According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 3.9 million American women will give birth in the next 12 months.
Bringing a child into the world is perhaps one of the most gloriously fulfilling events of a new parent’s life, but it can also be extremely terrifying. Luckily, there are things that can be done to help “ride the waves” of labor.
Lori Bregman, life coach and doula to the stars, including Kristen Bell, Molly Sims and Kelly Rowland, has built a thriving business around helping women experience labor as positively as possible. “The birth of your child will be one of the most special and important days of your life,” says the LivingHealthy expert and author of The Mindful Mom-to-Be. Here are some of her tips to help make your “Labor Day” flow with ease.
- Repo your due date: According to several studies, only five to 10 percent of women give birth on their actual due date. “Many women go crazy if the baby doesn’t come by the exact date,” Bregman explains, “but remember, your due date is only an estimate.” She suggests carving out a weeklong window on each side so you aren’t attached to that date. You should even tack on an extra 10 days when you tell people when the baby is due. “Your loved ones will drive you nuts when they call incessantly asking if the baby is here yet!” says Bregman.
- Choose your team wisely: Make sure your doctor, partner and doula (and whomever else will be present on your big day) are all on the same team and have your back. “It’s important that the people who are present support your intentions and have positive energy because you will be riding off it,” Bregman explains. “If they are nervous, it will make you nervous. You want people who are going to nurture you, not give you anxiety.”
- Educate yourself and have a plan: Make sure you research everything, educate yourself on your options and create a birth plan. “If you don’t know your options, you won’t have any,” Bregman says. “Unless you create a birth plan ahead of time—stating your wishes—the hospital will just follow protocol.” A birth plan should include all of your preferences on how you want everything to play out, like if you want an epidural, at what point you should be administered pain meds (if any) and how you would like to the birth the baby (standing up, squatting, in a water bath, etc). Bregman urges women to go over the plan with their doctor at a pre-birth office visit and to give it to the nurses upon arrival at the hospital.
- Watch out for other people’s projections: Anyone who’s ever gone through labor has their own wonderful story to tell, but that doesn’t mean it will be the same experience for you. “Just be mindful that that was their experience or their way, but they are not you—and that for every woman and child, pregnancy and childbirth are completely different,” says Bregman.
- Learn comfort measures: “You can’t teach a woman how to give birth, but you can learn how to ride the waves of contractions, surrender and relax so you can better allow your body and baby to do naturally what they were meant to do,” Bregman explains. She suggests techniques like breathing, hypnotherapy, visualization, water therapy and movement to ease the discomfort of birth. “It’s really about learning tools that will help you get out of your own way. Your body knows what to do; it’s just about learning how to ride the waves better.”
- Stay true to yourself: Everybody has different levels of comfort, fears, strengths, weaknesses and things that ring true to them, so what might be right for one person may not be right for the other. “Know yourself and be true to who you are,” Bregman advises. “If you want to be totally natural or have an epidural, then do it. Don’t try to be something you’re not. Honor your values and where your comfort level is, and remember: It’s okay to try to push yourself.”
- Go with the flow: One thing is certain when it comes to childbirth: You can’t predict it. Bregman urges women to have a plan and work toward it, but to also let go and trust the process. “Your baby will come at the right time, how and when it is supposed to. If you are trying to hard to control, you become rigid and your body closes up and won’t open,” she explains. “The easier you can let go and go with it, the more everything will soften up. Trust the process. Birth is karmic. At the end of the day, babies come into this world how and when they are supposed to.”
- Hire a doula: Sure, you will have a doctor (or midwife) and nurses around on the big day, but the former most likely will come toward the end of your laboring and the latter will be in and out throughout the process. A doula is someone you hire who provides physical, emotional and informational support throughout the entire birthing experience. You usually start working with a doula early on in your pregnancy, and they become someone you know and trust who will be with you throughout the whole process, coaching and comforting you. There are all kinds of doulas out there, all with different backgrounds. “Make sure you find one who is a great match and that you vibe with,” says Bregman.
- Stay off the Internet: If you’re looking for a problem, you’ll be sure to find one online. Browsing the web “creates a lot a fear, especially when it comes to childbirth,” Bregman says. “It’s important to educate yourself, but you also want to stay out of the fear zone.”
- Prepare ahead: Make all your applicable preparations well ahead of your due date, which includes packing your bag, making childcare arrangements and finding someone to take care of your animals. “You can go into labor at any moment and you don’t want to be running around without a plan once it starts,” Bregman explains. If you are birthing in a hospital, get food and snacks ready. “Eat before you go, and get hydrated,” she urges, “because once you get there, they may not let you eat or drink anything!”
- Pace yourself: “Birth is like a marathon,” she says. “You wouldn’t run out of the starting gate on no sleep, dehydrated and starving, and going 100 miles per hour on the first leg.” If there are no complications, labor at home for as long as possible, try to sleep in the beginning and make sure to move and rest. If you can, wait until you are in active labor before heading to the hospital (most doctors recommend waiting until contractions are four to five minutes apart for about one minute long).
- Submerge yourself in water: “Water is a natural epidural,” says Bregman. “If your water hasn’t broken and you’re in active labor, get into a bath when contractions are coming regularly and you’re having trouble managing them. Once your water breaks, only use the shower. It will help in managing the discomfort.”
- Be present: Bottom line—you will never have this day again. “There is an end in sight. Trust that your body and baby will know what to do,” says Bregman. “You were made to do this. Women have been doing this for thousands of years. Really be present and enjoy this day. It will be one of the best of your life.” She reiterates that it’s important you don’t invite drama or negativity into your room, and to ensure that you feel safe and comfortable. “Don’t worry about hurting anyone’s feelings. Your experience is a priority.”
- Bond with your baby ASAP: After birth, it’s crucial to carve out time to bond with the baby and keep visitors to a minimum. “This is time for your family to bond,” she says. “Put your phones away and be present. Wait to invite other people into that space until you are really ready. Take advantage of that magical time.”
- Plan your post-birth support network: Make sure you will have meals prepared, to-go menus ready or friends set up to deliver meals. If you don’t have a designated family member or friend to help you out, hire a postpartum doula or family member to help with household chores and relieve you so you can nap or take a shower. “It’s important to allow yourself time to rest, recover, connect and bond with your baby because the faster you can figure your little human out, the faster you can get to the other side.” A great idea for a baby shower? Put together a calendar and allow your loved ones to sign up for shifts. “Let other people help you. Give them the gift of being of service,” adds Bregman, who also recommends keeping a lactation consultant’s phone number handy when you get home from the hospital. Breastfeeding can be challenging, and the hospital can help you’re while there, but things may change after you’re home and you may still need advice or encouragement. Don’t be shy about seeking help. Remember, it takes a village to raise a child!