the cervix. Once this happens you should definitely call your lead maternity carer.

Labour is another name for hard work – this can last for a number of hours, and it varies a lot between mums. It’s recommended that you sort out a strategy for how you’ll deal with it beforehand. You can discuss pain management with your lead maternity carer well before you’re due, even write your plan down and take it with you to the hospital.

If this is your first baby, you may need to revise your plan as the labour progresses. There’s nothing wrong with that. Remember it’s different for everyone, and there are no badges for being brave. You’ll want to conserve as much energy as you can so you can spend time with your new baby when it’s over!

The lowdown on breast feeding – nutrition is hugely important for your new baby. During the first few days after birth your breasts will produce colostrum. This is high in protein and provides your baby with vital antibodies and other important nutrients. Try to breast feed as soon as you can after birth, as it’ll also stimulate your milk production, and help your uterus to contract back into place sooner.

Welcome to the family – once your baby is born he or she will be thoroughly checked, weighed and measured. They’ll also be given a Vitamin K injection (if you agree to it) to prevent excessive bleeding which can sometimes occur in newborn babies. Great news – your family just got bigger!

Meal times for your little one – it’s a big deal being a parent; your baby is completely dependent on you. They need to be fed around every three hours (sometimes more) – day and night, so expect to feel tired for a while particularly in those early weeks.

Breast milk is the very best food for your new baby, and the only nutrition they’ll need for around the first six months. Aim to breast feed for as long as you can. If you aren’t fully breastfeeding your baby, you will need to feed a suitable infant formula.

Around six months (not before four) your baby will need to start solids, because she'll need extra nutrients from food.

New mums need a lot of rest to keep up with feeding, and require help and support from everyone around them. Household chores can mount up so look out for anyone who can lend a hand.

Feeling a little teary – lots of new mums need a good cry after their baby’s birth; it’s an emotional time! Combined with physical exhaustion and more hormonal changes, it’s perfectly normal for women to feel a bit blue and tearful. It usually settles down fairly quickly, and it helps once you’ve worked out a breastfeeding routine. Establishing breastfeeding can take some time. Don’t feel like you should be an expert from day one, and ask for as much help as you need from your midwife or lactation consultant.

New Dads shouldn’t take it personally if their partner is feeling down, remember – she’s been through a lot. Be supportive of her, there might be days when she stays in her dressing gown till midday and cooking dinner seems like a monumental task - that’s all normal. It will pass and she will start feeling better, but if either of you are concerned make sure you contact your midwife or doctor for help.

Managing the visitors  - no doubt there will be a lot of people wanting to stop by. They all mean well, but that doesn’t mean you have to have them over when you’re not feeling up to it. Your friends and family care about you and they’ll understand. Let people know you’ll invite them over when you’re ready, and don’t feel bad about ignoring the doorbell or taking the phone off the hook if you need to.

If you get offers of help definitely accept them! Having someone help wash a load of laundry or deliver you a cooked meal isn’t a sign that you’re not coping - accepting help is just good sense. You don’t have to do everything on your own.

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