Who to invite to the birth
Fathers need no invitation. It's normal practice for dads to coach their partners through labour as well as through prenatal classes and to be an active participant in the delivery. But if your partner is not available, invite someone else to fill that supporting role. A woman in labour needs an emotional bolster. As hospitals cut back on staff, you may find it helpful to bring your own support staff -- which should ensure that you'll get ice chips or a back rub when you need it.
A private, intimate delivery is the alternative chosen by many couples. However, some like to have a second support person even when the father can be present. How do you choose that special person who will help you and your partner bring your baby into the world? You might ask a friend or a relative -- maybe your own mother or sister. It's one of those jobs that can aptly be described as woman's work. Apart from their male partner, women tend to favour having other women around them as their active support during labour. But both partners must feel comfortable with the support person, since you will all be spending hours together in very close quarters. Your second support person should be someone who:
• is available day or night and able to take time off work, if required.
• will prepare for the role by reading about the process of labour and delivery, by meeting with your doctor or midwife, and by attending one or more prenatal classes with you.
• supports your expectations for labour and delivery, including your preferences on medication and medical intervention.
• will remain calm and communicative.
• will support the baby's father if he becomes anxious.
In hospitals, deliveries can be done by obstetricians, family physicians, or midwives. Several regions in Canada have or are developing midwifery legislation to regulate training and certification. If a couple chooses to use a midwife for delivery, she will also provide care during pregnancy and physical and emotional support throughout labour. Unless there is a medical emergency, she will deliver the baby.
Overall, almost all Canadian babies are born in hospitals. However, about one-third of babies delivered by midwives are born at home. If you're planning to have your baby at home, you might have a primary team of your partner, a midwife, and a doctor. The Canadian Paediatric Society does not recommend home births because, while most births are uneventful, unexpected emergencies do occur. In these emergencies, the survival of the mother and her infant may depend upon the expertise and equipment available only in a hospital.
A doula is another possible addition to your team, although doulas are not yet covered by provincial Medicare. The original Greek word doula meant female slave, but today's practitioners of the profession define their role as one who mothers the mother since doulas provide emotional and physical support during labour.
Unlike midwives, doulas have no medical role and do not perform medical procedures of any kind. They make several home visits during the pregnancy and after the birth for help with breastfeeding or other baby concerns. Expect to pay between $300 and $600 for their services, although volunteers are often available for high-need mothers. Doulas are found across the country, and they are increasing in numbers. Contact Doulas of North America (dona.org) for information about doulas in your area.
Page 1 of 4 -- On page 2, learn the secrets of adjusting to your new life after birth.
Planning for postpartum help
For first-time mothers, it's really important to plan for help in the first few weeks at home, because many Canadian hospitals discharge mothers and their babies 24 hours after the birth. Especially if you're planning to nurse, you'll need the help of a knowledgeable mom with experience, since your major focus will be on learning how to breast-feed. Your helper could be your own mother, your mother-in-law, your sister, or a friend. Even if no one is able to stay with you, or if you and your partner prefer not to have company, identify other mothers who will visit you or answer your questions on the phone.
Find out from your hospital what postnatal services it provides, and ask for the phone numbers of professional help on which to call if you run into any feeding problems. Check with your local public health unit to see if a public health nurse (PHN) could provide postnatal visits. The Victorian Order of Nurses (von.ca) will also make both pre- and post-natal visits to your home to help you resolve baby-care concerns and arrange for light housekeeping and laundry services through a home support program. Midwives and doulas also include home visits in their services.
Managing your activities postpartum
You and your partner will both feel somewhat confused after the excitement and hard work of birthing. You will need time to focus on the baby, not on laundry and vacuuming. If you deliver by cesarean section, you shouldn't do any lifting for some time, so it's likely you'll need help. If you can afford home help, have them come during the first weeks to do the housework, leaving you free to tend your baby.
Family members may offer to help, but consider the quality of your relationship with them before you accept. Some couples welcome a mother or mother-in-law, or both sets of parents, moving in for a week or more. Grandparents can provide a wealth of wisdom and support for a new family, but this is a highly emotional and sensitive time for you and your partner so you need to choose your helpers wisely. If you're secure enough with your folks and able to assert your feelings calmly, then this time however can be very special for all of you. It could also be the beginning of a close relationship between your baby and her new grandparents.
Understand what you need
When people ask what you need, don't be too shy to tell them. Gifts of oven-ready casseroles or a dinner ready for the table are timesavers; so is an offer to take an older sibling out for the afternoon. Most guests are thoughtful and sensitive to the parents' needs, but don't bother to stifle your yawns if your visitors forget that their presence might tire you or make more work for you when what you really need is a nap.
Page 2 of 4 -- Learn what home essentials will make your life easier with a new baby at home on page 3.
These are the basics you'll want to have in the nursery space when you bring your baby home. It's wise to buy baby's clothing according to weight -- a baby weighing more than 3.6 kg (8 lb.) at birth probably won't fit into the newborn size. Or buy the size three times the baby's age: for example, size 6 months for a two-month-old; size 12 months for a four-month-old.
• crib or bassinet
• change table (any safe surface will do as long as it's the right height to prevent back pain)
• bottles, nipples, formula, cleaning brushes and sterilizing equipment (if bottle-feeding)
• several undershirts
• several stretchy sleepers for a winter baby
• several short-sleeved cotton rompers for a summer baby
• socks or bootie slippers
• 6 to 10 receiving blankets
• 3 dozen cloth diapers or disposable diapers
• safety pins, 6 diaper covers or rubber pants (if using cloth)
• diaper pail for cloth diapers
• sun hat or warm cap and outerwear appropriate to the weather
• cotton swabs
• diaper cream
• soap appropriate for baby skin
• baby washcloths and hooded towel
Page 3 of 4 -- What to bring along for the trip to the hospital on page 4.
Hospital bag essentials
It's best to pack it a couple of weeks before your due date, but include a list of last-minute items to add. Visit the hospital ahead of time, and take your documents with you so you can pre-register at Admitting.
• health card proof of hospital insurance
• birth plan -- newborn care plan
• photocopy of pre-registration
What Mom needs
• something comfortable to wear during labour (The Midwifery Collective of Ottawa suggests a man's large flannel shirt -- very Canadian!)
• warm socks (not too tight), slippers and clothing for after the birth
• underwear (several pairs)
• nursing bra and breast pads
• personal toilet items
• sanitary pads (plus size)
• snacks, favourite juice (you may find apple, pineapple and orange juices too acidic at this time; try cranberry, grape or grapefruit)
• extra pillows
• massage oil
• lip balm
• music tapes and tape player
• big bath towels (the hospital can put them in the warmer for you)
• focal point (if you are using one during contractions)
• clothes to go home in
• facial tissues
• tennis balls (for back massage)
• magazines or light reading
What Dad and support person need
• snacks, juice
• personal toilet items
• comfortable clothes
• notepaper and pen
• telephone numbers
• change for phone, or calling card
• reading material
• money for parking and incidentals, but avoid bringing a wallet.
What baby needs
• clothing: undershirt, stretchy sleeper, cardigan, hat, booties,
• two baby blankets
• Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (set by Transport Canada) -- approved infant car seat for the trip home
Page 4 of 4 -- Do you know who to bring to your baby's birth? Don't forget these very important people listed on page 1!