When I began the third trimester 10 weeks ago, I decided it was probably time I start mentally and physically preparing for my personal marathon that, at the time, was coming up in three months. For I truly believe that “training” for labor and delivery is just as important as all the training that I do to get in shape for my races. Labor is a test of strength, stamina, and conviction, just as much as any other physical feat, so it’s important for me to get pumped!!
…and by “pumped” I mean, I need to start reminding myself that I can do hard things. So far, I’m doing this by brushing up on some of my favorite birthing books. Here are my top three picks for preparing for labor!
*a small note: These books are aimed towards women wanting unmedicated births. I do not necessarily promote unmedicated births as the only way to do things – however, I DO promote education. I believe all women should be informed enough to make a decision based on facts and not fear, and that they should not leave the fate of their labor and delivery in the hands of someone else simply out of ease, fear, or lack of opportunity. I suggest these books as reading materials to all my pregnant friends – ESPECIALLY first time moms – and yes, even to those planning a hospital/epidural birth.
Hypnobirthing: The Mongan Method
When I was pregnant with Axton, we took a Hypnobirthing class to prepare for labor. I was a little off-put by the idea of “hypnosis,” but decided to investigate further before making judgments. I ended up completely LOVING the class! I realized this book/method is really not about a hoaxy hypnosis gimmick; it’s mostly about eliminating fear and learning how to get into a deep, relaxed state in any circumstance. During the class we had group, guided relaxation sessions where our instructor would help us get into a relaxed state, and then walked us through some of the emotions that we had about birth, becoming parents, and our baby. There was one particular session that dove really deep into the fears and self-doubts we held onto, and I remember “waking” up from it with tears in my eyes, and feeling as if I had just let a lot of weight and guilt go. Even though the things brought up in that session were not exactly “baby-related,” getting in touch with my emotional state at that point was really key to walking into labor with confidence. I remember writing blog posts and journal entries that said I had no fear of labor or pain, that I felt completely ready to face it all head on.
While labor proved to be a beast unlike anything I’d ever tackled before, mentally and physically, I am grateful I walked into it with my head held high (though I came out of it with a black eye and my tail tucked between my legs).
Even if you are not into the idea of self-hypnosis, I always HIGHLY recommend starting your Preparing for Labor Reading list with this book! It provides super interesting information about the history of women and birth, and how our culture has shaped the way women have been allowed to birth, which in turn affects the way we view our bodies, our selves, and our deliveries. It also teaches breathing techniques, visualization techniques, “deepening techniques,” the phases of labor, and different positions to try during labor and delivery.
Its main message is simple: “Eliminating fear and other stressors and building trust in the birthing process results in a truly safe, healthy, happy-baby and happy-mother outcome.”
I’ve read this book and practiced the CD of relaxation exercises for all three pregnancies! I love the reminders that my body is built for labor, and that if I let go of my fears and allow my body to do what it is made to do, then I can work WITH my contractions instead of against them. I’ll openly admit that I simply cannot get into the guided relaxation sessions when I am actually in labor. With Axton and Rhenner both, once I hit true, active labor then I had no interest in listening to someone walking me down a set of 10 stairs or picturing my happy place (which was always Hukilau Beach). BUT doing these relaxation exercises PRIOR to labor really does help me learn how to relax my entire body and be in touch with my body, and knowing how and when to let go of tension. I think this was a KEY factor in my ability to just let go during Rhenner’s labor and truly let my body do the work for me, rather then resisting as much as I did during Axton’s labor.
The only negative thing I have to say about this book is that it emphasizes the possibility of birth being a painless experience so much that it almost makes you feel like you are “doing it wrong” if you DO feel pain during labor. Which is just silly. Of course you’re going to feel pain! Well, at least I certainly did. I much prefer the thought process of “pain” presented in the Bradley Method Book – my next suggestion!
Husband-Coached ChildBirth/ The Bradley Method
This book is centered around exactly what the title suggests: using your husband (or other trusted partner/friend) as your “coach.” Bradley grew up watching animals give birth on his family farm, so he does a lot of comparisons to how animals birth. He observed their needs to have 1. Darkness and solitude 2. Quietness 3. Physical comfort 4. Physical relaxation 5. Controlled Breathing 6. The appearance of sleep
The Bradley Method is similar to Hypnobirthing in its insistence on deep relaxation to allow the body/uterus to do all the hard work for you. While the Hypnobirthing book definitely includes a partner who helps walk you through relaxation sessions and guides you into a deeper state of calm, the Bradley Method really focuses on the husband being a continual support throughout the entire pregnancy, and of course throughout labor and delivery. The book talks about different things he can do during pregnancy to be on her team – reminding her to eat healthy, do her exercises, massaging her, helping her feel tension vs relaxation, attending classes together, and so on. There is a whole chapter titled “The Coach’s Training Rules” specifically for the husband to learn how he can help (followed by the chapter “How to Live with a Pregnant Wife”).
I realize not everyone has a husband that would be this into birth/delivery/helping in this manner. So I would definitely recommend either chatting with your husband about how involved he wants to be, or making the decision on your own, using your own knowledge/intuition of your husband’s personality and willingness. I am not bashing husbands that don’t make good labor coaches; I am suggesting being honest with yourself and your spouse and finding someone else to be there for you emotionally and mentally if you don’t feel your husband would be up to the challenge.
Husband-Coached Child Birth pairs with the Student Workbook “The Bradley Method.” It walks you through the 12-week course that can be taken as a class, with chapters such as nutrition, exercises, the coach’s role, the different stages of labor, planning your birth, and postpartum care. I love the Workbook more than the Husband-Coached book, simply because I like having a self-study book to go through one class a week in the last 12 weeks of pregnancy! For each class/week there is a box with things to work on for that week: different physical exercises you should be doing, what chapters to read from Husband-Coached, and practicing relaxation.
An Easier Child Birth
This is actually my first time reading this one to prepare for labor. It’s very different from the other two in that it is much more emotion-based. The reason for this, the book states, is, “expressing your feelings releases tension. Feelings are physical. Research shows that women who habitually store uncomfortable feelings rather than expressing them experience more difficult labors.” The first portion of the book walks you through feelings towards your own mother, feelings towards your own birth (believing in a “birth memory” that we may or may not be able to conjure in our conscious mind), your feelings towards becoming a mother, and, if applicable, your feelings in regards to past deliveries. Most of that was a bit much for me, but I did like thinking about my past two birth stories and writing down the things that went well and not so well in each of them, so I can put the good things to use for this delivery!
The next portion of the book addresses dealing with the pain of childbirth – and yes, it assures you there will be pain involved and doesn’t make you feel guilty for feeling it! I really liked one chapter in which it talked about each person’s “natural coping style” – how each of us process and organize information – whether it be through the visual cortex, the auditory cortex, or the kinesthetic cortex. It also talks about letting go of control, and feeling free to express yourself however it feels best during labor, rather than feeling tied down to certain “methods” – the only rule they give is you can’t hold your breath! There is a whole chapter on visualization and relaxation, so that, like hypnobirthing, is also quite emphasized, but this book definitely approaches it differently than Hypnobirthing.
I definitely loved reading all three of these books and getting a feeling for which ideas connected with me most! I took something valuable from each one, and added them as tools to my box!