In most cases, a vaginal delivery is the preferred birth experience for mums to be, and is also preferred by most doctors and midwives, and with good reason. After all your body has been designed to deliver your baby this way. From my experience as a midwife, I’ve found most women have a lot of well-placed confidence in their body and have a strong desire for a straightforward vaginal birth.
That said, not every birth is straightforward and sometimes assistance or intervention is required to ensure the safety of both mother and baby. If you’re in good health and have had a complication-free pregnancy then the chances are you’re in a good position to fulfil your goal of having a vaginal birth. While no one can ‘order’ the type of childbirth they want, there are some things that you can do to help prepare your body and mind for a healthy vaginal delivery.
The most important first step toward achieving a vaginal birth is to equip yourself with a team of medical professionals that support your intention to have a vaginal birth.
Whether it is a doctor or midwife or consultant OBGYN they need to support your desire to have a vaginal birth from both a medical point of view and a personal one. Listen to your gut instincts with the people you surround yourself with and be sure to ask questions, however silly or obvious they may sound. It’s so important to feel at ease and able to talk freely with the people that will be overseeing your labour.
It’s also worth saying that should a medical professional have doubts about the safety of delivering your baby vaginally, then make sure you understand exactly why and if necessary, pursue a second opinion.
Antenatal classes are incredibly useful. I’d absolutely recommend you seek one out that provides unbiased information about what to expect from pregnancy, labour and birth.
From learning about the physical aspects of giving birth to dealing with the pain of contractions, to information about the different pain relief options available to you, these classes cover a lot of ground.
A good course should also provide information on possible complications during birth and also what to expect from those early days with your newborn – after all – that’s when the hard work really starts! Try and find a midwife with plenty of experience in all areas of obstetrics and also one that you feel you can connect with. You’ll be sharing a very pivotal moment of your life with this person, so finding a midwife who makes you feel at ease is so important.
Some mums to be will hire a midwife or a doula to work alongside your Doctor (if you have one). Research shows that this type of professional support during labour can actually increase your chances of having a straightforward vaginal delivery without the need for intervention. Studies have also shown that the more relaxed a woman is during labour, the quicker and more uncomplicated the process of delivery. A midwife or doula can offer that extra bit of emotional support and guidance in a way that you’re comfortable with.
For those that dream (and trust me, lots of women do) of a vaginal birth, there are many ways to support your body before your due date arrives, in fact you can start to prepare your body for a healthy pregnancy before you’ve even seen those faint blue lines.
Maintaining a healthy weight with good eating habits is a great first step and helps to reduce your chances of complications or interventions during your pregnancy and birth.
I know you might have cravings for carbs and sweet treats but good nutrition is so important to help your body prepare for birth and beyond. You can definitely indulge a little (every pregnant woman needs a few vices!) but you don’t need me to tell you that a healthy diet and regular exercise makes sense – especially when you’re expecting.
Exercising regularly during pregnancy will help to keep you strong while increasing your stamina and flexibility. Stamina is the key word here – labour can be something of a marathon at times – so think of your pregnancy exercise routine as training for the big event. It will stand you in really good stead. It’s worth consulting a pregnancy fitness expert or personal trainer with experience working with pregnant and post natal women to devise a program that works on your flexibility, cardio and strength.
Giving birth vaginally means that you’re quite literally going to be stretched out of your comfort zone. I know it probably hurts just thinking about it, but more than a few women end up having perineal ‘stitches’ after giving birth because of having had a tear or episiotomy during the pushing phase. Either one can occur if the baby’s head needs a bit more space to pass through. There are ways to reduce your chances of tearing or needing an incision, with perineal massage being one of them.
A manual massage of your perineum is not for everyone however, and it does require some research to make sure you do it correctly. It involves applying outward pressure to the perineum to increase the blood flow as well as the elasticity of the skin.
It’s worth talking about this approach with your midwife to learn more about the technique and figure out if it’s something you’re keen to try.
There’s no pressure though – so if the thought of perineal massage freaks you out, there are some great alternative birth training products out there such as the Epi-No, which can help give you extra confidence in your body’s ability to give birth vaginally.
There are different stages to labour (which you’ll learn about during antenatal courses), and each of them brings you closer to your intended vaginal delivery.
Once your labour has started, you can encourage your body toward a vaginal birth by moving around and keeping active while your contractions establish themselves. Studies show that the longer a woman labours at home the shorter and less complicated her birth is.
This is where the extra support from a doula or midwife can come in handy, especially if you are expecting your first baby. First labours can take a long time and mentally that can be quite frustrating. I encourage all women to really get in tune with what their body is telling them – if you feel like moving then get up and move around, and similarly if you feel you need a rest or something to drink – then do it.
Often women feel compelled to have a warm bath or shower when they’re in the early stage of labour. This is an excellent idea – it helps to relax muscles and relieve some of the pain.
Gentle movement, rocking, walking etc. can all be really helpful as your labour becomes more established. If you’re working with a doula or midwife they’ll be able to help guide you and give you the reassurance and confidence that all is progressing, as it should, toward your ultimate goal – a vaginal birth!
I know, it’s easy to say something like ‘mind over matter’ when talking about labour pain. When you’re in the heat of the moment it actually takes a great deal of mental and physical strength to keep your focus when dealing with pain and discomfort so I really don’t take this saying lightly.
Your mind is incredibly powerful and if you’re dedicated to working with your body toward a vaginal delivery then there are some mindful practices that can go a long way to helping you reach this goal. A birthing partner like a trained doula or midwife can be extremely helpful to guide your focus and keep you motivated and empowered throughout the experience.
There are so many birth stories out there and each one is unique. You won’t know what kind of birth you’re going to have until you’re having it, but I encourage all mamas to be to remember that complications are the exception, not the rule. Go in with a positive mindset that you can do this.
Take strength from the fact that your pelvis and vaginal tissues were built for birth, and your brain releases endorphins to help you cope with the pain. Biologically, you’ve got all the tools you need to have a successful vaginal delivery, and if complications arise, the carefully chosen team you have around you, will be there to help get your baby here in the safest way possible.
I’d love to be able to say if you prepare hard enough you’ll have the vaginal birth of your dreams but in reality it’s just not that simple. Emergency C-sections, forceps deliveries, ventouse or episiotomies aren’t on many women’s birth plans, but it’s important to know about them and accept that they exist precisely because they can help safeguard you and your baby from complications that might arise during labour.
What I say to all the mums I work with, is that once your baby arrives, how they got here really doesn’t matter to them, not one bit.
Pregnant? Sign up to Urban Hatch’s online antenatal course, HATCH™ to learn how to approach pregnancy and parenthood with comfort and confidence.
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