No one will tell you that labor is going to be easy. Labor means work, after all. But, there is plenty you can do ahead of time to prepare for labor.
One of the best ways to prepare is to take a childbirth class to learn what to expect in labor. You will also learn:
- How to breathe, visualize, and use your labor coach
- More about how to manage pain during labor, such as epidural and other medicines
Having a plan and knowing ways to manage pain will help you feel more relaxed and in control when the day arrives.
Here are a few ideas that may be helpful.
When labor first begins, be patient and monitor your body. It is not always easy to know when you are going into labor. The steps leading up to labor can last for days.
Use your time at home to take showers or warm baths and pack your bag if you have not packed yet.
Walk around the house or sit in your baby's room until it is time to go to the hospital.
Most health care providers recommend that you come to the hospital when:
- You are having regular, painful contractions. You can use the "411" guide: Contractions are strong and coming every 4 minutes, they last 1 minute, and they have been ongoing for 1 hour.
- Your water is leaking or breaking.
- You have heavy bleeding.
- Your baby is moving less.
At the Hospital
Create a peaceful place for giving birth.
- Dim the lights in your room if you find it soothing.
- Listen to music that comforts you.
- Keep pictures or comfort items close by where you can see or touch them.
- Ask your nurse for extra pillows or blankets to stay comfortable.
Keep your mind busy.
- Bring books, photo albums, games, or other things that will help distract you during early labor. You can also watch TV to keep your mind busy.
- Visualize, or see things in your mind the way you would like them to be. You can visualize that your pain goes away. Or, you can visualize your baby in your arms to help you stay focused on your goal.
Get as comfortable as you can.
- Move around, changing positions often. Sitting, squatting, rocking, leaning on the wall, or walking up and down the hallway can help.
- Take warm baths or showers in your hospital room.
- If heat doesn't feel good, place cool washcloths on your forehead and lower back.
- Ask your provider for a birthing ball, which is a big ball you can sit on that will roll under your legs and hips for gentle movement.
- Do not be afraid to make noise. It is OK to moan, groan, or cry out. Some studies suggest that using your voice goes a long way in helping you deal with pain.
- Use your labor coach. Tell them what they can do to help you go through labor. Your coach can give you back massages, keep you distracted, or just cheer you on.
- Have a doula present to help you through the labor process.
- Some women try "hypnobirthing", being under hypnosis while giving birth. Ask your provider for more details about hypnobirthing if you are interested.
Speak up. Talk to your labor coach and your providers. Tell them how they can help you get through your labor.
Ask your provider about pain relief during labor. Most women do not know exactly how their labor will go, how they will cope with the pain, or what they will need until they are in labor. It is important to explore all options and be prepared before your labor begins.
Pregnancy - getting through labor
Minehart RD, Minnich ME. Childbirth preparation and nonpharmacologic analgesia. In: Chestnut DH, Wong CA, Tsen LC, et al, eds. Chestnut's Obstetric Anesthesia: Principles and Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 21.
Minichiellow VJ. Relaxation techniques. In: Rakel D, ed. Integrative Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2023 chap 91.
Thorp JM, Grantz KL. Clinical aspects of normal and abnormal labor. In: Lockwood CJ, Copel JA, Dugoff L, et al, eds. Creasy and Resnik's Maternal-Fetal Medicine: Principles and Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2023:chap 69.
Review Date 11/21/2022
Updated by: LaQuita Martinez, MD, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Emory Johns Creek Hospital, Alpharetta, GA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.