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Overview of Labor and Delivery

by Haywood L. Brown, MD

Although each labor and delivery is different, most follow a general pattern. Therefore, an expectant mother can have a general idea of what changes will occur in her body to enable her to deliver the baby and what procedures will be followed to help her. She also has several choices to make, such as whether to have a support person (such as the baby’s father or another partner) present and where to have the baby.

An expectant mother may want her partner to remain with her during labor. The partner’s encouragement and emotional support may help her relax, sometimes reducing her need for drugs to relieve pain. In addition, sharing the meaningful experience of childbirth has emotional and psychologic benefits, such as creating strong family bonds. On the other hand, an expectant mother may prefer privacy during labor, or the partner may not want to be present. Childbirth education classes prepare both mother and partner for the entire process.

In the United States, almost all babies are born in hospitals, but some women want to have their babies at home. However, unexpected complications can occur during or shortly after labor, even in women who had good prenatal care and no signs of any problems. Thus, most experts do not advise delivery at home. Women who prefer a homelike setting and fewer rules (for example, no limit on the number of visitors or on visiting hours) may choose birthing centers. Such centers provide an informal, personal experience of childbirth but are much safer than delivery at home. Birthing centers may be part of a hospital or have an arrangement with a nearby hospital. Thus, birthing centers can provide a medical staff, emergency equipment, and full hospital facilities, if needed. If complications develop during labor, birthing centers immediately transfer the woman to the hospital.

Some hospitals have private rooms in which a woman stays from labor until discharge. These rooms are called LDRPs for labor, delivery, recovery, and postpartum (after delivery).

Regardless of the choices a woman makes, knowing what to expect helps prepare her for labor and delivery—for example, by reading about childbirth, talking with other women, and attending childbirth preparation classes.