Did you know that you can influence how labor goes while you're still pregnant? No, there's no magic potion or single supplement you can take, I'm sorry to say. But you can focus on practicing a few of these 17 habits that increase your chances of an easy labor, according to childbirth experts.
Of course, nothing can guarantee that your labor will go smoothly, but it never hurts to institute some healthy, labor-prepping habits during pregnancy. Romper has collected a host of habits that allow you to pick and choose, because no one should feel forced to take up yoga or juicing if they don't want to.
Underlying all these habits are three basic tenets for maximizing your likelihood of breezing through labor (as much as humanly possible, anyway). First, there's fitness. According to Parents, staying in shape increases your strength and endurance, which translates to a shorter birth experience. Second, there's overall health. The healthier you are, from nutritional habits to the strength of your pelvic floor, the better labor is likely to go. Lastly, there's the psycho-social stuff: do you know what to expect from childbirth, and will you have adequate support? Sometimes, it's the little things that make all the difference.
1. Attending Your Prenatal Visits
I thought we'd start with the basics. According to WebMD, it's important to go to all your prenatal visits so your healthcare provider can properly monitor your health. Missing something big — like a large baby or high blood pressure — could lead to complications down the line.
2. Practicing Yoga, Mindfulness, Or Meditation
There's no way around it — labor is a stressful experience for anyone. Unfortunately, stress and fear can make for a more painful labor process, according to a study in BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth. A powerful way to reduce the fear and anxiety you're likely to feel is by practicing mindfulness techniques, which have been shown to reduce acute and chronic pain. Adding a little yoga or meditation to your week will also help you reap the many benefits of a low-stress pregnancy.
When the time comes, you can also consider practicing safe and relaxing self-induction techniques. As Morris noted on her blog, acupuncture, taking evening primrose oil, and practicing certain exercises can all get things moving, and lead to a shorter, easier labor. One self-induction key is simple relaxation.
"There are many self-induction techniques that work off this idea of relaxing your body and getting your baby as engaged as you can," explains Darby Morris of Sweetbay Doula, in an interview with Romper. "The more relaxed your body is the more likely it will go into labor, which is one of the reasons why labor starts most often during the nighttime."
3. Taking A Birth Class
"Birth classes, especially those taught outside of the hospital, are extremely helpful in educating families in all of their various options," says Morris. But birth classes won't just teach you what to expect from your labor (which is incredibly important in its own right) — they'll also teach you to manage the "fear-tension-pain-cycle."
"As a really great childbirth educator I know explains, if you borrow trouble and convince yourself that the pain is going to be excruciating, then you fear pain so much that even a little bit can make your whole body tense and therefore increase the amount of felt pain," explains Morris. As an example, think of how you feel just before you get a shot, she says. If you freak out, it hurts more. If you relax, it's just a pinch.
4. Reading Or Listening To Birth Stories
On a personal note, I found it very hard to picture myself giving birth. One thing that helped alleviate my anxiety was listening to birth stories on The Birth Hour podcast, which features a different mom telling her story each week. Helpfully, the podcast is vigilant about trigger warnings, so I could skip the stories that ended in loss. I also enjoyed Rhea Dempsey's book Birth With Confidence: Savvy Stories For Normal Birth.
5. Practicing Your Breathing
Mindfulness meditation practices, prenatal yoga classes, and childbirth education all emphasize breathing practice, and for good reason: a tried-and-true way to face your contractions is to breathe through them. "The breath is so very important to be able to help ease through surges [or contractions]," explains Crystal Minnick, a labor doula at Loving Lotus Birth, in an interview with Romper. In the labor room, she says, she watches women "melt" into their surges or contractions, rather than trying to fight them, when she reminds them to breathe and relax. You can practice deep breathing on your own, or with the help of a mindfulness app like Expectful.
6. Keeping An Open Mind
Here's the truth: no matter how perfect your birth plan, labor and childbirth are inherently unpredictable. Moms dead set on having a natural birth end up with C-sections, and moms who swear by the epidurals don't make it to the hospital in time to get one. So be flexible and open to the unexpected when you write your birth plan, advised American Pregnancy. Mindfulness and meditation can help with this, too.
7. Staying Fit
As I'm sure your provider told you, exercise is great for pregnancy. But did you know a gym membership is a powerful asset in childbirth, too? Yep.
"One of the things that exercises in general can do is to get your body prepared for what's to come," says Morris. "Think about trying to run a marathon without ever having prepped for that marathon. It's going to be much more difficult than if you get your body prepared."
Beyond that, exercising can help your baby engage in the pelvis. As a result, "... [w]hen your baby does decide today is their day, they don't have as far to go as they would if you didn't do anything to prepare your body," Morris explains.
9. Adding Squats To Your Workout
As Fit Pregnancy reported, squatting is a great labor position because it works with gravity. Unfortunately, it's also exhausting. Adding squats to your workout is excellent practice, and it will strengthen your lower body, too.
10. Keeping Up With Sleep
I know, I know. A good night's rest is hard to come by when you're tossing and turning around a basketball-sized belly. But as Science Daily noted, it's wise to prioritize sleep during pregnancy, because a study out of the University of California San Francisco showed that getting less than six hours of sleep each night was associated with longer labors and increased chances of having a C-section. So don't be afraid to kick your partner to the couch, and do whatever you must for a full night of sleep.
11. Working With A Doula
As the American Pregnancy Association reported, studies show that enlisting the supportive help of a doula reduces your chance of having a C-section by an incredible 50 percent, and shorten labors by 25 percent.
Why is a doula such a terrific help? As Morris explains, the hospital can be a stressful place, and nurses and OB-GYNs can't stay with you through every moment of the process. But a doula can. "One of the biggest differences between doulas and OB-GYNs or midwives is our presence," she explains. "We work for one family at a time and are the only person in the room with them the whole time who has supported people through multiple births." They're a source of information, an advocate, and emotional support, and all of that is invaluable in the labor room.
12. Sitting On A Birthing Ball
According to the Journal of Perinatal Education, women who stay mobile report shorter, less painful labors. A birth ball (basically a yoga ball) might encourage you to move around more. Lamaze teaches some great positions for birthing women involving this large, inflatable ball. And not for nothing: it's super comfortable to sit on when you're heavily pregnant.
13. Seeing A Chiropractor
Did you know that seeing a chiropractor while you're pregnant can reduce the likelihood you'll experience painful back labor? According to a study in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, proper alignment is key. In addition, the Webster Technique practiced by some chiropractors might help turn a breech baby right-way down. Just make sure you see a chiropractor trained in the treatment of pregnant people.
14. Getting A Massage
What's more relaxing than a full-body massage? According to the Expert Review of Obstetrics & Gynecology, women who enjoyed massage therapy during their pregnancies had lower cortisol levels and were less likely to go into labor prematurely. In one of the reviewed studies, women's partners massaged them during labor, resulting in less pain and shorter labors overall. So having your partner practice their massage techniques on you during pregnancy may come in handy later.
In addition, perineal massage may have special benefits. As Today's Parent reported, perineal massage teaches you to relax your perineum, which helps when you start pushing.
15. Eating Dates
Believe it or not, a study in the Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology showed that eating dates — six dates a day, to be exact — might help you avoid a medical induction, which is generally not as romantic as the spontaneous labors moms imagine. Women who ate dates were also more dilated — or farther along in labor — when they arrived at the hospital. Neat, huh?
16. Practicing Kegels
According to the British Medical Journal, strengthening pelvic floor muscles leads to a shorter labor. So start practicing your kegels today.
17. Staying Intimate With Your Partner
Sex and intimacy can also help you achieve an easier labor, in part by reminding you of what this pregnancy is all about: love, happiness, and starting a family together. And you can bring some of that love into the labor room, too.
"The more love you can show towards each other in the labor room the easier the birth will go, because you will be focusing on your love for that person rather than just focusing on pain," says Morris.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.