Whenever I meet with midwifery clients, a question I'm often asked is, 'What is my philosophy around birth?' That's an easy one for me—my philosophy is whatever your philosophy is.
A positive birth comes in many forms and is defined only by you—your preferences, plans, expectations and needs.
Certainly, birth is a force of nature and not everything is within our control. If things don't go the way you hope, it is not your fault! But there are steps we can take to help steer things in the right direction.
Here are my top 10 tips to help you have the labor and birth of your dreams.
1. Choose your place of birth carefully
According to recent research, your risk of having a Cesarean section depends more on your choice of a hospital than any health complications you or your baby may experience on the big day.
Different hospitals and providers have different protocols and philosophies, and those can make a difference when it comes to birth. So, doing some homework on where you choose to birth can ultimately help make your birth a much more positive one. It's OK to ask potential hospitals and providers what their C-section and intervention rates are, for example.
If avoiding a Cesarean section and interventions is really important to you, a birth center or home birth might be a great option to consider, as well. Of course, C-sections and interventions can become necessary and when they are, it's a wonderful thing that they exist. Talk to your home birth or birth center team about what happens when the need for a transfer arrises.
2. Walk your way to a positive birth
Light exercise in pregnancy reduces the risk of complications and is good for you and your baby. Additionally, you'll build endurance and focus—all helpful in labor.
Exercise in pregnancy is not just good for you but your baby too. Moms who exercise regularly have less weight gain, so the risk of complications (such as gestational diabetes and high blood pressure) may be reduced. Your baby is also more likely to stay within normal weight guidelines, which means you're setting them up for a lifetime of health, too.
You get to share those lovely, happy-making endorphins that your body releases when you exercise with your baby as well. Yoga, walking and swimming are great low-impact options. Just chat with your provider to make sure your plans are safe, and then, have fun.
3. Consider an independent birth class
Wherever you decide to give birth, consider taking a childbirth class offered independently from your hospital or birth center. That way, you and your partner can navigate any decisions that need to be made in your birth setting more confidently. You'll learn effective labor and birthing techniques, how to advocate for yourself as a birthing person and more about what to expect from the labor and delivery process.
Haven't taken a birth class yet, mama? We created the perfect one for you. Sign up for Motherly's birth class here.
4. Get support, such as hiring a doula
In a busy hospital or birth center, your nurse may have to look after more than one expectant mom, so that leaves your partner as your sole source of continuous support on the big day.
There's a saying by pediatrician Dr. John Kennell that goes 'if doulas were a drug, it would be unethical not to use them."
There are many benefits to hiring a birth doula, including less need for pain relief, significantly reduced Cesarean births, less Pitocin, a reduction in postnatal depression, and higher breastfeeding rates. There's really no downside to having extra support on the big day.
5. Have a prepared partner
If you have someone who will be with you in labor, encourage them to prepare—a lot. A well-prepared partner is one of the most important tools in your labor toolkit, especially if your nurse is busy.
Far too often, partners have been sidelined in the birth room, but with support, information and training, they can be the rock you need on the day for emotional and physical support.
When researching classes, find one where your partner can learn hands-on comfort measures. Consider writing your birth preferences together, so your partner feels confident to facilitate and advocate for you on the big day. Your job is to get in the zone and stay there—your partner's job is everything else.
6. Avoid the negative nellies
No doubt you've already met a few—those well-meaning friends and family members who can't wait to tell you how awful labor is. Find your positive birth village comprised of people who will uplift you, encourage you and keep you feeling excited about what's to come.
When someone does try to tell you a negative or scary-sounding story, don't be afraid to stop them by saying something like, "Thanks for wanting to share this with me! I would love to hear this story after I give birth, but right now, I'm choosing not to listen to too many birth stories."
7. Write your clear birth preferences
Written birth preferences are a fabulous communication tool. You've likely never met your labor and delivery nurse before, so a written birth preference sheet is a great way to help them get to know you and the kind of birth you'd like very quickly.
It's not a contract or guarantee, but writing out your preferred plan helps you and your partner explore your options for the big day, as well as to access personalized care rather than standard hospital protocols.
No need to turn your preferences into a thesis—just one page with bullet points will suffice.
8. Get your bump in the bath
Baths are known as the midwife's epidural. Deep warm water immersion shortens labor, reduces pain and allows for greater freedom of movement. You are weightless—absolute bliss in labor! No tub? Try the shower instead.
9. Build your labor toolkit
I always advise my clients to labor with a yoga ball. Just sitting on it opens the pelvis and reduces pain as you move your pelvis around your descending baby.
Acupressure, music and pre-practiced relaxation exercises can also help you feel calmer and more in control. You can also consider speaking to your provider about using a TENs machine. This is self-administered—all you need is a partner to apply the sticky patches to your lower back in labor. In Europe, many moms reserve their TENS units in their local drugstore for their due month, so it's ready to go whenever they need it.
Medication can also part of your labor toolkit—keep everything on the table for the most positive birth possible.
10. Focus on what can go right
It's very easy to spend time in pregnancy mentally rehearsing the kind of birth we don't want, rather than the birth we do want. Your mindset heading into birth is so important. Start training your brain to prepare for a calm, positive birth. The decrease in stress that this provides you will help you enjoy your pregnancy more, and may carry you into a more relaxing birth when the time comes.
A version of this post was originally published on January 2, 2020. It has been updated.