How To Plan for Childbirth

How To Plan for Childbirth

By Hayley Oakes, LM

Giving birth is both an incredibly physical and emotional event. Proper preparation is key. 

It’s possible to feel empowered by such an unpredictable process but it comes with knowing how and when you have choice and control in the matter. As the saying goes, knowledge is power. 

There was once a time when the act of giving birth was not such a mysterious event. Young women supported mothers in their community and witnessed babies being born. This exposure also served as an education in preparation for when it was time for those women to give birth themselves. We also lived closer to the land with raised livestock and/or other living creatures. Thus witnessing animals give birth was at the very least a common and normal experience.

Most women have not attended a birth until it’s their own.

Not seeing someone (or something) give birth has created a mysterious and mostly fear-based narrative around this process. Most women feel nervous about all the unexpected possibilities so would rather leave the care of their bodies and babies entirely in the hands of their medical providers.

However, ensuring a healthy outcome is a joint effort of utilizing your expert knowledge of your body and the experienced guidance of a doctor or midwife.

This means to not only have a safe experience but a satisfying one as well, you have to be an active participant and take a proactive role in your healthcare.


Preparing Your Body For Childbirth

Physically, training your body for giving birth is important – no matter which mode of delivery. Most labors for first-time birthers are 12-24 hours long. Your uterus is a muscle and every contraction in labor is like doing a 60-90-second “rep” before taking a 3–5-minute break. If you give it ample opportunity during pregnancy to build strength, then your uterus and cervix will work very efficiently in labor. Even if you’re expecting to have a planned cesarean, recovering from major abdominal surgery is a big job for your body so preparing ahead of time can help increase the ability to heal efficiently. 


Preparing Your Mind For Childbirth

Mentally, preparing to give birth is like planning to travel to a foreign country. It’s helpful to learn about the culture – its language, sights, and smells – to become accustomed to a new experience and enjoy it. When giving birth, going to “Laborland” is the same except the distance you travel is far away from reality and deep within yourself to a hormonally induced hyper focused state of mind.

So essentially preparing for childbirth is like planning to run a marathon in a foreign country!

With the growing weight of the baby (as well as the placenta, amniotic fluid and increased blood volume) the uterus has to stretch and work hard to contain all the contents of pregnancy especially when engaging in any sort of upright physical activity. This act alone can usually bring on practice contractions aka Braxton Hicks. These usually occur in the third trimester (although sometimes in the second trimester with subsequent pregnancies). It feels like a hardening, full sensation in the belly that has no predictable pattern to the onset or resolution of them. (This is different to preterm labor signs of cervical pressure or rhythmical menstrual-like cramping low down in your pelvis.) These practice contractions in the pregnancy are encouraged to strengthen your uterus so that when it’s time for productive contractions during labor it results in smooth dilation and delivery.


Bodywork Before Birth

I advise people to engage in some kind of low-impact continuous cardio every day ie walking for 45-60 minutes at a pace that elevates your heart rate and you are slightly out of breath. It’s normal to have to stop, stretch or take sips of water when exercising during pregnancy but the idea is that you keep going. This is akin to labor – you have regular moments of reprieve before it’s time to work again. So, engaging in this kind of physical activity also helps build endurance for childbirth. Fatigue is a huge factor when making the decision around pain medication. If the mind and body are exhausted everything hurts more and you want to ‘tap out’.

I also advise pregnant women to receive routine bodywork if accesible, in the form of chiropractic care, acupuncture, pelvic floor physical therapy and/or massage. Around 17 weeks gestation, the body releases the hormone relaxin (which does just as the word sounds – relaxes) to make space for a growing baby. It does this by softening and stretching ligaments, muscles and ultimately the skeletal framework which gives pregnant women the classic ‘waddle’ walk. Due to the constant and drastic changes that happen in a relatively short period of time, there can be some physical imbalances in the body. During pregnancy, this is characterized as common aches and pains in the low back and hips. During labor this shows up as a long, stalled labor. If one side of the pelvis is tighter or more restricted than it may force the baby to position themselves in a more uneven or asynclitic position. As a result there is insufficient pressure from the baby’s head on the cervix to allow for steady progression and makes for a more challenging journey in navigating through the pelvis.

During labor, your baby’s task is to complete a series of rotations to be able to come through the vaginal canal and safely be born. Your job is to allow your body to open around your baby so they can move down and out. It’s a team effort and can be a beautiful dance in which you and your baby are completely in sync with every step.


For First Time Birthers

For first time birthers, I highly recommend learning about the birth process in the form of a formal childbirth education series. Ideally this would be one offered outside of the hospital as more ground will be covered of what to expect and how to cope. Typically, the preparation classes are taken in the third trimester so it’s fresh in your mind prior to the birth, but this is also a long time to be in the dark about the journey you are about to embark on. Thus, I also recommend listening to podcasts and/or reading books involving birth stories as an informal education along the way. Both Milk Trails  and Transformed by Birth are two of my favorites.

My recommendation is to play or read one birth story per day. It can be on in the background while doing dishes or it becomes part of the ritual in trying to get back to sleep in the middle of the night, but depositing story after story of so many women giving birth into your subconscious bank is incredibly valuable. While every woman’s experience is unique, you start to understand there’s a general pattern to the birthing process. You begin to hear common themes, sentiments and may learn some helpful tips and tricks. What once was the big unknown starts to become familiar which can help clarify what’s ‘normal’ thereby reducing any fear and anxiety in the moment. Also, hearing other women’s experiences may prompt some questions and/or discussion points with your provider which can be helpful in not only getting answers to questions but also discovering if this care provider is the right fit for you and your family.

Giving birth is a collective experience and thus the wisdom of how to do it should be as well. Managed expectations and clear intentions via proper preparation can decrease the risk of interventions (and thus risk to you and your baby) and increase the chance of a positive and healthy outcome. Check all the planning boxes and then surrender to enjoy the trip of a lifetime.


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Hayley Oakes is a licensed midwife based in Santa Barbara, CA. She has been attending births since 2010 as a doula, midwife assistant, apprentice and midwife, witnessing and supporting birth in all settings: home, birth center and hospital. Hayley is the host and creator of Milk Trails -- a podcast dedicated to the out-of-hospital birthing experience. In February 2019, Hayley became a mother herself and welcomed her second child in January 2022. She currently offers private consultations for expectant mothers planning hospital births who desire holistic medical support. As a midwife, educator and mother, she is committed to supporting childbearing folks in having a safe and satisfying pregnancy, birth and postpartum experience to help grow healthy, happy babies.

If you would like to book a private prenatal and/or postpartum consult please email


Related Reading 

YSK: What to Expect During Pregnancy & Postpartum

Protect Your Birth: A Guide For Black Birthers Navigating the Healthcare System 

Strategies to Cope With Past Trauma and Reclaim Your Body During Pregnancy, Birth, and Postpartum 

Meet Yael Borensztein: Doula & Lactation Specialist

Rewriting the Motherhood Manifesto

Strategies to Cope With Past Trauma and Reclaim Your Body During Pregnancy, Birth, and Postpartum by Sevonna Brown (she/her)

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