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A guide to the birthing process

If you're pregnant and are preparing to be a first-time mom, you probably have a million questions – and there are probably many other things you don't even know to ask about yet. While your doctor, friends and family will be wonderful resources and can share their own experiences, there are a few things most moms can expect to experience.

Prepare yourself with our guide to the birthing process, starting right now.

Getting ready for the delivery. Before your baby arrives, you need to prepare both physically and mentally. Make decisions about how you will raise your baby before he or she arrives – will you breastfeed or bottle feed? Who will be the baby's godparents, if any? Consult with your doctor about possible birth defects and birth injuries and be prepared. When labor is imminent, grab a pre-packed bag with a change of clothes and any meaningful items you might want in the delivery room with you. It can also be helpful to have a communication path prepared – for example, if you call your parents and your in-laws, they can call other family members after that so you don't have to worry about it.

Delivery. This is the big moment! Know who you will have in the room with you and make sure you have a doctor you can trust. Stay as calm as possible and follow the breathing patterns your nurse will guide you through. After delivery, it is also important to sort out birth certificates and birth records, which your hospital staff can help you with.

Coming home. You won't be able to leave the hospital with your new baby if you don't have a car seat, so head out and buy one now. Choose one that easily fits in your car and meets your state's safety standards (ask a store employee or contact your local fire or police department). There are also a few things you will need immediately, so don't leave shopping until the last minute. Pick up diapers, wipes, clothes, baby first-aid items, a crib and soft blankets.

The first few days after. This is a time when you and your baby will discover each other. Hold your baby close and allow him or her to get accustomed to your scent, your touch and your voice. These are the most critical parenting moments you can share with your child, and they can set up your relationship for the rest of your lives. Don't hog, though! Allow your partner to bond with baby as well.

Your own body after birth. Your body will be sensitive for a number of days after birth. You might have stitches and will experience soreness, so be as gentle with yourself as you are with baby. Many women also experience constipation after giving birth, so be sure to eat health food items like fruit, beans and bran that promote smooth bowel movements.

Introducing your new baby. You will be so excited about the new addition to your family that you'll want to shout from the rooftops! A better way to reach your community is through a birth announcement. Call your local paper to set up an announcement and provide a picture if possible. That way everyone will see right away how beautiful your new baby really is. To reach friends and family outside of your community, the Internet is a fast and easy tool. Email photos and details or post them on a website or social networking site for easy access.

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