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It's more than just Birth Plans: 5 ways to prepare for birth


Pregnant woman in bath



Having a baby is a huge life event. It’s big for your body, it’s big for your brain and it’s transformative for you as a woman. Preparing yourself, and anyone who is going to join you in that ride, can be hugely beneficial for you and for your baby. By taking time to prepare physically, mentally, emotionally and with the loved ones in your life, you can feel calmer, more confident and relaxed about this incredible milestone in your journey as a mother.


Preparing to have a baby used to be something that happened within your community, your family and your immediate kin. We would have looked to our mothers, aunties, grandmothers, sisters and community midwives to help us to learn about pregnancy and birth. We would have had more opportunities to witness pregnancy, birth and infant care close-up amongst our immediate community. 

In our modern world we live quite differently, where birth usually happens in the very separate space of a hospital or perhaps in the home (* 2.4% homebirths in the UK in 2020), so it is less of a lived-experience for many of us. We now turn to books, blogs, Youtube and sometimes antenatal classes such as NCT for our info and birth preparation. We may also have friends or family who can share their stories with us, which can vary in empowering to downright scary.


Every person is different in how they feel about birth, about their bodies, and in the stories they have been surrounded by growing up about childbirth, and so how you best prepare for birth is quite an individual thing. You can choose what feels right for you, and dip into all or some of the areas I suggest you explore before the birth of your baby. But there are ways for every woman to feel prepared for the birth of their baby.


Prepare your body

We’re often so busy working online, socialising online, shopping online, or just rushing around busy all day - we spend a lot of time in our ‘heads’ rather than in our bodies. Our minds are very powerful things and can sometimes feel quite separate from our bodies. Childbirth is an incredibly primal physical experience (not to say our minds and emotions don’t have a key part to play, because they do! Read further below...), and finding ways to connect with your body and prepare your body can be hugely beneficial. So what can you do to connect with and prepare your body?


Yoga: As a yoga teacher, I would always recommend women try going to a regular pregnancy yoga class, or practice at home. A report in 2022 (*1) showed that women reported shorter labour times, less pain management and higher rates of vaginal births after they had regularly practised yoga in pregnancy. Yoga can help your body to be stronger and more flexible, which can aid birth positions and stamina in labour. It can also help you to feel calmer and more relaxed in your body and mind.




Exercise: Regular exercise is great for all of us, and continues to be during pregnancy. Staying active doing things you love can be great for your body and mind during pregnancy and to help prepare yourself for labour. Activities such as swimming and walking are great ways to stay active, and if you’re already used to other exercise such as running, dance and other aerobic exercises then they are all safe to keep going with. You can find all types of pregnancy classes - yoga, pilates, aerobics, water-aerobics, dance - take a look on your local Facebook pages and see what you can find. Pregnancy exercise classes can be a great way to meet other mums too. 

Keeping your body as fit and strong as you can, and staying active can help with the positioning of your baby and evidence has shown an increase in shorter labour times and less interventions (*2)


Perineal massage: We can keep our overall health and whole body strong and stretched, and what about supporting our perineum too? The perineum is the tiny patch of skin between the vagina opening and the anus. When giving birth to a baby, this tiny sensitive part of our body can sometimes experience perineal trauma including tears, or cutting (episiotomy) and perhaps stitches. To help prepare this part of our body for birth too, in the later weeks of pregnancy (from around 36wks) we can gently massage and stretch the perineum using your fingers, perineal massage oil, or even now you can use tools such as an Epi-No. There are several studies showing that this kind of antenatal perineal massage can reduce the likelihood of damage to the perineum (*3). 


Prepare your mind

In so many ways we now recognise the power of our minds in connection to our bodies, and birth is no different. At the University of Bonn they found a clear connection between women who saw birth as a natural process and those women having less medical interventions and cesareans (*4). 


So how can you prepare mentally?


Antenatal classes: classes such as NCT or Bumps and Baby Club are a great way to learn about what happens in pregnancy, birth and postnatally. It’s also a great way to meet other parents and build your birth team with your birth partner. 


Hypnobirthing: I often think that hypnobirthing can be a little mis-understood because of the name, as it can sound a bit ‘woo-woo’, but in reality it can be a very powerful way of training your brain into a positive mindset around birth. Using relaxation and breathing techniques to feel calm and relaxed, you practice visualisatons and affirmations for birth to help you prepare for birth and can use these techniques when moving through your labour. I have seen how well it can work for women during birth and prenatally to use these breathing techniques, affirmations and visualisations to help them stay calm, focused and feel in control during labour. 


Birth plans: Whether you go to an antenatal class or not, you can still create your own Birth Plan. Simply the process of researching and creating a birth plan will help you to prepare for your birth, encouraging you to find out what the different birth options are (do you want to give birth in a hospital or at home? Do you want to have any pain relief, and if so which ones? Do you want to deliver your placenta naturally or have an injection? etc ) and what feels right for you. It is worth thinking through various options, as we don’t always know how our birth will be, but we can know and understand what all the options mean and how we feel about them before getting there. Look into your different birth options, talk it through with your birth partner and try writing down your wishes for Plan A, Plan B and Plan B. 


Information gathering: Reading information about the birth process can help to understand what is happening in your body, which can often help how you view birth and how you feel about it. There are plenty of pregnancy and birth books available, along with videos on Youtube, Podcasts and Blogposts to help you learn. Also finding positive birth stories from other women can help build your understanding of birth. There are numerous websites with positive birth stories you can read and ask the women around you, such as Tell Me a Good Birth Story.


Prepare your emotions

Our emotions sit firmly side-by-side with our minds, and again connect strongly to our bodies. We may feel many things about your upcoming birth experience - excitement; nervousness; empowerment; fear; trepidation; calm; confidence; and perhaps even trauma ( perhaps from a previous experience). Finding space to allow these emotions is so important, and at the same time finding ways to prevent those emotions from overwhelming us. 


Some useful ways to process your emotions may be:

Journaling: writing your thoughts and feelings down can be a great way to process your emotions and can even give space for things you didn’t even know you were feeling. It is a safe and confidential place to let your emotions out. 


Talking: sharing your emotions with your partner, family or friends can be a great way to move through any emotions that may feel at times overwhelming. Speaking out loud and sharing can be a powerful thing for yourself and to increase your connection with those around you. 


Counselling/therapy: if you feel like there is something much deeper going on for you, such as ongoing anxiety, depression or trauma, then finding a trained therapist or counsellor before giving birth may be of benefit. 


Prepare your birth team

Your birth experience is fundamentally between you, your body and your baby. But most women choose to have some support around them in whichever birth setting or experience they choose. Having a supportive birth partner or team around you can really help you to feel calm, confident and safe when it comes to having your baby - and all of this is essential for supporting those lovely labour hormones like oxytocin to flow, which in turn helps the whole birth experience to flow. 


Think about who you might like with you when you give birth - who will you feel most comfortable, safe and relaxed with? Who ever that is, spend some time talking and building your connection before birth.


Birth Partner: this might be your husband, wife, mother, sister or friend. Having someone close to you that you feel comfortable to have by your side during labour that you know will be supportive, can make all the difference. Spend time talking through together any worries or fears either of you may have around birth, make that birth plan together, practice any breathing techniques, birth positions or massage you may want to use in labour. Preparing for birth together can be a great way to become even closer. 


Doula: some people choose to work with a doula as an additional part of their birth team to their birth partner (husband/wife etc), or may choose to have a doula support them as the primary birth support. A doula can support you as the birthing woman, as well as be there to support your partner or perhaps anyone else in the birth space, such as other children if you’re having a home birth. A doula is experienced in birth and will work with you through your pregnancy to build a relationship of trust. They will be present at your birth, holding the space with tendernace and care, offering reassurance and guidance where needed.


Independent Midwife: You can also choose to perhaps hire an independent midwife. An independent Midwife is midwifery trained, so can support you as any midwife would do in hospital, but instead of in hospital it would be privately one-to-one in your own home. You would start working together during pregnancy, building your relationship and birth plans. They can perform some medical procedures (bloods for example) during pregnancy and in birth (e.g. providing Gas & Air ).


Prepare for your postnatal period

Although it’s easy to focus so much on the birth of your baby, there is a whole other journey just waiting on the other side of your baby's arrival, and it’s helpful to spend some time thinking about it before you get there. The postpartum period, which has also been termed the ‘fourth stage of labour’ and the term ‘fourth trimester’, both referring to the immediate hours, weeks and three months after birth, with the full postnatal period being between 6-9mths after the birth of your baby. 

Great ways to prepare for your postpartum period can be:



Food: You’re going to need lots of nutritious food to keep your energy levels up after having your baby and then taking care of your baby, so try to batch-cook food to freeze, ask friends to be ready to bring food over in the first few weeks, look into food deliveries such as Postnatal Doula Batch Cooking services or places like ‘Cook


Practical support: Like with planning who you want at your birth, think about who you would like around you to support you postnatally. If you have a partner, can they be around at home to look after you whilst you look after your baby? If not, is there other close family or can you hire a Postnatal Doula? In some cultures, female members of the family stay in the birthing woman's home for 40days, caring for the new mother through food, massage, taking care of domestic chores and general care to the mother and baby. I know this isn't the norm in the UK, but if you can plan to have some care and support in the early days that feels comfortable to you it can make a real difference when you are tired and recovering from birth.


Breastfeeding support: Many women choose to breastfeed their baby, and like most things with parenting, it is something we have to learn and for some women and babies it is learnt with ease, and for others it comes with some challenges. Reading and learning about breastfeeding before you get there can be helpful, and knowing where you can turn for further information and support if you need it can be reassuring. Find out about local in-person resources and online info before having your baby, just in case you need it. La Leche League and the NCT Breastfeeding Support line can be good places to start.




Pregnancy and those weeks when you get closer to the arrival of your baby can be such an exciting time. Taking some time to explore our body's, our thoughts and feelings around birth and to build stronger connections with our immediate support team, can benefit our whole birth experience. As your baby grows in your belly, take the time to grow into your birth experience and the ever-evolving journey of becoming the awesome mother you are.









References:


*2 Association between aerobic fitness in late pregnancy and duration of labor in nulliparous women, 2009, K.R. Kardel et al


*3 Antenatal perineal massage for reducing perineal trauma, 2013, Beckhann M.


*4 Mindsets can influence the course fo childbirth, Universitat of Bonn, March 2023 

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