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pregnant womanAs a WakeMed childbirth educator, Kay Johnson works with couples anticipating the excitement and uncertainty of labor and delivery.

Although each couple brings a special perspective to the class, she says all have one goal in mind.

"Regardless of their views and desires for the birth of their child, they want to have good memories of their baby's birthday," she says. "My best advice is that they go into it with an open mind, listen to their bodies, and trust in the medical professionals there to help them. They want this to be a great birth experience, too."

How will I know I'm in labor?

Most women begin having "warm up" contractions during the last weeks of pregnancy. If these contractions continue, begin monitoring how often they come and how long each one lasts.

If the contractions become longer, stronger and closer together, it may be a sign that the onset of labor is near.

Kay Johnson gets quite a few questions during her childbirth preparation classes, but there are several she fields more often.

Typically, you don't need to call your doctor or leave for the hospital until contractions are five minutes apart and are so strong that you cannot walk or talk through them. In addition, if your water leaks or breaks, or if you experience any bleeding, call your doctor immediately.

How long will it take for me to give birth?

Since nature controls labor, no one can predict how long any labor will take. First-time labor may last anywhere from 12 to 24 hours.

Will breathing exercises really help during labor?

Yes, they really will. The uterus is a wonderful organ that is composed almost 100 percent of involuntary muscle. Muscles require oxygen to work properly, so not getting enough causes them to cramp.

Slow, deep breathing combined with other relaxation techniques and body positions will ensure the uterus gets plenty of oxygen and reduce the cramping associated with labor.

Will an epidural take away all of the pain of labor and birth?

An epidural is typically administered after a woman has progressed well into labor. As this point, a laboring woman has already had fairly intense contractions and may have experienced a fair amount of pain. While an epidural eases some of the pain, a lot of women still feel a lot of pressure and discomfort after receiving the epidural. That's why staying mobile and active, listening to your body, and employing other comfort measures are so important during labor.

Most expectant women are familiar with the epidural, but there are many other choices for pain relief that can be combined with, or used in lieu of, an epidural. These include analgesics (narcotics), hydrotherapy (shower and tub), massage, positioning, alternating hot and cold therapy, and comforting from your labor partner.

It's best to discuss your choice of labor pain management with your doctor in your eighth or ninth month of pregnancy.

Learn more

The Women's Pavilion & Birthplace in Raleigh and Cary offer a comprehensive curriculum of childbirth and parenting classes taught by experienced childbirth educators. Classes are scheduled according to your due date. For best scheduling options, we encourage you to sign up for classes during your 14th week of pregnancy. There is a charge for most of our classes, and all require advance registration.

Register today!