Preparing for labor can feel daunting and sometimes it gets left out as part of your care in the final weeks of pregnancy. Even as a labor and delivery nurse, our expert Ashley Derderian Sousa, couldn’t believe how little she knew when it came to her own pregnancy, birth, labor, and postpartum! That’s why it has been her mission, since having her daughter, to help educate and empower expecting mamas. Below you will find some of her tips for giving birth and what you need to know about postpartum.
This is an exciting time in life and having the right information will help you feel prepared and powerful.
Expert Tips for Giving Birth and Postpartum Recovery
What are a couple of steps women can take to feel more prepared for labor?
The weeks and days leading up to the birth of your baby have got to be some of the longest days- am I right?! Excitement, discomfort, worry, and anticipation are just the start of it! Understanding the options available to you and feeling more prepared for labor is one way to set yourself up for success, which can help those uncertain feelings seem a bit more at ease.
I find that when clients initially reach out to me they are so fearful of labor and birth! One of my favorite things is that I get to not only educate but empower women and watch them transform – so that they enter their birthplace feeling like Beyonce! Here are my top tips for preparing for labor:
1. Educate Yourself
As a childbirth educator of course I’m going to say that educating yourself is probably one of the single most important ways to prepare yourself AND your partner for labor and birth! I find it so important because educating yourself will help to teach you not only about the labor, birth, and postpartum process, but also the different options available to you and their pros and cons, different medical equipment and procedures, pain management, important positions for laboring and pushing and SO MUCH MORE!
Oftentimes, clients will say “oh, I don’t need childbirth classes because I’m planning on an epidural” or “I’m having a cesarean birth.” There is a lot more that goes on with delivering a baby than just the mode of delivery and pain management options! And come on, by now, we all know knowledge is power!
Educating yourself and your birth support person is going to help you feel empowered, you will be more likely to advocate for yourself, and studies have shown this leads to better birth outcomes and a higher percentage of delivering vaginally.
2. Stick to the basics
We are all house plants with complicated emotions and preparing for labor starts with sticking to the basics. Simply getting enough sunshine and rest, nourishing our bodies with a healthy diet, and staying adequately hydrated (this means 8-10 glasses of water a day expecting mamas) can do such wonders in the days and weeks leading up to labor and birth!
3. Stay Active
Next I’d say it’s important to stay active and incorporate movement into your everyday life. This can be a daily walk, yoga, running, barre, spin classes, dancing, or whatever feels comfortable and natural to you! I always say listen to your body – if you’re feeling tired or uncomfortable then don’t push it and stick with a simple walk. However on days when you are feeling like your body is wanting something more, an activity such as a prenatal yoga flow can help combine gentle movement, stretching, breathing and mindfulness all in one!
It is helpful to check in with your body each day to figure out where your energy level is, and to try to honor it with an activity that matches your energy. This is going to help your baby get into a favorable position for birth, help you sleep better, and ward off those pre-baby anxieties!
4. Prepare the mind and spirit!
Birth is exhausting, emotional, and quite the whirlwind! Having the tools to cope with what can come your way is essential in not only preparing for birth but recovering from birth as well. I’m sure you’re reading and you’re thinking oh boy – we have a hippy on our hands, and I thought the same thing too until I went through it myself.
When I say to prepare the mind I think there are several ways you can go about it but here are my top tips!
- Try to get the negative thoughts out of your head and certainly don’t listen to the people who want to share their traumatic birth story. I remember my midwife grabbing me towards the end of my pregnancy and saying, “manifest the birth you want to have.” While I can certainly get down with manifesting, it wasn’t the way I lived my day-to-day life. From there on out I concentrated on the birth I knew I wanted to have and concentrated much less on other people’s birth stories. I focused on breathing, remaining calm, leaning into my emotional support system, and repeated over and over again, “I am strong and capable of amazing things.”
- Commit to coping strategies that help you feel calm and centered such as mindfulness or meditation, which can help you through the throws of labor but also those late nights and early mornings in the weeks and months that follow after your baby’s birth (and now that I think about it- toddler tantrums as well haha.) I always recommend my clients start with just a couple of minutes each day and gradually work their way up. Even using apps such as Headspace or Calm if you’ve never participated in these practices before as a way to guide you through.
- Practice different breathing and relaxation techniques with your birth support person starting at around 32 weeks. The time to learn to swim isn’t when you’re thrown into the water, just as practicing breathing and relaxation techniques shouldn’t start when you’re learning to manage labor.
- Have realistic expectations. I can’t tell you how often I see families walk into their labor, birth, and postpartum with the expectation that it’s going to be easy and they’ll be up on their feet feeling like themselves in no time. While for some it’s certainly easier than others – however, be mindful of the fact that you just gave birth to a baby! This is no small task! Be patient with yourself and your partner, give yourself plenty of grace, make rest and self-care a priority, and know that it took 9 months to get where you are and it’s going to take some time to get back to where you started. Some days a hot shower and a walk to the mailbox will feel like a huge accomplishment and that’s ok!
- Prepare for postpartum. This is a big one! I find a lot of my clients and patients are so prepared for labor and birth, which is amazing, but labor and birth on average last 12-24 hours and the fourth trimester (also known as the postpartum period) lasts about 12 weeks! Knowing you’re prepared for what comes after birth is going to help calm your mind. To prepare for postpartum it’s important to have the supplies you’ll need at home after birth, prepare and freeze meals during your pregnancy with your partner, build your support system, and have discussions with your partner about what the postpartum period is going to look like (ie: how will you split the night feeds and diaper changes, what are each of you comfortable with regarding a visiting plan for family and friends, financial contribution and career goals, etc.)
5. Prepare the body for labor and birth
I have a full highlight on my instagram page explaining ways to naturally prepare the body for labor and birth however I’m going to sum it up for you here! Keep in mind this is not medical advice and all of these should be discussed with your care provider before incorporating into your pregnancy routines.
- Sex is shockingly an amazing way to naturally prepare the body for labor and birth as sperm helps to soften the cervix towards the end of pregnancy and having an orgasm releases the hormone oxytocin which is responsible for contractions. I always tell my clients & patients to keep in mind sex can introduce bacteria into the vagina so don’t do this if your water has broken! Keep it fun and light – don’t take yourself too seriously and have some fun with it! Try different positions that are comfortable for you and your bump!
- Nipple stimulation also helps release oxytocin which is the hormone responsible for not only contractions as I said previously but also causes the breasts to eject milk! This can be done during sex by your partner, or in the shower by yourself, or with a washcloth – especially if you don’t feel comfortable rubbing your nipples! Some people pump however I’m more of the belief that you can keep this exercise casual and skip the pumping. Studies have shown nipple stimulation during pregnancy leads to a higher incidence of vaginal delivery. I don’t really recommend this before 36 weeks! Of course, listen to your body- if you kick into labor let the body take over and do its thing!
- Research has shown that eating 4-6 dates daily in the final weeks of your pregnancy (starting also around 36 weeks) had been proven to lead to a lot of wonderful things such as better cervical exams on admission and shorter length of the first stage of labor, higher rate of vaginal delivery, and reducing the need for Pitocin during labor. (Pitocin is the man-made version of oxytocin and frequently used during labor and birth for a variety of reasons!)
- Evening primrose oil (usually sold in caplet form and is derivative of the evening primrose plant) can be taken orally or vaginally. It has been shown to help soften and dilate the cervix during late stage pregnancy. I started taking this around 36 weeks after a discussion with my midwife however some providers say wait longer or skip altogether!
- I started drinking red raspberry leaf tea around the 35-week mark. I would make it iced with some lemons as I delivered in September so at the end of August this was my go-to. However, for my mamas due in the colder months it’s great hot too! Red raspberry leaf tea strengthens the uterine wall and decreases labor time.
- A membrane strip or sweep can be done in the office at a prenatal visit by your provider- usually not until the 39-40 week mark! It involves your provider sweeping their (gloved) finger between the thin membranes of the amniotic sac and the lower segment of your cervix and uterus. This motion helps separate the sac and it stimulates prostaglandins, which are compounds that act like hormones and can help kick start your labor process!
Do you recommend taking a labor & delivery class? If so, which would you recommend most (Lamaze, hypnoBirthing, a class focused on partner support, prenatal yoga, etc.)?
As stated previously I do believe taking a labor and delivery class is one of the most important ways to prepare yourself for labor, birth, AND postpartum! If you’re planning on breastfeeding or haven’t cared for a newborn before this baby, then an infant care and breastfeeding class would be very beneficial for you and your partner as well. Of course feel free to book your infant care or breastfeeding class on my website! As a labor, delivery, and postpartum nurse as well as a lactation consultant I have seen my fair share of families after birth, but until I went through it myself I couldn’t believe how much I didn’t know and I am forever adding to my list of “what I wish I had known” – hence where GansettGal was born! My goal since starting this business has been to educate parents, open up the conversations about birth and postpartum, normalize it, and come together!
I feel like childbirth education classes not only help educate but they help open up the conversation about birth and postpartum with your support person and care providers, and helps everyone set realistic expectations and get on the same page! Studies have shown that childbirth education classes leads to increased confidence during labor and birth, decreased need for anesthesia, higher incidence of vaginal birth, decreased rates of postpartum anxiety and depression, better communication with healthcare providers, and higher satisfaction with birth outcomes- just to name a few!
I collaborated with Tinyhood and we created THE BEST LABOR AND BIRTH class there is – with over 4 hours of evidence-based content, tips and tricks from your own personal labor nurse (aka me), and 25+ downloadable resources and checklists. The best part is that it’s available on-demand right from the comfort of your own home! This class is available for purchase here and code ASHLEY20 will get you 20% off! I would say this would be considered your well-rounded labor and birth class for those expecting parents who are looking to learn a little bit about everything- and yes your partner or birth support person should join you in taking these classes.
However if you’re hoping to have an unmedicated or low intervention delivery I would recommend in addition to this class, taking a class that focuses specifically on coping or different breathing and moving techniques that can guide you through labor. Of course do your research and pick a program that resonates with you specifically. There are many diverse methods and classes that focus on a variety of different coping techniques such as Hypnobirthing, Bradley Method, Alexander Technique, and Lamaze technique, that use either self-hypnosis or relaxation techniques to help a woman feel physically, mentally and spiritually prepared and can reduce her awareness of fear, anxiety and pain during childbirth.
Perhaps you’re early pregnant and have questions, or you’re expecting soon and not sure what to focus on, or you’ve taken a childbirth class and have questions specific to you, or you’re newly postpartum and ran into some unexpected questions. Please feel free to book a private nurse consultation with me so we can talk through everything! You should never feel alone or not sure where to turn in your pregnancy or postpartum period!
What would you add to a postpartum must-haves list?
- Support from a birth partner, family, friends, neighbors, whoever your village is – postpartum is hard! I was shocked by how hard, exhausting, and emotional it all was! Having someone there to help with tasks, hold the baby while you sleep or shower, prepare your meals – all of this is HUGE!
- Mesh or cotton, breathable, loose-fitting, high underwear that you don’t care about tossing out and will be comfortable if you have a cesarean birth
- Different size pads because as we may (or may not) know bleeding continues for about six weeks after delivery. It is going to be heavy right after birth so you will probably need a large pad capable of absorbing quite a bit of blood but gradually improve over 6 weeks and eventually you may only need a panty liner!
- Ice packs – you may want these for vaginal swelling/discomfort but ice also helps breast engorgement discomfort
- Witch hazel pads to reduce swelling, bruising, and discomfort associated with hemorrhoids
- Comfortable nursing bras/tops for easy access
- Haakaa (for every breastfeeding mama) to help stimulate and collect colostrum and milk
- Refillable water bottle
- Easy to grab, quick, healthy snacks to keep your energy up
- Stool softener to ease those first bowel movements
- Nipple cream and breastfeeding pillow (for breastfeeding mamas)
- Comfortable loose-fitting clothing because it took you 9 months to grow your babe and it will take some time before you fit back into those pre-pregnancy clothes!
If you could only give a mom-to-be one piece of advice about labor and delivery, what would it be?
As crazy as this sounds – try to enjoy it and let all the fear, worries, and anxieties go. If you think about it – none of us can really control our labor and birth so just educate yourself about your options and then go with the flow and trust that those taking care of you will do their best for you and your baby! I have seen thousands of births and there is nothing more magical than the moment when your little baby is finally on your chest! You got this mama!
Ashley Derderian Sousa is a labor, delivery, and postpartum nurse, lactation consultant, and proud mama. She is also the owner of GansettGal, a woman-owned business catered towards educating and empowering mamas, and an educator at Tinyhood. Her mission is to help navigate the uncharted waters of parenthood through fun and informative education and support.
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