Important Things I learned from Childbirth
So to start things off, I gave birth without drugs twice. I am intending to do that again with my third child I am pregnant with right now. Both of my births were under 5 hours! I pushed with my daughter for twenty minutes and pushed with my son for about 2 minutes? So, I feel like my births were "success stories" and I want to share my wisdom. Remember that every birth and every mother is different. Some of this may work for you and some may not, but I think it's important to have lots of knowledge beforehand.
When I was preparing for the birth of my first daughter I did SO MUCH READING. I really wanted to have a natural childbirth, so I did a lot of research about ways to cope with pain, how to make the most of every contraction, and natural ways to help with the pain. I learned A LOT and implemented much of that into both of my birthing experiences. Both of them were different, but you can read more about that on these blog posts if you want (Maggie's birth story) (Isaac's birth story).
I was induced with Maggie when she was 10 days late and I went into labor naturally with my son. Isaac had some minor complications during birth, but nothing that effected him besides some bruising and swelling.
I am going to go through three different parts of the process and give you ALL THE DETAILS that helped me. First, I'll talk about things I did before birth. Second, I'll talk about how I implemented them during birth. Third, I'll talk about what I did after birth and in postpartum that was good and important for me. I'm giving you every detail I can think of that was helpful to me.
Like I said, I did LOTS OF READING. I took online birthing courses to learn the basics, but I wanted to know what I should do to start preparing my body beforehand. Here are some things I found helpful.
Exercise ball - at the end of pregnancy I had a hard time sitting on hard surfaces. Most of the time when I was in my house and I had to sit I sat on an exercise ball! It was so helpful for my lower back pain and I think it really helped me get the baby into position and prepare my body for birth.
I would do figure 8's on the ball when I sat on it to work my pelvic floor and ease my lower back pain. It's a win-win!
Walking - I tried to walk a lot! Especially with my first baby. It doesn't have to be a long walk, but something that gets your heart rate up for a half hour and do it a few days a week. I was doing everything I could to GET THAT BABY OUT! Once again, it also helps with overall pain.
Red raspberry leaf tea. Be careful with this one. Do your research. This stuff makes your uterus contract. So at the end of pregnancy it was helping my body get ready for birth! It doesn't taste amazing, but I would mix it with a flavor of tea I liked and drink it cold. I did 8 oz or so everyday for about 3 weeks before the birth. Do some reading up on it! It's fascinating!
GET YOUR MIND READY! Birth is going to be painful. Nobody magically escapes the pain. However, there are LOTS of ways to cope with the pain without using drugs. I found it very helpful to remember that birth is natural. Women have been doing it for thousands of years without medication and somehow have given birth to millions and millions of children. And they KEEP DOING IT!
You are strong. Your body was made to do this. You can get through the pain. Using mantras to help me through the pain was GREAT! I even prepped my husband of how to talk to me during the birth process to set me up for success. I knew I would need encouragement and he was awesome! Through the contractions he would encourage me to breathe and tell me how well I was doing. It was super helpful for me to have that support.
Get your supporters ready! I had both my mom and mother-in-law in the room with me and my husband. I know that's not for everybody, but I love the idea of women helping women through the process. They were a great support for me AND Jordan. This was especially great with my son. With the complications it was nice to have both of our moms there for emotional support.
You may not be comfortable with having your mom or mother-in-law in there and that's totally fine. During COVID most places aren't even allowing more than 1 partner in the room. So, whoever your support team or person is, prep them beforehand too. Let me know your birth plan. Give them ways to help you cope with the pain.
Music! This was so helpful for me. I had worship music and calming music to play in the background during labor. It helped give me something to focus on and was just so calming to me in general. It really set the mood of relaxation and focus.
Your hospital bag. Don't stress over this too much. Yes, it's important to have things packed that you need, but think more about what you'll want/need for labor more than your stay at the hospital. Here are a few things I packed that were helpful for me:
Frozen fruit - a friend of mine who has been a doula recommended freezing grapes and bringing them to the hospital. It's a good way to get some nutrients and sugars in your body during labor without filling you up too much.
Colace - if nobody has warned you yet, your first poop is not pleasant. A lot of times you're a bit dehydrated too and it makes that first poop HARD. So, do yourself a favor and start taking colace when you're in labor. It really helped me with that first poop.
Drinks - they have drinks at the hospital, but if you're looking for something like gatorade or Body Armor then you should pack a few to get you through labor.
Nipple cream - your nipples are going to hurt in the first couple of weeks of nursing. Keeping them moisturized really helps keep the cracked nipples at bay. I would use it after each nursing session and any time I felt like my nipples were dry or uncomfortable.
Comfortable clothing - slippers, robe, nursing bra, nursing tank, etc.
I have been a singer for a long time so I knew how to breathe properly and deeply. This was super helpful for me in each contraction. Take SLOW DEEP breaths during your contractions. Focus on your breath, not on the pain. Take as big of a breath as you can through your nose and breath it out through your mouth. Remember, contractions only last for a minute or so. You can do it. Breathe through it. Then you'll get a break and you can do it again.
Calming my hands
I had read somewhere before my first birth about how your body responds when you tense up. When your body tenses up, like when you grab onto something or put your hands into fists, it is signaling to your body that something is wrong. This makes your body respond with a chemical that can slow down your labor. So, allow your body to be calm. I would lay my hands out for each contraction or hold my husbands hand so he could remind me not to squeeze. (This DOES NOT APPLY for when you're pushing. You won't be able to control the tensing up and it's called "BEARING DOWN" which is what you want to do when pushing).
Your body should be upright as much as possible during labor. So try your best not to lay down. It really can slow the labor process down. With my son, I had to sit on the bed while I got an antibiotic and it made my labor slow down. As soon as I could get out of the bed my husband and I walked a MILE and he was out less than 2 hours later. Try to walk around as much as you can before you can't do it anymore. GET THAT BABY MOVING!
With my daughter I had REALLY BAD low back pain during labor. Some may call it back labor. My mom and mother-in-law would switch off every once in a while and push on my lower back each time I had a contraction. It literally got me through each contraction. It was amazing! However, with my son I didn't want it. I didn't have much back labor and I found it more uncomfortable when they pushed on my lower back. You can look up counter pressure techniques for birth. Doulas use this A LOT.
Embrace the pain
Remember your body can do it and don't be afraid of the pain. Your body was made for this. Don't be afraid of it. It only lasts for a short time and then you have a wonderful miracle at the end of it all. The pain is gone and you don't care about it anymore.
Listen to your body
In both of my labors I told my nurses that my body was ready to push. I literally couldn't stop my body from pushing with my son. It was doing it all on it's own! So, listen to what your body needs. If you feel like you need to push then tell your nurses and make sure it's safe for you to do so. It's amazing what your body is capable of. Listen to your body and tell your nurses what's going on.
I really didn't understand this until I had to do it. I had no idea what it would feel like, so here's a way to think about it. It's like you're taking a HUGE DUMP. If you've ever been constipated you will know what this sensation is like. You will be using a lot of the same muscles you would to poop that you will for pushing. In fact, some people poop during labor. Don't freak out about it. It happens and it's really not a big deal or something to be embarrassed about. Push as hard as you can for as long as you can during each contraction and then allow yourself to breathe and take a break when your body gives you those times to break. It's HARD, but the pushing means your baby is ALMOST HERE! The pain is ALMOST OVER!
This is another thing that's weird, but you don't need to be weirded out by. Your body will likely do it on it's own and you may just have to push a little bit to help the nurses get it all out.
Nursing after birth is also something that isn't talked about much. You will likely feel contractions when you're nursing the first few times. It's natural and it's something your body does to being to shrink your uterus. It may bring back at little PTSD from labor, but do what you did before. Breathe through and you'll be okay. They don't hurt as much as real labor. It's more like really bad menstrual cramping.
I read a lot about how to nurse. Nobody really teaches you and I wanted to be prepared. There were also lots of products that helped with my recovery that I want to share with you. A lot of people don't talk about the postpartum part and it can feel very lonely when you don't know what to expect.
There are lots of ways to help your baby latch. Nursing can be so hard at the beginning and this is something that was really helpful to me as a first time mom. I researched different latching techniques so when it came time to nurse I would know what I could do to help them make that first latch. There's always a lactation consultant you can have help you too, but it's nice to have some techniques in your brain so you can implement them right away.
When your milk comes in
It's uncomfortable. You'll probably feel like your breasts are sore and getting hard. It's kind of a weird sensation. It's part of the process. Don't sweat it. It also may not happen for a few days. Don't worry about it.
Recovery products when you get home
When you're at the hospital they have a ton of awesome stuff for you like cooling pads to help your body heal after a natural birth, but once you get home you don't have that stuff. So, this is a great thing to do before you have your baby. I made padsicles and had them in the freezer. I only used them for the first few days, but MAN they were so helpful. There's different ways to make those, but I just bought SUPER PLUS pads from the grocery store and put on witch hazel, aloe, and lavender essential oil and then wrapped them back up and put them in the freezer.
You may get hemorrhoids from labor. Once again, it's natural. Nothing to be embarrassed about, but they can really be uncomfortable. I would recommend hemorrhoid wipes to help get you through.
Most hospitals provide you with a peri bottle which helps you clean yourself after going to the bathroom. Wiping with a dry piece of toilet paper is not pleasant and is something you really shouldn't do. When you use the peri bottle use WARM WATER. Cold water will feel really terrible!
Your first few days are really uncomfortable. It can be hard to sit anywhere. So, some people buy donut cushions to sit on. I just used a pillow and I was fine.
You need to drink A LOT after you give birth. Keep a water bottle with you ALL THE TIME. DRINK. DRINK. DRINK. It will help you with recovery and help you with your milk supply.
Nipple cream! I know I mentioned this before, but make sure you get yourself some nipple cream.
I love my cloth nursing pads. I didn't like the idea of throwing out nursing pads if I was leaking, so having ones that were machine washable were much more eco-friendly and more comfortable to wear.
You're going to bleed a lot the first few days and you may leak milk while you're establishing a nursing routine. When I went to bed I would put a couple of blankets down. That way if I was bleeding during the night it would go onto the towel rather than my sheets. I would also have one up by my breasts in case I leaked in the middle of the night. The first night my daughter slept more than 5 hours I leaked LIKE CRAZY because my boobs weren't expecting it! I had to pull off the sheets in the middle of the night and it just wasn't fun. A towel can easily be replaced without having to remove the entire sheet.
Support! Having the right support from friends and family is so important during this time. You don't have to have it all figured out. Don't be too proud to ask for help when you need it. Don't be afraid to have someone setup a meal train for you during that first month. It takes a village to raise a child.
Talk about your experience. Some people have difficult birth stories (like I did with my son) and it's so important to talk with someone about it. Talk about how you felt, how you're doing now, what scared you, etc. Don't bottle that stuff up.
That's all of the advice I can think of! Feel free to leave a comment with a question or things that were helpful for you when you went through it.