Stages of Childbirth

All mothers‐to‐be should be concerned about prenatal care. Moderate exercise (such as walking), a wholesome diet, and avoidance of drugs and alcohol are essential for bringing a healthy baby into the world.

Drug use during pregnancy

Many chemicals pass easily from mother to fetus. Even seemingly harmless drugs like antihistamines and caffeine can cause fetal abnormalities, and what is a normal dosage of a drug for the mother may in fact be an overdose for the fetus. Such fetal sensitivity to drugs means that some common over‐the‐counter (OTC) medications (such as cold preparations, aspirin), prescription medications (such as antibiotics, steroids, opiates), and illegal/recreational drugs (such as marijuana, cocaine, heroin) are to be avoided. A variety of birth, or congenital, defects and deformities (deafness, absence of one or more limbs, mental retardation) can be traced to drug use during pregnancy. Drugs that cause visible fetal deformities are termed teratogenic.

The most common teratogens used by pregnant women include tobacco and alcohol. Women who smoke during pregnancy increase their risk of delivering a low birth weight, premature baby or of having a miscarriage. Women should completely avoid alcohol before and throughout pregnancy, because a level that determines heavy alcohol use is difficult to define. The amount of alcohol that causes fetal alcohol syndrome, which results in a congenital set of abnormalities (small head, low birth weight, unusual facial features, mental retardation), is also difficult to determine, but even amounts as small as two ounces a day have been shown to cause deformities.

Birthing alternatives

A woman has several choices regarding health care during her pregnancy. A new mother should decide as soon as possible whether or not she wants a physician, a certified nurse midwife ( CNM), a hospital delivery or home delivery, and/or a medication‐free delivery.

Many couples choose to take classes to prepare for childbirth. Perhaps the most popular childbirth preparation courses are classes on the Lamaze method. Lamaze classes consist of relaxation and controlled breathing training, as well as information on what to expect during labor and birth. The woman's partner is expected to participate in the labor process, serving as a labor coach. He or she assists by offering emotional support, helping the woman regulate her breathing, and keeping track of contractions.