Labor is one of the biggest physical and emotional challenges a woman is ever likely to experience. Women are told how much it hurts — they’re told this a lot — and it’s no lie: labor is painful. But when it comes to childbirth, it’s the little things that can make a big difference.
Through pregnancy, right up until the first contraction and final push, there are so many decisions an expectant mom can make that will improve her chances of an easier, smoother delivery. Being armed with this information can help moms avoid the things that won’t do her or the baby any favors when the moment comes.
From how a mom looks after her body in pregnancy and preparing it for the event through healthy eating and exercise to how she preps her mindset, ensuring she goes into that delivery room calm and empowered, every decision counts.
There’s more to childbirth than just physical pain. It’s a journey. It turns women into life-givers and goddesses and it’s a remarkable life-changing event that can be full of joy, too. These are 20 of the best ways to get the most out of this precious moment.
20 Make A Birth Plan And Do Your Homework
Knowledge is power and when your body feels like it’s about to explode because a tiny human is trying to squeeze his way out, feeling in control could not be more important. Make a birth plan is a brilliant idea because it requires moms to do their homework and research their options, which can help de-mystify the whole experience.
Do you want your partner to cut the cord? Do you want a water birth or are you reaching straight for an epidural? Not only will making these preferences in advance empower moms, but it will also help their care givers know where mom’s head is at. It’s a huge exercise in reducing anxiety.
19 Be Open To Your Birth Plan Changing
Every birth is different. While it’s great to have a plan, stubbornly sticking to it even when circumstances change, will not be beneficial. Be prepared with a birth plan, but also be prepared to throw it out of the window if things don’t go your way.
After doing your research, you might think a drug-free birth is for you, but don’t beat yourself up if it all gets too much and you need a little pain relief. Emergency C-sections and assisted births are never what an expectant mom hopes for, but they do happen. While feeling in control is important, you can’t be a control freak when it comes to childbirth.
18 Find The Right Care Team
Early in your pregnancy is the time to choose your maternity A-team. Finding a provider that you connect with, who understands and can deliver the type of birth you want, will help manage anxiety around the big event.
If you want a hospital birth, then find an OB-GYN you trust. If you want a different style of birth, perhaps a water birth or a drug-free birth, then perhaps a midwife and a birthing center will be a better fit for you.
The choices and options you will have during labor and birth will depend hugely on who you pick as your primary caregivers, so make the decision wisely.
17 Choose The Right Location To Give Birth
You don’t have to give birth in a hospital. If you’re a mom wanting a natural experience, a hospital birth might be a really off-putting idea, especially considering how high induction rates, C-sections, and assisted deliveries are in US hospitals.
This explains why more and more mothers are looking at alternative options. Between 2004 to 2014, the number of out-of-hospital births in the US rose from less than 1% to 1.5% of births. Of these, 38,000 were home births and 18,000 took place at birth centers.
However, if you’ve had a complicated pregnancy, you're expecting your first baby, or you feel more comfortable being as close to medical expertise as possible, a hospital birth may be your best option.
16 Eat Well In Pregnancy
What you put in your body takes on a whole new importance during pregnancy - and it’s not just about ensuring baby has the right nutrients, either. Eating well can really make a difference to mom’s body, setting it up for a smooth birth.
Eating for two has now been debunked as a myth, but eating foods low in sugar but full of protein, fiber, fruit, and vegetables can minimize the risk of pregnancy-related conditions. Researchers at the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology found that women who ate six dates a day during their final four weeks of pregnancy were more dilated when they got to the hospital and had shorter labors. Sounds worth a try, right?
15 Go To Prenatal Classes
Birth and newborn babies can seem like a total mystery to new parents, and prenatal classes can be a great way of arming expectant moms with valuable information and confidence. It’s worth shopping around for the right fit because depending on the group and course you pick, they’ll cover anything from labor preparation, the birth itself, relaxation techniques, parenting, breastfeeding to newborn behavior.
They can have big social benefits too. Meeting other expectant parents and exchanging experiences can be a good way of building a support network and making new friends. After all, you’re all in the same boat, so to speak.
14 Keep Fit Throughout Your Pregnancy
The more active and fit you are during pregnancy, the easier it will be for you to adapt to your changing shape, the better you’ll cope with labor, and the quicker you’ll get back into shape after the birth. How much more convincing do you need?
Exercise isn’t dangerous for the baby, especially in early pregnancy, so keep up your normal activity for as long as you feel comfortable. If that means zero activity, then seriously consider introducing some moderate activity like walking or yoga. Staying active will also help expectant moms sleep better at night and boost their moods.
13 Stay Mobile Once Labor Starts
If you are planning a hospital birth, it’s beneficial to stay at home for as long as possible once contractions begin. It’s recommended you contact your care team only when contractions are coming every four to five minutes for one to two hours, but it could take hours to get to that stage. Keeping busy in the meantime is the best way to keep your mind distracted and help baby get into position.
Swaying, going up and down stairs, and using a birthing ball are all great ways to keep active. You can try cooking a meal doing housework, or going for a walk - anything that will help you feel calm.
12 Enlist A Good Support Team
Whether it’s a baby daddy, girlfriend, mom, sister, cousin or bestie, having the right people by your side while you give birth can make all the difference. A birth partner can hold your hand, fetch ice cubes, keep your pillow plumped, or communicate your wishes to medical staff. They can be as involved as you want them to be, or maybe just having a friendly face in the delivery room is enough.
Why stop at one person? According to a survey by blogging site Channel Mum, women in their teens and twenties have an average of eight people on their birth support team, and it’s a popular trend among social media obsessed moms called “crowd birthing.”
11 Stay Distracted With Whatever You Can
Early labor is typically the longest stage of the process. Thankfully, it’s the least intense, so it’s a great time to distract yourself with other things. Watch a movie while bouncing on a birthing ball, go out to dinner with your partner, crank up the music and throw down some shapes - do whatever you can to keep your mind off the contractions. The bad news is, they’re going to get worse, so if you find an activity to take your mind off the early stages, you’ll be more relaxed and conserve energy for when you really need it.
10 Choose Your Snacks Wisely
As we’ve mentioned, early labor can drag on for hours and it’s pretty common to get hungry in these early stages. Moms are encouraged to eat little and often, as food takes longer to digest during childbirth. Stuffing your face with a big meal could make you sick.
Childbirth requires energy, and heaps of it, so avoid high-fat and sugary food, which could make you feel (more) bloated and lethargic. Stick, instead, to complex carbohydrates, which will release energy slowly and prepare moms for the marathon effort ahead. Think healthy snacks, not Big Macs.
9 Take A Warm Bath Or Shower
Early labor may feel a little like menstrual cramps - you’ll have a sore back, aching in your lower tummy and low-intensity contractions. Warm water during this phase is a tried-and-tested way to relax tense and aching muscles and an effective pain relief.
Research has found that moms who spend some of their labor time in water have less anxiety and better fetal positioning in the pelvis. Best of all, there’s evidence that laboring in water even reduces the likelihood of epidurals, and shortens the first stage of labor by an average of 32 minutes.
8 The Power Of Massage
When picking your birth partner, it might be worth considering someone who is good with their hands. Massage can be a really effective way of easing pain, relaxing muscles and improving wellbeing during labor. Massage makes people feel good generally, add childbirth to the mix and its effects can be even more remarkable.
Feet, hips, back, legs, wherever mom needs it, getting a massage stimulates the body to produce endorphins, a mood-lifting hormone that’s vital in childbirth. High endorphin levels during labor are what help moms overcome the pain, stay alert and deal with the process. They can even have a euphoric effect.
7 Resist The Urge To Lie Down
Giving birth does not mean laying flat on your back for hours on end. According to Listening to Mothers Survey by Childbirth Connection, 71% of women reported staying in bed throughout their labor, and yet the more you move around, the more comfortable you’ll be and the faster your labor will go.
There are lots of reasons why many women don’t move about, including fetal heart monitoring and epidurals. However, many women still don’t know that movement is their friend. Gravity is one of the best tools a laboring mom has to help baby get into position. Gentle walking and keeping upright for as long as possible will help best utilize this natural force.
6 Breathing Is Your Best Tool
Whatever technique you try - and there are a ton of different ones out there - knowing how to breathe through labor will give you a massive advantage. Firstly, it maximizes the amount of oxygen in your body and the baby’s, but rhythmic breathing also helps moms relax and gives them the ability to handle contractions.
If you lose control and start to panic, breathing will become shallow and rapid, and less oxygen is absorbed into the body. This will lead to tensing up, which does not help the baby come out. Patterned breathing keeps moms in control and provides a sense of wellbeing. Focusing on breathing can also be a welcome distraction.
5 Don’t Be A Martyr (Pain Relief Is There For A Reason)
There are lots of reasons why women consider a natural, drug-free birth. They might want to avoid exposing their unborn babies to pain relief medication, or they might be empowered by the idea of letting nature take its course. After all, women have given birth for millennia without the luxury of effective pain relief.
Only about 60 percent of women who give birth (without a C-section) get epidural anesthesia, so the number of moms opting out is surprisingly high. But there is no right or wrong choice. If you planned on going natural but it all gets too much, don’t be afraid to change your mind. It’s okay, you don’t have to do it all on your own.
4 Massage Your Perineum
How well do you know yourself…down there? The perineum is the area between where the baby comes out and your bottom, and by regularly massaging this area, you can reduce your risk of episiotomy and tearing
It’s recommended that you start perineal massage when you are 34 weeks pregnant and it’s best done at least once or twice a week. Of course, by this stage of your pregnancy, reaching that area may be tricky, so it might be worth asking if your partner is willing to do it for you. It sounds awkward, but anything that can help your body stretch to ease baby out might be worth the discomfort.
3 Consider A Doula
Doulas might seem like a growing trend - and in westernized countries, they are - but having an emotion birth companion, trained in natural pain management, is actually an ancient practice. It’s also common in countries around the world.
Doulas help guide moms through pregnancy into new motherhood, and act as an advocate for birthing women, communicating with medical professionals their behalf. The results are pretty persuasive - a 2012 study of over 15,000 women found that support from a doula reduced labor time by about 40 minutes on average. Another 2013 study revealed that the chance of a C-section was more than 40% lower in doula-assisted births.
2 Try And Take a Nap
Sleeping during labor - are we mad? Seriously, it is possible. Not only that, it’s advisable. Labor is a marathon, so catch some zzzs when you can, which will most likely be in the early phases of labor.
While it’s good to stay active in early labor, it’s also good not to over-exert yourself. Having a quick nap in between contractions will help you save energy for when you really need it later. Let’s face it, once baby arrives, there won’t be much sleep to be had. Having some shut-eye will also help time go by faster and stop you watching the clock.
1 Listen To Your Body
You might not feel like you know what you’re doing, but your body does. It was designed for this, so when it’s trying to tell you something, listen up.
Whether it’s getting up and moving about, or changing position, find what feels better for you - the chances are, it’s the right thing to do. Responding to what your body needs will help the progression of the baby through the pelvis, it will help the body open up, create more room for the baby to move and reduce pain. It’s your birth and your body, so do what feels right.
Sources: Childbirthconnection.org; Scientific Am.; Today's Parent; Am. Pregnancy.