Know the plan
Once labor starts, you don’t want to waste energy by stressing out. That’s why it’s important to know exactly what to do, says Elizabeth Stein, a certified nurse-midwife in New York City. Talk to your provider about whether you should call her or the hospital first and how long you should stay home. Also, discuss the likely scenarios with your partner: What if one of you are at work and one's at home? Will you go to the hospital together or meet there? (And, if necessary, how will you get there solo?)
There’s no exercise proven to make labor easier, but The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says staying fit can help you better handle any pain. It may also increase your stamina.
If you took Lamaze or another childbirth class, you probably learned that deep breathing can help with pain management. Throughout your pregnancy, consider working in another practice that focuses on breathing, like yoga. “[Yoga] breathing techniques and the philosophy of staying present really helped me,” says Bumpie klio79. “I think my yoga background helped me to have the endurance and mental focus to get through the experience.”
Have a support team
Make sure the people you plan to have around are ones you can count on to make you feel better. “My mom and husband were the best!” says Bumpie LadyDelilah. “They really anticipated my needs and were so helpful during the labor period. They made the experience that much more beautiful.”
If you’re a social butterfly, you might want a whole team of your nearest and dearest with you (if your hospital allows it). But if you feel more comfortable when you’re one-on-one with your partner, make them your only guest in the delivery room.
Some moms also decide they want a specialist there to help them through labor. “My doula, Breana, helped me manage the pain, since I went med-free,” says Bumpie InLovewSB. “She brought in a soothing CD. And she acted as a go-between for us and the nurses. By the end of the day, I loved her like my oldest friend.”
Save your energy
You’ll probably spend much of the first part of labor in your home. While you’re there, relax as much as you can, suggests Stein. “Don’t get to the hospital exhausted,” she says. Try taking a soothing shower, or ask your partner for a tender massage.
It’s also a good idea to have some snacks (something light and appetizing) and plenty of water, since once you’re at the hospital, you may not be able to eat and you’ll need your energy.
Get out of bed
Some women find that moving around during labor helps baby get into position for birth. It can also help you feel less antsy waiting for his arrival after you get to the hospital. If you’re up to it, walk the halls. Or sit and bounce on an inflatable birthing ball. “I loved the birthing ball!” says Bumpie CourtneyR2N.
Depending on the amenities in your delivery room, you might be able to shower or sit in a tub, which could up your comfort level. “I labored in a birthing tub at the hospital, and it made a big difference—the contractions seemed to melt away in the water,” says Bumpie SkiesOfBlue.
Go with the flow
“Be open-minded and flexible,” says Stein. Labor and delivery can be unpredictable, so let go of any preconceived notions. For example, some moms-to-be are adamant about having an anesthesia-free birth but are caught off-guard if they start wanting an epidural. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself; have an idea of what you want, but don’t feel like you’ll fail if it doesn’t go exactly as planned.
It’s likely you’ll be in an upright position when baby is born—not flat on your back. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be in the hospital bed. “Birthing beds are very flexible and can be converted to many different positions,” says Stein, so usually it’s more like sitting than lying down. But be open to other postures that, depending on how baby is positioned, could make delivery less painful or your pushing more efficient. “I prefer it when the mom is semi-squatting in an upright position. It opens the pelvis the most,” says Stein.
Listen to your provider
When it’s time to push, trust your OB or midwife to tell you when—and how hard. “I’ll say, ‘Okay, just push a little bit,’” says Stein. Do what he or she advises, and you could avoid wearing yourself out with ineffective pushing and even prevent unnecessary tearing.
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