As a birth doula and childbirth educator, one of the most common things I am asked by expectant families is how they can better prepare for labour. Below are my favourite tips which help prepare families, so they may reflect on their birth experience for years to come and see it as something positive. No matter what path your labour takes, these tips will help you feel more informed and involved in your experience at home or in hospital!
LEAVE BEHIND NEGATIVE DEPICTIONS OF BIRTH
We may all recall different movies, television programmes, friends and family who have described birth in a very negative way. It is true that labour is unpredictable, but fear-based descriptions of birth may be particularly unhelpful to those planning for a positive experience. We must also keep in mind that all television programmes are edited for ratings and drama. This means that more straight forward births may not shown at all. Every time you encounter a description or image of birth, ask yourself, “Does this make me feel more fearful or anxious? or does this make me feel empowered and confident?” One goal during your pregnancy may beto surround yourself with positive depictions of birth and seek out people who help you look forward to the experience, versus dread it. There are many books that are more positive, birth affirmations are fantastic to reference and you may be able to attend free local meet ups, like Positive Birth Movement groups.
HAVE WRITTEN BIRTH PREFERENCES
Having a list of birth preferences is a great idea for expectant families for a variety of reasons. This applies for both home births and hospital births. Firstly, it helps you examine the many different choices you can make during labour. While making your list, you ultimately get to decide what is important and best for you and your family. Having this list is also a great communication tool for your midwife or doctor, so they know your wishes and can help you achieve the birth that you would like. Every single client of mine that has gone into hospital with birth preferences has had them read by the midwife attending their labour. When a shift change happens, the new midwife is told your wishes and reads your birth preferences as well! Birth preferences do not guarantee that you will experience your ideal birth but it does increase your chance of having an experience where you feeling involved and informed. You can also create a Plan B and C, should your labour go down a path you weren't intending.
HIRE A DOULA
A birth doula is a trained professional who provides physical, emotional and informational support to expectant families. They meet with mum and her birth partner during pregnancy, birth and postnatally. They listen to, respect and nurture women as they enter motherhood. They often help expectant parents create birth preferences that feel right for them and support whatever decisions a family makes. A birth doula meets families where they are at and provides continuous, personalised support. Research has shown a doula’s continuous support is likely to lead to shorter labours, fewer interventions including the use of syntocinon, pain medications and epidurals, fewer instrumental births and caesarean births. Mothers are also more likely to see their birth as a positive experience.
PREPARE YOUR BIRTH SPACE
During labour a mother’s body creates an important hormone called oxytocin which helps labour progress and makes contractions more effective. Often called the love hormone, oxytocin is made when a mum feels safe, secure and nurtured during her labour. Creating a space that is dimly lit, has fewer interruptions and has items that make mum feel good can all be beneficial. Some families create vision boards and others may put out pictures, crafts, bring a couple favourite items like a pillow, blanket, etc. to help keep the hormones of labour flowing continuously. Think of things that would make you feel safe, loved and motivated.
HAVE A PREPARE BIRTH SUPPORT PERSON
The people you choose to have at your birth can seriously add to or take away from a positive birth experience. They may help you stay focused and comfort you emotionally and physically. Support persons may be a romantic partner, family member, friend and/or birth doula. There are many ways a birth partner can assist you- be it massage, helping you change positions, applying counter pressure, protecting your oxytocin bubble by keeping the room quiet and dim, running water for a birth pool, and so much more! It is essential that they know your birth preferences so they can step in, advocate for you and remind health care professionals of your wishes if necessary. Partners may learn many ways to support you by reading books, watching videos, viewing an online class, attending public and private classes or workshops so they feel more knowledgeable and confident in supporting you. Many expectant mums feel a huge wave of relief when they feel confident in their partner supporting them!
BECOME FAMILIAR WITH VISUALISATION
Visualisation is a great tool to help mentally prepare for labour. Many people who set goals, such as professional athletes, visualise achieving their goals regularly. Pregnancy and labour are no different. You can visualise your ideal birth throughout your entire pregnancy if you like. You can also use visualisation to imagine your body spontaneously beginning labour (I did this a lot!), your body (and cervix) softening in preparation for labour, etc. These visualisations have a great calming quality. Using this technique during labour may be very helpful if you need to focus, find a rhythm or calm the mind. Some mums visualise their contractions as waves coming and going or as them climbing a mountain where they reach a peak and then descend. I remember being in a shower during my second labour and visualising the water flowing down my body also bringing my baby down to meet me.
LEARN MINDFULNESS TECHNIQUES
Mindfulness is something that is being advertised everywhere in various forms. The key to mindfulness is focusing on the present moment. This is essential during the unpredictability of labour. Practicing mindfulness techniques can help expectant parents remain calm and confident during birth situations that they may consider less than ideal. Mindfulness encourages parents to see the full picture and make decisions during labour using a calm mind versus one saturated with fear and anxiety. There are numerous apps, books and workshops in Ireland which focus on mindfulness techniques. Some are specific for pregnancy and others are more general, but both can be helpful!
KEEP YOUR BODY MOVING!
Movement during pregnancy and labour has many benefits. Low impact exercise like prenatal yoga, swimming or walking may help with pregnancy symptoms like constipation, swelling and other aches or pains. This type of exercise also prepares the body for labours where mums may spend a lot of time walking, standing or squatting. Research has shown that expectant mums who exercise are less likely to develop gestational diabetes, hypertension and preeclampsia! Being upright or moving during labour also has many benefits. Studies have shown that women who are upright versus lying down are more likely to have more effective contractions, shorter total labour time, reduced use of pain relief and epidurals, plus lower caesarean birth rates. Standing, swaying, sitting on an exercise ball, using stairs and walking are great ways to keep labour progressing and remain upright!
PACK YOUR LABOUR TOOLKIT
No matter what type of labour you are hoping for, it's essential to have a labour toolkit that you can pull tools and techniques from. Your toolkit may contain tangible items like a peanut ball, CUB, a playlist with your favourite tracks, labour wrap, bendy straws, LED candles, essential oils and other intangible items- like visualisation, having a few birth affirmations you can recall and other mindfulness techniques. Having these items and knowing how to use them often proves to be beneficial as you enter such a momentous time for parents