Bringing a new life into the world takes a lot of work, both physically and mentally. While there’s no getting around that, a little preparation—from having a birthing discussion with your doctor to staying fit during your pregnancy—can make a big difference. Read on for tips on how to make labor and delivery easier.
1. Have a Birthing Discussion
You’ve probably heard about the importance of having a birth plan—but at the end of the day, labor and delivery can’t really be controlled, much less “planned” for. Having a birthing discussion or listing your birth preferences may be a better way to think about it.
“I recommend women write down the basics—a communication between themselves, their doctors, labor and delivery nurses, and staff,” Sara Twogood, MD, assistant professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, says. For instance, discuss who you’d like to be with you in the delivery room (family member, partner, doula). Whatever you decide, make sure the people you invite can be counted on to make you feel better—and that your hospital actually allows that many people to be in your room.
Other topics to discuss may include your expectations in terms of immediate skin-to-skin contact after delivery, your desire to avoid a c-section and episiotomy unless absolutely necessary, your preference for delayed cord clamping, your choices for pain management and what happens to your newborn immediately after delivery.
Once you’ve written down your wishes, discuss them with your doctor well before your due date so there are no surprises. “There are often medical indications for certain care, and I find discussing it with the patient helps clarify some of the items they may not fully understand when they write it down,” Twogood says. For example, if you were really hoping to videotape the birth, it may not be possible because many hospitals don’t allow it without prior written authorization due to medical and legal issues. Knowing this ahead of time can save a lot of unnecessary stress.
Some women also take Lamaze or another childbirth class, where they learn what to expect during labor and delivery and how to effectively manage pain. “Childbirth education classes inform you of what your choices are during childbirth,” Lindsey Bliss, a birth doula and co-director of Carriage House Birth in Brooklyn, New York, says. “Understanding the childbearing process can also help to alleviate anxiety and fear.”
Besides medical topics, have logistics pinned down. Take a hospital tour and know where you need to go when the big day arrives. Since you can’t plan exactly when you’ll go into labor, you should discuss with your partner things like how you’ll get to the hospital if you happen to be alone.
2. Stay Fit During Your Pregnancy
Women need stamina and strength to get through labor and delivery, and if you’re not typically active, then delivering a baby will feel even tougher. Fortunately, starting an exercise regimen can help—in fact, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that moms-to-be get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise in each week. Regular workouts can also decrease excessive swelling and weight gain during pregnancy, Twogood says.
So what exercises are fair game? Prenatal yoga, swimming, Pilates and, yes, even cardio can all be great pregnancy workouts. Ignore the old advice to never raise your heart rate above 140 beats per minute—experts now say there’s no need. Instead, just make sure you don’t exercise so vigorously that you’re out of breath or can’t finish a sentence. Talk to your doctor about what types of workouts might be best for you.
3. Know What to Do During Labor
Talk to your OB or midwife about how long you should stay home during the beginning stages of labor and when you should go to the hospital. You’ll probably spend much of the first part of labor in your house, and it’s important to relax as much as you can while you’re there. “You don’t want to arrive at the hospital exhausted,” Elizabeth Stein, a certified nurse-midwife in New York City, says. Ask your partner for a gentle back massage. Have some light snacks and drink plenty of water—you’ll need your energy, and you may not be able to eat once you’re in the hospital.
Once contractions intensify and you’re at the hospital, your focus is typically on pain management and delivery. Because you’ve had a birth discussion, you know what your options are. In general, being mobile can help with pain, Twogood says. This can include: standing (instead of sitting or lying down), swaying your hips, walking, using a birthing ball (to sit on while moving your hips back and forth or in a circular motion), taking a shower or soaking in a tub (if your hospital has one available).
If you’re lying in bed, adjust it to the most comfortable position; using a peanut ball may help as well, Twogood adds. Some women also find comfort in music and aromatherapy. Do what works for you.
4. Be Open-Minded
No matter how much you map things out and imagine how they’re going to go, they can change in an instant—and you need to be ready to change with them.
For example, some moms-to-be are adamant about having a natural birth, but are caught off guard if they find themselves wanting an epidural. It’s okay! “Labor is different for different women, and it can’t be controlled or planned by the patient or their doctor,” Twogood says.
Finally, trust the process. When it’s time to push, trust your OB or midwife to tell you when and how hard. You could avoid wearing yourself out with ineffective pushing and even prevent unnecessary tearing.
Updated December 2017