Because whilst some people can wander into a labour ward with nothing more than the thought of ‘it will be fine’, the rest of us need a bit of calm birth preparation and a few hypnobirthing techniques to make our births better!
So I am sharing my favourite ways to prepare for a calm birth.
You don’t have to use them all and you don’t have to practice them all often but you can read my other posts if you want to learn even more!
9 Ways to Prepare for a Calm Birth
Prepare your mind
There’s a lot of misinformation out there. So get tooled up with a good quality birth class. Most UK Hypnobirthing teachers have trained with a Royal College of Midwives accredited training school and other options include nct or the NHS. Or you can find good birth books via my favourite publisher – Pinter & Martin.
Positive Birth Stories
Whether you have noticed or not, you will have been exposed to more than your fair share of dramatic birth stories. And all this negative information quietly fills your subconscious mind and then returns to bite you in pregnancy.
So positive birth stories are the anthesis to fear. Read them, watch them – daisy’s home birth is here, it’s my all time favourite!
Good Birth Podcasts
There’s no such thing as feeling too good about yourself! And hearing positive birth experiences from all angles is even better!
Here are a few of my favourites:
- The Midwives Cauldron
- Birthing Instincts with Dr Stu
- Pinter & Martin Radio
Negative thoughts create stress hormones and muscle tension. So learn to focus on what you do want, rather than what you don’t. And stop fighting with drifting negative thoughts – they loose their power when you don’t fight with them.
And be mindful your words.
Many of the words we use to describe labour and delivery can be surprisingly harsh. So consider reframing them by swapping them. Here are a few ideas:
- Contractions – Surges, Waves or Tightenings
- Waters Breaking – Waters Releasing
- Stretch and sweep – Sweep
- Pain – Power (noting that pain should never be a forbidden word!)
Reframing the way you think and speak can make you happier and more relaxed, and partners can get on board with this too!
We have thousands of thoughts a day. And a lot of them are negative. So swapping just one of those lines of negative self talk for a positive affirmation can start to make a difference in a relatively short space of time.
e.g. if your negative self talk revolves around labour pain you might like to use an affirmation like:
- Birth come easily to me
- My labour is comfortable and quick
- I trust my birthing muscles and their movement
You are saying the same thing as not wanting pain but WOW does that feel better to the subconscious mind!
Birth affirmations are nice & easy reframing tools that can boost confidence and encourage positive thinking. They are often used in conjunction with relaxations or breathing techniques.
When you are worried or feel like you can’t do something, affirmations help you realise that you’re capable of anything. Simply reading a positive affirmations can be a great reminders to trust yourself and believe in your ability to succeed.
Prepare your body
It may be obvious that your body plays a role in giving birth but if like me, you’re a can’t dance, won’t dance type the thought of moving with free & wild abandon (in front of your partner or a midwife!) might horrify you.
But birth NEEDS your body to move.
So a bit of preparation in pregnancy can help build your confidence in being able to move in anyway you need on the big day.
Research birth positions. Humans are designed to deliver babies in upright positions that help widen the pelvis – it’s often described as UFO. Upright, Forward, Open positions include standing, kneeling or squatting with the legs or knees apart whilst leaning forward. And the NICE recommendations say that your midwife/consultant should “encourage (you) to adopt any position that (you) find most comfortable”. Thinking about birth positions in advance can help you feel more confident about moving instinctively on the day.
Movement is a normal part of labour as you help guide your baby through your body and it’s a soothing distraction from the sensations of labour. Swaying, rocking and gentle pacing are normal. And thinking about or practicing these gentle movements in pregnancy will build your confidence for your big day.
If you’re giving birth at home, think about what equipment you might want to have, and if giving birth in hospital ask what’s available. You might want a birthing ball, peanut ball or birthing stool which can help keep your pelvis open and reduce pressure on your spine. Your hospital or MLU may also offer wedges or CUBs which help support your body & aid comfort.
Child birth is an area where we are taught to doubt ourselves. I know it’s different. But we don’t doubt our ability to breath, digest, sneeze or go to the toilet. So why can’t we trust out ability to deliver a child?
Birth education (as above) is an important part of your preparation and if you have deeper rooted anxieties about yourself and your body, Hypnotherapy can help.
There are as many birth relaxation techniques as there are babies on the planet – not a fact, just my suspicion! So the most important thing is to find the right relaxations for you.
What types of relaxations can you use?
- birth meditations
- hypnobirthing relaxations
And you’ll find there is a lot of crossover. I’ve attended mindfulness courses to find I’m taught nothing but relaxations and I’ve trained in Hypnobirthing that promises relaxations to find they’ve slipped in a bit of hypnosis and vice versa.
All relaxations techniques are designed to help you prepare mentally & emotionally for childbirth.
And because these techniques work so well, it is important to check with your healthcare provider that you are safe to use them. Persons suffering psychosis, epilepsy or vasovagal conditions will likely be advised to avoid.
Some help you:
- become familiar with the sensations & emotions associated with labor & delivery.
- reframe internal negative stories or concerns.
- find a place of inner quiet & confidence.
- help you connect better with yourself & your unborn baby or babies.
Meditation has been around for thousands of years but was only brought into western awareness by Jon Kabut-Zin in the 1960s.
“Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally. And then I sometimes add, in the service of self-understanding and wisdom.” says Kabat-Zinn.
So whilst meditation is about holding the mind in a chosen focus, it’s not about squashing down or blocking out negative thoughts, as people often mistakenly believe.
Birth meditations aim to build open awareness and acceptance of the here and now. Noticing thoughts and feelings as they come and go without judgement or criticism, and while relaxation may be the result of your mindful practice, it is not the aim.
How long do you have to practice for?
As a guide:
- 8-9 weeks for mindfulness
- 4 weeks for hypnosis
- 4-5 weeks for hypnobirthing
Finally, its good to know, the results of a 2017 systematic review of Mindfulness Based interventions During Pregnancy (14 articles met the inclusion criteria) “suggest that mindfulness-based interventions can be beneficial for outcomes such as anxiety, depression, perceived stress and levels of mindfulness during the perinatal period”.
Hypnobirthing relaxations use a beautiful combination of various techniques so you’ll notice a combination of methods.
What types of relaxations are included?
- birth relaxations
- progressive relaxation
- guided imagery
- pain techniques
- glove anaesthesia
Hypnobirthing helps educate and reframe any worries you might have, replacing them with confidence and positive thoughts about pregnancy, birth & self. The relaxations help to build confidence, a quieter and less cluttered mind and create space for beautiful thoughts about the birth process.
It’s worth noting that hypnobirthing is not just about relaxations. Hypnobirthing is a full antenatal preparation course that includes many of the tools and techniques included in this post. So you might like to learn what to practice for hypnobirthing and how to get your practice done. And join one of my hypnobirthing classes for free!
Self Hypnosis for Birth
Hypnosis feels like the ultimate inner calm & control. The benefits of birth hypnosis were first recorded in the British Medical Journal in 1952 in which it stated ‘self-hypnosis is an effective method of relieving pain in childbirth’ but hypnosis has been used in the alleviation of pain since the dawn of mindfulness.
Hypnosis is a focused state of mind in which critical faculties that inner voice that doubts yourself can quieten down, helping you accept more positive thoughts and feelings about yourself. By practicing Hypnobirthing pain techniques your can learn to prevent, dial down, and even numb pain.
There are many studies into the effectiveness of hypnosis for birth.
What are the benefits of birth hypnosis?
- requests for pain analgesia
- medical interventions
And practice self hypnosis before bedtime or when nicely relaxed and you’ll almost certainly find you fall asleep faster!
Childbirth involves a whole lot of muscle movement so you need to breath! Breathing for birth is not so much a deep breath, but a long relaxed breath.
How does breathing help labour?
Childbirth happens more easily when you are nicely relaxed, because the muscles of birth are powered by calm hormones like Oxytocin. And the way you breath determines how you feel.
Don’t try this – but if you started breathing very quickly (like you are stressed or scared) you’d notice your anxiety levels start to naturally increase. And if you started to slow your breathing down, like you are seriously relaxed, you’d notice that start to feel more at ease.
Breath determines how you feel physically and mentally. And in these modern times of busy lives most us don’t breath well, which only exacerbates our stress levels!
A calm breath tells body and mind that all is well and sends this state of wellbeing through out your systems via the vagus nerve. This encourages the calm parasympathetic hormones to flow, and your body to soften and relax.
Practice is Key – learn your birth breathing techniques by practicing when you are already relaxed. This way you can become nicely familiar with how to breath so that if stress levels rise, you can use your calm breath instinctively and without adding another ‘thing’ to think about to your stress bucket.
Keep it simple & learn one breath from each group below:
First stage of labour
Second stage of labour
Making daily practice part of your routine will help your new breathing technique to feel natural. You don’t want to be asking how to breathing in active labour!
Create a Relaxing Birth Environment
Childbirth is naturally private event and humans, like all other mammals are programmed to want a quiet and comfortable place to labour.
So consider your birth place options:
- Maternity Unit
But think a bit deeper and plan how to enhance your birth environment & make it your own.
Birth isn’t a spectator sport, so if having a student present doesn’t feel right for you just make a note of it in your birth plan. Your midwife knows the importance of privacy on your birth hormones, so she (or he) is trained to quickly build a rapport with you so that you feel comfortable & relaxed in their presence. If on a labour ward, you might want consider ear plugs, ear phones / eye mask.
Dimming lights can help you relax, feel more private and even reduce your stress levels. So wherever you are DIM the lights! Even obstetric theatres now have dimmable lights! Electric tea-lights, fairly lights or one of those fabulous swirling colour lights they sell on Amazon are also nice. Light naturally effects your relaxation levels via the lovely hormone, Melatonin. And because physiological birth uses Melatonin like a boost button for Oxytocin, contractions are often more pronounced during the night!
Essential oils can help during labour but because they are so powerful, consulting a qualified Aromatherapist is advised and for goodness sake – don’t put them on your skin! A 2020 systematic review of 33 studies concluded that ” Aromatherapy, as a complementary and alternative modality, can help in relieving maternal anxiety and pain during labor”. And essential oils can help with everything from pain, to relaxation and anxiety during labour. So when used as one of your calm birth techniques, they also become one of your easiest hypnobirthing anchors. Hypnobirthing anchors can give you instant feeling of wellbeing as they bring back a flood of positive memories and feeling associated to your hypnobirthing practice and smell is the easiest one!
Think about soft furnishings, your own pillow, dressing gown, slippers and anything else that would make you feel more homely even if you are birthing at home! I once had a client who packed a photo of her horse in her hospital bag and another who used her childhood teddy as her hypnobirthing touch anchor. So the words BE YOU come to mind!
Like everything else, water is a choice so after doing your research, if it feels a bit ‘marmite’ follow your gut. A Birth Pool promotes comfort, freedom of movement, privacy and relaxation. And water also reduced pain! A 2022 comparative review & meta-analysis by Burns et al which included water birth in obstetric units, maternity units and home births concluded that:
“Water immersion significantly reduced use of epidural, injected opioids, episiotomy, maternal pain and postpartum haemorrhage. There was an increase in maternal satisfaction and odds of an intact perineum with water immersion.”
“Waterbirth was associated with increased odds of cord avulsion, although the absolute risk remained low (4.3 per 1000 vs 1.3 per 1000). There were no differences in any other identified neonatal outcomes.”
And if a birth pool isn’t your thing, the gentle pressure of a shower head spraying on your lower back feels amazing (a birth hack that can also be used in the pool).
Relaxing music or a Birth Playlist
Who DOESN’T put a birth play list together?!
The right music can help you switch off and relax. It can fill your mind with wonderful thoughts and beautiful memories. And in labour it can fill the void of silence when no one in established labour is interested in random conversations.
Using your favourite music acts as a hypnobirthing anchor to naturally bring back subconscious thoughts and feelings of nice memories and of course, your connection to your hypnobirthing practice. And when you use your birth music regularly in pregnancy the strength of that connection grows.
So listen to your play list in pregnancy and get nice and familiar with it. Then allow it to draw body & mind off to a beautiful place when labour starts.
If you don’t have music that you’re already attached to or if you are struggling to relax, you might like music with embedded binaural beats to enhance your state of deep relaxation.
Write a birth plan
It’s surprising how many people put this off and for how long! I didn’t write my birth plan until 40 weeks! And it’s because we want to get it right.
So it’s reassuring to know that whatever you plan, you can always change your mind.
Just think of your birth plan as a way of telling your midwife know who you are and what you want.
And if you don’t tell your Midwife – how are they supposed to know?
An Oxford Delivery Suite Midwife once said to me “Tell them to list what they really DO want and what they really DON’T want”
So be sure to include all your hypnobirthing stuff as well as:
- Vaginal examinations
- Natural or managed third stage (choice may be affected by mode of birth)
- Vitamin K
- Baby brought straight to chest or cleaned first
- Skin to skin (though this should be a given)
- Breastfeeding/formula feeding/other
- Cutting the cord
And if your aim is to have a natural birth, be sure to add that too!
Writing your birth plan in good time means you have time to talk things through with your midwife and relax. A place to start might be the NHS how to write a birth plan guide with their free downloadable birth plan.
And Be Flexible too!
Yes I know. I’ve just told you to write a birth plan, to practice and prepare. And now I’m telling you to be flexible.
Because nothing ever goes to plan – not 100%
So don’t fall into the trap of getting worried about everything running exactly to plan, because it can lead to increased anxiety and worry, and disappointment if your plan isn’t met.
So think about what you really want, ask yourself why?
Here’s an example:
If you want the pool ask yourself WHY?
If it’s for privacy or freedom of movement (or something else) ask yourself how you could achieve privacy or freedom of movement if your birth moved to an epidural, induction or cesarean section?
And yes! I know you don’t get freedom of movement with a spinal block and a c-section. But your partner can stroke your hand, your shoulder, your jaw. And depending on the reasons for your c-section, you can walk into the theatre instead of being wheeled in, you can have skin to skin, you can initiate breastfeeding before leaving the theatre and you can have the golden hour with all that important bonding with baby. And your partner can stroke your hand, your shoulder, your jaw. We cover this in more depth in Hypnobirthing for c-sections
When you bring your biggest WANTS right back to the basics – and consider how to bring it into any type of birth – you CAN get closer to the birth experience you want, whatever happens.
And I’m the woman who struggled to get into the Oxford Spires Maternity Unit in the middle of the night because she hadn’t put their number on her phone – I’m proof that GOOD BIRTH doesn’t have to be PERFECT!!!
During pregnancy, there are many changes taking place inside your body, with hormones hormones estrogen and progesterone being responsible for most of them. Hair feels thicker, breasts get larger and digestion & urination get interesting as your baby squashes everything out of the way!
All these physical changes can make you feel tired, hungry, moody, and even cranky. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, try slowing things down. Stress & anxiety can actively work against your calm birth preparation and worrying about worrying is even worse (skip straight to mindfulness & hypnosis if this applies!).
Take time each day to unwind; consider resting, relaxing, taking time for yourself, and spending quality time with friends and family.
Doing nothing is never doing nothing
Hypnobirthing practice & antenatal class preparation should never cause you stress. If it is, speak to your teacher or midwife.
It’s not much help if after all this preparation for a calm and connected birth, your find partner is running around like a screeching cat or pulling the notorious – rabbit in headlights face.
So birth partners & supporters need to develop a calm approach to birth as well.
And let’s face it, your partner might be carrying as much negative birth luggage as you. Which means that reframing their concerns matters too.
Having an informed, prepared and confident birth partner helps everyone. When your partner or birth friend knows what you want, they are better placed to help you achieve it. And we mimic each other. We cant help it because we are literally programmed to do it! The mirror neurons in our brain copy the reactions of the people around to help keep us safe. So if you partner looks stressed – you will be too – its survival logic…
How to be a relaxed birth partner
With a little preparation, your partner can be calm too. With their shoulders relaxed, jaw relaxed, you will be too. And when they know what you need, they can help you instinctively. Holding you close, making tea, talking gently or being quiet. When you’ve talked it through, it can flow.
And don’t feel obliged to have your partner in your birth room with you. You can have anyone you want or you can just have your midwife.
I’ve worked with partners, mothers, sisters and friends. Some hypnobirthing clients have brought their midwife or doula to class!
Professional support options are the ultimate in continuity:
- Doula – A doula is a non medical professional supporter. They can be hired in pregnancy, for birth and/or postnatally.
- Private Midwife – Medically trained, this is covered by some health insurance plans and this is a midwife just for you. Your private midwife will go wherever you go and won’t need to be checking on anyone else.
There are lots of way to have a calm birth, even more than I’ve mentioned here! And it’s up to you to choose where to start.
There’s no right way, no wrong way.
But if birth is worrying you, or just playing on your mind, when you start to do something you’ll start to feel better. Your midwife is the perfect sounding board and your hypnobirthing teacher is too.
And if you still feel stuck?
Just start with an affirmation or join one of my free hypnobirthing classes.