7 effective ways to prepare yourself for childbirth
The thought of giving birth can be scary and throws up a lot of questions. So what do you need to know to get you ready for labour?
Arm yourself with labour tools
‘A birthing ball is brilliant – it can be used to ease contractions, help you rest, relieve pressure from the spine, and it helps get the baby in the right position for delivery,’ says midwife Jane Mason, co-founder of The Natural Birthing Company. ‘Heatable wheat bags can ease back pain and lavender essential oil is great for relaxation too.’
Start labour at home
It’s only natural to want to rush to hospital at the first signs of labour, but you’re likely to have a less stressed experience if you spend time at home.
‘You can relax, walk around, enjoy a warm bath, let your partner massage your back or start using a TENS machine to help with contractions,’ says midwife Sharon Trotter of Tipslimited. ‘But if your waters break, you start bleeding or your contractions are becoming hard to cope with, call your midwife.’
Get your baby lined up for birth
The ideal position for your baby to be in to ease his passage through the pelvis is head down, his back against your abdomen wall.
‘Some babies lie in the occiput posterior (OP) position – with their back against the mum’s back,’ explains Jane. In this position the baby’s head doesn’t fit down the birth canal so easily, which can result in back pain and a longer labour.
‘Spend as much time as you can in forward-leaning positions – try sitting on a birth ball, leaning on something supportive, take regular walks and swim or float on your front,’ Jane advises, as this will encourage your baby into the best position. ‘Don’t lie down for long periods or lounge on sofas, which can make the baby lie in the OP position.’
Massage yourself down there
Around 85 per cent of women tear in childbirth – an understandably alarming thought. Now this may sound unlikely, but according to Jane, ‘Perineal massage, started four to six weeks before your due date, can make the area more elastic, and may reduce the risk of tearing or needing an episiotomy.’
She advises massaging after a bath or shower, when the blood vessels are dilated, making the area more comfortable to touch. ‘Prop yourself up in bed, lubricate your thumbs with a natural oil and put one or both in your vagina. Press down, then rhythmically sweep them side to side in a U-shape. Do this daily for five minutes.’
Prepare to alter your birth plan
You may have your heart set on your ideal place to give birth, but that can change as labour progresses. ‘Your birth plan is a guideline to express your desires for things like pain relief, who you’d like to cut the cord, labour positions,’ says community midwife Kate Rudd.
‘But it’s impossible to predict the path of each labour. I’ve seen women who wanted a water birth but needed a C-section, and others determined to go drug-free who went for an epidural. Each birth was still special. Just be flexible so you can adapt to what happens.’
Eat like an athlete
‘Labour is like a long-distance run – it takes a lot of strength and stamina,’ says Kate. ‘Eating little and often helps sustain energy levels. Pasta, honey on toast, cereal and nuts are great before labour. You may not feel like eating during labour, so try smoothies made with yogurt or banana.’
Don’t watch birth programmes
You may think it’s good preparation, but tuning into shows such as One Born Every Minute might not be the best idea. ‘A normal, calm birth doesn’t make it onto TV because it’s not sensational,’ says Jane.
‘The screaming women and emergencies you see can put you off – but it doesn’t have to be like that. In reality, labour starts slowly and the contractions and intensity of the situation increase gradually, giving you time to acclimatise.'
She continues, 'by the time you are giving birth, you won’t feel the fear and repulsion you may have experienced watching these types of programmes.’