Birth is a unique and powerful experience. The rawness of it, the primal power of womankind, the overwhelming awe of bringing a new soul into the world – there simply is nothing like it in the world. Extreme pain giving way to instinctive and fierce devotion. It is an out-of-body experience, yet one that is intimately physical and inescapable.
I think a birth plan is a wise thing to have – and to hold onto loosely. What happens during your labor is, ultimately, beyond your control – something that I learned the hard way – and the more you can be at peace with that the better. That being said, there are still things you can do beforehand to help make your birth experience a good one.
Setting the Stage
Much of what I’m sharing in this post comes down to atmosphere, the space you create for bringing your little one into the world. Depending on where you plan to deliver, you will have a varying amount of control over your surroundings. However, there are still steps you can take to create an environment that you find both comfortable and comforting.
The Five Senses
Hear: Background noise. Do you want it to be quiet, or do you prefer to have white noise to fill in the background? Do you want your little one welcomed into the world with music? Whatever your audio preferences, there’s an app for that. Have a Bluetooth speaker in your birth bag so that you have your options with you. If you want a variety of music, consider creating a labor playlist ahead of time and have it downloaded to your phone.
Tip: On the subject of phones and speakers, bring charging cables with you so you can keep your devices charged!
See: Lighting. Do you want the curtains thrown wide to let in the natural sunlight – or does bright light give you a headache? Do you want a simple lamp or something with a little more ambiance, light a string of lights? This is an element that you may not have a lot of control over, as of course your midwife / doctor needs to be able to see what is going on, but it is still worth thinking through in advance and communicating to your partner and / or support team.
Tip: On the subject of seeing, bring an ultrasound picture with you to help you focus on your baby. If you have other children, you could bring a picture of them as well – remind yourself of how worth it all this pain will be once that baby is in your arms.
Touch: Physical Relief. Birth is painful; this is the inevitable reality. But there are ways to help relieve some of that discomfort, such as the oils mentioned above. A fan (plug-in or handheld) can be great for cooling you down if you get too hot. A cooling towel for your neck or forehead may be soothing as well. A birth ball can be used in several positions and is often a helpful tool.
Some women crave physical touch during labor, like a shoulder massage or counter-pressure on their lower back, while others don’t want to be touched at all. Some remain in one position, while others prefer to change it up and move around. Ultimately, you’re going to have to experiment with what works for you in that moment.
Tip: Don’t be afraid to express yourself. I bolded that because it is important. Even if you have given birth before, it’s impossible to know exactly what you will or won’t want until you’re in the moment. Don’t be afraid to change your mind; if something is bothering you, express that to your spouse or midwife. They are there to help and support you in whatever way they can.
Smell: Fragrance. We know that most candles give off unhealthy fumes and that is certainly not what we want in our baby’s first breath. But there are healthy alternatives, such as essential oils, that not only smell pleasant but can provide physical relief as well. Frankincense is known to alleviate pain, and peppermint is a great tool for fighting nausea.
Tip: Just because something is labeled “essential oil” doesn’t mean that it actually is! This is one of those areas where you don’t want to go with the cheapest option – likely, it’s just scented water. Good essential oils are worth the price, and will probably last you a long time.
Taste: Post-Birth. You likely won’t have much of an appetite during labor, but once baby is out and adrenaline is fading, the hunger often strikes. Have some snacks that you enjoy on hand, especially ones high in protein. Another important thing is to hydrate after birth and replenish electrolytes. I used Ultima Replenisher after my delivery because it was healthy (zero calories and zero sugar!) but still tasted delicious.
Tip: While this doesn’t happen to everyone, it is common to vomit at some point during labor. Consider having some breath mints with you so that if this happens, you can cleanse your mouth. A toothbrush + toothpaste would be even more effective, but actually brushing may be too much effort in the moment.
Remind Yourself Why You’re There
One of the most important and helpful things that you can do is remind yourself of the end goal, what you are working towards. This is the day that you finally get to meet your precious baby!
If you are having a home birth, decorate the room with a few baby things. Post birth affirmations that you can read as you breathe your way through contractions. Hang a sign with your little one’s name where you can clearly see it. Focus on your baby and the fact that you get to meet him / her soon.
If you are in a hospital or birth center, you won’t be able to ‘decorate’ in the same way, but you can still bring things to help you focus – an ultrasound photo, his name, her blanket, that darling little going-home outfit. Your spouse is also there to remind you, encourage you, and uplift you as you take on this tremendous responsibility.
Birth is nothing less than astonishing. Don’t ever let fear of the unknown cloud your vision. Focus on the moment, the here and now, the one thing that you can control, and think about that baby. Know that your body was created to do this, and that in and of itself is a miracle.