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Chances are, when you think about the prospect of labor, it’s not of a simple, pain-free experience. Nevertheless, you can take steps—both now and during labor—to make childbirth less stressful and more comfortable, less clinical and more joyful. And though the following tips won’t guarantee a pang-free birth, they can help make your labor and delivery more manageable.
1. Start preparing now> Once you’re firmly in the grip of labor, it’s a little late to crack open that self-hypnosis book, locate a birthing ball or get directions to the hospital. In other words, preparation counts. Case in point: Squatting during delivery increases the pelvic opening by approximately 28 percent. But if you wait until you’re in labor to try it, your squatting stamina won’t add up to … well, squat.
2. Get educated> Take a childbirth class (enroll as early as possible; not only do classes fill up fast, but some, such as Bradley courses, run 12 weeks, which means you need to start them in your second trimester). Read widely. Educate yourself about the different stages of labor so you know what to expect. Ask tough questions—and not-so-tough ones, too: Find out your doctor’s philosophy on epidurals vs. holistic ways of managing pain, as well as Cesarean sections. Ask whether you can labor in a T-shirt instead of a hospital gown; many women find that a comfortable top makes them feel less like a patient.
“The better prepared you are for childbirth, the more choices you have during labor,” says nurse practitioner Lynette Miya, M.N., R.N.P., co-owner of Bright Beginnings & Beyond, a childbirth and family resource center in Redondo Beach, Calif. “You don’t want to arrive at the hospital without any idea of what’s going to happen.” Once labor starts, no surprise is a good surprise.
3. Take a yoga class> “The most important thing women learn through yoga is how to focus,” says Carmela Cattuti, L.P.N., founder of Yoga for Pregnancy & Fitness in Boston. “It also strengthens the entire body, increases flexibility and gives you stamina. But, perhaps most important for labor, yoga helps your mind relax.” This, in turn, leaves your body free to go about the business of birthing.
4. Learn about pain management> During my first labor, breathing exercises gave me a massive sinus attack. Sniffling and coughing do not make labor fun—trust me on this. Worse, I was out of tricks: no backup plans for easing the pain, no weapon handy to beat my husband for getting me pregnant in the first place.
Don’t let this happen to you. Learn several pain-management techniques (self-hypnosis, position changes and heat packs, to name a few); bring a variety of music for relaxation; and ask friends, your childbirth instructor or a doula to act as lifelines if you need someone to lean on, either physically or psychologically.