five tips to prepare for labour!
Preparing for labour and birth is similar to training for a marathon; you would’t approach either without prior research into tips and tricks to assist you on the big day. It is so important to prepare for the marathon of labour physically but also mentally. There may be old wives’ tales and information you come across that are not entirely accurate or evidence-based, so it is essential to do your research and get your advice from trusted health professionals.
Below are five common topics and tips on how you can prepare your mind and body for labour.
1. Eating dates in late pregnancy
According to a study by Kordi on the effect of date consumption in late pregnancy, cervical ripening before the commencement of labour is an essential factor in relation to your delivery mode. Increased cervical ripeness enhances the likelihood of you having a vaginal birth and decreases the cesarean section rate. Changes in the cervix occur late in pregnancy, normally in the last 6 weeks, and it seems that dates have an oxytocin-like effect. This appears to stimulate the muscles in your uterus to cause effective contractions and prepares the cervix for birth. The study found that women who ate dates in the last four weeks of pregnancy were further dilated when they arrived at hospital and had a lower rate of induction than women who didn't eat dates. In conclusion, eating six dates a day (or three large Medjool dates) from 36 weeks pregnant can assist with cervical ripening and spontaneous labour commencing due to an oxytocin-like effect.
Acupuncture can be used to prepare your body for labour or an alternative method to help bring on labour. Acupuncture involves the insertion of fine needles into specific points on the body, which stimulates your central nervous system to release certain chemicals. There are particular points where acupuncture can be performed on the body to potentially assist in ripening your cervix and induce contractions. Acupuncture releases tension and encourages your body in getting ready for labour. From the available research on how effective acupuncture is for inducing labour, results show that acupuncture does encourage cervical ripening and helps your body release natural pain-relieving endorphins. The principles of acupuncture are to calm the mind and promote rest, strengthen energy for when your contractions start and help your baby into the correct position or to further engage. When correctly used, acupuncture is safe for you and your baby, although it is vital to choose a registered practitioner who is experienced in acupuncture during pregnancy. Also, keep in mind that acupuncture doesn’t work for everybody. You often need repeated treatments to help stimulate labour, so it is recommended to begin acupuncture several weeks before your due date.
Preparing your mind for labour and birth through mindfulness and meditation is just as important as preparing your body. Meditation is known as the safest and most effective way to reduce anxiety and stress. Meditation decreases the release of stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) and produces pain-relieving endorphins, which assist in labour preparation. Keeping a calm mind during labour will allow your body to release oxytocin, increasing your contractions and allowing your labour to progress.
Breathing techniques will help you to focus on something and ride the wave of each contraction. You can also use music to guide you. Relaxing and trusting that your body knows exactly what to do will help you manage your contractions. Another way to prepare your mind for labour and assist you to remain calm is antenatal education. Birthing classes at your local hospital are highly recommended, or courses in the community such as Hypnobirthing or Calmbirth, which concentrate on relaxation and meditation techniques in labour.
4. Nipple stimulation & antenatal expressing
Nipple stimulation can be a common way to prepare your body for labour, support vaginal birth and decrease the chance of medical induction. Nipple stimulation is used to encourage your uterus to contract due to the release of the hormone oxytocin, which can contribute to commencing labour or speeding up a labour that has slowed down. The contraction of your uterus is what causes your cervix to open and your labour to progress. Towards the end of your pregnancy, you can conduct nipple stimulation by expressing colostrum (if cleared by your healthcare provider). Antenatal expressing is a great way to prepare your body for breastfeeding and collecting colostrum to give to bub after birth. Having colostrum ready to give your baby is helpful if you and baby are separated after birth, or if baby has troubles attaching to the breast. Getting familiar with your breasts and comfortable hand expressing is a great skill to learn. You can express or undertake nipple stimulation after 36-37 weeks’ gestation for 3-5 minutes per breast, 2-3 times per day or as recommended by your healthcare provider. Points when undertaking nipple stimulation or expressing; only stimulate one nipple at a time, using your thumb and forefinger 1cm back from your areola press into your chest and squeeze towards your nipple in a rhythmic motion, collect any expressed colostrum in a sterile syringe and stop if you experience any contractions. Follow your countries guidelines on storing the colostrum safely.
another way to prepare your body for labour and birth and decrease your risk of severe tear is perineal massage.
5. Perineal massage
Another way to prepare your body for labour and birth and decrease your risk of a severe tear is perineal massage. Your perineum is the area of skin between your vagina and anus where a tear may occur at birth. Perineal tears are common, and most are sutured back together and heal well, although the aim for every midwife and obstetrician is to avoid a tear occurring at birth. Perineal massage is an action you can perform in the antenatal period to help gently stretch the skin and tissue around your vagina before giving birth. This is supported by evidence to reduce your risk of a severe tear and needing stitches at birth. Research by Beckmann and Garret on antenatal perineal massage confirms that perineal massage does reduce the severity of perineal tears. Perineal massage can also decrease any perineal pain you may experience in the postpartum period. Your healthcare provider should inform you of the risks, benefits and techniques of perineal massage. You can perform perineal massage from 35 weeks pregnant, as directed by your healthcare provider, for 5 minutes 3 times/fortnight (check your countries guidelines around this). It is advised to use a high quality, all-natural oil or specialised perineal massage oil – ingredients such as olive oil, sunflower oil and coconut oil are great options. You could also use personal lubricants - chat with your health professional about what they recommend.
Blog written by midwife Aliza Carr from Bumpnbub.
- Beckmann, M. M., & Garrett, A. J. (2006). Antenatal perineal massage for reducing perineal trauma. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews, (1), CD005123. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD005123.pub2
- Kordi, M., Meybodi, F. A., Tara, F., Fakari, F. R., Nemati, M., & Shakeri, M. (2017). Effect of Dates in Late Pregnancy on the Duration of Labor in Nulliparous Women. Iranian journal of nursing and midwifery research, 22(5), 383–387. https://doi.org/10.4103/ijnmr.IJNMR_213_15