10 Tips for a Positive Birth Experience
Having a baby is one of the most memorable moments a woman will ever experience. It’s the day you brought life into this world! While the experience will be beautiful no matter what, here are a few tips to ensure you have the most positive birth experience possible.
Exercise During Pregnancy
One of the biggest mistakes that I made during my first pregnancy was not prioritizing exercise. While I was a fairly healthy person and paid attention to my weight gain, I did not realize the full benefits of keeping in shape during pregnancy. Let me tell you a little secret that should probably be obvious but isn’t always, at least it wasn’t for me: pushing a baby out of your body is hard work. I mean REALLY hard work. Besides the pain or emotional stress of childbirth there is intense physical strength and stamina required that isn’t as talked about. I was not as physically prepared to deliver little M as I should have been and that is one thing I want to do differently with my next baby.
There are many ways to stay (or get) in shape during pregnancy. Prenatal yoga is a popular option and there are classes available in many communities. You can also buy workout videos or find videos online that make working out at home easy if you don’t have access to or have time to go to a gym.
Two of the best inexpensive and low-impact ways to exercise during pregnancy is simply going for walks or swimming. Whatever you choose to do, make sure it is safe for pregnancy and always double check with your doctor before you start.
Do Your Research
Don’t assume childbirth will come naturally to you. It may be one of the most natural processes in existence but you will be less afraid, feel more in control, and will be better prepared if you know what is happening and why.
Learn the stages of childbirth, possible conditions and complications, common medical procedures and how/why they are preformed (such as C-section, episiotomies, use of forceps and vacuum, etc.) techniques to help labour to progress, pain coping methods, pain relief options and the pros and cons that accompany them, common medications or drugs used during labour, and different birthing positions.
The more you know, the better prepared you will be to make informed decisions about your childbirth experience. It is also helpful to learn postpartum basics like how to care for any tearing, stitches or C-section incisions you may receive, infant care basics and breastfeeding if that is your goal. If your plan is to bottle feed, learn about different brands of formula or look into pumping breast milk for your baby. There are many ways to learn about these things. You can read books: I highly recommend Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, written by one of the most well-known and successful midwives in the world, Ina May. You can purchase a copy of the book here.
You can also take advantage of the internet, although I caution you to discern the materials you read wisely. While the internet is an extremely convenient and helpful tool, not everything found there is a reliable source.
Lastly, one of my favourite ways to learn about the basics of childbirth and postpartum period is taking a childbirth class. This option is outlined in detail below.
Take a Class
I highly recommend taking a childbirth class because you will have access to reliable information from medical professionals who are equipped to address all your questions and concerns. There will often be time allotted during the class to practice the skills being taught, such as labour/birth positions, natural pain coping techniques, and infant care or breastfeeding.
You will also likely be presented with common medical procedures and medications used during labour and why/how they are used. This information is important and a class makes it easy to learn about it in a hands-on way.
Classes are also helpful for partners or a support person to learn how they can best support you during childbirth. Many of these classes are designed to teach about labour as a team effort and taking one is an easy way to involve your partner in the learning process without making them spend hours reading. If your husband/partner is anything like mine, he will never get around to reading a book about childbirth. Most partners want to be involved in this important life event and taking a class together makes it simpler for them.
If you are interested in a specific labour technique, such as hypnosis, the Bradly method, Lamaze, etc., you can also take a class specializing in it. These classes, as well as general childbirth classes, are often presented by hospitals or public health centres, or can be found online if preferred. Call your local hospital or public health centre to find out what they offer. Even if they don’t offer any classes, at the very least they will likely be able to direct you to someone who does.
Know What You Want
To follow-up with educating yourself about childbirth, it is important to know generally what you want in terms of your childbirth experience. It is important to consider your options, especially in terms of pain relief, medical procedures that you are or are not comfortable with, and how you would like your baby to be handled once he or she is born.
Questions to ask yourself include:
-Do I want to have someone in the room with me and who?
-Do I want to have an epidural? Do I want to try another medication for pain relief?
-Do I want to try using natural methods for pain relief and if so, which ones?
-Am I comfortable being induced and/or in what circumstances am I okay with getting induced?
-Do I want to try a specific birth position while pushing?
-Do I want to have a C-section or a vaginal birth?
-How would I like the environment to be while I give birth? Do I want silence, music playing, essential oils, dimmed lights, etc.?
-Am I okay with the use of a vacuum or forceps in the delivery of my baby? Am I comfortable with episiotomy?
-Do I want to delay my baby’s cord clamping?
-Do I want to delay my baby’s first bath?
-Do I want to experience skin-to-skin and/or breastfeed my baby immediately after birth?
These are only some of the many choices to consider concerning labour and delivery. The more decisions you make ahead of time the less stress you will have during labour when your doctor and nurses are asking you questions.
For this tip, creating a birth plan can be helpful. If you need a starting point for making a birth plan, there are some awesome templates available online. Now, all this being said…
Have an Open Mind
Do not set your heart on your birth plan. Your birth plan is just that; a plan.
While it is important to be educated in the different procedures involved in childbirth and to have preferences on how you would ideally like things to go, know that birth is not predictable and very often unexpected things happen. Know that it is okay not to follow your original birth plan exactly. The best birth plans allow for flexibility and it is okay to compromise some elements that you thought you wanted or didn’t want for the sake of your or your baby’s safety and well-being.
If you had your heart set on a natural vaginal birth and ended up with an epidural and c-section, that’s okay! The most important thing is ALWAYS coming away with a healthy mother and baby, even if that means making some changes in your birth plan along the way.
I have a friend that was committed to having a natural home birth with a midwife and after days of hard intense labour wound up in the hospital with an epidural because she was simply too exhausted to go on any longer in such pain. Both she and her baby went home happy and healthy because she was willing to try something else when her birth plan was no longer working for her. These things happen and it’s okay.
The way you give birth does not change the fact that you are strong, brave and an incredible mother to your baby. A common cause of postpartum depression in new mothers is blaming themselves for a birth that didn’t go according to plan. Don’t fall into this trap.
Choose the Right Doctor/Midwife, Then Trust Them
The doctor or midwife you choose can greatly enhance your birth experience or make it more difficult for you. It is important to choose someone who will share and support your beliefs about childbirth rather than someone who will disagree and pressure you towards medications and/or procedures you are not comfortable with.
It is a wise idea to look for recommendations from friends and family and to interview several doctors or midwives before you choose one. Look for someone you feel comfortable with and shares most of your preferences. Some doctors have a higher rate of C-section than others and if you are looking for a vaginal birth, lean toward a doctor with a lower rate of unplanned C-section. Likewise, some doctors are more inclined to use certain medications or induce a pregnant woman before 42 weeks gestation. Remember tip number 5 above and know that unexpected things happen during labour, but it will make your birth experience more positive if you find a doctor who will do everything he or she can to safely honour your birth plan.
It’s important to feel like your care provider is on your side, but will still do what needs to be done to ensure your safety and the safety of your baby.
Have a Support Person
A support person is anyone you feel comfortable being in the labour and delivery room with you, who knows you and your birth plan and is willing to support you through the whole process.
Often the support person is a husband, but it doesn’t have to be. It is common for a best friend, sister or mother take the role of support person for a labouring woman. Some mothers also choose to hire a doula to take the role of support person, or to accompany their husband or family member in supporting them. This can be helpful especially if you want your husband or family member with you but are unsure if he/she will be able to offer the support you need on his/her own. Doulas are professional persons and extremely knowledgeable about birth and various techniques. Their sole job is to be your advocate and support you in your birth. Hiring a doula can be a wise and helpful decision for many people.
Whoever you choose to be your support person, it is important that he/she is able to be calm in stressful situations and can speak up on your behalf when your birth plan is not being reasonably followed. He/she should have some ideas of ways to help you cope through pain and stress and be willing to look after your best interests; whether that means reminding a nurse about an element of your birth plan that is not being followed, fetching ice chips for you, holding your hand and praying for you, offering encouragement when things are not going according plan, or even suggesting new techniques when the old ones aren’t working. Your support person should be someone you trust. Having someone by your side during childbirth can be the difference between a positive birth experience or a birth nightmare.
Rest at Home as Long as You Can
I know it’s difficult, especially if you’re an excited first-time Mom, but a big piece of advice from me is to stay home and rest as long as you can before you go to the hospital.
One thing I wish I would have done with little M was trying to rest and sleep a little in beginning, while my contractions were still mild and before labour got intense. I had a fairly long labour and by the time I was ready to push I was so exhausted I hardly had the physical strength left to do it.
Coping with the pain and stress also becomes more difficult when you’re exhausted and sleep deprived. Of course, always discuss with your care provider when the best time is to go to the hospital. The general rule of thumb is 4-1-1. When contractions are coming 4 minutes apart, lasting for one minute, and this has been going on for one hour. Again, always confirm with your care provider and if you’re not sure, you can always make a quick phone call.
Try Different Things
There are many ways to cope with labour pain, help labour to progress or even push when it’s time. If what you’re doing isn’t working for you, try something else. Or if you seem to be stuck in a rut, switch it up.
It can be scary and hard to try new things in the throws of labour but it really is helpful. Some of the best ways to help labour progress are walking, squatting, bouncing or swaying on a birthing ball, or sitting on a toilet. These actions are helpful because they get your baby jiggled into the best possible position for delivery and help your baby move down. This downward migration causes the baby’s head to press against your cervix and speeds dilation. This also means that your labour can become more intense.
Write It All Down
Or better yet, have someone do it for you. Your support person, perhaps? Trust me, time ceases to exist logically during labour. Hours pass by in a blur, yet sometimes minutes never seem to end. You won’t be in the frame of mind to try to remember the details but if you’re anything like me, you’re going to want to remember them later.
At the time you may think you never want to remember the pain but childbirth is a precious memory to cherish. It’s your child’s unique journey into the world and a testimony of your strength, no matter how your baby is born. Plus it is so neat to be able to compare this labour experience with any other ones you may have in the future. It’s amazing how quickly you forget after it’s all over. Life moves on and the birth of your baby becomes a distant blur. As my last tip for childbirth, write it all down as it happens. The approximate time of certain events such as your water breaking, first contraction, arriving at the hospital, beginning to push, etc. Write down the progression of your cervical dilation and any details your doctor mentions. Include things you did during labour that seemed to help or did not help at all and record your feelings throughout the process. If it’s all too much during your labour, write down some of these details as soon after your baby is born as you can. You can use a notepad and pen, or if you’re like me, jot short little notes down on your phone. However you prefer to do it, you’ll be thankful you did weeks, months or even years down the road.
We truly hope these tips will lead to you having a positive birth experience!
Caroline is the creator and editor of Swaddles n’ Bottles. She is a mama to two little girls and wife to one amazing husband.