You can do a lot to prepare your body for birth! Gentle or moderate exercise and good nutrition throughout pregnancy are basic preparations, but beyond that there are things you can do to promote specific aspects of labor physiology. The four principles of preparation I address in this article are: reducing adrenalin, pelvic alignment, optimal fetal positioning, and energy balance.
These methods of preparing your body for birth are effective at reducing labor complications such as: long difficult labors, back pain, or the need for induction due to being too far overdue. They are safe and beneficial! They often help you feel better during pregnancy as well. For each method, I let you know what you can do at home, natural health care professionals who can help, and when this method may be necessary. If you’re specifically looking to induce labor and the following tools don’t help, I offer suggestions and tips in natural ways to induce labor.
1. Reducing Adrenalin/Boosting Readiness
Fear, a sense of vulnerability, or excessive excitement can raise the adrenalin levels in the body to a point where they interfere with the onset or progression of labor. Clarifying and addressing your fears, creating a reassuring, nurturing, relaxed, and loving environment around and within you, and bringing calm to a situation are natural ways of reducing adrenalin and therefore helping your body enter a state where it is ready to birth. Privacy, confidence, and reassurance are key aspects.
Things you can do at home to reduce adrenalin
Journal, express your feelings, birth art, music, dance, decrease stress, distraction, spend time in nature, take a walk, watch a movie, take a warm bath, heating pads, comforting positions/blankets, guided visualization, deep relaxation, aromatherapy with lavender and jasmine or massage.
Birthing From Within is a great book that can help with calming adrenalin and provides instructions for specific birth art and journal exercises.
Calm Birth is a CD with guided breathwork visualizations that are effective.
Natural health care that can help reduce adrenalin before labor
Massage therapy, craniosacral therapy, reiki, acupuncture, hypnosis, psychotherapy, music therapy, art therapy, the assistance of a doula, and reassurance and support from your midwife or doctor.
When to use these methods
- Anytime. These methods cannot cause labor to begin prematurely, although they may help labor begin quickly if your body is indeed ready to labor but adrenalin has been high.
- Use these methods to reduce adrenalin if there is anxiety about the labor process during pregnancy or the days following your due date.
- If your water breaks before you have contractions, these suggestions could be beneficial. In this case these techniques are best used until about 3 hours before you would consider a medical induction. At that point, if not before, you may want to use natural methods to stimulate contractions.
- If fear or adrenalin seems to be impeding labor progress, these methods may help prepare your body for birth. This may be indicated by tension held in mom’s body, prolonged early labor, continuous but ineffective contractions, high pitched vocalizations, fast breathing, crying, or mom may tell you she is worried about the next stage of labor or about the pain.
2. Pelvic Alignment
Misalignment of mom’s pelvis can make it more difficult for the baby to engage deeply within the pelvis or make their rotations throughout the birth process. Misalignment can happen due to injury or simply in response to everyday body mechanics as the joints of the pelvis and sacrum loosen towards the end of pregnancy. Usually, mom will experience discomfort or pain even before labor if her pelvis is misaligned. Pubic pain, back pain, and pain just beneath the shoulders are common indications.
Another way to check for pelvic alignment is to have mom lay on her back and gently bring her ankle bones together. If there is resistance and her ankles do not comfortably come together, it is likely that her pubic bone is misaligned. If her feet are different lengths, there is likely misalignment in her sacrum. Realigning mom’s pelvis to prepare her body for birth is usually simple and brings relief to the discomforts or pain she feels. It may be necessary to realign her pelvis repeatedly depending the severity of the misalignment.
Things you can do at home to aid pelvic alignment
- Avoid heavy lifting! When you do lift, keep weight centered and near your body rather than too far out in front of you.
- Wear flats! High heels are horrendous for this.
- Keep your abdominal muscles toned with gentle exercises such as Rock-The-Baby Breaths. To do Rock-the-Baby Breaths, allow your belly to rise naturally on the inhale, and then forcefully exhale by contracting your abdominal muscles.
Natural health care that can help align your pelvis for birth
Craniosacral therapy, chiropractic adjustments such as the Webster technique, or myofascial release done by a massage therapist.
When to use these methods
- Anytime. These cannot cause labor to begin prematurely, although they can help labor start if you are full term and there is a pelvic misalignment.
- If mom experiences sacral pain, pubic bone pain, or considerable back pain anytime during pregnancy, it’s a good indication that proper pelvic alignment will help prepare her body for birth and these methods should be applied.
- If mom experiences days of prodromal labor (lots of contractions as her due date nears or is past, but never escalating into “real labor”), these techniques might be beneficial to the labor process.
- When contractions come irregularly even though they are long (greater than 60 sec) and painful, pelvic alignment might be an issue. For example mom may have 2-3 contractions in a row just 2 minutes apart, and then a 12 minute break before the next one. Or she may tend to have 7-8 minute breaks, but then get two contractions almost on top of each other.
- When pain is felt in unexpected ways, aligning the pelvis could help prepare a body for labor or move labor along. Unexpected pain might mean that mom may feel that her back pain or hip pain is more severe than the strength of the contraction, or she may feel sharp pains in her pubic bone.
3. Encouraging a Change in Baby’s Position
For this goal, you’re not preparing your body for labor as much as your doing things to prepare your baby for labor. Babies fit best through the pelvis if their chin is tucked to their chest and their head is straight rather than tilted to one side. Babies generally enter the pelvis sideways, looking towards one of my mom’s hip bones, and then spiral so that they are looking out towards mom’s sacrum. If a baby enters the pelvis looking forward toward moms pubic bone or with their head extended or tilted, their position can cause a slow and more difficult labor.
The signs that a baby may be positioned in an unfavorable way are similar to the signs that mom may have a misaligned pelvis. Pain is felt in unexpected places (rather than down low in front like a menstrual cramp) and the contraction pattern is irregular even after labor becomes intense. The main difference is that the unusual pains usually are not present before labor. Many of the techniques to encourage a baby to turn are similar to those for realigning mom’s pelvis. This is certainly a “chicken and egg” scenario. Do malpositioned babies cause pelvic misalignment or vice versa? It’s probably unique in every case.
Things you can do at home to change your baby’s position
- Make it a habit to sit upright with a long spine by thinking about creating space along your sides between your hip bones and your ribcage.
- Sitting with your knees even with or below the level of your hips, rather than elevating your legs or sitting in “bucket” seats, will make this easier. Consider placing a foam wedge in your car seat or in any other problem chairs.
- Sitting on a big exercise ball also helps tremendously.
- When you recline, recline from your hips with a straight back, maintaining a small arch in your back, rather than curving your lower back.
- Do 10-20 pelvic rocks twice a day, take regular walks, and enjoy dancing in ways that move your pelvis! (Dancing for Birth offers classes and DVDs to learn great ways to dance in pregnancy.)
Natural health care that can help change a baby’s position
Craniosacral therapy, chiropractic adjustments, homeopathic Pulsatilla 30C, the assistance of a doula or midwife knowledgeable in spinning babies techniques such as belly sifting, knee-chest position, and more.
When to use these methods
- Anytime. These cannot cause labor to begin prematurely, although they may work quickly if your body is indeed ready to labor and the baby is in a non-optimal position.
- If mom experiences days of prodromal labor (lots of contractions as her due date nears (or is past), but never escalating into “real labor”), these techniques might change your baby’s position and prepare you (both) for labor.
- When contractions come irregularly even though they are long (greater than 60 sec) and painful, changes to your baby’s position might be beneficial. For example, mom may have 2-3 contractions in a row just 2 minutes apart, and then a 12 minute break before the next one. Or she may tend to have 7-8 minute breaks, but then get two contractions almost on top of each other.
- When pain is felt in unexpected ways, trying to change your baby’s position can reduce pain or allow labor to reach a new stage. Unexpected pain might mean that mom may feel that her back pain or hip pain is more severe than the strength of the contraction, or she may feel sharp pains in her pubic bone.
4. Balancing the Body’s Energy
Many ancient health traditions approach medicine from an energetic or vibrational perspective. They work with the ways in which the body interacts with energy in the environment, and with how energy moves within the body. There are specific centers where energy is received that correlate to particular organ systems, and likewise channels through which energy moves in the body that power particular organs. Blocks, disruptions, or over-energized or depleted energy in the body can impede labor. Energy disruptions may be caused by physical injury, strong emotions, such as shock or judgement, or from environmental stress, and the effects can be held in the body for years before physical illness or injury results. The following modalities are just a small sampling of the many energy-based healing modalities that can help balance the energies and promote normal physiological labor. Mind, body, and spirit are strongly connected, and visualization and psychotherapy can also be effective.
Things you can do at home to balance the body’s energy
You can learn self-balancing techniques from yoga practitioners and energy medicine courses such as Donna Eden’s Energy Medicine book. These techniques often involve breath work or self massage.
Natural health care modalities that can help balance the body’s energy
- Homeopathic remedies: It is best to work with a knowledgeable practitioner to increase efficacy, but remedies are safe and can also be purchased and used on your own. One protocol for labor preparation is Caulophyllum 12C on Monday, Cimifuga (12C or 30C) on Wednesday, Arnica 12C on Friday, one dose per day. Begin 4 weeks prior to birth.
- Acupuncture: Preparatory acupuncture sessions are recommended once a week beginning at 36 weeks.
- Craniosacral Therapy
- Sound Healing
When to use these methods
- Anytime. These cannot cause labor to begin prematurely, although they may help labor begin if your body is indeed ready to labor and there is an energy disruption. They are deeply nurturing to pregnant women and can be used throughout pregnancy.
- When you are approaching 7-10 days overdue with no symptoms of early labor, working to balance the body’s energy my be effective.
- During ineffective labor or labor stalls are other times it may be beneficial to balance the body’s energy system.
How to Find Natural Health Care Providers
Finding a chiropractor, craniosacral practitioner, massage therapist, acupuncturist, or a reiki master is difficult in some smaller towns or rural areas, though they are common in larger cities and are rapidly growing professions. Search for these providers in the phone book or through online searches. The lactation consultants, doulas, and midwives in your town can often make referrals to practitioners that are familiar with pregnancy. Natural food stores or local baby stores with a natural emphasis are often good places to look for business cards or ask for referrals as well.
When seeking a provider, take a moment to briefly interview them. Ask about their experience with pregnancy and any precautions they are aware of using when working with pregnant women. If you have any additional health conditions share these with your practitioner so that they can approach your care with all of your unique needs in mind.