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The excitement of finding out you’re pregnant is probably only overshadowed by the anticipation of your baby’s due date and what will happen on that day. Chances are, things can be pretty scary too, especially if it’s your first time. The most obvious thing running through your mind is probably, How will I be able to give birth to a baby?

Firstly, let us assure you that it is possible. Countless women have done it before (some more than once), and so yes, you can do this. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s a vaginal birth or a caesarean, your baby will come out.

But assurances can be pretty empty even when delivered with full confidence. The best thing you can do right now is to adequately prepare your mind and body for birth. And to do that requires knowledge. Lots of it. In the video below, we have maternal doula Lucy Lou on hand to share some tips on how you can prepare yourself for labour.

What happens to your body during labour and childbirth

Before you even get to labour and childbirth, it’s recommended to maintain some form of fitness. Labour and childbirth can require a lot of stamina and physical effort on mum’s part, so participating in some pregnancy-safe exercises will go a long way to making it easier during labour and childbirth.

As you head towards the due date, both your body and that of your baby will go through some changes in preparation. One of the most obvious signs comes in the form of Braxton Hicks contractions, believed to help your uterus and cervix get ready for the real thing.

At around the same time, your baby will start to move further down your pelvis in preparation for the birth. By now, the bones and ligaments in your pelvis area would have moved or stretched to accommodate baby. Your body would also have released a whole host of hormones to help you with labour and childbirth. These include oxytocin (causes contractions), relaxin (softens and stretches the cervix) and beta-endorphins (helps with pain relief).

Soon your cervix will soften and become thinner in preparation for your baby entering (and exiting) the vagina. If you see a “show”—a bloody mucus—the real show is about to begin. Some women will also experience their waters breaking, which can come in the form of a trickle or gush of fluid out of the vagina. If you’re not already in hospital at this time, call your maternity team to inform them as soon as this happens.

In general, there are three stages of labour, as detailed by obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Peter Wood in this video:

Interventions during labour

There have been huge medical advances made since women first started becoming pregnant. This means there are plenty of interventions available to ensure the best outcome for mum and bub during labour. Broadly speaking, interventions come in two main forms:

  • Medical and non-medical pain relief options. There’s no denying labour and childbirth is a painful experience. What women need however, can differ greatly. So do some research on the different options available and also how you feel about using them. Your choices include heat packs, TENS machines, gas, epidurals and more. 
  • Assisted delivery. Sometimes a little assistance is necessary to avoid a caesarean birth. This may include using a Ventouse or vacuum extractor (commonly referred to as a vacuum birth), or forceps. Read up on how the procedures are performed and the pros and cons of each.

Birth plan templates: How to write one

To write a birth plan, you’ll need a pretty good idea of what you would like to have happen when you are in labour and about to give birth. This means you’ll need to have some knowledge about what happens during birth. Talking to your midwife or obstetrician can be very helpful when it comes to writing a birth plan. Getting ideas from other women who have recently given birth can also help you to write your birth plan.

Before we talk about the various things you should consider when writing a birth plan, there is one very important thing to keep in mind: Be flexible and have an adaptable head space. Babies, you will soon discover, are their own beings. As much as you think you’re the adult in charge of raising them, they are actually the boss. This means things can and will change on the day. How your body reacts to labour and childbirth may not be quite what you expect either—remember it can be difficult to predict something that you’ve never experienced before.

What do you include in a birth plan?

View your birth plan as more of a guide and a list of preferences than something you have to stick to, come what may. Things you may want to have a say on include:

  • Support person. Who do you want with you when you’re giving birth (COVID-19 restrictions notwithstanding).
  • Surroundings. Take into consideration music, lighting and even smells and scents.
  • Birth positions and birth aids. Find out what your hospital’s or medical professional’s default birth position is and whether it’s something you are happy to proceed with. If you want to use birthing aids such as a Swiss ball or a squatting stool, this is the time to list your preference and investigate if it’s available for use.
  • Pain relief. Are there any options that you specifically want or others that you don’t? Keep in mind that things can still change. Your body may react unexpectedly, or your midwife or obstetrician may recommend something that will assist with delivery.
  • Interventions. Assisted delivery options include anything from induction to forceps. Describe your preference, once again taking note that it may be medically necessary to go against your choices.

How to bond with the baby immediately after birth

Skin-to-skin contact is one of the best ways to bond and connect with baby—and this applies for both parents. Learn all you can about breastfeeding now so it comes somewhat naturally on your first try. It doesn’t matter if you intend to continue breastfeeding, it’s the initial contact you’re making with baby that’s important.

Other things you might want to consider doing to bond with baby include singing or talking to them.

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