the perfect labour

When it comes to labour, location, pain relief and birth partner come pretty high on your wish list – but how about your attitude? Hypnotherapist, childbirth educator, doula and M&B expert Gabrielle Targett says mental preparation is the key to experiencing a positive birth. “Your thoughts create your reality,” says Gabrielle. “So what is it you are thinking?”

Research has shown that positive birth techniques can shorten labour and make you feel less likely to need intervention, too. So even though eliminating all discomfort is unrealistic, by taking out the fear factor and building your confidence, you’re much more likely to feel in control.

Ready to start? These 10 simple tips will give your birth preparation a boost.

1. Face your fears

It’s natural to be apprehensive but, according to recent research, fear will make your labour longer and increase the likelihood of needing intervention.

“Acknowledge any fears and work out where they may have come from and if they are realistic fears or not. If they are, seek out a professional to help you overcome them,” says Gabrielle. “Equally as important when preparing for labour is staying tuned out to all the negative stories you may hear from strangers or girlfriends that can make you fearful of labour.”

2. Learn how to relax

Feeling calm is the key to being confident and able to surrender to the intensity, especially when contractions become more powerful. Practising relaxation techniques during pregnancy will help to prepare you for the big day. You’ll get the best results by attending a pregnancy relaxation or hypnotherapy workshop in your local area, then listening to a CD or a download at home. Gabrielle’s Hypnosis for Birth CD is available through her website, www.alabouroflove.com.au, or iTunes.

3. Breathe

One method to use throughout labour is combining breathing with counting – not only does it keep your mind focused, it can also increase the amount of oxygen getting to your muscles, which helps them relax.

Simple techniques are the best. “Try slow breathing with counting – as you take a long slow breath in through your nose, count to four in your head,” says Gabrielle. “Repeat the count of four as you slowly exhale. Alternatively, try breathing in for a count of four and out for six. If you repeat this pattern four times over, that is roughly the length of a contraction.”

4. Get him on board

“Encourage your partner to attend your antenatal classes, too,” says Gabrielle. “Your partner is your support person in labour, so by having him skilled up in massage, breathing and relaxation techniques, he can assist you mentally, physically and emotionally during birth.” It’s also important to see if your partner has any fears that need addressing prior to the labour. “The last thing a labouring woman needs is an upset and emotional partner who can no longer support her in her time of need,” says Gabrielle.

5. Stay in the moment

A lot of fear and anxiety in labour is worry about what might happen rather than what is happening, so it’s important to try to stay in the moment. Keep your anxieties in check by focusing on the present – using a breathing technique will help, as will repeating your affirmations or mantra.

6. The power of smell

Smell is a powerful sense and can conjure up both memories and emotions. To create a positive association, try burning an essential oil like lavender oil when you’re practising relaxation exercises during pregnancy. Have the oil with you during labour – even on a handkerchief – and the smell will trigger the association.

7. Encourage touch

Actions can speak louder than words, particularly at the transition between the first and second stages of labour, when your confidence may waver. “Get your birth partner to vigorously rub your back and the backs of your legs,” says Gabrielle. “This stimulates the metabolism, which helps your body process adrenaline and lactic acid so you can feel calm again.”

Between contractions, light touch massage helps stimulate the release of calming chemicals in the body. Ask your partner to trace the backs of his fingers gently and rhythmically up and down your back.

8. Affirmations and mantras

You may feel silly at first, but research has shown that any message we hear often enough has an effect. Try repeating your birth mantra or affirmations to yourself before you go to sleep. Then, in the last few weeks before you give birth, write it down and stick it where you’ll see it often, like on the fridge door or bathroom mirror. Here, Gabrielle explains how to write your own affirmations or mantra.

9. Avoid negative language

Stating what you don’t want – “I won’t panic or feel out of control” – is counterproductive because all your subconscious will focus on are the words ‘panic’ and ‘out of control’. Turn it around by staying positive. For example, “I am strong and trust and believe in my body” or “I feel calm and in control.” Another powerful affirmation is “My body and my baby know what to do.”

10. Repeat, repeat, repeat

Create a list of affirmations for labour that state what it is you want to create. Ensure they are accessible for you to look at or for your support people to read out loud to you. Repeat them regularly so you start to believe in what you are hearing. Your body will respond. If there’s something you’re particularly anxious or fearful of, such as tearing or having a caesarean, work out affirmations that directly address these scenarios. For example, “When my baby moves through my perineum, it will stretch wide open like a rubber band.”