There’s so much more to giving birth than giving birth! And the earlier you educate yourself on your options, think about your preferences, and make decisions about the experience you desire, the easier it will be for you to focus on yourself and baby when those contractions start to gain momentum. Here are my top ten tips to empower you and boost your confidence long before the big day.
Decide where you’ll give birth.
Hospitals are the go-to for most, but there are also birth centers and home births. Make sure to investigate potential birth places in your area, and tally up the pros and cons of each to figure out the best match for your preferences and health considerations. Not all hospitals are created equal, either – there may be a clear winner when it comes to cesarean rates, for instance, or amenities that are available in birthing suites. If you opt for a hospital or birth center, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the policies and procedures at the facility you choose.
Take a childbirth education class.
Of course there are books and online resources available, but nothing beats being in a room with other people who are expecting, and an instructor who can answer questions and tailor the class to their students. You’ll learn everything from exactly what happens to your body during labor and birth, to techniques for managing your pain and discomfort. You’ll also understand how the decisions you make affect the course of your birth, and how to leverage comfort measures to minimize your potential need for medication or interventions.
Create a birth plan.
A birth plan is simply a document that outlines your preferences and expectations for your birth experience. This can include things like your preferred pain management options, your preferred position for giving birth, and your preferences for who you want in the room during labor and birth. This is something you should share with your care team during your prenatal visits so you can all be on the same page before you go into labor. It’s also something you should view as a guide vs. a plan carved in stone. Most birth plans don’t go exactly the way they’re written, and that’s OK! Your body and your baby may have something else in mind, but your birth plan can help you get as close as possible to what you envision.
Take a breastfeeding class.
If you plan to breastfeed, taking a class before baby arrives can help set you both up for success starting just moments after birth. You’ll learn about colostrum, hand expression, latching, and more, as well as how to make the most of the “golden hour” after birth and resources available to you if you’re struggling and need support.
Preparing your body for labor and birth positions, opening up your pelvis, and building your stamina are all so important. Join a prenatal yoga or fitness class (or find some free online resources), go on walks, do pelvic floor exercises – anything that will help build strength, flexibility, and endurance will benefit you as long as it’s done safely.
Choose your care team.
The person you choose for your ongoing gynecologic care doesn’t have to be the same person who provides your care throughout your pregnancy and postpartum journey. Do some research on the medical (OB) and midwifery models of care so you understand the benefits of each and choose the option that best resonates with you. It’s also perfectly acceptable to interview potential providers so you find someone you’re confident will communicate effectively with you and respect your wishes. You may also want to consider hiring a doula to offer support during your labor and birth, finding an IBCLC before you need one, or working with a pelvic floor physical therapist or chiropractor during pregnancy and postpartum recovery. Your baby needs a care team, too! Don’t forget to find a pediatrician and get set up with their practice before baby arrives. You may also want to consider pediatric chiropractic care for your baby.
Have a plan for a cesarean.
Whether you’re having a planned c-section or it’s unexpected, it’s just as important to know what’s involved with a cesarean and what your options are as it is to prepare for a vaginal birth. This includes your recovery as well! Understanding who can be with you, what the policies are about photography and video, and when you’ll get to hold baby or have skin-to-skin time are just a few of the questions to ask your provider. You may also want to ask about gentle cesareans and if that’s something your provider and birth place will accommodate.
Pack your bag.
Having these set aside and ready to go can help you feel at ease as you get further along in your pregnancy, and give you a sense of comfort when labor begins. Create some ambiance with flameless candles or essential oils. Bring a portable speaker so you can relax or power through to your favorite playlist. Alleviate discomfort with handheld massagers or cool down with a portable fan. You’ll also want to have items like comfy pads and big, stretchy panties you don’t care about, as well as things like hair ties, something stretchy and accessible you can wear instead of a hospital gown (if you desire), a nursing bra, and plenty of your favorite beverages so you can stay hydrated. If you’re having a home birth, you won’t need an actual bag, but you can choose a designated area for the essentials. Check out my list of favorites for labor and birth, as well as recovery essentials for both vaginal and cesarean births.
Having a supportive partner, family member, or friend during labor and birth can be invaluable. It’s important to have someone who knows your preferences and can advocate for you when you’re unable to advocate for yourself – ideally someone you trust, who’s confident and will be assertive in helping you navigate the healthcare system. Bonus points if they’re able to attend your childbirth education and breastfeeding classes with you! Be sure to ask about your birth place’s policies around how many support people you can have with you so there are no surprises are letdowns when you arrive.
Be aware of your rights.
Don’t forget that you have certain rights your providers are obligated to respect. It’s important to be aware of these rights, and to understand how they apply to your birth experience.
- You have the right to receive information and fully understand about benefits and risks of any medication, treatment, or test you may receive. If something isn’t making sense or doesn’t feel right, ask questions until you’re ready… or decline if you’re uncomfortable giving informed consent.
- While certain situations require intervention, including emergency c-sections, if you are laboring naturally and there is no sign of fetal or maternal distress, you have the right to refuse any test or procedure.
- You have the right to change your mind!
- You have the right to receive treatment that is appropriate for your cultural or religious background.
These are all things I wish I’d known before having my first. My husband and I felt very prepared until I went into labor, and then we were like deer in the headlights. It felt like everything we learned went out the window. I ended up having a cesarean I don’t believe I needed, and struggled with finding support for things like breastfeeding and pelvic pain for months after giving birth. On the positive side, it was that experience that inspired me to start Babies & Bumps and help other new and soon-to-be parents.
In the future, I’ll be covering tips for the time immediately after birth, like options for your placenta, the golden hour, tests to expect for your baby after birth, circumcision, delayed cord clamping, cord blood banking, and more.
I hope you find this helpful! Let me know if there’s anything you found especially useful or if you have any other advice you’d add to the mix. You can always reach out via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.