How can you prepare for childbirth?
For the majority of pregnant parents, pregnancy and childbirth are normal, healthy processes. They are a normal transition in a person’s life to parenthood. In other cultures, birth is not hidden behind closed doors, as it often is here. Instead, childbirth may be witnessed many times before you go through it yourself, which normalizes the process. In contrast, our society lacks this exposure. Due to this, pregnancy and childbirth can feel shrouded in mystery and therefore scary. Add to that, the rare cases in which they truly are dangerous, and many women are terrified of childbirth. So how can we change this? What can you do to prepare for your birth?
Prepare your mind
First, expand your knowledge about pregnancy and childbirth.
We recommend to every single client that they take a childbirth class and read books about pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding (if they plan on it), and infants! We often lend them books from our “lending library” so they don’t have to buy them.
Read Books about Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Postpartum Period
Part of this may vary by person; we find more information better than less information. Things we understand are less scary than those that are unfamiliar. If you are similar, we have numerous books we can recommend – check out our other blog about good pregnancy resources. Even if you are not similar to us, we recommend at least one book on what to expect during both pregnancy and birth and at least one about newborns/babies. We also recommend at least one book for your birth partner (if nothing else, to open the discussion of how you want them to support you for your birth).
Don’t feel like you need to spend tons of money – many books are available at the Knox County Public Library or McKay’s Used Bookstore. Here’s a list of our lending library for our clients to use for free.
We do highly recommend a few others that aren’t listed on here – like "Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn" by Penny Simkin and "The Happiest Baby on the Block" by Dr. Harvey Karp. These are great; we just don’t own them yet!
Take A Class
You have two choices for where to take classes: either a hospital-based class or an independent childbirth educator. We recommend an independent educator but you have to make the choice that makes you comfortable.
Many hospitals offer some form of childbirth education classes. The benefit to taking a class at the same hospital where you plan to deliver is that they will automatically include a tour of labor and delivery, which may decrease your anxiety when you come in labor. The risk is that it may have an agenda. They might try to sell the idea of a “right” kind of birth, which coincidentally matches the kind of birth that they offer. The other worry is that it may not discuss some of the “crunchier” aspects of birth (extensive comfort measures, holistic birth practices, or natural alternatives to modern medical management). If you do take your class from your hospital, we urge you to ask questions about things like cesarean birth rates and how many of their low risk patients have low intervention births (those which include things like intermittent fetal monitoring, eating/drinking during labor, and free movement of laboring parents), which are recommended by American College of OB/GYN (ACOG).
Your other option is to find a local childbirth educator who offers independent childbirth classes. Their credentials vary but are often from organizations like Lamaze International, International Childbirth Education Association, the Bradley Method, and Birthing From Within. You can use a main organization’s web page to find a local class or find some on our Resources Page. The benefit to these classes is that you will likely get a more holistic, broader type of childbirth education than at the hospital. They will talk about how to maximize your hospital birth but they will also talk about other options like birthing at a birth center or at home, both of which are available in Knoxville. If you choose an independent class and plan a hospital birth, you can almost always schedule your own tour of labor and delivery, even if you didn’t take the hospital’s class.
Next, increase your exposure to normal, healthy birth
Read positive birth stories and watch empowering birth videos! Ina May Gaskin’s "Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth" is a great place to start, as the first half of the book is entirely birth stories written by her clients and the second half teaches you about childbirth! There are numerous places to watch birth videos online. This one is one of our favorite birth videos right now. Roots and Wings Midwifery (a group of Knoxville homebirth midwives) made a great video at a birth Hillary was at recently. This website has a great set of birth videos because it has videos of home births, hospital births, a cesarean birth, and a vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC).
To someone like us, who love all things birth, hearing and watching these birth stories are fascinating. But even if you’re not a birth junkie, it does a few other things. First, it shows you a range of emotions that others (and maybe you) can feel during childbirth. Second, it normalizes this process, which makes it less mysterious and scary. Third, it reminds you there are women who give birth every day, many of them unmedicated. Remember: they did it and so can you!
Next, face your fears
What is it that worries you about pregnancy and childbirth? Here are some common fears. This article is written about childbirth in Australia but we have heard many of these same fears from our clients. Do you share any of these? Is something else holding you back or giving you reservations? There is plenty of evidence that a pregnant person’s psychological state can definitely affect her labor. We recommend you vocalize and work through these fears prior to that labor, whether it is with your partner, your doula, or your childbirth educator. Hopefully, they can help you move past it and into labor with a clear mind.
Last, learn about informed consent
Hopefully, you have carefully chosen a medical provider who respects you and supports the type of birth that you want. Even so, it is important to learn what informed consent is and to make sure you have been fully informed prior to any procedure. Someday, we will write a whole blog post on informed consent because it is such an important topic for pregnant and birthing parents. But for now, what I can offer is this excellent article explaining it. It is so important that you understand that you are in charge of your own birth and your own body. Make sure your labor support team is knowledgeable about what you want so that they can get you the information you need to make decisions during labor.
Prepare your body
There is a reason we compare labor to running a marathon – it is both mentally and physically challenging. If you choose an unmedicated labor or choose to get pain medication only in active labor or during transition, you will likely be more uncomfortable when you are sitting still or lying down. Due to this, you will be moving for much of your labor. Even if you choose to have an epidural, your uterus is still contracting very consistently (even if you can’t feel it, it still does the work of having a baby!).
To help your body prepare for this, it is so important for pregnant parents to get exercise! Check with your medical provider to make sure you’re cleared for exercise. Once you get the “all clear,” it is very likely that you would benefit from at least 30 minutes of exercise every day (let’s be real – is there anyone, pregnant or not, who wouldn’t benefit from this?).
Evidence Based Birth has an article on exercise in pregnancy. What stood out to me in that article was the section about gestational diabetes. According to a meta-analysis of 8 studies conducted by Tobias et. al, regular physical activity before you get pregnant reduces your risk for gestational diabetes by 55%! And regular physical activity during early pregnancy decreases your risk for gestational diabetes by 24%. Are you ready to start exercising? Check out our other blog about fun ways to exercise around Knoxville.
We have heard a very common belief that exercise toward the end of your pregnancy may actually help your baby get in a better position for a vaginal delivery. I couldn’t find any evidence from scientific studies that showed this, but I also couldn’t find any studies showing harm. If you feel uncomfortable with these, you can also ask your medical provider about them before starting. If you’re interested, here are some exercise to try for fetal positioning.
We know that this much preparation for childbirth can seem daunting but we promise you will be glad you put in the effort. You have 40 weeks (almost 10 months!) of pregnancy for a reason. While your body works on growing a healthy baby, you are in charge of preparing both your mind and your body for childbirth and the time after. Some aspects of this preparation may be very exciting, whereas some may not – your personal preferences definitely play a role here. If you’re struggling with preparing for any one part, ask a doula for help. We love feeling like we helped a family find resources that are a good fit for you!