child laying on mother's pregnant belly

Parents Share Their Best Tips for Labor and Delivery

By Lauren Krouse
Reviewed by Alyssa Quimby, M.D.
December 04, 2023

It’s a good idea to prepare for childbirth as much as possible. But regardless of whether you intend on having a vaginal birth, induced labor, or a cesarean section, even carefully laid plans can change. After all, each birth is unique.

Still, birthing parents have learned quite a bit through experience, and their stories may help you go into the big day feeling empowered and confident no matter what happens. Here, parents share what they’ve learned—and what they wish someone had told them about giving birth.

Attend Childbirth Education Classes

Jacqui DiNardo, 32, a mother of two young children in western Pennsylvania, says not knowing what to expect during her induced labor caused unnecessary stress. Jacqui didn’t realize she’d be attached to a fetal monitor, which would prevent her from being able to move around without a nurse’s help during labor.

That’s why one of her tips for labor and delivery is taking a birth class offered by a healthcare provider, hospital, or birthing center. At a birth class, you and a support person can not only learn about what happens during different labor and delivery situations but also get tips about postpartum care, ask questions, and get a tour of the facility where you plan to give birth.

Numerous studies suggest that taking these classes could help dial down anxiety and potentially even reduce the need for pain medication and medical interventions during labor and delivery.

Write a Birth Plan

“I highly recommend having a birth plan typed out,” says Marissa Dean, 29, of Clayton, North Carolina, who gave birth in 2019 and 2020. “I did this with both of my deliveries, and while they may not have gone 100% to the plan, it was so helpful to have everything written out and given to my nurses so that they knew what I wanted.”

To write your birth plan, work with your healthcare provider to sort out key details, like where and how you’d like to give birth, who will be with you and how they can best support you, what type of pain relief (if any) you want, and what you’d like to happen immediately after you give birth, such as breastfeeding or chestfeeding and skin-to-skin time.

Lauren Young, 36, a mother of two in Manhasset, New York, says she included a request for delayed umbilical cord clamping in her birth plan. This practice, which is recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, appears to increase hemoglobin levels and improve iron stores, which may have health benefits for newborns.

While you’re writing things down, consider making a list of postpartum plans, too, suggests Katie Clark, 29, a mother of two in South Bend, Indiana—for example, who will take care of your pets and kids while you’re in the hospital.

Practice Positivity and Mindfulness

Lauren is a new mom who had to move to a new state to give birth at the height of the pandemic and fell ill with COVID-19 during her third trimester. “The only way I was able to cope with this stress was by trying to stay as positive as possible and through my meditation practice,” she says.

As you prepare for childbirth, prioritizing mood-boosting activities can have major payoffs. Women who had a fearful attitude toward childbirth appeared to be more likely to experience intense labor pain, prefer a C-section, and report negative birth experiences as well as fewer positive feelings about the first weeks with a newborn, according to a study in BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques, like morning and evening meditation, may keep stress and fear at bay, and may also help protect your mental health during pregnancy, research suggests.

Prep Your Bag and Car Early

Kate Wehr, 37, of Butte, Montana, went into labor at 36 weeks in June 2018. “I’m just glad I didn’t have this kid roadside,” she says, remembering the hectic drive to the hospital.

Her tip for labor and delivery: “Pack your hospital bag early—like six to eight weeks early.” Be sure to include cash, water bottles, and plenty of snacks (since food options at hospitals can be more limited compared to pre-pandemic times), as well as comfortable clothes, baby items, and medical documents, like your insurance card and hospital admissions papers.

Kate also recommends getting an infant car seat and installing it long before your due date. Use the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s guide to find the right rear-facing car seat for your vehicle.

In Labor, Try Different Positions

During contractions, you may want to move around until you find the most comfortable position, whether that’s standing, crouching, sitting, or walking. Jacqui says that sitting on an exercise ball shaped like a peanut helped relax her hips. “It was very comfortable for me, and I think the comfort after hours of painful contractions helped me progress quickly from that point,” she says.

And when it comes time to deliver, you may want to enlist help. “I definitely recommend having someone lift your legs and help hold your feet while you push,” says Katie Noelle Dougherty, 31, a mother of three in Oceanside, California. “It gave the resistance to help me push harder to get the baby out.”

The team of nurses and doctors should help with this, as well as coach you to push in a way that most effectively moves your baby.

Ask for What You Need

Throughout the labor and delivery process, be sure to communicate your needs as soon as they arise. Katie Noelle suggests having a support person rub or massage any aching spots, like your calves, feet, or lower back.

Another tip for labor and delivery is to consider hiring a doula, a nonmedical labor coach (you can find one through your healthcare provider or DONA International). “A doula helps you focus on your breathing and keeping your body loose, not stressing or tensing up during labor,” Katie Noelle says. “It is comforting knowing someone in the room is completely focused on you and has experience birthing.”

This may be especially advantageous if you’re hoping not to use an epidural or pain medication, since studies suggest that having a doula may dramatically increase your success with this.

You might also ask for music, aromatherapy, hot and cold therapy (like a heating pad on your lower back or a cold washcloth on your forehead), or help with deep breathing. Just be sure to bring along any supplies you’d need, like your device with a playlist, speakers, essential oils, and the heating pad.

Practice Self-Advocacy

If something doesn’t feel right during labor, let your care team know ASAP. For example, Jacqui says her epidural didn’t take the first time, and she noticed she could still feel her contractions strongly on one side of her body. She told her nurse right away.

“I’m glad I was vocal enough to express that,” she says. “The anesthesiologist came back and fixed it, and I was able to labor comfortably until right before I delivered.” In case of emergency, make sure you’ve also shared your needs and wishes with a support person who can speak up when or if you can’t.

Consider Aftercare Ahead of Time

Jennifer Flanagan, 34, of Newport News, Virginia, had four C-section births from 2008 to 2019. For a successful cesarean experience, she recommends thinking ahead and prepping for recovery.

Buy comfortable clothes that won’t rub and irritate a C-section incision (think: “ridiculously comfortable pajama pants”), stock up on freezer meals, and purchase over-the-counter stool softeners, which can help ease postpartum constipation, so long as your doctor okays them.

Expect the Unexpected

Birthing parents agree that it’s important to be flexible and familiarize yourself with different birth experiences and options just in case yours doesn’t match your plan or ideal situation.

Zoe Kumpfmueller, 40, a mother of two in London, understands this reality all too well. With her first child, she planned for a drug-free birth but ended up getting an epidural because of an exhaustingly long labor experience. For her second child, she was planning to get an epidural, but her labor progressed so quickly that she missed the chance.

“If you manage to have the birth of your dreams—great,” Zoe says. If not, remember that “you’re a true superhero no matter what kind of birth you have.”

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