Birth prep can feel empowering, right up until it feels like too much.
Uterus-toning tea? Daily exercises to get your baby into the optimal position? Picking out exactly what music and scented lotions you want to bring along to create just the right vibe in your birth room?
There are countless things you can do to try and set the stage for a fast, easy, and positive labor experience.
Knowledge and prep work are power, of course. And feeling like you have some semblance of control over the changes happening to your body (and really, your life) can be incredibly reassuring.
But sometimes, feeling like you have to do all the things to have a perfect birth ends up creating extra — and often, unnecessary — anxiety.
“It can be overwhelming to prepare for labor and delivery, there are so many checklists and suggestions,” says Juliana A. Parker, RN, RNC-OB, owner of Accel OB Partners in Care. “But there are ways to simplify the process, enhance your birth experience, and spend more time enjoying your pregnancy.”
So what are the essentials that’ll have the most meaningful impact? Here’s what you can do to ready your body and mind to give birth without driving yourself crazy.
Knowledge is key for making informed decisions during pregnancy and childbirth. But too much info might scare the @!* out of you.
To strike a healthy balance, most experts recommend taking a childbirth class taught by a registered labor nurse or a certified childbirth educator. (If you have a partner, they should come too.)
The goal should be to learn the basics of the labor process, including how to know when it’s time to get to the hospital or birthing center, Parker says.
“It’s also helpful to know what interventions you may see during labor so you can share in the decision-making to promote a positive birth experience,” she adds.
“Pick a topic per visit, starting with the ones you feel strongly about,” Parker recommends. “Knowing in advance how your provider practices can alleviate a lot of stress and give you a sense of comfort, understanding, and control.”
Birth is a transformative experience, and it can be messy and complicated and emotional. Ensuring that you’re surrounded by people you trust and are somewhere you feel comfortable is important to having the best possible outcomes.
In fact, research shows that where a woman gives birth has more impact on her birth outcome than her actual health conditions (such as diabetes, maternal age, or complications during labor). Allow yourself time to explore your options and consider what kind of labor you hope to have.
Many more pregnant people are choosing to work with a midwife for care. These practitioners may be able to offer a more personalized and empowering birth experience.
There’s also some evidence (per a 2016 Cochrane review) that midwife-led care leads to better outcomes and greater satisfaction with the birth experience than other (physician-led) models of care.
Even if you already have a relationship established with an obstetrician or other care provider, you may want to consider hiring a doula.
Having continuous labor support in the room during labor is the only intervention that research has shown improves health and satisfaction outcomes. In fact, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) suggests including a doula in your care for continuous support and improved outcomes.
Moderate daily exercise can help you feel your best throughout your pregnancy and labor. “You’ll sleep better, you’ll feel less anxious, and you’ll gain less weight,” says Jeff Livingston, MD, obstetrician gynecologist at Texas Health HEB.
So what should you be doing? Walking is one of the best workouts out there — and you can do it right up until D-day.
“A 30-minute walk a day helps get your body in shape and releases stress,” Livingston says.
That’s not all.
Regular aerobic activity could also shave nearly an hour off of your labor time, found one study. The study also showed that people who exercised regularly in pregnancy were less likely to use an epidural in labor.
As for dedicated prenatal workout classes? Options like prenatal yoga aren’t a must, but a weekly class can be worthwhile if you can swing it. “It’ll help with breathing, flexibility, and relaxation, which are all important qualities that can enhance your labor experience,” Parker says.
These classes can also be a great way to meet other moms-to-be — who just might become a lifeline a few months from now when you want someone to text with during a 3:00 a.m. feeding.
If there’s ever a time to commit to mental strategies that help you feel calm and centered, now is it.
Mindfulness meditation has been shown to help first-time moms manage their fears, as well as reduce symptoms of prenatal and postpartum depression. “It relaxes your mind, giving it the rest it deserves,” says Livingston.
Incorporating mindfulness into your routine now can also help cement the habit for when your baby arrives. “It can help during the first few weeks with your newborn. Your brain will need a break,” he says.
And you don’t need to spend hours doing it.
Livingston recommends using an app like Headspace or Calm. Start with 5 minutes a day, and if you enjoy it and have the time, build up from there.
Maybe your friend swore that drinking red raspberry leaf tea or eating dates or going to weekly acupuncture sessions were the keys to her smooth, speedy labor. So should you try them?
Talk to a group of new moms or go online and you’ll find no shortage of remedies to jump start your labor or make it go faster. But the success of most natural induction methods is more anecdotal than scientific.
That’s not to say they’re not worth trying. But you shouldn’t feel like you’re doing pregnancy or labor wrong if you don’t read up on every natural remedy and drop tons of cash on herbs or alternative treatments.
And if you do opt to give a natural remedy a try? Run it by your midwife or doctor first.
Mapping out how you’d like your labor and delivery to go can help you feel more confident going in. But when it comes to birth plans, you’re better off keeping it simple — and going in with the expectations that things may not go the way you envision.
“Understanding that your ‘plan’ really translates to your ‘preferences’ is very important,” Parker says.
That might include things like:
- the type of support you want during labor (is massage okay, or just verbal coaching?)
- who do you want as your labor support people (your partner, a doula, a friend, or relative)
- whether you’d like to be able to move around and try different positions
- if you’re open to using drugs for pain
- who you want to cut the umbilical cord
- whether you plan to breastfeed
- whether you want your baby to spend time in the nursery
Your provider can help you figure out whether other preferences are worth including, so definitely share your plan with them as your due date nears.
Just prepare yourself in case things change.
“You won’t know how fast you will labor or how the contractions will affect you,” Livingston says. “The goal of delivery is to have a healthy mom and baby. The path for each will be slightly different.”
Finally, remember that the labor and delivery journey is just the beginning of your experience. “The delivery will come and go,” says Livingston. “What comes afterward is where the real work begins.”