Natural Birth Tactics: Preparing for Labor
Disclaimer: I’m sharing my personal story and my personal wishes for my own labor (a natural birth). I strongly believe that every woman has the right to make her own decisions regarding the labor she hopes for. Any opinions given here are not meant to cause offense to women who have chosen a different path from the one I have chosen.
Once upon a time, as a teen, before I got married, and before I had done my due diligence and research on labor, I had thought “Why would anyone want to just take the pain of labor? There are drugs that can help with that!”
AND then I did my research, and now I can totally see why many women go into labor with the goal of an un-medicated birth. I can also see why many women opt into pain relief such as an epidural (hello! Labor is intense!)
Learning About Labor & Natural Birth Tactics
I am thoroughly enjoying learning about labor and am fascinated with the whole thing. Maybe I was meant to be a midwife in another life? My husband is probably fed up with me poking my nose over the latest book I’m reading saying “Did you know…?!”
My goal is to approach labor without fear, with confidence in my body’s abilities, armed with knowledge to help me avoid scenarios that are not part of my ideal birth plan, and equipped with the tools to manage the roller-coaster sensations of labor. I’d like to help you do the same.
In this post, I will share some of the tools and information I’ve learned during my pregnancy. I also plan on doing a follow-up post after I deliver my baby to share what natural birth tactics were personally tried and tested. The tools and information have been curated to help me manage a medication, and intervention, -free labor. That being said, I believe many women will these tools helpful. For those who do opt-in to having an epidural, you still will have a period of time without the relief of medication where the following may be helpful.
Let’s get real ladies. Imagine, for a second, you’re trying to poo. Now imagine you’re tensed up – jaw locked, fists clenched and muscles taut. That poo isn’t going to be easy. Now, also imagine someone is yelling at you to push while you poo. Um… this is awkward. What about trying to do all of that in a public restroom? Feeling uncomfortable yet?
The above is an example of the sphincter law, as outlined in Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. This information really clicked for me. In summary, she highlights how a woman’s cervix operates in a similar way as to a bladder or bowel.
- work best when we are in a ‘safe’ environment (e.g. the average person feels most comfortable pooing at home in a locked bathroom).
- do not respond to external commands (e.g. “push” or “hurry up”).
- can ‘shut down’ when we are under stress, or feeling self-conscious. (Think of that bolt of fear, or self-consciousness, when you’re mid-poo in a quiet public restroom, and then someone else walks in).
- will be more relaxed when our bodies are relaxed. This especially applies to the mouth and jaw.
Here’s how this applies to labor:
- The place where you are delivering should make you comfortable, be that at home, at a birthing center or in a hospital. Adjust the temperature and/or lighting. Play some relaxing music. Only have people you’re comfortable around in the room (e.g. having your mother in law in the room might be ok with some, but very uncomfortable for others. Make sure you’re comfortable around your obstetrician and the midwives.)
- Ask your spouse, doctor, and nurses not to try ‘command’ your cervix. Some many comment on “how long it’s taking” for you to dilate – ignore this or politely say “that isn’t helping my labor progress”. (*for those who have an epidural, you may not feel the same sensation to push. This is where medical staff will help coach you through the right times to push).
- A stressful scenario may cause your labor to stall. Everyone is unique in could trigger labor to slow down, but some examples may include: an internal examination, a comment like “you may need a C-section”, an unwelcome visitor. It’s important to keep calm, be flexible and request adjustments if you feel they’re needed.
- Keep your body relaxed. Blow raspberries. Take deep breaths and let your lips flap (like a horse!). Open your mouth and make a low noise. Have your partner massage your back. Jiggle, or have someone jiggle, your thighs, and bum. Take a shower or bath (our bodies naturally relax in water). Kiss your partner! Laugh… REALLY laugh (ever peed a bit because you were laughing so hard? Laughing relaxes your sphincters!)
Ina May advocates drinking during labor to keep hydrated. The more you drink, the more you pee, and the process of peeing (relaxing your bladder), may also help your vagina relax and cervix dilate.
And I don’t mean turning up the temperature.
Disclaimer: I’m about to say vagina and engorge a lot. You have been warned!
The average woman need some foreplay before jumping into sex, or sex can be painful. Foreplay helps our vaginas engorge and natural lubricants to be produced. Remember last time you had a vaginal exam or pap smear? Most practitioners will use a lubricant, and the speculums used aren’t exactly HUGE, but it still is rather uncomfortable (and sometimes downright painful!) Your mind might be prepared for the sudden invasion, your vagina is not.
Most people probably aren’t going to feel comfortable diving into foreplay while in labor. That’s OK! Remember when we talked about feeling comfortable? However, if you’re keen for your labor to progress, and need some help feeling ‘ready’ to push out that baby, there are some things you can try.
Strategies that may help natural labor progress
- Kissing. Ina May is a big advocate for kissing during labor. This is a special moment for you and your partner, and kissing is a bonding activity. Kissing also helps relax the body. And if it’s a really good kiss (wink, wink!), it can help the vagina engorge.
- Breast simulation. A bit of boob play can really help intensify contractions and progress labor. Pick your comfort level: self-simulate, ask your partner for help or see if you have a doula or midwife who’s open to helping (this is common at The Farm).
- Massage. For some, a massage is a great part of foreplay. Massage may also help with the pain of contractions.
- Vaginal Simulation. There’s a reason why sex is one of the recommended ways to naturally induce labor. Simply put – vaginal simulation is going to help with vaginal engorgement and prepare your body for accommodating your baby. You may also want to try a perineum massage: Ina May recommends using a little oil to lubricate the perineum to help avoid tears during the pushing phase.
Getting Your Head In, and Out, of the Labor Game.
I’ve been saving a LOT of affirmations and mantras onto my Pinterest board and have created my own set of printable affirmations here. I find these statements uplifting and empowering. Women have been giving birth to babies forever. We GOT this! I plan on using these affirmations to get my head IN the game. I’m confident that I CAN do this.
Ina May talks a bit about the mind-body connection and shares stories of women who encountered a mental block during labor that caused a physical stall. For example, if mid-labor you’re weighed down with the thought “What if I’m a terrible mother?”, that can affect your physical progression. So, go to your happy place and let go of negative thoughts.
Once your brain is on board and thinking happy thoughts, it’s time to switch it off! Your body knows what it needs to do, and it’s best to surrender to your own body.
Don’t do dilation math (“It’s been 8 hours, and I’m 5cm dilated, which means I probably have another 8 hours to go… and I’m tired”) – STOP! Labor doesn’t work this way! Refocus on positive affirmations: “I can do this”, “Each contraction is helping my body open up”, “I’m doing so well”.
Some women talk of surrendering to their own body. Your body is releasing all kinds of hormones to make labor happen. You can’t stop it… so go with it. Ride the waves. Let your mind go into a meditative state. Ina May suggests letting your inner primate take over.
Move, Baby! Move!
It does not benefit you, or your labor, to lie on your back in bed. It does make life easier for doctors and nurses who want to have good visual access to your vagina.
Assuming you don’t get an epidural (if you do you won’t be able to walk and will be confined to a hospital bed), try moving. Your baby needs to adjust and prepare to enter the birth canal as you dilate. Moving can help aid this process.
- Sit on a yoga ball and roll your hips, bounce, or rock.
- Switch up positions to deal with contractions. Do what feels good. Squat, bend over, get on all fours…. Crawl around the room! Most of all, listen to your body.
- Gravity is your friend. Let it help.
- If you’re in early labor – go for a walk! Being stuck in one room for hours, dealing with contractions, would drive me a little crazy.
I hope this information helps you, like me, feel equipped for a natural birth. I would love to hear your stories of childbirth, and what tools and techniques helped you.
For those who enjoyed this information, I thoroughly recommend taking the time to read Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. It is a wonderful, practical, and statistically backed book that takes the fear out of childbirth, especially natural birth. She includes a ton of natural birth tactics that have definitely helped me in preparing myself for labor.