It’s never too early to start preparing for birth and motherhood. Learning as much as you can now will help you feel more confident in making decisions like selecting a health care provider, choosing where to give birth, and finding a childbirth education class.
Pregnancy is an excellent time to prioritize taking care of yourself. It is important to establish positive habits to ensure the best health for you and your developing baby. Pregnancy is a time to practice healthy eating, drink plenty of fluids, exercise regularly, and get plenty of rest—you’re sustaining a new life and preparing for the marathon of birth. You should also prepare yourself mentally for labor, birth, and new motherhood. Read or watch things that make you feel positive about your upcoming labor and birth, for example, Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, birth documentaries such as The Business of Being Born, YouTube clips, and stories from supportive family/friends. Finally, enjoy quality time with your family. Now is the time to strengthen relationships with your partner, children, and any other close relationships in your life.
Childbirth education classes are a great idea for first-time parents and a helpful refresher even for those who have already experienced birth and parenting. These special classes teach you the skills to facilitate a healthy, happy pregnancy and birth. Most hospitals offer classes for expectant parents, but they often cover only information about hospital procedures and what to expect. You may want to explore additional options to ensure you get the full range of information you need to make informed decisions throughout pregnancy and birth.
A good class should give you an overview of your options and be realistic about the kind of experience you may have. It should review the stages of labor and teach you pain management skills and breathing techniques. And it should include every possible scenario, “not just what the hospital is offering.” Most of all, the class should mirror your own philosophies and desires.
Some of the more thorough approaches to childbirth education are:
- CenteringPregnancy: A group model of prenatal care that was developed by a certified nurse-midwife, CenteringPregnancy is a unique way to receive care and learn about pregnancy. Typically, 8 to 12 women and a care provider meet in a group setting a total of 10 times throughout pregnancy and the early days after birth. Group meetings include health assessment, education, and support.
- Lamaze: Lamaze childbirth education classes encourage a “natural, healthy, and safe” approach to pregnancy, childbirth, and early parenting. Educators focus on providing parents with the best, most current medical evidence available. The 6 Healthy Birth Practices that this model espouses are intended to help reduce the use of unnecessary interventions and improve overall outcomes for mothers and babies.
- Bradley Method: This series is designed for small classes with lots of individual attention. The standard length is 12 weeks covering 12 units of instruction. Strong emphasis is placed on a woman’s partner serving as a childbirth coach. Classes cover topics such as nutrition and exercise during pregnancy, relaxation for an easier birth, and birth plans.
- The International Childbirth Education Association (ICEA) is a good place to search for certified educators and classes in your area. ICEA educators offer family-centered education and support each family in their freedom to make informed decisions in the journey through pregnancy and birth.
Your midwife can also give recommendations for breastfeeding and parenting classes in your area to help get you off to a strong start as a new mom.
A birth plan is a written statement of your desires and what is important to you when you are in labor and giving birth. A birth plan describes the experience you hope to have, and the ways you want support or help from those who are caring for you. It can include a description of your ideal labor and birth, as well as things such as:
- Your choice of labor companions, including participation of family and siblings
- Pain management preferences
- Medical procedures
- Care immediately after your birth
- Newborn care and procedures
- Infant feeding preference
- Preferences in case of a non-emergency cesarean birth
- Religious, cultural, or other beliefs
- Your choice of birth control for after the birth
A birth plan will help you learn about your choices, and it helps you share your goals for your labor and birth with those who are caring for you during labor. When you work on a birth plan with your provider, you share thoughts and ideas, which will help develop trust.
A cesarean birth is a surgery done to deliver your baby by an incision in your uterus through your abdomen. The number of cesareans done in the United States has risen dangerously high in the past several years. Cesarean birth carries a lot of additional risks for the mother and baby, and for a woman’s future pregnancies. Vaginal birth is by far the safest for most women and their babies.
You are far more likely to have health problems after a cesarean than after a vaginal birth. These include severe bleeding, infection, more pain, more difficulty establishing breastfeeding, a wide range of complications from the surgery, and a longer recovery time. Having a cesarean can also cause you to have health problems later. If you get pregnant again, you can have problems with your placenta and you will have a much greater risk of severe bleeding, which might require a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus). You may have to have cesareans for all future births, and the health risks are worse each time you get pregnant after having your first cesarean.
For all these reasons, a cesarean should be done only if it is needed to protect your health or your baby’s health. View tips for avoiding a cesarean birth here.
One of the hardest realities to accept during pregnancy is that your baby is very unlikely to be born on your “due date.” In fact, only about 5% of babies arrive on their mother’s estimated due date, and it is very common for babies to arrive after the due date. Not knowing exactly when your baby will be born can make planning for important things like work, social events, and out-of-town visitors difficult. But the inconvenience of not knowing is well worth it for the health of you and your baby.
While being finished with pregnancy may seem tempting during those last few weeks, artificially starting labor for nonmedical reasons is linked to increased risks including prematurity, cesarean surgery, hemorrhage, and infection. Labor should only be induced for medical reasons—not for convenience or scheduling concerns. Learn more about this importance of waiting for labor to start on its own at the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses’ Go The Full 40 website.
The first months at home after your baby is born can be a quiet, gentle time of getting to know this new person who has come to live in your home. But for most women it is not all quiet or sweet. And for some women it is a very hard time. Tips for easing the transition include:
- Get someone (partner, parent, friend, post-partum doula) to take care of you and your other children for at least 2 weeks after the birth. You may need to have backup plans for care in case your baby arrives earlier or later than expected.
- Consider cooking meals ahead of time and freezing them for later use.
- Familiarize yourself with breastfeeding resources in advance.
- Arrange for friends, family, or a service to manage pet responsibilities.
- Ask your midwife for advice on parenting and transitioning your other children to a household with a new baby.
- Decide whether or not you will return to work and arrange for infant feeding needs and childcare. Sometimes returning to work can be the hardest time for both moms and partners. It helps to discuss with your partner in advance how to handle childcare and household roles and responsibilities.
- Getting rest can be difficult. If at all possible, sleep when your baby sleeps.