5 Ways to Prepare for Natural Birth

During introductions in the prenatal yoga classes I teach, there’s often a mom-to-be or two who say they’re “thinking about” natural childbirth, or they “might try for a natural birth.” That kind of hedging makes me feel nervous for them. Natural birth isn’t something that most women can just “try.” It’s a powerful, physical experience, and one that calls for physical and emotional, even spiritual, dedication and preparation. Natural birth is possible—and for far more than the 14% of women who experience it, I believe. But you have to get ready for it. Few and far between are the mamas whose babies seem to just fall right out. The rest of us are best served by thoughtfully preparing for the birth we’d most like to have.

Now I’m no runner or mountaineer, but I hear that significant training is involved for completing 26.2 miles or summiting, say, Kilimanjaro. Preparing for physical feats—be they marathons, mountains, or meeting your newborn—doesn’t happen casually. You plan, prepare, seek counsel, and train train train for an amazing physical experience.

With that in mind, when I hear a mama say she’s considering natural childbirth, I recommend she prepare in 5 ways:

  1. Take a Great Childbirth Education Class.
  2. Attend Prenatal Yoga.
  3. Find a Midwife.
  4. Hire a Doula.
  5. Read Something Supportive.

There’s more to be done than that, for sure, and ticking items off that list is no guarantee of a natural birth, of course. But this checklist is good preparation no matter how you plan to birth.

Check out the details of these 5 Ways to Prepare for Natural Birth—and then in the comments, share how you prepare for birth.

    1. Enroll in Childbirth Education Classes. Check out what’s offered beyond your hospital. Courses like Hypnobirthing, Hypnobabies, Birthing from Within, The Bradley Method, and childbirth education classes taught privately typically put most or all of their focus on natural comfort measures. You’ll be encouraged toward a natural experience, and odds are you’ll be learning about birth alongside like-minded women. Also, reading about birth online or having too-short chats with your care provider may leave you with more questions than answers. Invest in learning about what your body—and your baby—can do.

    1. Attend Prenatal Yoga. Or Dancing for Birth, or prenatal pilates, or complement your familiar workout routine with meditation or mindfulness-based stress reduction (check with your local hospital or retreat center for MBSR classes and workshops). The point is, prepare your body, mind, and spirit for the experience of birth. I’m obviously hugely biased toward prenatal yoga because of my own good experience with it, but also because I hear from moms again and again about how the breathing, the lunges, and challenging poses like Goddess helped them get through their most trying moments in labor. If you’re looking for a prenatal yoga DVD, check out Be Blooma Well Prenatal Yoga (again, huge bias, duly noted :-) )

    1. Find a Midwife. OBs are highly skilled as surgeons, and if you need a Cesarean section, this is your go-to care provider. I hear from moms who love love love their OBs and are thrilled with their birth experience. Even so, I encourage mamas who are interested in natural birth to visit with a midwife. Midwives are highly skilled at getting babies out of vaginas, as naturally as possible. Generally, midwifery care is woman-centered—Would you like to labor on your hands and knees? Would you like to walk or dance? How about counter-pressure for your hips and low back? Effluerage, perhaps?—and a midwife may have more time to spend with a mama who wants to labor naturally.

    1. Hire a Doula. Moutaineers hire sherpas. Marathoners have cheering sections. Quarterback coaches, pitching coaches, golf swing coaches—just ask your favorite sports fan about all the specialized guidance athletes bring to their game. Why not bring someone (read: a doula) to your birth who knows your game plan and will be there with you through as many overtimes as it takes. Many OBs keep their in-person check-ins short, earning them the reputation that they show up only to catch the baby right at the end. Even midwives, if they work in a group practice, may have to leave your side to check on another patient. Even your dearly beloved may need to eat, or pee, or sleep. Doulas (almost) never do those things! (OK, they do, but they’re quite good at hiding it!)

  1. Read Something Supportive. My friend and former prenatal yoga teacher Sarah Longacre gives her students a “Non-Fear-Based Reading List.” Perfect. I love that. The last thing expectant mamas need is more fear or doubt. Please, put aside the What to Expect tome, and pick up something like Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, Birthing from Within, The Birth Partner, or The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Childbirth. And for some uplifting, inspiring reading from mamas who’ve had good birth experiences, check out my book Belly Button Bliss: A Small Collection of Happy Birth Stories. (Check out the reviews: Mothering, Babble, the International Childbirth Education Association, and more love these personal, sweet, birth stories from nearly two dozen mamas.)

Mamas, during your birth—natural or otherwise—what worked for your pain management, and what didn’t? I’d love to know, and to share your tips with the mamas-to-be at prenatal yoga this week!

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  1. Barbara Haselbeck says:

    I gave birth naturally twice, with lay midwives (this was the late 70s). I was fortunate that my first midwife gave childbirth classes for couples planning a home birth. She taught breathing that was deep and mindful, not programmed like some other methods of the time. I found this very helpful during my twelve-hour labor. With my second, I spent more time practicing relaxation of my body. The usefulness of learning to recognize and release tension proved very valuable—a six-hour labor!
    I can see where yoga (which I now do) would help with consciousness of both the breathe and the muscles.

  2. stacy h says:

    Love this post!

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