It is a really good idea to prepare yourself for labour and birth, both physically and emotionally. Whether it's your first or subsequent baby, it is so important to head into this life changing event, relaxed, confident and informed. Here are my top 5 tips on preparing for and coping with labour!
1. Feel supported
You both need to feel supported heading into one of the most important events of your lives! Dads are usually quite apprehensive about their 'role', the number one concern usually being; 'when do we go to the hospital?' That is why being prepared and knowing what to expect takes the fear and apprehension away. So you can support each other by making a plan, discussing your preferences and taking the time out during your pregnancy to literally chat about the inevitable, and allay each other’s fears!
Dads can sometimes feel a little 'surplus to requirements' during the birth of their own baby, which is certainly not the case. Dads and birth partners play a huge role practically and emotionally, such as assisting with distraction, change of positions, toileting, drinks, massage, breathing technique, acupressure, encouragement, loving reassurance, and as an advocate for you, discussing your joint preferences with midwives and doctors.
Who will support you both? Family and friends can be very supportive or sometimes unfortunately, despite best intentions, can be a little negative when it comes to childbirth stories!! Focus on the positives and welcome the positive support. And when you get to labour, your midwife and doctor will all support you along the way.
2. Think about your birth
Be informed about labour and know what kind of a labour you’re hoping for. Know the choices you have to make. When you have all the information gathered, make a birth plan. Your birth plan does not have to be set in stone but allows you to explore options. Every parent has different ideas and aspirations so it is important to let your midwife and doctor know what you are leaning towards. It is sometimes hard to know where to start and some may feel that they just ‘don't want to know’ but, believe me, it is better to prepare and take away the ‘fear of the unknown’. Sometimes things don't go exactly to plan, but knowing your choices will make decisions in labour easier for both of you.
Keep the lines of communication open at all times during your labour. Sometimes labour can be unpredictable so it is important to talk to your midwife and doctor! Of course it is their role to constantly inform you of progress and any changes, but never be afraid to ask questions at any time. If you are informed, you will feel in control of the situation and you will be able to cope with deviations from your birth plan. If there are deviations, try to understand what is happening and why, then, if you fully understand and are confident, accept this and change your focus to deal with the situation in hand.
3. Move around
Allow your body to physically prepare; through exercise, toning, becoming aware of your pelvic floor. Walking and swimming are easy to maintain throughout the pregnancy. Pregnancy Pilates and Yoga are very helpful. Do pelvic floor exercises. Get yourself a gym ball and use it. Choose resting positions to help your baby into the best position for labour; such as lying on your side or getting down on all fours!
While in labour, staying upright for as long as possible will help you to progress. By this I mean walking around, sitting on the birthing ball, kneeling on all fours on the floor or bed, standing out of bed, leaning on the bed, leaning on the wall ... many options, and your body will tell you what is best. You will feel the urge to change positions according to how you feel and what stage in the labour you are at! Feel free to lie into the bed for a rest too if you feel you need to. Sitting in the bath or standing in the shower can have a wonderful relaxation effect, which will allow your labour to progress with ease. As labour progresses to the second stage (pushing stage), again positions and needs change! Go with what is best for you, but kneeling on all fours, standing or kneeling up on the bed holding the backrest are optimum positions for enlarging your pelvis for delivery. If you choose to avail of epidural pain relief you will be confined to bed and side to side positioning is best.
4. Eat &Drink
It is so important to drink during labour to prevent dehydration. Dehydration can slow down your labour and cause your baby distress. In early labour it is absolutely fine to eat if you feel like it! Light meals and high carb snacks are best. As labour progresses, you probably won't feel like eating, but continue to drink water or isotonic drinks or juices and the like. When in established active labour, take a sip of water after every contraction, your mouth will feel dry anyway after breathing through the contraction. Make a plan with your birth partner to hand you the water every time and have a bottle in the labour bag for ease of use, especially if you are in a kneeling position or such.
5. Breathe and focus within
Learn and practice coping strategies for labour; such as breathing, acupressure, visualisation, meditation and relaxation. Studies have shown that women who are more relaxed in pregnancy go into labour and progress better as oxytocin hormone levels are higher. It is essential to feel emotionally ready and you will do this by being prepared, informed and relaxed!
A rhythmical breathing technique is a very effective tool for coping with labour! Learning and practicing the technique in pregnancy is very important. Practice abdominal breathing to become in tune with your breathing capabilities. Combine breathing with mantra or visualisation for best effect during labour. Relaxation techniques such as; meditation, positive affirmations, visualisation, hypnosis are powerful coping mechanisms for labour. In very early labour distraction is best, try and stay relaxed, but it is good to get on with daily routine if you can! Some women labour for days or several hours before the labour becomes 'established'. As soon as you are 'feeling' the growing intensity of the contractions, combine your coping strategies, really increasing focus as your labour intensifies. continue your rhythmical breathing with relaxed open palms. As you enter into the second (pushing) stage of labour, listen to your midwife and let her guide you through the transition and the delivery of your baby. A good breathing/pushing/panting technique is very useful at this stage.
So you have all the up to date information and have thought about your birth preferences. But the 'what if's' cause you to be worried or to doubt yourself. Don't doubt yourself. Keep positive. Use positive affirmations to help with this. Keep yourself relaxed as much as possible throughout labour, with open palms (avoid clenched fists!) Breathe, Relax, You can do it!!