As a Doula or 'professional birth support partner', I work with families to support them during pregnancy, birth and in the first few weeks of their new family life. I cover many topics with my clients as they prepare for their new adventure and my favourite areas are outlined below.
We've never had more access to information, and information on pregnancy/birth and parenting is no exception. Websites, books, magazines, local meeting groups, Facebook pages & groups.... the list goes on. Wherever you find your information make sure it comes from a reputable, informed source and is evidence based. As you explore this new world some information will resonate more strongly with you than others and you can start to refine your philosophy and approach to birth and parenting.
Take An Additional Antenatal Course
Hospital courses are great (so definitely attend them!) but they often focus on familiarising you with their facilities and procedures rather than really equipping you with information on labour and coping strategies. Taking an additional antenatal course will hugely increase your chances of a positive outcome for your birth. There's a wide range of courses available - online and in person - so choose one that aligns with your personality and approach.
Choose Your Support Team
If you have a partner then you'll likely want them with you at the birth - but think about having someone extra too. A doula is ideal but if that's not possible for you think about a trusted friend or family member. This will mean that your partner can take a break, they can also share physically supporting you (massage, resetting heat packs, filling water bottles, rewetting washcloths etc.) which would allow you partner extra capacity to stay emotionally connected to you. As well as birth support, you might need some support in caring for any existing children or pets - everyone in your house needs support or care during this time.
Write a Birth Plan
There is some debate about the real value of making a Birth Plan, after all birth is unpredictable and can rarely be planned! But the value in making one lies in the process of informing yourself enough to know what your preferences are, not in listing those preferences. Also, organising your thoughts and preferences helps to form the basis for some clear and comprehensive communication between you and your care providers ahead of your birth.
Even if they're generally not your thing, I highly recommend finding a visualisation and some affirmations to use during labour. Practice them and focus on them beforehand so that it's natural and easy to bring them to mind when you need them. Pinterest is probably the easiest place to find these so have a look and see if something grabs your attention.
Unplug from 38 Weeks
There comes a time when you have to put the pregnancy books away and relax. Enjoy the last few weeks of your pregnancy - read some trashy magazines, novels, binge watch a series or two, go on some dates with your partner, go for a walk, catch up with friends, get a massage, mani/pedi, get your hair done - just enjoy yourself! Being relaxed puts you in the best position for labour to start, so unwind and enjoy your time before meeting your beautiful baby!
Relax Into Labour
It can be very exciting when you feel contractions for the first time, your baby is coming! But please try and not give it too much attention in the early stages. Contractions are often well spaced with good breaks in the middle so you should be able to just relax, notice when the contractions come and rest (preferably sleep!) in between them. Giving too much mental and physical effort to this early stage is like sprinting the first few miles of a marathon, you'll exhaust yourself well before the finish line if you take this approach - and that can lead to unwanted interventions later in labour simply through exhaustion.
Remember the Fourth Trimester
We are often very focused on birth as the main event - but really it's just the start of your journey as a family. The immediate time after birth is one of real adjustment and preparing well and organising support is a great way to make your first few weeks run smoothly. Practical steps include:
- stock the freezer with nourishing snacks and meals
- make some 'padsicles' to ease discomfort and promote healing. These are maternity pads soaked in witch hazel, aloe vera and essential oils which are then frozen. You can search the web for a recipe and a description of how to put them together
- organise for the housework to be taken care of, this can involve either getting a cleaner in or allocate a cleaning roster among visitors
- pay attention to mum's emotional wellbeing - postnatal expression is normal and temporary but depression is best supported early so get a referral for some help.
Living in Sydney, Samantha provides Birth and Postnatal Doula services. A mother of 4 who had a Doula at each of her births, she truly knows and appreciates the value of continuous support through pregnancy and birth. You can find out more about her and her work at www.samanthagunndoula.com