For each of my three labors, I chose pain over pain medication.
Each time, I was afraid.
For my second and third babies, tears welled in my eyes as labor started because I knew the great agony that lie ahead...and yet I also knew the great reward. I held fast to the promise of a sweet baby nestled on my chest.
Each time, it was completely worth it.
There are many "classes" that help mothers prepare for labor. Although some of them may be worthwhile, it is important to note that you can never actually prepare for the experience. There are almost always unexpected "chapters" in birth stories.
That said, there are things you can do to get your mind, heart, and body ready. Here are some actions that I found to be particularly helpful.
WALK. - Walk in the morning. Walk at noon. Walk by the light of the moon. Walking increases circulation, keeps your weight in check, releases stress, and strengthens your lungs. Plus, if you're near the end of your pregnancy, it may help you go into labor.
CHOOSE A BIRTH SETTING THAT WILL SUPPORT YOU. Freestanding birth centers and/or hospitals with midwifery models tend to be more accommodating to women in labor. You'll have fewer "interventions" and more "encouragement" if you opt for a locale that matches your birthing wishes.
PICK A SONG OR POEM. - Is there a particular song, poem, or Bible verse that comforts you? Write it down or meditate on it. I sang "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" during labor with my last baby and also repeated "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
DON'T WORRY ABOUT BREATHING. - It's bewildering that so many birthing classes still have breathing techniques as a centerpiece of the curriculum. Truly, I think that "breathing" tends to come naturally during labor...and your midwife, doula, or OB should be able to guide you through the most painful contractions.
TALK TO OTHER MOTHERS WHO HAVE GIVEN BIRTH WITHOUT PAIN MEDICATION. Hearing positive stories can help instill confidence and may also bring a realistic perspective of what birth is like - especially if this will be your first baby.
SIP ORANGE JUICE. When labor kicks in initially, I like to sip a bit of juice to give my body a boost of energy for the marathon ahead. You may also choose to munch on a light snack.
SING. There is a lovely comfort in humming or crooning out the lyrics to a song with a strong meaning. Many labor books recommend bringing along music to listen to as you give birth, but I always preferred to make my own. ;)
PRAY. In the days leading up to each of my three births, I prayed constantly. For strength. For peace. For endurance.
TALK TO YOUR BABY. Throughout labor, I found myself talking directly to my baby. "We can do this together, baby." "I love you, baby." "You're worth it, baby." Phrases like that can help you keep you concentrated on the inevitable outcome - a precious newborn. A miracle.
If you have experienced a natural childbirth, what did you do to prepare? Do you think childbirth classes are a good investment of time/money?
Both of my children have been born at home. My husband and I prepared for both differently. With my first I labored about 14 hours but with my second one it was only 2 and a half hours or so. During both birth, I chose to go all natural. It so worth it. I played a CD of scriptures lullabies throughout labor and it helped me keep calm. My husband and I attended the class the second time as a refresher.
I think you pretty much nailed it Stephanie! I would also add Education. I think sometimes a lot of moms go in saying "i'm going to do a natural birth" but yet have no idea what that even means and 9 times out of 10 they get medication. Reading, talking to people who have done it and educating yourself to fully prepare makes all the difference! I sang all throughout my labor with my third and hummed during transition it was the best thing I could of ever done. Plus looking into having a doula present is a additional bonus in having a natural birth. Someone to keep encouraging you is wonderful
Great advice! I believe that for the uninitiated (first time parents) participating in Childbirth classes is extremely important. We are so sheltered from the truth of natural childbirth in our society. For a lot of women (and men) the birth of their own child is really their first experience with childbirth. Talking to other mothers can be great, but it's also important to remember that each story is colored by what she felt about her experience.mothers can fall into a trap of comparing themselves to others. Or not living up to the expectation either hers or her peers. Learning pain coping techniques are important and so is taking time to delve into your own expectations, fears and hopes about birth. Childbirth preparation is really multifaceted. There is a lot of room for improvement in many class curriculum for being more introspective and less focused on physiology and interventions.
Good points, Wenonah. Thank you for weighing in.
I would add that it's important for first time parents to choose carefully WHERE to take a Childbirth class (and from WHOM). Birth centers or classes run by midwives are almost certain to be more helpful than classes operated out of a hospital, for example.
I never took a childbirth class just read the Husband Coached Childbirth Bradley Method book - not the one written by Bradley, but the other one.
I agree with exercise, for me it was more swimming than walking, but I couldn't do much of either with this last go 'round.
My biggest suggestion is to find a midwife/doula who will be with you and NOT the one in charge. At the birthing center there was my awesome midwife and her two wonderful assistants. At the hospital with my first my husband was my advocate and he did a wonderful job, but this time around having a nurse friend be my doula was also beyond awesome.
You may just need another person there who knows you and what you want and can be your advocate (if you're not already at a birthing center). :)
Swimming is a fantastic way to keep moving during pregnancy. I would have done the same, but we don't have a pool. ;)
I found the book Ina May's Guide to Natural Childbirth to be particular helpful. She has a chapter called "Sphincter Law" that is super interesting...it talks about the importance of keeping your face/mouth muscles relaxed (.and how singing can help do that...) and the direct correlation that has to your cervix opening. Fascinating. And, based on our last labor, I think it was super helpful and true!
We took the "Centering Class" at the birth center which is where your regular appointments are paired up with the class and although I don't think the information was anything we didn't know (especially since this was our second child and second time going through the class)...I really love the friendships made during the class...and how the carry on after the sweet babes arrive!
I've had 5 med free births but am seriously considering a change for this next one! We've been thankful and blessed to have wonderful birth experiences in a variety of hospitals and even one at home. We had an amazing friend and doula with our first two births and would recommend one to anyone in a heartbeat! I also REALLY like the book, "The Christian Woman's Guide to Childbirth" by Debra Evans. She has an amazing section on relaxation techniques that are KEY for going through labor with medical aid. Great things to think about!
Thanks for the book recommendation. That's a new one to me.
Good points, but I would say breathing is immensely important and--no--does not always come naturally when in pain and experiencing intense pressure. Conscious, deep breathing (as opposed to those silly, shallow breaths you see on tv shows and movies when women are in labor) helped me stay focused and got me through my labor more than anything else did. I preferred to stay centered in my own world, eyes closed, during the most intense times and not look to my midwife or husband to guide me through. Truly that deep, almost meditative breathing saved me. I'm a four-time marathoner as well, and that same conscious breathing that got me through those marathons also got me through labor. So, yeah, that is one point I definitely disagree. Great post otherwise!
I have often heard marathoners compare birth to running. Fascinating.
Also? Four marathons! I give you props. That's a tremendous feat.
Great post Steph!
Scott & I were just talking about labor last night during "pillow talk". About how I love it. I love labor. Even though it is SO crazy hard & painful.
A big yes on choosing a facility where they support & encourage med-free birth. At the birthing center I was offered juices all the time. At the hospital, that is against the policy. Even with a birth plan, signed off from my OB, they would not follow it, because it was not hospital policy. They continually claimed that they needed my OB right there giving verbal permission. They would not honor her signature of permission on my birth plan. If you are somewhere that does not support & encourage a med-free birth, than you probably really need a doula to be a spokesperson. Most husbands are all the way focused on mom & baby, plus they don't have the expertise of a doula. Plus, I found that in the hospital environment, my husband was not offered respect by the nursing staff. So, it makes it hard for him to be the one to hold the line on the birth plan.
I get your point about breathing. But, I myself have had many times during labor when I hold my breath in the pain. I have to be reminded to breath. And the short, shallow panic breathing is counter-productive. While the deep long breathing relaxes and moves labor along. I think that your point about humming or crooning goes along with that. My mom always coaches me to keep my voice low & long. No high pitch screaming. Deep moaning is okay, though. Whatever you are vocalizing, you need to be aware of what it is doing to your body - tensing or relaxing?
I talk to my baby, too. My words are usually "I love you baby! I love you baby!" & also "Bring this baby, Jesus!" and then sometimes, "I can't do this!" (Ha! That one is not recommended!)
Perhaps I didn't state my bullet about "breathing" in the right way. I actually do think it is important during labor, but I'm not sure it's a thing that can be "practiced." (What do you think?)
As you stated, it's best to have a doula or midwife right there with you to remind you to breathe deeply. My nurse at the birth center said the exact same thing about keeping my voice low.
I always end up saying "I can't do this" during labor too...but, deep down, I know that I can and I will and it will be worth it.
I see what you mean about breathing "practice". But I wonder if for folks, they never really focused on what deep breathing is. So, some ladies may want to practice. They are many other situations where one may learn deep breathing - Pilates or Yoga classes, singing classes, the nick jr. show, Ni Hao Kai-lan. (Ha, ha...)
When my husband & I took a Bradley type course, prior to Gillian being born, I remember some of the "homework" was to practice tensing your muscles & then consciously relaxing them. That seems sort of goofy, because it was so easy for homework. I had no pain to encourage my body to fight or tense up. So of course, it was simple to relax my hand muscles on purpose. During a contraction? Not so simple. That take focus. Not really practice. So, yep, I get that practicing that sort of stuff doesn't make a whole lot of impact. It is more of an awareness of how you should aim to relax during labor, and then having the people/person there who will help you in relaxing....
Thanks for adding those sentiments, Erin. I agree that "focus" and "relaxation" are both essential practices for natural childbirth.
What a great post Stephanie! I think having a birth plan is also a neccesity , I know there are always changes and things don't always go as planned but if you decided to birth at a hospital it's important that the different people that will be there during your labor all know your wishes of a natural childbirth. You might not be your best spokesperson during the hardest part of labor, and your husband might be too busy taking care of you, it's good to go in prepared to let nurses and doctors know exactly what your wishes are.
I also think staying home as much as you can, nothing like being in your own bed, your own bath and sipping your own favorite oj (:
Good point about the birth plan. I concur - especially for hospital births.
Your tip about staying home is also a good one. In fact, I'm a big supporter of just staying home for the whole birth experience. I didn't end up choosing that option, but I see so many benefits of it.