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1. Read up!

This does not mean read every blog or news story that comes your way about giving birth. Those tend to be attention grabbers and rarely reflect reality: “Woman gives birth in elevator!” “Woman has baby during rush hour traffic!” Of course some births happen like that, but the majority are not as dramatic (thankfully!). Reading tried-and-true favorite books such as Spiritual Midwifery from Ina May Gaskin, Birthing From Within, Ricki Lake’s Your Best Birth, or even new tomes like Alicia Silverstone’s upcoming pregnancy and green mama-related book, The Kind Mama, offer a more measured, researched approach to giving birth. We also recommend taking notes or keeping a journal to keep track of what you want to get out of your birth experience or what you want to learn more about. We encourage you to talk with friends and family members regarding their birth experiences, just as long as you remember that everyone and every birthing experience is vastly different! Any of these resources (or attending birth education classes) can be a good way to delve into varied aspects of childbirth, from hypnobirthing to using rebozos during labor.

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Photo © Flickr user theogeo

2. Witness some actual natural births.

If you’re like many of us, you have never actually seen someone give birth. Sorry, fictional movies don’t count! Because most of us no longer live in societies where women go through the birthing process in the company of other women in our homes or dwellings or even in special birthing tents, few of us (unless we’re in the medical field) have watched someone go through labor and delivery. My doula (see step 3) let me borrow several DVDs before I had my son, and it was extremely helpful to see the experiences of several other women going through the beautiful and intense process I was about to go through! We also recommend The Business of Being Born and More Business of Being Born to educate yourselves on birthing environments and your choices.

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Photo © flickr user The Lawleys

3. Hire a doula and/or midwife to help you on your birthing journey.

Just to be clear, there are distinct differences between these two roles: a doula offers non-medical support, while a midwife is trained to actually deliver babies. So, you should strongly consider hiring a doula, a midwife, or both when planning your baby’s birth. We’ve written multiple times about when you should hire a doula and how to choose the right one as well as about midwives and birthing centers and their benefits. Choosing a natural childbirth experience doesn’t necessarily mean you need to deliver your baby by yourself in the bathtub in your home by candlelight: you can have a natural experience at a birthing center or a hospital as well. Above all importance in hiring a doula and/or a midwife is finding someone who you feel comfortable with, who wants you to have the best birth experience possible, and is willing to act as an advocate for you and your health. And keep in mind that at various medical facilities, there are different rules: some hospitals rely only on doctors, others welcome midwives as part of their staff. Make sure that all parties involved are aware of any boundaries BEFORE your big day. My doula was a great resource: she also has three kids of her own so it felt reassuring to have an experienced woman on my side!

RELATED | HOW TO: Find a Birth Doula

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4. Create a birth plan.

Creating a birth plan is a great way to remind medical professionals what your birthing goals and aspirations are. Your wishes may not all be honored, depending on where you give birth, but having your plan typed up allows you to have a sort of guide and reminder of your goals at a time when you will likely feel excited and emotional. A birth plan is also a great way to iron out birthing expectations with your partner and communicating to that person what you would like his or her role to be. It’s also not just for the actual labor and delivery stage: we included wishes such as how I wanted to initiate breastfeeding right after delivery. And a birth plan can be a great keepsake document for your baby album!

RELATED | 5 Top Tips for Writing Your Birth Plan

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5. Prepare your body.

Labor and delivery can last for hours (even days). It is truly a physical event! So spending 9 months eating ice cream out of the container while you watch reality TV is not going to prepare you for the big day. After talking with your doctor or medical professional, incorporate physical activities such as yoga, walks, pilates, dance, or a variety of other exercise methods into your workout. Not only will certain exercises help with pushing, your body will also be better prepared for recovery after birth. I was pretty exhausted and nauseous during my first trimester, but I found a few DVDs that I could do at home that kept me (and the baby) active and moving. I am convinced that helped me set the mood for the rest of my pregnancy: I had a lot of energy and worked out until a day before I had my son. While I didn’t accomplish my totally unrealistic, pre-labor goal of pushing the baby out in three pushes (it actually took three hours of pushing!), I do think exercising regularly helped me with the endurance aspect of labor. Also, the actual laboring process can be very active in surprising ways: doing squats continually for several hours was what my body was telling me to do, so I listened!

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6. Get yourself and your partner in the right mindset!

Meditation and breathing calmly are extremely powerful pain-management tools and practicing them in advance will keep you feel more centered when the big event arrives. Being tense and stressed and fearful about pushing and delivery can actually cause us to tighten up and prolong labor. The Fear-Tension-Pain Cycle is a real phenomenon! So remaining calm and relaxed is essential to your experience. Having a midwife/doula/doctor that you like is important, and so is having a supportive birthing partner who will help you get into certain positions, bring you water, etc.

I did visualizations throughout my labor, including one where I tried to imagine my baby moving down the birth canal. I also remembered something my doula said to me: “You are only going to have a finite number of contractions, so every time you have one, you are that much closer to having your baby.” It was a simple observation, but one that helped me focus and remember that there was a purpose for the intense experience I was having.

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7. Be ready to accept your experience and move on.

Having a natural childbirth is a completely reasonable goal… for many of us. You know what is an even better goal? Having a healthy baby. If medical intervention is necessary at a certain point, give yourself props for trying to have a natural experience and do your best to move on. Until you are in the moment of having a baby, you don’t truly know how you or your body will respond, and there are occasionally unforeseen events that require quick and decisive medical action.  If you have your heart set on a natural childbirth and it doesn’t work out for any reason, try to come to terms with your experience (through talking with friends and family or even therapy if necessary) and focus on the present: you have way too many other exciting things to think about, like your baby! And remember: you can always try again for baby #2!

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