I always tell my students that birth is 90% mental. I don't know if they entirely believe me, but after having six babies of my own, I'm convinced that this is true. You don't have to be a marathon runner or in peak physical shape to give birth, but if you're mentally unprepared for the demands of labor, birth is so much more difficult. And if you want to give birth naturally, boosting your labor confidence is even more important.
With that in mind, try these five easy ways to enhance your mental preparation for labor and delivery!
1. Practice visualization
This is such a powerful tool! Athletes and performers use this technique to prepare mentally for an event, so we know that it works. Visualize your birth. Visualize yourself giving birth. And, most importantly, visualize yourself as confident, in control, at peace, and powerful -- all the things you want to be as you bring your baby into the world! Your belief in yourself and your ability to birth your baby absolutely make a difference in your experience, so build positive, nourishing thoughts and associations as you prepare for labor.
If you reach a point in your visualization exercise where you shut yourself down because you're afraid, then really take time to explore those feelings. Share your concerns with your care provider and ask him or her how that situation might be handled. Share your concerns with your support person and your doula (if you have one) so that they are prepared to support you fully if that situation were to develop during your labor.
2. Talk to confident, experienced mothers
Birth used to be at the center of women's shared experience and wisdom about birth used to be passed down from one generation to the next. Now, we have to work hard to find birth "mentors" who can help us believe in the normalcy and naturalness of birth. Take the time to find experienced mothers who will boost your confidence by sharing their own experiences and knowledge. If you hire a doula for your birth or have an experienced mom for a childbirth educator, ask her about her experience(s) and really listen. Go to a La Leche League meeting and reach out to moms there.
As you talk with confident moms, ask them about their favorite techniques or strategies for approaching birth. If you have fears about labor, ask them if they ever felt the same way and, if so, how they dealt with their concerns successfully.
By the same token, try not to discuss childbirth with women who bring you down or sap your confidence. Nourish yourself!
3. Seek out good information
There is so much information out there. Be a savvy consumer of information. Avoid watching T.V. shows that portray birth as an emergency waiting to happen. Remember that the visual medium is very powerful, and we're working to build a positive and confident attitude! Images of fear and panic are totally contrary to this goal!
Find a good childbirth class and learn as much as you can. The old saying that we fear what we don't understand is absolutely true, and knowledge builds confidence. The more you know about birth and about your options, the more secure you can be about the experience.
4. Surround yourself with support
New moms -- no matter how many times they've given birth -- need and deserve to be supported, cherished, and loved during and after birth.
Feeling confident about labor and trusting your body's ability to give birth has so much to do with your interaction with your support team. If you don't trust your care provider, for example, then that attitude of suspicion and stress will affect your attitude during labor. If this lack of trust is severe enough, it can actually interfere with your labor, because stress hormones tell your body to stop labor and find a safer place to give birth. If you find that you don't get along with your care provider, don't be afraid to make a change.
Talk to your primary support person -- whether that's a husband, boyfriend, mother, sister, or best friend -- about what is important to you, and make sure you feel secure in their support of your wishes. If you don't, perhaps consider hiring a doula or adding another person to your birth team.
5. Find a good labor mantra
This probably sounds corny, but it really helps. Having a mantra -- whether it's a short prayer or a personal affirmation -- gives your mind something to focus on during labor and works to enhance that positive mental script we're building.
Think about it. If, in your professional capacity, you went around playing the mental script "I hate this job, and I can't do this...I hate this job, and I can't do this", would you be successful and happy? Chances are, you'd be miserable no matter what happened during your day! It's the same thing with birth.
Paying attention to your mental script is incredibly important as you transition into motherhood. Feeling overwhelmed sometimes and regretting mistakes is part of being human, but we rob ourselves of joy when we allow these feelings to dictate our outlook and our attitude. Find a positive, confidence-building mantra that can replace the worn-out tape of discouragement and criticism!
So just remember...
So much of labor is about attitude. It's about confidence. Take the time to nourish yourself, physically and mentally, as you prepare for birth. Taking that daily dose of "I can do this!" is just as important as downing those prenatal vitamins!
About S.K. Valenzuela
S.K. is a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator and teaches childbirth and baby care classes at a major Dallas hospital. She also enjoys freelancing about all things mothering. Her book, Mothering the Mother of Many, will be released in January 2013. She also enjoys writing fiction, and her second novel, The Lords of Askalon will be out in November. For more information about her current projects, please visit her at www.skvalenzuela.com and follow her on Twitter at @skvalenzuela. She and her husband and their six beautiful children live in Dallas, Texas.