What most prepared you for the physical experience of labor?
April 2, 2019 1:45 AM   Subscribe

As a soon-to-be-second-time-mom, I am belatedly wondering what I can do in the next two to five weeks that will most prepare me physically and mentally for the pain and physical challenges of labor.

What I've done so far:
- Hire a doula
- Started to do more walking and stair-climbing
- Registered at a hospital with birthing tubs and a birth-center-like approach to birth (midwives, etc.)
- Chiropractic adjustments
- Saved a bunch of music to my phone (music was key the first time around)
- Downloaded a CD of guided relaxation and affirmations
- Acquired the Hypnobabies CDs

What I haven't done:
- Listened to any of those audio services I got ahold of
- Practiced relaxation or visualization or anything like that
- Yoga, squats, or any other kind of exercise
- Developed any pain tolerance or equanimity

Did you do any stretches, exercise, visualizations, meditation, self-hypnosis or guided imagery that turned out to really help in labor? I'm trying to figure out how to use my limited time.

My first labor was super-long. I tapped out and got the epidural somewhere on Day 3 (though I'm not sure exactly when prodromal labor turned into early labor turned into active labor). I'm not didactic about it (or judgmental of anyone else's decisions), but I'd like to avoid pain meds this time if I can. But I feel like I need to go in having done at least a bit more mental and/or physical preparation. And I have a toddler, so my time is limited to things like lunch break and maybe an hour at night. Thanks!
posted by slidell to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
You sound a lot like me! 3 days of labor for Toddler Kitty, about 8 hours of labor for Baby Kitty. I got the epidural with my first at the beginning of Day 3 and had my second pain medication free.

I used two images during contractions - 1.). Pouring honey/molasses over my contraction pains and watching as it smoothed over and smothered the spiky pain contractions. 2.) waves coming in over the beach and covering spiky rocks with water. Once I got the details of those thoughts pretty clear, it was easy to them up when the contractions got more intense.

Another thing I did was count up to ten and down from ten during contractions. Basically the idea that I can tolerate anything for 10 seconds, and then starting another 10 second increment after that. Also, something about focusing on numbers/math triggers the brain to calm emotional responses, which helped me too.

I will say having my second hurt less than the first and was much faster. Another thing that helped with the pain of contractions (like A LOT of pain reduction) was sitting on the toilet during the contraction. Allegedly it’s a midwife trick to help move along labor as your body gets more relaxed while sitting on the toilet. It worked very well for me.

Congratulations on baby #2! I hope your birth experience goes smoothly and the way you want it to!
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 2:01 AM on April 2, 2019 [6 favorites]

While I am a huge fan of my epidurals (thanks, anesthesiologists, I have never in the moment loved anyone more!) I probably could have handled my second labor because it was so much quicker.

My first labor took over 34 hours and only five minutes of pushing. She was sunny side up, 9.5lbs, and came out with her first over her face. Approximately a million stitches later I felt wrecked for months.

With my second, I started walking as soon as contractions began that morning and I walked six miles up and down our driveway before I decided that I should probably call the hospital since contractions weren’t getting any closer (11/12 minutes apart) but they were getting much much stronger. By the time I got to the hospital 15 minutes later I was 9 cm. Epidural, five minutes of pushing, 9.5lb baby, perfectly positioned and happy to join me. I was playing on the floor with my toddler with no pain by the day we were discharged.

So my advice from then on has been walk walk walk walk as much as you can while in labor.
posted by lydhre at 3:34 AM on April 2, 2019 [5 favorites]

My wife had an experience very similar to those shared in this thread already: agonizingly long (back) labor for baby number one, MUCH quicker labor for baby number two. For the second one she was going in assuming it was going to be just as bad as the first, so she bought a book on meditating through labor pain, and used it to such great effect that we ended up having the baby in the car on the way to the hospital because we left too late and her labor progressed too quickly.*

All of which is to say, it sounds like you're already pretty well set up, you could consider buying a labor meditation book and practicing a bit beforehand, but also generally remember that the second time around can be wildly different from the first. Babies love wrecking your best laid plans. Here's hoping this next one comes faster than the first!

* If there was an option to have precipitous labor and deliver in your car vs. spending 36+ hours laboring in the hospital we'd pick car birth every time.
posted by saladin at 4:03 AM on April 2, 2019 [5 favorites]

I've got no advice, except to say that keep your expectations high! My first labor was induced and took FOREVER. My second labor was about 1 hour from first contraction to birth (yes, I know.) It was GREAT! The midwives did not seem surprised and said this happens a lot -- your body just has figured it out by the second time and it's so much easier for many women.
posted by heavenknows at 4:37 AM on April 2, 2019

Seconding the toilet thing, which I discovered by, er.... accident (my midwife arrived to see me doubled over sitting on it and congratulated me for it, which was an interesting start). For me, however, labouring in my bathtub was possibly the only tolerable part of my labour (and, to be fair, I epiduraled up pretty fast and had a c-section, so you can take my pain avoidance suggestions with a grain of Epsom salts, I suppose). I am not big on baths. At all. And I was so very surprised at how comfortable I was in the water. Were I to do it again (which is so not happening) I would have made sure to have an immaculate tub with lots of pleasant spa-like accoutrements around me.
posted by Mrs. Rattery at 4:38 AM on April 2, 2019

I did a lot of walking and also self-studied Bradley Method progressive relaxation and found both of those to be very helpful. As a bonus, I have returned to those Bradley Method skills for pain tolerance so many times in the years since then and I'm very glad I was exposed to them. I wasn't aware of Hyponobabies at the time--I didn't have a trained partner/coach to work with so it sounds like I wound up following the self-guided rather than "husband-coached" (*cough*) approach anyhow.
So my suggestion would be to start listening to those audio resources. I don't know how much time commitment the whole hypnobabies CD course is, but maybe make a commitment to listen to one core guided relaxation/self-hypnosis clip every day, and then however else much of the rest of the curriculum you are able to. The more you repeat those exercises the more reliable your response will become. I also now use a guided meditation/sleep hypnosis audio when I'm having trouble sleeping and I'm generally a skeptic about a lot of mind/body woo but damn if it isn't effective.
posted by drlith at 4:43 AM on April 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Regarding preparing, I barely practiced my relaxation, but the one thing that did help didn't take that long--I figured out what parts I usually FAIL to relax. So when I do a guided relaxation (first your fee, then your calves, etc.), I pretty much always fail to fully relax my butt and my face. So if I need to relax and I feel like I'm not getting there, I can short cut by concentrating on those two areas and I get to relaxed much faster. And being able to relax my muscles actually helped a lot.

Not sure if this tip is helpful, but it's simple!
posted by gideonfrog at 4:56 AM on April 2, 2019

Try labouring on the toilet backwards (like straddle it, facing the tank). Possibly with your partner seated on a chair behind you so you can either lean forward onto the tank, or lean back into his chest. Worked wonders for my sister.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 5:27 AM on April 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Honestly? I don't think you need to do anything else. Your doula is going to help you. Your midwives are going to help you. The second labor is often much shorter than the first. Listen to the audio things you downloaded, since there's no barrier to entry. Keep up with your walking. And rest as much as possible (notice I didn't say sleep, I know that's not really a possibility at this point in the pregnancy).

Best of luck to you! You're going to do great.
posted by CiaoMela at 6:06 AM on April 2, 2019 [5 favorites]

Stand up, RIGHT NOW, and do pelvic circles. Just stand up, right now, and start moving your pelvis round and round in a circle that goes slightly further out than your natural stance. While doing this go as limp as possible. Let your face go slack, let your arms dangle like rubber appendages from your collar bones. Let your pelvic floor go slack so that if you should have gone to pee a while ago you are about to pee yourself. Keep it up for thirty seconds.

Okay, now stop and if your chair that you were sitting in is in the way step away from it or move it back and do the exercise again, once more for thirty seconds.

If you did this you will have done two belly-dance style labour relaxation practices and you have already started.

Get into the habit of doing this while you walk around. You can do them at the bathroom sink, you can do them while waiting for you lift and standing on the sidewalk, you can do them in elevators, you can do them while chatting with your partner.

Add very slow very deep breaths. Try to figure out ways to be even limper and more relaxed while you do them.

Do them in the shower. Do them while you look at your computer. Do them while reading. Let your head roll around and flop like a rag doll. While doing one try to look like you are falling asleep on your feet. Try to look like you are straight out unconscious on your feet yet still standing and circling.

Walk from one end of your house to the other, carrying something that needs to be put away. While you are doing this relax as much as you can. Come back again with something that needs to be put away. Do it, somnambulistically yet steadily with your eyes closed, of possible.

You will go through labour the same if you don't do any of these exercises - labour is gunna happen, nothing can stop it at this point, it is gunna happen. So if you don't do these exercises because you are too scared of labour to do them, and doing them will make that inevitability too real, that's okay. These exercises are just to make you more comfortable. They definitely help, but you have to do what you can do in the moment when you can do it. So don't feel guilty if you don't do the exercises. That's like feeling guilty that you didn't get around to putting a super fluffy pair of bedsocks in your labour bug out bag, and you meant to, even though your regular socks will do just fine.

The purpose of these exercises is to make things easier for you, not to give you another urgent thing on your before the baby is born to-do list.

If lying on your bed listening to goofball comedies is more reassuring do that instead. Just do whatever makes you most calm, confident and secure. The reason why women who do these exercises do better in labour than women who do not is because of who those women are - women who can focus, look ahead, relax and be confident and belong to demographic that does yoga. They aren't magic but they are very useful and can be comforting. If there is something that comforts and centres are relaxes you more, do that.
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:58 AM on April 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

Horse lips! I was introduced to them in prenatal yoga classes where they had us get into an uncomfortable position for like a minute (average length of a contraction) and do horse lips through it. Depending on your hippy-dippy scale, some people say that there's a connection between your mouth/lips and your cervix and that's why horse lips are helpful. I just found them to be useful as a thing to focus on and do during contractions.

The other thing that I really liked during labor was a TENS unit. My doula service provided them, but even if yours doesn't I imagine your doula might have leads on where to rent one from.
posted by radiomayonnaise at 7:04 AM on April 2, 2019

Three pieces of advice:
1) Visualize (will recommend a book)
2) Use a TENS machine during labour
3) Have one job during labour

I visualized that each contraction was a wave rolling in and helping loosen my body. I welcomed the wave, knowing that its job was to help my body deliver the baby. Then as soon as the contraction stopped, I had to relax my body (especially relaxing my jaw). I used Ina May Gaskin's Guide to Childbirth to develop these strategies. I was standing or sitting on an exercise ball for most of active labour, moving about to get comfortable.

I used a TENS machine with pads placed on my back (two on my bra line and two on my underwear band line) as soon as labour became uncomfortable. During a contraction, I would ramp up the intensity, then I would dial it back after the contraction was done. It really helps, but once transition starts I managed that in the shower (without the TENS machine).

My only job was to manage the contraction in the moment, relax and take a sip of water after the end of each contraction, and pee every 30 min or so. My partner, my best friend, and the mid-wives did everything else.

I had been doing a gentle walk each evening before the first and gentle stretching.

My experience: two babies born at home (9.5 lbs and 10.5 lbs) and a positive sense of how strong my body is. My labours were pretty short (about 5 hours of active labour for each, the second started using a castor oil drink), so that really helped me. (Gentle reminder: it is not failure to use pain meds and I wish you an excellent birth experience).

Have a great birth!
posted by Sauter Vaguely at 7:08 AM on April 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

I had a fairly average but long feeling labor, I had a home birth with a midwife, my son was 9ish pounds and had his hand up against his face which was not fun. I delivered sitting on a birthing stool after spending the day in active labor and that position was great for me, not sure how I would have done lying down (seems counterproductive), so you could ask about that as a possibility.

In terms of exercise I tried to walk a lot and generally stay active (carrying groceries, we actually moved while I was 36 weeks pregnant and I was told not to lift heavy things but I lifted semi-heavy things with no ill effects). I also channeled my nesting into things like scrubbing the floor, anything where you're down on the ground with your hips open is good and I have friends who scrubbed their floors during early labor to help things along. I would also watch tv sitting in a semi-squat position and I think that helped too. My son was head down for weeks before the labor and I think all the hip opening activities encouraged that.

In terms of visualizations once my water broke and labor was underway I just tried to mentally picture my body relaxing and the baby trying to come through. I reminded myself that the contractions/pressure was the dilation and that both baby and my body were working together. I tried to take an attitude of surrendering to whatever happened during the labor as much as possible. I had lower back pain through most of it and in future would have some hot/cold packs or look into the TENS machine. I mostly spent early labor sitting on my couch leaning on an exercise ball. I drank water as I needed (get bendy straws!) to to encourage having a reason to get up and move around the recommended once an hour. If I do it again I'd try to be more active to move things along.
posted by lafemma at 7:40 AM on April 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

I had a 13 hour labor with 3+ hours of pushing with my first. I didn't have pain meds because I'm a big stubborn dummy! My second was 2 hours from start to finish, which was a different kind of bananas. So you never know what to expect.

With my second I downloaded hypnobirthing tracks and listened to them while I fell asleep. I thought I did that for a week but I was just looking at my Amazon history the other day and I only had them for two days before he was born! I think that might be why my second labor was so short, since I essentially slept through early labor.

Just doing squats right now will help, or yoga goddess pose. I used to do that a lot because it was comfortable with my tailbone separation.
posted by apricot at 10:52 AM on April 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

My second labor was very short but even so when I was discouraged and flagging my husband would shout “you know the ending!” And I would shout (or whimper) back “I get a baby!” And he was right I did already actually know the ending of this story and being reminded of it was very motivating and energizing!
posted by sestaaak at 11:15 AM on April 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

nthing: walk about, have a warm bath, do whatever your body tells you feels right. The second time was a whole different thing from the first. For me, there were only two parts where I was in serious pain: going from home to the hospital in our cargo bike when labor began, and then the last three minutes. In between the two, I was chatting with the midwives and my husband, having a bath and pacing the ward. It wasn't exactly nice, but it wasn't horrible either.
Fun fact, both when I arrived at the hospital and ten minutes before the baby arrived, the midwives said take it easy, this will take a while. They were wrong on both counts. But it was OK, nothing dangerous happened.
posted by mumimor at 11:36 AM on April 2, 2019

On the other hand, I had a yoga teacher who told us all to stop doing kegels past a certain point (36 weeks? can't remember.) She said it was time to start letting go, not flexing to tighten.

Good wishes for your coming labor! I think it's all so different, everyone's experience and processing of how it went. There's no reason it will be the same as your first, whether that's a comfort to you or not.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 1:20 PM on April 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have given birth four times, all unmedicated, all in the same freestanding, midwife-owned birthing center.

1st time took a childbirth class that drew from many sources but basically Lamaze breathing techniques
2nd time took a Bradley childbirth class
3rd time practiced with Hypnobirthing audios by Marie Mongan
4th time practiced with Hypnobabies audios

and the winner is.....Hypnobabies! That was by far the most helpful coping mechanism. I spent the 3rd and 4th labor wearing headphones listening to audios almost the whole time. That might not be for everyone, but it really helped me.

Each labor was easier than the previous, but the 4th labor was orders of magnitude easier (still not easy!).

But I really think the difference in the 4th labor from the preceding ones (besides the obvious- having the way blazed by older siblings) was the advice on pushing I sought out from unmedicated labor message boards. The pushing stage of the first 3 births was very long and difficult and I never had the vaunted "urge-to-push", just lots of painful pushing.

The advice I got from the internet was "Don't Push".....that is don't push until I had the urge to push, despite "permission" granted by attendants along the lines of "you're fully dilated, you can push if you want to". I had taken that permission too seriously and misunderstood "want to". I pushed because I had nothing better to do and was eager to speed things up.

In my 4th labor I included in my birth plan "don't give me "permission" to push or encourage me to push unless there is some medical reason to do so". And I waited, and I got the urge to push! and oh my, that was very different.....it was more like "oh, wow, pushing is happening!'' Maybe you already know this, maybe you had the urge to push the first time, but it was a revelation to me after interfering with the pushing stage in my first 3 labors.

so that's my experience for what it's worth, I wish you a very wonderful birth!
posted by Jenny'sCricket at 2:35 AM on April 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

I took the Bradley childbirth class, and while things happened too fast with my first birth to really get in the groove, the deep breathing really worked with my second.
My second labor was shorter than the first, but he wasn't a month early like his brother - he was late and I was READY to give birth. I would start deep breathing as soon as I even thought a contraction was beginning = slow deep breaths in through the nose, and slowly out through the mouth. Usually three of these and that contraction was over. It got so relaxing, that when I felt the baby slip down into the birth canal, I was barely able to tell the nurse to get the doctor.

I wish you a much faster, more calm birth and a very healthy baby!
posted by annieb at 12:31 PM on April 3, 2019

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone! I have loved this thread! I marked best answers kind of idiosyncratically, mostly based on ones with little tips that I know I'll use or try to, but then unmarked everything because seriously all of these comments have been really helpful. The ones about shorter second labors are huge comfort to me. And stay tuned for a question inspired by snickerdoodle. Thanks again!
posted by slidell at 8:09 AM on April 4, 2019

Response by poster: Final update - the baby is here! And as most of you said, the delivery was far easier than the first, and incredibly fast. I thought I had hours or days more to go and didn't realize the baby was about to come until the very, very end! The doula didn't even get there in time! (and she left her house to come meet me right when I asked her to come.) I sent all these texts that are funny in retrospect, like one sent 2 hours 45 minutes before the birth, that says "I think things are starting, but it's not LABOR labor yet."

For anyone asking a similar question, though, my best tactic was counting my breaths (max of 3 to the peak, 3 more until the contraction was over). I think that was the main one, that and thinking about how temporary the pain was and how, as soon as the contraction was over, I'd get a nice break. Thanks for all the other advice!
posted by slidell at 1:19 PM on June 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

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