Congrats! You’re having a baby! You’ve picked out a name, ordered a crib, and researched stroller systems. You’ve spent hours drooling over tutus and LSU football onesies. But, have you taken the time to prepare for labor and birth? Having a baby is so much more than showing up at the hospital after your water breaks, and it’s nothing like what you see on tv and in movies. In fact, having a great birth experience starts before your first prenatal visit. There are several things to consider when preparing for your best birth, and this four-step guide will get you on your way!
1. Choose Your Birth Team
The first and most important choice you will make is your birth team, starting with your care provider. Whether you choose an obstetrician or a midwife, be sure that they respect your wishes and beliefs about childbirth. Ask questions like “Under what conditions do you perform procedures such as induction, episiotomy, or cesarean?” Write a birth plan and have your provider read and sign off on it. Be sure that he is willing to accommodate your wishes versus insisting on particular procedures simply because that is part of his routine. It’s important to know that if, at any point during your pregnancy, you start feeling like your provider isn’t a great fit, it’s okay to change. It’s also a great idea to consider getting a doula. A doula is a woman who provides physical, informational, and emotional support during labor. Studies have shown that having a doula tends to result in shorter labors with fewer complications and interventions.
2. Plan Your Birth Space
Once you go into labor, you will want to ensure that your birth space is comfortable. This might mean low lights, candles, or your favorite music. You should also consider what you want to wear. The hospital gown is not mandatory, and many moms feel much more comfortable in their own clothes or a pretty hospital gown that they have purchased on their own. Protecting your birth space also means carefully considering who will be in the room as you labor. Do you really feel like you can let go in front of your brother-in-law? It may be difficult to tell friends and family members that you prefer not to have them in your labor room. But, it’s not uncommon for women to find that their labor progresses more slowly when they can’t fully relax or when they are distracted by guests in the room.
3. Take a Class and Write a Plan
There are many procedures that will be available and possibly suggested to you during labor. A great way to learn more about the benefits and tradeoffs of these is to take a comprehensive childbirth class. The class will also help you identify the different stages of labor so that you understand what is happening throughout the process. After completing the class and doing some independent research on evidence based maternity care, you will be better prepared to write a birth plan. Your birth plan should contain your wishes regarding induction methods, pain relief, how often you consent to cervical exams, the pushing position you prefer, eating during labor, etc. Remember, that no matter how prepared you are, birth is unpredictable. Make sure that your plan is flexible and accounts for issues that might unexpectedly arise during labor.
4. Know Your Choices
Once your beautiful bundle is born, you will have many choices about the care she receives. While hospitals have a standard set of procedures they perform such as immediate cord clamping and using eye ointment, they are all optional and have pros and cons. Ask your hospital exactly which procedures they plan to administer so that you have the opportunity to research them. Most mothers desire immediate skin-to-skin contact with their babies. This has been shown to increase bonding and breastfeeding rates. Even if you have a cesarean birth, you can request that you receive skin-to-skin as soon as your baby is born.
In their book, A Good Birth, A Safe Birth, Diana Korte and Roberta Scaer wrote, “If you don’t know your options, you don’t have any.” With some planning, your birth can be a unique and memorable experience. Your baby will only be born once, don’t be afraid to own your birth experience!
To see my list of suggested birth related books, videos, and websites, visit my Red Stick Birth Client Resources page.