Here's Why Winging it Doesn't Work for Birth

The following tips will help you prepare for birth.


When asked about their upcoming birth, some first-time moms respond with, "I'd like to go naturally, but I'm going to play it by ear." As someone who said the same thing before my first birth, I get this.

We don't want to commit to something when we're utterly unsure of the process – what it will feel like, how we'll respond, what might happen. In truth, we don't commit because there's a chance our plans might fail.

And with a first-time birth, the possibility of failure feels big. It's not like you can practice being in labor!

If you have your heart set on a certain kind of birth (be it natural or not) but tell yourself you'll "see how it goes" without preparing properly, chances are likely that you'll be disappointed. Even though I had a relatively easy vaginal birth with my first child, the experience was not at all what I had hoped. An epidural, Pitocin, feeling scared and helpless – most of those things could have been avoided if I had prepared differently.

At the other end of the spectrum, if you approach birth with a rigid mindset of "I will have a natural birth, no matter what!" or "Of course I'm getting an epidural!" you may be just as disappointed as women who "wing it." The reality is, birth is unpredictable. You can no more "plan" a birth than you can plan a thunderstorm! You can, however, prepare for birth.

As a doula, I encourage my clients to create "birth preferences" rather than a "birth plan." In this case, semantics are important. By writing your preferences instead of a plan, you maintain the understanding that circumstances beyond your control may change and you'll need to adapt your preferences accordingly. Women who end up with an epidural when they hoped to go without or a cesarean when they wanted to avoid it often report feeling like they failed. Women, hear me out: You CANNOT FAIL at birth. You can only do what you can with the circumstances you are given – that is the best you can do for yourself and your baby.

The following tips will help you prepare for birth by learning about all of the options available to you in labor and birth, and developing preferences for your birth.

1. Carefully choose your care provider and place of birth

Your choice of doctor or midwife has a significant impact on your birth experience and outcome. If you choose a doctor, for example, who has a high rate of induction, you are more likely to have an induction. Likewise, the standard practices and regulations in place at your chosen hospital or birth center may not be compatible with what you want in birth.

Take the time to interview your care provider before making your first prenatal appointment. If you're already seeing a care provider, ask pointed questions during your next appointment to see if she is the best choice for you. It's almost never too late to change your care provider!

2. Take a good childbirth class

Even if you "know" you're going to get an epidural, even if you have read all of the childbirth books, even if you watch childbirth videos, even if you're planning on hiring a doula – nothing replaces a good childbirth class. A childbirth class taught by an experienced educator (preferably certified by a reputable childbirth education organization) will cover pregnancy, labor, birth, postpartum, and newborn topics with in-depth, evidence-based information. A class also gives you direct access to the instructor to answer your questions. Be selective when choosing a childbirth class – the nearest hospital class is not usually the most comprehensive option.

3. Hire a doula

Couples with a doula by their side report feeling more confident and comfortable during birth. A doula is also a resourceful sounding board during your pregnancy – she has special training and access to solid information to help answer your questions and provide you with information for making decisions. Just like care providers, not all doulas are created equal – be sure to take the time to interview more than one doula to find out if you are a good match.

Keep Reading: Your step-by-step guide to the stages of labor