What to expect when you’re expecting: it’s the age-old question. For new mums and dads in particular, it can be hard to gauge any sense of what’s around the corner. While your main focus will be starting your new life as a family and looking after your new arrival, it’s also important to consider exactly what you’re all going to go through before you get to that stage: labour.
Labour can be beautiful and when you have your new-born baby in your arms, your world will feel complete. However, the difficulties of labour for both mums and dads should never go unappreciated. As you step into the unknown, be prepared to adapt your plans to every eventuality and support each other throughout.. Every birthing experience is unique, so it’s impossible to know exactly what to expect. But, for first time mums and dads, there are many pieces of advice to bear in mind that will better prepare you for labour and help everything to run smoothly.
Preparing for Labour
Needless to say, your birthing plan is not likely to go exactly as expected. In fact, one mother we spoke to said that her top tip was to “rip up your carefully prepared birthing plan as it’s probably not going to go that way!”. However, it’s still good to be as prepared as possible and know what to expect — even if you have to be flexible when the time comes. With this in mind, here are your top tips for mums and birthing partners before labour.
Tips for Mums
- Encourage the baby into the right position
From around 34 weeks it is possible to encourage your baby into a good birthing position. You can do this by regularly kneeling on the floor over a birthing ball or a chair. This may seem like a strange activity at the time, but it’s likely to make labour go much more smoothly. It’s also advisable to always keep your knees lower than your bum and avoid lying on your back.
- Try to stay fit and healthy
Labour is a serious test of stamina, and those who’ve managed to stay relatively fit and healthy throughout pregnancy are more likely to have a smooth and straightforward labour. Even a short walk each day will make a positive impact, or perhaps you could give yoga or an aquanatal class a go!
- Gently massage your perineum
Taking good care of your perineum (the area between your vagina and your anus) during pregnancy could prevent tearing during labour. Many mums-to-be gently massage this area with a gentle oil (such as almond oil or wheatgerm oil) to build up its strength.
- Consider your birthing options
Before you go into labour, make sure you’re clear about what you want. Of course, the details may change, but you should make sure you’re clear about whether you want a hospital birth or a midwife-led home birth. You could also consider water births or other options your hospital might offer.
- Communicate your needs with your partner
Communication is key. Afterall, once you go into labour, you’ll have enough to concentrate on without making big decisions — make sure your partner is ready to take the reins and they know exactly what you want.
Tips for Partners
- Know what your partner wants
Make sure you’re crystal clear on your partner’s wants and needs before they go into labour. It may come down to you to make some big decisions, so know your stuff and make sure your partner’s needs are in good hands.
- Prepare the hospital bag
Preparing a hospital bag checklist is an important step that you’ll thank yourself for later. If you have a bag ready to go, you’ll be able to put your partner’s needs first and get them to the hospital on the drop of a hat (if needed). Having a car seat ready to take your baby home in is also a must.
- Do your research
You’re going to go through a lot alongside your partner, and if you don’t know what to expect, this is likely to be overwhelming. One new dad told us that his top tips were to “try not to freak out!” and “to be as supportive as possible — you’re there to support your partner and give them exactly what they need to cope”. If you’ve read up on what to expect, you’ll be able to take everything in your stride and not lose your cool.
- Look after yourself
Remember that you’re about to become a parent too! So, look after yourself and remember not to neglect your own mental and physical health.
- Prepare to wait
It can feel instinctual to rush straight off to the hospital when your partner starts going in to labour, but as it’s likely to be a long process, it might be more comfortable for them to remain at home for slightly longer. Many maternity units advise waiting until contractions are close together and regular before checking in to the hospital.
Of course, there is only so much preparation you can do, but that prep can certainly ensure that labour runs a lot more smoothly. When it comes to the birth itself, here are some top tips to help the process along:
Tips for Mums
- Try to keep moving
Studies have found that walking around during labour is likely to make it pass more quickly, and if you keep moving and stand up regularly, you’re likely to require less pain medication.
- Drink plenty of water and snack regularly
Never underestimate the energy that goes into labour! It will take a lot of effort, so staying fed and hydrated throughout will help maintain your energy levels.
- Listen to your body and follow your breath
Listen to your body and try to breathe as deeply as possible — remember, you’re the only one who knows how you feel, so don’t ignore what your body is trying to tell you.
- Prepare to be flexible about your plan
Try not to panic if what you need isn’t exactly what you thought you’d need, or if some elements of your birthing plan don’t turn out to be possible. Flexibility is important and knowing this before hand will help to avoid unnecessary stress and anxiety.
Tips for Partners
- Stay in one place
You may feel the need to spring into action and try to keep busy, but this will most likely cause your partner more stress. A stable, calming presence is much more valuable to your partner than someone darting around the room — stay in one place, hold your partner’s hand, and be on hand to listen to their every need.
- Get ready to take control
Your partner will be going through a lot and might not be able to express her needs — this is your moment to step up. If you’ve made yourself familiar with the birthing plan and your partner’s desires, you’ll be well equipped to express her needs even when she can’t.
- Know your limits
Remember, you’re there for support, not to be a doctor. Many couples want the partners to be as involved as possible and this can be a unifying experience for everyone. Cutting the umbilical cord, for example, is a job many partners undertake, making a wonderful first memory with their babies. But, other than this, know your limits and know when to take a step back, if you become too involved this could cause your partner unnecessary stress
The prospect of labour can certainly be overwhelming, for both mums and partners, but with the right balance of preparation and flexibility, it’s far more likely to go smoothly! Soon enough you’ll be united with the brand-new addition to your family, and it will all be worth it.