Preparing for labor and birth can be scary, but there are some tips and tricks that doulas have to help make the birth experience a little easier for mom and baby.
As a doula, I often get asked by first-time parents what they should expect during labor. Will they really know when it's time to go to the hospital? What if things don't go as planned? Whether you are pregnant with your first, second, third or beyond, each birth is different. But thankfully, leaning on an experienced doula who has been through a variety of birth experiences can help with some of those worries and prepare you for what is to come. Here are 10 things that us doulas wish you knew.
1. It's a marathon, not a sprint.
The more work your body can do silently in the weeks leading up to delivery, the better. You can help it along by going for regular walks, drinking raspberry leaf tea regularly (3 cups a day or so in the run-up to your due date—though consult your doctor first), and engaging in activities that make you genuinely happy. Releasing oxytocin, the happy hormone, can really help naturally progress your labor in the early stages. While you might not feel painful uterine contractions until right near the end, trust that your body is doing the work that it needs while you are busily nesting and folding tiny little socks and onesies.
2. False labor is still productive labor!
Braxton hicks can feel like annoying, charlie horse-type pains starting after the second trimester, but they can absolutely be productive. They are preparing your body for the finish line by toning your uterine muscles and showing you what type of pain to expect from labor, and helping you practice your breath.
3. Remember to breathe, starting now.
Often, when we are faced with a scary situation or experience physical pain, our natural reaction is to hold our breath. But that actually stalls the process and can make every passing minute seem that much longer. Try breathing in for the count of five and then exhaling for another count of five. Practice doing this a couple of times a day in the weeks leading up to labor.
4. Labor can be a little gross.
There is fluid, blood and, yes, sometimes poop. It's definitely not glamorous but your medical team will get you cleaned up in lightning speed. Trust me, they have seen everything in their years of birth work, as has your doula if you have one on your team. Don't feel ashamed; you will not be the first woman to poop during labor.
5. You call the shots.
If you want to labor in the tub, go for it. If you want to give birth while squatting, have at it! Be clear about what you want and what you are comfortable with. If something is happening that you aren't sure about, speak up or ask your doula or partner to speak up for you. This is your body, your baby and your birth. Ask all the questions you want.
6. Birth plans are just that, plans.
One thing that I tell my birth clients when we are making their birth plan during the third trimester is that it's just a plan, and if they want it to change that is absolutely okay. It is not etched in stone and ultimately, whatever is safest for mom and babe is generally what is best. If there are things that are specifically important to you (cord blood banking, placenta encapsulation, skin to skin, etc.) make sure that your care team knows what they are when you are admitted so they can honor and respect your wishes.
7. Hit the drive-through on your way.
If you are giving birth at a hospital, you likely won't be allowed (per hospital protocol) to eat once you are admitted. However, no one ever said you weren't allowed to eat on the way! You wouldn't run a marathon on an empty stomach; the same goes for labor. Protein and complex carbs are great when you are about to go through something physically exhausting. Something like cream cheese on a bagel, chicken soup with quinoa or beans, or even a chicken wrap are all great choices.
8. Bring a tennis ball or hard plastic massager.
In the event that you experience back labor, counter pressure can do wonders for relief. Spouses can often be too gentle with applying this pressure as they are already having a hard time seeing you in pain, so it is a great thing for your doula to do for you.
9. There may be trauma.
Birth trauma and complications happen. The best thing that you can do to prepare for the possibility of it happening to you is to talk openly about it. If you're worried about a specific complication, read up about it in advance so you aren't caught off guard trying to process medical terminology or instructions from doctors and nurses immediately after you give birth.
10. Expect the unexpected.
Each labor and birth is different, so if you're banking on your third being faster than your first, know that it may not be! Just because you had an episiotomy the first time, doesn't mean you will need one the second time. Each time you welcome a new baby, things are fresh. This little person is a totally different being than anyone you have ever met before. Be open to every possibility and arm yourself with the information you need to make the process yours.