I thought about childbirth the way most girls think about their wedding. Using all 9 months I prepped and learned as much as I could about having a natural birth. I read books (click here for my favorite labor and parenting books), meditated, and was determined to have some sort of primal labor of my dreams. There are two key reasons why I think I was able to successfully have a natural birth:
First, The mental game: First, I did hypnobabies, which carried me through pregnancy and labor. I started week 32 of my pregnancy and it's a practice to be able to RELAX through labor. I wrote a blog about it here (plus a video of my birth story).
Second, The physical game: I used the Expecting and Empowered (E&E) workout guides (I'm an ambassador and affiliate for them and am using them again during my second pregnancy, heyshayla for $10 off!). I started the E&E pregnancy workout guide in my third trimester because that was when I found it and continued with the postpartum guide.
I believe the pregnancy guide gave me the strength to help me have an easier, more powerful labor, and the postpartum guide helped me recover and heal properly!
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Anyway, I've been obsessed with Expecting and Empowered ever since. Amy, one of the co-founders of E&E (and co-host to The Herself Podcast, I was on this episode). Amy has had THREE natural birth experiences and was kind enough to give 10 tips on how to do it!
I interviewed Amy for AN HOUR on an IG LIVE. SOOO much good info from this! Turn it on like a podcast on your next walk! Enjoy!
** I also want to say we use “Natural Birth” solely because Google says it's searched more than “unmedicated” and we wanted as many people to find this as possible. We want in no way want to discredit anyone's birth story or perception. Your birth is uniquely yours.
10 tips for how to have a natural birth from a nurse who's had three!:
Amy here, co-founder from Expecting and Empowered (E&E) and co-host to The Herself Podcast. Our mission at E&E is to empower every woman to feel strong and confident, both mentally and physically, before childbirth. We realize that each expecting mama will have a different journey to meeting her baby and each baby has a unique entrance into the world.
Now that I have those three natural birth experiences under my belt, I wanted to share my insight and tips! I know this is not (and doesn't need to be) everyone's goal, but I wanted to write this post for women that are hoping for an unmedicated birth.
My husband and I have welcomed three wonderful boys into the world: Max, Trey, and Cole. I was blessed and excited to experience a natural birth with all three.
I say “hoping” because we all know your little bundle might have plans of their own. My sister, Krystle (co-founder of Expecting and Empowered) knows first hand what it’s like to have unmedicated birth goals that don’t go as planned due to medical reasons, which led to having 3 cesarean births as her story. While we know many women might dream of having a certain type of birth, please know that we come from a place of understanding and support that it doesn’t always go as planned and it can be out of the mama’s control.
10 Tips for Making it Through Childbirth:
1. You haveto mentally prepare for a natural birth.
So your belly is getting bigger and bigger…who doesn’t think, how is this baby going to get out of me? Some people like to avoid the thought, but at the end of all three pregnancies, I really started to embrace what I was about to go through. I read blog posts, watched documentaries (my favorite is The Business of Being Born), followed birth Instagram accounts… you name it. I wanted to SEE what was going to happen. It didn’t scare me, it made me feel empowered. If SHE can do it, I can do it.
2. You have to physically prepare for an unmedicated birth.
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that exercise during pregnancy helped me give birth all three times. I know this because every single muscle in my body was sore after my births. One of my go-to laboring moves is half squats and I did them for hours, especially during my first birth. There is no way I could do that if I hadn’t been training for the big event all the way through. The Expecting and Empowered Pregnancy Guide is the perfect preparation! (and HEYSHAYLA gives you $10 off!). I wanted to share a few of the key takeaways from the guide and important things to focus on to help you have a unmedicated or natural birth from a physical standpoint.
Tips from my sister Krystle, a women’s health physical therapist:
- Practice breathing and visualizing the pelvic floor relaxing. A few cues you can think of to help you relax your pelvic floor include:
- Releasing the claw on a machine – the ones at an arcade where you win stuffed animals.
- Widening the sides of your sitz bones – these are the bones in your pelvis that you sit on.
- Bulging downward – the sensation of evacuating a bowel movement.
- Imagining a flower opening up and blooming from a tight bud.
- Strengthen your endurance muscles:
- At the end of pregnancy you want to increase the reps of your exercises to help train your muscles for labor and delivery.
- Strengthening other areas during the third trimester of pregnancy really helps your pelvic floor relax.
- As the uterus and fetus grow inside, there is a lot of downward pressure on the pelvic floor which can create pressure and or tightness. The main role the pelvic floor will play in birth is to relax, but if you continually have downward pressure during pregnancy this can make it challenging. Strengthening the other core muscles such as the abdominals, back, diaphragm and lats can help assist in this.
3. You have to say what you need.
During all three of my births, I was so straight-forward in the delivery room. With my husband, with my nurse, and especially with the resident. I knew what I needed or knew what I didn’t like. At one point, the resident during my first birth got a little more chatty than was helpful for me, saying, “It sounds like you’re in labor! How exciting!” when I was already 7cm dilated and had been getting into a pretty intense contraction. I told her, “I cannot handle small talk, if you want to check my cervix you have to be ready after this next contraction and you’ll have about 60 seconds to do so.” Labor is about you and what you want and need right now.
4. Time your contractions… if it’s helpful.
This was one of my golden tickets during my first labor. I wore my running watch and it was like getting through a really tough (okay yes… the toughest ever) track workout. I timed each contraction using the split timer and it helped me see the light at the end of the tunnel during harder contractions. Shayla used an app on her phone, both are great options!
This is an example of how contractions progress for some mamas, but everyone is different!
5. Breathe that baby out!
I took long, slow, very deep breaths through every contraction with all three babes. I didn’t talk, scream, or do anything else during them. During Max's labor, I told myself to take 10 super deep breaths and then I could look at my watch to see how much longer I had to go. I had practiced with my women’s health physical therapist to link my breathing to relaxing my pelvic floor, which helps your baby come down into the right position for an easier natural birth.
With Trey, our second baby, I was less focused on the time and just breathed in and out deeply until the pain of the contraction went away. INHALATION can be such a powerful tool when trying to relax your pelvic floor. You also want to make sure to relax your face and jaw during this process. We have a blog post on breathing during labor!
6. MOVE during labor
Half squatting during each contraction made them way less painful. Whenever I had to get back into bed to get my cervix checked, the pain was amplified times 5. If I was walking around the room or squatting, I was much more in control of it.
Tip from Krystle:
- Staying upright and moving during the active phase of labor helps the baby descend into the vaginal canal. It can become difficult to move around, but staying up and moving really does help!
7. Get in the darn tub… trust me!
During my first natural birth, I was SO hesitant to get in the tub. I don't like being hot and my half squats seemed to be working. My labor nurse said, “If you don't like it, you can hop right out!” When I got in, I wanted to hug her! It lessened my pain a lot and got me through a really tough part of labor.
With our second, I asked for the nurse to start the bathtub once things started ramping up and it was again such a relieving experience. That time, I took the nurse's suggestion and laid back with a waffle cushion supporting my head between contractions. I was SO zen that I was actually nodding off during the breaks. My husband, Drew could hardly believe his eyes. I exited the bath about 5 minutes before having our second babe. I did the same for my third birth because by that time, I knew bathtub had given me so much relief!
8. It isn’t going to be a 5 paragraph birth plan that gets you through an unmedicated birth.
I go with one line in my birthplaces: “Amy knows what pain medications are available, she will ask for them if she wants them. Please don’t offer interventions to her.” The first time I was offered an epidural many times, but with Trey and Cole they didn't ask. To get through this, you are going to have to believe in yourself. It might get scary or overwhelming (I was scared during my first birth) and it will be painful (yep, pretty painful all three times). I think of the pain as productive and tell myself it is getting me closer to meeting my baby. That helps me immensely!
9. It’s okay to be scared.
A few times during Max's birth, I felt scared. I felt out of control. I would even say it aloud so that my husband or nurse would give me the reassurance I needed at the time. It is not the nurse’s first rodeo… she is going to know what to do or say when you need her to show up for you. Don’t be scared to lean into that and let your support people support you. Ann (the amazing labor nurse I had with Max) would simply say, “Amy, you’re doing it. You’re doing amazing. You’re making this look easy.” Even if those weren’t whole truths, she had me feeling so empowered and ready to finish.
Shayla HIGHLY recommends this book if you have any fear around labor. It does a great job of laying out what your body does during labor to reassure you.
10. Advocate for yourself.
My first unmedicated birth:
It’s so important that you insist on what works best for you (as long as it’s safe during delivery, of course). For my first birth, the resident wanted me to get in the bed to deliver the baby. I said to my nurse, “No Ann. Go back and tell her I’m absolutely not getting into bed.” The true story? Max was born above the toilet. At the very end, I would labor at the side of the sink doing half squats and then rest between contractions by sitting on the toilet.
There are plenty of fluids that are coming out anyway, so it was actually super convenient. I was fully dilated and still on the porcelain throne so that was where Max's birth needed to happen. Plus, I was ALL about the gravity and not being on my back during pushing. The attending doctor (that had replaced the overwhelmed resident) was on her knees with her iPhone light checking me. Just minutes and three pushes later, Maxwell was out and in my arms.
With Trey, I might have stayed in the tub just a bit too long. By the time my husband and the nurse helped me to get up, I knew I had to push. I tried to stop and give birth on the toilet again, but they whisked me to the side of the hospital bed where they only had time to put a small pad on the ground and get their gloves on.
I had already advocated for myself and told them that I do not give birth lying down. One quick cervix check, a water break, and 2 pushes later, Trey was in the world. Again, the resident was overwhelmed with how fast it all happened and the position of the delivery, so the attending caught Trey. I was standing up at the side of the bed and our sweet baby was dangling between my legs. I had done it again and it felt SO darn good.
The third time around, Cole was also born at the side of the bed in a semi-squat position. My primal instinct was to be half squatting so I listened!
Tips from Krystle:
- Recommended positions for delivery:
- Quadruped position – This position generally leads to less tearing.
- Semi squat position – This position is good because you don’t want to put all of your weight on your pelvic floor.
- Tall kneeling
- A few other things that can help prepare you are putting heat on the outside of the vaginal opening and assisted perineal massage.
I hope this information is helpful to you if you are planning an unmedicated birth! If you have any questions about my experience or more information on how Expecting and Empowered can help you prepare for the biggest workout of your life, you can visit E&E.
Sending you all strength and love!
Xo. Amy Kiefer and Krystle Howald (Co-founders of Expecting and Empowered)