1. Start preparing long before labor begins. Early labor is not the time to crack open your book on hypnosis/comfort measures/breathing techniques or inflate your birthing ball for the first time. Preparing ahead of time makes a difference. It’s best to begin labor and birth preparation by mid-pregnancy, even if that means simply reading a couple of quality books on childbirth.
2. Seek higher education. Take a childbirth class, and enroll early — not only do some classes fill up fast, but if a class runs 12 weeks, you’ll need to start in your second trimester. A quality childbirth class will help you learn about the different stages of labor so you know what to expect. Be sure to ask questions — even (or especially) if you think it’s a tough or “stupid” question.
3. Get to really know your doctor or midwife. The earlier in pregnancy you learn your care provider’s philosophy on pain management and how often they use interventions like induction and cesarean, the better you will understand what you’re likely to encounter in your labor and birth with that provider. If your birth preferences do not align with your provider’s, you can elect to switch providers/practices, ideally well in advance of the end of your third trimester.
3. Take a prenatal yoga class. The most important thing women and pregnant people learn through yoga is how to be more present and focus. Yoga also strengthens the entire body, increases flexibility, and improves stamina, all of which are helpful in labor and birth. Perhaps most important is how yoga helps your mind relax, which helps for pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and parenting.
4. Hire a doula. Doulas are nonmedical professionals trained to provide emotional, physical, and informational support in labor and birth. Studies have found that the kind of continuous support provided by doulas in labor decrease the epidural use by 60 percent, c-sections by 50 percent, oxytocin use for induction by 40 percent; forceps use by 40 percent; and reduce the average length of labor by 25 percent. Be sure to do your homework on the doula you hire — ask for information about their certification(s), experience, and their approach to labor and birth.
5. Learn lots of coping techniques. During a friend’s first labor, the breathing exercises she learned caused a massive sinus attack. Unfortunately, deep breathing was the only coping technique she learned prior to labor, which meat she was out of tricks deep into labor. Don’t put your coping eggs in one basket! Learn a wide variety of techniques to manage pain, including breathing, massage, hypnosis, position changes, heat/ice packs, music, rhythm and ritual, and more. Know your options!
8. Learn all the labor positions. Upright positions like standing, walking, kneeling, slow dancing, sitting and squatting, allow gravity to help move the baby down and out. Sometimes, getting the baby into the pelvis is like fitting a key into a lock — you just need to do a little jiggling. Rocking back and forth on your hands and knees, for example, can help the baby get into position.