Many women experience childbirth anxiety, and who can blame us? After all, our grandmothers, mothers and aunts have probably been telling us since our girlhood all the gory details of their own childbirth experiences. During sex ed, we’ve been made to watch videos and lectures on childbirth that reveal it’s not a walk in the park.
There’s no going around it: childbirth can be challenging and it can be painful. But mothers always cap it off with a knowing “it’s all worth it in the end.”
The anxiety can still remain despite this pep talk. Sure, childbirth is worth it, but what if something goes wrong? When these thoughts cross our heads, it can be nerve wracking thinking about how helpless we’ll be when the time comes.
We needn’t feel helpless, though. As soon as you become pregnant, there are plenty of things you can do to help prepare you and your body for a safe delivery.
20 Don’t Miss That Prenatal
First of all, don’t delay on getting a prenatal checkup when you find out you’re pregnant. Once you start, don’t miss your regular appointments. This may seem trivial and even an inconvenience to you, but prenatal checkups are extremely important.
Mothers who get late prenatal care or none at all are up to three times more likely to have preterm labor or a low birth weight baby. Prenatal care also allows you and your doctor to monitor your health and that of your baby. Through it, you will be able to detect any potential problems with your pregnancy and do something about it early on. It is more difficult, after all, to deal with these problems only when the big day arises. All the necessary preparations can make an otherwise complicated childbirth easier and relatively hassle-free. In many cases, these preparations can even be life-saving.
Basically, if there’s one thing you want to do to prep your body for childbirth it’s prenatals.
19 Fill Out A Birth Plan
Labor pains can cloud your thinking and maybe get in the way of communicating to your health care providers. One way to ensure that all your wishes for your childbirth are met is to fill out a birth plan. You can get one from your doctor or you can download one online, if you like.
A good birth plan will also have a contingency plan on what to do in case something goes wrong during childbirth. This will help you plan for potential complications in advance, no matter how unlikely they are. Even if your pregnancy is and will go smoothly, sometimes things just come up that can make it a bit harder to manage.
It’s important to accept the possibility of these complications so that you know exactly what to do if they do arrive. Remember, you probably have a clearer head now than you will while you’re in the midst of childbirth pains. Your decisions now matter.
18 Get Enough Sleep
Whether you have noisy neighbors or leg cramps keeping you up at night, it can be difficult to get the right quality and quantity of sleep. If you’re having difficulty sleeping or staying asleep at night, make sure you make up for the lost rest with daytime naps. You may also want to invest in earplugs or address the causes that keep you from getting a good night’s sleep. Sleep over at your parents’ house if you must.
This is important especially when you’re nearing childbirth. Lack of sleep can increase your stress hormones, causing you to experience pain more intensely. That’s not something you’d want to have when you’re about to experience something that’s inherently painful. And even early during your pregnancy, a lack of sleep may make you feel discomfort much more intensely. Also, stress triggers an increase in the production of stomach acids, which could increase your risk for heartburn and other digestive problems.
17 Walk Like a Princess
That is, maintain good posture and don’t slouch. This can be pretty tough advice, considering all that added weight you’re carrying around but it’s important nevertheless. Good posture helps balance all that weight, making it easier for your spine. Bad posture, on the other hand, can lead to plenty of back problems that can add to your aches and pains. This is because, with bad posture, your body may be applying pressure on certain areas of your spine more than others. Eventually, this could strain these parts of your back, resulting in problems like back strains or, worse, a slipped disk. Trust us, this isn’t a great problem to have on top of the challenges of pregnancy!
In addition, it is believed that proper posture helps facilitate the baby’s movement to the head-down position, which is ideal for childbirth. While the effects of posture to fetal positioning is still being studied, it’s still best to be sure.
One of the things that will help ease your labor is learning to breathe properly. Practicing deep and controlled breathing will help you relax and manage the pain. Doing this also keeps you from hyperventilating, which can make you feel lightheaded, mess with the acid-base balance of your blood, and cause you to pass out. In fact, breathing is an essential childbirth skill that will be drummed into you, from your prenatals to your childbirth classes. While this may not seem all too interesting, you will be surprised at how much effort it takes to keep your mind on your breathing during labor!
While you’re practicing breathing, you might also want to read on the proper way to push. However, do not practice pushing, especially late into your pregnancy as this may trigger contractions and an early labor. Instead, there are a few exercises that can help you strengthen your muscles so the push becomes easier.
15 Sit Like a Monk
One great pregnancy exercise is tailor sitting. This exercise helps you stretch out your hip and thigh muscles, preparing them for expansion during labor. This is useful because, if these muscles are stretching for the first time during labor, they may become strained at the sudden pressure. Slowly building up their strength will help them deal with it when it comes.
Tailor sitting is a bit different from the yoga-version of sitting, however. Instead of placing one ankle on top of the other, just sit on a yoga mat and place one foot lightly on top of the other. Bring your knees to the floor until you feel your perineum stretch just a bit. Don’t worry if your knees don’t touch the floor yet. If you practice tailor sitting for about 15 minutes or more a day, you’ll get there. Try to do this at every opportunity you can get, whether you’re taking some time off of work or resting at home.
14 Do the Squats
Squatting is also another great exercise to stretch out your perineum, as well as prevent any back problems. However, it must be done properly to avoid additional strain on your body. The overall balance of your body weight, after all, isn’t what it used to be considering all that extra weight in front. The correct squat for pregnancy is sometimes called the “Asian squat,” called so because in Asian countries, people will often squat on the streets like this instead of pulling up a chair! This may be a bit different from the exercise squatting. Instead, this is squatting with your feet flat on the floor instead of putting all your weight on your tiptoes.
In many Asian countries, people often take on this position when they want to rest their legs but don’t have any chair or stool to sit down on. You’ll find it’s much more comfortable than squatting on your toes.
13 The Kegels
Kegels exercises, also known as pelvic floor contractions, are the act of tightening the muscles around your perineum. This strengthens it for labor and childbirth. In fact, women who regularly do Kegels have been found to have shorter labor times than those who do not. Strong pelvic floor muscles also heal much faster than weak ones. As a bonus, they help prevent pesky urine leaking late into your pregnancy.
Kegels are done by tightening the muscles which you would normally use to hold in urine. Hold them for up to 10 seconds before releasing. Do this several times over the course of the day.
This is an easy exercise because you can do it all the time and nobody will even know that you’re exercising! To help you do as much of it before the big day, do it in dull moments, such as when you’re waiting for someone or when you’re bored at work.
12 Work Those Abs
Your abdominal muscles, particularly the transverse abdominal muscle, are among the muscles that will help push out your baby during childbirth. Strengthening them will therefore help make labor and childbirth easier and, perhaps, even shorter in duration. Exercising them will also help you avoid pregnancy back pains. This is because some of your abdominal muscles are connected to your back. The weight of your belly could be pulling upon these muscles, contributing to your back pain.
During the first trimester, short crunches are a great way to exercise your abs. Late in the pregnancy, however, laying on your back can be uncomfortable. Instead, you can do standing crunches. Every once in a while, you might want to try isometric contractions as well. You can do this by placing your hands on your belly and practice moving your tummy inward. Remember to exercise just a slight inward stomach movement. Never push down, especially late in your pregnancy, as this might trigger premature labor.
11 Rock Your Pelvis
Pelvic rocking is a great exercise to help avoid back pains and to increase flexibility. This can be done whether you’re standing, seated or lying down. It is done by simply arching your back as if you’re trying to stretch your spine. You should be able to feel your hips rock forward as you do so. Hold this position for a minute and then return to your normal posture.
Some women do this by going down on all fours, balanced by their hands and knees. Make sure that you find a proper balance before you proceed. Pull your back down and, again, you’ll feel your hips rocking forward as you do this. Hold the position and then return to a relaxed posture. Do this exercise for as long as you’re comfortable. You may not be able to do many of them at first and that’s OK. With time, you’ll be doing more and more of them as your muscles strengthen.
10 Small, Frequent Meals
Since your baby is taking so much space inside your tummy, there may not be a lot of room for your usual meals. After all, your growing uterus is going to push up against your stomach and your intestines, which is also just another reason why pregnant women are more prone to heartburn. This could also make eating the same amount of food as you used to uncomfortable. Many pregnant women find that taking five or six small meals throughout the day, rather than three big meals helps relieve the discomfort of a full stomach.
This also ensures that you and your baby have a regular, study supply of nutrients to keep you both healthy and ready for the big day. This may mean that you may have to divide your meal portions into two or three, particularly when you’re bringing a packed lunch to work. It also helps to have healthy, wholesome food available for snacking throughout the day.
9 Get Enough Iron and Folic Acid
During childbirth, you lose about half a liter of blood for a vaginal delivery and about a liter for a caesarian birth. Because of this, anemia can pose a big problem for your health and your baby’s. Anemia can be caused by a deficiency in the mineral iron. Iron is a major component in the molecule hemoglobin, which is the red blood cells’ carrier of oxygen around the body. Foods that are rich in iron include organ meats, nuts, seeds, dark leafy vegetables, tofu and some meats.
Folic acid is another important nutrient. Your body uses it to help your body make new blood cells. It’s also essential in your baby’s brain development. Folic acid can be found in leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits and beans.
If you’re not getting enough iron and folic acid in your diet, your doctor might want to prescribe supplements to ensure that you’re getting exactly the amount you need.
8 Cut Down on Processed Foods
Highly processed foods pose two very real dangers in pregnant women: they’re usually high in either sodium or simple sugars. High levels of sodium promote water retention, making bloating a problem. This can also increase your risk of getting edema or fluid retention, which can be more obvious in your feet. Needless to say, don’t be surprised if your feet somehow grow a size! While some women will experience edema anyway, excess quantities of sodium can exacerbate this. High blood sugar, generally a problem with diabetic women, can cause an increase in your baby’s size possibly making it too big to fit through your birth canal. This can increase your risk for needing an assisted birth or even a C-section when the big day comes. This is why diabetic women are encouraged to keep their blood sugar levels in control through the course of the pregnancy.
Consuming processed foods also increase your risk of getting listerosis, which increases your risks for stillbirth and miscarriage.
7 Maintain a Healthy Weight
Women who are underweight or overweight have greater chances of miscarriage. In underweight women, this may be because the body is not able to provide enough nutrients for the baby. In some cases, the body may even determine that it is unable to sustain both mother and child. This is a huge risk, particularly in women who have eating disorders. In overweight women, researchers believe the cause has something to do with the fact that fat tends to accumulate the hormones estrogen and testosterone, both of which are fat-soluble. Because the body’s estrogen levels are higher than they’re supposed to be, a miscarriage may result.
Normally, you should gain up to 4 pounds during your first trimester, and then about 1 pound a week thereafter. If you’re underweight you’ll want to gain a bit more weight than that. If you’re overweight, however, you can gain less than that. It’s generally not advisable to try to lose weight during pregnancy.
6 Watch Medications You Take In
If you have any maintenance medications, make sure to tell your doctor. You may require some medication to help control any preexisting conditions, but some of these may be harmful for you and your baby. If you’re taking anything that is potentially harmful, your doctor may be able to give you a safer alternative.
It’s also important to inform your doctor if you’re taking any over-the-counter medications or herbals preparations. There is a number of medicines that are commonly used by the general population but can be harmful during pregnancy. Some of them can induce premature labor, low birth weight or even fetal abnormalities.
Another thing you should watch out for is recreational drugs. This includes alcohol and tobacco. Because these drugs primarily affect the brain, you should keep in mind that they could be messing with your baby’s sensitive and still-developing brain as well. It’s best to avoid them at this time.
5 Keep Your Health in Check
If you have any preexisting health conditions at all, pregnancy and childbirth is a crucial time to keep them in control. If your doctor is still unaware of them, it’s probably a good time to tell her. For instance, high blood pressure can increase blood loss during childbirth. This is because the high pressure of the blood against the uterine blood vessels could slow down healing and result in more blood going throughper second.
As we’ve already discussed, high blood sugar in diabetic women can make your baby too big to fit into your birth canal. This could mean you’ll need to have an assisted birth or a C-section. High blood sugar levels can also slow down healing, resulting in more blood loss and a longer recovery time. Consult your doctor regarding any conditions you already have or may have acquired through the course of your pregnancy. It’s best to keep it in check while it’s still early.
4 Stay Away from Sick People
Now is not a good time to visit the hospital or to be around people who are sick. Make sure that your family and friends understand this. After all, you can still give them a call to check on them and express your concern. If you really must, however, wear a face mask for protection.
There are many kinds of illnesses that could potentially harm you and your baby. It’s best to avoid them during the course of your pregnancy. Some of these illnesses can cause birth defects, while others could flare up and cause widespread infection after childbirth. Even if your friend or family member doesn’t have a contagious illness himself, it’s important to know that many people in the hospital could be. And since your immune system may not be at its best during your pregnancy, you might be more prone to catching it, even if you’ve only been exposed to them for a few seconds in the elevator!
3 Keep Connected
Having strong social and family support during pregnancy is a pretty strong factor to the outcome of your childbirth. Women without adequate social support are at higher risk for preterm deliveries, not to mention for postpartum depression.
Make sure you’re regularly reaching out to your partner, friends and family. Even if it’s just one light conversation a day, it will matter a lot. Many of us do take these social support systems for granted, particularly when we’re busy or feeling stressed. Remember that the people around you don’t have to offer help to you directly, at least not in the form of gifts or financial support. Often, emotional support is all that we need. Talking about the challenges of pregnancy, as well as your fears about childbirth and child rearing, can be cathartic. In addition, it’s always fun to catch up and have a laugh with friends, both new and old.
A woman who is stressed out during her pregnancy will be stressed out during her childbirth. This is because your emotional state often carries over with time and build up, particularly if the stressors are not being addressed. As with lack of sleep, chronic stress increases your levels of, well, stress hormones. This can amplify your feelings of pain and anxiety when you give birth.
Because of this, it’s advisable to lower your levels of stress during pregnancy. Give yourself an occasional treat. Do the things you love. Hang out with friends. It may not feel like it’s doing anything for your childbirth but, trust us, it does wonders. Keep in mind that one of the most important things in child rearing and life in general is taking care of yourself. While you’re at it, try to make sure your partner takes care of himself as well. Ultimately, this will make you both happier and more prepared.
Pregnancy yoga covers plenty of ground when you’re getting ready for pregnancy. It helps you get adequate exercise to tone your muscles and get your body flexible for delivery. It helps calm your mind so you’re less stressed overall. It helps you sleep better. These benefits can add up, especially if you start a yoga program early. Many yoga programs also have great recommendations and recipes for a healthy diet during pregnancy.
Make sure you get into a yoga program that is tailored specifically for pregnant women. This makes sure that all the poses are adjusted to cater to your growing tummy. They often also include some of the above mentioned exercises that help strengthen your abdominal and pelvic muscles for a faster delivery and a quicker recovery. Yoga is also a great way to meet other pregnant women with a healthy lifestyle. You may be able to share lifestyle tips and tricks among yourselves, not to mention get new friends!