The Complete Guide to Preparing for an Empowered Birth
Updated: Feb 19
Do you recall your excitement when you first discovered you were pregnant?
How quickly did that excitement change once you thought about the actual BIRTH of the baby?!?
“How am I going to survive getting this baby out?”
“I’m terrified of the pain.”
“Am I really going to know how to take care of a baby?”
Since becoming pregnant, you probably have a newly filled bookshelf with titles like “Easing Labor Pain” and “Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway.” Or maybe you have friends sharing less-than-inspiring birth stories and wishes of “good luck”.
Of course, there’s always the standard fare of “what to expect” books and websites that try to help you feel prepared by sharing everything that could go wrong.
Whichever way you get your information, certain sources may create more doubt and uncertainty than actually calming and empowering you.
So what can you do?
Since 2010, I’ve supported hundreds of mamas through their preparation for birth with yoga, partner workshops and individual wellness programs.
What I’m going to share with you here are the things that have proven to be the “game changers”, helping mothers go from fear to confidence and from panic to calm during birth and postpartum.
Consume Only Positive Birth Stories.
Think about the last birth story you heard. Was it an amazing and uplifting story? For most women, the stories we hear or read about most often are not awe-inspiring. The number one thing you want to become aware of is what kind of birth stories you are being exposed to. Are they depicting stories that match the kind of experience you envision for yourself? Or are they creating more fear and worry? Are they giving you enough details and helping you paint a picture in your head of what your birth can be like?
My top two resources for positive birth stories are Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth, and the film “Organic Birth: Birth is Natural!” By Debra Pascali Bonaro.
The first half of Gaskin’s book is filled with birth stories of births attended by Ina May and her team of midwives. Each story is unique and interesting, and contains bits of story you can’t find anywhere else. If you’re looking for stories that will really help you formulate different ideas about how you might experience your birth, this book is your first stop. Plus, it’s pretty easy to come by online or even from a friend or library.
The film might be a little harder to come by as a loaner, but you can buy a copy online. Every time I watch this movie, I’m reminded of the awe of childbirth. Every woman I’ve ever sat down with to watch this film with was transformed by watching it. And subsequently, they claimed it helped them in their birth. It’s really that good.
Preparing for an empowered birth starts with knowing that ecstatic, empowered and joyful natural births happen all the time and are completely within the realm of normal!
Find The Right Doctor or Midwife For YOU
Some people will tell you that you need to find a hospital with the lowest rates for c-section and intervention or to avoid hospitals that treat mostly high-risk patients if you are not a high-risk patient yourself. Some may go so far as to birth at home just to avoid the hospital. But really, what matters more than your hospital is your choice of doctor or midwife. Your doctor or midwife, or the practice group you see, will have more of an impact on what happens on the day of your birth because, it’s your “doctor’s orders” that will direct the actions of the hospital nurses and other doctors.
You may have noticed that I emphasized choice of doctor—yes, it is in fact a choice! And you can change doctors just for pregnancy! So many of us women start seeing an OB/GYN because they were the first on the list from our insurance company. But when it comes to giving birth, you may discover that your views and ideas about pain relief, interventions and more, don’t match up with your doctor’s approach. This means it’s time to find a doctor or midwife that does see things your way!
To find the right doctor or midwife for you, the best way to start is by asking for recommendations from other mothers. You can also contact doulas in your local area who have attended many births. They often have knowledge about certain doctors/midwives that can help you locate the right one for you.
Preparing for an empowered birth includes a doctor or midwife that has your desires for birth as his or her top priority. With that kind of support, you are free to let go and trust.
Practice what being strong and calm feels like.
One of the most surprising moments in birth for many moms is that instant when you realize you are in labor. All of a sudden, we panic, we worry, we doubt.
But the panic, worry and doubt is not real.
It just happens because we forget.
We think we have forgotten how to do this.
We forget that our bodies are made for this.
My theory about why we forget we know how to do this is that we’ve never given ourselves a chance to simulate birth and practice being in labor. Even if it’s just imagining it in your head, we don’t often let ourselves go there. We often spend most of our time reading, reading, reading. I know, because this is what I did and so many of us do! We think that if we just know more, it will take care of everything. Yes, knowledge is power, but in birth you have to take it a step further.
You have to practice.
Famous athletes have used visualization for peak performance, and it’s usually combined with actual practice of performing the feat they’re trying to achieve. For birth, it’s no different!
The tip here is to let yourself practice BEING the way you want to be in birth. Envision being strong and calm? See yourself breathing slowly out through contractions?
Go to the gym or go to a yoga class that challenges you (in a safe way), and notice how you deal with the discomforts of challenging stretches or moves. Do you hold your breath? Or can you find a way to use your breath with your body in a way that actually makes the same pose or exercise less intense or easier to stick with?
What if the teacher says okay, just 10 more? What’s your self-talk like? Are you silently moaning and spouting self-sabotaging chatter? Is it helping you get through the next ten or making it harder? What can you do with your focus, your breath, your self-talk to soothe and strengthen yourself?
When you do this, you are going to feel so amazing! You will have that “I did it!” feeling of accomplishment. And when you have practiced meeting body sensations with breath, mind and body love, your actual labor sensations will feel more manageable.
Preparing for an empowered birth includes imagining, visualizing, believing and practicing being in birth without fear or pain.
Fall in Love All Over Again.
A famous line by Ina May Gaskin is “what got the baby in, gets the baby out!” The hormone Oxytocin—the love hormone--is responsible for a productive cascade of helpful hormones that make birth a lot more joyful and less painful.
Also, if you are near your due date, it’s known that the prostaglandin in semen can help to move the changes in the cervix along. Plus, having an orgasm releases mega doses of oxytocin into your body, and sending the message to your body and baby that “everything is okay.” Birth feels safe when oxytocin is flowing. And conversely, when mama feels safe, oxytocin will flow!
Sex is not the only way to get oxytocin flowing. Just being together with your partner, laughing, enjoying each other’s company turns on the oxytocin.
In fact, you can get an oxytocin high from doing anything that naturally makes you feel good. Oxytocin is the hormone of bonding. So if you love hiking, dancing or knitting, for example, doing those activities that bring you closer to feeling like yourself will do the trick.
The more love you can infuse into your daily life, the more likely you’ll already be flowing with oxytocin when labor begins, and you won’t have to try so hard at manufacturing the good vibes (which, paradoxically, increases adrenaline and lowers oxytocin).
Preparing for an empowered birth includes doing things you love and being with your love to allow the body’s natural hormones to do their job.
Build Your Network of Mommy Besties Early.
It may be hard right now to imagine your life after birth, but one thing every single mom seems to crave is the companionship and community of other mothers once their baby is born.
Even before that, the attention that is showered on you during pregnancy may not be the right kind or enough. Many expectant moms also feel lonely and worried a lot more than necessary because they don’t have a pregnancy support group. Your support group does not have to include anyone with pregnancy expertise, though if you can find a knowledgeable teacher or doula in your area, that can be a bonus. Often times, expectant moms will have information of who to call, books to read, podcasts they love, research they’ve done and more.
The occurrence of postpartum depression is rising in the US, and as our lives become increasingly more isolated and busy, it’s not surprising. Studies have shown that one of the ways postpartum depression can be reduced is by having enough and quality companionship during the first few months.
So what’s a pregnant mother to do? Start speaking up, start introducing yourself, start exchanging phone numbers, start meeting for tea with other expectant mamas. If you’ve already had your baby, do the same. If it’s not your style to be so forward, just try to do it once or twice then ask your new friend to introduce you to others. This is how those ubiquitous “play groups” get started, and all of a sudden your life with baby gives you plenty of opportunities to vent, share stories, figure stuff out together with others doing the same thing. Motherhood is way easier this way!
Preparing for an empowered birth includes building a network of support you trust so you can relax and let go.
After birth, plan to rest after you sleep.
If you are under the care of an Ayurvedic or other eastern traditional medicine practitioner, you can skip this one. But for the rest of us, we want to follow this more traditional approach to the 42-day (six weeks) postpartum period, referred to as the sacred window in Ayurveda. These 42 days are said to set the tone for the next 42 years, so how we spend them is very important!
How do you do that? Plan to be mostly horizontal in the two weeks immediately after birth. You’ll want time to bond with your baby and give your body ample time to restore from the trauma of pregnancy and birth. After that, you will still spend the majority of the next four weeks lying down, relaxing and bonding. Even if your birth was a glorious experience, your muscles, tendons and bones are recovering from a major workout and massive shifts in size and position. Hormones need time to recalibrate. Birth is a kind of trauma to the body, and when we honor our body’s need to heal, it does so a lot more wholly.
During pregnancy, you can prepare for the easiest transition by planning to have meals, laundry and household chores taken care of for the first six weeks. That can be family or friends. Or you can arrange in advance for a housekeeper to come a few times to take care of laundry and cleaning.
The key thing here is to think about and plan for your maximum rest while you are still pregnant. Once baby arrives, you’ve got other things on your mind and will want the freedom of feeling fully nurtured in your home.
Preparing for an empowered birth includes setting yourself up to come home without fears, responsibilities or worries about your basic needs.
Any time we have had a big life event, for example getting married and planning a wedding, we plan. We visit pinterest and the latest discussion boards, we read articles and books, consult specialists to let them help us plan the perfect day.
When it comes to birth, however, there's something different about THIS life event. Typically, we spend the majority of our time looking around, outside ourselves, for information and answers. And while there is a place for information gathering, it mustn't stop there when it comes to birth.
The reality is that growing a baby and giving birth is an "inside" job, requiring as much or more inner information gathering as external. The information we gather from the world fills our head, but birth happens from the neck down.
Birth happens in our body. We know this, but really, it's practically ONLY in the body.
Yes, actually, your critical thinking/organizing/planning brain shuts down during labor; the primitive brain takes over. So, all that information gathering that's not translated into your body may not be so helpful. As a result, we must make sure we're spending time in the body, moving, breathing, listening, cultivating our ability to focus and perceive our inner terrain. Yoga is perfect for that.
There is no practice quite like yoga that has the ability to prepare a mother on all levels—physical, mental, energetic and spiritual—for birth.
So find a yoga teacher whose practice gives you the space and guidance to turn inward. Practice consistently for your best birth.
In the words of the revered yoga master Sri K. Pattabhi Jois “Do your practice, and all is coming.”
Preparing for an empowered birth includes taking excellent care of your body, mind and spirit during this sacred time of transition and metamorphosis of you also being born as a new mother.
This may sound obvious, but so many mothers that I work with hold on to the notion that childbirth = pain = agony. And simply not being willing to let go of that notion is the very reason they experience labor in that way.
I am inviting you right now to consider that the sensations you will feel during birth will be described as intense and strong and powerful, but you very well may not experience them as painful. Many mothers I’ve asked describe labor sensations as “pressure” more than pain. We think of other bodily pain we’ve had, like if we broke something or something happened TO us. These are painful because these things changed our physical body beyond the normal range and more than likely we need some kind of procedure to fix it—a bandage, cast, surgery, etc.
Childbirth is not at all the same! The sensations you will experience during labor are completely within the range of what your body is meant to do. You do not need to wear a cast or undergo surgery to recover from a standard vaginal birth. (This excludes a c-section, of course.)
Pain during birth may not actually be experienced as pain because you are hardwired with some incredible birth coping mechanisms. Once your body starts the process of labor and the uterus is contracting, your body triggers the production of Oxytocin (which we discussed above), followed by copious amounts of endorphins that have a morphine-like effect on you. The stronger your contractions, the stronger the endorphins. You may already start to notice as your due date approaches that your sensitivity to deep pressure massage is lessened. In other words, a deep massage doesn’t hurt as much and you can handle more. This is a signal that your body is already getting ready to feel less.
So let go of the fear of feeling pain. What you will be feeling is the pressure of your beautiful baby making its way into the world. What you will be feeling is the strong surge of your uterus working efficiently to get baby down. What you will be feeling is the satisfaction of getting through labor like a warrior. For mothers who have reframed pain, it’s more like childbirth = wild deep surges = ecstasy.
The best way to practice redefining pain now is to find or make up your own birth affirmations that speak to you—that feel encouraging, uplifting, peaceful, spacious, joyful. You could also think about some mantras or phrases that you can repeat to yourself silently to help focus and calm the mind. These can be very simple phrases like “Let Go”, “Baby Down” or “Getting Huge”. These are great mantras to use in labor as well to keep you calm, focused and riding the waves of your birth without fear or pain.
Preparing for an empowered birth includes reframing pain. Childbirth = Wild Deep Surges = Pleasure
You hold the keys to your best birth.
It’s no secret that labor can be intense. But it does seem to be a secret that that intensity can be experienced or felt as euphoric, primal, blissful and downright satisfying.
Having a birth where you are not experiencing the pain, but rather, feel both strong and calm is completely within your reach. And having a postpartum recovery where you feel supported is completely doable. The best way to master your experience is to take the reins. Be the boss of your journey through pregnancy and birth. Believe you can, and you will!
Incorporate the steps above, as have hundreds of mothers who have practiced and prepared for birth with me since 2010, and you’ll be well on your way to the natural birth you desire and deserve.