holistic preparation for unmedicated birth
A while ago, a friend who wanted to attempt a completely unmedicated birth with her third child asked me how she could begin to prepare. Instead of a quick, short answer, I ended up writing her a long list of suggestions.
This is Part 1, which focuses on things that can be done ahead of time to prepare for birth. Part 2 will focus on what can be done during labor to keep things free of interventions.
Of course, at the end of the day, birth is inherently unpredictable. We do our best to set ourselves on a trajectory that will result in a joyful, physiologically normal birth, but at the same time we must always hold loosely to it, not making it an idol and not being set against medical help to the point of foolishness.
Tips for Preparing for an Unmedicated Birth
- Get clear on WHY you’re doing this. No one is very good at sticking to convictions that aren’t firmly rooted in a compelling WHY. So find your why.
- Assemble a birth team that believes you can do it and is free of fear. A doula is a fantastic choice. You will want to be surrounded by people who can look you in the eye without concern or fear, acknowledging that they understand that it is hard and painful work but that you are absolutely going to be okay. For many women, having a woman friend, doula or other birth attendant present who has personally experienced natural birth (and loved it) goes a long way toward reassuring her! Conversely, an anxious nurse or mother who hasn’t experienced physiologically natural birth can often bring unease and reduce confidence in an impressionable laboring woman.
- Do a ton of squat repetitions in the weeks leading up to your birth. Alternatively, I like to spend 15 minutes each night in a deep squat while reading a book. Squats open up the pelvis and begin to stretch the perineum with gentle pressure.
- Walk at least a mile a day for the last several weeks. This encourages baby to settle into the pelvis.
- Red raspberry leaf tea in copious amounts for the last trimester. Red raspberry leaf helps tone the uterus for labor. Note: For some women, this tends to make their uterus just get a little irritable. If that's you, discontinue the tea.
- Learn counter-pressure and other coping techniques with your partner or doula and practice them before labor begins.
- Consider a class like Hypnobirthing or Bradley Method or one offered by your local midwife or Birth Center. I also really like A Heavenly Welcome for those wanting a specifically Christian perspective.
- Get your head in the game
- Look at animations and diagrams of a baby descending through the birth canal, crowing and being fully born. I find it really helpful to be able to visualize the path and movements my baby is traveling. Here’s one example, and another.
- Learn about the hormonal processes involved in labor and birth. Let your amazement at that exquisite design help you keep resolve to leave that beautiful process undisturbed so that you and your baby can reap the full rewards of it! Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering by Dr. Sarah J. Buckley contains an incredible chapter about this. It seriously blows my mind.
- Accept that the pain is purposeful. You don’t need to be afraid of it because it is accomplishing something… and then it will be over!
- Remember you were literally made to do this. God literally designed your body to give birth, and women have been doing it for as long as humanity has been in existence, and for the vast majority of history (and many parts of the world still) they’ve successfully done it without medication! You are in good company!
- Watch natural birth videos on Youtube of births that include very little intervention and very hands-off midwives/doctors -- this allows you to witness normal physiological birth and picture what it can be like, which is an important counter-balance to all the media portrayals of birth. It also will help make you more comfortable with the sounds and emotional stages of natural birth so that you aren’t surprised or concerned when you experience them in your own labor and birth. Here's a playlist of my favorites.
- Read and listen to positive birth stories -- books like Adventures In Natural Childbirth or Ina May’s Guide to Natural Childbirth contain many wonderful natural childbirth stories that serve to reassure and affirm that functionality and safety of birth without medication. Birthwithoutfear.com is also an amazing website for reading birth-positive stories. Additionally, I’m always very happy to share my own birth stories with any other woman who cares to read them.
- Birth affirmation cards -- you can pick up a set on etsy (like these ones) or make your own using words and phrases inspired by those made by others.
- Mantras and prayers -- the Lord has given me certain simple statements or truths to hold onto in each birth. They become a repeatable phrase that brings comfort as you whisper it to yourself throughout labor.
- If you have specific fears around this birth, talk them out in detail with your partner, a good friend or doula, or your care provider. Sometimes just bringing them out into the light helps release their grip. If you need more information or reassurances to ease some of the fears, figure out how to get that. Remember, fear causes tension and tightening, so the less of it you carry into your labor, the better off you will be, since a smooth labor depends on a relaxed mama!
- Pack honey sticks, hard-boiled eggs or nuts, berries or bananas plus a water bottle with a lid and straw into your hospital bag. These little easily-snuck snacks can help see you through labor if it starts to get a bit long or you start to feel weak.
- Get adjusted regularly (once or twice a week) throughout pregnancy, but especially in the last trimester. Find a chiropractor who is also certified in the webster technique, which helps release ligament tension and optimally position baby for birth. Chiro + Webster has been shown to shorten labor times significantly.
- Grow in your ability to listen to and trust your body/gut/intuition. Get comfortable with this unique form of wisdom and knowledge that God has given us as women (it may even be the Holy Spirit!). Practice following it in small ways in your everyday life. You’ll need to be able to trust and rely on this when you’re in labor.
- Don’t be induced if you can at all help it. Why? Induction usually involves pitocin. Pitocin creates abnormally intense contractions. Abnormally intense contractions are a safety risk to baby and are statistically more likely to result in a mother’s request or need for an epidural. If you want to avoid an epidural, avoid the factors that are likely to lead to its necessity! A pregnancy is still of NORMAL term at 42 weeks. There isn’t a rush. The same goes for "natural" induction methods: they're best avoided.
- Set up a prayer circle. Get a list of women who love you and save their numbers on a list in your phone. When labor begins, text them all and ask them to hold you and your baby in prayer until you text again to announce the birth. They could possibly even each light a candle for you as a reminder to continuously pray.