The words "easy labour" may not look comfortable next to each other, but there are steps you can take, both throughout pregnancy and during labour, to make your delivery experience less stressful and more comfortable, less clinical and more joyful.
These tips won't guarantee a sweat-free, pang-free birth, but they can help make labour more manageable.
Start preparing now
Once you're in the grip of labour, it's too late to crack open that self-hypnosis book or locate a birthing ball. Preparation counts.
Case in point: squatting increases the size of the pelvic opening by about 28%. But if you wait until you’re in labour to try it for the first time, your squatting stamina won't add up to, well, squat.
Seek higher education
Enrol as early as possible to a birthing class: not only do classes fill up fast, but some run longer than others, which means you need to start in your second trimester.
Read credible books and articles on birthing. Learn about the different stages of labour so you know what to expect. Ask tough questions – and remember there are no stupid ones.
Find out your doctor's philosophy on epidurals versus holistic ways of managing pain, as well as on Caesarean sections. Ask whether you can labour in a T-shirt instead of a hospital gown – many women find a comfortable top makes them feel less like a patient.
The better prepared you are for childbirth, the more choices you have during labour. You don't want to arrive at the hospital without any idea of what's going to happen. Once labour starts, no surprise is a good surprise.
Take a yoga class
The most important thing women learn in yoga is how to focus. Yoga strengthens the body, increases flexibility and boosts stamina – but more crucially, it helps your mind relax. This leaves your body free to go about the business of birthing.
Hire a certified doula
Doulas are non-medical professionals who are trained to provide emotional and physical support, as well as information, to women during pregnancy and labour. Studies show their effectiveness.
"Women who work with doulas generally have shorter, easier labours, ask for less pain medication, feel greater satisfaction with their birth experiences and are more satisfied with their partners' participation," says Tracy Hartley, a certified doula. Go to Home Birth South Africa to find a certified doula in your area.
Give yourself options
Learn several techniques to manage pain, such as self-hypnosis, position changes, breathing methods and heat packs.
Bring choices of music to play for relaxation and ask friends, your childbirth instructor or a doula to act as a "lifeline" if you need someone to lean on, physically and psychologically.
Remember: if you don't know what your options are, you don't have any.
See no evil
Learning to tune out negative thoughts and images of birth may not seem like a critical aspect of preparation, but it can be.
Some childbirth educators believe graphic images, catastrophic tales and words of discouragement ("You'll never be able to get that monster out without a C-section!") can affect your subconscious and create a mental block during labour. Seems far flung?
Ask yourself this: when you're down to the last few pushes, do you really want that episiotomy video you saw in childbirth class flashing before your eyes? At best, negative thoughts make labour more tense; at worst, they'll actually intensify pain.
Change the channel, cover your eyes or walk away when the subject matter makes you uncomfortable. Bonus: doing this now will train you to ignore all that unwanted advice after the baby is born.
Upright positions – and those include standing, walking, slow dancing, sitting and squatting – allow gravity to help move the baby down and out.
Rocking back and forth on your hands and knees may get the baby into position.
Set the mood
For most women, a dark, quiet environment is ideal during labour, so ask your nurse or partner to dim the lights and minimise noise.
Little touches make a difference: bring pillows from home, a comfortable pair of socks or soothing scents. Aromatherapy, especially the scent of lavender, is very calming in labour – and it makes a hospital seem a little less clinical.
Early in labour, a warm bath is a blessing. Later, the sustained warmth and weightlessness of water can feel more like a miracle.
If you have access to a warm tub during labour, take the plunge. (Be sure to get your doctor or midwife's green light before doing so.) If a soak isn't possible, take a hot shower instead.
Stand your ground
Labour transforms you, but it won't make you suddenly love New Age music or the sight of your in-laws. People will press all kinds of suggestions on you during labour: don't feel you have to go along with them.
Be open-minded, but always honour yourself. Although you don't know how labour will go, you do know your preferences, hopes and principles. It's your body, baby and labour, so stick to your guns.
Tips for dads-to-be
A man's touch can help relieve a mom's pain and anxiety during labour.
- Lend two helping hands:
Learn a few basic massage techniques (before your partner goes into labour).
- Pack some props:
To combat finger fatigue from giving massages throughout labour, tuck a few tennis balls in a sock and roll them up and down her back.
- Master the three-finger squeeze:
Offering a labouring woman two or three fingers instead of your whole hand may save you from a finger fracture. Sounds weird, but try it – it makes a difference. Especially at the peak of a contraction.
With a trained doula's support, forceps use dropped by 40%, epidural use by 60%, C-sections by 50%, oxytocin use for induction by 40% and average labour length by 25%.
Do you have any tricks and tips for an easier labour? Share them with us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.