Labor. Contractions. Birth.
For women everywhere, the very words can cause feelings of fear, worry, or just plain “I have no idea what to expect.” Those are all completely valid feelings. If you are expecting, have already had a baby, want to have a baby someday, or are supporting a pregnant mama, you’ve probably heard at least a few birth stories and have been left to wonder what is realistic. While everyone’s birth experience is incredibly unique, there are a few helpful nuggets of information that most any mama can take with her into labor. And that’s what I’m going to discuss today.
I’m going to start out this post with a huge disclaimer: while I would love to have kids someday, I have never personally birthed a baby. Yep, I know, and I’m writing a post on birth. I can only imagine how INTENSE labor actually feels and I hold a deep respect for any mama who has ever had a baby in any way, whether by C-section or vaginal delivery. What I can speak to, though, is my four years of experience in the birthing world in a variety of settings. I’ve seen and assisted with dozens and dozens of births in a birth center, a hospital room, a home, an operating room, and even a bathtub. I’ve gotten to experience with my patients the highs of beautiful, complication-free deliveries and the lows of poor outcomes or extra complications that nobody wants. There will always be more room for growth, but I’ve learned a few things along the way that I want to pass along to my mama friends and any expecting mom who is anticipating labor. I promise I’ll keep this PG. :)
Before diving into some labor hacks, here’s a little background on the way I approach birth/labor/delivery. As an OB nurse, I strive to keep a very open mind to birth. Having worked at a freestanding birth center and now at a hospital, I have been fortunate to see both perspectives and the unique advantages and disadvantages of each. While I won’t get into that here, I know for a fact that there are many awesome ways to have a baby. Epidurals can be a helpful birth tool. Cesarean sections are sometimes a necessary, life-saving intervention. Natural (pain medication-free) births are not easy but amazingly beautiful. I think hospitals, birth centers, and homes all have their place for birth, depending on a woman’s health status, goals, and who she chooses as her care provider. Regardless of where you choose to deliver, it is VERY important to be working with a doctor or midwife who listen to your goals and helps you to achieve those, while also being fully transparent and taking all precautions necessary to promote yours and your baby’s safety along the way.
My goal is simply to offer some suggestions so that you can effectively advocate for yourself and make well-informed decisions regarding care for you and your baby. I am passionate about education and about helping to put you as the patient back in the drivers seat of your own healthcare team. Your doctor or midwife is a part of that team. Your nurses are a part of that time. Your family, partner, and community are part of that team. Birth was never meant to be approached alone, and I believe every woman should feel safe and supported throughout her pregnancy, labor/delivery, and postpartum experiences. Without further ado, here are my top birth tips.
Take a birth class.
I can often tell if my patients have taken this step to help prepare for labor. It is also tremendously helpful for the husband/significant other to know more of what to expect and how to support the mama in labor. A good birth class will cover when to call if you think you might be in labor, the different phases of labor, possible interventions that may be considered if there are complications, options for pain control, your postpartum recovery, and soooo much more. Consider taking the class at the facility you plan to deliver, since the classes will likely be tailored with information specific to that hospital or birth center. You may also meet some of the staff and have the opportunity to ask questions before you’re in the heat of labor. If there are not any options readily available to you, consider taking an online course. Here are a few options to get you started:
Mama Natural is an online wealth of information on natural birth and pregnancy wellness. I enjoy reading her content and she offers an online birth class here.
I don’t have much direct experience with Lamaze, but I’ve heard good things about their local birth classes. They focus on empowering women and their families with education to make the best decisions for their health.
Again, I don’t have any personal experience with Bradley Birth, but they are also a great option to check out for local natural birth classes. The tagline is “Husband Coached Natural Childbirth,” so it focuses on couples working together as a team during a woman’s labor to promote spontaneous, unmedicated vaginal births. Have a look around their website for resources and more information.
Invite ONLY the people you actually want to be present at your birth.
Labor is not the time to worry about making people feel bad if you don’t want them there. I encourage my patients to think ahead to who they’d like to have with them. Most of the time it is just your husband or significant other. Sometimes a supportive mom/grandma/doula can be an incredible help as well. Just remember that you get to call the shots. My encouragement is to start out with having fewer people and have them on “standby” to call them in if you do want them there.
Create a pleasant space for delivery.
We know that being tense and anxious, not feeling secure, not having needed support, etc., can contribute to a slowed progression of labor. Amazingly, we can trace this back to ancestral times as women have historically sought out safe places to deliver their babies – away from predators or other danger. Labor “works better” when a mama feel relaxed, unthreatened, and in a safe place. Think about what this could look like for you in the context you’ve chosen to deliver. Imagine creating a haven for yourself during your labor. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Bring your own cozy blanket or nightie to the hospital or birth center. This is something familiar and comforting. It also helps you to feel more “human” in a very new and unfamiliar experience.
If you enjoy diffusing essential oils, bring your own, and a diffuser for the room. You can also use them topically as a massage or put a few drops on some gauze/cloth to pin to your clothing. I love using geranium, lavender, and clary sage for our mamas.
If your provider is okay with you eating in labor, bring some high-energy snacks that you think you might like. Avoid anything spicy or acidic (like cajun trail mix or pineapple juice), as reflux is a common nasty side effect with pushing. I’ve had patients bring their own gatorade to stay hydrated and keep some sugar/electrolytes in their system.
Dim the lights. I like making the joke about not wanting to reinforce the hospital stereotype for my patients when they come in. ;) At every point possible, I try to keep the lighting soft if that is comfortable for her. I recently had a patient bring her own Christmas twinkle lights to string up around the room. It was soooo cozy and comfortable, it made me want to linger in the little haven she’d created.
Make a labor playlist.
Just like you might get a fresh burst of energy from some good music during a workout, I’ve had some patients make their own list of jams for second stage (when it comes time to push). You may not decide to use it when the moment comes, but I would encourage you to think through a list of upbeat jams if that suits your mood or soothing, calming tunes in the background to help you relax in between contractions and throughout the labor process. Have both on hand and ready to play if you decide you want them.
Have positive affirmations/Scripture around you.
It can be tremendously helpful to have words around you that will help remind you there’s a purpose to the pain, every contraction is working to get you closer to baby, and your body was designed to bring new life into the world! Think about what might be encouraging to hear when the pain comes and use these words to remind yourself of how you’ve prepared for birth. If you’re a creative soul, write them out on pretty notecards or signs, or give them to your husband/partner to remind you. Here’s a video of some positive pregnancy affirmations to give you an idea of what that could look like. Here’s a list of positive affirmations to also give you some ideas.
Remember that movement is your friend.
I always remind my patients of this, especially in early labor. Only in a few rare circumstances is movement contraindicated during labor (unless you have an epidural, of course). Here are a few things you can do to help move in labor:
If baby’s heart rate and your contraction pattern must be monitored continuously, ask for remote telemetry monitoring. Many hospitals now offer this to allow you to move about freely and not be attached to cords.
Ask if there is a large round or peanut-shaped exercise ball to sit on and bounce or rock from side to side. This helps to open your hips and lets gravity work in your favor as baby shifts downward into your pelvis.
Take a soak in a tub or take a warm shower. The warmth and buoyancy can be a great help for labor pain. Take a walk, do some squats, or try a birth dance.
Enjoy the “golden hour” if at all possible.
What is a golden hour? Basically it’s that time right after baby comes out when you have this amazing opportunity to bond, do some skin-to-skin, and initiate breastfeeding. Sometimes complications happen that will necessarily prevent baby from being up on your chest right away. Your provider should keep you informed on what’s going on. In most cases, however, there is no reason for you to not enjoy this sweet time post-delivery. You’ve worked so hard to bring this little one into the world and now is your chance to enjoy him for the first time. Babies are often awake and alert right after delivery until about an hour afterwards. Your baby may also start showing cues that she is hungry like rooting or mouth/head movements, so take this opportunity to help baby latch and ask your nurse or midwife to help you if needed.
Keep an open mind.
Remember that no matter how much you’ve prepared for baby’s arrival or how much research and training you do, things still may not go as expected. Birth plans can be helpful to communicate your expectations and desires for labor to the staff caring for you, but they are not set in stone. Labor is an incredible process and women’s bodies were created to deliver babies, but that doesn’t mean it will always go as you’d planned. Perhaps that means transferring to a hospital from home or a birth center because baby’s heart tones don’t look great. Maybe it’s choosing getting an epidural because you are exhausted and still have a ways to go. It’s important to be willing to change your plan as necessary at the discretion of your trusted midwife or doctor. If you’re unsure about a specific intervention, don’t be afraid to ask questions or have your partner advocate for you. I have seen time and time again how important an open mindset is when the birth plan changes unexpectedly. Make sure you have plenty of support around you during this time, which is inherently stressful. This takes me to the next point…
Take time to debrief after your delivery.
Write out your birth story, including all the nitty gritty details that will fade with time. It can be a special time to look back and celebrate what you did, as well as process through your feelings and emotions surrounding your birth. If things didn’t go as well as you wanted them to, it’s *really* important to explore your feelings and see if you need to talk with someone about it. Many people don’t realize that labor and delivery can be a traumatic event, and women can carry those feelings of stress and guilt with them into their postpartum recovery and beyond. According to an article from the National Institutes of Health, “reviews and meta-analyses show postpartum PTSD affects 3–4% of all women after birth and 15 to 19% of women in high risk situations such as those who have pregnancy complications or preterm birth.” That is not an insignificant statistic. There are resources available for women to cope specifically with PTSD, postpartum depression, and more. For more information, you can start by exploring the Postpartum Support International (PSI) website. However you feel coming away from birth, the biggest point I want to make is that it’s important to pay attention to those feelings and not feel selfish asking for what you need during that time.
Okay friend, that’s what I’ve got for ya! If you just can’t get enough of all the birth goodies and want to keep reading, here are some additional resources I recommend checking out:
Spinningbabies.com This is a go-to for midwives and other care practitioners on mama/baby positioning, as well as LOTS of birth techniques. Their website has a plethra of information you can check out and enjoy.
Mamanatural.com I mentioned her birth class earlier in this post. This website also has lots of resources if you are looking for natural health options for yourself and your family.
Pregnancy archives from Dr. Aviva Romm. She is, in my opinion, one of the most trusted voices in women’s health today. I am currently studying under her and highly respect the work she does. Check out her pregnancy archives for lots of great advice.
To wrap up this post, I’ll end by saying that I will always be amazed by God’s design and the strength I’ve had the privilege of witnessing in so many women as they’ve delivered their babies. I hope you’ve found this post helpful, and if you have any questions or want to continue the discussion, send me a message on my Instagram/Facebook page or drop a comment. I’d love to hear your feedback, thoughts, or any experiences you’d like to share!