Preparing mentally & physically for birth

Pregnancy | | Louise Broadbridge


Throughout pregnancy there is always lots to think about as you pencil in various appointments and plan for all the things your new baby will need.

However, alongside the happiness and excitement, there is often a degree of apprehension around labour and birth. So, to help you feel calm and ready, here are our top tips for preparing for your labour and birth, both mentally and physically.

The more of the following tips you can follow, the more prepared you and your body will feel.

Write a birth plan

Many people believe that a birth plan is a piece of paper handed to your midwife outlining your thoughts on pain relief and the presence of students. But, speaking as a midwife, I can tell you that a good birth plan is so much more than that. It's a good idea to have your birth plan prepared by the time you reach the 37th week of your pregnancy.

HiPP mum Gen suggests you don’t call it a birth plan, but instead think of it as birth preferences. ‘No birth ever goes to plan, but it is important to have a record of what is important to you and to share it with your birth team. I did hypnobirthing and it really helped me feel in control of my birth. I ended up having an epidural and an episiotomy but I felt in control the whole time.’

Emma agrees: ‘Make a plan, but know that you might not get to choose on the day. Try to relax and be ok with going where the situation takes you.’

Healthy eating and exercise in pregnancy

Staying fit and healthy throughout your pregnancy will put you in a better position to give birth. It would be really easy to sit back and eat for two, but it’s best to stick to a healthy balanced diet with only a very small increase in calories in your final trimester.

For those ladies that already exercise regularly, it’s fine to continue with your normal routine – albeit with some adjustments if you enjoy weight lifting or contact sports. Thirty minutes of exercise everyday really will empower you to feel strong and ready for labour and birth.

If you are not used to exercising, there is no reason why you can’t take up some light movement during pregnancy. The first trimester may leave you feeling a little bit lacklustre but, as you move past the 12-week mark, your energy levels should increase, making keeping fit that little bit more inviting. Walking, swimming and pregnancy yoga are all good options to keep active without putting undue stress on your body.

If you start to feel fatigue or aches and pains, listen to your body. imagine this is your baby sending you a text saying, “Hey, slow down Mamma!”

Antenatal classes in pregnancy

In years gone by, parent education classes were routinely provided by the NHS, but sadly, in recent years the provision of these has declined and expectant parents are left to source their own antenatal classes. The good thing is that there is an abundance of private providers offering really great classes to help you get ready.

Face-to-face classes are a great way to meet other expectant parents living in your area whilst, online formats allow much more flexibility. Whichever class you choose, make sure the approach is one that works for you and ensures you are fully informed about every eventuality.

Labour and birth preparation

Antenatal classes are usually geared towards labour and birth preparation, helping you to understand the various different scenarios you may encounter during your labour and delivery. By the end of these classes you should have a really good understanding of how labour progresses, pain relief options, birth place choices, water birth, instrumental delivery and caesarean section. Having this knowledge will help you decide what kind of birth you would prefer, and enable you and your partner to make informed decisions as and when the need arises.

Perineal massage

One of the ways in which you can physically prepare your body for birth is perineal massage – i.e. massaging the skin and muscle between your vagina and anus. This is the skin that is most likely to tear during delivery, so massage – using lubricant and your or your partner’s fingers – prepares it to stretch. Daily perineal massage has been shown to have the most benefit in preventing or reducing perineal trauma.


Hypnobirthing is an amazing way to mentally prepare for labour and birth. Your hypnobirthing teacher will explore with you various breathing and relaxation techniques that you and your partner can use before, during and after your contractions to help you release any tension that is gathering in your body.

Using guided imagery, you will learn how to transport yourself to your favourite places in nature and in doing so relax into your body’s efforts to bring your baby into your arms. Hypnobirthing courses should have a focus on positive birthing experiences rather than just focusing on unassisted birth.

Pregnancy yoga and Pilates

Yoga and Pilates both help to strengthen the body and mind. This gentle exercise can help improve sleep, decrease back and pelvic pain and reduce stress and anxiety. At such a busy time in your life, taking time out to stretch and relax is a wonderful way to prepare your body and spirit and help you to continue to connect and bond with your baby.

Aquanatal classes

Aquanatal classes are specially designed for pregnant women to undertake in the final two trimesters. Movement in the water can help to gently stretch and strengthen muscles. As well as being a really great way to meet other expectant mums, aquanatal helps to boost circulation and improve your overall fitness without putting strain on joints or ligaments that may already be aching.

Tune out the negativity

If you’ve given birth before, you’ll know the urge to discuss your experiences of birth, good and bad, is how we process it. However, listening to other people’s birth stories, especially if the experience wasn’t a positive one, can stir up some unwanted anxiety as you wait for your story to pan out.

Try to avoid watching programmes focused on childbirth. These always show extreme cases and are rarely relaxing watching. Switch over and watch a gardening program or a bakery show. Much more entertaining and far less likely to cause you to worry.

Include your birth partner in as much of the above as possible

Our birth partners have a daunting task ahead of them. Unless your supporter has experience of attending the birth of a baby, you can bet that they will be a little anxious about the big day too. When you choose your antenatal classes or hypnobirthing courses, make sure that partners are welcome to attend with you. It will make a huge difference if you have a confident person by your side, guiding you through each contraction.

Finally, have faith and relax

Although we all feel a little apprehensive as our due date approaches, keep in mind that discomfort is a normal, healthy part of bringing a new and wonderful person into the world.

Billions of women have come through this before you and another billion will follow in your footsteps. You are in safe hands with your partner, midwife and doctors, so try and relax into it and, before you know it you will have your new baby snuggled in your arms.

HiPP mum Nicola agrees, adding: ‘Your partner will be an amazing support and the process will bring you together. Midwives are amazing and know what they’re doing. Trust them, remember that women have been doing this for a very long time. And yes, it will hurt. But also, you can say yes to pain relief. How the baby comes out doesn’t reflect on how good a parent you are. Oh, and definitely take the paracetamol after birth. You will need it.’