What Your Nurse Wishes You Knew Before Your First Baby

Nurse helping a mother in a hospital bed with a newborn


Labor and delivery nurses from all over shared with us what they want you to know before your labor begins and you head to the hospital. This is a list that they hope will make the experience more empowering and more enjoyable for you.

Know the female anatomy. Spend some time reviewing middle school science lessons. You have three holes and each has a purpose! Check out your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles, as well as what happens to your body during pregnancy, labor and the postpartum period. We’re not talking about college anatomy and physiology...the basics will do.

Don’t time your contractions. Try to ignore them. True labor does NOT let you ignore it.

It’s okay to go home...both if you come in and aren’t in labor or if you come in for an elective induction and your body isn’t ready. Early labor, specifically for first time moms, can be long and is generally best done at home. This is especially important if you would like to avoid pain medications. Inducing or augmenting with medications can speed up the process but can also increase your chances of asking for pain medication. And if you aren’t sure if you should come in, call and ask!

What should you bring in your hospital bag?

  • Your favorite toiletries
  • Something for your feet (slippers, sandals, socks, etc)*
  • Hair ties*
  • Your favorite pillow (with a colorful pillowcase!). If you like lots of pillows, you may want to bring a few, because they can be scarce!
  • Chapstick*
  • Pajamas that are easy to wear while doing skin to skin
  • Going home outfit for baby
  • Your favorite snacks
  • An extra long cell phone charging cord
  • Bring a silicone breast pump if you’re breastfeeding
  • Extra swaddles if you have them
  • Anything for your support person: Pain medication (tylenol, ibuprofen, etc.) or other meds because the pharmacy is NOT open to them

*You can find these items in The Ultimate Labor and Delivery Bag

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Losing your mucus plug can be scary and gross. We don’t need to see it and it doesn’t mean you’re in labor. But we agree that it can be scary and gross.

Eat before you come in...especially before an induction. Most likely, you will only be able to have clear liquids like jello, popsicles, broth, etc. while in labor. Eat something with protein or complex carbohydrates so that you feel full for a while and have energy for this marathon! And, yes, nurses can talk about mucus plugs and food in the same breath.

Inductions with your first baby can take days. If your cervix needs “ripening,” this adds time to prepare your body before labor can even begin. Inductions with subsequent babies are generally quicker but still take more time than labor that begins on its own. If you are planning an induction, ask lots of questions beforehand so you know what to expect.

Wash your feet, take a shower or do what you need to do to feel comfortable before you come in if you have time. 

Do your research and ask lots of questions. This is a theme! Ask for clarification, evidence, alternatives or even a second opinion if you don’t feel confident. And say NO if you need to. It’s a word you will use often as a mama so start practicing.

Know the pros and cons of artificial rupture of membranes or “having your water broken.” Ask your provider for their opinion on this during an office visit. It’s best to have these conversations and be informed ahead of time so you don’t feel pressured in the moment.

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Your water keeps leaking until your baby is born. Just when you think it isn’t possible to have another gush, the baby will shift and you will be soaked. Don’t let this keep you from moving though! Ask your nurse to change your bed pad if you’re in bed and feel free to wear underwear and a pad if it makes you more comfortable. It will need to come off at some point but if you’re in early labor, keep moving!

Your support person should never make jokes about sensitive subjects, like mom pooping. They should be supportive. They should not be sleeping while you’re laboring or eating a big meal when the nurses are offering you different flavors of jello. It’s not only insensitive, but the smells can be overwhelming! Your support person is there to encourage and uplift you. That is their role and you get to direct the show! 

Have a “safe word” that you share with your nurses. Asking for something that your hospital or birth center doesn’t carry is a great way to let her know that you need a minute! Examples may be a flavor of soda, juice, popsicle or jello that they don’t have. This can be a cue for her to ask everybody to leave the room so you can have a private conversation with her. You may want to share something that is concerning to you, you may have questions about your plan of care or you may need a minute to catch your breath and process everything that is happening.

Tell us what is most important to you in labor. It may be different from what we think, so this will help us support you in the best way possible. As stated earlier, your plan may change but nurses are creative creatures and we truly want this to be a positive experience for you.

Request your IV in any place on your forearm but ask your nurse to stay away from your hand, wrist, and inside your elbow if possible. If she or he insists on those spots, ask for the unit’s IV MVP. That being said, sometimes that may be all you’ve got in the moment and it’s better to have a line in than none at all. An IV placed somewhere that will be less bothersome to you as you push and breastfeed is much nicer though! You may not need to have fluids running the entire time and if this is something that is important to you, discuss it with your nurse. You may not need to be “chained” to a pole!

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Labor hurts with or without pain medications. Body parts that you didn’t realize you were using will hurt afterwards, too. Be prepared for some pain and discomfort. Even with a perfect epidural, you will feel pressure and that gets intense so it’s good to know ahead of time. Your mindset plays a huge role in how you deal with pain. You will rock it!! 

If your plan is to avoid pain meds, research and prepare for alternative pain management options (like hypnobirthing) before labor. We can help you, but most of these methods work best if you practice them before you’re in pain. You’re much more likely to default to pain meds if you don’t have a plan.

You are in control of your pain. Don’t allow others to speak for you and don’t rely on your nurse to tell you what to do. If you want an epidural, get it. If you don’t, don’t. This may be a good time to try out that safe word!

Move and reposition throughout labor, whether you have an epidural or not. Your nurse and/or support person can get you into all sorts of great positions. Moving your body will help your baby get into the best position for delivery.

Be flexible! You can come with a plan but prepare for that plan to change. We want to help you and guide you and please know that our primary goal is to keep you and baby safe and healthy. A birth plan is a great way to communicate your wishes with us but it’s also a tool to prepare you. Remember that this baby has not read it and may have a different plan entirely!

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The provider that you saw through pregnancy may not be the one who is working when you give birth. Whoever it is will most likely only be there for the birth. You will see them very little during the actual labor and recovery.

Skin-to-skin is more important than the length and weight of baby. Snuggle and bond and THEN we can place baby on a scale and tell you how much she weighs. Social media and phone calls can also wait. Enjoy these precious moments before you share your little one with the world! 

Your first meal after baby should be light even if you feel ravenous. It may come back up and that will be the end of your love affair with that food so choose wisely! There will be a second meal and you’ve already seen that good things are worth the wait.

You may bleed up to 6 weeks after delivery and you may not. Both are normal. It’s also normal to have a little gush and maybe even some small clots if you’ve been laying down for awhile. Sometimes increased bleeding is your body’s way of telling you to take it easy for a bit. If you ever soak a pad in an hour or have clots bigger than a golf ball, call your provider or go in!

Know some newborn basics. Your baby’s hands and feet may be bluish for the first day (acrocyanosis) and that’s normal. There are some great ways to calm a newborn like butt pats, gentle rocking, holding them in a “C” like they were in the womb, etc. If you have a boy, know some of the basics about circumcision and make a decision before you arrive. Things like meconium (the first tar-like poops), how often to feed baby or the fact that you may need to wake your baby (and yourself) for these feedings won’t seem so overwhelming if you know some of the essentials before you arrive. You are with us for a short time and information overload is a real thing!

Pick a Pediatrician before you come in. Ask friends, look at their online profile or even ask about meeting them before baby is born. This is someone that you will partner with for many years so it’s important to find the right fit for you

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Do some research or take some classes on breastfeeding. Many hospitals and birth centers offer these or you can take courses online with Certified Lactation Specialists. Check out the “flipple” or sandwich technique! And please know that even though breastfeeding is natural, it doesn’t come naturally to everyone. The first two weeks require some grit and grace but you can do it! The first few hours and days can make breastfeeding more successful long term though so it’s important to know what’s important beforehand (like skin-to-skin).

Your hormones will fluctuate significantly after baby and they may make you feel sad, irritable or angry. And this may make you feel guilty. Do not suffer in silence. Let your nurse or provider know right away so that they can get you the help that you need. Don’t wait until you go back for your postpartum visit.

If you go to an urgent care or emergency room for treatment for anything after having a baby during the first year, be sure to share how long it has been since you’ve had a baby. Even if it seems totally unrelated. Postpartum complications may arise and blood pressures of 140-160s+/80-90s+ will not alarm most emergency personnel but an OB-trained one will recognize it quickly. Ask if your symptoms could possibly relate to a postpartum complication. If you are still concerned, you may ask for an OB consult.

Enjoy this! This is about you and baby!

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