4 Ways You Can Prepare for Labor
As you approach the end of your pregnancy, it’s normal for thoughts to turn toward labor and birth. Your mind might swirl with facts, worries, anxieties, fears, to-do lists, anticipation, and that long, painful birth story that Aunt Rose loves to tell family every Mother’s Day. There are so many things to think about and so many new experiences on the horizon that it can be hard not to tip over from nervous anticipation to straight-out worry and fear.
To help keep you on an even keel, we’ve gathered together four ways that you can prepare for labor while you’re waiting for the big day to arrive. From mental health to checklists, mindset to outlook, we’ve outlined some of the best ways to get yourself prepared and set the stage for the successful arrival of your new baby.
#1: Get Informed
If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed at the thought of what’s coming down the pike, taking a class can help orient you, while also giving you valuable tools to use when labor finally begins. Far from a useless ritual of the pre-internet days, research has confirmed that the education gained in childbirth classes can be one of the most effective tools in preventing anxiety during labor, which in turn can play a huge role in the amount of pain a woman experiences as she gives birth.
While local, in-person classes have always been traditional, today’s parents have more choices, with online courses becoming increasingly popular. Offering flexible schedules and easy accommodation for mothers in all states of mobility, these classes typically cover a variety of topics and cater to a diverse range of family types. This puts the benefits of prenatal classes at the fingertips of anyone with an internet connection.
If you’re more of a bookworm, there are a host of prenatal bestsellers both new and old that are brimming with information to get you ready for childbirth. Whether you’re looking for more information on eating right, practical guides on getting organized pre-birth, or just want to explore some of the emotional aspects of pregnancy and labor, you’ll find plenty to read on the subject.
Get through a class or a stack of informative reads and still have questions? Remember that some of your best advisors are part of your birth team, whether that’s doulas, doctors, OB/GYNs, or midwives. These experienced professionals are there to support you, not just during the birth itself, but also beforehand. They are great sources of unbiased, practical information that can help calm nerves, correct misinformation, and put your fears at ease. Chances are you won’t ask a question that hasn’t been asked many times before.
#2: Have a Plan
A solid plan can be a reassuring ally as you move towards the life-changing event of childbirth. Many women have strong feelings about how they would like the birth of their child to proceed, but they worry that in the rush of activity that happens during birth, those desires and beliefs may be lost in the shuffle.
Crafting a birth plan is an excellent way for expectant mothers to know that their voices will be heard (and their wishes recognized) during labor and birth, even if they are unable to express them at the moment. Covering everything from the desired birthing environment to how they would like emergency medical situations handled, a comprehensive birth plan can play a key role in ensuring that your labor proceeds according to your wishes as much as possible.
As an added bonus, crafting the plan allows you to slow down, visualize the numerous potential paths your impending birth might take, and consider what your response to each of those situations might be. Just the act of visualizing how your labor might proceed can erase some of the fear and uncertainty you feel going into the birth. After all—if you’ve moved through it once in your mind, a circumstance can be a little less strange when you move through it in real life.
Beyond a formal birth plan, it’s also a good idea to talk with your primary birth partner—or any other member of your support system—and plan out exactly what will happen the day (or night) you go into labor. Who will be attending the birth with you? Who will communicate with friends and family as the birth proceeds? If you’re headed to the hospital, how will you get there? Who will take care of any children/pets/plants while you’re away from home? These are just some of the practical questions that are best sorted out before your attention is focused squarely on labor and delivery. And once labor begins, you can focus on giving birth, knowing that all other details are under control.
#3: Keep Calm
Whether you’re aiming for a drug-free birth and need to manage pain without medications or just want some simple ways to make your labor as stress-free as possible, staying calm and reducing tension is key. When you are tense and your muscles are rigid, pain can be amplified throughout the body—so finding ways to create a calming birthing environment should be high on your list of priorities.
There are lots of approaches to creating a relaxing birth setting, and while the most effective relaxation techniques differ from person to person, some of the most popular options include:
- Rhythmic breathing
- Gentle touch or massage from your birth partner
- Playing soothing music or natural soundscapes
- Meditation, chanting, or prayer
- Guided visualization that brings your mind to a favorite locale or experience
The end goal of all of the above techniques is to reduce anxiety and stress, which can make you more relaxed and lower perceived pain levels. What ends up being the most effective for you might be anyone (or any combination) of the above; experiment with different approaches and see what works best for you—it’s a fun and stress-busting way to prepare for labor!
#4: Stay Flexible, Mentally
Flexibility is a great characteristic to bring into the birthing arena. It allows you to move through the experience of childbirth without becoming hung up on details that don’t pan out exactly as you had planned. After all—while plans are necessary and helpful, birth is a natural and sometimes unpredictable process, and the best-laid plans are often laid to waste.
Since a birth can (and often does) go in directions you never anticipated, cobbling together a strong birthing team that you trust and that makes you feel safe and comforted is the best way to fight fear and stay adaptable during labor. It can be hard to accept, but in labor, you aren’t always the one in control—sometimes it’s the doctor, sometimes it’s the midwife, sometimes it’s the baby.
However you choose to prepare for labor, remember not to get too caught up in checklists and prenatal books. Be sure to take at least a few moments to consider how part of the power and beauty of giving birth lies in the act of ceding control over ourselves and our lives to some of the most natural and intrinsic forces we know. To come close to that sort of magic, we need no preparation at all beyond an open heart.