I hear so many expectant parents saying, ‘I’ll just go with the flow, what will be, will be…’ And to an extent, this is true. Yes, birth is unpredictable and yes, you won’t be able to completely control what happens. But in fact, there are lots of things you can do to prepare and get yourself in the best possible frame of mind for birth. You can - in other words - stack the odds in your favour, no matter what path your birth takes you on.
Evidence shows that a positive birth is less about the type of delivery you had and more about how you felt during labour. It’s about whether you feel supported, involved in the decision-making process, respected, relaxed, and in control, rather than the type of birth you have.
So with that in mind, here are 10 tips to help you prepare for a positive birth experience.
1. Know your options
Making a birth plan is a good place to start when educating yourself about your birth options and choices. In your birth plan, prepare for your ideal birth but also consider alternative scenarios like an induction and what you would like to happen and what matters most to you in each of those cases.
For example, immediate skin-to-skin and delayed cord clamping can still usually be accommodated in most birth scenarios, but it’s worth noting these down so that your midwives are aware of your preferences.
2. Choose what social media, TV, and stories you expose yourself to wisely
Negative birth stories can fuel any deep-rooted fears and beliefs that you might have about birth from your childhood or long-term media exposure. Fear has a very real effect on childbirth, producing the ‘fight or flight’ hormone adrenaline while inhibiting the ‘feel good’ hormone oxytocin, which fuels labour.
Reading positive birth stories, joining supportive groups online and in person, or putting up positive birth affirmations around the house are all simple ways to help change the narrative. You might also like to avoid TV programmes that over-dramatise birth for the time being and, if anyone volunteers to tell you their birth horror story, say that you’d love to hear it after your baby has arrived!
3. Chat with your birth partner well before the birth
How would you like to be supported by your birth partner in labour? Maybe you’d like for them to provide massage, words of encouragement, music, or for them to cut the cord. What are you comfortable with? And what are they comfortable with? Would it help you if your birth partner takes on the responsibility of advocating for you to ensure that your birth preferences are respected? It’s a good idea to prepare for as many different scenarios as possible with your birth partner so that you’re both on the same page.
4. Consider your birth environment
You can choose to give birth at home, in a hospital, or in a birth centre. This decision is up to you, but you may be advised one way or the other. The important thing to think about is where do you think you’ll feel most relaxed and safe?
Wherever you choose, you can then really up the relaxation factor, depending on what you enjoy. Think about all five senses. What would you like to be hearing, smelling, touching, tasting, and touching during labour? Perhaps lavender essential oil sprayed on a tissue, your favourite slippers, or an awesome birth playlist will help you stay calm.
5. Do your research
‘BRAIN’ is a helpful little acronym to approach any decisions that you are faced with in pregnancy and birth. It stands for:
Benefits: what are the benefits of this? Risks: what are the risks involved? Alternatives: what are the alternatives? Instinct: what is my gut telling me? Nothing: what will happen if we do nothing?
If you’re feeling unsure about a decision, ask your midwife or doctor these questions. Informing yourself will make it much easier to make a decision that’s right for you. And remember, unless it’s an emergency, you don’t have to make a decision on the spot. There’s usually time to take a few deep breaths and regroup with your birth partner.
6. Put together your relaxation toolkit
Your toolkit might include listening to relaxation tracks, repeating positive birth affirmations, or some breathing techniques such as ‘up breathing’, which is where you breathe in slowly through the nose and then breathe out slowly through the mouth, making the exhale slightly longer than the inhale.
Ideally, you would practise these techniques in pregnancy so that they’re super familiar to you by the time the birth comes along.
7. Birth partner rehearsal
Get your birth partner to do a test drive to the hospital to familiarise themselves with the parking arrangements, admissions procedures, and facilities. Many hospitals and birth centres even have a virtual tour of the facilities on their websites.
8. Adopt a UFO position
You can practise an upright, forward, and open (UFO) position in late pregnancy as well as during birth. Try sitting on a birth ball, being on all fours, or leaning forward over a ball or bean bag as this will help make more space in the pelvis for the baby to turn or move down.
9. Consider and plan for the fourth trimester
Birth can sometimes feel like a huge wall that many of us can’t see past, but it’s worth thinking about how you will be supported postnatally (emotionally and practically). For example, you might like to stock the freezer with meals, get help with housework, find out about local support services like breastfeeding support, and think about how many visitors you’d like in the weeks after your baby is born.
10. And finally, rest and relax
In the last few weeks, as much as you can, take time for yourself to get in the most positive headspace you can as well as to physically prepare. In the beautiful chaos of the early days and weeks with a newborn there won’t be much time for you or as a couple, so have that duvet day, meal out, and pamper session and make the most of it.