How to Set Yourself Up for a Positive, Empowered Birth Experience
Updated: May 7, 2021
This post is about empowered and informed childbirth, something I am SO passionate and excited about! There is so much to be said. This is not just for mamas that want to deliver completely natural and unmedicated. This is for all mamas, regardless of how you plan to deliver! All women deserve to have an empowered, sacred, amazing childbirth experience. Before I get started, I want you to know I am not an expert by any means! I had an amazing birth experience in a hospital setting with my son, but there were things that I have been able to reflect back on and acknowledge what I would have changed and hope to change for my next little one. I will be sharing my experience and knowledge that I have gathered through my experience working in a birthing center of a hospital, resources shared from multiple doulas, lactation consultants, fellow nurses, books, and articles. I am not here to give you medical advice, I just want to open up the discussion and share with other mamas what I know and believe in. As women, it is so important to stick together, lift each other up, share our experiences, and pass on our knowledge to empower each other. It takes a village, am I right mamas?!
I want to start by saying I SEE YOU... I see you mama, trying to empower and inform yourself to make the best decisions for your health, your body, your family and your baby. I see you trying to sort through the information we get from our doctors, trying to tune out the horror birth stories that random women love to share with you when you're pregnant, trying to keep yourself calm as you prepare for the birth of your little one, trying to tune out the fear that sometimes creeps in when thinking about childbirth... The first step to empowering yourself and giving you and your baby the best experience possible is informing yourself. Before the birth of my son, I gathered all of the information I could. I was seeing a regular OBGYN for my prenatal care, and I was also seeing a Naturopathic Doctor before I got pregnant and during my pregnancy (I will elaborate more on why and when I started seeing my wonderful naturopath in another post about our fertility journey). My naturopath was so informative, gave me so much good info about prenatal vitamins and supplements, diet recommendations during pregnancy and after, and so much more. My OBGYN was very informative, gave us straight-forward information about what to expect with a hospital delivery, prenatal tests, etc. But the majority of the good quality information I received was from doulas, lactation consultants, books, articles, prenatal yoga instructors, and other mamas with real life experience of natural childbirth. Gathering information from allllll of the sources is so important to making informed decisions for yourself and your family. I highly recommend doing all of your own research in addition to what the doctor provides for you. It is so important to not be afraid to dive further than just the brief information you receive in your prenatal doctor's visits. In a time period when we really lack traditional wisdom, and stories and experiences passed on from mothers and grandmothers, sisters, aunts, and women in the surrounding community/village, it is SO important to gather this information in every way that we can. This will truly be the foundation for creating a positive birth experience for you mama!
From my experience, the best ways to have a positive and empowered childbirth experience are...
Educate and inform yourself... gather information, read books and blogs, write down questions to ask your doctor (this is SO important... pregnancy brain is real, write down your questions!), start seeing a naturopath/chiropractor that specializes in prenatal care and childbirth, look into hiring a doula for your pregnancy and delivery, and seek out wisdom from other mama's experiences that you know and trust. I highly recommend the book "Husband-Coached Childbirth" by Robert A. Bradley and looking into the Bradley Method for childbirth. I also loved "The Mama Natural Week-By-Week Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth" by Genevieve Howland, and "Ina May's Guide To Childbirth" by Ina May Gaskin. Gather so much information, and then make informed decisions based on how you want your childbirth experience to be.
Identify your support system. Your support system you choose to have during the birth of your child is so so so important. For some, this seems like a "no-brainer" and would be your partner. Some of our partners want to be so involved, reading books alongside us, attending every prenatal appointment, feeling every baby kick, wanting to know every single thing that's going on with our bodies during pregnancy, labor, and birth. If your partner is like this, that's wonderful! If not, that's ok too! I thought that I would want it to be just me and my husband in the delivery room. I asked my husband to read "Husband-Coached Childbirth" with me, inform himself on the best ways to help and support me during delivery, and tried to talk him through all of the scenarios and ways in which I wanted him to advocate for me in the hospital. We were a good team and I truly thought he was all that I needed. We decided that we would not get a doula during my son's childbirth, and that we would just have the two of us and our labor nurses/OB doctor in the hospital delivery room. I am so blessed by the fact that I was currently working as a nurse in the hospital that I delivered in, and have best friends/co-workers that I trust and can be vulnerable with. I felt at home in my hospital setting, and was able to reach out to my close friend/co-worker to notify her that I wanted her in the delivery room with me. I didn't know that I would feel this in the moment, but I wanted my trusting, female support system. My friend was there working a shift in the NICU that day, and came down right before I started pushing. She took pictures, encouraged me, was SO joyful and supportive, and made this moment so special. In addition to my coworker, I had AMAZING nurses in the room who became my family in that vulnerable moment. My labor nurse immediately became my support system. In the peak of labor pains and such a private, intimate, vulnerable time, I turned away from my husband and to my labor nurse. I leaned on her (literally), had her holding me up and rocking me during my labor pains as amniotic fluid was just running down my legs and all over the floor... she was comforting me, telling me it was normal and ok, calming me, telling me that "I COULD"... thank goodness for wonderful labor nurses! My husband was wonderful and calm, but he truly didn't know what to do in these moments. After my experience, I have this strong feeling and belief that WE NEED WOMEN supporting us in these moments. Instinctually, we are drawn to women who have been through it, who we can be vulnerable with, comforting us and encouraging us during this sacred time. That perspective drastically changed after my experience, and I will make sure I have a strong female support person in the room with the birth of my next little one. Your birth can and SHOULD be joyful, peaceful, a celebration, a sacred and special moment. Having a special support system in the room is truly important, and what we instinctually desire for as long as we have been birthing babies in history. I want to remind you here that if you have an OBGYN that you know and trust and love, that's awesome! But hear me when I say they will NOT be there during your labor. They will not be with you while you are experiencing labor pains, fears, making decisions and going through the journey of labor and prepping for birth. They WILL be there the moment your baby is born, and that's great! Unless you deliver when they are not working or on call... then you will have a different OB doctor for your little one's birth. Just so you mentally prepare yourself for that, they are not the support person that you can lean on during this vulnerable moment! I want you to think of and visualize the person in your life that keeps you calm and grounded... think of the person in your life you would be ok with seeing you at your most vulnerable, that you are comfortable with, that you can trust. If it's your partner, mother, sister, aunt, best friend... whoever it is, plan in advance to have them by your side or "on call" before you go into labor! I HIGHLY recommend looking into a doula... there are so many options for doulas, ones that will be with you during pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum, doulas that are just there with you during the birth, and doulas that will be with you after the birth of your little one. This is the one thing I would change about the birth of my son. For my next little one, I plan to get a doula to be with me by my side during childbirth. They have experience, wisdom, peace and calm, and can guide you even in a hospital setting to help navigate whatever scenarios you encounter during your birth. They are typically willing to be there with you in many different settings... home births, birthing centers, hospital births, etc. Research doulas in your area and hire them SOON! Don't wait! Doulas are amazing, do not underestimate how needed they are in those tough moments! Can you tell I'm passionate about that... I really love doulas and know that my childbirth would have been so much better if I had one with me during the birth of my son.
Plan and prepare your WHERE... know exactly where you will be delivering far in advance. Will you choose to do a home birth, birthing center, or deliver in a hospital? Typically this decision comes when you choose your delivery OB doctor or midwife. If you have begun doing prenatal care visits with your doctor or midwife, you probably know where you will be delivering! Typically midwifes are able to be there for home birth settings, birthing centers, and some hospitals depending on the midwife. OB doctors will only deliver in a specific hospital and will provide all of that information to you at your first prenatal visit. Wherever you choose to deliver (there are pros and cons to each option, make an informed decision with your doctor or midwife!) I HIGHLY recommend that you become comfortable with that setting... take a few tours in the hospital or birthing center, become comfortable with the drive, walk the halls, meditate and picture yourself in that setting... make sure you can feel relaxed in the place in which you will deliver, which leads me to my next VERY important point...
RELAX. I know this sounds crazy, but is so so so important. In order for your labor and birth to go smooth and natural (whether you want to deliver medicated or completely natural) you MUST be able to relax... In informing myself on natural childbirth, doing research into how we are designed to deliver our babies as mammals and as humans, we are literally created to deliver in calm, peaceful, SAFE settings. Our bodies will ONLY go into labor naturally if we are calm, not stressed, feel safe, and at peace. So often we go into labor at night, which is what all mammals do in the wild. That is when we are most relaxed and in a safe setting. Hospitals and western medicine have begun to acknowledge these natural processes that help our labor and delivery, and have started to implement policies to keep labor rooms DARK and calm and quiet. If you are in the hospital setting, have your support person advocate to keep your room dark and calm. Begin to prepare your home space to spend some time laboring at home when you feel the first twinges of labor pains. Ideally it is helpful to stay at home as long as you possibly can tolerate your labor (especially with your first baby), to relax yourself and go through the first stage of labor in a calm and comfortable setting. I went into labor in the middle of the night, and went to the hospital very early in the morning after several hours of laboring at home. The more calm and relaxed we can be, the quicker our labors will progress. If you can breathe through the contractions, assure yourself that this is normal, you are ok, you are safe and will get through it, take a warm bath, use essential oils to stay calm, meditate and practice deep slow breathing during the labor pains, your labor will literally progress quicker and go smoother than if you panic and stress... So keep the lights off, turn inward, meditate, play peaceful music, diffuse oils, and leave the rest of the details to your support person to get you to your safe space on time! Don't stress about rushing to the hospital or birthing center right away. If you have a doula, you can call them early on and they will come and support you through each stage of labor! Either way, don't stress! Don't let those stress hormones or adrenaline sabotage your smooth labor and delivery! The moment the stress hormones start kicking, our bodies will literally "stall out" the labor process.. Our bodies say "HEY, this is not a safe space to have your baby!" and our labor pauses... this is when medical interventions start coming into play. If we can just breathe and relax no matter what is going on around us, our labor will be so much smoother, quicker, and less painful! I'm really serious... yoga and meditation can help you prepare for this. We have to literally "train" our bodies for labor... yoga, meditation, and breath work help us to train for the big day!
Position your body and your baby for optimum alignment during delivery. This is an important tip that often gets overlooked! When you are in early labor, (and even before you go into labor!) our instincts typically make us want to LEAN FORWARD... lean on a birthing ball, coffee table, pillow, etc. Get on your hands and knees on all fours, do "Cat-Cows", spread your legs wide and lean on a birthing ball... anything that gets our bodies leaning forward and allows gravity to help get your baby leaning towards the earth helps us to position our little ones to come out safely and smoothly. We want our babies to be aligned head-down and facing the back prior to delivery, and during labor and delivery. Babies move quite a bit, and this position can change even during labor! But to have a smoother, quicker, and less painful labor it is best to have baby in this position prior to labor beginning. So while you are patiently waiting for baby to come in the last trimester, lean forward!! Try to avoid lounging on your back, reclining, and laying back while you are resting towards the end of your pregnancy. I know this is easier said than done. A birthing ball can be an amazing addition to your living room setup during pregnancy! Lean over and ask your partner to give you a back massage, hug a pillow as you read or watch tv at night, or even better sit on the floor and stretch your legs while you are lounging around the house. I highly recommend starting and ending your day with "Cat-Cows" (a yoga pose I will demonstrate in a future post). I did these poses in my bed every morning when I woke up and every night before falling asleep. This helps stretch and open our pelvis to prepare our bodies for delivery, works with gravity to get baby in proper alignment for delivery, and relaxes our back, hip and groin muscles. Just remember, lean forward! For more info on helping get baby in the best position for delivery, I highly recommend www.spinningbabies.com - SO much good info! Also, I highly recommend looking into doing perennial massage every night before bed during the last few weeks of pregnancy. Coconut oil, lavender, Clary Sage, and Evening Primrose oils are great supportive oils to use for this. More details on this to come, but perennial massage is a great way to prevent tearing and help your body to prepare for labor naturally.
Nutrition and exercise will nourish and prepare your body for labor. This is SO important. I will not speak to an exact diet that you should follow, every body is different! But my biggest advice is to avoid inflammatory foods as much as possible. When possible, eat nourishing, fresh, unprocessed foods that come from the earth. Try to avoid processed foods, and any foods that you know cause an inflammatory response in your body. For many this includes gluten, sugar, soy, dairy, nightshades, caffeine, etc. Nourishing your body with foods can promote the best and safest environment for baby during pregnancy, and can help you feel your best as you prepare for birth. Exercise is also very important for preparing your body for labor and delivery. Childbirth is something we must train our bodies for. It will be so much smoother if we have worked to strengthen our muscles, stretch and loosen muscles and joints, and prepare our overall cardiovascular health for the delivery. Find an exercise that you love to do! Pregnancy is not the time to try a new workout or go through an intense training program. It's all about moving our bodies and keeping ourselves active and limber! Yoga was my favorite thing to do during pregnancy! Walking was also something I did a ton during pregnancy, and right up until labor (even during labor!). I walked my dogs around the neighborhood at least once or twice a day. It was nice to get outside, get fresh air, and move my body gently. I tried to start and end my days with gentle yoga. More posts to come in my blog about yoga during pregnancy :) Regardless of what you choose, just keep your body active and moving. Pushing your baby out of your body is no easy task... exercise, stretching, and strength-building will help!
Prepare your environment. This is important for helping us feel peaceful, safe, and calm during labor and delivery. Wherever you plan to deliver, make it feel like home! Since I delivered in a hospital setting, I wanted to make it feel as comfortable as possible. I brought essential oils and a diffuser into my hospital room (check with your hospital ahead of time to make sure they allow this), prepared a playlist of music I wanted to listen to to keep me calm during labor, brought a few massage tools, my own pillows, and a soft blanket. Ask your support person ahead of time to set all of this up once you get settled in your delivery room. My husband and my nurse helped me set up my music and essential oils when we got to our hospital room. I didn't need to worry about any of that because I had told my husband ahead of time what I needed him to do for me. Prepare in advance so you can remain calm in the moment! Don't be afraid to make your birthing environment YOURS... this is your childbirth. Honor that. I still remember the scents and sounds of the room when Weston came into the world. The music playing during his delivery is so special to me, and the scent of lavender and orange will always remind me of that sweet time. I prepared a "Peaceful Labor" playlist full of music that would keep me calm and was special and peaceful to me. My favorite songs on this playlist are "Deeper Water" by Ry Cox, "Highs and Lows" by Hillsong United, and "Always With You" by Loud Harp.
Don't be afraid to go against cultural "norms". Our society tells us that birth should be a certain way... we should get an epidural, deliver in a hospital, not ask too many questions, deliver without any or many people in the room with us, that it will be painful and terrible, that we will want to scream and yell and curse yet we feel stifled, like we have to keep it all together... we are fed a lot of messages about how it "should" be. But don't be afraid to ask for something against the norm! Many hospitals are coming around to adapting to new and more "natural" or holistic ways in which women are wanting to give birth. You do not have to deliver your baby while laying on your back! Forever ago, women previously gave birth while in "squatting" positions or on all fours. Laying on our backs to push out our babies goes against gravity, and is not instinctual or natural. This began when we started to medicalize childbirth with intervention and assistance from a doctor. Many hospitals now offer devices that assist in deliveries in a squatting position or on all fours. Speak up and let your nurses know that this is what you want! Remember that if you have an epidural, you must deliver on your back for your health and safety. But if you choose to go unmedicated or without an epidural, you can naturally let your body choose the position you want to deliver in. Don't be afraid to be different! These differences are healthy and instinctual and are improving the ways in which hospitals and birthing centers are caring for us.
Make a plan, yet open up your heart to be flexible in the moment. Know that your birth plan will change as your body's natural instincts take over in labor. Every birth and every baby is different, every woman has different and unique needs, and every experience will be different. This is the wonderful and amazing part of childbirth. Your birth will be exactly how it is supposed to be for you and your baby. And each birth will be different than the last. It is great to make a birth plan ahead of time, but count on things to NOT go according to your plan. Keep your expectations open and fluid. Little things will happen, things will go slightly different than your expected, the timing will be different than what you thought, your body will take over and you may have different feelings and needs come up in the moment. That is ok and completely normal. Go into your birth with an open heart... plan and prepare your heart, body, mind and spirit as much as you can. And let it unfold how it is meant to unfold in the moment. There is so much that ends up being out of our control during childbirth, and we have to be positive, open, accepting, and at peace with that. Listen to your nurse, OB, midwife, doula, or support person. Let them help to guide you in the moment. We are not supposed to do this all on our own! During such a vulnerable time, we are meant to be supported and guided by others as well as our own instincts. Which leads me to...
TRUST your instincts. In the very distant past, we lived in tight-knit communities with our families, often lived in multi-generational homes, had a nearby village for support. We live in a very different time than our ancestors did. The wisdom of our parents and grandparents and great grandparents is often not available to us, valued, or as respected as it once was. Intimate personal stories get lost and are not passed down. We don't always have a strong family unit to lean on, a nearby community that would support us in times of need. Childbirth was something that was learned, observed, and passed down to us instinctually in the past. We witnessed and helped other women in the community or family give birth to their little ones. It was perceived as a natural process, often a joyful celebration in which the whole family or community participated in. I wish I had these experiences going into the birth of my little one. Even though life is different now than it was then, we can still gather wisdom and experience from other women, ask questions, lean on doulas and midwives to share knowledge and support us. Don't be afraid to ask, do your own research, and then trust that YOU have a gut instinct, deep within you, that will take over when you go into labor. Our bodies are designed perfectly for this. Childbirth is an amazing, awe-inspiring, wonderful miracle that we as women get to experience. It is sacred, special, indescribable. TRUST that your childbirth will be wonderful. Do not fear the pain or the unknown. Instead, trust that you were made to birth your little one. So many women are experiencing childbirth every single day. Feel united and a sense of peace in this fact, knowing that women everywhere are giving birth in the same moments that you are. We are all in this together. And YOU can and will do it, beautifully, wonderfully, and exactly how you are meant to. We have instincts just as our ancestors did. Trust these instincts. Trust that the pain is not something to fear, it is a purposeful pain that takes over our bodies to help our baby enter the world safely. The pain can be intense for some, and some say it isn't as bad as they thought it would be. Do not fear. Fear will take over if you let it, and intensify the pain. Trust your amazing, wonderful, beautiful, and sacred body... your instincts will take over and guide you through. And if something feels off, something does not feel right, or you want to advocate for yourself and your experience, speak up and do not be afraid to fight for the birth experience that you deserve.
I could talk forever and ever about childbirth. It is a sacred, wonderful thing that only we as women experience... blogs like this are meant to share wisdom, experience, open discussion and thought, and lift up and empower women! Women are amazing. And regardless of how your childbirth experience is or what type of birth you had or wish to have, you are amazing and so worthy of a beautiful, sacred, and empowered birthing experience. My prayers go out to you, friend, as you navigate this crazy, beautiful, wonderful journey into becoming a mama.