Your Guide to Labor and Delivery

From Natural Childbirth to Epidural, Vaginal Birth to Cesarean and Beyond

Pregnant women at ante natal class.
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To prepare for labor and delivery, childbirth classes are your best bet. A good class will teach you what all of your childbirth options are and how to navigate the system. There are many organizations that certify childbirth educators, like Lamaze, Bradley and ICEA. Be sure to use a certified educator for your classes.

Is This Labor?

Worrying about whether or not you are in real labor is to be expected at the end of pregnancy. Many women worry that every twinge is labor. Sometimes the symptoms of late pregnancy mask the signs of labor. If you have contractions that get stronger, longer and closer together, chances are you're in labor. Call your midwife or doctor for advice. Many use the 411 method: Contractions four (4) minutes apart, lasting one (1) minute, for at least one (1) hour mean it's go-time.

Labor and Birth: The Details

Once you have determined that you are in labor, your body will proceed in a certain fashion. You will have contractions, your cervix will efface and dilate, and your baby will move down and be born. How long this takes varies widely from mother to mother and pregnancy to pregnancy. The average labor for a first time mom is about 12 to 18 hours.

Birth Support

Having support in birth is very helpful. It not only provides you with company and companionship, but it can help ease your concerns and fears. In addition to loved ones, many women choose to hire a doula, a professional labor support person, who can share the experience of labor by helping you with physical and emotional support in labor. Using a doula has been shown to help avoid potential medical interventions during labor, which in turn may reduce complication rates.

Natural Childbirth

Natural childbirth can mean many things for many people, but in general it means to give birth without certain forms of interventions, specifically pain-relieving medications. Women who choose natural birth use positioning, relaxation and other comfort measures to aid them in labor.

Labor and Birth Medications:

Some women choose medications to help them with the pain of labor and birth. This may be an epidural or IV medications. Which medications you are offered will depend on you, your labor and the health of your baby. Be sure to discuss with your practitioner prior to labor what pain medications are available, how they use them, and when they use them.

Common Interventions in Labor and Childbirth:

Interventions can be common in some hospitals or birth settings. Many forms of interventions have become routine unless you speak up. This may include continuous electronic fetal monitoring (EFM), episiotomy, vacuum extraction and forceps. Talking to your practitioner before labor can help you know which interventions may be more likely and how they may be used to help you.

Cesarean Section - Surgical Birth:

More than 30% of all births are by cesarean section in the United States. This surgical birth is done by making an incision in the abdomen to allow the baby to be born through the abdomen.

A cesarean section may be indicated prior to labor such as for a breech presentation or a placenta previa. If your labor is not progressing appropriately or if your baby is not tolerating labor, a cesarean section also may be indicated during labor. In a life threatening situation, a cesarean section may be done to save either the mother or the baby.

Postpartum Recovery:

The road to recovery begins as soon as the placenta is born. From there, over the course of six weeks, you will slowly heal and feel better. Your body will adjust and change as you lose weight and tone back up.

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  1. Fortier JH, Godwin M. Doula support compared with standard care. Can Fam Physician. 2015;61(6):e284-e292.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Birth: method of delivery. Updated April 20, 2020.