Top 10 Essentials to Prepare for Labor
Pregnancy is the gateway to motherhood and one of the most life-transforming events. It can be viewed as a rite of passage for a woman, and giving birth can be a beautiful connection to source. Drawing from my recent experience, I want to share some lessons and tips that helped me in my journey.
1. Get a doula.
Hands down, the best decision my husband and I made was to enlist the help of an experienced and caring person who backed our best interests. A doula will help prepare you and your partner for labor and support you in creating the kind of labor experience that you envision. Whether you want a medication-free, natural birth, or have high-risk special needs, a doula will help navigate through the sea of options and advocate for you in preparation for and during labor. Doulas help find the best fit of prenatal and postnatal care, aid in communicating with your provider, and give physical and emotional support during labor. They can serve as liasons between you and your family members, as well as your labor team. They also help answer any questions you may have or can guide you to other resources.
Our doula met with us before labor for two ‘birth ed’ sessions, attended the birth, and followed up at our home a few days post-partum to check in with us. She was in constant communication with us for any questions or worries, was immediately responsive to our ‘possibly-going-into-labor’ late night text, and an indispensable member in our labor team. She helped me get through contractions and have the natural labor that I wanted, and she helped keep both me and my husband calm and centered.
If you’re in the Brooklyn/NYC area, check out our doula Melissa Tarras.
2. Take a class!
There are so many incredible online and in-person classes available for every step of the process - from preconception, to pregnancy and labor, and postpartum. I really wanted to maximize my preparation for all of these stages, and this was a way to make sure my partner gets involved (because he hasn’t been reading as much as I’d have liked!). Here are the classes you should consider taking:
Birth-ed class: this is a wonderful opportunity to prepare for the type of labor you envision, and can be taken over a period of time or condensed into a ‘crash-course.’ Our class covered an array of material, such as how to recognize pre-labor signs, the stages of labor, positions and breathwork to ease the pain of contractions, breastfeeding tips, and even practice diaper changing! If you’re in the Brooklyn/NY area, I highly recommend Ashley Brichter’s class (overwhelmingmoments.com).
Online classes: if there’s absolutely no room in your busy schedule to do an in-person prep class, online classes can fill in the knowledge gap and get you feeling ready for labor. I suggest checking out the birth ed at mamanatural.com as well as naturalbirthandbabycare.com. Also Spinning Babies is an amazing resource to help prepare your body for any possible scenario.
3. Educate yourself through literature.
If you have time to read, there are some incredible books avaiable out there to help you prepare! Here were my favorites:
The Mama Natural Week-to-week Guide to Natural Childbirth by Genevieve Howland
Birthing From Within by Pam England
Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin
The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin
The First Forty Days by Heng Ou et al.
Natural Health After Birth by Aviva Romm
4. Learn by listening... to podcasts!
For those of us always on the go, podcasts are an amazing tool to get information without getting tied up! I’ve come across some amazing ones covering useful tips from pregnancy to birth sories to parenting:
5. Practice self-care.
This is paramount to set yourself for a healthy, happy pregnancy and give yourself some extra reserve for the months to come. This is the time to treat your body to the utmost rest and relaxation, as well as prepare physically, mentally and emotionally. Here are some great ideas your body will thank you for (and my NYC recommendations):
Breathing/meditation practice: get your head in the right space and oxygenate that blood for you & baby
Yoga: stretch your limbs and ligaments to give room to grow in a comfortable way (Integral yoga)
Pelvic floor health: think ‘kegels’ - try imagining your pelvic muscles expand gradually on a deep inhale, and contract fully on the exhale
Build your core: Also it’s important to build core strength through the process, with abdominal work and breathing (DIA Method).
Massage therapy: give your tense muscles and deep fascia some love with a relaxing massage
Craniosacral therapy: a subtle visceral manipulation therapy that helps bring on a balanced alignment (Evaperrotta.com)
Prenatal Mayan abdominal massage: care for your growing belly and womb (Earth and Sky Healing Arts)
Acupuncture: open your energy channels for good flow, seek out those that specialize in pre- and post-natal (PropperAcupuncture)
6. ...Go shopping!
Any excuse to get some new stuff, am I right? Seriously, there are some essentials worth investing in.
Do get a birth ball
This has got to be the cheapest and most useful purchase for my pregnancy, labor and postpartum toolkit! I’ve used it as a bouncy chair prenatally to get my hips more open in preparation for labor, and during labor as a support through contractions. Postpartum, I rock my baby while on it to burp him and soothe him, since the fluid-like motion mimics the womb.
Rest easy with a body pillow
Your joints will need some extra support during and after pregnancy due to the surge in the hormone ‘relaxin’ - which, just as it sounds like, relaxes your ligaments and can cause pain. Since side sleeping is recommended for the later part of pregnancy, and is a convenient position to do night breastfeeding, getting comfortable is essential. If you don’t want to splurge for yet another bulky item to add to the bedroom, you can just use two pillows as an alternative: use one in between your arms and one in between your legs. Postpartum, a pillow in between the knees will help align hips and ease any lingering joint pain from over-stretching.
Get a squatty-potty
This was the number one simple and easy to incorporate tip learned in my birth ed class. It’s a ‘step’ you put at the base of the toilet to prop up your feet in the ‘squat’ position. This aligns the colon at a proper angle for easier elimination, helpful in avoiding hernias and straining. Correspondingly, this also prepares you for the proper form to labor in. It’s been a staple in my bathroom and helpful for part of my labor as well in getting through some earlier contractions.
Breastfeeding 101: Nursing bras, nipple pads, and pump
-I’m so glad I took my doula’s advice to try on and purchase a few nursing bras in my last trimester. You can wear them throughout pregnancy for support, but they’re especially handy for breastfeeding and/or pumping, as they have snappy closures for the front of each areola. There are several styles worth looking into, from sleepbras, to sporty to formal.
-You’ll also want a few nipple pads for, yes, leaky nipples. There are disposable or eco-friendly reusable ones available.
-Pumping will help keep up your milk supply for when you are separated from baby for more than a few hours, such as when returning to work. Milk can be saved and stored in the fridge or freezer to bottle feed baby and continue providing the amazing nutrients in it. Breast pumps come in a variety of sizes and functions to meet your needs, and most are covered with insurance prenatally.
If you’re in the Brooklyn/NYC area, Wild Was Mama is an amazing resource for all of these and more, plus they offer a multitude of prenatal and parenting classes (including one on cloth diapering).
7. Pack your hospital/birth center bag ahead of time.
Take it from me - you don’t want to be scrambling to print out your birth preferences as you are going through ever-increasing contractions. Here is what you should expect to have ready about a month before your due date - just in case:
Outfit for hospital/birthcenter to labor in: think loose and comfortable, like sweats/leggings, tank/sports bra, robe, pajamas, loose t-shirt, etc. (you can totally be in your birthsuit if you prefer and your birthplace allows for that)
Food and water: easy to digest snacks and hydrating drinks are recommended, such as dried fruit, pretzels/saltines, bone broth, coconut water or other electrolyte rich drinks (get a bottle with a built in straw for easy sipping - will also serve you when at least one hand is always busy with baby). Your birthplace may or may not allow snacks during labor, but you’ll definitely need to eat after! Consider drinking bone broth during and after: it’s a good alternative to snacking and will both nourish and hydrate you.
Toiletries and a change of clothes for you and your partner (or other members of your birth team)
A pack of Depends adult diapers and extra long maxi pads (the birthplace may provide these but it’s good to have on hand or for home use - bonus if you soak the pads in witch hazel and keep in freezer!)
A few receiving blankets to wrap baby in (though these are generally provided).
Weather-appropriate outfit to take baby home in
Rear-facing infant car seat - very important to legally be allowed to travel home with your newborn! Make sure it’s clean, installed and ready to go in your car beforehand (or you’ll be fumbling around with it with your birth team like I was, and that’s not a task anyone wants to deal with after the long haul of an extremely demanding/surreal/miraculous experience).
8. Envision and communicate your birth preferences.
Obviously, birth and labor is unpredictable, but making a plan or ‘preference’ vision will help channel your intention. Familiarizing yourself with all the options out there when it comes to birth will only help make informed decisions when the big day comes. Although you can’t plan for everything, planning ahead will prepare you to accept the events that unfold on your journey with grace and confidence.
Make sure your partner knows your vision, and is on board and supportive of your desires. Your caregiver should respect your choices and be accommodating, so trust develops between you. The entire birth team should be familiar with your birth preferences way in advance, and do their best to accommodate them.
9. Create a birth prep ritual.
This is a wonderful way to prepare yourself mentally and spiritually for the birth of your new baby and new life together. The tradition of baby showers is a form of a birth ritual, but there are other ways to honor the transformative event.
Plan a ‘mother’ shower: traditionally a group of women would gather to offer gifts for the mother-to-be. Gifts can be in the form of advice, prayers, wishes and promises of help when needed.
Meal prep or babysitting services may be just what you need to get through the first weeks-months with sanity and grace! Organize a meal prep ‘train’ as a grand gesture for the new family.
Create a birth necklace: collect beads from friends and family and string together on a necklace, where each bead would represent a blessing from the gifter.
Have a ceremony honoring the transition to motherhood by sharing birth stories and advice for the new mama.
10. Be positive!
Above all, trust yourself, your body, and your baby and that everything will be alright. Try positive affirmations and mantras throughout pregnancy and labor (try these affirmation cards from Mama Natural). Every contraction brings you closer to your baby, and you and your baby will work together to meet in the best way possible. And you have an incredible journey ahead of you as a family!