Education and support are key
Knowledge is power
Education is a midwife's mantra. "The best route to a healthy baby is a mom who has the information she needs," says Nancy Lowe, Ph.D., a mom and a professor of midwifery at the University of Colorado, in Denver.
Take-away advice: Learn as much as you can from books, classes, magazines, and the Internet. "Go to your appointments armed with questions. Remember, there are no stupid ones — if you're thinking about it, it's worth talking about," says California midwife Linda Walsh. Prenatal tests are a good example: Make sure you know all the options, what they can pinpoint, how accurate they are, and whether you really need to have them all.
Draft a birth plan — a written blueprint of your "ideal" labor and delivery — or at least carefully consider beforehand how you feel about pain medication, fetal monitoring, labor positions, and the like, and tell your provider well before your due date what your wishes are. As long as everything goes well, you can and should have a say when it comes to the details of delivery.
Support is essential during labor and delivery To help Amanda Seeff-Charny, a Glen Ridge, New Jersey, mom of two, relax during her first labor, her midwife gave her a massage. When contractions seemed to burn through her back, she showed Seeff-Charny's husband how to apply counterpressure. When it was time to push her baby into the world, the midwife massaged the tissue at the entrance of the birth canal to prevent tearing.
Midwives are by a woman's side from the time she's admitted to the hospital until well after delivery, providing constant moral support and physical comfort and helping the birth along. (A good nurse can provide the same things, though nurses often need to divide their time among several women.)
Take-away advice: Make sure your partner prepares for his role in the delivery room. Take childbirth classes together and practice what you've learned at home. You may also want to recruit an experienced, knowledgeable, and supportive relative or friend to help see you through labor and delivery. Or consider hiring a doula, a professional labor assistant; the cost averages $500 but varies from state to state. (For a referral, go to DONA International at dona.org)