Getting ready for birth includes all things nesting, shopping (yay!) and excitement for your little ones arrival into the world. I remember packing and repacking my hospital bag over and over again to remember what I'd put in it and making sure it had everything I needed in it still. First time round I made arrangements for our dog to be taken care of and second time around for both the dog and our eldest daughter too. I'd prepped and stashed away batch cooked meals to help us through the early days and had Amazon Prime set up ready to go for emergency 3am "MUST HAVE" sleep devices of all manner.
So once you've taken care of those bits, what about taking the time to ready yourself mentally and physically for labour/birth and beyond?
Have a read on for my top 4 tips that I did and you can do to help prepare your body for birth and beyond;
1. Mental readiness:
Set yourself up to be as calm and content as you can be. Some examples that may work for you are daily stretching, meditations, affirmation cards and hypnobirthing scripts. The calmer you are during the build up to and during labour the easier it is for your body to soften. Feelings of fear and anxiety can prolong your first stage of labour. If you are feeling anxious or fearful for any reason - it is worth seeking some assistance as far in advance as you can to help you work through these feelings prior to the event.
With the help of Ria from "The Simple Birth Company" here are some birth affirmations for you to read through and enjoy - print them out and get them pinned up around your house;
Birth affirmations are a great way to repeat new ways of thinking and re-train your subconscious mind to accept and absorb positive ways of thinking about childbirth.
The more I relax, the more my body opens ~
~ I trust in my ability to birth my baby ~
~ Breathe in strength, breathe out tension ~
~ My baby’s size is perfect for my body ~
~ My baby will arrive when the time is right ~
~ My body is capable and strong ~
~ It’s not pain, it’s power ~
~ My courage is stronger than my fear ~
~ My body achieves what my mind believes ~
~ Our baby, created in love, will be birthed in love ~
~ The journey has started and I am in control
If you'd like to know more about Ria and the wonderful Hypnobirthing work that she does you can find her here
2. Understanding what is physically going to happen:
Sometimes women's experience of birth prior to the event is watching birth during soap television. This doesn't really prepare you very well for understanding what's going on with your body. The more you can understand the process the calmer you'll feel.
A great video and visualisation for vaginal birth can be found by Liz Chalmers here
An overview of C-Section can be found here
(this video is meant for training medical professionals and I have chosen it for it's matter of fact style without an emotional preference either way around C-sections)
3. Physical body softening:
The pelvic floor has 2 main functions - to keep things in and supported and to let things out. During pregnancy you may have been advised to "do your kegels/pelvic floor exercises" by lifting up and squeezing. This isn't bad advice as such but it does lean you towards thinking only about the pelvic floor muscles are something that need to be held up at all times.
To birth the pelvic floor must lengthen and stretch in order for the baby to come out. You can practice this during pregnancy with certain movement positions such as this lengthening movement
and also breathing exercises such as this one:
"Sit comfortably on the edge of your seat on the edge of your sitting bones
Imagine that your pelvic floor and diaphragm are the bottom and top parts of a piston. As you inhale the pelvic floor and diaphragm are pulled down together as a piston allowing space to draw in air. Your pelvic floor softens and lengthens like an elastic band in order to do this. Now as you exhale feel them both travel back up together too.
Take your time to feel the full breath reaching the bottom of the pelvic floor and feel it lengthening and softening as you do. Keep your breath natural and not so large that you feel dizzy. You may be noticing on the exhale that your abdominals and back muscles are also working in conjunction with the pelvic floor.
Now try taking a smaller inhale and notice that the breath doesn't quite reach the pelvic floor and that as a result the effects on the rest of the core activation are small too. This is a great tip for those people who have a pelvic floor that tends to overwork also - by encouraging the relaxation the activation on the lift is far improved.
Coming back to your normal breath size and whilst staying in your upright position on your sit bones try adding in an image of picking up a kidney bean with the back passage as you exhale - feeling the lifting of the piston breath, the gathering of the pelvic floor and the activation of your abdominal and back muscles also. On the inhale place the bean carefully back down again and notice the softening and lengthening of the pelvic floor muscles.
Both during pregnancy, birth and beyond a happy pelvic floor is one that is both flexible and strong so both elements of the breathing technique (the lift and gathering an the softening and lengthening are important)
This exercise can be found in my free 7 day core programme - it is shown lying down but equally you can do it seated or standing if preferred
4: Physical body strength:
We discussed above the importance of being able to relax our muscles as well as keeping them strong. To be able to relax our muscles during labour takes fitness, strength and endurance. The stronger your legs and upper body are the easier you will find being comfortable in your preferred birthing position.
Birthing positions vary from person to person but if we simply consider the imagery of toothpaste in a tube - squeezing it whilst on it's side would not have as great as an effect on the toothpaste coming out as having it on it's end. Gravity can be a great helper when it comes to birth and assisting the baby moving down the birth canal. Having a strong enough upper body and legs to keep you in this position would be of great benefit.
Also from a recovery perspective when our upper body is weak more demand is placed upon the core and pelvic floor muscles. Post C-section if your legs are strong enough to take the weight of the body you would find standing up and out of bed far easier. These may seem small things but they can make the difference of how easy your first few days/weeks are with a newborn and if you can maintain your fitness during pregnancy you will feel the effects of sleep deprivation less.
Staying fit, strong and flexible during pregnancy is as much about feeling comfortable during pregnancy (9 months is a long time to feel uncomfortable if you do not need to) as it is about preparing your body for labour,birth and beyond.
For keeping strong during pregnancy why not try this exercise for balance and glute/core/pelvic floor strength (ensure you are by a wall to stop yourself from wobbling and take away the small step if you are feeling unbalanced and just lift the leg - holding on to something if needed):
Or this breathing exercise above for the core - here I am using the same technique explained earlier but adding a band row for back strength - inhale the band in-towards you and exhale the band back out resisting the "snapping back" of the band