Labor is a mysterious and profound experience, usually ranging somewhere on the “marathon” scale from hours to days in length (although some labors will actually end up being quite short. I know of a couple who named their daughter “Octavia”, as labor lasted 8… minutes !).
In general however, preparing for labor, means preparing for a sort of marathon by building physical and mental endurance, and by giving ourselves resources and tools, almost like a toolbox, that we can come back to when the time comes, to help us cope with the intense and awe-inspiring event that is childbirth.
As our bodies progress through the birthing experience, much of our rational brain “turns off”, and some of the most important tools available to us become:
3. BODY AWARENESS
I’ve rounded up what ended up being the 25 most useful resources in both of my birthing experiences in helping me to develop this awareness in preparation for labor.
Often times, the welcomed side-effect of these exercises is to make pregnancy a bit more “comfortable”, too !
*There are many proven techniques that you can also look into and study, such as HypnoBirthing, Lamaze, The Bradley Method, Bonapace Method and Alexander Technique to name a few. Also, having a doula at your side can play an important role when it comes to pain management.
* As always, please consult with a licensed physician before beginning any new exercise program. The exercises and suggestions provided here are in no way intended as a substitute for medical consultation.
– Without a doubt, walking is one of the best ways to build physical and mental stamina in preparation for labor.
– Activates circulation.
– Tones the muscles.
– Can help to reduce swelling in the legs.
– Allows us to breathe fresh air, oxygenating the muscles.
– Helps relieve stress and anxiety.
– Energizes the body and mind.
– Can encourage the progression of labor.
– If you have no contraindications from your doctor or midwife, you can aim for a 10-60 minute (or 2 to 6 km) walk every day (or just about), all the way until the end of pregnancy.
– Find a pace that is suitable for you.
– If you’re not used to walking, start with shorter walks, gradually lengthening over time.
– Here are 10 exercises you can do while walking, for maintaining a healthy posture.
– For tension relief, this is a simple meditation exercise, called a “walking meditation.”
– Useful tips to add steps to your day include: parking the car further away, wearing comfortable shoes, taking the stairs rather than the elevator, etc.
#14: PRACTICE SAYING “YES”
– This personal point ended up being one the more useful tools in my mental preparation.
– During my first labor, I started to become tired of the pain and continuous flow of contractions which had been coming on every 1-3 minutes for about 12 hours, and I began to lose my capacity to deal.
– When a new contraction, or « wave » would come in, I started to say “No no no no ….” at which point my midwife made her way to my side and gently proposed: “See if you can say yes, instead”.. (so this was obviously not what I felt like saying 🙂 , but I did it), and low and behold my body started to let go, and I entered the pushing phase not long after.
– Saying « yes », the word, seemed to send a yes message of receptivity, release and opening to my body, even if not on a conscious level.
– I was then more able to allow the contractions to happen, instead of pushing them away.
– During your daily routine or while exercising, see how it feels to welcome the sensations that arise in your body with a “yes” as best you can, creating a feeling of release, even surrender to that which is occurring in your body at that time.
– This can also be used during labor, allowing the contractions to happen without looking to avoid, change or push them away, simply, « yesingly » letting them happen.
– Resting the body, especially during late-pregnancy, is just as important as activating and mobilizing it.
– Restores energy
– A rested body will have more energy for labor.
– A self-care practice, where mama takes care of mama, vital during pregnancy, and motherhood 🙂 .
– When possible, find a moment during the day to lay your body down.
– The most comfortable positions in late-pregnancy will likely be on your left side, or in a reclined position. (Use as many pillows as needed to prop your knee(s), head, etc.)
– As you rest your body, imagine that you are “recharging your batteries”, a wonderful image that can help give meaning and peacefulness to your rest.
– Tone the pelvic floor muscles.
– Create elasticity in the tissues and muscles of the pelvic floor.
– Promote pelvic floor awareness.
– Teach us to relax and release the perineum. When baby makes their way through the birth canal, the pelvic floor muscles and tissues are stretched. Relaxing these muscles as best we can will help to create the space and release for baby’s passage (into our arms!).
– A way to stay in tune with our body during labor.
– Can help prevent incontinence.
– Part of postnatal rehabilitation.
– Here are 6 Kegel exercises you can practice throughout pregnancy to develop this awareness and tone.
– As you practice relaxing the pelvic floor, (Kegel Exercise #6), try incorporating the following imagery, specifically in preparation for birth:
As you breathe, close the eyes and imagine that on each exhale, you are breathing gently “downwards” towards your vagina, as a way to become aware of this part of your body and to learn how to relax and release it. You can even say to yourself: “I am preparing the passage for my baby.”
Note: Do not practice pushing!
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#17: WHAT IS A CONTRACTION?
– Learning what a contraction does, can help to “work with” it.
(in layman’s terms:)
– The uterus is an incredibly strong muscular organ that can expand during pregnancy from around the size of a closed fist to become large enough to hold a full term baby.
– A contraction is an awe-inspiring co-action of the uterus:
While the top of the uterus tightens and thickens,
the bottom (or cervix) relaxes and stretches
to help baby through into the birth canal for delivery.
– Contractions start in response to the release of oxytocin (“love” hormone produced by our brain).
– Isn’t it just so amazing? I am eternally in awe of the human body.
– From there, encouraging this action through words or thoughts, may help us feel like we can work with our body.
– Here are some example phrases that can help to visualize this action:
Each contraction helps soften and open my cervix
for the passage of my baby.
I abandon myself to this contraction.
Each contraction is helping my baby get closer to my arms.
– For more information on the fascinating cocktail of hormones we produce during childbirth, here is a clear and beautifully written overview of Labor Hormones by Mama Glow.
– Hip openers, squats help to prepare the pelvis for birth.
– Build (lots of!) endurance, making us stronger for labor.
– Bring tone and elasticity to the pelvic floor, promoting perineum health. Try adding Kegels to your squats for optimal benefits.
– Grounding, rooting effect.
– Natural way to induce labor.
– During labor, they “shorten” the birth canal by up to 30%, and help baby descend deeper into the pelvis.
– Here are 2 squats that you can practice throughout pregnancy in preparation for birth.
SQUAT #1. This first squat focuses on hip opening and pelvic floor toning (and is also birthing position)
– Feet about shoulder width apart, toes pointing outward.
– Knees bend (in alignment with the toes) to bring bum towards the ground.
– Elbows press into the inner legs, hands in prayer position, or stretched out on floor in front of you.
– Hold for 20-60 seconds, breath steady and full.
– Renowned midwife Ina May Gaskin suggests doing 300 squats a day.. that’s a lot! But I believe the idea is to add squats into your day, whenever you can! For example while cleaning, bending down to pick something up, playing with your children, etc.
* Do not do this full squat if you have placenta previa or if your cervix is fragile or if it’s uncomfortable. Instead, try sitting on a chair or a yoga ball with legs straddled (feet flat on the floor, as in the yoga ball hip circles)
* During late-pregnancy it can be a good idea to place support under your bum, with a pillow, bolster or block so as not to put too much pressure on the pelvic floor
* If the heels don’t touch the ground, place a rolled blanket underneath them for support.
SQUAT #2. This second squat focuses on building leg strength and stamina in preparation for labor:
– Feet take a wider stance, toes still pointing outwards.
– Bend the knees, aligned with the toes, hands rest on thighs or a chair for support.
– Add lateral movement:
– Inhale: Right arm up and over
– Exhale: Back to center
– Repeat on the other side, 5-10 times each side.
– *If balance is unsteady, use a chair or counter top for support.
Take advantage of the lovely side stretch, filling the lungs with deep and joyous breaths!
#19: PREPARE ENCOURAGEMENT NOTES!
– During labor, hearing positive words can encourage the production of labor-enhancing hormones (oxytocin, the “love” hormone, and endorphins, our natural pain relievers).
– Can calm and reassure mama, creating a climate of trust. During my first labor, the pain was so powerful that I thought something was wrong. Being told that “everything was going well” helped me to understanding that this pain was normal, making me feel safe for both me and my baby. I was then able to let myself go with more trust to the process of labor.
– A way to connect with birth partner.
– An occasion for partner to look into birth partner preparation.
– Think of words that might inspire or encourage you.
– Here are some examples of the words that helped me during labor.
Note: You may end up not wanting to hear anything at all!
#20: Study and practice LABOR POSITIONS
– Though they may come to you naturally during labor, practicing various labor positions in advance can be a way to help them become more intuitive and natural, so that you won’t have to “think” about them during birth.
– As some positions require a partner, can be a way to connect with your partner in the weeks before baby’s arrival.
– Above is an example of various labor positions.
– Some partner positions involve the use of acupressure points, which can greatly benefit the laboring mama!
Tip: During labor, walk and change positions as often as you can. It is usually recommended to try any given position for between 20 and 30 minutes to let it have its effect.
– More of a for-fun point, but because that’s important too! 🙂
– Can help us connect to the joyous nature of pregnancy, and birth.
– Creates mobility in the body.
– Relieves stress and anxiety.
– Can help to relax mama. A relaxed mama will have more energy for labor.
– Can be used as a natural way to induce labor.
– Some women even use dancing as a coping mechanism during labor.
– Releases endorphins into the body. – Endorphins are a powerful pain-relieving and pleasure-enhancing hormone that our bodies produce during labor to help mediate the pain of contractions.
-Really up to you :), I’m personally a fan of Funk and Motown, it just gets me going :)!
– Try “dancing” with baby by placing your hands on your belly, and sharing the movement.
Note: Even if you feel like a whale, give it a try!
– This is a personal point that proved useful for me during my second pregnancy.
– My first birth was long-ish, 14 hours, with lots of pushing. I believe my body needed to figure out the way to opening and that a little bit of fear of the unknown made me avoid letting go to this “opening”.
– Furthermore, when labor began, my cervix was 0 effaced, 0 dilated, and posterior. (!)
– Because of this experience, when my second pregnancy came around, I was able to prepare mentally in a more concrete way. Along with acknowledging my fears during pregnancy, this visualization proved to be a very useful tool.
– Simply put, when I was about 37 or 38 weeks pregnant, I started to do some very specific visualization of my body “opening” up, once a day before going to bed.
– I found images of the cervix, and what it looks like when it’s going through labor and opening (even just a drawing). – a head-on view was the most useful for me, as in this type of image (no pun intended):
– I then imagined my own cervix as best I could doing the same thing.
– And finally, I imagined breathing into this part of my body, visualizing it relaxing, stretching and opening, with each breath for between 5-10 minutes.
– The image of a flower opening is also often used to nourish this visualization, like in this example:
Note: With the ok from your doctor or midwife, Evening Primrose Oil, taken orally (35 weeks +) or directly inserted into the vagina (37 weeks +), can be used to help soften and “ripen” the cervix in the final days of pregnancy. I personally used 500mg capsules which I inserted as of 39 weeks of pregnancy, with positive results on cervical ripening!
– Encourages the production of labor-enhancing hormones (oxytocin, the “love” hormone, and endorphins, our natural pain relievers) during childbirth.
– Helps to alleviate feelings of stress and anxiety. Stress and anxiety can tense up the body, which can in turn slow down the release of labor hormones.
– A relaxed mama will have more energy for labor.
– A relaxed body and mind can help lessen the sensation pain.
– Can help labor to progress by encouraging the body to “open up”.
– Once a day, practice a relaxation technique, such as:
– If you do yoga, Savasana.
– Total body relaxation (many guided relaxation videos exist online).
– Deep and slow belly breathing.
– During labor, promote relaxation for mama with:
– A calm, safe environment.
– Dim lights.
#24: MY POSITION, BABY’S POSITION!
– The way we sit and stand has a direct effect on baby’s positioning in the womb.
– Especially in 3rd trimester and in preparation for birth, it is recommended to maintain a forward-leaning or vertical stance, and to avoid “slouching” posture to promote optimal positioning for baby.
– Can have a positive effect on the outcome of labor.
– Here are 10 (fun!) tips to maintain good posture during pregnancy.
– Once a day, practice a forward leaning pose, such as Downward Dog, or this Forward-Leaning Inversion by Spinning Babies.
– When sitting down to work or watch a movie, prop pillows behind your back to maintain an upright position. (you’ll look funny next normal, relaxed and non-pregnant people 🙂 )
– Avoid sitting cross-legged.
– Sit on a birthing ball instead of a chair, as often as you can, especially in late-pregnancy. There are so many benefits to this, including, toning the postural muscles in the spine, toning and supporting the pelvic floor, mobility and opening of the pelvis in preparation for birth, to name but a few. You can practice hip circles and pelvis rocking while you’re at it as well!
#25: PRACTICE “HAVING” CONTRACTIONS.. !
– This exercise can help give a sense as to how long a contraction lasts, and what resources we can hone as coping mechanisms during this lapse of time.
– Take a “sitting” position, with your back gently pressed against the wall, feet hip-width apart in front of you, knees aligned with the feet. You can place a cushion or yoga block in between the thighs to help maintain proper alignment of the knees.
– Hold this position for 60 to 90 seconds, the length of time a contraction lasts!
– During this time, in principle (!), your thighs should begin to feel a burn. 🙂
– While in this “discomfort”, observe which resources help you to find relaxation, calm and breath in your body and mind, using the various tools available to us, for example:
– Come back to breath awareness* using words, or mantras, to help guide you and keep you focused in the present moment.
– Relax what doesn’t need to be “working”*, for example the shoulders, face and mouth.
– Acknowledge what is there*, sensations, thoughts, emotions, without looking to push them away or avoid them.
– Find movement in your position, try rocking the hips side-to-side or in circles.*
– Say yes!
– Think of breathing “into” where you feel the heat (as in Hand On Belly Breath Exercise).
– Breathing exercises.*
(*These points can be found in Part 1)
I hope these tips are helpful!
I did not include proper hydration and a healthy diet, which are, of course, essential.
One of the healthy snacks I craved the most during pregnancy was this Sunflower Seed Veggie Pâte recipe. I really just couldn’t get enough! 😉
To remain properly hydrated, aim to drink 8-10 glasses of water a day.
If you have tips that were useful for you in preparing for birth, I would love to hear them and share with other mamas-to-be! Please feel free to share them in the comment section below.
With all of my heart, I wish you a wonderful and joyous birth, and time discovering your new baby. xoxo
Here are some links to books and products that were helpful for me in preparation for birth. They are affiliate links, which means I receive a small percentage if you make a purchase using these links. Your price doesn’t change but this commission helps support this site. Thank you!
Raspberry Leaf Tea can be taken as of 34 weeks, to strengthen and tone the uterine muscles in preparation for labor. This is the one that I used:
Hi! I’m Myriam, a former dancer turned yoga teacher based in Montreal. I’m also mama to two unbearably beautiful little ones, ages 1 and 4. 🙂 I believe in the virtues of bringing breath and body awareness as well as humor and loving-kindness to new mamas, and mamas-to-be! Read more→
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