I’ve recently written about why I initially decided to have a natural labor, and about some of the things I’ve learned along the way. Something else I’ve learned along the way is how important it is to prepare for a natural labor. If you’re serious about wanting a natural labor, there are lots of things that are important to think through: Physical Prep, a Support Network, and the oh-so-important Mental Prep.
- Physical Prep- Birth is a physical process. Planning on a natural birth has been motivational to me throughout my pregnancy, as I know my body has a very big job.
- Nutrition: I try to limit processed foods and simple carbs, and eat lots of fruits, whole grains, beans, etc. Still working on eating as many veggies as I should. Nutrition is a bit of a struggle for me…I may or may not have eaten an entire sleeve of Thin Mints recently. I don’t let myself think about eating for two (you’re only supposed to have 300 extra calories a day) or that I can eat whatever I want since I’m pregnant. I do try to eat healthy overall, to listen to my body, and to show myself grace on Thin Mint days.
- Activity: I feel really fortunate that I have felt great throughout most of my pregnancy, so I have been able to be fairly active. We’ve also had the nicest winter of all time so I was able to do lots of walking! I’ve never done super-hard work outs, but I ran throughout the first part of my pregnancy and have just tried to be overall active. I park far away and take the steps when I can. I have also done yoga throughout the pregnancy, which I think will help on many levels. I highly recommend yoga, and not just the restorative or prenatal easy stuff. For the first several months, do the more challenging classes- just make sure you’re doing them with a certified instructor who knows how to modify positions for you. Again, I listen to my body and don’t push myself when I’m not feeling right, but I also don’t let myself take it too easy just because I’m pregnant.
- Support System- If you’re not going to rely on drugs for support, it’s very important to have other types of support.
- Supportive Environment- The hospital I originally planned to labor at is a good hospital, but definitely delivers babies under the Medical model. Switching hospitals was a major decision for me and was not one I wanted to make, but I knew that some of the things that were important to me were going to be battles there. I didn’t want to feel like a pain or an oddball or a nuisance for not wanting to do things how they typically do them. I wanted to feel as if my opinions and wishes mattered, so a switch was necessary. In the Kansas City area, Research Hospital, St. Lukes Plaza, and Overland Park Regional Medical Center are all known for delivering under the Midwifery model. Birthing centers or a home birth are also options. There are a lot of misconceptions about home births out there, but as long as a hospital is nearby should an emergency occur, the safety stats for homebirth are just as good as a hospital birth. A supportive environment will let the labor progress naturally without pushing for intervention, will let the woman move around and eat as she desires, and lets the woman push as she feels the urge to push.
- Supportive People. The laboring woman is the queen bee under the Midwifery Model. Since pain will not be managed by medication, the people who are around the laboring woman play an extremely important role. They are not standing passively by as she labors. They need to share her mindset, encourage her, and help comfort her in whatever way she needs. They need to provide comfort measures such as massage, physical support, and reminding her what her body is capable of. I am so thankful that the husband has been involved throughout this process and is looking forward to playing this role. A doula, sister, mother, or close friend can also fill this role, and it may be helpful to have more than one person. I have also found it inspirational to have several friends who have delivered naturally. They have shown me that birth doesn’t always look like how it’s portrayed on television.
- Mental Prep- I have yet to go into labor, but I truly believe that delivering naturally will be just as much of a mental challenge as a physical one. I think there are a few components to mental preparation.
- First, do lots of research. There are lots of resources out there; Ina May is a good starting point. Understand that pain has a purpose, that each contraction is bringing you closer to baby. Natural birthers talk of the fear-tension-pain cycle. When you have fear, your body tenses, and labor with a tense body is going to be more painful. More pain leads to more fear, and the cycle repeats. It’s important to get rid of that fear!
- As you get closer to your due date, take a good natural birthing class. These classes are completely different than the hospital birthing classes. They will teach you many techniques for dealing with the pain. We did an interesting exercise in our birth class. We were each given a bowl of ice cubes and a hand towel. We held several ice cubes in our closed fist for 60 seconds (about the length of a contraction). During this time, we thought about how our hand felt. It started off cold, then got uncomfortable, and then started to hurt! I was so glad when 60 seconds was up. Then she had us do it again (I was really not happy with her for this)! This time, instead of thinking about how our hand felt, we concentrated on our breathing. It was still uncomfortable, but better than the first time. We repeated this over and over and over again, adding comfort measures each time. We would do deep belly breaths, then do the deep breaths while visualizing our favorite place. Then we’d add in our spouse rubbing our backs. Some of the things worked better than others, and what worked for me didn’t always work for the other women in the class. But this little exercise made me realize that while birth is going to be painful and uncomfortable, there are things I can do to help relieve that pain and get myself to a good mental place. This is another way that seriously practicing yoga can help with a natural labor- yoga teaches you to breath and relax while holding uncomfortable positions.
- Finally, be prepared for the unexpected. I don’t know what’s going to happen in my labor. I am taking a risk by writing these posts and putting my beliefs out there before I birth- really, who am I to talk about something I’ve never experienced? I might be in labor for 10 minutes or 40 hours and decide I can’t do the med-free thing anymore. Something might go wrong and I might end up getting a C-section. Maybe I’ll go past 42 weeks and have to be induced. I just don’t know. As much as I hope to have a natural birth, I am also preparing for that not to happen. I will be disappointed that things didn’t go as I would have liked them to, but that doesn’t mean I’m a failure or my delivery was a failure. Not at all.
I’ve learned more about labor and delivery over the past few months than I ever thought I would- and I find it fascinating! Perhaps I should become a midwife myself. My biggest goal with blogging about this is to let women know that birthing does not have to be the scary and awful thing it is sometimes made out to be- women’s bodies are extremely capable and birthing is one of the most beautiful miracles that we’ll ever get to be a part of. If you are pregnant or hope to be pregnant someday, arm yourself with information and make informed decisions that are right for you.
Given my journey, I just feel especially thankful to even be in this position. There were times I thought I would never get to experience this and now that it’s just a few weeks away it all seems so surreal!