Preparing for Childbirth: Navigate the Final Weeks of Pregnancy and Into Postpartum Recovery

mom with newborn baby

The third trimester has arrived; nesting has kicked it into high gear, and you’re fully prepared for baby! You’ve found a pediatrician that you like, you’ve prepared the nursery, the stroller is assembled and the car seat’s ready to be installed as you count down the final weeks of pregnancy. Now that just about everything is prepared to bring your baby home, it’s time to take the opportunity to make sure you are prepared for birth.

Creating a Birth Plan

By this point in your pregnancy, you have had multiple appointments with your chosen provider, and more likely than not, a birth plan has come up. A birth plan is a written document detailing your preferences for birth.

A typical birth plan includes:

  • Whether you intend to use medicinal pain relief, and if so, what types you are open to.
  • Who you’d like in the room with you on delivery day.
  • Your comfort level with blood and body fluids. (Include things such as whether you wish to watch your baby’s head crowning with a mirror, and whether you wish to hold your baby immediately after being born or if you’d like your medical team to clean the baby off first.)
  • Your preferences for cutting the cord: who will do it and when it will be done.

A great birth plan also includes:

  • Your “plan B” preferences. Birth doesn’t always go as planned. Including which things are more negotiable and what’s most important to you if things aren’t going your way helps your team to know how to best take care of you when it’s not your plan A birth.
  • A designated person (such as a spouse or family member) that can communicate your choices if you are unable to do so. This should be someone who you have shared your preferences in detail with and knows you intimately enough to make a decision without your active input.
  • A surgical birth plan outlining your preferences in the event of a cesarean. Many people utilize birth plans when they are planning a vaginal birth. However, 1 in 3 births in the United States will result in a cesarean. It’s useful to have your preferences for a cesarean determined ahead of time in case a surgical birth becomes necessary.

Preparing for Labor

Expectant parents often ask about the best way to prepare for labor. While there is not a magic ball that can predict what kind of birth you might have, or how much pain will accompany your contractions, there are a number of things you can do to help prepare your body and mind for labor, and to stack the cards in your favor to have the best birth possible.

First, keep your body moving throughout pregnancy.

This can be as simple as a daily walk, trips to the gym, group classes like Prenatal yoga, or a focused exercise program designed to prepare the body for labor such as the Body Ready Method. You should speak to your provider about what level of exercise is appropriate for you, especially if your pregnancy is high risk or you have experienced previous obstetric complications. For most healthy pregnancies, mild to moderate exercise is not only allowed, but encouraged. Utilizing exercise to prepare for labor helps birthing people to have the strength and stamina needed to get through a tough labor, and many people experience a quicker recovery postpartum when participating in regular exercise throughout pregnancy.

Surround yourself with encouraging, positive voices and people who are supportive of your pregnancy and parenting goals.

Pregnancy and postpartum, though often filled with anticipatory excitement, can also be very emotionally-charged journeys. As you embark on expanding your family, it can bring up a lot of feelings surrounding your own ideas, thoughts, and beliefs about what pregnancy and parenting should look like. It’s important to have a support system to help you process these things as they arise. That support might look like your own parents and family members, your partner or spouse, your care providers, and hired professional support. If you know you have specific trauma pertaining to birth or medical environments, it is strongly encouraged to see a mental health provider during pregnancy to work on strategies to address your needs while giving birth.

Choose a provider that’s experienced in the kind of birth you want.

Choosing your provider is perhaps one of the most important decisions when it comes to having the kind of birth you’d like to have. While no provider can guarantee an outcome and birth can be unpredictable, choosing a provider that makes you feel like your concerns are valid and considered, and gives you autonomy in the decisions being made throughout your pregnancy and delivery, will help you to feel empowered even if your birth doesn’t go completely as planned. It’s okay to meet with multiple providers before choosing which one you will go with, or even to change providers later in pregnancy if you realize your goals are not aligned with your current provider as your pregnancy progresses.

Hire a birth doula.

A birth doula is a trained labor assistant that provides emotional and practical support throughout pregnancy, labor and delivery, and the immediate postpartum period. A birth doula will meet with you during pregnancy and help you to identify what is most important to you for this delivery, help you to write a birth plan, and stay with you every step of the way on your big day. Your birth doula will have great insight into your provider’s reputation as well as the hospital you plan to deliver at. They will be able to tell you what things are standard practice at the hospital, and what preferences you might have to really advocate for. A Cochrane study of over 15,000 patients found that those who received continuous support during labor, such as the support provided by a doula, were more likely to give birth vaginally, less likely to require forceps or a cesarean section, experienced faster labors than their counterparts, and reported being more satisfied with their births than those without continuous support.

Attend a class on giving birth.

Your partner should come with you if you have one, or whoever else is going to be with you for support. A good birthing class will go over the phases of labor, strategies for dealing with early labor, when to go to the hospital, what signs or symptoms to watch for that require more immediate attention, different positions for coping with labor, how to tell you’re in active labor and strategies for coping with active labor, understanding cervical checks, breathing methods while pushing, and what to expect immediately after the baby is born. Classes are typically offered at your local hospital as well as privately, both in person and online. Your provider might have a preferred class they would like you to take and your birth doula will also have suggestions for a comprehensive birth class in your area.

mom with baby

Last but most certainly not least, prepare for your postpartum recovery.

Many expectant parents consider what the baby will need when they come home, however, the birthing parent is also going to need some things in those early days of recovery.

  • Locate and have on hand several sets of comfortable loungewear or “athleisure” style clothing to wear while recovering from childbirth. It’s best to choose loose-fitting items to avoid irritating a swollen postpartum belly or cesarean scar. If you plan to breastfeed, you will also want to consider clothing choices that allow simple access to the breasts.
  • Purchase some absorbent menstrual pads and/or adult diapers for postpartum bleeding. You cannot use tampons in the immediate postpartum recovery, so be sure to have other options on hand. You can also use some of these to make ahead some “padsicles” to use for your physical recovery from childbirth.
  • Purchase a postpartum belly band to help compress your postpartum belly and encourage muscles into place.
  • Put together a postpartum medical care kit. You cannot predict what kind of birth you will have but being prepared to treat the most common discomforts experienced postpartum will help limit needing to run out and grab things while you’re still recovering and caring for your new baby. The most used items include an over-the-counter pain reliever such as Tylenol, a heating pad, a thermometer, witch’s hazel and a skin protectant for hemorrhoid relief, and a peri-bottle.
  • Consider hiring a postpartum doula to help you as you recover. A postpartum doula is happy to help with the baby, or to support you as you care for your baby. They can help you catch up on some laundry, wash bottles, prepare a meal, sort and put away gifts, teach you how to use the assortment of baby equipment that now occupies your living space, and much more. You can hire the support of a postpartum doula day or night, for the first several days of your recovery or ongoing for weeks or months.

Want to hear success stories from parents who have hired a postpartum doula? Read these love letters sent to Happy Family After about their experiences with us.

Get the support you need from the doulas at Happy Family After

The peace of mind that comes from knowing someone is in your corner at all times during childbirth and recovery, supporting and advising, but never judging is why so many families choose the doulas at Happy Family After. We honor your choices and help you figure out what’s right for you and your baby.

With a combination of in-person visits, calls, texts, emails, overnight stays, we’re here for you. Reach out now to reserve the postpartum support you’d like to have during your recovery. And in the meantime, register and join us for our next Webinar about “Preparing for Birth” on November, 8th.