There are many ways for expectant parents to prepare for childbirth. You may already be doing many of them, such as: Filling your brain with information and current research; Attending childbirth preparation classes; Taking notes and making lists; Hearing other people’s experiences and opinions; Reading birth stories; Caring for your body and your baby by getting prenatal care, eating well, and exercising. However, sometimes meaningful psychological, emotional, and spiritual childbirth preparation can be overlooked amidst all the other activities and focused of pregnancy.
Here is my list of ten important aspects of childbirth preparation that holistically, thoroughly, and mindfully prepare you for a wide range of possibilities you may face during childbirth, postpartum, breastfeeding, and parenting, and for the accompanying physical and emotional experiences that you may experience.
1. Dig Deep
Examine your beliefs, judgments, and assumptions about pain and coping with pain. What do you already know about labor pain? What do you think is okay and not okay to do during childbirth? How many ways are there to cope with the intensity of labor? What do you judge in yourself or others? What are you willing to do to get your baby out?
2. Get Real
Gain a realistic view of what happens in birth. Avoid dramatic fear-based shows and idealized glorious births filmed in soft-focus with soothing music. Instead, head for a childbirth class or video that honestly and objectively discusses and shows the natural movements, sounds, and activities that are common at most births. Your childbirth teacher or doula may even role-play a realistic contraction, complete with rocking, moaning, cursing, or crying. Your childbirth preparation should include sourcing from a variety of websites and people, even those you don’t click with right away.
3. Tend to Your Body
Excellent prenatal nutrition and regular exercise are crucial to preparing for the physical rigors of birth. Taking good care of your body means taking good care of your baby, and lessens the risk of complications during and after birth. Yoga, stretching, swimming, and some cardio work (such as a brisk daily walk) get you ready for the hard work of labor, and can elevate your pain threshold. Labor progress, recovery from birth, and postpartum weight-loss are typically easier when the birthing person is in good physical shape before birth. Consider doing some body balancing activities, getting massages, or seeing a chiropractor. Physical preparation is childbirth preparation!
4. Align Your Birth Team
Wherever you plan to birth (birthing center, hospital or at home), ensure that your midwife or doctor is in alignment with your intentions and beliefs about pain and pain management. Beginning and maintaining an open, honest dialog during prenatal visits is very important. Consider using a birth plan site that facilitates parent-provider communication. By clearly articulating who you are and explaining your values and priorities, you set up a relationship based on mutual respect and trust. This will help foster positive interactions during labor as well.
5. Invite Partner(s) into the Picture
Whether your birth partner(s) are your life partner, your lover, your friend, or your mother, it is important for all of you to explore expectations about birth and postpartum. Attend classes that explore partners’ perspectives, because they often have beliefs, hopes, and concerns about birth and parenting that are different from yours (and just as important!). Partners need to know how to fulfill two roles: to help you and to tend to their own needs for information and support. Having space to share their experiences and feelings may allow them to be more attentive to yours.
6. Create a Circle of Support
Gather your emotional and practical resources as soon as possible. It’s natural to underestimate the amount of help you’ll need and appreciate once your baby has arrived. Practice asking for and receiving help now. Know who in your community and family can give you what you need, whether it be a shoulder to cry on or a home-cooked meal. A doula (trained perinatal professional who specializes in emotional and practical support before, during and/or after birth) is considered by many families to be the most important tool to have during the childbearing year. Having your allies in place allows you to focus on your important work of growing, birthing, feeding, and parenting your baby.
7. Prepare for the Physical Intensity and Pain
There is a distinction between pain and suffering. Pain and the physical sensations of birth are simply what is. Suffering occurs when we believe negative internal stories we tell ourselves about the pain. (“I am weak” or “I’ll never get through this.”) Increasing awareness of the workings of your mind under stress helps you build a pain-coping mindset. Learning mindfulness processes is the first step. Taking it further–a commitment to daily practice– strengthens your mental resolve. Knowing that almost every laboring parent experiences negative feelings, at some point, builds determination as well as compassion for yourself when things don’t go as planned. Many parents find that spending just ten minutes a day engaged in a mindful activity (for example: connecting with their baby or visualizing themselves opening in labor) helps unwind their nervous system, increase resilience, and foster a positive outlook.
8. Look Your Fears in the Eye
“Worry is the work of pregnancy,” writes Pam England in Birthing From Within. What are you really hoping to avoid in birth or postpartum? Be willing to explore the possibility of unwished-for events. If your expectations and plans for birth are flexible and arising from self-awareness, then when your birth goes in an unexpected direction, you can source from love and courage, rather than fear. You can remain present to yourself and do what needs to be done, even when it’s not what you envisioned or hoped for. If you are functioning in a state of fear, panic, obsession, or avoidance about particular aspects of pregnancy, birth, and parenting, then you have some inner exploration to do! Find a friend, childbirth educator, or doula who is not afraid of fear and will allow you space to share and move through your fears. There are many ways of addressing fears, including hypnosis, meditation, art-making, ritual, visualization, and counseling.
9. Tend to Your Heart and Spirit
Journaling, dance, art, music, spiritual practice, and being in nature are ways of connecting to our hearts and intuition. Balance structured activities (such as childbirth preparation classes) with the freedom of spontaneous expression. When you feel alive and mindful now, then later, as birth unfolds, your internal knowing will help guide you during intense moments.
10. Dive into Birth!
In labor, there are lots of things you and your support team can do to help you cope with the intensity of birth: loving touch and massage, moving and changing positions, keeping hydrated and nourished, keeping your focus and determination, words of support, guided meditation and visualization, love and encouragement, listening and moving to music, and much more. Know that moments of doubt and fear will arise and be willing to surrender to the power of birth—that which cannot be controlled or planned for. Be willing to get down-and-dirty, to give it all you’ve got, and to do your best even when things get hard or scary.
One last thing to keep in mind: your birth matters. When you and the people around you believe that preparing your mind, body, and soul for birth is important, then you can truly dive deeply and whole-heartedly into the experience. No matter what unexpected twists and turns may unfold in your journey, it is YOUR journey. You can come through one of the most intense experiences of your life full of self-love and new knowing.
Anything else that you think is important? Let me know!
I can help you prepare for childbirth, breastfeeding, and your transition to parenthood. If you live in Santa Barbara, the greater Los Angeles area, or the Las Vegas valley, check out my schedule of group classes. I also offer private childbirth preparation classes in your home (in those areas) or by phone/video call, on a wide variety of topics. I look forward to hearing from you.