10 Tips and Tricks That Prepared Me for a Natural BirthLauren Hartmann
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A little over two years ago, I experienced one of my life’s greatest accomplishments: giving birth to my daughter Fern… naturally without so much as an aspirin. (You can read her birth story here if you’re interested.)
I don’t share this to brag — truly. I’m kind of a baby when it comes to pain and quite honestly one of the last people you would ever expect to have a natural birth, so the fact that I did it? Well, it was pretty freaking empowering and I have never been so proud in all my life.
I totally get why some women want their epidurals and I completely respect that, but natural birth really is amazing. Birth is by its very nature unpredictable, but if a natural birth is what you’re aiming for, then there are definitely some things you can do to prepare yourself ahead of time in order to increase your odds of having the birth you’ve dreamed of.
I made a list of some of the things that helped me most in preparing for my natural birth, and I hope you’ll find them helpful as well.
1. Choose a birthing environment where you feel safe
First of all, think about where you will feel most safe and comfortable: hospital, birthing center or your own home? The answer will look different for every woman, but be honest with yourself. For me, being in a hospital setting makes me anxious and I don’t feel very safe, which is why I delivered at an out-of-hospital birthing center with my first pregnancy and will be at home this time around. For some women the idea of being at home would make them stressed out, and a hospital feels like their safe haven. Know yourself and make the best choice for YOU. Wherever you feel safest and most comfortable is where you should have your baby, because fear is most definitely not conducive to a natural birth.
2. Find a care provider you know and trust
I realize that if you’ll be at a hospital for your birth your options may be limited to whatever doctor or midwife happens to be on-call at the time, but if you are at home or at a birthing center you will likely have more say over this matter. Choose a care provider who puts you at ease and who respects you and your wishes. If you don’t connect with someone, don’t be afraid to choose someone else. This is your birth we’re talking about and you shouldn’t stick with a particular doctor or midwife out of a feeling of obligation. If you plan to deliver in a hospital setting where your care provider is uncertain, you may want to consider hiring a doula. Doulas can offer great support during birth and can act as an advocate and a comfort during your labor.
3. Prepare your body
You wouldn’t show up to a marathon without having run a little bit as practice. Likewise, prepare your body physically as much as you can leading up to the birth of your baby. Obviously pregnancy is exhausting and your level of activity will likely be lower than it was in your pre-pregnancy days, but even walking around the neighborhood or doing yoga here and there can help. Keep your body in the best shape that you are able to, because it will definitely help you in the stamina department when it comes to a natural birth.
4. The “ice game”
In my birthing class we did an activity that really helped me to get a glimpse into what birth would be like — I like to refer to it as the “ice game.” With our partner, we took turns holding an ice cube in our hand for 60 seconds. The first time, we held the ice cube while talking to our partner while the timer ticked away. The second time, we took turns holding the ice cube while moving around and walking the entire time. The last time, we held the ice cubes for those 60 seconds in complete silence and focused on our breathing. So, just what did this game teach us? Well, first of all it gave us a little glimpse into how we might handle the pain of labor. Some people found the exercise to be a breeze while others couldn’t make it the full minute. Obviously giving birth is way different than holding an ice cube, but it was more an assessment of how you were able to cope with pain of 60 second contractions. Our instructor also suggested that the method that we found most helpful for coping with the pain of the cold ice cube was likely the coping method that we would tend to employ and find most helpful during labor. She was right. During the exercise I did best when I was totally silent and focused on my breathing and ended up doing the same when I was in labor.
5. Read, Read, Read!
I cannot overestimate the importance of education during your pregnancy. Don’t inundate yourself with every pregnancy article on the internet, but do take time to read positive birth stories and books that promote natural childbirth. A few of my favorites were Ina May’s Guide To Childbirth and Hynobirthing: The Monogan Method . Even though I didn’t actually employ hypnobirthing during labor, I found the information I learned to be fantastic at calming my fears and preparing me for a natural birth. I truly believe that the book helped me to go into labor, confident that my body was strong and capable.
5. The power of positivity
Being pregnant is like wearing a sign that says: “Tell me your pregnancy horror stories.” For some reason people just really like putting the fear of God into pregnant women by sharing any and all worst case scenarios that could possibly arise, and it’s totally unhelpful. I am a firm believer in the power of positive thinking and I had a bit of a mantra throughout my pregnancy that kept me feeling confident. Whenever anyone would share their scary stories or ask me if I was afraid I would tell them: “Every birth is different. My birth could be harder than most or it could be easier. I know it will be hard work, but I believe that my body is strong and capable and I am not afraid.” I realize that it might have sounded a little weird, but who cares? It really did help me to believe in my abilities and to stay focused on the end goal rather than letting fear creep in. I also never spoke about my natural birth as something I was “trying” of “hoping” for, because I know natural birth requires more determination than that. As much as I knew that birth wasn’t completely in my control, I always spoke in terms of a natural birth being something that was going to happen (i.e. “Yes. We will be having a natural birth.”) in order to get my mind right and to leave no room for doubts. That said, I know sometimes things happen that are beyond our control and a natural birth isn’t always possible. I was realistic about this, but never voiced it audibly because of how much faith I put in positive self-talk.
6. Coping strategies
Learn as much as you can about coping strategies. Some that really helped me were keeping my jaw relaxed (apparently there’s a correlation between a relaxed jaw and a relaxed vageen — it’s science or something). Also horse lips and low moaning. There are a ton of others out there, so do your research!
7. Ditch the updates
One of the most helpful things about the birthing center is that they don’t do cervical checks during labor (unless you request them or they are deemed necessary for some reason) and there are no clocks. I am well-aware that at a hospital you may not be able to avoid cervical checks, but the more you can avoid them the better. Cervical checks aren’t always a good measure of progress and can make women get hung up on a number instead of focusing on the process and what is working for their body. I’ve met women who went into the hospital dilated to a 6 and labored for days, and I’ve met women who went in at a 1 and popped out a baby in a matter of a few hours. Every body is different, so the less focused you can be on dilation numbers the better. Also, if you can — cover up the clock. No need to focus on those numbers either. Baby will come when they are good and ready.
8. Prepare your partner
Even though you’ll be the one pushing a baby out of your you-know-where, your birthing partner still has an important role to play. Encourage your partner to do their homework on birth too and let them know what your hopes and expectations are for labor and how they can help you. I was sure to tell my husband specific phrases I didn’t want him to say while I labored — the one I remember was telling him not to say “You’re fine.” If I happened to be freaking out, I forewarned him that it would not bode well for him if he said this, and he never did. For me, having a supportive partner was a huge part of having a successful natural birth.
9. Change it up
Don’t be afraid to try different positions when you labor — even if they feel silly. My favorite position to labor in was actually on the toilet! Totally not glamorous, but it was perfect. You never know what will work for you until you try it.
10. Let go of preconceived ideas of birth
Birth is different for every woman, so try to let go and embrace it as much as you can. Just because your mom had c-sections doesn’t mean you’re more likely to. Just because she had super fast and easy labors also doesn’t mean yours is guaranteed to be a breeze. Let go of those preconceived notions of what birth will be like and try to go with the flow. I’m so not a go with the flow kind of girl, but I found a way to embrace this mentality during my pregnancy and labor, and I found that it was really helpful in helping me have a successful natural birth.