Choose an OBGYN and hospital wisely: It’s important that the OBGYN you choose supports your birth plan. This could mean that they are open to you having a VBAC or simply that they do not push induction etc. However, there is a high possibility that another doctor will deliver your baby so it’s a good idea to see other people in the practice as well. This is why I think it is even more crucial to select the right hospital. One of the factors to consider are the hospital’s c-section rates compared to other hospitals and the national average. If you are interested in a natural birth then you do not want to have an unnecessary c-section. I would also ask what they do to support natural childbirth. My hospital provided an exercise ball and a peanut ball. They also allowed me the freedom to walk around during labor instead of being stuck in one position in the bed.
Educate yourself on labor: You should familiarize yourself with the different stages of labor and what you will experience both emotionally and physically. For example, when I hit transition and wanted to give up, I reminded myself that I was probably nearing the end. I also was able to differentiate true labor from Braxton Hicks which saved me unnecessary trips to the hospital. It is equally important to educate yourself on different medical interventions (even if you do not want them) so that you can be prepared if things do not go as planned. However, the biggest benefit of educating yourself on labor is that you know what to expect. This reduced my anxiety which consequently reduced my pain during labor (it’s hard not be tense when you are scared).
Try to stay healthy and active during pregnancy: Labor is a very physical process so staying healthy and active will help prepare your body. I would specifically focus on Kegel exercises and stretches that help to open up your hips. It is also important to avoid excessive weight gain during pregnancy. Not only will you regret having to loose the extra pounds after the baby is born, but extra weight gain is linked to pregnancy induced hypertension, gestational diabetes, complications during labor, and an increased risk for unsuccessful breastfeeding.
Find what helps you relax: I started by looking up non-pharmacologic pain relief measures. Some of the ones I saw listed were: massage (done by your support person or Doula), hot (taking a warm bath) or cold (cool rag on your forehead), hypnosis (hypnobirthing is a technique of self-hypnosis during labor), deep breathing (there are many different breathing techniques), music etc. The things that worked best to relax me were: a dark and quiet room, my husband holding my hand and prayer. Relaxing your body during contractions allows the contractions to be more effective while tensing up will only drag out the process and make it more painful.
Labor at home as long as possible and rest with mild contractions: The sooner you go to the hospital the more likely it is that you will receive some type of medical intervention. For example: Pitocin is often given to “speed up labor” but it may cause your contractions to be so strong that you get epidural to handle the pain associated. There are also many benefits of laboring at home: it is easier to relax in the comforts of your own home, you do not have to be connected to fluids or a monitor so it’s easier to move around, and you can rest because you will not have medical personal coming in and out of your room. I went to sleep with mild contractions and I am SO thankful that I did because I was very exhausted by the end of labor even having rested a few hours prior. It is also important to rest in between contractions to conserve energy. Ask your OBGYN when they want you to head into the hospital.
Think positive: While they may sound cheesy at first, listening to birth affirmations was very helpful for me during pregnancy. Some of the things that I repeated in my head during labor were: my body was made to do this, I can trust my baby, and each contraction is bringing me closer to meeting my baby. I believe that it is just as important to be mentally prepared for labor as it is to be physically prepared. I would also avoid listening to horror stories of other people’s births and change the topic if a conversation is bringing you down instead of building you up during your pregnancy.
Have a support person: It is very important that you have someone to support and encourage you during your labor. It could be your spouse, your Mom, your sister, a friend or a doula. What matters is that it is someone who will focus on your needs while you are giving birth. It is a good idea to share any expectations you have with this person. For example, do you want them to give you a massage or wipe your forehead with cool rags? My personal opinion on this is that labor is not the time for a family reunion. You need to be able to focus on delivery and it’s important to avoid unnecessary distractions. It’s your labor (where you are very exposed by the way) so you get to choose who is in the room!
Make a birth plan but be flexible: While most people do not stumble in to a natural birth and consciously decide to go natural prior to delivery, it is important to keep an open mind. Labor does not always go according to plan so you do not need to be fixated on a perfect “birth plan.” I personally did not want to be disappointed on what should be one of the happiest days of my life because I didn’t get to have the labor I envisioned. I did not write down my birth plan for this reason even though I knew what my preferences were. My ultimate goal was to have a healthy baby NOT to have an unmedicated childbirth.
Finally, if you are expecting…congratulations! The day your baby is born will be one of the most memorable days of your life. You can do this!