Preparing for labor and delivery is a really interesting topic of discussion.
For first-time moms, or women who are having a vaginal birth for the first time, trying to imagine the sensations that your body will go through in labor is something that is on the top of the mind for most.
I believe that labor and birth is something that you can’t quite wrap your mind and body around unless you’ve experienced it yourself.
That being said, I think that being as prepared as possible for the sensations in labor and birth is a great idea. And, that is possible even if you’ve never given birth!
There are specific techniques and skills you can practice prior to birth-day, that will help you to mimic what the body will do.
1. Manage your emotions.
This could be one of the most important aspects of labor and birthing. Your mindset and emotional state are so connected to how your body is able to respond to the sensations you’re feeling.
If you’re scared, stressed, or feeling rushed and pressured, it could interrupt how your labor is progressing.
Alternatively, if you feel like you’re free to labor at your own pace, if you are comfortable in your space, and if you’re able to focus inwards on your body, you’ll have a more successful time at allowing your body and baby to do what it needs to do.
This goes for everyone in the room/space surrounding you during labor. Although, you might get to a point where you don’t notice anyone or anything, there will likely be many times where you’re feeding off the energies of others.
This can be fantastic if those people are helping you to feel as comfortable as possible, encouraging you, and helping your focus. Don’t be timid or nervous to speak up if they’re making you feel any more stress.
This is your birth and you deserve to feel supported in it.
2. Breathe your baby down.
If you’ve seen babies being born on TV or in the movies, you’ve likely seen some interesting breathing techniques being used.
Breathing is integral to birthing. Focused breathing can really help you:
Manage sensations of pain.
Bring yourself back into your body and into the moment, helping labor progress.
And, will affect how the core and pelvic floor muscles are able to generate strength, plus how they’re able to relax (more on this to come!).
But, how can you truly breathe effectively? How can you breathe to move the baby down and, eventually, out?
There are a few different techniques.
On your inhale breath, you want to feel your breath fill up your trunk. You’ll feel your ribcage and belly fill with air and your perineum (the tissues around your vagina) will expand.
On your exhale breath, you want to send your breath down through your body. Instead of thinking about blowing your air OUT, think about blowing your breath DOWN, from your diaphragm to your vagina. This doesn’t have to be incredibly forceful – think quality over quantity.
A few ways to make this even more effective:
On your exhale breath, make an audible “ahhhhh” sound.
Try “blowing raspberries”: where you make a vibration sound through the lips (like babies often make).
Try to keep your head, neck, and jaw as relaxed as possible to help the pelvic floor relax and stretch.
Put one hand under your breasts, on the front of your ribs, to remind you where you want your breath to come from (you want the tension to develop here as you breathe your baby down).
3. Push when you feel ready.
What we tend to see in movies and the media is a birthing scenario where a woman is being yelled at to, “PUSH!” Her doctor tells her when to push—and not to just push, but push hard. Then, does a ten second countdown to coach her through it.
From the conversations I’ve had with birthing health professionals, this doesn’t tend to be the most effective course of action.
A mom should push when she feels the sensations and overwhelming need to push, not purely when she is told the time is now.
I know I’ve asked the question, “But, how will you know when you’re ready to push?” and the overwhelming response from mama’s who’ve walked in those shoes is, “You’ll know.”
There’s an undeniable response from within the body that you’re ready, that you need to, that you can’t hold back from pushing now. There doesn’t need to be a 10-second countdown that you have to sustain a push for. There should be no forcing of pushes, or pushing time (if the baby is not under distress, of course).
Not only may these pushes be ineffective (exhausting!), but they may do more harm than good to the pelvic floor (read #4 below to understand this further).
Note: Talk to your birthing team about this topic. Will they allow you to push before you are dilated to 10cm if you feel strong urges? Will they want you to hold off on pushing until you reach 10cm dilation? Make sure everyone understands the plan during pregnancy.
4. Pushing is not the same as bearing down on the pelvic floor.
Ina May Gaskin, a birthing professional in the United States, says you should let the uterus do the work in labor and birth.
Essentially, the uterus is extremely strong and will be contracting to move the baby down.
It’s almost like labor progresses in a “two steps forward, one step back” scenario. Through a contraction the baby moves down, and then in the rest time between contractions the baby moves back up slightly (but stays a bit further down than it was previously).
Talk about finding comfort in the discomfort!
What you want to avoid during these times is continual straining or bearing down on the pelvic floor, as it can put undue stress on your perineum and pelvic organs. You need to will the perineum to stay open, to stay yielding to the pressure.
Ina May often gives her patients a mantra of “get huge”. Now, this might sound kind of funny, but that is exactly what you need the perineum to do. You need it to stretch and expand to allow the baby to move without getting “stuck”.
Girls Gone Strong Advisory Board member Dr. Brooke Kalanick
, recommends practicing this sensation of allowing the pelvic floor to yield under pressure during pregnancy, while taking a bowel movement.
Instead of straining down on your pelvic floor, you think of the core from the diaphragm down, doing the effort while the pelvic floor can relax.
Dr. Brooke says this is a great time to practice while you’re “not trying to get a human out of you”
You may also want to change the language around “pushing” for yourself, if that helps you connect to your body, yet not bear down on the pelvic floor extremely hard.
The idea of ‘breathing your baby down’ may allow the core and pelvic floor to do their job, and to prevent you from straining on your pelvic organs.
5. Try different positions.
This is something I speak a lot about with my clients and many times women have never been told their options by their health professionals.
We tend to have this vision of labor and birth as happening in a hospital bed, reclined on one’s back, knees up to the ears, mom’s face as red as a beet.
Well, labor and birth often does NOT happen in this manner. In fact, lying on your back can be incredibly uncomfortable and an ineffective birthing position for many women.
Birthing on your back is often described as trying to ‘push your baby up a hill’. Essentially, the pelvis is in a tucked under position, mom is fixed on her back so the pelvis is unable to shift or move, and baby is unable to really use the forces of gravity to help themselves move downwards.
Even if you have an epidural, ask your health professionals about different positions you can move into, if you’d like to try something else.
Other, effective positions you can try in labor and birth:
Hands and Knees: you can rock your pelvis back and forth
These positions might work best at different times while you’re laboring and in birth. Test them out. See what feels best. Keep your pelvis moving and it can help baby move and shift into a better position in your pelvis.
*Bonus* 6. Do your core and floor training during pregnancy.
This is an incredibly important point to make. During pregnancy, you should be doing exercises that train the core and pelvic floor.
Dr. Brooke says that practicing her core and pelvic floor strengthening and relaxation throughout her pregnancy made a big difference in how effective she was in pushing during labor. This doesn’t mean crunches, leg raises, sit-ups, and a million planks. This means exercises that:
Teach you how to breathe properly.
Teach you how to generate tension in your pelvic floor muscles and abdominals.
Teach you how to allow the abdominals and pelvic floor muscles to release tension (so important for baby to be able to move and shift).
Happy labor and birthing vibes to you!
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