There are so many things to think about and learn and practice when preparing for childbirth. It can seem overwhelming to know where to start and which things are really worth your effort. By this point in your pregnancy, you’ve likely already chosen your doctor or midwife and educated yourself about pregnancy. You know that you need to pack a hospital bag and install a car seat if you haven’t already. But here are ten things you can do ahead of time that focus on the labor and birth part of the process. Let’s dive in and talk about preparing for natural birth.
Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
Table of contents
- 1. Exercise
- 2. Communicate About Your Birth Plan
- 3. Take a Childbirth Education Class
- 4. Share the Education with Your Partner
- 5. Hire a Doula
- 6. Visit the Hospital
- 7. Address Your Fears
- 8. Understand Interventions
- 9. Practice What You’ve Learned
- 10. Relax!
It is important that you stay active throughout your pregnancy. While you may feel like pregnancy is a good excuse to take it easy for nine months, the truth is that regular exercise will help:
- Reduce back pain, constipation, bloating, and swelling
- Increase your energy
- Improve your mood
- Improve your posture
- Maintain healthy weight gain
- Promote muscle tone, strength, and endurance that can lead to an easier labor and delivery
- Help you sleep better
- Decrease your risk of gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, and cesarean delivery (1, 2)
In terms of preparing you specifically for natural birth, exercise promotes muscle tone, strength, and endurance, all of which lead to an easier labor and delivery. Aim for 30 minutes of activity at least five days a week.
Learn more: Exercise During Pregnancy: Benefits and Safety
2. Communicate About Your Birth Plan
Writing a birth plan is a good way to make sure that your providers know your wishes for your labor and birth. It is harder to think clearly and communicate your desires when you’re in labor and working through contractions. You can help your birth team understand your philosophies and desires, and also remind yourself and your partner, by making a plan ahead of time.
But writing a birth plan is only one part of it. The best way to make sure that your doctor or midwife is “on the same page” as you about things is to discuss your wishes early and often. The written birth plan will give the nurses a heads-up at the birth, and the doctor can glance at it as a refresher, but it will all go more smoothly if you’ve had actual conversations with your doctor during your prenatal visits.
For guidance on writing a plan: How to Develop a Natural Childbirth Birth Plan
3. Take a Childbirth Education Class
Most doctors and midwives encourage pregnant women to take a high-quality childbirth education class. Many women credit the things they learned in their classes with helping them feel safe and in control, and research has shown that this empowered attitude leads to a more positive birth experience. You will learn about what to expect and what happens in your body physically during labor, birth, and the postpartum period. Interventions will be explained and discussed so that you can decide how you feel and where your comfort level is with each. And in a class geared for natural birth, you’ll also learn a variety of coping tools and strategies to help you manage the pain of labor.
It’s usually recommended that you take a childbirth education class early in the third trimester — late enough in pregnancy for you to remember the information when the time comes, but early enough to spend some time practicing what you’ve learned. (Also important: Don’t skip the practice! You’ll be able to access the tools you’ve learned much more easily during labor if you have practiced them regularly beforehand.)
4. Share the Education with Your Partner
A good birth partner is worth his or her weight in gold. Of course, it’s important for mom to learn all she can about the process and ways to cope with it independently. But some may not realize how essential it is for her birth partner to learn labor support techniques to prep him/her for their role. When labor comes, an educated birth partner can help mom stay relaxed during contractions with techniques like massage, applying pressure, or encouraging her to use breathing rituals. He or she may be able to suggest and help move mom into positions to help increase her comfort and encourage labor progress. And with good communication, the partner will know how mom feels about the inevitable changes in plan that arise, like interventions being offered or last-minute decisions that need to be made.
Kopa Birth’s Partner Labor Guides are a helpful too to guide partners during the birth process. They can be purchased separately or included free as part of the Kopa Prepared Plus online childbirth course.
5. Hire a Doula
A doula is a specially trained birth worker whose job is to support mom and her partner during labor and childbirth. Studies have found that women who receive continuous, one-on-one support during labor are more likely to have a vaginal birth that starts without intervention. Additionally, they are also less likely to use pain medication in labor and less likely to have a cesarean (3).
You may wonder if a doula is necessary when mom has both a partner and the medical staff there for her. And no, they’re not necessary. But if your budget allows, a doula is such a valuable asset. Your doula is an extra set of hands to help care for both mom and the birth partner, providing mom with extra support and taking the stress of being the sole support off of the birth partner.
In fact, when I had baby #7 earlier this year, I had a doula for the first time, and she suggested things that neither I (an experienced mom, nurse, and childbirth educator) nor my husband (birth partner extraordinaire) thought of at the moment, given a tiring week of interrupted sleep for both of us. It made for an incredible birth experience!
6. Visit the Hospital
You may feel like it’s enough to know where the hospital is. But there’s much more to a smooth trip to the hospital when you’re in labor. You need to know how long it takes to get there during peak traffic, where exactly you park and enter to go to labor and delivery (and if that’s always the entrance or if you have to use a different one if you come in after hours), what the admission process looks like, etc. Things will feel smoother on “baby day” if your partner can get to the cafeteria and back without getting lost, and knows where the nearest store is in case you realize you’ve forgotten to pack something you want.
While you’re at it, arrange to tour the actual maternity ward as well. The goal is to decrease the “unknown” elements of birth and increase your sense of familiarity and confidence. It helps to go in knowing what the facility is like, what the rooms look like, what equipment you’ll see and hear around you. As you’re practicing your labor coping tools in the weeks leading up to your due date, you may even find that it’s easier to visualize what your birth will be like once you’ve actually seen where you’ll give birth.
7. Address Your Fears
Let’s be honest… Most pregnant women have some degree of fear about labor and wonder how painful childbirth will be. And while we all want to focus on the positive, it’s also important to honor your concerns and express them openly and honestly. Take some time to really reflect on how you’re feeling. Find the places where your worry is settling and work to find the resolve you need.
Education is Key
Some fears can be significantly decreased by getting more education on a topic. For example, if you’re worried about your baby being injured during birth, find statistics on that, and talk to your doctor or midwife. Birth injuries are rare, and learning more about that will likely ease your mind. (In fact, your doctor or midwife is an excellent source of information about so many of things you may be worried about.)
Some fears can’t be wiped away with statistics, but can still be managed more easily if you’ve made the effort to start working through them ahead of time. If you fear a loss of control when labor is intense, spend some time on that. What does “out of control” mean to you, and what scares you about it? What can your birth partner do in the moment to help you feel safe, or what do you need the hospital staff to know in order to best help you? Also, practicing labor coping tools and labor-focused relaxation regularly can often help mom feel a greater sense of control.
8. Understand Interventions
One important way to prepare for natural birth is to understand what unexpected situations may arise. You can avoid unnecessary stress and confusion by learning ahead of time about interventions that may be offered during labor. If you’ve never learned about the differences between a foley bulb and cytotec induction, you may feel less confident to make last-minute decisions. When emotions are high, some moms feel rushed and confused. It’s possible to avoid, or at least lessen, a scenario in which you feel at a knowledge disadvantage.
Spend some time researching common labor/childbirth interventions. Learn why they may be offered, the benefits and risks, the statistics surrounding their use, etc. Speak to your doctor or midwife about interventions. (If you don’t know where to start, we cover the most common labor interventions in our online birthing classes.) Read high-quality books and information from trusted websites.
If you’d like to start now, Kopa Birth has articles about a number of labor interventions — inducing labor, epidurals, fetal monitors, c-section, and more. Head to our interventions archive to find articles about more than a dozen different interventions you may encounter in the hospital.
9. Practice What You’ve Learned
The best childbirth classes will teach you many ways to relax your body, breathe through contractions, focus your attention, and cope with pain. And just knowing about these things is beneficial, because you won’t be left floundering during labor. However, these new skills and tools won’t be easy for you to use if you’ve never practiced them. Using an unfamiliar coping tool, like patterned paced breathing or the double hip squeeze, takes practice.
You may find that it feels a little silly to you to practice these skills beforehand. Some people enjoy getting geared up for the big event, but others find it embarrassing to make funny sounds or find it hokey to recite affirmations. My advice would be to just embrace all of it. Acknowledge to your partner that you feel silly doing it, have a chuckle together, and go for it!
Whatever you do, don’t feel panicked by the idea of preparation. Don’t take it all so seriously that you feel like you’re failing if you don’t cross every one of these things off your list. Take one thing at a time, work through what you can do to prepare, and enjoy the fact that you’re almost there!
Kopa Birth’s online birthing classes allow you to prepare for a natural hospital birth from the comfort of your own home, 24/7. Enroll today in our free online childbirth class and start preparing for your natural birth!
- Exercise during pregnancy. (2019, July). Retrieved from https://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Exercise-During-Pregnancy
- Exercise during pregnancy. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/exercise-during-pregnancy/
- Hodnett ED, Gates S, Hofmeyr GJ, Sakala C. Continuous support for women during childbirth. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, Issue 7. Art. No.: CD003766. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003766.pub5.