At the end of your third trimester, your body will begin to show signs that it is time for your baby to be born through labor and delivery. Although every birth is unique and hard to predict, adequate preparation can help you feel more confident when you go into labor and help your birthing experience go as smoothly as possible. As you prepare for labor and delivery, you should consult a healthcare professional every step of the way and prepare as much as possible for the new addition to your family.
Prepping Your Body for Delivery and Labor
Understand the three stages of labor. Though the duration of each stage will vary for every mother, you will experience all three stages during your labor:
- The first stage of labor includes early labor and active labor. During stage one, the muscles of your uterus start to tighten, or contract, and then relax, which will help to thin and open the cervix so your baby can pass through the birth canal. Your labor will begin with early contractions that are irregular and last less than a minute. This early phase can last from a few hours to days. You will then experience active contractions that are regular and last about a minute. Once you experience active contractions, you will need to head to a hospital or birthing center. You will eventually transition to the second stage of labor, when your cervix opens completely and you are ready to give birth.
- The second stage lasts through the actual birth. During the second stage, your cervix is completely dilated and your baby travels down and out of the birth canal. Your baby will then be born.
- The third stage of labor occurs after your baby is born. You will have contractions until the placenta is delivered out of your birth canal.
Do Kegel exercises in addition to daily exercise. You should maintain a daily exercise routine of light to mild exercise during your entire pregnancy and focus on doing Kegel exercises to strengthen your pelvic muscles and ligaments. These exercises will help your body prepare for labor and delivery.
- To do Kegel exercises, squeeze the same muscles in your pelvic area that you would use to stop your urine. Do not move your belly or your thighs, just your pelvic muscles.
- Hold the squeeze for three seconds, then release them for three seconds.
- Begin with holding and releasing for three seconds. Gradually add one second to the hold and release time every week until you are able to squeeze for 10 seconds.
- Repeat the Kegel exercise 10 to 15 times per session. Do three or more sessions a day.
Take birthing and parenting classes with your partner. If you have a partner who is going to be part of the baby’s life, you should both attend birthing and parenting classes before you give birth. If you are having a hospital birth, your hospital can provide birthing classes and many medical clinics offer these classes as well.
- During these classes, you will learn about how to breastfeed, how to care for your new baby, how to have a healthy pregnancy, and how to massage your infant.
Ask your doctor about eating during labor. Most doctors will advise you to have clear liquids during labor and small snacks, like a piece of toast, applesauce or popsicles, to keep your strength up as you go into delivery. However, you should avoid large, heavy meals (no steaks and no burgers) and only eat foods that will not upset your stomach as you will likely be feeling stomach pains already due to labor.
- During labor, you should have liquids like clear chicken broth, made with low-sodium, fruit juice without pulp, tea, and sports drinks. You can also suck on ice chips to refresh you as you do your breathing exercises during labor.
- Some doctors may recommend clear liquids only, especially if they think you have a high likelihood of requiring a cesarean delivery.
Creating a Birth Plan
Write down your birth plan with the assistance of your partner and your doctor. Though it is never possible to predict any delivery, having a written or typed birth plan can help you outline what you would like to occur during your labor and delivery. You should provide a copy of your birth plan to your partner, your doctor, and any staff at the hospital.
- Many hospitals will provide a standard birth plan that you can fill out and submit so they are aware of your wishes.
Discuss your birthing options with your doctor. You can decide to have your baby at home (home birth), or in the hospital (hospital birth). You may decide to have your baby at a birthing center in your area, rather than at a hospital. It can be overwhelming to decide where you want your baby to be born, so discuss your options with your doctor and your partner before you make a decision. Ultimately, you should do what you feel is best for the health of you and your baby.
- A hospital birth is a standard plan for many expecting women. You should look for a hospital that is located within driving distance to your home, and a doctor on staff that you feel comfortable with and trust. Many hospitals offer tours to expecting women, including the floor where you will likely give birth, so you are familiar with the environment before you deliver.
- A home birth is an alternative to a hospital birth and can provide you with comfortable atmosphere for your child’s birth. There are risks involved with a home birth, however. You must carefully choose a midwife, being aware that the midwives that home birth in the US are not required to be certified and may not have any training. The mortality rate of newborns delivered during home birth is triple that of hospital births.
Ask your doctor about situations that may require a Cesarean delivery. It’s important that you prepare for the possibility of a C-section in your birth plan. Phrase this as: “In the event it is necessary to perform a Cesarean delivery…”. Depending on your pregnancy, your doctor may recommend a C-section for medical reasons or your doctor may be required to perform a C-section in an emergency situation during your labor. Your doctor may recommend a C-section if:
- You have certain chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, or kidney disease.
- You have an infection like HIV or active genital herpes.
- Your baby’s health is at risk due to an illness or a congenital condition. If your baby is too large to move safely through the birth canal, your doctor may advise a C-section.
- You are overweight, as being obese can cause other risk factors and may require a C-section.
- Your baby is in the breech position, where she is feet-first or butt-first and cannot be turned.
- You have had a C-section during your previous pregnancies.
Exercises to Help You Prepare for Childbirth
For a first time mom, there are so many exciting things to do in preparation for your little one.
Finding cute itty bitty baby clothes, decorating the nursery, and having a baby shower are all fun and help to build a bond between you, your family, and baby.
Then, one day you realize something; you physically have to give birth.
While you intellectually understand the concept of childbirth, thinking about being in labor probably isn’t something you’ve dreamed about or discussed in great detail with others.
Get your body ready for childbirth with the following exercises from the Mayo Clinic. Check with your doctor to make sure you don’t have any limitations before you attempt any of these exercises.
What is it? This is an exercise that strengthens and stretches muscles in your back, thighs, and pelvis, and improves your posture. It also keeps your pelvic joints flexible, improves blood flow to your lower body, and eases delivery.
How do I do it? Sit on the floor with your back straight in the “butterfly position” (the bottoms of your feet together and your knees dropped comfortably). As you press both knees gently toward the floor using your elbows, you should feel a stretch in your inner thighs. Don’t bounce your knees up and down rapidly. If you find it difficult at first to keep your back straight, use a wall to support your back. Hold the position for 10 or 15 seconds and repeat the stretch five or 10 times.
You’ll find this exercise is not difficult to do, and it feels great. Your body is more flexible during pregnancy, and this exercise capitalizes on your newfound flexibility.
What is it? The pelvic floor muscles help support the pelvic organs: the uterus, bladder, and bowels. If you tone them you’ll ease many discomforts of late pregnancy such as hemorrhoids and leakage of urine.
How do I do it? Try to stop the flow of urine when you are sitting on the toilet without tightening your abdominal, buttock, or thigh muscles. When you’re able to successfully start and stop urinating, or you feel the vaginal muscle contract, you are using your pelvic floor muscle, the muscle you should be contracting during Kegel exercises.
You can do Kegel exercises two ways: either by holding or quickly contracting the pelvic floor muscle. To do slow Kegels, contract the pelvic floor muscle and hold for three to 10 seconds. Then relax and repeat up to 10 times. To do fast Kegels, quickly contract and relax your pelvic floor muscle 25 to 50 times. Relax for 5 seconds and repeat the set up to four times.
What is it? Squatting is helpful during labor because it opens the pelvic outlet an extra quarter to half inch, allowing more room for the baby to descend. But squatting is tiring, so you should practice it frequently during pregnancy to strengthen the muscles needed.
How do I do it? An exercise called a wall slide is especially helpful. Stand with your back straight against a wall, place your feet shoulder width apart and about six inches from the wall, and keep your arms relaxed at your sides. Slowly and gently slide down the wall to a squatting position (keeping your back straight) until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Hold the position for five to 10 seconds, slowly slide back to a standing position. Repeat five or 10 times.
What is it? Pelvic tilts strengthen abdominal muscles, help relieve backache during pregnancy and labor, and ease delivery. This exercise can also improve the flexibility of your back, and ward off back pain.
How do I do it? You can do pelvic tilts in various positions, but down on your hands and knees is the easiest way to learn it. Get comfortably on your hands and knees, keeping your head in line with your back. Pull in your stomach and arch your back upward. Hold this position for several seconds. Then relax your stomach and back, keeping your back flat and not allowing your stomach to sag. Repeat this exercise three to five times. Gradually work your way up to 10 repetitions.
These exercises can yield great benefits with minimal effort. The exercises require no special equipment except comfortable clothes, and a little space to do them.
Prepare For Labor: For Your Mind, Body and Soul
Learn about labor. Many women feel anxiety or fear about childbirth because they have never experienced it before.
Learning about the actual birthing process, what happens to your body and baby can help to take away or lessen fear. Learn as much as you feel comfortable with knowing. For example, one mom might learn best from reading a book.
Another mom might be more comfortable with seeing a video. Check out the library, used bookstore, or a friend to find a book. Look for childbirth classes through your hospital.
Learn about the type of birth you have planned. If you want a natural childbirth, you will want to learn about pain management techniques.
Don’t think you are just going to roll into the delivery room, grit your teeth, and go for it. If you are getting a c-section, learn about the recovery process.
Learn a bit about the other birthing scenarios out there. Labor doesn’t always take into consideration what type of birth you had planned.
Having some knowledge about all delivery possibilities like c-sections and other possible medical interventions will help if you are asked to make decisions while in labor.
Talk to your doctor about pain management options. An epidural isn’t the only way to control pain. Other drugs, water births, hypnosis, and breathing techniques are all options to help ease labor.
The Mayo Clinic outlines many options and the pros and cons of each. Talk with your doctor to find out what is appropriate for you and what the hospital actually offers.
Ask questions. No question is silly or stupid. Ask your doctor any question you have; it is part of his/her job.
Make a birth plan. The detail in this plan is completely up to you. Mine was one sentence: have a healthy baby. Other moms feel better if they write out what they want to happen while in labor.
Your plan can include things like no drugs or that you want the placenta because you plan to make pills out of it. It can be useful to have your wishes written ou, since you might not feel like talking in the midst of a contraction. But remember plans are just that.
Expect and accept the unexpected. Every labor is different for every person every time. While you may form an idea in your head about how you would like labor to go, understand that the most important thing is to have a healthy child.
I started out with a natural childbirth that ended in an emergency c-section. While I had a moment afterward, I was able to stay calm while in labor by reminding myself that my goal was for a healthy baby.
Exercise during pregnancy. Exercise (with the supervision of your doctor) keeps you and baby healthy. It helps reduce stress too. There are exercises that can help prepare your body for childbirth. Check out BabyCenter or Dr. Sears website for some ideas.
Classes. If you’ve always enjoyed exercising in a group setting, check around for local ones offered to pregnant women.
While you may not envision yourself participating in a Zumba class during your third trimester, lower impact workouts like yoga can help to prepare your body for labor. Plus this gives you an opportunity to socialize with other moms to be.
Have your bag packed. Pack your hospital bag at least two weeks before your due date. No one wants to be running around in between contractions searching for a hair brush.
Keep your bag in an easy-to-find spot in the house or in the trunk of your car. Buy duplicates of items like toothbrushes so you will have everything you need ready to go. If there are a few things you can’t pack until last minute, keep a list of the items on top of the bag.
Preregister at the hospital. Most hospitals offer preregistration. This saves you time when arriving at the hospital and you won’t have quite so many forms to fill out.
Hospital tour. Most hospitals offer tours of the maternity ward. You’ll feel more at ease being familiar with the place where you will deliver your baby. You will also find out details about visiting hours, the nursery, and other hospital policies.
Be comfortable with your healthcare providers. The doctors, midwives, doulas, or nurses are going to be your support during labor. Make sure you feel comfortable with their approaches toward labor. It’s okay to get a second opinion if you want one.
Have a partner in the delivery room. Whether it’s your significant other, mother, sister, or friend, having a person present to support you is important.
Attending child birthing classes with your partner will help him/her know what to expect and teach him/her ways to help you during labor. Your partner is there to comfort you, help you in any way possible, and be your voice if needed.
Remember it’s only the beginning. Whether your labor goes smoothly or has some unexpected twists and turns, at the end of the day, the reward far outweighs the cost. It’s amazing how one tiny babe will quickly melt away the hours of pain you just went through.