Can you really prepare for birth though?

Dr Tuesday playing with her two children.

Guest Blog by Dr Tuesday Watts-Overall. Birth and early parenthood coach and mum of two answers all your common questions and gives us her top 10 tips to prepare for birth.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked this question. The short answer is always an “Oh my goodness, YES!” Want the long answer? Keep reading.

Whether or not you have given birth before you will have expectations about what that experience will be like. These expectations reveal themselves in questions like “can you really prepare for birth though?”

Your expectations will be heavily shaped by the things you’ve heard and seen about birth. The countless stories of birth plans not going to plan and the dramatised tv depictions of birth on programmes like One Born Every Minute will do the trick. Your mind will take the information it’s been given and come up with its own story about birth, setting the scene for you.

Now sometimes our expectations will offer a pretty accurate reflection of the realities of birth but oftentimes they don’t, especially if you haven’t ever given birth yourself. If you have given birth before, your expectations will of course, be heavily shaped by your previous experience. 

The reality is this – birth is a physiological process, which cannot be controlled. BUT that doesn’t mean it cannot be prepared for. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t ways to get your mind and body ready for the journey ahead. That doesn’t mean there aren’t things to know about what’s in store for you.

So, how can you prepare for birth? I hear you ask. Check out my top tips below:

Get super honest about your expectations

Digging into what you really think about birth provides a great starting point when it comes to getting ready for it. In fact, this is exactly where I start with my clients. Shall we take a closer look at your expectations? I’d like you to think about the first 3 words that come to mind when you think about birth – even if you have never experienced birth first hand, there will be words that pop into your head. Try this now. Notice what comes up. You may even choose to write them down or share them with your birth partner. These words will give an indication of the feelings, beliefs and expectations you hold around birth. And based on my work with couples I’ve got a few good guesses around what these words might be. 

Challenge and reframe limiting beliefs

“I will be in so much pain”, “I won’t be able to cope”, “There’s no point in planning for birth”. Sound familiar? These are just a few of the limiting beliefs that come up all the time in my work with expectant parents. Again, this is your mind’s way of using the information it’s stored about birth to protect you. These beliefs are designed to keep you safe – even if the feelings and responses they create don’t truly serve you. When you start challenging your own beliefs about birth, it can be uncomfortable and there will very likely be some resistance. Your mind won’t easily give up on something that it sees as essential to your safety. But the good news is that just by taking a stand and confronting the beliefs, you are taking some of the power away from them. Beyond that initial awareness it takes some work to reframe those beliefs about birth and your ability to give birth. But it can be done. Start by getting to the source of the beliefs – ask yourself, where has that idea come from? Oftentimes these beliefs can be traced back to stories that weren’t ours to begin with and simply identifying a belief as not belonging to you can take a lot more weight out of it than you might imagine.

Deepen your own understanding

Most of us have a base level understanding of where a baby is grown and how they get out of our bodies, but there really is so much more to know. Learning about all of things that will be happening in your incredible body to make birth possible not only means that you can work with that process, but it also means that you will be more likely to trust your experience of it (and less likely to panic). As well as knowing how your body works, it’s super important to head into birth with an understanding of what your rights and options are, as well as how you feel about them, which leads me nicely on to my next tip.

Plan for your ideal birth

We’re constantly told that there isn’t any point in writing a birth plan and that it will just “go out of the window anyway”. And yes, we can’t control birth or know exactly how it’s going to go. And yes, plans do sometimes change. But what if they didn’t? We make super specific plans for so many big events and experiences across our lifetime, without knowing for sure how they will go, but we hold ourselves back from planning for the birth that we want. Still unsure? Take a walk with me – imagine that you’re planning a road trip somewhere. You know what your destination is and you know what your preferred route is when you set out. But you can’t know for sure how the journey will go – will there be a diversion, or some need to change course somewhere along the way? Even though you’ve chosen your preferred route, you know that there are alternatives that you can take, should you need to. But still, knowing that you can’t control the journey ahead and that there may be a need to change course along the way, hasn’t stopped you from choosing the route you want to take to get to your destination. Now let’s bring it back to birth – we can’t know exactly what lies ahead on your journey to meeting your baby. There may be a need to change course along the way, but you know what your options are, you know where you’re going and you know how you’d like to get there – so why wouldn’t you plan for that? 

Dr Tuesday Watts-Overall pregnant with her second child

Give your mind things to hold onto

I’m gonna level with you – birth is wildly intense. I distinctly remember the experience, during both of my births, of my mind going in search of something to brace with each time I felt a surge (contraction) building. In those moments I was so grateful to myself for all the tools and techniques I had been practising during pregnancy. I’m specifically talking about breathing techniques and relaxation tools, which helped me feel grounded, even in those super intense moments during labour. But the truth is, I still have that experience of needing something to hold onto as I navigate parenting two small children. There are times when I need to be the calm in the chaos, and I can only do that by steadying myself in the moment. Whether I’ve been riding the waves of birth, carving out pockets of peace in life with a new baby or seeking solace in the emotional turbulence of toddlerhood, my trusty tools and techniques have anchored me. So ahead of birth I’d really recommend reflecting on the things you might be able to give your mind to hold onto. Things that you can use to help you find calm – whether you’re moving with the sensations of birth or navigating the ups and downs of life afterwards. 

Visualise your birth

Did you know that athletes who use visualisations to prepare for events tend to experience enhanced physical performance, self-confidence, endurance and pain management? This happens because our subconscious mind doesn’t know the difference between real and imagined experiences. By visualising an event ahead of time, neural connections are strengthened, and the body is primed to respond accordingly. This visualisation practice for birth can feel hard if all you’ve ever seen is dramatised birth on the tv or if you’ve had a previous experience of birth that looks quite different to what you’re planning next time. But visualising the birth you want is such a worthwhile and useful practice. What does your birth look like when you visualise it? Where are you? Who’s with you? What’s your birth space like? What can you hear? Try and engage all of your senses when visualising your birth - this will help engage the deepest part of your mind, your subconscious, too.

Ensure you have the right support

This one is important not just for birth but for life afterwards. Having well-informed support that understands what you want and need, without you always having to ask for it, can make all of the difference. From taking care of the practicalities of birth and supporting with comfort measures to providing simple nurturing with freshly cooked meals in the early postpartum period - so simple but so powerful. Birth preparation or Hypnobirthing courses are a great way to educate your partner on what to expect during birth and life immediately afterwards. They’ll likely have a better understanding of your needs and will feel more confident about providing the right support and being able to advocate for you. But also doing something like a birth preparation course together simply creates that much needed space to talk about your expectations for each other around birth and life afterwards. And a conversation like that can change the game. So, here’s what I’d like you to do ahead of birth if you can: ask your partner how they see themselves supporting you during birth and in life afterwards. Also, it would be important to share with them the ways you’d like to be supported by them. Be explicit about what you’re expecting from each other, about what you’re hoping for.

Massage your perineum

The benefits of massaging your perineum (the skin between the vaginal opening and anus) from 34 weeks of pregnancy have been well supported by research. Evidence suggests that by working elasticity into the skin, perineal massage not only reduces the likelihood of tearing but reduces the severity of tears if they do occur. You can perform the massage yourself or ask your partner to do this for you. Some find the idea of perineal massage a little hard to visualise, so if this is you, I’d recommend heading over to YouTube - there you will find lots of helpful demo videos. 

Eat Dates

Random right? Well, whilst there are many nutritional benefits of eating dates, the thing that gets attention is their potential impact on labour itself and the research evidence to support this is pretty convincing. Research suggests that eating dates in late pregnancy (6 a day from 35 weeks is the recommendation) makes spontaneous labour more likely, augmentation (artificially speeding up) of labour less likely and the length of active labour significantly shorter. Could be worth a go? Although if you can’t stand the thought of dates and feel your stomach turning at the thought of SIX of them a day, don’t do it. 

Exercise your pelvic floor

Your pelvic floor is a group of muscles and ligaments that supports your bladder, uterus and bowels. Your pelvic floor will also be supporting the increasing weight of your baby during pregnancy and will undergo considerable amounts of stretch as your baby moves through the birth canal in labour, before releasing during the final moments of birth. After birth your pelvic floor will also need to contract back to its normal state. This is why doing pelvic floor exercises (also called kegels) in order to tone and strengthen it, as well as working on your ability to release it, is super important. Again, if you’re unsure on what’s involved, YouTube is a great resource. 

It might sound like there’s a lot to be done, but there are tonnes of amazing resources out there to help you with all of these things. And of course, I can support you with every one of these things – from unpacking your own expectations to helping your birth partner feel ready to provide the best possible support during labour and so much MORE.

Guest Blog Bio
Dr Tuesday Watts-Overall

My name is Dr Tuesday Watts-Overall, I am mum of two (absolute terrors!) and a birth and early parenthood coach. I have training and qualifications in many different areas (Psychology, Hypnobirthing, Hypnotherapy, Coaching and Change Work, Postnatal Mental Health and Early Parenting - I'm addicted to learning and the list continues growing!) and I bring elements of each of these into the work that I do. My approach is integrative and offers a potent combination of antenatal education and specialist therapeutic and coaching tools, which creates an absolutely transformative space where you can tap into your own power and get to know yourself more deeply. This in turn will change the way you move through your experiences of birth and early parenthood. Want to know more? Visit my website or come find me on Instagram.