The Altons at Doom and Bloom Medical have an article on Labor and Deliver in Austere Settings. Given the topic, it is a longer article with more diagrams and visual aids than usual. Below is an abbreviated excerpt, so please click through the link to read the entire article with visual aids.
Pregnancy and childbirth are usually considered a blessing in modern times. Off the grid, however, the family medic/midwife will be thrown back to the 19th century, when childbirth was associated with a much higher rate of complications than now.
Even if the group has no women of childbearing age at present, at one point or another the medic may be called upon to attend a delivery without the benefits of a modern medical system. This article will focus on a pregnancy at term, classically defined as one that has reached 37-42 weeks from the first day of the last menstrual period. More articles on pregnancy diagnosis, care, and complications can be found at doomandbloom.net.
(Note: I am an actively-licensed Life Fellow of the College of Ob/Gyn and my wife is an actively licensed Certified Nurse Midwife.)
As the woman approaches her due date, several things happen. The fetus begins to “drop”, assuming a position deep in the pelvis. The patient’s abdomen may look different, or the “fundus” (the top of the uterus) may appear lower. As the neck of the uterus (the cervix) relaxes, the patient may notice a mucus-like discharge mixed with a little blood. This is referred to as the “bloody show” and is usually a sign that labor will occur soon, anywhere from the next few hours to a week or so.
If you examine your patient vaginally by gently inserting two fingers of a gloved hand, you’ll notice the cervix is firm like your nose when it is not ripe, but becomes soft like your lips when the due date is approaching. This softening and thinning out of the cervix is called “effacement”
Effacement is measured in percentages. When 50% effaced, the cervix is half its normal thickness and length. At 100% effacement (“completely effaced”), the cervix is paper-thin. Effacement usually occurs before any significant opening of the cervix (also called “dilation”).
Contractions will start becoming more frequent. To identify a contraction, feel the skin on the soft area of your cheek, and then touch your forehead. A contraction will feel like your forehead. False labor, Braxton-Hicks contractions, will be irregular and will go away with bed rest (especially on the left side) and hydration. If contractions are coming faster and more furious even with bed rest and hydration, it’s likely the real thing!
A gush of watery fluid from the vagina will often signify “breaking the water”, and is also a sign of impending labor and delivery. The timing will be highly variable, however, and sometimes urine leakage may confuse the situation. A product called “nitrazine paper” will turn a bright blue when it touches amniotic fluid due to its high Ph. A bright blue result (nitrazine positive) usually verifies that the bag of water is broken. If you have a microscope in the hospital tent, a little amniotic fluid on a slide will reveal fern-like crystals. This is called “ferning” and is more solid proof of membrane rupture than nitrazine positive tests.
There are three stages of labor:
FIRST STAGE (LATENT PHASE)
The first stage is the longest part of labor: lasting up to 20 hours or more. It begins when your cervix starts to dilate and efface, and is separated into a latent phase and an active phase. The first stage is considered complete when the cervix reaches 10 centimeters and is so effaced that you can barely identify it.
The latent phase is when labor begins. False labor has been ruled out and contractions are becoming stronger, more regularly, and in greater frequency. They may also last longer (60-90 seconds). The contractions cause your cervix to dilate and efface. In latent phase, dilation to about 4 centimeters or so often progresses slowly.
The mother should be given as much freedom to walk, sit, practice breathing techniques, or do other activities as she can handle. Keeping her occupied and moving is a good way to move the process along. A soak in a warm tub or shower is helpful if the water hasn’t broken. Oral hydration and small meals are also acceptable.
Once the cervix reaches 4 centimeters of dilation, a vaginal exam will allow you to place two (normal-sized) fingertips in the cervix. You’ll feel something firm; this is the baby’s head. In general, however, vaginal exams are invasive and shouldn’t be performed more often than, perhaps, every two hours.
FIRST STAGE (ACTIVE PHASE)
When the cervix reaches 5 centimeters or so of dilation, labor enters the active phase. Contractions get even stronger and spacing becomes closer. As the baby’s head descends, the mother may notice back pressure and bloody vaginal discharge. If the water membrane hasn’t ruptured, it will likely happen during this time.
Cervical dilation in active phase speeds up to about a centimeter an hour, although women who have had children may go much faster. Breathing techniques may be needed to manage discomfort during contractions (you won’t have epidural anesthesia or strong pain meds off the grid). Other strategies include:
-Changing positions. Some women prefer being on hands and knees to improve back pain.
-Walking between contractions with a helper.
-Emptying the bladder often.
-Gently massaging the mother’s back.
It may help to remind the mother that each contraction brings her closer to having a baby in her arms. Despite that, don’t encourage her to push until the cervix is completely dilated and the baby’s head has descended into the pelvis.
The second stage of labor begins when the cervix is fully dilated and ends when the baby is born. This stage is usually completed within two hours, but is dependent on the strength and frequency of contractions. First-time mothers take longer than those who have had children. Those who have delivered several children may proceed through this stage very quickly.
At this point, the mother will likely feel a strong urge to push. Encourage rest between contractions. When pushing, different positions may work for different mothers. Try squatting, lying on their side with a leg raised, or even hands and knees. The body should “curl into” the push as much as possible, almost exactly like have a bowel movement.
The delivery of a baby is best accomplished with the help of an experienced midwife or obstetrician, but those professionals will be hard to find in survival settings. If there is no chance of accessing modern medical care, you must prepare to perform the delivery…(continues)