I have had two completely natural childbirths, and am preparing for my third soon. (You can read my home birth stories here.) I’m going to share everything I do to prepare for birth, and at the end a list of why birthing naturally is a priority for me in the first place.
Natural childbirth is a mental game and that fact is often the most overlooked aspect of birth.
My older brother used to be on the US Olympic Shooting team. He practiced his sport endlessly at the range, but it was mental training that steadied his arms, calmed his nerves and heart rate, helped him ignore distractions, and focus to become a champion.
In order for childbirth to more easily progress and unfold without being forced along by interventions like Pitocin, you have to learn to relax and surrender to the process so that you aren’t interrupting the natural flow of hormones that cause dilation and progression. It takes mental strength to accept the pain, get through contractions, relax, and allow your body to do what it needs to.
Tensing up and/or becoming fearful can interrupt the natural flow of hormones that causes labor to progress in the absence of synthetic hormones. This is part of why its very common for women to head to the hospital with labor moving along nicely to promptly slow down or stop. If mother went from being really relaxed in a familiar place like home, to suddenly put on edge in a cold, bright hospital room with lots of unfamiliar sounds, the body may release cortisol which interrupts that progression of labor. Learning to relax helps prevent this from happening.
Beyond tensing up, relaxing when baby is born can greatly help with reducing or eliminating tearing. Have you heard of the Fetal Ejection Reflex (FER) before? It is literally the process of your body forcing the baby out during the pushing stage, and your body will do it on its own under the right conditions.
I did not push hardly at all with Philomena, and I did not push at all with Zelie. I stood upright supported by my husband and a midwife or doula, totally and completely relaxed my body and my jaw by making the “ughhhhh” sound I do during contractions, and my body birthed the girls without any pushing on my part. I had very minimal tearing with either, and have never needed a stitch after birth.
I know it probably sounds crazy if you haven’t heard of it before, but it can really happen if mama feels super safe and is really relaxed.
Focusing on relaxing is incredibly important during labor, and it is not likely something you will easily do “on the fly” without preparing in advance.
Here is how you can mentally train for baby:
Most of what the average 21st Century person knows of birth are highly dramatized and perilous scenes from t.v. shows and movies, or horror stories people love to repeat. Birth has become this mysterious, scary, unfamiliar event that many are very fearful of, and eager to just get over with without dwelling on it.
Birth can also be very beautiful. It is raw and emotional and intense. It is unlike anything else, and when all we have seen or heard of are examples of births with high levels of intervention or emergency scenarios, we likely don’t have any positive images of it and will approach it with fear.
Read positive birth stories. Watch birth videos. (Natasha Hance on Youtube has some really beautiful ones!) Ask friends who have had birth experiences they loved to share them. Normalize birth for yourself and a lot of the fear will go away when you are focusing on connecting with what women have been doing since the beginning of time.
While I get that the term “birth affirmation” may seem a bit cheesy, they are incredibly helpful for many women to keep focused and relaxed during labor.
This is tough work, and it is common for really negative and discouraged thoughts to enter our minds while we are laboring. “I can’t do this anymore.” “I am never getting this baby out.” “I am so scared of this pain.”
We need to replace that with positive language that our suffering and pain has power and purpose. You are going to meet your baby. You can keep going.
Write down Scripture verses and saint quotes on love, suffering, and motherhood. Think of positive reminders to relax, surrender, and have faith that your labor is a temporary pain that is going to bring great joy! Read them often in the days and weeks leading up to birth, as well. They really do help!
I created an entire collection of 25 birth affirmations that you can digitally download here on Etsy to use before and during labor.
The purchase includes all 25 high resolution images in PDF form for you to print in two sizes: half page and full page ones. You can hang these around your home for labor and/or birth, or you can put them in a binder to take to the hospital or birth center. They are wonderful for you to focus on, or have your spouse or doula read to you during labor when you need encouragement or consolation.
Understand Pregnancy and Birth
Read everything you can about natural childbirth. Understand the mechanics of the process. Learn what is happening during contractions and dilation. See how the stages progress and what will likely happen to you physically and mentally during each stage.
Learn about what interventions may happen, the risks and benefits of each, and under what circumstances you would be open to them. Depending on your health care provider or place of birth, you may also need to make decisions on vaginal checks, stripping of membranes, breaking of waters, continuous fetal monitoring, episiotomy, pitocin, epidural… while these are very common interventions, they all come with certain risks, and they often stack up one on top of the other in a process known as “the cascade of interventions,” and can lead to a c-section or make vaginal birth more difficult. Understanding them thoroughly will help you make evidence-based decisions that you are comfortable with, without being pressured and panicked in the moment.
Don’t let birth be a foreign process you only have a fuzzy understanding of. This is a powerful, transformative, life-changing event and you will greatly benefit from having a good grasp of the process.
There are so many great resources out there, but the three main books I would recommend on pregnancy and birth for the purpose of understanding the process are:
“The Mama Natural Week-By-Week Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth” – it is like the “What to Expect” classic but for naturally minded mamas. This goes through a lot of evidence based information about almost anything you can imagine related to pregnancy and birth. It can be purchased here.
While I never took Bradley Method classes, Natural Childbirth: The Bradley Way” is a great resource in preparing for labor and birth specifically. It goes through the entire labor and birthing process in great detail from a physical and emotional aspect. My husband reads through a few key chapters every time we are pregnant to give him a refresher on the process to better support me. Find it here.
My favorite book on all things pregnancy and birth is, hands down, “Made for This: The Catholic Mom’s Guide to Birth” by Mary Haseltine found here. This is a comprehensive resource for mind, body, and spirit. Mary has meticulously researched evidence-based information on interventions and routine procedures. She includes stirring birth stories from mothers, information on nutrition, medications, exercise, and growing in grace during the sacrifices a mother is asked to make during this time, among other things. Whether you are expecting your first or your fifth child, this book will prove invaluable.
Hire A Doula
I have an entire post you can find here called “Why I Hire a Doula for Every Birth,” explaining just that. You can go read that post for a lot more information on doulas, but know that they are birth professionals who are dedicated entirely to supporting mothers during birth. Unlike a doctor or midwife who is usually focused mainly on the medical side of birth, a doula is an angel to swoop in and encourage you, suggest a new position to keep labor going, give counter pressure during contractions, give your spouse a break to rest during a long labor, and do anything else you need to keep going. My husband insists we hire a doula because he has found their support for us during our girls’ births to be invaluable.
A doula is linked to a much lower level of interventions and c-sections, so if a natural birth is important to you, definitely consider hiring one. You can get all sorts of information on what they do, what questions I recommend asking when interviewing them, and more in the post I linked to above.
There are definitely things you can do to prepare physically for birth as well.
Here are the things that I suggest doing:
Eat a nutrient-dense, whole food diet. This will help in many ways including managing weight gain, your mood, and your energy levels throughout pregnancy. Beyond that, it also will help during birth not to tear.
“One of the reasons that the perineum can tear during the process of birth is because of the skin/tissue integrity of the perineum itself. To maintain good skin and tissue integrity, we need a variety of vitamins and minerals, including Vitamins A, B-complex, C, E, Zinc, Silica, and Essential fatty acids (EFAs). Sufficient levels of these vitamins and minerals will maintain skin elasticity and tone and can protect your perineum from tearing. The best way to get these vitamins and minerals is through the foods that we eat because our bodies can more readily assimilate those vitamins and minerals when they are in a natural form, as opposed to a supplement.” – Sunny Lee Savage from Indie Birt
Focus on as much quality nutrition as you can. I have favorite real-food resources found here if you want to learn more.
There used to be outdated advice that physical was activity was dangerous to the baby. Some women used to think they shouldn’t ever raise their arms above their heads or they would strangle the baby with their umbicilal cord.
While you should of course speak with your doctor or midwife about exercise, and listen to your body’s signals, most women can safely continue doing what level of activity is normal for them before they became pregnant with modifications as needed.
I use this video from Mama Natural below for exercises that are good for mama and baby’s position, as well as this one here from Spinning Babies. (More on spinning babies below!)
Long daily walks are a wonderful practice, as well as lots of squats. The books I mentioned above for learning about birth and pregnancy recommend other exercises to help prepare your body.
There is small but growing evidence surrounding the use of dates and red raspberry leaf tea (RRLT) during pregnancy contributing to stronger and shorter labors for mamas.
Dates are high in folate, magnesium, potassium, and vitamin K, and a study has shown that women who faithfully consumed dates at the end of their pregnancy dilated more quickly, were less likely to induce labor, and went quicker into spontaneous labor than their non date-eating counter parts.
““Date fruit contains saturated and unsaturated fatty acids such as oleic, linoleic, and linolenic acids, which are involved in saving and supplying energy and construction of prostaglandins. In addition, serotonin, tannin, and calcium in date fruit contribute to the contraction of smooth muscles of the uterus. Date fruit also has a laxative effect, which stimulates uterine contractions.” – Genevieve Howland
I start consuming a couple dates a day around 30 weeks, and 6 dates a day from 36 weeks on. You can learn a lot more about date consumption in this article from Mama Natural here.
Consume Red Raspberry Leaf Tea
Red raspberry leaf tea is not the same as raspberry flavored tea. This needs to be the leaves from the actual plant. It is known to tone the uterus, thus strengthening contractions and helping move labor along more quickly because of their effectiveness. There is some controversy of RRLT, although it is widely accepted and consumed in natural circles as long as your body is not showing signs of contractions too early. I am personally comfortable with a cup a day during my second trimester, two a day during my third trimester, and I drink three a day if I want when I am full term. You can learn more about RRLT here in this article.
I purchase my RRLT in bulk (it is way cheaper than individual baggies) here from Frontier Organics on Amazon. I like to brew it 2 quarts at a time on the stove top. I throw the leaves in loose and let it steep in the pot for 10 – 15 minutes. Then I pop my favorite mesh strainer right into the top of a wide-mouth half gallon mason jar and pour it all in. The strainer catches the leaves and I can throw them out, and once it is almost totally cooled I stir in some raw honey. I enjoy drinking it iced out of the fridge every day.
Work on Baby Positioning
Another way to prepare for natural childbirth is to work on them being in the optimal position for birth. While of course head down is the biggest thing to work on, that’s not the only thing to consider – which way the baby is facing also makes a difference in labor and birth. You can read more on this in this Spinning Babies article: Head Down is Not Enough, found here.
See, if baby isn’t in the right position, labor will stall out or potentially drag on and on because your body is trying to get baby in the right position. Whatever you can do to encourage baby to be head down and be occiput anterior will help labor move along faster and birthing the baby be easier.
When my water broke with Zelie, nothing really happened for a few hours outside of very sporadic contractions. My midwife texted me that she wondered if Zelie’s head might be a little off. She had me go invert myself on the couch with my knees on the couch and my head on the floor for 30 seconds. I got up, and immediately, within 30 seconds, contractions began in earnest and never stopped. Zelie’s position being off just a teensy bit was preventing labor from starting!
You can learn all about baby positioning, flipping a breech baby, and exercises to keep baby in an optimal position here on Spinning Babies.
Practical things I do to encourage baby to remain in a good position is to not lean back and recline much in late pregnancy and to sit on an exercise ball as much as I can during late pregnancy.
Visit the Chiropractor
Finally, if you are able to visit a Webster Technique chiropractor, they can adjust your pelvis to keep it aligned. This can not only help you feel better during pregnancy, but make a big difference in the ease of your labor and birth.
Why It All Matters to Me
So why go through all of this? Why does a natural childbirth matter so stinking much to me?
First I want to clarify: I would absolutely not hesitate to permit an intervention or c-section for a medically necessary reason. I myself was born via a c-section – my umbilical cord was wrapped around me so many times that I could not physically descend into the birth canal. It was medically necessary and I thank God for the c-section that saved the lives of my mother and myself.
But outside of a serious medical necessity, there are real risks that come from now common interventions during birth that many women are not even aware of.
Induction and epidural combined are linked to a 6x increase in c-sections. Epidurals in spontaneous labor are linked to a 2.5x greater risk of c-section, and 3x greater risk of vacuum or forecep use. Epidurals are also linked to a much higher rate of tearing of the perineum.
The package insert for Pitocin itself lists the following risks:
1. Fetal abnormalities
2. Low APGAR scores
3. Neonatal jaundice
4. Neonatal retinal hemorrhage
5. Permanent central nervous system or brain damage
6. Fetal death
This study found on PubMed.gov shows babies born when Pitocin was used during labor had almost three times greater risk of oxygen deprivation.
C-sections are major abdominal surgery linked to risk of infection, PP hemorrhage, blood clots, and a higher maternal mortality rate.
I could go on with scientific and anecdotal evidence of risks, but you get the point.
Once again, these risks do not mean that there is never a time or place for any of these interventions! You may come to completely different conclusions than I have on when the benefits of these interventions outweigh the risks. For myself, I feel that the best outcome for myself and my babies will, under most circumstances, be from a natural birth.
God designed natural childbirth in a way that when allowed to play out without intervention (provided there are of course no medically necessary reasons to intervene for the safety of mother and/or baby), the body releases an amazing cocktail of natural hormones that work together to support labor, birth, bonding, mental wellness, and breastfeeding.
I have felt the most amazing birth high in the world. I have experienced birth without major tearing that came from me totally relaxing and feeling everything, and working with my body. I have experienced the peace that comes from being able to rest between contractions that aren’t being artificially produced at a breathtaking rate from Pitocin. I have been able to move freely during my births which has saved my sanity, and positioned my babies well.
I have loved birthing this way, it has definitely been the right choice for myself and my children thus far. You’re in my prayers as you carry your own baby and make the best birthing decisions for you.