Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn: The Complete Guide, 4th Ed.

CHAPTER 1 You’re Having a Baby!

Having a baby presents some of life’s greatest challenges and rewards. During pregnancy, childbirth, and your newborn’s first weeks, you’ll experience everything from wonder and joy to bewilderment and stress—often at the same time. You can be glad that pregnancy lasts around nine months so you have time to learn, plan, adjust, and prepare.

Day by day, your developing baby is becoming capable of thriving outside the protective environment of your body. You’re becoming physically and emotionally ready to give birth, and your partner is learning how to support you during labor. Together, you’ll prepare to meet your baby’s needs.

This book provides reliable information and guidance for staying healthy, finding good prenatal care and support, learning about your options for maternity care, and making decisions that reflect your preferences and priorities. Your baby is getting ready to join your family, so let’s turn the page and start preparing for his birth!


In this chapter, you’ll learn about:

• Pregnancy as a time for change and preparation

• Birth as a long-term memory

• The importance of making informed decisions about your care

• Your journey as a new parent

Pregnancy: A Time for Change and Preparation

Like most expectant parents, you want a healthy pregnancy so you can provide a safe environment for your developing baby. Pregnancy is the time to assess your diet, fitness level, lifestyle, finances, and relationships—and make any necessary changes for optimal health. It’s also the time to arrange for prenatal care and seek help to resolve or manage any medical problems or mental health challenges. Chapters 4 through 6 discuss ways to have the healthiest pregnancy possible for you and your baby.

Because pregnancy puts extra demands on your body, you may have questions about the health of your pregnancy. Chapter 3 describes common changes and concerns that can arise in pregnancy and what you can do to address them, and Chapter 19 discusses what changes you can expect if this pregnancy isn’t your first. During pregnancy, you’ll also discover that you want to talk with other pregnant women, expectant partners, and new parents so you can learn from their experiences and benefit from their support. Use this time to draw upon or develop a support system that can help you long after your baby is born.

Looking ahead to the birth, you may wonder how you’ll manage labor. Will you want to use medications to reduce or eliminate pain? Will you want a natural, drug-free birth? What kind of support will you want your partner to provide? Pregnancy is the time to prepare for how you’ll cope with childbirth; reading this book is a good place to start, and taking childbirth preparation classes will enhance your knowledge of your options. Chapters 9 and 12describe when and how labor begins and what childbirth is really like, while Chapters 10 and 11 provide information on the various medications and non-medicated options for managing labor pain.

Just as most pregnancies are normal, so are most labors and births. However, just as problems can arise in pregnancy, complications can develop during childbirth, and medical interventions may become necessary for the health of the mother and baby. If your pregnancy, labor, or birth becomes complicated, it’s helpful to be aware of the possible problems and potential solutions. Chapters 713, and 14 describe pregnancy and childbirth complications and the options for treatment, including cesarean birth.

As you anticipate parenthood, questions and deep feelings may come up about your childhood, and about your parents’ relationships with each other and with you. Your partner may have the same experience. Pregnancy is a good time to strengthen bonds, mend fences, or clarify boundaries with your parents so you can enter parenthood on your own terms.

You and your partner may also spend a lot of time thinking about the amazing responsibility of physically, emotionally, and spiritually nurturing a child. Pregnancy is a good time for you and your partner to explore your expectations of parenthood and develop the qualities essential for parenting, perhaps by taking parenting classes, reading parenting books, or speaking to friends and relatives about their parenting experiences.


Birth as a Long-term Memory

Research shows that women vividly recall their birth experiences for many years.1 After you give birth to your baby, you’ll remember the major facts of the experience, such as how long you were in labor, the time of her birth, and her birth weight. But you’ll also remember other details such as how you knew you were in labor, how you felt during contractions, what you did to relieve the pain, and how others comforted you and helped you cope. This information will make up your unique, unforgettable story of giving birth to your child.

Your Mother’s Memories of Giving Birth

Ask your mother to tell you her story of giving birth to you, and have your partner do the same with his or her mother. What does your mother remember about going into labor? What did your father do? What did her caregivers do and say? What did she feel when she first saw you and held you? How does your mother feel now about your birth? Unless she was heavily drugged during labor, she’ll probably have clear and detailed memories, and the intensity of her emotions as she recalls them may surprise you.

Some women have positive, fulfilling, and empowering memories of giving birth. These women feel that they were treated with kindness and their priorities and preferences for care were respected—even if labor was long and complicated. Other women remember their birth experiences with shame, anger, remorse, or resignation. These women feel that they were disrespected, abandoned, or powerless during childbirth, and this negative treatment tarnished their memories of the experience.

No one has complete control over pregnancy and childbirth, but the decisions you make during pregnancy will affect your memory of your birth experience. By making decisions that will help you have a satisfying birth, you increase your chances of having good memories of the experience. (See page 30 for steps to improve your chances of having a satisfying birth experience.) Conversely, if you make decisions that will hinder your ability to have a satisfying birth—or if the decisions you make aren’t respected—you increase your risk of having unhappy memories of the experience.

Different Views on Childbirth

When asked to describe their childbirth experiences to their children, women gave a variety of responses. Here are a few examples:

It was the best day of my life!

I have always felt I shortchanged you. I didn’t welcome you the way you deserved.

After giving birth, I knew I could do anything!

Labor with you seemed to go on forever. But it didn’t matter how tired I was or how hard it was: You were worth every minute!

Making Decisions for a Satisfying Pregnancy and Birth

Because pregnancy and birth are normally healthy processes and highly personal, emotionally significant experiences, you typically have more choices for care than you would for a medical condition that involves disease or injury. These choices include: where you have your baby, who your caregivers are, how educated you become about pregnancy and childbirth, who provides you companionship and support in labor, how you want to manage labor pain, and to what extent you want your caregivers to manage your care.

If you’re surprised by the number of decisions you’ll have to make during pregnancy, you may be overwhelmed by the staggering amount of information available to you on maternity care. Some resources provide sound, reliable advice (such as this book); others don’t. Chapters 2 and 8 discuss how you can find and evaluate maternity care information so you can make decisions that are right for you and your family.

This book is based on the importance of your active participation in every aspect of your care. When you’re well informed of your choices and can communicate your questions, needs, and preferences, you help ensure maximum safety for you and your baby, and enhance your satisfaction with the birth experience.


More than the Birth of a Baby

Cultures around the world celebrate birth as a significant, joyous event marked by rituals of hope, promise, and new life. At the moment of birth, many lives are transformed. For you and your partner, your baby’s birth marks your birth as parents. For your family, the birth creates their new roles as siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

When you meet your baby, you may feel that you’ve always known him—or you may be totally surprised by him. As you gaze at him and stroke, sniff, and snuggle him, you’ll begin to fall in love as only parents and babies can. During the first few hours and days of your baby’s life, you’ll begin to fully appreciate the fact that this tiny person is the same mystery being you knew in the womb.

After the initial awe of new parenthood fades, you’ll realize that your life has permanently changed and is more uncertain and less simple than it was before you became a parent. You may wonder how our species has ever survived when birth, breastfeeding, and baby care seem so challenging. A newborn’s needs are almost constant and sometimes hard to understand. When your baby cries, you may ask yourself: “Is he hungry, wet, cold, sleepy, lonely, in pain? How do I soothe him, hold him, change him, bathe him, feed him? How do I know I’m doing a good job?” Chapters 17 and 18 describe the basics of baby care and feeding; your confidence will grow as you become more experienced with nurturing and nourishing your baby.

In the first few weeks of your newborn’s life, you may have other worries, such as: “How can I get enough sleep? Can we afford a longer maternity leave? Will I ever have time to be romantic with my partner again? Will I ever want to be romantic again?” Chapters 15 and 16 describe what life is like for a new mother, and discuss concerns, doubts, and problems that can arise in the postpartum period and what you can do to address them.

After these early challenges, the rewards will start to come. Your baby will settle down when you cuddle him. He’ll gain weight. He’ll smile and coo. He’ll stop crying when you sing to him. His sleeping pattern will become more predictable. He won’t be able to take his eyes off you, and you won’t be able to take your eyes off him. At that point, you’ll realize that you wouldn’t return to your prebaby life, even if you could.

The time spanning pregnancy, childbirth, and your newborn’s first weeks will be an unforgettable experience, one that will have a lasting impact on your life. This book will help you discover that you already know how to grow your baby, give birth to him, and nourish and nurture him. Besides good health and good care, all you really need are confidence, support, and the practical skills and knowledge provided in the following chapters.

Key Points to Remember

• Pregnancy is marked by physical and emotional changes, and it’s a time to prepare for childbirth and parenthood.

• Birth is an unforgettable experience. You’ll remember giving birth to your baby for years to come.

• The decisions you make for your care will have a great impact on you, your family, and your baby.

• The birth of your baby will have profound emotional significance, and your journey as a new parent will be one of wonder, doubt, and self-discovery.