If someone were to tell me that they were going to climb Mt. Everest, I would ask them how they are preparing for that journey: what tools are they gathering, where can they practice their climbing techniques and how can they simulate the experience of the dramatic change in elevation?
I ask similar questions of pregnant moms who tell me they want to go through all or most of their labor without any pain medication: What are they doing to practice for labor? How are they preparing their body? What kind of conscious breathing exercises are they practicing to get ready for the tremendous experience of labor and birth?
It’s true that a woman needs strong support when she is in labor, to be surrounded by people who can give her verbal encouragement and can take care of her physical needs. But ultimately the process of giving birth is solely in the hands of that laboring mom. No one in that room can birth her baby for her. Preparation is key.
When a woman is in labor, she has two main assets: her breath and her mobility. If she practices these, consciously, every day, her body will begin to remember how it feels to breathe long and deep, and how it feels to be in a particular position. Once the body has a memory of this conscious breathing and a variety of labor positions, it will more quickly be able reproduce these in labor. Mom will be familiar with how to breathe and move, so she will produce endorphins — her natural pain fighters — more quickly. She will feel more prepared, which will reduce her stress and keep her calm throughout her labor.
Here are two exercises to practice every day for labor:
Come onto all fours, hands directly under the shoulders, knees directly under the hips. Inhale, lifting the chin and allowing the belly to drop, pressing firmily into the floor with the palms of the hands. Exhale, tucking the chin to the chest as you round the spine, lifting it up toward the ceiling. Continue for 2 minutes. This is a great stress reliever and can help baby get into a good position for labor. All-fours is also a good position to help turn a posterior baby (one who is facing forward) to an anterior position (facing back).
Sit in easy-seated pose on the floor. Tuck a small pillow or folded blanket under the buttocks to help keep the spine straight. Place the left hand on the belly, the right hand on the heart. Inhale deeply through the nose. Exhale deeply through the nose, humming for the whole exhale. Feel the hum vibrate in the chest and the nasal cavity. Begin to feel comfortable hearing your own voice, your own sound. Continue for 2 minutes. This will be a useful sound in labor.