Today we’re talking all things Birth Prep! And because I don’t have any pictures of me reading labor and delivery books or listening to podcasts, I shared some maternity photos instead. Because what’s a blog post with pictures?
Earlier in the week, I mentioned to a friend that I was writing about birth prep on the blog. Of course, she’s my friend, so she’s knows I’m all about the empowering journey that pregnancy, birth and motherhood should be, but she made an interesting point to me- do you think the majority of women prep for birth? That the idea is even on their radar?
Why Birth Prep
Which really made me stop and think — the majority of first time mamas I know prep for having a baby. As in, after birth. But not really the journey of labor and delivery itself. And while that’s perfectly fine, of course, I actually think that labor and delivery is the first big test of life as a parent, and one that could be so meaningful if given some energy and thought!
What is Birth Prep
Birth Prep is the idea of taking intentional steps to prepare for labor and delivery. It doesn’t matter how or where you intend to give birth, the experience itself is a marathon (actually, can take 3-4x as long as a marathon!), and you wouldn’t just wake up one day and attempt to run 26.2 miles. Honestly, if I was going to run any number of miles, I’d need to prep. Labor and delivery is the same way!
Birth Prep can be anything from physical exercise, reading, listening to podcasts, checking out apps, meditating, hypnobirthing, classes, or really anything else! Today I’m going to share some of my favorites, and tell you why!
Exercise has gotten harder and harder for me as I keep having kids. Most of the time I feel like there’s just not enough hours in the day to do the things I absolutely need to do, let alone fit in exercise. And heck- chasing around two toddlers kind of counts, right?
That being said, I find prenatal yoga an absolute must. I go to a weekly 90 minute Prenatal Yoga class at Schoolhouse Yoga near Ross Park Mall in the North Hills of Pittsburgh. I wish I had more time to attend a second one per week, but just can’t fit it in with two young toddlers.
I’ve also taken great lengths to make sure I get in squats. Call me crazy or alone in this, but I’ve found myself in a squatting position in labor both times so far. Those muscles need some work, especially carrying around the extra weight!
I wish that I had discovered the wonders of prenatal chiro care during my first pregnancy. My labor with my son, nearly 3 years ago, was a very long prodromal labor. My son was also born posterior, which made for painful and difficult back labor, something I found myself unprepared for. I was determined not to have that happen for any subsequent births, and sought out chiropractic care during my first trimester with Dr. Brie at Live Well Chiropractic in Wexford, PA. Dr. Brie is a certified in Webster Technique, which is the in-utero constraint technique used to balance the pelvis properly, reducing stress on the ligaments that support the uterus. I start with care every 4 weeks in first trimester, moving to every 2 weeks in the second trimester, and then weekly in the third trimester. During the last week or two, I go as often as I can, knowing that proper alignment of my pelvis and birth canal will give my baby the best chance of getting in the right position and coming out efficiently. And who wants a drawn out labor?
Reading is so important in prepping for birth. I don’t really focus on week-by-week pregnancy books (i.e., What To Expect When You’re Expecting), but rather books talk about birth being a normal, natural thing and in the words of birthing women, not anonymous writers or practitioners. I also look for books that contain a plethora of birth stories. Some of my favorites (I read each pregnancy and sometimes repeat!) include: Spiritual Midwifery and Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin, Birth Without Fear by January Harshe, Fearless Birthing and Fear Free Childbirth by Alexia Leachman, and Hypnobirthing by Marie Mongan.
My absolute favorite, despite its age, is Spiritual Midwifery. It contains so many birth stories- and let me tell you- so many of the situations that arose in that book happened to me during one of my births. I didn’t even realize how much I had internalized everything I had read, but I instinctively found myself knowing what to do when miscellaneous things cane up in labor because it was already programmed in my mind. For example, I remember reading about changing from the “J” breathing or “breathing your baby down” to panting after the baby’s head comes out but before the rest of the body does. I remember Ina May talking about how changing breathing helps prevent tearing. Despite having a third degree laceration and periurethral tear from birth with my first, I had no tearing with my second (and it’s much more likely after you tear the first time). Somehow, in the height of all the birth excitement, I remembered to change my style of breathing in that moment. That wasn’t even something I took a note on or wrote down to remember, but I believe that it helped! I also remembered reading story after story that talked about the perception of pain being greater when your eyes were closed, and how keeping your jaw loose by singing or laughing would help loosen your pelvis. Guys- those things WORK.
I really believe that the more birth stories that you read, the more you mold your mind into knowing that birth is a normal, natural event. It’s not a sickness or an injury, and doesn’t have to be treated as a medical situation. It happens on its own, when the baby and the mother’s bodies are both ready. Reading birth story after birth story really helps to change your mindset into this is what my body is supposed to be doing. Some of the stories you read, particularly the older ones, are pretty hippie. I won’t lie. A lot of the women in Spiritual Midwifery used the phrase “I felt psychadellic” – that’s not really a term that I relate to. But, if you can look beyond that and to the purpose of the story itself- it really goes a long way. I aim to spend 15 minutes a day reading birth stories. I can’t recommend it enough!
I discovered the joy of podcasts at the beginning of my first pregnancy. I don’t know how I was otherwise so late to the game, but my sister-in-law was talking a lot about listening to podcasts in the car and I figured I’d give it a try. Because I was newly pregnant at the time, I started by looking up birth podcasts. The first one that I came across was Fear Free Childbirth by Alexia Leachman. Let me tell you how much this woman really helped me. I went through all the episodes of her podcast during my pregancy with Nico, and simply listening to her positive energy and the stories of moms that went on her show really gave me a great framework. I didn’t buy her Fear Free Childbirth plan, which is available on her website, but I did work her Fear Clearance method (my understanding of it, at least) during pregnancy. I also discovered The Birth Hour by Bryn Huntpalmer. Her passion for making sure women know their options in childbirth is something I relate so much to.
In my second pregnancy, I discovered a few others: Doing It At Home, Evidence Based Birth, Happy Homebirth, Mom Is In Control (which focuses on both pregnancy and motherhood), and The Birthful Podcast. Since then, and even between my second and third pregnancies, I found a few more: Dr. Stu’s Podcast with Dr. Stuart Fischbein, Dr. Berlin’s Informed Pregnancy Podcast, and The Harshe Podcast.
I absolutely LOVE Dr. Stu’s Podcast- he is so real and I love the guests he has on his show! He is an OB/GYN that has really focused his practice on supporting midwives and the care they provide as an alternate to the medical model. He is extensively trained in vaginal breech and twin delivery, and has made it his mission to continue to teach the lost art through his seminars around the world. He also is one of few OB/GYNs that will deliver twins or breeches vaginally, and has a stellar record of success doing so.
I equally love Dr. Berlin’s Podcast- he interviews a lot of celebrities and does a before/after framework to his podcast which I find really helpful. He also sponsors a YouTube series- The Real Midwives of Los Angeles– and it’s pure gold.
Lastly, January Harshe (and her husband) host an incredible podcast discussing all things kids, parenting, marriage, business, physical and mental health, and sex. They are FUNNY, and I find it important to laugh when talking about such a significant topic like childbirth. I find that most of their podcasts are humorous but with evidence based information, including from their own experiences.
While, like every other new mom, I probably used 3-4 different pregnancy apps (okay, maybe 7) during my first pregnancy, I’ve come to use them less and less in subsequent pregnancies; in fact, I don’t even have one on my phone right now. In all honesty someone asked me a few weeks back how far along i was and I legit had no idea. My favorite when I was using them was the Glow Nurture Pregnancy App. I also like their regular app (Glow Cycle & Fertility Tracker) and their postpartum app (Glow Baby: Newborn Tracker). The app that I find most helpful now is not a pregnancy week-by-week app, but rather a meditation app called Expectful Meditation and Sleep App. I used it in the third trimester of my second pregnancy, and have been using since the beginning of this pregnancy. First of all, the woman’s voice that does the guided meditations, which are 5, 10, or 20 minutes long, is just perfect. I legitimately fall asleep to her voice 9 times out of 10- even when I’m not trying to! So don’t listen in the car! The meditations are very similar to hypnobirthing tracks and are catered to each trimester, allowing you to choose meditations based on your fears or how you’re otherwise feeling. It’s a bit pricey, at $9.99/month, but there is a subscription for $74.99 for an entire year (or pregnancy), and that’s what I did this time.
DOCUMENTARIES, BIRTH VIDEOS AND V-LOGS
One of the best ways to learn about birth is to watch birth. During my first pregnancy while I was early in my research, I watched The Business of Being Born. It was still on Netflix at the time, and I think I may have watched it three times. Like so many moms, I was absolutely fascinated by the documentary. Ricki Lake did a fantastic job, even though she didn’t even set out to make the documentary at the time of filming her home water birth. It was absolutely eye-opening to me.
I also watch a ton of YouTube videos and V-Logs. I don’t have any go-tos here, and anytime you go down the YouTube rabbit hole you have a chance of finding some pretty crazy hippie stuff (no offense, hippies!), but simply watching birth helps you to understand it. I find it amazing to see the different ways women labor and deliver their babies earth side; it also helps you feel more “normal” whenever your turn comes.
MY BIRTH TEAM
Last but not least, I put together an incredible birth team to help guide me through my brith journey. My incredible doula, Bethany Brown, has been with me through all three of my pregnancy journies. If you have the ability to hire a doula to support you through your pregnancy and labor, I couldn’t encourage it enough. Bethany is an incredible human being, and works with a great team at Birth Doulas of Pittsburgh to provide support to women during pregnancy, childbirth, and even the postpartum period. The cost of doulas aren’t currently covered by insurance (WHY! Just WHY!), but believe me when I tell you they are underpaid for the work that they do and worth every penny.
I also work with a midwife team (I have established co-care for this pregnancy between my Home Birth Midwife and my Certified Nurse Midwives in case I need to transfer to the hospital) as well as a nutritionist. This team keeps me healthy, calm, and helps ease concerns as they arise. I could not do it without them.
No matter how you choose to prepare for your marathon, you should do whatever works for you. While of course it’s possible to just show up for your labor and delivery (truly- no judgment!), the chance to have an experience that you’re knowledgeable about and ready for has the chance to take it from good to great. I’m one of those people who operate best with as much information as possible. That doesn’t mean I spend countless hours google searching birth, but I love going into birth knowing that, while I am not in control, I know what is going on. It’s empowering, it’s meaningful, and it’s an experience unique to me.
Do you prepare for birth? How so, if you do? Any tips or tricks you can share?