Written by Liesel Teen
Liesel is a labor and delivery nurse (L&D RN), mama, the face behind the popular pregnancy Instagram page @mommy.labornurse and creator of the online childbirth class, Birth It Up. Birth is something she’s been passionate about for as long as she can remember, and she loves sharing her nursing knowledge to help mamas-to-be learn more about pregnancy and birth. She lives in North Carolina and is expecting her second baby in August 2020.
Every mama, whether it’s their first baby or their fourth, feels some degree of anxiety as their due date approaches. This is because each and every birth experience is unique and comes with some degree of unknown.
Probably the question I get asked most often as a Labor and Delivery nurse is “What can I do to prepare for labor?”. In reality, this is a pretty loaded question! Birth preparation will (and should!) look different for every mama, because what’s most important is preparing for the part that makes you feel the most nervous and uncomfortable.
But, with that being said, there are definitely labor preparation tips that are tried and true for ALL mamas, no matter what kind of birth they want and what’s making them feel most anxious.
I’m Liesel, Labor and Delivery Nurse and the face behind Mommy Labor Nurse, and I’m so excited for the chance to feature my top tips with you all today!
1. Incorporate movement into your daily routine
Moving and stretching your body every day is one of the most powerful ways you can prepare yourself physically for labor. Daily movement, whether it’s in the form of a brisk walk, yoga, or with more intentional prenatal fitness has SO many benefits related to birth (and pregnancy comfort for that matter!). Check it out:
- Shorter labor and delivery: This 2018 study showed that women who exercise during pregnancy will have a significantly shorter labor AND delivery than those don’t
- Higher chance of a natural birth: The same study showed a correlation between regular exercise during pregnancy to less epidural use during labor
- Keeps mood swings at bay and may decrease risk of PPD: Exercise releases feel good endorphins that make you literally happier
- Boosts your energy: when you’re exhausted, it can be hard to get a work out in, but you WILL feel more energized if you can get yourself movin’
- Minimizes pregnancy discomforts: prenatal fitness helps with back, hip and pelvic pain, leg and joint swelling, eases constipation, and can help you sleep better!
- Easier postpartum recovery: doing a fitness routine designed for pregnant mamas will help you strengthen your pelvic floor and core now for an easier recovery after birth
You can take it a step further with a daily stretching routine. Something I’ve been doing during my second pregnancy, is following the Spinning Babies stretching routine. It helps with posture, opens of the hips and pelvis for birth, and encourages baby into the optimal position for birth to boot!
Want to learn more? Check out my interview with Gail Tully from Spinning Babies on my podcast!
2. Practice relaxation, visualization, and breathing techniques
Many mamas take it for granted that they know how to breathe and relax in the face of stress. Well, mama, I’m here to tell you that INTENTIONALLY practicing this before birth is an awesome way to prepare for labor.
When those contractions begin to ramp up, it can be a lot harder to harness your inner relaxation, but if you’ve practiced it routinely, it WILL be more successful and effective.
One way to put your breathing to the test is by practicing while holding an ice cube! While this isn’t exactly the same as a contraction (hah) it definitely creates discomfort and puts your focus and will power to the test.
Bonus tip that you’ll find in my birth course: focus on relaxing your jaw during a contraction to help your pelvis stay loose and dilate more effectively. Say what?!
Apparently the muscles around your jaw are physiologically connected to your pelvic floor in some way, so if you tense up during a contraction and your mouth is tensing up, it can be harder for your pelvic floor to relax & could be harder for your cervix to dilate!
You can practice this ahead of time by breathing and focusing on having a loose jaw while doing Kegels.
3. Take a birth class
As a labor and delivery nurse who’s attended hundred (if not thousands!) of births, I can tell you for sure that mamas that take a birth class are generally calmer and are more likely to have a positive birth experience than those who didn’t.
Childbirth education is the single best way to erase SO much of the unknown associated with labor and delivery. You’ll learn how it’s likely to progress, terminology associated with birth, interventions that may be necessary, pain coping techniques (both natural and medical), and what to expect should an induction or C-section be necessary.
To help you get more prepared and educated TODAY, I thought I’d include a little childbirth education right here. Did you know there are actually four stages of labor?
First Stage: Dilation! This begins with the first real labor contractions and ends when you are ten centimeters dilated. It’s the longest stage and includes: early labor, active labor, and transition
Second Stage: Pushing! This stage begins once your cervix is 10cm dilated and ends with the delivery of your baby. This stage varies in length, but for first time mamas the average push time is around 2 hours
Third Stage: Delivering your placenta! So after your baby comes out, your placenta needs to be birthed, too. This usually happens between 5-30 minutes after your baby is born
Fourth Stage: Uterus contracting! After you’ve delivered the placenta, for the next 1-2 hours your uterus will contract hard to shrink back down. During this time, you’ll also be monitored for abnormal bleeding, because this is the most common time to experience a postpartum hemorrhage
4. Don’t forget to prepare your support person, too
One birth preparation that sometimes falls off the radar, is preparing your partner or other support people! They may not vocalize it, but a lot of partners feel just as nervous about birth.
What’s more, I’ve seen so many partners feel completely helpless and frustrated that they don’t know what to do when the birthing mama is working so hard (and often in a lot of pain!) once labor begins.
You can help your support people out by getting educated about birth together. You can also share some tips about ways they can help during labor, like these:
- Apply counter-pressure to the sides of mama’s hips or small of her back
- Remind mama to relax her pelvis
- Keep the positive affirmations coming
- Help mama change positions
- Suggest switching things up if mama seems stuck
- Advocate for mama, make sure your partner knows your wishes ahead of time so they can help with this!
5. Create a positive association with birth!
Most importantly, I want you to analyze exactly what’s making YOU nervous or unsure about childbirth and brainstorm a way to overcome that fear. In our society childbirth is so often portrayed as scary and painful, so we have these ingrained associations. But I don’t want you to go into birth with these thoughts!
So, in addition to the preparation tips outlined above, start to create a positive association with birth. Listen to birth stories on podcasts, read positive birth stories, ask your friends and family to share the BEST part of their birth, and GET EDUCATED! I’m a huge proponent of childbirth education because I know it helps, and I’ve seen the results first hand time and time again in the delivery room.
Here’s to your best birth, mama. I’m rooting for you