If you’re a fan of television dramas, you’d be forgiven for thinking women give birth in the most inconvenient places all the time. On top of a cliff. During a bank robbery. Stuck in a remote country cottage during a blizzard. In reality, the chances of this happening are low, but it’s always best to be prepared. So, should you ever need to know, here’s how to deliver a baby in an emergency.
First of all, remember it’s very unlikely you’ll find yourself isolated and unable to communicate with the outside world. Most pregnant women tend to avoid risky situations, especially as they get closer to their due date. Even if you have to deliver the baby, there’s likely to be support on its way – or at least at the other end of a telephone.
- Don’t panic. Childbirth is a natural process – it’s not an illness or a surgical procedure. Breathe deeply to keep calm and remind the mother-to-be to do the same. Tell yourself, and her, that you can cope.
- If possible, telephone the doctor or midwife. Alternatively, call the emergency services – 999 in the UK, 112 in Europe or 911 in the US.
- If you’re driving, pull over to the side of the road and switch on your hazard warning lights. Don’t try and keep going. You don’t know how quickly labour will progress and the mum-to-be might need you. You’ll also be stressed, worried and unable to focus properly on driving. It’s safer to stop.
- Wash your hands. Babies have weak immune systems and you want to minimise the risk of any infections. If you’re in the car and have hand sanitiser, use that.
- Make the mum-to-be as comfortable as possible. She might prefer to be on the floor, so put down a sheet or blanket. Pillows or cushions might help. Be guided by her – she might prefer to lie on her side or kneel up and lean on a chair for support.
- Remind the mother to pant during contractions and not push just yet.
- You’re going to have to do your bit down the business end, so to speak, so get over any embarrassment or reservations. Check to see how the cervix is dilating and whether the baby is ‘crowning’. This is when the baby’s head moves down the birth canal and becomes visible. Once you can see it, the birth is likely to happen soon.
- The amniotic sac will usually break on its own – or, as it’s more commonly known, the waters will break. If they don’t, you’ll see a membrane across the baby’s head. Pinch and twist this covering; it should break easily. (This is one reason why it’s important your hands are clean.)
- Babies are usually born head first and facing downwards. You’ll need to support the head as it appears. It’s especially important the mother remembers to pant at this stage to try and avoid tearing.
- Don’t pull on the baby’s head or body – or, worse, try and hold it back. Let the mother and baby do the work – all you need to do is guide it gently as it emerges. Baby will come out in waves, in line with contractions, and will naturally turn to the side. If the head needs some help to get out, apply some gentle pressure on the base of mum’s vagina, near the perineum.
- When the baby is born, stroke downwards gently on the nose to help get rid of any excess mucus and amniotic fluid or use a clean cloth or towel. Place the baby onto mum, with skin-to-skin contact. The baby’s head should be slightly lower than its body to help drain any mucus. Soon after, wrap the baby in a clean, dry blanket or towel – it’s important to keep him or her warm. Leave the face uncovered so it can breathe. Cover mum up too and make sure she is warm and as comfortable as possible.
- Don’t cut or pull on the umbilical cord – it’s safer to wait for professional support. However, if you notice it’s wrapped around the baby’s neck during the birth – which is common – try and slip it over the head if you can.
- The placenta can be born anything from a few minutes to an hour or so after the baby arrives. If this happens before medical help arrives, place it next to the baby and leave it alone.
- Make sure both mother and baby are kept safe and warm until help arrives.