As I wrote in the last post, this was very long so I had to break it up. You’ll see that this one section is gigantic. Sorry! >.< I know, I know.. eschew surplusage. I’ll work on it!
6) Mental preparation
Research and think about where to give birth
Find an OBGYN that you trust
Take classes offered by local hospital or birthing center- Lamaze, Newborn care, Breastfeeding
To breastfeed or not to breastfeed?
Pack your hospital bag
Got a birth plan?
Meeting with and selecting a doula
If this is your first pregnancy, it’s only normal to feel overwhelmed. One source that helped to ease my anxiety was Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. Even if you plan to have a hospital birth (which I did), I found the stories of women going through the same fears uplifting. The book goes on to describe various medical interventions and offers alternatives which helped me gain a different perspective. Though this book may seem slanted, I believe that Ina May’s intention is to help women trust in their own bodies. She isn’t against medical interventions where they are unavoidable. From the Lamaze class that I took, it was shocking to learn how many women elected for a C-section for no other reason than convenience. We were taught that medical intervention should be seriously and carefully considered as it greatly increases the chance of needing more of them.
Thinking about where you want to give birth is an important part of preparation. I know some people opt to do home births. My husband and I decided that a hospital or birthing center made us feel more at ease in case problems arose. For hospital births, expect routine medical procedures that you may not be able to object to. Some moms can find this overly obtrusive and stress inducing. Also, not all hospitals provide private rooms or allow your partner to stay overnight with you and the baby. Birth centers are different in that they offer a more comfortable environment sans routine interventions and a lot more freedom in labor. Since their aim is to support you having a natural, drug-free birth you won’t have access to things like epidurals (though some birth centers can offer you painkillers if needed). You have to meet stringent requirements for having your baby at a birth center such as being low risk for pregnancy and birthing complications. Lastly, if all goes well, you typically leave a birth center as soon as possible where the standard hospital stay is anywhere from 1 – 3 days depending on the circumstances of your birth.
We were fortunate to have access to medical professionals and a hospital that support natural birthing. My OBGYN had a team of nurse midwives that I met with for my checkups. When my time to deliver came, they honored my decisions instead of simply telling me what to do so I didn’t feel completely out of control. It’s so important to find a group that you feel comfortable in the hands of because they will be your biggest advocates. Furthermore, the hospital I delivered at has a Center for Holistic Birth which offers free consultations and guidance throughout pregnancy. This was such a helpful resource in labor preparation.
Taking classes is never a bad idea. Sure, you can’t expect to walk out remembering every single bit of information you learn but that’s okay. It’s A LOT to take in in a short amount of time. The classes we took were informative and interactive, so we got to practice things like changing diapers, burping a baby, performing CPR on a choking infant, swaddling properly (this is an art in itself) and so much more.
The only things I knew about breastfeeding prior to taking a class on it were some of the benefits. The class helped make breastfeeding seem less intimidating for someone like me who didn’t know anyone that breastfed. One of the most valuable takeaways for me was learning what an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) was. An IBCLC is a professional that can help you with all breastfeeding concerns and issues. I’ll be going more in depth in another post regarding troubleshooting with breastfeeding and my overall experience with breastfeeding. Ultimately, breastfeeding is a personal choice in which the health of your baby is of the utmost importance. If you don’t want to or can’t exclusively breastfeed, there’s no shame in using supplementation and breastfeeding in tandem.
The sooner you have a hospital bag packed, the better. Check with your hospital/birth center for things you are and aren’t allowed to bring. I would suggest putting everything in a carry on with wheels. That way, it’s easy to transport. Also, diapers and breast pumps are standard at hospitals so you don’t have to bring them.
hospital paperwork– Filled out. We submitted ours in advance through the hospital website.
copy of your birth plan– Bring a back up copy after you’ve already given a digital or hard copy to your physician and appropriate hospital/birth center staff a couple months in advance.
two comfy outfits– One to wear on the day of your labor and the other when you leave the hospital. For my labor outfit, I wore a nursing bra and running shorts under my hospital gown. You may feel hot during labor but cold after so layers are best.
snacks for your partner and for you (after labor)– I wasn’t allowed to eat at all during labor in case of need of an emergency c-section but it’s important to keep food around for your partner/accompanying person. Bring snacks for yourself for after labor. I wanted to eat right after I gave birth but the kitchen was closed by the time we were settled in the maternity ward.
refillable water bottle with filter– Labor is a marathon and you’ve got to stay hydrated. Any refillable water bottle will do but I like ones that have a filter in it. I don’t like the taste of straight up tap water or bottled water. I’m currently using these Seychelle Top Filter Bottles.
energy drinks– Labor-aid is a DIY drink and a much more sound choice than Gatorade. I kept myself hydrated with this concoction and it was nice to feel a small boost from the coconut water and honey.
toiletries– Toothbrush, toothpaste, lip balm, hair brush, hair ties if you have medium/long hair, makeup (if you’d like to apply for all those family photos in the maternity ward), and if you want to shower at the hospital and prefer your own products bring shampoo, conditioner, soap/body wash.
nursing bras/comfy bras– Even if you’re not going to breastfeed, your breasts will likely be tender due to milk coming in so shunning constrictive (bras with wires) for comfort is a must. Also, you want to have a supportive bra for labor, especially if you’re going to be active and on your feet.
a few pairs of underwear and pads– There’ll be bleeding during the recovery phase. I was provided with disposable underwear and pads by the hospital which worked out just fine for me but I still had my own just in case. I’ve heard some women buy sets of underwear cheaply for this purpose or just bring ones you don’t mind staining. I use Seventh Generation Free & Clear Maxi Pads.
nipple cream– If you’re going to breastfeed, this is a must. I suggest Motherlove Nipple cream as it’s completely organic, completely safe for consumption, and doesn’t need to be washed off prior to breastfeeding.
breastfeeding pillow– While you’re still getting used to holding your baby in position to breastfeed, nursing pillows will provide support. I have the Boppy Pillow Organic which can also be used later on for tummy time.
smartphone/cell phone with charging accessory– Smartphone apps are extremely handy, particularly the Baby Care Log app. The sooner you can start recording things about your newborn, the better. This will help you track diaper changes, feeding times, sleep times, and set reminders all in one place. If you don’t have a smartphone, you could use a notepad.
notepad and pen/pencil– After the baby is born, you’ll be seen by a lot of medical staff. Having a notepad will provide you with a place to take notes on everything they tell you or remember questions you’d like to ask. You can also write down birth details and memories to be later placed in your baby book.
installed car seat– You can do this whenever you get your hands on the baby’s car seat, preferably months in advance. If you aren’t sure you installed it properly, find your neartest child car seat inspection station.
going home outfit for baby– We brought organic cotton long sleeve kimono style onesies and organic infant socks. It’s best to use kimono style onesies on babies while they still have their umbilical cord to avoid irritating that area. Comfy, breathable material is also a must. Newborns aren’t adept at regulating their body temperature so dress the baby appropriately for the weather. Layers are best.
swaddling/receiving blanket– Our hospital gave us one as a gift but it’s good to bring your own just in case. We have this organic swaddle blanket set.
pair of slippers/flip flops (and socks if you want your own)– Bring one pair of slippers or sandals for labor that is water friendly. After labor, slide on slippers or sandals will allow you to wear socks and keep them clean. (For those that are slightly germophobic like me and don’t like the idea of walking around the hospital in socks and then hopping in bed with them)
camera– Our hospital had a photographer that went around the maternity ward to take family pictures that you paid for. But, if you want to take pictures of the birth or immediately after, bringing your own is a must.
something to watch/read/listen to– I wasn’t able to sit still during my labor but some women are actually able to watch entire movies or read books throughout theirs. Bring some movies or books if you feel inclined. Music can also keep you amped up through labor or provide a calming atmosphere if that’s what you want.
comfy pajamas– Some women just like to slip into their own clothes after birth.
things that relax you– I love aromatherapy so I brought a diffuser and some essential oils like lavender and frankincense that are good for labor.
Coming up with a birth plan is a huge step in preparation. It conveys your preferences to your birthing team (all medical staff, doula, etc.) in a succinct manner. Mine was based off of research, a family friend providing their own for example, and what I knew the hospital offered. Here’s the link to my birth plan . It’s a page and half in length and I wouldn’t advise going beyond that. For the future, I think I’ll try to cut it down to a page. Anyway, while everyone will do their best to honor your wishes, their priority is acting in the best interest of you and your baby. So, don’t think of the birth plan as a list of commands that are set in stone. A plan is meant to be flexible where it must be but don’t be afraid to speak up if you have a concern.
A doula is a trained and experienced professional that provides the mother with emotional and physical support during pregnancy, labor, and even postpartum. Having my doula attend my labor was priceless. She advocated my birthing plan and provided continuous and immediate pain relief using hip squeezes and counter pressure on my back. She helped me with laboring positions to try to further my labor along. Ultimately, my labor was difficult and very long but she helped to sustain me. Under pressure she was the calm, collected, and knowledgeable voice we needed around. If you’re trying to have a natural birth, I can’t recommend enlisting a doula enough. I’m truly grateful for all that I learned from her and for having her by my side.
To paint a picture, the day I went into active labor I got up at around 5 AM (after days of not sleeping well) due to consistent contractions that only intensified as the day progressed. The only meal I ate was lunch around noon which I still wasn’t able to enjoy because I feel both hungry and nauseous. I took several walks that were at least 45 minutes in length trying to induce labor since my cervix barely dilated on its own. I was 6 days past my due date at that point and if I couldn’t do this now, I had to come to a scheduled medical induction in a couple of days. By evening, the contractions were so bad I was taken to the hospital at around 11:30 PM. From that point I kept walking, tried several positions, and squats. I simply had to keep moving because the pain was worse when I wasn’t.
I didn’t stop moving until about 3 PM the next day when my midwife broke my bag of waters. Right after that, I experienced intense back labor that reduced me to tears. Up until then, I was trying my hardest to just breathe through the pain. It worked for the most part but the pain from the back labor was an unrelenting nightmare. I couldn’t stop crying though I wondered how I conjured the energy to even do that. My medical team, concerned that I wouldn’t have the energy to push, suggested the epidural so that I could at least get some rest.
I got the epidural and though I wasn’t able to sleep, the temporary relief was very much needed to regain my strength. As it turns out, the hours of activity I did paid off and my cervix opened a lot more while I was resting. The epidural was slowly turned off so that I could start pushing at 5 PM. After just shy of 3 hours of pushing, I had Catherine in arms.
In sum, I woke up at 5 AM on Monday and didn’t have my baby until Tuesday at 7:48 PM. Back labor sucks. It was easily one of the hardest things I’ve ever done but the most rewarding.