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Ask a labor nurse: 9 Things you need to know about pregnancy and birth

Planning for your first baby can seem daunting, if not downright scary. Every woman and every pregnancy is unique, which proves challenging for women who want to know exactly what to expect. Though we can never have exact answers to every question, there are some facts that every mom-to-be should know.

Julie Faulkner

We turned to pregnancy and birthing expert Jeanne Faulkner, RN, Fit Pregnancy‘s Ask the Labor Nurse blogger and author of The Complete Illustrated Birthing Companion (Quayside, November 2012) for answers to the most common questions women have about pregnancy and birth.

Meet our expert

Jeanne Faulkner is Fit Pregnancy’s Ask the Labor Nurse blogger, a contributing writer for Fit Pregnancy magazine and is a registered nurse with 20 years experience in labor and delivery. She is a writer for the Parent Network, and writes regularly for many magazines, websites and newspapers about health, parenting, fitness, politics and global maternal health issues. Faulkner is also CARE’s (global humanitarian organization) advocacy chairperson for Oregon. Here are nine things the labor nurse wants you to know about pregnancy and giving birth.

SheKnows: With all the horror stories about being pregnant, shouldn’t women expect something to go wrong?

Jeanne Faulkner: Despite all the scary stories you’ll hear about things that can go wrong during pregnancy, none of them are likely to happen to you. You’re far more likely to have a perfectly normal, healthy pregnancy and baby than not. Sure, some women have trouble, but most don’t. Treat your pregnancy as the healthiest event in your life and odds are, it will be.

SheKnows: Is a doctor or midwife the key to a healthy pregnancy?

Jeanne Faulkner: The best way ways to achieve a healthy pregnancy and baby have nothing to do with your doctor or midwife and everything to do with you. They’re diet, exercise, stress management and lifestyle habits. Put down the soda and pick up the water. Eat your fruits and veggies. Don’t drink alcohol. Exercise (at least a walk) every day. Watch your weight. Dial down the life-drama and for God’s sake, don’t smoke or do drugs.

SheKnows: Will prenatal tests ensure a healthy pregnancy?

Jeanne Faulker: You don’t need every test offered at your doctor’s office. Some are important for every mother, but lots of tests that are offered as standard or routine, are not only entirely optional, they’re not even a good idea for every women. Tests like genetic screening and frequent ultrasounds aren’t necessary for everybody and in fact, most women can get through her entire pregnancy without them.

SheKnows: Is there a downside to getting all the prenatal tests?

Jeanne Faulkner: If you opt for some of these tests, be prepared for the information they provide. For example, if your genetic screening test says you have a tiny chance of having a baby with a problem, what are you going to do with that information? Would you be better off if you never knew? If an optional ultrasound speculates you’re actually further along than you thought, does that put you at risk for an induction you don’t really need later on (because ultrasounds are often off by a week or two)?

SheKnows: Do women who plan on getting an epidural really need prenatal education on labor?

Jeanne Faulkner: Yes, you do need prenatal education, even if you’re having an epidural in the hospital. The more you know about your body, baby, labor and birth, the more capable you’ll be of being involved in your own medical care and health Learning some natural childbirth techniques will be a great help during the hours of labor that come before your epidural, or if your epidural wears off, or if your baby comes too quickly.

SheKnows: Should women get worried about their health or their baby’s health if they go past their due date?

Jeanne Faulkner: It’s perfectly normal for most women to go past their due date. In fact, only five percent of women deliver on their due date. Doctors get nervous once you’re 39- 40 weeks, because a very small number of women might have placental problems or extra large babies. Most women, however, can go as long as 42 weeks before they’re really in a high-risk group. Midwives don’t get nervous until 42 weeks.

SheKnows: Are there dangers to getting an induction?

Jeanne Faulkner: Don’t even think about getting induced without an excellent medical reason before 39- 40 weeks. If you don’t have a medical reason, think twice before you get induced at all. Inductions are for women who really need to deliver because their health or their baby’s health is in danger. If you get induced before your body is ready for labor or your baby is ready to be born, you increase chances you’ll have a c-section and your baby will need the NICU.

SheKnows: Should women strive for natural childbirth or get an epidural?

Jeanne Faulkner: Natural childbirth isn’t for every woman and getting an epidural doesn’t mean you’re a slacker-mom. About 71% of American women get epidurals, partly because American women have fewer pain management options than women in other developed countries (with lower epidural rates). For American women, it’s epidural or nothing (Oh, OK, we can also use narcotics as long as the baby won’t be born soon, but they don’t work very well or for very long). Women in other countries have access to nitrous oxide (AKA laughing gas – well studied, used by millions of women all over the world and found to be very safe) and other safe medications during labor. We used to use nitrous oxide routinely in labor, but when epidurals came into the hospital, laughing gas went out of style. Women in other countries think our lack of options is brutal.

SheKnows: Are home births putting women and their babies at risk?

Jeanne Faulkner: Contrary to what the American College of OB-GYNs says, home and birth center births (when attended by an expert midwife with an iron-clad emergency back up plan and access to a hospital) are usually safe for most healthy mothers and babies. That’s according to data and birth records gathered by the Centers for Disease Control. That said, over 98% of mothers and babies deliver in the hospital and almost all of them are safe too.

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