Pregnancy is an exciting time, full of excitement and anticipation as you await the arrival of a new member of the family. Amid all the excitement, however, there is work to be done. Labor, birth and the postpartum period involve a lot of experiences that are totally new for the first-time mom—and since no two births are the same, even experienced moms can expect new things to happen each time.
Birth in the United States is frequently treated like an illness or disease, and the process of labor and delivery is stereotypically described as horrific, traumatic, and an agony—a process to be endured rather than an event to be experienced with joy and calmness. Certainly, birth is often painful and can be scary if complications arise for mother or baby. But with adequate education and preparation, a healthy, low-risk mom can look forward to the birth of her child with confidence and peace, trusting in her body to do what it was designed to do.
Self-Education in Preparation for Birth
Certainly, if you and your spouse would like to take a birthing class, you should, and you will probably benefit greatly from it. Getting to ask questions of a trained teacher, plus interacting with fellow expectant moms, will be encouraging and informative. However, if you choose not to take a class or for some reason can’t (my husband and I chose the Bradley method and there were no classes offered near us), you can use various resources to educate and prepare yourself on your own.
Suggestions for Self-Education
- Read birth stories. Natural Birth Stories by Shannon Brown of GrowingSlower.com is probably the most encouraging book I read during my pregnancy. Obviously, all moms have different experiences with their births, so you can’t expect that yours will be like anyone else’s even if your circumstances are similar. But the benefit of reading positive birth stories, especially those about natural birth if you plan on a natural birth yourself, is to remind yourself that you can do it.
- Read highly-recommended books. Books such as Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin and Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way by Susan McCutcheon are extremely informative and will help you know what to expect in labor and birth. Choose books that are well-known and frequently recommended (one way to find good books is to ask on social media; read some of the books that are most often suggested by your friends and acquaintances). If you’re choosing a specific method of labor and birth, such as Bradley, read several books by different authors about that method. Don’t be afraid to read books about other methods, either; sometimes you can find helpful information even if you don’t use everything the book says.
- Read blogs and personal accounts online with discernment. Most blogs aren’t written by doctors or midwives, but you can find many written by moms who have been there, done that, so they know what they’re talking about. Keep in mind, though, that the advice they offer is just that: advice. Take that advice the same way you take advice from your mother-in-law, the clerk at the grocery store, or the elderly lady at church: use the good, ignore the bad.
- Ask a lot of questions. Whether you’re going with a doctor or a midwife, ask them LOTS of questions! That’s part of their job, so make the most of it. Anytime something comes up that you’re not sure about, ask. If you don’t know why you’re being told to do something, ask. If you read something and want to double-check on it, ask.
- Don’t prepare alone. Ideally, your husband will be your birth partner and coach (whether you’re using the Bradley method or not), but whoever you plan on being with you through your whole labor and delivery and beyond should be learning with you. Talk about what you read, create your birth plan together (if you’re making one), go to prenatal visits together, and have a plan in place for what each of you will do when it’s go-time.
- If you create a birth plan, know the reasoning and research behind everything on it. This is especially important if you plan to birth in a hospital, but it will be helpful for your birth partner or coach regardless of where you birth. Whether you’re explaining your plan to your husband or your doctor, have good reasoning for everything you want to do. This will force you to do your research and be well-prepared.
Keep in mind as you prepare that things may well not go 100% according to your plan. Be flexible and open-minded when necessary, and focus on your goal of a healthy mommy and healthy baby. But having thoroughly educated yourself and having a plan in place will help ensure that you are able to face your birth with peace, confidence, and joy. Blessings to you, mama!
Books and Other Resources
And Baby Makes Three by John M. Gottman, Ph. D. and Julie Schwartz Gottman, Ph. D. (an excellent resource for helping keep your marriage strong even after having a baby)
The Business of Being Born, a documentary produced by Rikki Lake. Available on Netflix, this was encouraging and informative (but fair warning, some birth-related nudity).
GrowingSlower.com, specifically the post “110 Positive Natural Birth Stories” (but there are lot of other helpful pregnancy- and birth-related posts on this blog too)
Husband-Coached Childbirth by Robert A. Bradley, M.D.
ModernAlternativeMama.com, specifically posts on birth.
Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way by Susan McCutcheon
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by La Leche League International (probably the best and most comprehensive guide on breastfeeding)
Have you used self-education to prepare for birth?