As a first-time mum-to-be, odds are, you’ll lie awake at night conjuring up visions of a 48 hour-long labour that requires all manner of medical intervention. That said, pushing a human being out of your body is no joke — that’s why it’s called labour!
But you can take various steps to boost the chances that it’ll go smoothly for you, from the minute you feel your first contraction until you hold your precious little bundle in your arms.
1. Be informed
Read up on what to expect during the process, sign up for a birthing class (either at your maternity hospital or take a private one), and listen to positive birth stories. Familiarising yourself with the different stages can lessen your labour anxiety. Angelyn Seet, childbirth educator, doula and director of ParentLink, also suggests hiring a doula who will act as your “birth companion” — besides offering expert advice and emotional support, she will physically assist you before, during and after childbirth.
2. Keep fit
Prenatal exercises not only help strengthen your muscles, these will also build up endurance for labour and birth, points out Seet. “Some exercises like pelvic rocking in prenatal yoga, help optimise baby’s position to aid easier birthing.”
Regular Pilates sessions will give you a strong core that will not just help you push, it will ease and shorten your labour experience. Once your gynae gives you the green light, you can attend a prenatal workout class or do some light swimming or walking.
Prenatal exercises not only help strengthen your muscles, these will also build up endurance for labour and birth.
3. Have a plan of action...
You won’t want to waste time or energy stressing over things or have to make every small decision once your labour is well underway. So, write a plan detailing exactly how you want your birth to go.
At around 32 weeks, discuss your detailed birth plan with your gynae, advises Dr Kelly Loi, an obstetrician and gynaecologist at Health & Fertility Centre for Women. “Include details about pain relief during labour including your desire for an epidural, episiotomy or perineal tear, whether you would want to save cord blood, if your husband wants to help cut the cord and if you wish to breastfeed.”
Some doctors even have a birth-plan template, as well as their own preferences, so make sure you discuss your wishes at length to ensure that both you and your doctor are in sync. Seet also suggests discussing post-delivery issues such as bringing home your placenta and how you feel about vaccines, metabolic testing and hearing tests.
Don’t forget to bring along your birth plan, so that you can show it to the midwives who will be looking after you on D-day. Seet notes, “Some hospitals such as the National University Hospital is making it a rule to submit all birth plans to the delivery-suite nurses by 34 weeks.”
Also discuss likely scenarios with your husband. Will he be able to take time off near your due date and accompany you to the hospital? What if you go into labour when you’re alone? Will he come and get you or should he meet you at the hospital? Rope in family members to be on standby as well.
4. ... But be flexible
A birth plan helps you prepare for your labour experience, but don’t be too obsessed about following it word for word, especially if something unexpected happens.
Dr Loi advises, “If things do not go according to plan, it is important to keep an open mind, and make decisions with your doctor as to what is best for yourself and the baby.” This could mean an emergency C-section (although you may have had your heart set on a natural birth) or need an assisted vaginal delivery, which may require forceps or vacuum extraction. Ultimately, stay focused on a delivery that’s safe for both mother and child.
5. Save your energy
You’re in for the most energy-depleting exercise of your life, so rest up! Start your maternity leave a few weeks before your due date, indulge in prenatal massages and just stay in bed reading or watching bad TV (it will be ages before you enjoy this luxury again!). Seet recommends, “Eat as much nutritious food as you can and practise relaxation techniques or meditation every night before bedtime.”
Being mobile can help your labour progress smoothly and also help you manage your discomfort.
6. Pack treats
Pack light bites to munch on during early labour to maintain your energy levels. To calm yourself down, bring along your favourite music (or make a playlist on your mobile phone or Spotify app), essential oils (lavender relaxes you and jasmine speeds up labour) and a head massager. Seet adds, “Also throw in your favourite pillow to hug and squeeze, a shawl to keep you warm and some massage oil, so the hubs can give you a back rub.”
7. Stay mobile during labour
Being mobile can help your labour progress smoothly and also help you manage your discomfort. Seet explains, “Keeping your pelvis in motion helps baby to move through and downwards.” Unless you’re restricted to the bed because of certain medical procedures, such as if your foetus is being monitored, try walking in the hallways or around your room, and even do squats. Or request a birthing ball and bounce lightly on it. Dr Loi says, “It’ll help to reduce any back pain, anxiety and potentially shorten the first stage of labour.” If you’re not on any medication, a calming hot shower can help soothe any nasty aches.