Are you planning on going unmedicated for your hospital birth? Set yourself up for success w/ these tips
Labor at Home. Contractions are getting "longer - stronger - and closer together" so you know its labor. Before you get to 6 cm its called the first stage of labor or "early labor". This stage can take a Long time (especially for first time moms). It can also slow down if you are stressed. So staying home until you are in "active labor" is ideal. If you arrive at the hospital and find out you are not in active labor, but you and baby are doing just fine, you can choose to go home, try to rest, and come back later. You won't be getting much sleep at the hospital due to having your vitals monitored (imagine blood pressure cuffs, the sounds of machines beeping, and people coming in and out of your room) so staying home as long as possible will drastically reduce interventions for failure to progress.
Hire a doula for continous support throughout labor and delivery. Labor delivery nurses can be AMAZING angels, but then the shift changes and you have to meet a new set of birth team members. Having a doula statistically means less of a chance of ending up w/ a c-section, and having a better birth experience.
Take childbirth education courses as soon as possible. The sooner the better. If you don't have any in person options - there are LOTS of options for online learning, even self paced. Most of them are very affordable, even less then what you may pay for in person class. If you are on a tight budget, there are many doulas and childbirth educators on you tube who make free content. Not only do you want to understand the process your body is going through, you need some pain management techniques so you can avoid asking for the epidural.
Learn what to expect. What is the process going to be like when you arrive? Ask questions at your prenatal visits, take a hospital tour, and understand what to expect. Hospitals have policies and their staff work diligently to have their patients abide by them - but remember you still have bodily autonomy and if you ever feel disrespected, tell someone in charge.
Utilize the tools provided by the hospital and/or your doula. Ask the labor nurse for: Birth ball, peanut ball, squatting bar, extra pillows or blankets, warm compresses, even essential oils. You might be surprised at the different tools they have to help make you more comfortable! Your doula may have TENS unit, rebozo, or other items.
Bring your own pillows, blankets, robe, portable fan, portable speaker for music, personal care items for your partner, anything to make the room more comfy cozy and more like home. I love flameless candles. Set them up around the room and turn off the bright lights. Don't forget your favorite snacks and drinks!
Don't confine yourself to the hospital bed. Practice your labor and pushing "positions" ahead of time -- before labor starts. Even though the hospital bed is somewhat of the focal point of the room, try using a chair, birth ball, AND EVEN THE TOILET! laboring and even pushing on the toilet can really help get things moving along. Take a Hot Shower, leaning against the wall, or squatting. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. If you decide to use continuous monitoring, ask if they have a WIRELESS MONITOR.
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