Planning for birth

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It's hard to say what your labor and delivery will be like — it's different for every woman. But there are simple steps you can take to prepare yourself for this life-changing experience. Understanding the process and being as prepared as possible will help you feel more relaxed and in control.

Take a class

You and your partner may want to take a childbirth preparation class to get ready for labor, birth, and the first few weeks after your baby is born (postpartum period).

Pregnant women in a classIn a typical class, you will learn:

  • what to do when labor starts
  • ways to reduce stress during labor
  • what happens during the delivery
  • your partner's role
  • how to care for your newborn

Make a birth plan

It's important to learn as much as you can about your labor and delivery options.

A birth plan details your wishes for pain management and how your baby will be cared for after delivery. Use it to discuss your preferences — including any cultural traditions — with your doctor.

Exercise your birth muscles

Stretches, exercises, and even taking a few deep breaths can help you feel more relaxed and ready for the amazing act of childbirth.

The muscles in your lower abdomen, lower back, and around the vagina (birth canal) come under great strain during pregnancy. During delivery, these same muscles must relax and stretch.

Learn some simple exercises that will help you strengthen the muscles that support your growing uterus.

Breathe and relax

Practicing relaxation exercises during pregnancy can help you feel less anxious about labor and delivery.

"It is common for women to feel anxious about labor and delivery. Practicing relaxation exercises during pregnancy can help. It will also ensure that you are comfortable using these techniques," says Lori Harrison, a Kaiser Permanente nurse practitioner from Hawaii.

Learning to relax your muscles, control your breathing, and focus your mind are skills you will need during labor and delivery.

Try them out now — you may find they also help manage some of the discomforts of pregnancy.

Breathing

Taking slow, deep breaths is a simple way to help you relax and reduce stress. Rhythmic breathing (or "Lamaze" breathing) can take your focus away from pain during contractions. Try these relaxing breathing exercises.

Imagery

Guided imagery helps you relax, manage stress, and ease pain by focusing your mind on an image (such as a peaceful beach or beautiful forest) or a smell, sound, taste, or texture.

Download or listen online to our guided imagery for childbirth.

Massage

Gentle massage can help you relax by relieving muscle tension and pain. It can also be a nice way for you and your partner to bond.

Calming activities

Take time every day to relax, even if only for 10 or 15 minutes. Sitting in a quiet room, listening to music, soaking in a warm (not hot) bath, or taking a walk are all simple ways to quiet your mind and feel centered.

Is it time? The signs of labor.

Review the signs and stages of labor and get to know the warning signs for preterm labor.

Keep track of your contractions closely. Use an app or print a contractions chart (PDF) ahead of time and keep it with your hospital bags so it's ready when you are.

Many women experience false labor (Braxton Hicks contractions) a few days or weeks before real labor. False labor pains usually go away if you move around, and are more noticeable when you're sitting still. If you're not sure whether you're having Braxton Hicks contractions or the real thing, call your doctor or the advice nurse.

Whether you're planning to have an induced labor or a cesarean section or need one unexpectedly, learn about these procedures so you're ready when the time comes.

Ready to go?

Fill your suitcase with everything you'll need to make your hospital stay comfortable.

Review our what to bring to the hospital checklist and add the special things (like a pillow or photograph) that will make you feel more at home.

Know how to get to your hospital ahead of time so you can grab your bag and go. You should also have the phone number to the labor and delivery department at your hospital handy. If you don’t know it, ask at your next visit.

The big arrival

Before baby is welcomed into your home, set up the crib, changing table, and other must-haves.

Check out the new baby essentials checklist to make sure you have everything you need to bring your baby home safely. 

Source: Adapted from copyrighted material of The Permanente Medical Group, Inc.

Reviewed by: Jeff Convissar, MD, November 2015
Additional Kaiser Permanente reviewers

© 2015 Kaiser Permanente

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