9 simple strategies for a calm labor & peaceful birth
You’ve got this.
Have you ever watched a birth scene in a movie or on a TV show? Chances are it was pretty intense and loud, and made you cringe at least once.
As a midwife, I’m here to tell you that birth is just not like that in real life.
Yes, it is intense. But it can be incredibly peaceful, gracefully serene and breathtakingly beautiful at the same time.
Here are some techniques you can use to bring calm into your birthing room, whether you’re having your baby at a hospital, birth center or at home. C-section mamas, look for the asterisks to know which tips work for you, too.
How to stay calm during labor
1. Take a birth class
Knowledge is power. Take a birth class that respects your choices and empowers you to give birth with awareness. You’ll feel calmer if you understand what’s going on, and you’ll know how to make decisions as your birth story unfolds.
We are particularly fond of Motherly’s Becoming Mama™ Online Birth Class, and we’ve designed it for ALL types of birth, so **C-section mamas, we’ve got you covered, too.
2. Play a tune
Has a song ever moved you to tears? Or instantly lifted your mood? That’s because music has a profound effect on our emotional state. Heidi Lengel, a doula, music therapist and owner of Fulheart Family Support in Philadelphia, says:
“Research shows that the effective use of music during labor lowers anxiety and pain perception as well as increases emotional and physical comfort.”
So why not crank your favorite tunes in your labor room?
Check out Motherly’s labor playlist!
**C-section mamas: Ask if you can bring some music into the OR with you. We bet the staff will be on board because, hey, they get to enjoy it too!
3. Smell the roses (or lavender)
Scent has such a powerful connection to our emotions. When we smell something pleasant and soothing, we instinctively close our eyes and take a deep breath. You can harness this when you are in labor. Studies have found that the use of aromatherapy while in labor may help women experience less pain and feel more relaxed. Bonus: It can make your hospital labor room smell less well, hospital-y.
Pack a bottle of essential oil in your labor bag, and put a drop or two on a cotton ball next to you for an instant mood change (our personal favorites are lavender for relaxation and orange for an energy boost).
To learn more about the safety of aromatherapy in pregnancy, check with your provider and read this.
**C-section mamas: Ask if your partner can bring the essential oil cotton ball into the OR with you.
It sounds simple, but it is oh so important. And easy to forget.
Breathing has both physical and emotional benefits. Your body (especially your uterus) needs oxygen to do all the awesome work it’s up to, and your baby needs oxygen to thrive. When you inhale, think about sending a big dose of power and energy down into your uterus and baby. They’ll thank you for it!
Breathing deeply can also be incredibly therapeutic. It gives you something to focus on during your contractions and will help keep you calm. And at the end of each contraction, take a big, cleansing breath to remind yourself that that contraction is over, and you now have a moment of rest.
When you take these deep breaths, try breathing in through your nose for a count of 5 (or whatever feels comfortable to you), and out through your mouth for the same count.
**C-section mamas: This one’s for you, too!
5. Repeat a mantra
A mantra is a word or short phrase that you repeat over and over, as a tiny (but powerful) meditation or reminder. Using a mantra in birth can help you focus and can instill a real sense of calm as well as confidence. There are no rules when it comes to your mantra. The right one is whatever works best for you. Some examples:
- Breathe in calm, breathe out tension
- My body knows just what to do
- My baby is coming
- I trust myself
- I am safe, my baby is safe
- I let the wave carry me
- I’ve got this
Pro tip: Start practicing now. You want your mantra to feel safe and familiar when you are labor. It will come more naturally and it will be more effective.
**C-section mamas: This one is awesome for you.
6. Lean on your support person
Your support person plays such a huge role in helping you to stay calm during your birth. Their presence alone can be very soothing. But they can also serve as your advocate, helping you communicate your desires with the birth team so you can focus on laboring. Let them know what’s important to you, and include them as you practice your coping skills before you go into labor so that they can work seamlessly with you.
**C-section mamas: Your support person will be in the OR with you and can for sure help you relax. They can talk to you, guide you through a relaxation exercise or simply rub your hair.
If I had to pick one thing to focus on in labor, it would be movement. Throughout your labor, your baby is making tiny but very important movements to navigate her way down and out. When you move, you change the space within your body, which gives her the opportunity to do what she needs to do. Therefore, moving results in faster labors and decreased pain.
And it just feels good. Think of a contraction as a wave (many people even call contractions “surges”). If you’re standing in the ocean and a big wave comes, you can stand rigid and try to resist it, but chances are it will knock you down. Or you can let your body go a little limp and move WITH with wave. You’ll still feel it, of course, but instead of falling over, you’ll be carried along gently. Same thing in labor.
8. Hire a doula
A doula is a trained professional who provides consistent non-medical support to you during labor and birth. In other words, while she won’t be making decisions about your plan of care, she knows a ton about birth and will help you cope. Research finds that women who have doulas report more satisfying birth experiences.
We should add that doulas are awesome for both you and your partner. They need a little TLC during birth, too, and a doula can provide support to you both.
**C-section mamas: Some hospitals will allow you to bring both your partner and a doula into the OR with you, so don’t be afraid to ask.
9. Try relaxation & visualization exercises
Guided meditations in the form of a relaxation or visualization exercise are awesome when you are in labor. A relaxation exercise will help you release the tension in each part of your body, while a visualization will allow you to envision peaceful images and settings that help you find your Zen. You can practice these now, and then ask your partner to read them to you while you’re in labor.
**C-section mamas: This can definitely be done in the OR.
This piece was originally published on January 27, 2017. It has been updated.