Expecting a child can be an exciting time in your life. It's no secret, however, that the thought of giving birth can be a little stressful when anticipating the discomfort of labor and delivery. With some preparation and a support system in place, you could boost your chances for an easier and more comfortable delivery when the big day arrives.
Exercise regularly during your pregnancy to strengthen your muscles, advises Dr. Jenny M. Jaque, Los Angeles-based obstetrician-gynecologist with Health Goes Female. "Exercising and engaging in relaxation technique classes before your due date are extremely helpful in dealing with labor pain and can help tremendously with your pushing efforts," Jaque says. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, women who exercise during pregnancy are more likely to have shorter labors and a reduced risk of obstetric intervention or complications during labor. Get your doctor's OK beforehand if you have any underlying medical conditions.
Surround Yourself With Support
The labor and delivery room – whether at home or a hospital – should be filled with people who support you, says Melissa Troncale, Arizona-based midwife with MomDoc Midwives. "Birthing can make you feel vulnerable and you want to feel comfortable around people in the room," she says. Invite people you trust who can offer reassuring words, positive gestures and helping hands to make you comfortable. Of course, you'll want a main advocate with you -- a spouse, partner, close family member or friend -- who intimately knows your wishes for labor and delivery.
Create a Soothing Environment
In order to have a calmer and more comfortable delivery, add a touch of home to your labor and delivery space, suggests Troncale. Bring a pillow, blanket, favorite framed photo and trinkets that remind you of home if you are delivering in a hospital; these will offer familiar, reassuring focal points. Dim the lighting and play peaceful, soothing music to distract you from the discomfort and intensity of contractions. Listening to music during your labor may help create a peaceful environment, says Jaque.
Plan for Massages
Your body will likely be tense as you experience each contraction during a natural birth or as you prepare for a cesarean. "Massages can help with some of the positional pain you may encounter from lying down in bed during your hospital stay," says Jaque. A 2010 study published in "Expert Review of Obstetrics and Gynecology," showed that women who received massage therapy during pregnancy and labor reported decreased leg and back pain, anxiety and depression. Ask the hospital before delivery day if they offer this service, or secure the services of an experienced and trained masseuse who specializes in pregnancy massage.
Of course, achieving comfort and ease during delivery requires planning before the due date. Enroll in a childbirth education class to learn relaxation and breathing strategies that will help ease labor and delivery discomfort. Expectant parents should also create a birthing plan with clear-cut preferences in the case of vaginal and cesarean births, and for pain management. Having to make important decisions spur of the moment could add unnecessary stress to an already stressful situation, so be as prepared as possible.