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All About Pregnancy

Now Arriving: An Easier Labor and Delivery

New birth guidelines mean for fewer medical interventions during labor and delivery

New birth guidelines released by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) aim to allow pregnant women to deliver their baby with fewer medical interventions—and hopefully lower the rate of cesarean births, which is currently 32 percent.

The new recommendations are for low-risk moms—women who went into labor without medical assistance, who are having a routine progression of labor and delivery (they’re dilating normally, for instance), and whose babies are facing head down, ready to make their debut. Here’s what labor will look like:

You’ll be able to stay at home longer. Studies show that the longer you wait to go to the hospital, the shorter your labor will be—and the less likely you are to need such medical procedures as catheters or drugs to jump-start labor. In the past, women were admitted when their cervix was four centimeters dilated. The new guidelines say women can wait to be admitted at five or six centimeters.

There will be more pain-relief options. Yes, you’ll still be able to get an epidural or other pain relief, but nurses and doctors will also recommend other ways to cope, like massages and acupuncture.

You’ll be free of IVs. Being tethered to an IV drip prevents you from being able to move around—and that can slow down labor. Now you’ll be able to stay hydrated by drinking clear liquids and you’ll only need an IV if you’re not getting enough fluids.

Nurses and doctors will be more supportive. Epidurals can relieve your pain, but they don’t always ease your worries, Tekoa L. King, MPH, the author of these guidelines, said in a press release. When nurses and doctors provide emotional support and coping mechanisms, women have a more positive experience—and lower cesarean rates.

You won't be hooked up to a monitor. Studies show that occasionally checking the baby’s heart rate during labor is just as good as constant monitoring. So you probably won’t be connected to a fetal monitor the whole time—unless your baby shows signs of distress.

You’ll be able to change positions when you want. Standing up, squatting, or walking around all help the baby get into a better position in the birth canal—and can relieve your pain. So now doctors will encourage you to move around as much as possible.

You can take a breather. Once you hit 10 centimeters, you’ll be able to rest for a while before you start pushing. And once you do start pushing, instead of holding your breath (as doctors used to suggest), you can breathe out your nose or mouth—whatever feels right for you.

Your water will break on its own. Doctors used to rupture the amniotic sac if you'd gotten to 10 centimeters without your water breaking. No longer—they'll only do this if they need to monitor your baby's heart rate or your contractions.