What to Expect Every Step of the Way

Bringing a new life into the world is an incredible journey filled with excitement, anticipation, and, understandably, some anxiety. At Heartbeat of Toledo, we are committed to supporting you every step of the way. Here’s an in-depth guide to help you prepare for labor and delivery, detailing what to expect, how to get ready, and pain management options tailored for our community in Toledo, Ohio.

Signs of Labor

Recognizing the signs of labor is crucial to ensure you know when to head to the hospital. Common early signs include:

  • Contractions: These are the most well-known sign of labor. Initially, contractions may feel like menstrual cramps and occur irregularly. As labor progresses, they become more regular, intense, and closer together.
  • Water Breaking: This refers to the amniotic sac rupture, which can result in a trickle or a gush of fluid. It’s important to note the fluid’s color and odor and inform your healthcare provider.
  • Back Pain: Persistent lower back pain, often accompanied by contractions, is another sign of labor, particularly if the baby is in a posterior position.
  • Nesting Instinct: Many women experience a burst of energy and a strong desire to prepare their home for the baby. This is a natural instinct, but remember to take it easy and not overexert yourself.
  • Cervical Changes: Thinning (effacement) and cervix dilation occur as labor progresses. A healthcare provider usually confirms this during a pelvic exam.

Stages of Labor

Labor is typically divided into three stages, each with distinct characteristics:

  1. Early Labor: This stage involves mild to moderate contractions and the gradual dilation of the cervix. It can last several hours to days. During this stage, it’s essential to stay relaxed and comfortable. You can remain at home until contractions become more regular and intense.
  2. Active Labor: During active labor, contractions become stronger, more frequent, and regular, and the cervix dilates from 6 to 10 centimeters. This is when you should head to the hospital or birth center. Active labor typically lasts 4 to 8 hours. You might consider pain relief options at this stage.
  3. Transition: The final stage before pushing is characterized by intense contractions and complete cervical dilation. It’s the shortest but most challenging phase of labor, often lasting 30 minutes to 2 hours. Support and encouragement from your birth partner and healthcare team are crucial.
Labor and delivery

Hospital Admission Process

When you arrive at your chosen Toledo hospital or birth center, you will undergo the following process:

  • Check-in and Paperwork: Upon arrival, you must check in at the labor and delivery unit and complete any necessary paperwork.
  • Initial Assessment: A nurse or midwife will perform an initial assessment, which includes monitoring your vital signs, checking the baby’s heart rate, and assessing the frequency and intensity of your contractions.
  • Cervical Examination: A pelvic exam may determine how far your cervix has dilated and effaced.

Medical Interventions

During labor, several medical interventions may be used to support the process and ensure the safety of both mother and baby:

  • IV Fluids: These may be administered to keep you hydrated, especially if you cannot drink fluids.
  • Fetal Monitoring: Continuous or intermittent monitoring of your baby’s heart rate and contractions helps ensure that labor progresses safely.
  • Pitocin: If labor needs to be induced or strengthened, Pitocin, a synthetic oxytocin, may be administered to stimulate contractions.

Cesarean Delivery

A Cesarean section (C-section) is a surgical procedure to deliver the baby through an incision in the abdomen and uterus. It may be planned (elective) or performed unexpectedly if complications arise during labor. Understanding what happens during and after a C-section can help you prepare:

  • During the Procedure: You will receive anesthesia to numb the lower half of your body, and a screen will be placed to block your view of the surgery. The procedure typically takes about 45 minutes to an hour.
  • Recovery: Post-surgery, you will be monitored in a recovery room before being moved to your postpartum room. Recovery from a C-section usually takes longer than a vaginal delivery, and you’ll need to limit physical activity to allow your body to heal.
Pregnancy preparation

How to Prepare

Packing Your Hospital Bag

Preparing your hospital bag in advance ensures you have everything you need during your stay. Here are some essentials for you, your baby, and your partner:

  • For You: Comfortable clothing (e.g., a robe, nursing bras, loose-fitting clothes), toiletries (e.g., toothbrush, shampoo, lip balm), any necessary medications, and items for comfort (e.g., a pillow, blanket).
  • For Baby: Newborn clothing, a receiving blanket, diapers, and a car seat for the ride home.
  • For Your Partner: Snacks, a change of clothes, toiletries, and a camera or phone to capture those first moments.

Creating a Birth Plan

A birth plan outlines your preferences for labor and delivery, helping you communicate your wishes to your healthcare team. Consider including:

  • Pain Management Options: Your preferences for pain relief, whether you prefer natural methods, medication, or a combination of both.
  • Labor Environment: Preferences for lighting, music, and who you want present during labor.
  • Post-Birth Care: Decisions about skin-to-skin contact, breastfeeding, and newborn procedures (e.g., Vitamin K shot, eye ointment).

Prenatal Classes and Education

Heartbeat of Toledo offers various prenatal classes that can provide valuable information and confidence as you approach your due date:

  • Labor and Delivery: Learn about the stages of labor, pain management techniques, and what to expect during delivery.
  • Breathing and Relaxation Techniques: Practice breathing exercises and relaxation methods to help manage labor pain.
  • Newborn Care and Breastfeeding: Gain knowledge about caring for your newborn and establishing a successful breastfeeding routine.
Prenatal classes

Touring the Hospital or Birth Center

Scheduling a tour of your chosen facility can ease anxiety by familiarizing you with the environment and staff. You’ll learn where to go when you arrive, see the labor and delivery rooms, and understand the protocols and amenities available.

Practicing Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation techniques are vital for managing stress and pain during labor. Some methods to practice include:

  • Deep Breathing: Slow, deep breaths can help calm your mind and reduce tension.
  • Visualization: Imagine a peaceful scene or a positive outcome to help distract from pain.
  • Meditation: Focus on mindfulness and staying present in the moment to cope with contractions.

Choosing a Birth Partner

Select someone you trust to support you during labor, such as your partner, a family member, or a close friend. A birth partner provides emotional support, helps with comfort measures, and advocates for your wishes.

Setting Up a Support Network

Having a strong support network is crucial for the postpartum period. Arrange for friends, family, or local support groups to assist with meals, childcare, and emotional support as you recover and adjust to life with a newborn.

Cervical dilation

Pain Management Options

Epidurals and Spinal Blocks

These are popular choices for pain relief during labor. Administered by an anesthesiologist, they numb the lower half of your body while allowing you to stay awake and alert. Benefits include significant pain relief and the ability to rest during labor. However, potential risks and side effects should be discussed with your healthcare provider.

Natural Pain Relief Methods

Many women prefer to manage labor pain using natural methods. Here are some options:

  • Water Birth: Soaking in a warm bath or using a birthing pool can relax muscles and reduce pain.
  • Massage and Acupressure: Gentle touch and pressure applied to specific points can ease tension and promote relaxation.
  • Aromatherapy: Essential oils, such as lavender or peppermint, can create a calming atmosphere.

Medications for Pain Relief

If you prefer medication, discuss options with your healthcare provider:

  • Nitrous Oxide: Also known as “laughing gas,” this can be inhaled to relieve mild pain and reduce anxiety.
  • Opioids: These are stronger pain relievers administered through an IV or injection. They can help manage pain but may have side effects like drowsiness or nausea.

Movement and Positioning

Staying active and changing positions during labor can help manage pain and facilitate the baby’s descent. Try walking, sitting on a birthing ball, or using a rocking chair. Different positions, such as squatting, kneeling, or lying on your side, can also provide relief.

Active pushing

Breathing Techniques

Specific breathing patterns can help you stay focused and reduce pain. Practice deep, slow breaths during early labor and transition to quicker, more controlled breaths during intense contractions. These techniques can help you stay calm and conserve energy.


Hypnobirthing uses hypnosis techniques to promote a calm and controlled birth experience. It involves deep relaxation, visualization, and positive affirmations to reduce pain and anxiety. Many women find hypnobirthing empowering and effective in managing labor pain.

Using a Doula

A doula is a trained professional who provides continuous physical and emotional support during labor. Doulas offer comfort measures, encouragement, and advocacy, helping you have a positive birth experience.

TENS Machine

A Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) machine uses electrical impulses to reduce pain perception. Pads are placed on your back, and the machine sends gentle pulses to interfere with pain signals. Many women find it helpful, especially during early labor.

contact heartbeat of toledo

At Heartbeat of Toledo, we support you throughout your pregnancy journey. If you have any questions or need additional resources, please don’t hesitate to contact us. With the right knowledge and support, preparing for labor and delivery can be a positive and empowering experience. We wish you a healthy and joyful delivery!