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Day of delivery: What to bear in mind well before giving birth

When the pregnancy test strip turned blue—the magical moment you’d been waiting for—the realities of delivery day seemed far, far away. Yet as any mother will tell you, nine months have a curious way of speeding by. If you’re expecting, the last thing you’ll want is to enter labor unprepared. Today, more and more couples are preparing a birth plan—a sort of wish list that describes their ideal birthing experience.

It’s a good idea to prepare a birth plan as you enter your eighth month of pregnancy. Share and discuss it with your healthcare team so they will be aware of the choices you have made. Of course, it’s important to realize that not everything can always go according to plan—and childbirth is certainly no exception. That said, here are some issues to consider:

Freedom of movement. Some women find that walking, standing or sitting makes the contractions easier and speeds labor by taking advantage of gravity. Ask your labor team to allow you to remain mobile as long as possible. (See next item.)

Monitoring. Today, continuous electronic fetal monitoring is routinely used to measure how a baby’s heartbeat is responding to contractions. However, many women find it intrusive as it may prevent them from moving freely. Discuss this issue with your healthcare provider.

Pain relief. Become informed about your options well before delivery. Decide your preferences and make them known to your childbirth team. Allow for the possibility that you may change your mind during labor.

Ambience. Will the labor room be dimly lit? Can music be used to create a soothing atmosphere? Will a mirror be available so you can see when baby’s head crowns? These are some factors that may enhance your experience.

Episiotomy. An episiotomy is a cut performed to enlarge the vaginal opening. Some mothers want to avoid one if at all possible. If that’s how you feel, put it in your birth plan—and find out about exercises you can do to strengthen the perineum for delivery. Ultimately, however, the decision of whether an episiotomy is necessary is best made as the baby’s head crowns.

Nursing. Ask your healthcare team if they can delay examining your baby until you have had a chance to breastfeed him or her immediately after birth. This may not be possible if there’s an urgent concern about the baby’s health.

Cesarean section. You may want to find out if your partner will be allowed into surgery if the need for a C-section arises. If a C-section is planned, it’s likely he can be present, but if it’s an emergency, it’s likely he can’t be present.

Other things to consider. Ask your healthcare team if your partner will be allowed to photograph or videotape the delivery. Find out if you can cut the umbilical cord yourself.