If there’s ever a time when you don’t want your mind wandering off in a mad panic, it’s during labour and delivery. Obviously lots of things can pop up (and out!) in delivery and you can’t be mentally prepared for EVERY eventuality. But you can go into childbirth with a few simple strategies for keeping calm throughout. A sense of mental preparedness, in the form of a little bag of mind tricks, is just as important as what you pack in the all-important and much discussed hospital bag.
In case you’re wondering what to pack in your little bag of mental magic, here’s a few ideas.
Practice counting deep breaths
Easy as that.
Breathe as deeply as you can and count as you go, until the contraction passes. Fill your lungs, empty them, one; fill your lungs, empty them, two.
This worked for me in two ways.
Firstly the big breaths help to stop your body from tensing against the contraction. Resistance is futile!
Secondly it helps you to trust that the contraction will pass. My longest, strongest contractions got to be about eight breaths long. At the hardest point I could encourage myself – just hang in there for eight big breaths. That’s all, just eight breaths. Or whatever the magic number turns out to be for you!
Know how contractions are preparing your body
Knowing what your body and baby are doing can make it easier to embrace what your body is feeling. Understanding that each contraction is encouraging effacement and dilation, and being able to visualise your body doing its work, can be reassuring. It makes each contraction feel like a mark of progress.
Ask your midwife to explain to you the mechanics of contractions (beforehand, obv.), they love talking about that stuff!
Have a visualisation technique up your sleeve
One friend, who experienced delivering a new human shortly before me, told me she had visualised the contractions as waves in the ocean. She imagined sitting on a surf board, out beyond the breakers, watching the wave approaching, feeling it swell beneath her, but remaining safe and steady as it passed. It sounds kind of dreamy, doesn’t it?!
Give your baby a pep talk
Have a little chat to your baby, out loud or in your head. For weeks before baby no. 2 was born, on my daily walk, I’d have an encouraging little coaching session with ‘button’. In my head. Because talking to ‘yourself’ in public places can be asking for sidelong glances.
I’d ‘say’ things like:
You know how to do this
I know how to do this
You and me are going to keep each other healthy and safe
We’ll work together to have the straightforward, intervention-free delivery we want.
We’ll have all the support we could want available.
It might sound a bit bat-shit, but it worked for me on two levels.
On the first, I was bonding with baby. I was imaging her (as it turned out) as a distinct and precious little person who I will encourage through all of life’s challenges, starting with the first – her arrival.
On the second level, it was really a pep-talk for myself, reminding myself that nature made me and baby to do this and that we would have medical support if we couldn’t do it ‘alone’.
Packing your mental trick bag
Try these mind tricks, and any others you think you might like, before the moment comes. Get a feel for what is going to work for you and what won’t. For example, I loved the idea of the wave visualisation, but imagining is just not something I’m good at. Chatting away in my head, on the other hand, second nature! Counting and breathing, two more things I’m also pretty good at.