During my first pregnancy I made a choice when I was about six months along to have a natural birth. This is not a decision to be taken lightly and should be discussed in length between your partner or birthing support. Having said that, let’s get started with my 12 tips for a successful natural labor and childbirth…
1. Get Educated
This is by far the most important thing you should do. If you only do one thing during your pregnancy, do this. Childbirth is no walk in the park. Whether you are going the natural route or not, you should absolutely educate yourself on what you and your baby will be going through. There are different education options you can choose from, but I do recommend one that is maybe a little more intense and provides a lot of focus and purpose for your partner; the Bradley Method. This method empowers both you and your partner during the pregnancy and childbirth journey. You learn to work together as a team, learning various coping and relaxation techniques. Another focus which is very important; your partner learns to be an advocate for you and learns how to take care of you.
Beyond the Bradley Method, there are also other education series you can learn from such as Hynobabies and Lamaze.
Beyond your own education, you should also educate your close family members who will be involved in your pregnancy and subsequent child’s life. The idea of a natural childbirth (and even one outside of a hospital) can be very scary to a lot of people. Most people associate the thought of childbirth with emergency. But, taking your birth into your hands can help decrease your chance of requiring emergency surgery. This is your birth. Help your family members understand that you are taking all of the necessary precautions to ensure a safe birth environment for both yourself and your baby.
Lastly, in regard to education (before I continue to ramble on), I highly suggest you watch the documentary called The Business of Being Born. It is a wonderful documentary about just that – the business side of childbirth and how many women are manipulated into hospital policy and pharmaceutical norms. It explains what the body goes through once certain drugs are introduced into the body during labor and subsequent interventions that may follow. As of now, this documentary is available to stream on Netflix.
2. Hire a Doula
Using a doula while laboring and at your birth (whether natural or medicated), can greatly decrease your chance of having a C-Section.
What is a doula? Well, a doula is a person who provides support to both the mother and partner during childbirth. They also provide some support after birth. Studies have shown that having a doula present at your birth can shorten the time you are in labor, half your chance of needing a C-section, and also reduce the request for an epidural.
You can explore certified doulas in your neighborhood by browsing www.dona.org. Alternatively, you may also find success by browsing yelp or by doing a local Google search. The price for a doula can range from $0-$1,500 or even more. Each doula may provide different things, so browse a bit and see what various doulas offer to decide what is most important to you.
For example, my doula came to my home when I needed her during my labor – before I went to the birth center (she also joined me at the birth center). Some doulas will only come to your birth location.
3. Communicate your Expectations and Needs with your Partner
It is hard for your partner to not only understand what you are going through during your pregnancy, but it is also difficult for them to understand what you will be going through during labor (and postpartum). You may be thinking “well, I don’t know what I will be going through during labor.” That’s fine to feel that way. But, communicate that to your partner. Try your best to let them know what you perceive to be your needs during labor beforehand. Now, these needs may change once you are deep in it, and that’s okay! Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need when you are laboring.
Taking a birth education course can help you identify what your needs might be.
You may initially think you want verbal encouragement during labor, but once you are entering transition (the stage of labor before pushing), the last thing you want to hear is “you can do it!” – communicate your needs. You will not regret it.
For example, verbal encouragement worked best for me. I used mantras throughout my pregnancy with my yoga practice. These came in handy during my labor. I surrounded myself with a team that wholeheartedly supported me and helped me achieve the birth I wanted. I was sure to let them know when I needed to change positions, when certain touch, or words were not working for me. These people are there to help you. Teach them to help you, and let them help you.
4. Do Kegels
Strengthening your pelvic floor during your pregnancy will not only help you during pregnancy (ever heard of snissing?), but also during labor and postpartum. These muscles support the bladder, uterus, small intestine, and rectum, so they control the urine flow and keep the pelvic organs in place. Strengthening your pelvic floor can also help strengthen your contractions during labor.
5. Take Pre-Natal Yoga / Exercise
I was religious about taking pre-natal yoga classes twice per week from 10 weeks to 39 weeks during my first pregnancy. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend as regularly during my second pregnancy. But, the first time around I learned breathing techniques and how to control my fight or flight response. We focused on poses that opened up the pelvis and helped you loosen up and relax. We learned not to clench up, as this can hinder dilation.
Attending a pregnancy-oriented exercise class can also provide a wonderful community. You can bounce ideas, thoughts, feelings, fears, etc., off of the other mamas around you that are going through the exact same thing. And, you may end up creating a wonderful little postpartum mommy group.
I found my pre-natal yoga class through a group called Ma Yoga – which serves Orange Count and Los Angeles, CA.
6. Write a Birth Plan
Do this with your partner, as they will most likely be the advocate for your desires – especially if you are delivering in a hospital. How do you write a birth plan? Well, this is one of the many things you learn to do in a Bradley Method course, but for quick reference, I have attached our birth plan and the icons we used from Mama Natural.
We chose to make a visual birth plan. I found this to be more useful than a birth plan filled with only text. The nurses and staff can easily glance at a visual birth plan and understand your need-s. It will also be easier for your support team to reference at the drop of a dime when you need to make a decision quickly.
Once you’ve finalized your birth plan, review/discuss it with both your physician and your doula. Give your doula a copy, if necessary. One the big day, there is usually an area where the nurses (in a hospital) write their names (a whiteboard of sorts). You can post a copy of your birth plan here so when the nurses change shift, it is readily available for them to review. Never assume they know what you want.
In most cases you will not need to post your birth plan if you are delivering in a birth center, as birth centers are already focused around natural birth. But you will want to review it with your midwife. And you will want to have it in your birth bag the event you need to be transferred to a hospital.
7. Do Perineal Massage
What is the Perineum? It is the area between the vulva and the anus. So, it’s at the bottom of the vagina. Massaging this area can help prevent tearing. It is not guaranteed, but it can’t hurt you. It can also help ease the pain that comes with your baby crowning (also known as the ring of fire). This massage relaxes the area and can help your baby come out quicker/easier.
Your partner can help massage this area for you, as it is sort of hard to reach on your own (that darn belly always getting in the way). They can use your favorite lubricant or just some coconut oil or Vitamin E. You’ll want to start doing this massage one to two times per week once you reach 34 weeks gestation.
So how do you do it? I found this visual to be very useful. For more in-depth information, I suggest you refer to this great Mama Natural article.
8. Use Mantras and Breathing Techniques
As I mentioned above in #5, I learned breathing techniques and focused on training my mind with mantras throughout my pre-natal yoga practice. These two techniques can be very handy during labor.
A mantra is defined as: a sacred utterance, a numinous sound, a syllable, word or phonemes, or group of words believed by practitioners to have psychological and spiritual powers. In other words, mind over matter. The brain is an amazing organ. You can train it to overcome pain. I have created some great visual mantras you can download and print to place around your house, work, labor and delivery room, or anywhere else you see fit!
I also mentioned breathing techniques. Learning to breathe through pain and discomfort can help you embrace your contractions. Keeping control of your breath during labor helps prevent the body from going into Fight or Flight mode, which can release adrenaline. Adrenaline can be quite a hindrance during labor as it can prevent you from dilating – causing the cervix to tense or close up. Practicing these sort of techniques will help you embrace your contractions and the pain that comes along with them. Trying to escape the pain will only draw out your labor.
So, how do you practice this technique? My yoga instructor had us hold a yogi squat for 2-3 minutes usually once or twice per class. She also instructed us to try to hold this pose once per day at home for as long as we could (or for 15 minutes). This pose can be extremely uncomfortable. This pose can help you breathe through the discomfort, helping you prevent that Fight or Flight mode.
This pose also has the added benefits of opening up the hips! There is a reason this pose is also referred to as the birthing pose.
9. Trust your Body
This was a huge motivator for me. One of the main reasons I decided to go the natural route is because millions of women before me had done so. I get it, we have modern medicine. I lot of women approach birth with the mentality of “why feel pain if you don’t have to?” I get it. I don’t like pain. I don’t want to experience pain. But, I know that pain has a purpose. I know that I need to use that pain to work with my contractions to bring my baby closer and closer to being in my arms. I also know that the drugs that inhibit pain during labor can cross the placenta, causing unwanted side effects on both your baby and the progress of your labor.
Work with your body. Your body knows what to do. You just have to work with it and let it achieve its current purpose. It is understood by many that if you so let it, the body will birth your baby on its own. But, not many of us are patient enough nor have a high enough pain tolerance for that.
In 99% of low-risk pregnancies, your body will be able to birth the baby you grew. Trust that. Your body has done something truly amazing – it has grown a heart, and a brain, nail beds, a nervous system, a conscious being. Why are you now doubting its ability to bring that beautiful creation into the world? The hard part is creating your perfect child. Labor and delivery is fleeting. It will come, it will be hard, and it will end. And, your baby will be in your arms. Trust your body, and your body will work with you to bring your baby into the world safely.
10. Stay Hydrated and Fuel your Body
This is really a no-brainer, but can be very difficult to achieve. Most hospitals will not let you eat during labor. They do this in the event that you require and emergency C-Section. But, your body needs fuel! Birth is a marathon. It requires lots of energy. So, if you hospital has a strict no-food policy, try to nibble and fuel your body as much as you can while you are laboring at home (which I also suggest doing for as long as you can – see below)! But, if you are birthing in a hospital, you will be spending the toughest and most tiresome portion of your labor there. Try to eat if you want to/need to. Some nurses will turn a blind eye if you choose to nibble on some nuts, cheese, or berries.
You’ll also want to stay as hydrated as you can. You will most likely begin sweating profusely as you get deeper into your labor. You need to replace this water so you do not cramp up (charlie horses are even more painful during labor). Coconut water is a great option as it replaces electrolytes but doesn’t come with any of the other nasty chemicals like Gatorade or Powerade. I am really not a huge coconut water fan, but it was wonderful to have during labor. I used Harmless Coconut Water. If you can’t stand coconut water, you can just drink plain old water. Keep water handy, preferable a cup and straw.
11. Labor at Home for as Long as Possible
It is ideal to do much of your laboring at home. Why? Well, you are comfortable there. You are surrounded by all of your belongings and furniture that your body is used to using. You can labor in a tub (as most hospitals don’t have labor tubs). And, you can munch on snacks freely!
You also want to stay home as long as you can because the longer you are in the hospital, the more they might pressure you into interventions (fluids, pitocin, epidural, breaking water, etc.). If you want to keep this birth in your hands, best labor in a place you control! Does that make sense? At the end of the day, a hospital is a business. The more bodies they process through their doors, the more money they make. So, they don’t necessarily want you laboring for an extended period of time. Hospitals are for birthing, not for laboring. With that being said, you of course want to keep in contact with your physician during your labor.
How do you determine when you need to go? Well, in most cases, you’ll probably know. But, communicating with your doula can also help you make that decision. As they are trained in supporting natural births, they have more than likely seen quite a few and know the telltale signs.
12. Make your Birthing Room into your Own
This sort of goes hand-in-hand with what you will be packing for the big day (which I will be posting soon!). But, as you are taking charge of you birth, it only makes sense that you would then take charge of your birthing room. Once you arrive at wherever you are going to birth your baby, be it hospital, birth center, or your bedroom – set it up to be as comforting as possible.
Your partner should take charge in this endeavor. As you will most likely be experiencing some pretty intense contractions at this time, it is up to them to curate your birthing room. What does this mean? Well, this may mean unpacking your clothes and pillows and blankets, setting up your diffuser (with this amazing labor blend), getting your favorite playlist going on your bluetooth speaker (check mine out here), turning down the lights, lighting candles (or fake candles), turning down the lights, etc.
Your birth plan may also come into play here. You will most likely notate how you want the lights dimmed in your birthing room, but also that you want limited disturbances (no nurses coming in every 10 minutes to check your vitals). You can decline vital checks and vaginal exams. Keep that in mind! Your birthing partner and coach can help you with this.
Setting up your room to your comfort level can help keep you in the zone. It can keep you focused and calm during your toughest parts of labor and delivery.
What worked for you during your labor?