Labour is no easy feat (natural or not). I can’t tell you how many people I talked to, how much I read, and how much I mentally and physically tried to prepare myself for my labour.
When you do your research on something, your experience tends to be much more positive, and you tend to be much more mentally ready for it, because you have an idea of what to expect.
If you’re aiming for a natural labour without medical interventions then check out our tips and tricks for helping you manage one of life’s most miraculous challenges.
Stay at home until you’re in active labour
Arriving at the hospital while you’re still in early labour is likely to increase your chances of medical intervention. Such interventions include the need to speed up your labour later on and the need for medical pain relief, such as an epidural. Because of this, it’s likely that you’ll be advised to stay at home until you’re in active labour. There are lots of coping strategies for early labour at home while you wait for signs of progress. Start getting your toolbox of strategies and resources together. You’ll want to include a labour TENS unit (essential, of course!), heat pads, massage oil, music play lists, snacks and a warm water bath or shower.
Keep mobile in the early stages of labour
Evidence suggests that walking and staying upright may shorten the length of the first stage of labour. It also suggests that you're less likely to need an epidural or have a cesarean. Stay mobile as much as you can, in between resting, and eating when you feel hungry. Move into whatever position you feel comfortable in.
Work with your natural labour hormones
The main hormone that makes labour happen is oxytocin. Oxytocin won't work as well if you’re scared or stressed out by what’s happening. As adrenaline levels rise, oxytocin levels fall. So understanding what’s going on and trying to stay as relaxed as you can is likely to help your body to release this hormone that will help your labour to progress.
When you’re in labour, endorphins will also help you cope as labour gets stronger. Known as your body’s natural opiates, endorphins can help you zone out into a trance-like state so that your primitive birth instincts can kick in and take over. Using a TENS machine early in labour will help your body stimulate the release of endorphins.
Practise relaxation and breathing techniques in advance
Practise relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, massage and meditation.
You'll have time to get to know your body, and to work out where you hold tension. Some relaxations help you to let go of muscle tension and physically, as well as mentally, unwind. Deep relaxation and hypnosis techniques may help you to address anxieties so that you feel more positive about labour and birth. Once you’re in labour, you can use these techniques to help you cope with your contractions.
Get Into Marathon Mode
Like long distance running, childbirth calls for energy and stamina. You increase your chances of a natural birth by being very physically fit. You'll want to consider the 10 months of pregnancy your training period, and start preparing for labour early on by working out regularly. Lace up your trainers and walk whenever you can. (However, if you were not physically fit before becoming pregnant, check with your doctor to come up with a safe cardio plan for you.) Flexibility, especially in your hips, will help you when it comes time to push, so stretching sessions are important too. Be gentle though, your body produces relaxin in pregnancy, which makes you naturally flexible, so be careful not to overstretch or work yourself too hard.
One of the secrets to a natural childbirth is being able to relax in response to pain - a tall order, we know. When you're afraid or in the throes of agonizing contractions, your body's reaction is to stiffen, which tends to exacerbate discomfort. Fear increases tension, which ups the agony. When you're tense, some muscles are tightening and trying to hold the baby in, while the muscles in your uterus are tightening to try to push the baby out. The muscles are fighting with each other, which makes it hurt more. If you can stay relaxed in the face of strong contractions, you'll have less resistance to opening up for the baby to come out.
You Should Know Squat
Contrary to what you see in most movie birthing scenes, you don't have to be lying in a hospital bed to have a baby. In fact, many women are more inclined to squat during labour. Squatting opens the pelvis and helps the baby get into the ideal birthing position (head down, face toward back, chin tucked in). It's most effective if you've been practicing your squats throughout your pregnancy and building those muscles in your legs.
Take it one contraction at a time
Focus on only the one contraction you are having. Don’t think about how horrible the last one was, or how horrible the next one is going to be. Just FOCUS on the one you are having now, and getting through it. Even though contractions last anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 minutes, the peak of intensity roughly lasts about 10-15 seconds. So, if you can think about it this way, you may be able to mentally get through them better. Sure, the whole contraction is going to last a while, but the terrible, awful, gut-wrenching part really only lasts 10-15 seconds. You can do anything for 10 seconds!
Sometimes you don’t have a choice when it comes to all aspects of your labour. You may want to go natural all the way, but unforeseen circumstances don’t allow your choices to pan out. Ultimately the most important result is that you and baby are safe and healthy. Empower yourself through research and preparation so you have the best chance possible to have the labour you desire.