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Anatomy of pregnancy and preparing for a vaginal delivery

An explanatory guide to comprehending the internal workings of your body and methods for preparing for a positive, healthy vaginal delivery.


Amniotic sac:


The amniotic sac is a delicate membrane filled with amniotic fluid. Initially, the fluid contains water from the mother's body, but over time, the fetus's urine makes up the majority of the fluid. This sac envelops the fetus, providing protection and assisting in regulating its temperature.


Cervix:


The cervix is the lower portion of the uterus that connects to the vagina. It consists primarily of fibromuscular tissue and is the part of the womb that dilates and opens (to about 10cm!) during labor to allow the fetus to be born.


The cervix serves as the passageway between the uterus and the vagina. During labor, it dilates and opens to facilitate the passage of the fetus during delivery.


Fetus:


The medical term used for an unborn baby after the 8th week of pregnancy.



Placenta:


The placenta is an organ that develops in the uterus during pregnancy. It sustains the growing fetus by serving as its "lungs," supplying oxygen and removing carbon dioxide. Additionally, it acts as the "kidneys," filtering waste products out of the bloodstream, serves as an immunological barrier, protecting from the mother's immune system, and functions as a gland, secreting vital hormones to support the pregnancy.


Umbilical Cord:


Oxygen and nutrients are delivered to the fetus via the umbilical cord, which connects the placenta to the fetus. The cord contains two arteries and one vein. At birth, it is cut and clipped off, leaving a stump of tissue attached to the baby's belly button. The stump gradually dries and shrivels until it falls off, usually 1 to 2 weeks after birth.


Uterine wall:


The uterine wall is composed of three strong layers of muscle tissue. It expands and becomes thinner as the fetus develops inside the uterus.


Uterus:


The fetus develops and grows in the uterus, which is an inverted pear-shaped muscular organ located in the pelvis. It measures about 7.5 cm in length and 5 cm in width and grows to accommodate the fetus. During the third trimester, the uterus will finish growing and will be the size of a watermelon! After birth, the uterus gradually shrinks to its original size, a process that takes around 6 weeks.


Vaginal canal:


The vaginal canal is located behind the bladder and in front of the anus and serves as the fetus' pathway to the outside world. During labor, the fetus descends from the uterus, through the cervix, and into the vaginal canal.



Preparing for a vaginal delivery


There are several things you could do to try prepare your body and mind for a vaginal delivery. Some suggestions include prenatal exercises, breathing techniques, childbirth education classes, and discussing your birth plan with your healthcare provider. Each of these measures can contribute to preparing both your body and mind for the process of labor and delivery.


Perineal Massage


Perineal massage has been proven to help make the perineum (the area between the vaginal opening and the anus) more elastic and better able to stretch during dilation in labor. This can help reduce the risk of tearing or needing an episiotomy (a cut to the perineum) during childbirth.


Instructions;


  • Wash your hands and find a comfortable position.

  • Put some unscented, natural massage oil (EG vitamin E oil, almond or olive oil) on your perineum.

  • Insert your thumbs about 2.5cm just inside the back wall of your vagina. Press down towards your anus and to the sides and hold for about 1-2 minutes.

  • Then continue on by moving your thumbs outward and inward in a slow U-shaped motion.


It is recommended to start from 34-36 weeks gestation, doing it 3-4 times a week, for around 3-4 minutes at a time.

Pregnancy yoga


Pregnancy yoga is designed to help you prepare for labor by relaxing the body and focusing on safe techniques and poses. It offers many physical and mental benefits by combining gentle, low-impact stretching and strengthening exercises with breathing techniques. This can support the physical and emotional well-being of expectant mothers as they prepare for childbirth.


The benefits of pregnancy yoga for labour include;


  • Reduces stress and anxiety, helping you to stay calm and focused during labour.

  • The breathing techniques teach you to breathe steadily through your contractions and promotes relaxation. Don’t underestimate controlled breathing as a pain relief method during the delivery!

  • Strengthens and improves the flexibility of your pelvic muscles as well as other core muscles vital for vaginal delivery.

  • Teaches you how to open your hips and keep correct postural alignment, which helps with delivery.

  • Overall strength and flexibility makes the body better equipped to handle labour and helps you adapt to various positions.



Preparing your body with nutrition


Raspberry leaf tea:


Raspberry leaf tea is thought to ripen the cervix and increase blood flow to the uterus, which strengthens the uterine muscles. This may help improve the effectiveness of contractions during labor. In addition, it is rich in vitamin C, which is beneficial for skin elasticity, immune function, and wound healing. It is recommended to start consuming raspberry leaf tea at 36 weeks of pregnancy, not before, to allow enough time for it to build up in your body. It's important to consult your midwife before taking this tea to ensure it's safe for you.


Dates:


Studies have found that regularly eating dates after 37 weeks of pregnancy may aid in cervical ripening, which in turn decreases the length of labor. Dates may also reduce the need for induction, and one small study found a positive effect on postpartum blood loss.


During labour:


Labour can be long and will require strength and stamina, so you’ll want to fuel your body and baby with nutrient-rich food and stay hydrated, to give you energy and prevent you from becoming exhausted and dehydrated.


Foods to eat during labour:


  • Fruit and vegetables: The natural sugar and fiber will provide energy while the water content will help to keep you hydrated.

  • Complex carbohydrates: Such as whole grains, beans, lentils, seeds and nuts contain longer chained sugars and fibres than simple carbohydrates and they take longer to digest. The body converts these sugar molecules into glucose, which it uses for energy.

  • Water: Keeping hydrated is of the utmost importance during labour. The uterus, like many muscles, functions best when it is fully hydrated.


Enrol in antenatal classes

Antenatal classes provide you with valuable information and confidence to help you prepare for labour and the first few weeks with your baby.

The topics covered in antenatal classes often include:


  • Health in pregnancy, including diet and exercise.

  • What happens during labour.

  • Preparing for labour with breathing, relaxation and birthing techniques.

  • Information about different types of labour and interventions, such as forceps and vacuum deliveries.

  • Your health after birth.

  • Feeding and caring for your baby.


Ask your midwife about antenatal classes local to you.


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