Labour, although wonderful and profound in its own right, is a marathon experience. We tend to always think of the physical aspect of giving birth, but whether labour lasts mere hours or a few days, it certainly takes its toll on both our bodies and minds.
That’s why it’s a good idea to prepare both mentally and physically for the birth of your baby, especially if you are keen on the idea of a natural birth.
For many women, a water birth and natural labour practically come hand in hand. That’s why we’ve put together some of the best ways to prepare your body and mind for a water birth.
1. Breathing exercises and meditation
Contractions are undoubtedly an extra physical and mental effort, so finding ways to relax the body while having one can be an invaluable tool in dealing with the discomfort. Whilst immersed in the warm water of the birthing pool, try closing your eyes and bringing your attention to your breathing. This can help regulate heart rate and blood pressure and elevates your endorphin levels. Feeling confident in our breathing strengthens our ability to focus and stabilise the mind and calms the nervous system.
2. Positive affirmation phrases
The continuous flow of contractions over many hours is inevitably going to make you feel both mentally and physically drained. When you can feel a contraction coming on, instead of thinking ‘no, no, no’ try saying ‘yes!’ Many women find this sends a message of receptivity to your brain allowing you to open up, take the contractions for what they are (your baby arriving) and subsequently bring on the pushing phase (rather than wishing it away).
For pre-labour preparation, get your partner to think of encouraging words and phrases in order to calm and reassure you. Just hearing positive words can encourage the production of labour-enhancing hormones.
Relaxation encourages the production of labour-enhancing hormones such as oxytocin and endorphins, which are our natural pain relievers during childbirth. A relaxed body and mind can help lessen the sensation of pain.
As you sit in the water, develop your body awareness by bringing your attention to the different parts of you that you may be tensing without realising. For example, think about your mouth or shoulders and see if there is any tension there. These aren’t vital parts of your body that need to be “working” during labour so try to relax them and focus your energy on your contractions.
When labour begins, much of our rational brain “switches off” and we just start doing what comes naturally to us—without over thinking anything. But one of the best ways for us to prepare ourselves and to help us feel comfortable during labour is to practice. Now this may sound and seem a little odd, but practicing your reaction to your waters breaking, or practicing your breathing will help everything seem more natural when the time comes.
You can also prepare your water bath and sit in the warm water well before your due date—just to get yourself used to the sensation of being in the pool. This will also give you the chance to practice getting the water temperature right. Remember immersing yourself in warm water can help relieve back ache, and will give you a feeling of weightless, which is a great way to improve discomfort during the late stages of pregnancy.
During labour, gentle movement and steady connected breathing can prove to be an essential tool to ease pain and to make the experience more manageable. Whilst out of the pool, you can try gentle walking, squatting, and hip circles on a birthing ball to ease discomfort.
Once you are in the pool, try to engage with your mind and let your body move in the water how it wishes. Many women find kneeling, squatting or floating on their back or tummy in the water with the use of floats, much more comfortable that laying on a bed.
Try to focus on the warmth of the water and how it feels against your skin. Try to imagine your muscles relaxing as you feel a sense of weightlessness in the water.
Resting the body, particularly through long, slow-progressing labour is just as important as activating and mobilising it. In between contractions, try not to spend time thinking and worrying about the next one. Instead, focus your mind on relaxation techniques and deep breathing. Be sure to keep yourself entertained, nourished, hydrated and relaxed during the early stages to give yourself as much energy as possible for the final push.