How to Prepare for Natural Childbirth

More Tips for Natural Childbirth

Get a Grip

pregnant woman on exercise ball

Lucy Schaeffer

One of the secrets to a natural childbirth is being able to relax in response to pain -- a tall order, we know. When you're afraid or in the throes of agonizing contractions, your body's reaction is to stiffen, which tends to exacerbate discomfort, explains Heidi Rinehart, M.D., an obstetrician in Keene, New Hampshire. Fear increases tension, which ups the agony. "When you're tense, some muscles are tightening and trying to hold the baby in, while the muscles in your uterus are tightening to try to push the baby out," says Dr. Rinehart. "The muscles are fighting with each other, which makes it hurt more."

If you can stay (somewhat!) relaxed in the face of strong contractions, you'll have less resistance to opening up for the baby to come out. One trick? Try an exercise called The Grip. "It simulates contractions and allows you to up your pain threshold," says Appleton. Lie down on your side with a pillow between your knees, and if you're in your third trimester, with one supporting your belly too; have your partner apply steady pressure to the muscle between your neck and shoulder for one minute. Focus on relaxing that muscle beneath your partner's gasp. Wait for the pressure to grow very strong before tapering off. The idea is to get used to relaxing your muscles rather than tensing them in response to pain. You are simulating pain so you can learn how to control your response to it. You can also try the space between your thumb and index finger, or an even more sensitive area, such as the Achilles tendon at the back of your ankle. At first the pain should be distracting and at worst very uncomfortable. Ronni Aronow, of Port Washington, New York, swears by this technique: "My husband and I practiced The Grip several times a week in the last month of pregnancy, and it helped me deliver my second and third babies naturally!" she says. Bonus: It can also prep you for any stressful situation, including a cranky baby.

You Should Know Squat

Contrary to what you see in most movie birthing scenes, you don't have to be lying in a hospital bed to have a baby. In fact, many women are more inclined to squat during labor. "I was dead-set against it during my first delivery because it seemed so primitive," says one mom, who asked that we not use her name because she was embarrassed. "But after an hour and a half of pushing, my husband made me squat and the baby was born within 10 minutes. It works!" Squatting opens the pelvis and helps the baby get into the ideal birthing position (head down, face toward back, chin tucked in), explains Henry Dorn, M.D., an obstetrician in High Point, North Carolina. It's most effective if you've been practicing your squats throughout your pregnancy and building those muscles in your legs. (Yes, that exercise thing again.) It's safe to practice squatting throughout pregnancy as there's no evidence it can induce labor. "If your doctor tells you the baby is not in an optimal place in the last trimester," says Dr. Dorn, "try kneeling, sitting cross-legged, or perching on an exercise ball for as much of the day as possible." Or, open a door, hold onto the doorknobs on either side, and drop into a squat for one or two minutes with your knees wide apart. Pull yourself back up using the doorknobs. Deahdra-Lynn Atencio of Gilbert, Arizona, practiced something called Three-Stomp Squat, "where you take three large, high-knee, sumo-wrestler-style steps, and then squat," says the mom of four. "The steps have to be high and powerful. I'd squat on and off as I walked around the house."

Don't Sit Still!

When you arrive at the hospital, keep moving to stay comfortable. (If you're strapped to a monitor, you're bound to bed; ask ahead of time if your hospital allows intermittent fetal monitoring, which gives you the freedom to get up, or if they have telemetry, remote monitoring that allows a woman to walk the halls while monitored.) "Walk and stretch, sit on a birthing ball, and hop in and out of the birthing tub if it's available," says Dana Gossett, M.D., an ob-gyn at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. And use a combo of gravity and hip movement to help the baby come down, advises Dr. Rinehart, who delivered two of her own three children naturally: "When you take the cork out of a wine bottle, you don't take it straight out, you jiggle it back and forth to get it to ease through," says Dr. Rinehart. "Movement of the hips, belly dancing, hula dancing, squatting, rocking, pelvic tilts and such help manuever the baby down and through to find the easiest path out of the mother," she says. Get shakin'!

Visualize the Finish Line

The Transition phase, when the uterus is dilating from 7 to 10 centimeters and then it's time to push, is when most moms-to-be want to call it quits. Make sure your partner knows you'll need a good pep talk at this stage, says Dr. Dickerson. "When women hit that wall and ask for medication, I lean in close and whisper. 'This is absolutely normal, your body is doing what it's supposed to do, it's almost over.'" And how to deal with the notorious "ring of fire" at push time when you've opted out of their epidural? "I couldn't remember much of it after the nurse had me hold on to the bed sheet like I was water skiing," says Kristen Stults, of Anaheim, California, mom to Alexander, 5 months. "After that, he was out and I couldn't have been any happier!"

Birth Stories: Natural Labor
Birth Stories: Natural Labor

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