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Help yourself to a normal birth

In the majority of cases normal birth is best for the mother and baby. 

A few women have specific conditions where an operative birth would be recommended, but you are advised to plan a normal birth unless advised otherwise.

Support in labour 

Having a birth partner who is supportive, calm and can stay with you throughout labour can increase your chance of a normal birth, and reduce your need to use drugs in labour for pain relief. 

It can be your partner, sister, mother, friend or anyone else that you choose. They can help by giving you massage, drinks, positive emotional support, praise and encouragement as well as supporting you to move to different positions through labour. Make sure they know what they need to do before you go into labour.

Be prepared 

Prepare yourself emotionally and physically for labour and the birth of your baby. 

Things that might help include:

  • Practicing relaxation techniques to help you cope with labour.
  • Attending antenatal classes, either hospital, NCT or active birth.
  • If you're going into hospital to have your baby go for a 'tour'.
  • Yoga.
  • Aqua natal classes.
  • Emotional freedom techniques.
  • Hypnobirth techniques.
  • Maintaining a regular exercise regime if you have one, tailored to how many weeks pregnant you are.
  • Going for walks or swimming.
  • Give yourself the opportunity to chat to your midwife about any worries.

Stay at home as long as you can 

Staying at home in early labour gives you a better chance of having a shorter and more positive experience of labour. You're less likely to need medical interventions in the form of drugs to speed up your labour, or to help you give birth when you go to hospital. This makes sense when you realise that it's much easier to rest and relax in your own home, and eat and drink when you want to. You can also watch the TV and do other things to distract yourself in the comfort of your own environment. 

You'll be able to save your energy for the hard work that's to come. 

Ask your community midwife to give you the information leaflet on the 'latent phase' of labour, which has lots of information and tips in to help you cope.

Try to avoid an epidural 

Although epidurals give the most effective pain relief in labour, they can affect your contractions, make you less mobile and restricted to being on the bed, increase the need for drugs to speed up your labour and make it more likely that you'll need help from a ventouse (suction-cup) or forceps to give birth. 

If you do choose to have epidural, make sure you have it when you're well established in labour - your midwife will be able to advise on this. 

There are information leaflets on pain relief in labour which your midwife can give you in pregnancy to help you make choices.

Have a home birth 

Evidence supports women planning to labour and give birth at home if they are healthy and have no complications in pregnancy. 

If you plan a home birth you are more likely to:

  • Have a normal birth.
  • Not require drugs to speed up labour.
  • Not require drugs to help you cope with contractions.
  • Stay in control of your birthing experience.
  • Successfully breastfeed your baby.
  • Have less risk of postnatal infections.

Stay off your bottom 

Being upright and mobile helps the baby move down through your pelvis and helps you labour more efficiently. 

In the second stage of labour when you are pushing your baby out, staying off your bottom allows your pelvis and the bottom of your spine to move and allow more room for the baby to be born. It also makes it more likely that your baby will be able to cope well with the contractions. 

You should use positions such as:

  • Lying on your side.
  • Kneeling.
  • All fours.
  • Standing.

Get in water 

Using water such as a relaxing in a bath or shower or using a birthing pool has lots of benefits for labour. It helps you cope with contractions, and will reduce your need for other forms of pain relief. It can also help your contractions work better because you'll be more relaxed. 

Just because you labour in water doesn't mean you have to have a water birth - although you can if you want to.

Avoid having your labour induced unless there's a good reason for it 

Induction of labour automatically means a medicalised labour with continuous foetal monitoring.  This makes it much more likely that you'll need an epidural for pain relief and help with forceps or ventouse (suction-cup) for your baby to be born. It may also increase the risk of you needing a caesarean section. 

If your midwife or obstetrician recommends induction of labour for a medical reason make sure you understand why it's being suggested and which type of induction would be best for you. 

Don't be afraid to ask questions.

Have your baby's heart beat monitored intermittently in labour 

One of the best ways to tell whether your baby is coping well with contractions is to have the heartbeat listened to in labour. For a healthy mother with a healthy baby the best way is to listen every 15 minutes, and for you not to be strapped to a monitor (CTG machine). 

This means that you can be more mobile in labour, use water in the pool, bath or shower to help you cope with contractions, and are less likely to need obstetric interventions to help your baby to be born. 

In some cases it will be recommended that your baby's heartbeat is listened to continuously (a 'trace') and your midwife will discuss this with you if needed. There is more information in a patient leaflet called 'Listening to your baby's heartbeat in labour.'

Minimise distractions 

Oxytocin, the hormone (natural chemical) that makes your uterus contract and cervix dilate in labour works best when you are able to relax and concentrate on your labour. 

Being in a dark, quiet, relaxing atmosphere helps oxytocin to work better, so have comfortable pillows, relaxing music, massage oils and anything else that will help you relax in the place you choose to labour. 

It's worth getting your birth partner to make sure that anyone in the room speaks to you quietly and gently, and doesn't disturb you when you're having a contraction. 

Unless your midwife has pulled the emergency buzzer, no one should enter your room without knocking and waiting for a reply.

Keep your energy and fluid levels up 

It's important that you make sure you are well hydrated in labour. This will help your contractions work efficiently, and will help your baby cope with the contractions. Drinking isotonic sports drinks (NOT energy drinks) will help you stay well hydrated, so it's worth making sure you have some ready for your labour. 

It's a good idea to bring in some favourite snacks as well to help keep your energy levels up. Your birth partners may well need some energy foods too. 

Some women with complicated pregnancies will be advised not to eat in labour, but your midwife will be able to advise on this.