The birth of a child is one of the most cherished moments in a parent’s life. The hopes, dreams, and unconditional love that parents have for their baby start long before the child is born. Pregnancy is filled with joyful preparations and planning for the future as parents envision their new life with their bundle of joy.
However, pregnancy and childbirth may also come with many challenges and complications. According to the CDC, over a million births occur in the United States each year. Of these, over 1 million end up requiring some form of medical intervention or cesarean delivery. While there are many factors outside of a parent’s control, being proactive and informed can help increase the chances of having a normal, healthy delivery. With some planning and awareness, parents can walk toward a safer, smoother birthing experience.
1. Choose the right healthcare provider
Selecting the right obstetrician, midwife, doula, and maternity facility is one of the most important early steps. Take time to thoroughly research potential providers and facilities. Schedule consultations to ask questions and get a sense of their approach to childbirth. It’s crucial to find a provider you trust and whose views align with your own.
Apart from the right healthcare provider, selecting a good hospital or birthing center is also crucial for safe and smooth delivery. Tour hospitals and birthing centers and pay attention to their policies, amenities, and overall environment. Seek out facilities with low C-section rates, top safety scores, and favorable natural childbirth policies if this matches your preferences. Should anything go wrong, understanding the availability of legal aid for birth injury claims can also be an essential part of your decision-making process. Choosing the right care team and birth setting will positively impact your labor experience.
2. Take birthing and breastfeeding classes
Many hospitals, birthing centers, and independent organizations offer highly beneficial classes for expecting parents. Birthing classes typically cover what to expect during labor, breathing and focus techniques, different positions to try, pain coping methods without medication, the role of support people, and more.
Breastfeeding classes provide instructions on proper positioning and holding, getting a good latch, and what to do when challenges arise. Try to take classes by the start of the third trimester. They will help ease anxiety by providing information and tools to tackle delivery and postpartum care with confidence.
3. Understand warning signs during pregnancy
Educating yourself on potential pregnancy complications and warning signs is absolutely crucial. Thoroughly learn the symptoms of preterm labor, preeclampsia, placental abruption, and other serious conditions that can arise. Know when to call your provider versus immediately going to the ER.
Stay in close contact with your healthcare team throughout pregnancy, and do not delay seeking medical care if anything seems out of the ordinary.
4. Maintain a healthy lifestyle
Your overall health during pregnancy greatly impacts your labor and delivery experience. Eat a balanced nutritious diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats. Stay physically active by engaging in activities like walking, swimming, prenatal yoga, and light strength training. Get adequate sleep each night, and don’t forget to take your prenatal vitamins daily.
Staying fit and gaining the appropriate amount of weight can reduce your chances of interventions being needed. It also helps your body withstand the marathon of labor and bounce back postpartum. If you have a condition like gestational diabetes or hypertension, be very diligent about following your doctor’s recommended treatment plan.
5. Consider a birth plan
Putting together a birth plan allows you to thoughtfully outline your preferences for labor, delivery, and immediate postpartum care. However, it’s important to remain flexible, as complications often arise, necessitating changes to the plan. Focus on communicating your goals, like desiring a vaginal delivery or avoiding certain pain medications if possible.
Be sure to share your birth plan with your healthcare providers early on so they understand your vision while also advising you on what is better for you and the baby. Approach the birth plan as a set of guidelines rather than rigid absolutes.
6. Prepare your support system
Continuous physical and emotional support during labor and delivery from your partner, family members, doula, or other loved ones provides many proven benefits. Your support people can offer reassurance, advocacy, coaching, pain relief measures, and strength when you need it most.
Discuss your expectations with them ahead of time so everyone is on the same page. Make sure at least one designated support person will be available at all times when you go into labor.
7. Take a childbirth education class
Childbirth classes should be high on your priority list. They provide information on the stages of labor, breathing, and pushing techniques, as well as natural pain management options without medication, the role of your support team, and much more.
Many couples find taking a multi-week childbirth class extremely helpful for understanding the birth process. These classes build your confidence and knowledge through education, discussion, and hands-on practice. They also promote teamwork between mom, dad, and other support people so everyone is ready to work together during delivery.
8. Stay active in the third trimester
Continuing regular physical activity during the third trimester has multiple benefits for your labor and recovery. Aim for about 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise like brisk walking, swimming, prenatal yoga, light jogging, or cycling. This keeps your energy and stamina up, helps manage labor pain, improves your emotional state, and leads to fewer medical interventions being required.
9. Prepare for postpartum recovery
In preparation for delivery, most parents exclusively focus on the birth itself without considering postpartum recovery. However, the fourth trimester presents significant physical and emotional challenges that should not be underestimated. To set yourself up for success, prepare freezer meals in advance, line up help from family members or a postpartum doula, and read up on caring for newborns.
If it’s a normal vaginal delivery, understand the healing process and what to realistically expect regarding pain, bleeding, and activity restrictions in the first few weeks. Making plans for this transition ahead of time will help you recover smoothly.
10. Stay flexible and positive
Despite your thorough preparations, labor and delivery often veer off the expected course. Remaining flexible and adapting to necessary changes in your birth plan is key. Maintaining a positive mindset also helps tremendously during the intensity and uncertainty of childbirth. When challenges arise, focus on your baby, draw strength from your support team, and trust your body and care providers.
While giving birth is an unpredictable process, being proactive and educating yourself provides the best chance for a safe, smooth delivery. Following these tips will help you feel empowered and ready to handle childbirth. With the proper precautions and a positive attitude, you will be off to the best start with your growing family.