A Doula’s Guide to Preparing for Birth

Recently I was tagged in a Facebook post that contained a graphic titled “This is not preparing for birth…This is preparing for birth”. The first column listed ways in which a lot of expecting parents can begin to prepare for having a baby, most of which included buying things. The second column listed ways that expecting parents can begin to prepare for the realities of labor and childbirth. The graphic was created by a pretty “crunchy” group, and although I have absolutely nothing against that group or people who may subscribe to that method for childbirth, I felt it was lacking well-roundedness in the column of “This is preparing for birth”. Things like “reducing toxins” and “empowering yourself with natural alternatives to common medical interventions” just might not be important or relevant to a lot of people’s goals for birth. However, the main message behind these juxtaposed lists resonated with me in a big way. I’ve walked alongside too many friends who simply check off the “to buy” and “to decorate” list thinking that they’re really preparing for having a baby! I’m not at all saying those things shouldn’t be done. A lot of it is necessary – and fun! But I also don’t believe that a completely “natural”, unmedicated, hypno-birth is the right or chosen path for many couples. I believe that people want to feel respected as they make decisions about their care. People want to feel a sense of agency – that they are not being coerced or pressured by other more powerful people. People want to feel cared for and that their birthing environment is safe – and not harmful or careless.

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A happy couple and satisfied client immediately after birth! They did an amazing job “preparing for birth”!

So, after staring at that list for a long time, I decided to write my own. The list is not exhaustive, nor is it meant to be a checklist of what to do and what not to do. The “Preparing for birth” list is really how I try to guide my own birth clients. It will take you deeper into the things that really matter, the issues that will have a lasting impact on how you remember your entry into parenthood. So you are getting a huge peek into the ways that I guide conversations with expecting parents! Of course, being well-prepared for having a newborn in the house also means checking off items on the second list…so go ahead and check those off your to do list as well.

If this list seems overwhelming, choose 5 things that you can focus on during pregnancy. Reach out to friends and family (and a doula!) that can help keep you on track, maybe send you some articles and resources, and boost your confidence along the way.

As always, I’m here to help!  What would YOU add to this list? What helped YOU prepare for your OWN birth? What do you WISH you had known to prepare for? 

Preparing for birth:

  • Getting good nutrition
  • Getting daily/weekly exercise
  • Talking with friends and family about their births
  • Asking your mother about your own birth
  • Exploring your and your partner’s beliefs about birth
  • Hanging out with a breastfeeding mom-friend and asking to observe (in the least creepy way possible!)
  • Going to a La Leche League meeting before your baby is born
  • Taking a private childbirth education course
  • Writing out your birth plan and researching terms
  • Interviewing different care providers to choose the best fit for your family and values
  • Hiring a birth doula and/or postpartum doula
  • Calling an IBCLC to set up a private consult, especially if you plan to go back to work while pumping/storing milk
  • Writing a positive postpartum plan
  • Practicing comfort measures for labor
  • Mentally preparing for different birth scenarios (medicated, unmedicated, c-section)
  • Choosing your birth team carefully (partner, care provider, mom, sister, friend, doula, etc)
  • Addressing personal issues and receive counseling for things that may affect labor and birth (past trauma, abuse, unhealthy relationships, etc.)
  • Discussing your birth plan in detail with your care provider; asking lots of questions
  • Creating a values-based birth plan that can be maintained regardless of the mode of delivery or the specific circumstances
  • Identifying risk factors for postpartum depression, anxiety or other mental health disorders; noting if you are predisposed to any of these disorders
  • Identifying strengths and weaknesses in communication and trust with your spouse/partner; how you solve conflict, how each of you likes to rest/recharge/de-stress

Maybe necessary, but Not preparing for birth:

  • Washing and folding all the baby clothes
  • Sterilizing bottles
  • Researching stroller, crib, monitors, baby carrier, all the gear, etc.
  • decorating the nursery
  • Googling a birth plan and printing it out
  • Buying a breast pump
  • Packing your hospital bag
  • Picking a baby name
  • Installing a car seat
  • Buying nursing bras
  • Receiving weekly emails in which the main message is “Your baby is the size of a [mango]!”