1. Empower yourself
Every woman is different. Our bodies are different, our babies are different and no 2 births are the same.
That’s why it’s useful to find out more about labour and birth. Understanding more about your options, and the pros and cons of each, can help you feel more confident in making decisions about how you want to deliver your baby.
You can also talk to your midwife if there is anything you’re particularly concerned about. They will answer any questions you have and explain what can be done to deliver your baby safely in every possible scenario.
NHS antenatal classes are free but the NCT may charge a fee. It's fine to go to more than 1 type of class if you want to. You may also be able to have a look around the birthing facilities at your hospital. This may help you decide where you want to give birth and picture how things may 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 as these are really unhelpful if you’re feeling nervous. Try to remember that for every bad experience, there is a mum out there with a positive story to tell.
This can be hard, especially if you’ve had a bad experience yourself. But try to think positively as much as possible. Lots of mums tell us 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 often requires strength and stamina, so it’s important to prepare your body for it. Exercise during pregnancy can also be a great way to de-stress.
You could try finding out about antenatal exercise classes near you. For example, a pregnancy yoga class can be really helpful. It will help you get your baby in a good position for birth, teach you positions to help you through labour, and provide some relaxation and breathing techniques to help you stay calm. Any type of exercise is good though. If you don’t have the time or money to join a class, just going for a walk in the park will be beneficial.
"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 calm your nerves (before and after labour) and control the pain. You can practise all the way through pregnancy to ensure you’re comfortable using them when labour starts.
"Learn some relaxation and breathing techniques. I didn't do a hypnobirthing course, but I bought a book and CD 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."
Complementary therapies, such as acupuncture may also help you relax. Just make sure your acupuncturist is fully qualified and that they use disposable needles at every treatment session. Tell your practitioner that you’re pregnant too, because certain acupuncture points can’t be used safely in pregnancy.
"I was desperate to avoid induction with 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."
Some mums have found hypnobirthing useful.
"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, CD and practise hypnobirthing sessions made the world of difference in the build-up. I listened to the CD (and 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 can be a useful way of communicating all your wishes, concerns and choices quickly and effectively, particularly when you move to active labour and may not want to (or be able to) have long discussions with your midwife, or if there’s a staff change. Just remember that labour doesn’t always go to plan on the day, so you may have to be a little flexible.
"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."
Second time mums
If you’re concerned about giving birth again, it might help to talk about what happened first time round.
Most hospitals have a service for mums who would like to talk about their experience giving birth. It might be known as a birth reflections or birth afterthoughts service. Going over your birth experience with a midwife – however long after you gave birth – can help you make sense of what happened and perhaps help you cope with any anxieties about doing it again.
Find out more about fear of childbirth.
Go over your labour notes
Talk through your labour notes in detail with a medical professional, like your midwife. This will help you fill in any gaps in your memory, ask questions about why things happened the way they did and give you a chance to think about what you’d like to do differently. Find out how you can access your notes.