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[Translate to South Africa:] Everything you need to know about childbirth

Everything you need to know about childbirth

How do I know when I am having contractions, what type of birth is best suited to me, who will help me? Answers to this will help you with the process of childbirth.

Antenatal classes can be of great help and are open to mothers from around the 20th week of pregnancy. The focus is more on preparing yourself physically and mentally for the big event rather than training for childbirth. You learn the correct way to breathe during contractions and techniques for coping with the new experiences your body is going through. You can talk to experienced midwives or doctors to help overcome any uncertainties or fears you may have. Your partner can also come with you to most of the classes.

Signs that you are going into labour include your waters breaking, bleeding and regular contractions. These are contractions of the womb triggered by hormones. If the contractions continue over the course of an hour at intervals of between five and ten minutes, it is time to make your way to the hospital or birth centre or to call your midwife if you have opted for a home birth.

The entire process of childbirth can be divided into three phases. The first phase is often the longest and is when the uterine orifice opens to its full extent. The contractions are weak to begin with, with long intervals between them. This is followed by the second phase of labour when the long awaited event finally happens - your child is born. The final stage of labour lasts until the placenta is discharged along with the umbilical cord and the amnion. Then you can rest and bask in the joys of parenthood.

Everyone knows that childbirth can be painful - even extremely painful. This depends largely on what course the birth takes and the individual pain threshold of the mother. We do know, however, that an exact knowledge of the childbirth process helps reduce the pain. So find out in good time about the various pain treatment options available to you during childbirth. The pain relief available ranges from homeopathic remedies, relaxation techniques and acupuncture, right through to injected pain killers and epidural anaesthesia (peridural anaesthesia or PDA for short). Whatever you decide, you should make sure that your wishes are taken seriously – whether you want to do without painkillers completely or want the pain to be taken away right from the start.

Childbirth is an individual process, which is influenced by a range of factors - including the place of birth. Take your time to find the right place for you. Ask about the various childbirth options and aids available such as the birthing chair, wall bars and water births, the types of Caesarean section used, the type of breastfeeding counselling available after birth, as well as puerperium care. You basically have a choice between a home birth in familiar surroundings, a birth centre run by midwives with a homely atmosphere or a hospital birth, with the advantage of medical facilities on-hand. The latter is the best option if you have experienced complications during pregnancy or for multiple births.

The sucking and swallowing reflex of your newborn baby reaches its peak up to two hours after birth. If you hold your baby in your arms, its sense of smell will help it find your breast and the best baby food in the world. Crying also helps this process. It releases hormones which are essential for breastfeeding. Fear and stress can also make breastfeeding impossible for both mother and child. So take your time and make sure you receive a good breastfeeding consultation. In many hospitals, breastfeeding consultation already forms an integral part of puerperium care. Even if it doesn't work right away, experience shows that practically every mother can breastfeed. So there’s nothing to worry about.

Your newborn child is an individual. It will kick, cry, sleep and be hungry whenever and for however long it likes. In order to build a strong bond with your baby, it is important that you get to know each other. The best way to do this is to spend lots of time together right from the start. Soon you will be able to read your baby's different bodily signals and noises. And your baby will also be able to tell from your touch and tone of voice how you are feeling. If you understand each other, breastfeeding often goes more smoothly too.

You should organise puerperium care with a midwife as soon as possible for the period after your baby is born. The midwife will be able to advise you on breastfeeding, as well as monitoring the post-birth vaginal discharge and the reforming of the womb. Midwives can also give you lots of tips on how best to handle your newborn baby. If you choose to breastfeed, you are entitled to home visits from a midwife for up to a year. A list of midwives is available from your doctor or the maternity hospital.

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4 Phases of Life