When you're expecting a baby, there is so much to consider—everything from buying the best baby gear to choosing the right provider for your care is on your to-do list. And of course, there's that little matter of planning for the actual birth.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about two in three women in the U.S. have vaginal births. If you don't have any major health concerns or issues, it's reasonable to assume that you, too, will have a vaginal birth. Here are some ways to prepare for a positive and healthy experience.
1. Take a Childbirth Class
It's so important to have a clear understanding about the usual process of labor and birth. Sign up for a childbirth class, which will provide you with education about everything from cervical dilation to the delivery of the placenta. The more you understand about the biological process your body experiences during labor, the easier it will be to feel like your experience is progressing normally.
Most classes also include useful information about common hospital procedures and interventions. If you're interested in classes that offer specific coping techniques, like mindfulness or hypnosis, those are also readily available in person and online.
2. Understand Your Anxieties
Giving birth often comes with very individual concerns. Some women are nervous about pushing, some are nervous about experiencing contractions, and others are still about deciding if and when to go to the hospital. Dig deep within yourself to understand what you're most scared of or worried about in terms of vaginal birth. Share your concerns with your partner and any other support people who will be with you during labor and birth, so they can be aware of how and when to comfort you.
Talk to your provider about your worries, too. Chances are that your doctor or midwife will be able to explain normal procedures and reassure you about what might happen in the birthing room. Make a plan that includes the best-case scenario to help you feel calm — but also think through what your preferences would be if that best-case scenario was not possible.
If you're planning a vaginal birth after cesarean (often abbreviated as a VBAC), it will also help to learn about this kind of birth. People planning VBACs might have trauma or anxiety from their previous birth experience, so processing this and receiving support will help. And bear in mind that, although a VBAC normally progresses just as other vaginal births do, your doctor or hospital may have policies for VBAC patients that you should be aware of.
3. Hire a Doula
Doulas are trained nonmedical childbirth support professionals who provide mental, emotional, physical, and sometimes informational support during pregnancy and birth. Evidence continues to show that the support of a doula during birth leads to great outcomes for mothers and babies alike, including a lower risk of a cesarean section and a higher chance of feeling satisfied with the birth experience.
Find a doula in your area who aligns with your values and goals. Although it's a common misconception that doulas are only for women who plan to give birth without pain medication, they should support your individual birthing preferences and situation.
4. Learn About Comfort Measures
Pain control is often one of the biggest concerns for someone anticipating having a vaginal birth. Make sure you understand the options you may have at your place of birth, including epidural anesthesia, nitrous oxide, IV pain medication, and more. Ask questions so you understand the risks and benefits of each, as well as when they're most appropriate to use during labor.
It's also helpful to learn about nonmedical comfort measures, like massage, counterpressure, hydrotherapy, and more. These measures can often be used before, after, or alongside medical pain options. For example, having your partner give you a massage as you wait for an epidural can make the wait more comfortable.
5. Prepare for After-Birth
Stock up on soothing supplies you can have at home once your baby is born. This includes a peri bottle, lots of pads, hemmorhoid cream and/or Tucks pads, and sitz bath supplies. You can also buy products specifically for the postpartum vagina, like perineal sprays and herbal sitz bath blends. Consider making a few "padsicles," or pads frozen with aloe and witch hazel, which can be incredibly comforting in the first few days after birth.
While vaginal births are the norm, that shouldn't keep you from asking any and all questions you have. Talk to your care provider early and often as you prepare for your new arrival.