Preparing for labour can take many forms; from packing your hospital bag and talking through your birth preferences, to following an antenatal class, there are lots of ways to get your mind and body prepped for labour, delivery and birth. However, one of the most important things you can do, is to try and take your labour as it comes, because regardless of how much preparation you do, you never quite know what’s in store.
That said, as a midwife, I’ve supported hundreds of women through their labours, and I have seven recommendations that can make a huge difference to your birth. Read on to find out my seven strategies that can make labouring easier.
First and foremost, having good support, medically and emotionally is vital to get through your labour experience in the most positive way. Prior to your due date make sure you feel happy with your choice of birth set up, whether that’s a hospital or birthing centre, or if you’re planning on having a home birth, double check you’re comfortable with the midwife team that’ll be looking after you.
When you’re in the midst of contractions, having a calm and supportive labour partner can make a huge difference to your wellbeing and comfort. Remember the best birthing partner might not be your husband or other half – a doula or private midwife are alternative options who may take a more hands on approach to getting you (and your partner!) through your labour.
While lying down on a bed is the preferred way to show labour in most television shows and movies, the reality is that moving around and changing position can massively help you to manage your contractions. By changing your position you can optimise the space of your pelvis and therefore make it easier for your baby to get into a good position. When faced with a contraction, try getting down onto all fours or modified all fours. Hip swaying also helps. Tuning in with your body as much as possible will make labour easier for both of you.
People talk about timing contractions – a lot. But it can actually be incredibly helpful to let go of time, remove your watch and just be in your body without a countdown. Strict timing can impose a sense of foreboding or pressure and (worst of all!) expectation that your baby will magically arrive when your contractions are a certain length of time apart. The reality is much more complicated as your time frame will be moving from one contraction to the next. Let someone else worry about timing your contractions – and ask them to keep the info to themselves. Just know that your body is doing the work it needs to move your baby into your birth canal.
Labour is thirsty work, so making sure you have a lot of fluid to drink is a very good idea. Keeping hydrated means your muscles can work more effectively, and seeing as the uterus consists mainly of muscle (and will be doing lots of hard work) keeping your body topped up with fluids is key. Take sips of water between contractions if you can, you won’t regret it.
Many women will have learnt some breathing techniques to help them during their labour, and with good reason. Attentive breathing can not only focus your mind and distract you from the discomfort, it also ensures that the optimal oxygen can supply the uterus. This in itself will make you feel less pain.
There are numerous breathing exercises you can employ during labour but one of the most effective techniques which I recommend to my clients is to slow-focused breathing. This means breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth, dropping the shoulders and relaxing the jaw on the out-breath. It can be useful to lengthen the out-breath so it is slightly longer than the in-breath. In between contractions it can be helpful to transition into a normal breathing pattern, have a sip of water, change positions and try to soften the mood in the room
It’s easy to practice this as part of your labour preparation too. Spending just five minutes a day going through these breathing patterns will give you confidence with using them on the day.
Contractions can be uncomfortable, even painful, and when faced with discomfort we tend to tense up. This is a natural response but by shifting your reaction and relaxing your body, literally ‘going with’ the sensation, you can help to optimise the pelvic space and make it easier for baby to descend into and through the birth canal.
Tension can be held in lots of places during labour, but much of it can be found in your jaw muscles. By consciously relaxing your jaw you will be better able to breath through the contraction, while helping your body to get closer to the pushing phase.
Following on from the above, when going through a contraction, you can use your voice to make deep, low sounds. This will help you to relax your jaw and keep you grounded. The sounds women make during labour can range from the loud, to the silent to the shrill, but the most productive noises are usually low ‘mooing’ sounds which can help to release some of the tension and focus your mind.
Wish less. You read that right. Recently a ‘birth plan’ culture has led a lot of women to feel disappointed in how their birth experience worked out, often because writing a birth plan results in having a set of expectations about their birth which, in reality, are difficult, if not impossible to guarantee. In fact, I go as far as saying that the only guarantee from a birth plan is giving birth. So instead, prepare for labour by ditching the birth plan and work on a list of birth preferences – things you would like to have – if possible. Let go of the image of the perfect birth and you’ll end up with a much more positive labour experience.
Expecting a baby? Preparing for labour starts with understanding what to expect. Sign up for my online antenatal course HATCH™ to prepare for birth and beyond.
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