Decided to go for a natural birth? Read on for the very best actionable tips for a Natural Birth.
Happy Third Trimester! You have spent the last 6 months dutifully nourishing, protecting and growing in love for the faceless wonder growing inside you. You are on the home run and it is time to get focused with these actionable tips for a natural birth.
Yet whether it is your first or fifth baby you will know that to some extent you are at the mercy of the gods when it comes to the big event. Unexpected complications, a fashionably (bordering rude) late arrival or a roly poly loving baby can all be factors to throw you off course for your dream of a natural birth. We simply cannot control everything.
Now is the time to identify that ‘dream birth’ and actively manifest it into a reality. Now is the time to take action. A good birth experience, be it in a home or hospital setting, with or without medical intervention but based on your own informed decision making, is often paramount to a positive experience of early motherhood. Don’t underestimate the importance of birth on your terms.
For me the choice was very clear, I wanted an all natural, intervention and drug-free birth. Luckily I was able to find a network of women (yoga teachers, doula friends and wise women) who gave me actionable tips to grow my confidence and make it happen. So what is the secret to having a drug free vaginal birth? Here are my 10 tips to prepare for a natural birth.
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1. Write it down.
Do I really need a birth Plan? Sounds obvious, but you need to know exactly what you want. You don’t know how you are going to react to the onset of labour. It is possible, although unlikely, that you may not be able to articulate your preferences. Let your birth plan do the talking. Aromatherapy oils? Yoga music? Gas? no Gas? Water birth? 3rd stage injection? Research now, make a decision and get it ALL in the notes.
Depending on the speed of things, it may be these notes never get read but the assurance of having something to shove into the hands of your birth team when the last thing you want is chit chat, is priceless. If nothing else this is your manifestation board – a hard copy visualisation of the best outcome for your birth.
In addition to this I strongly recommend writing a page of notes for your birth partner. I called these my ‘Daddy notes’ which gave my husband detailed and gentle reminders of what I expected of him. Lovingly laced with cues for massage and oxytocin inducing tenderness, it also included more practical instructions – ‘remind me to go for a wee’ (full bladders can obstruct delivery) or ‘stay with the baby in the event we are separated’, ‘Be my advocate if I am being pressured into anything unplanned’.
2. Learn to breathe.
The benefits of yoga in pregnancy are well documented and it is likely you have started well before the third trimester. Nothing can lift you more than the energy of a room of expectant mothers. Finding your tribe now will also provide you with mum friends and play dates for those difficult first few months and likely beyond. Exercise has never been more crucial to your health and well being. Natural birth is HARD work, you will need to be physically fit to maintain optimal birthing positions for potentially hours at a time.
But the most standout takeaway from prenatal yoga will be the breath work. Heard the saying ‘Mind over matter’? Learning to control your mindset and slow down your heart rate in the face of fear and stress is a skill not only for childbirth but for life. Nail these breathing exercises now and you have 90% of the tools to see you through.
3. Red Raspberry Leaf Tea
This powerful miracle tea tones the uterus, enabling strong, no nonsense contractions that get the job done! Start by 28 weeks gradually building from 1 cup per day to 3 in the final few weeks.
I would only recommend this tea in uncomplicated low-risk pregnancies – if you are unsure consult your midwife. Also make sure that you buy the tea loose. Teabags are simply not strong enough and dare I say it – a waste of time. I found Neal’s Yard Remedies’ loose Raspberry leaf tea to be of an excellent quality. For more about Tea drinking in Pregnancy Read this article.
4. Take a Probiotic
You will be used to taking your daily dose of prenatal vitamins (including Choline)and preferably a high quality omega oil too but did you know that now is the time to start with a probiotic as well? Probiotics are great for stabilising gut health and when taken in pregnancy these benefits can be passed on to baby as well. Taken particularly in the third trimester and whilst breast feeding, studies have shown that certain strains can support the child’s developing immune system. A win all round.
But there is also another reason for taking a probiotic now. Some initial studies have strongly suggested that taking an oral probiotic in late pregnancy may reduce your risk of unknowingly harbouring the Strep B virus. This silent bacteria which lays redundant in the mothers vagina is a deadly web of infection for baby as s/he passes through the birth canal often resulting in Sepsis and if unnoticed, death in the first 24 hrs of birth. Currently there is no testing offered to expectant mothers in late pregnancy in the UK and private testing is not always reliable.
Terrifying stuff I know. My advice is to take the probiotic – make sure it is pregnancy safe and tell your midwife. If you can grab just a little protection – do it. Optibac have a great range of probiotics for pregnancy and beyond. I particularly love the Optibac Vagina Flora formula.
5. Prepare your Perineum
When I was first told about Perineal massage I honestly thought it was a joke. The idea of sticking your fingers inside your vagina in late pregnancy – poking about stretching the skin – dear god just leave me alone I’m pregnant! The changing landscape of your genitals in pregnancy may well be something you just want to ignore. Things will start to bulge , your once tidy clitoris will likely be sitting proudly on the outside and you may even see a change in skintone down there. It will all go back to normal after the birth right? Maybe yes …maybe no.
Be your Fanny’s future friend and start massaging your perineum! Using a perineal massage oil to gently soften and stretch the sides of the vagina wall in all directions from 34 weeks of pregnancy has been proven to drastically reduce your chances of tears and may well facilitate an easier delivery without the possibility of episiotome. Aim for at least three times a week maybe after a shower when you are relaxed and the skin is soft, clean and hydrated. I count myself extremely lucky to have had three tear less deliveries and swear by this technique.
Any edible oil can be used but I loved the comforting almond scent of Weleda’s Perineum Massage oil.
6. Cross train your Pelvic Floor
No doubt you have been doing these since those tiny pink lines made an appearance. But now with baby really piling on the pounds and testing your pelvic floor muscles metal it is imperative that you keep up the momentum. Indeed lifting, squeezing and releasing is a habit for life.
You may also want to think of your pelvic floor training in a slightly different way now that D day is approaching. Throughout pregnancy the onus is very much on strengthening the muscle of the pelvic floor, the cradle like web of muscle which supports not only our organs but baby too from literally falling out of us. It is instilled in us that this muscle needs to be ultra pumped to carry the growing weight and withstand any damage from the constant pressure it endures. But the pelvic floor is just that – a muscle. Imagine a muscle that is overworked, stiff, inflexible and unable to relax. It would not be very useful.
For birthing the pelvic floor must be able to relax and you must learn how to control this. In order to be able to birth your baby you will need to switch off the pelvic floor to varying degrees to allow baby to pass through at a safe and controlled pace. This is where the slightly annoying phrase ‘Breathe your baby out’ has come about. The breathing out is really the controlled bearing down and softening of the pelvic floor – a skilful choreography which will only be possible if you have really done your homework
The key to mastering this control during the pushing stage is to cross train your PF. Think about lifting your pelvic floor like an elevator, but once you reach the top floor control the descent with the same precision stopping at each floor. You may also want to try lifting to a count of four and then a quicker release or a quick lift and a slow descent.
If you can afford, book yourself in with a Womens’ Physio for more personalised help, – you will be wanting to see her/him postpartum anyway. If you find sleekly designed tech irresistible, check out the Elvie trainer. This cool little gadget gives you real time feedback on the strength and efficacy of your pelvic floor workout. Safe to use in low risk pregnancies and essential for postpartum recovery too.
Just cant find time for all this malarky? There is a fabulous free app called Squeezy which will happily keep reminding you throughout the day.
7. Keep on top of your Iron Intake
As pregnancy progresses and your baby grows from avocado towards watermelon similarly will grow its iron intake to ensure optimal development. This can leave you lacking and the obvious solution is to turbo charge your diet with all the iron rich goodness – spinach, legumes. Quinoa, red meat if you eat it.
However, if your midwife flags a persistent deficit you may well need a little something extra to keep your iron levels healthy. This may prove to be the difference between a nurse led birth and a doctor led birth as many hospitals factor iron deficiency as a complication not to be risked at home or in the birth center. Do check with your hospital on their protocols.
With iron tablets flagging a whole host of by problems (constipation, gut damage etc) you would do well to try a gentler alternative in the form of liquid iron. Taken twice a day (preferably with Vitamin C rich orange juice which increases absorption) this is a milder and more effective solution. Spatone was my supplement of choice.
8. Get Reading
You have got this far in the post so I am guessing you are well aware of the need to arm yourself with as much information as you can. Knowing the ins and outs, the good, the bad and the ugly can really give you confidence to make informed choices if and when you need to. You will also feel less like a deer in headlights and more like the powerful birthing goddess that you are when labour beckons.
This is the time to submerge yourself with empowering uplifting and encouraging birthstories and wisdom. Your excitement is palpable – indulge it. Pull the shutters down now on any negativity. Dismiss the common misconception that birth happens laying on your back, passively expecting a cascade of interventions and inevitable cesarean section.We love to fawn over a friends bad experience but the reality is women are birthing babies without incident every second – we just don’t think to share it. ‘Tell me a good birth story‘ is an excellent website where women volunteer their beautiful positive birth stories and natural childbirth is deservedly celebrated.
The writings of Ina May Gaskin are also hugely informative and inspiring. Having worked as a midwife on a farming commune in San Francisco in the 70s there is little that Ina May hasn’t seen. I have read both of her books in the lead up to all three of my children’s births. ‘Spiritual Midwifery’ is essential Third Trimester reading. For further empowering reads check out ‘Mum to be – Best Pregnancy Books’.
9. Get Baby into optimal position
Ideally for vaginal delivery your baby will be head down and back facing at the time of birth. This process of positioning can occur right at the wire, with many women citing increased labor pain and need for pain medication with a ‘back to back’ positioned baby only for baby to turn at the last minute to allow for a smooth delivery. You may even find your baby in breech position in the final weeks of pregnancy. With many care providers apprehensive about breech birth this may cause an additional obstacle in your quest for a natural delivery or home birth.
The Spinning Babies website is an excellent resource for learning techniques to manoeuvre baby into optimal positioning. However, simply keeping your pelvis in an upright neutral position ie. not slouching on a couch is a good idea in the final weeks before birth. If you do spend time in front of a computer, reading or watching TV, why not swap out your chair for a birthing ball. This simple swap was one of the best tips I ever had, (the birth ball even made it to the delivery room) -in addition to getting baby into a good position, your hips and pelvic floor will thank you too.
People will cheerfully tell you to ‘get some rest now before baby comes’. While there is some truth that life will change with a tiny in tow I would argue that is more important you get some rest in preparation for labour. Unfortunately spontaneous labour comes without warning and you don’t want to feel at your lowest ebb when it occurs.
No one copes well when tired.
Maintain a level of restedness in your final trimester. Easier said than done if you have small children, employment or are unable to sleep at night. Protect your sleep as if your life depends on it. Say no to obligations that don’t serve you. Invest in tools to help you sleep – a pregnancy pillow, lavender oil, pregnancy yoga, reflexology. Placing a sheepskin under your hips or a pillow between your legs might help too. A wise investment – baby can enjoy the sheepskin on arrival, enthused with the familiar scent of you.
11. Consider your options for natural pain relief
Whilst I am a firm believer in the power of breathing techniques above all else, there are many other options to consider when curating your toolkit of coping mechanisms. Relaxation techniques such as massage and aromatherapy can transform your mood and restore much need calm and respite in labor.
Essential oils such as Camomile and Frankincense can alleviate back pain whilst Peppermint is known to ease nausea and even assist urination (essential if the bladder becomes full and obstructs delivery). Lavender can bring calm in the face of transition and Clary sage, used carefully, can progress labor that has stalled. Be sure to read ‘Essential Oils for labor – secrets to stress-free birth’
You may decide to equip yourself with homeopathic remedies or a tens machine. If you enjoy heat, a heat pad or alternatively a cold flannel may be worth including in your bag of tricks. Yes depending on the speed of things, you may never unpack them but there is no harm in having a little something up your sleeve for when the going gets tough. Do your research now and get your support person/birth doula onboard too.
12. Medjool Dates
Can Medjool dates induce labour naturally? During my first pregnancy I ate medjool dates religiously from about 36 weeks in the misguided hope that it would induce a timely labour and I would not go past my due date.
Not to be. My sweet boy was born at 41+2 narrowly escaping a reluctantly planned induction by 41+5 . For someone who had pinned their hopes so steadfastly on a natural birth I was hugely relieved that intervention had been averted and a little sceptical about my Medjool obsession. Unfortunately the answer is no. If you are hoping to induce labour with dates, like the myth surrounding RRLT, it is just that , a myth. But that is not to say that Medjool dates are not beneficial to the natural birth process.
Medjool dates may have helped me more than I had realised. There is strong evidence to suggest that date fruit, which is known to influence estrogen and progesterone levels are effective in ripening the cervix and preparing the uterus for birth. Date fruit is also high in fibre. With most expectant mothers citing constipation as a third trimester woe, they will keep your bowels in check and energy levels at their optimum. A healthier alternative to refined sugar this will also satisfy your sugar cravings and give you a boost.
13. Get a Mantra
A mantra is a powerful thing. The words that we say to ourselves, that play on repeat in hypnotic fashion at times with intention and often as a reflex can alter the course of our lives significantly. Have you ever talked yourself out of something…… a run, a date, a new job and later wondered with regret how you did it? Then you will know that having a clear mindset backed up with positive affirmations and mantras is essential when the going gets tough in labour.
As wonderful and empowering as labour is, be prepared to be confronted with self doubt at some point. Fear of the unknown, pain and adrenilen can shift our focus. Arm yourself with affirmations to dispel your inner sceptic and flood your brain with positivity and strength.
My favourite mantra in childbirth, which I continue to use at any opportunity is the very simple ‘All is well’. This for me served as a reminder of the natural and intended process that was underway. Nature was simply taking its course….All was well. Another favourite was ‘I trust my body to birth my baby’. Find one or two that work for you, write them down beautifully on a piece of card and attach it to your birth plan. Let your birthing partner know or keep it as your secret weapon shared with only your baby. Practise saying them now, audibly or not and feel their power unfold.
Hopefully this list will be of some use. When a birth goes to plan it is a gift be it natural, cesarean, medicated or not. But if your good intentions are not met with your preferred outcome – don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. Your amazing body has created a small world of wonder. That is the true prize. I wish you the very best on your birth journey.
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