Colleen and Kristi have ten births between them including eight homebirths (6 UCs and two midwife-assisted), a (mostly) natural hospital birth, and a C-section. Here are the top 13 labor tips they would share with anyone preparing for their own birth. Also, the University of Minnesota has put together a really great basic article on the anatomy and stages of birth, and though its focus is on the woman planning to give birth in a hospital, the information is relevant for anyone.
1. Your body is made to give birth, yet no labor tips will truly prepare you for THIS birth.
During my first labor, I remember my nurse-midwife, Kat, offering me labor tips as she tried to prepare me for the possible pain of my impending labor. I brushed her aside — I’d taken Lamaze classes, I’d read a dozen books and even more blogs, I was twenty years old, and I believed in my body’s power to give birth.
I was right — and I was wrong. My body did, indeed, know just what to do, but I was unprepared for the truth that it did, in fact, hurt, and early in my labor, I began to panic. I didn’t know how to surrender my body to its own power, and so my birth was difficult.
When baby number two came, I felt better. I had planned an unassisted birth, read another dozen books, and knew what labor would be like now that I’d been through it. And yet, I was again unprepared for my labor, and I was sorely disappointed that I had not been graceful during the birth. My third birth was incredible; I read “Birthing from Within” and felt ready — but baby number 4’s intensity surprised me, and baby number 5 — boy. I was not ready for his leisurely and yet intense escape from the womb.
You will not know what your baby’s journey Earthside will bring you in terms of the thoughts, sensations, emotions, or circumstances. And yet, you CAN prepare by making peace with the uncertainty ahead of time. Your body was made for this. Your very humanity has led you to this moment when you will bring your child forth into the world. If you can surrender your mind and its expectations to the power of your birthing body, your birth experience will be an important part of your connection to your child rather than simply a trial you must endure before meeting him.
“I was not prepared for my fifth birth to end in a c-section — but even though the birth was nothing like my first four homebirths; nothing like it was “supposed to be,” I kept in touch with my body and my baby throughout the process and it was an important piece of our introduction to one another,” adds Colleen of her fifth birth.
2. Understand the fear-pain cycle
Grantly Dick-Read wrote in his book, Childbirth Without Fear, about his experience of seeing a woman’s uterus white during a C-section — presumably because during moments of fear, our bodies move our blood from our internal organs to our hands and feed in order to prepare for “fight or flight.” He postulated that our fear during labor seriously impedes our bodies’ abilities to give birth — because our biologic reactions to fear cannot distinguish between, for instance, fear of an attacking tiger and fear of a birth procedure.
In 2012, a Norwegian study confirmed his suspicions. You can read more about the study inScience Daily.
Many books, articles, and even entire systems and classes (such as “Hypnobirthing” and “Birthing from Within”) have been developed to help women work through their fears to have more peaceful and empowered births, and you may wish to explore such a system. However, even understanding how fear affects your labor can help you let go of irrational thoughts and to create a psychologically safe environment in which to give birth.
The basics: The more afraid you feel, the more pain you will have during labor. The more pain you have, the more afraid you will feel. As you feel more afraid, your pain will increase, and so it goes. Read some great labor tips on this as well as to find some concrete advice on avoiding the cycle, you can read this article, “Reducing the Fear-Tension-Pain Cycle During Labor,”Â at Helping Hands Doula.