1. Empower yourself
No two births are the same. Our babies are different, our bodies are different and there are so many different ways to labour and give birth.
That’s why it’s useful to do some background research. Understanding your options, the risks and the pros and cons of all the methods of pain relief and labouring can help you feel more in control and less frightened of the unknown.
'I went in feeling pretty prepared first time. I watched a lot of birth videos, read Ina May Gaskin and Michel Odent, did active birth courses and researched positioning exercises. I was lucky that my first birth was great (fast, no drugs, 1600ml blood loss and stubborn placenta). But I felt like I had control.
Conversely second time I was bricking it! I was worried how I'd cope if it went differently to what I knew. I was worried about another postpartem haemorrhage and [retained] placenta. So I went through my old notes with my midwife and I did more research through the Association for Improvements in Maternity Services (AIMS) on placentas and third stage management.'
'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
You’ve heard the horror stories. But for every bad experience, there is a mum out there with a positive story to tell. So focus on these (and wear ‘ear muffs’ for the others).
Although it seems hard to imagine, particularly if you’ve had a bad experience yourself, birth can be empowering and joyful. Lots of mums tell us it really helps to have a positive mindset. If you believe it’s possible, it can be.
'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 books like Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth, which I think impacted on my positive state of mind.'
3. Prepare your body
Find out about antenatal classes near you. A class like active birth yoga ticks all the boxes: It’ll 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.
'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.'
4. Practise relaxation techniques
Breathing can help calm your nerves (before and after labour) and control the pain. Start practising all the way through pregnancy to ensure you’re a pro when the time comes.
'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.
'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 reflexology, shiatsu and acupuncture, can help you reach a relaxed state.
'I was desperate to avoid induction with number two. 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.'
Consider hypnobirthing. A mum shares her experience:
'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 nine 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 practice hypno sessions made the world of difference in the build-up. I listened to the CD (and podcasts I downloaded) every night without fail for five 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. I was thrown out a bit with the breathing as Poppy was back to back but I was still a lot more relaxed than I thought. Unfortunately I went into shock (due to complications) and required medical intervention. However, I’d definitely use the techniques all over again if I fall pregnant again.'
5. Put thought into 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.
'After a traumatic first birth, I was advised to use my birth plan as a way to communicate my anxieties to medical staff. At the top, 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 but 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
Are you panicking at the thought of 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 through their experience. 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 anxieties around doing it again.
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.
If you think you may have post natal post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or are struggling to cope with anxieties around giving birth, please talk to your midwife. That’s why we’re here. We want to help prepare you for the best birth possible.
- TAMBA (accessed March 2015) Pregnancy, birth plans http://www.tamba.org.uk/Pregnancy/Birth-Plans
- NHS choices (accessed March 2015) Giving birth to twins or more: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/giving-birth-to-twins.aspx
- RCOG (2013) RCOG statement on Cochrane Review on the timing of cord clamping, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists https://www.rcog.org.uk/en/news/rcog-statement-on-cochrane-review-on-the-timing-of-cord-clamping/
- NHS Choices (accessed Jan 2015) News release on cord clamping http://www.nhs.uk/news/2007/August/Pages/Justafewminuteswaitmightmakeahealthierbaby.aspx
- NICE (2014) Clinical guideline 190: Intrapartum care: care of healthy women and their babies during childbirthhttps://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg190/chapter/key-priorities-for-implementation
ℹLast reviewed on April 1st, 2015. Next review date April 1st, 2018.