5 positive ways to prepare for labour

If you’re feeling a bit anxious about giving birth, there are things you can do that may help. Here’s some helpful advice from mums who’ve been there.

Some people feel anxious or scared about giving birth. This is normal but, if you are struggling, there are some things you can try that might help.

Here are 5 positive ways to prepare for labour as well as honest advice from people who have been there.

1. Empower yourself

When you’re feeling worried about your baby’s birth, it can be tempting to try not to think about it, but knowledge really is power. Knowing more about what happens can make you feel better. It will also help you to make choices about how you want to deliver your baby. 

Talk to your midwife about anything you’re really concerned about. They will answer any questions you have and explain what can be done to deliver your baby safely.

You may also find antenatal classes helpful. Ask your midwife, health visitor or GP about local NHS classes. Other organisations run antenatal courses, although they may charge a fee. If you want to do both types of classes that is fine. 

Look up antenatal courses near you.

Depending on where you live, you might be able to look around the birth facilities at your hospital. This may help you decide where you want to give birth and to picture how things could be on the day. 

"I went in feeling pretty prepared the first time. I watched a lot of birth videos, read books, did active birth courses and researched positioning exercises. I was lucky that my first birth was great. The second time I was bricking it! I was worried how I'd cope if it went differently to what I knew. 

"So I went through my old notes with my midwife and I did more research through the Association for Improvements in Maternity Services (AIMS). I urge mums to do their own research on anything they are worried about. Empower yourself with knowledge so you feel like you can make your own decisions."

2. Prepare your mind

Try not to listen to horror stories about labour. These will not help if you are feeling nervous. Keep in mind that for every bad one there will be someone else with a great story to tell. 

This can be even harder to do if you have had a difficult birth before. But lots of parents have told us that it really helps to have a positive outlook. 

"Something that really helped reduce my fear was hearing positive birth narratives. I sought out the "I sneezed and my baby was born" type stories, which made me believe it was possible to have a labour with minimal intervention."

"My friend said that after hearing my birth story, she was so encouraged she got through most of her own labour at home without a fuss. I guess a lot of the time it's about believing that you can do it."

"I found talking to my friends who had given birth about their experiences really helpful. It really calmed my nerves."

"I looked up positive birth stories on the internet and read positive books, which I think impacted on my positive state of mind."

3. Prepare your body

Labour can require strength and stamina, so keeping active is a good way to prepare your body for it. Exercise during pregnancy can also be a great way to de-stress. Look up what antenatal exercise classes are on offer near you. 

You can learn positions that can help you through labour, at a pregnancy yoga class, as well as relaxation and breathing techniques to keep you calm. 

In fact, any type of exercise is great if you enjoy it and it is safe to do during pregnancy. If you do not have the time or money to join a class, going for a walk in the park will still be good for you. It might boost your mood, too. 

"My first baby was born back to back with forceps. I wanted to avoid this happening again. I attended an active birth workshop where I learnt about getting the baby into a good position, how my pelvis shape might influence labour and practised exercises to help me through it. 

"As predicted, my second labour stalled at the same point as the first but, instead of panicking, I was able to try different positions. I felt more in control and my second son was born without any medical assistance."

Find out more about exercise in pregnancy.

4. Practise relaxation techniques

Using breathing techniques can help to calm your nerves before and during labour. It can even help you cope with pain. If you practise during your pregnancy, you may find you stay more relaxed, which can ease feelings of panic. Plus, it will be help you to get into the zone when your labour starts. 

"Learn some relaxation and breathing techniques. I didn't do a hypnobirthing course, but I bought a book and it helped enormously with a long and unpleasant induction. Despite it ending in an emergency c-section, I felt I'd had the best possible labour experience up until then, under the circumstances."

Meditation and visualisation can help you relax through pregnancy and during labour. Even if your labour doesn’t go the way you planned you may still be able to use the techniques you’ve learned.

"The best thing I did was meditation, including positive visualisation. After a difficult first birth I found I could create my own positive space and vibe the second time. I felt calm and together even when I was in pain."

You might find that complementary therapies, such as acupuncture, also help you to relax. Just make sure your practitioner is fully qualified, uses disposable needles at each session and is experienced in working with pregnant people. Tell them you are pregnant, because certain acupuncture points cannot be used safely during pregnancy. 

"I was desperate to avoid induction with baby number 2. I was super stressed towards the end of my pregnancy, so I decided to try acupuncture. The acupuncturist changed my way of thinking and, bit by bit, I started to chill out. 

"Labour started off naturally and I truly believe it was a mindset thing and that I needed to relax and focus on my baby for a bit. A lot of these therapies, whether they work or not, do help you relax, which is important to get the right hormones flowing."

You may have heard of hypnobirthing, but been put off by the name. It offers techniques that can help you feel calmer and more in control during labour. Some people say it can even help with labour pain. In some parts of the UK, you can find NHS hypnobirthing classes run by midwives, as part of their antenatal care.

Find out more about hypnobirthing.

"Ever since I fainted during a school biology lesson watching a woman in childbirth, I’ve been completely terrified of giving birth. When I fell pregnant I knew I had to take control and do something positive to get me through the next 9 months. 

"I decided to do an intensive hypnobirthing course. It was pricey but worth every penny as from that moment on I felt much more in control. The positive affirmations, real-life experiences, book, and practice sessions made the world of difference in the build-up. I listened to the podcasts I downloaded)every night without fail for 5 months. I’d usually fall asleep before the end. 

"By the end of my pregnancy I was relaxed and happy, and not particularly concerned about giving birth at all! The hypnobirthing helped me for the first 12 hours of labour. I wasn’t panicked and felt a real sense of calm."

5. Think about your birth plan

A birth plan is a great way to let your healthcare team know what you do and do not want to happen during labour.  It can be very useful, once you are in active labour and might not feel up to talking.

The process of writing a birth plan, and thinking about your birth choices, can also help you feel less anxious and more in control. Just bear in mind that labour does not always go to plan, so prepare to be a little flexible.

Second time mums

If you are worried about giving birth again it might help to talk about what happened the first time around.

Debriefing service

Most hospitals have a service for people who would like to talk about their experience of giving birth. You can do this with a midwife or doctor. It might be known as birth reflections, birth afterthoughts, or birth debrief. You can request one of these appointments months or even years after giving birth.

Going over a difficult birth experience can help you make sense of what happened. It may help you cope with any concerns about doing it again. 

Go over your labour notes

Talk through your labour notes, in detail, with your midwife. This will give you the chance to ask questions about why things happened the way they did. You can then have a think about what you would like to happen this time. 

If you are not sure how to access your notes you can ask your midwife, GP or health visitor. You do not need a reason to see your own records, and you do not need to fill in a form, though you may have to go to the GP surgery or hospital to see your notes.  

Find out more about how you can access your notes.

"After a traumatic first birth, I was advised to use my birth plan to communicate my anxieties to medical staff. I listed what went wrong first time, and how I wanted to be treated differently this time.

"It meant I didn’t have to keep going over my first birth story and all the staff were fully aware of my situation and wishes (for example I wanted to avoid having an epidural, having suffered with the epidural headache first time). 

"They understood that I struggled with lack of communication first time, so made sure this wasn’t a problem. In comparison, my second labour was much more relaxed and I felt more supported and in control."

Fear of childbirth

Feeling worried about giving birth is very common.  But, if you feel so afraid that you are overwhelmed, make sure you ask for help. You may have a severe fear of childbirth (tokophobia), which can happen in any pregnancy. People with tokophobia may also have symptoms of depression or anxiety

Tell your midwife or doctor about your fears early on, especially if nothing you do yourself seems to help you feel better. They can refer you to a mental health specialist for pregnant people.  This should be someone with experience of working with childbirth fears. 

You have the right to ask for a caesarean if you feel it would be better for you. You can also ask your midwife or doctor to help you plan what you would and would not like to happen during a vaginal birth. Find out more about your birth options

Some women and birthing people have a fear of childbirth due to past trauma. This could be a previous birth, or it might be the result of a childhood event.   

If you have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after a birth or other event it can be upsetting and tough to deal with. It can be treated though, with the right help. 

Your GP may ask you about your symptoms before referring you for more assessments.  They may offer to send you to a clinic that specialises in treating PTSD if there is one in your area.

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Review dates
Reviewed: 01 March 2024
Next review: 01 March 2027