Preparing your body for labour and birth

Here are some good tips from the website about preparing your body for labour and birth.

There are a number of things you can do to prepare your body for labour and birth. You can:

  • try positions that may help with labour
  • do perineal massage to reduce the risk of damage to your perineum area during birth

Going to antenatal classes will also help. Given the current restrictions due to the Coronavirus face-to-face classes are not happening at the moment.

Online resources

Online resources may also help if your antenatal classes have been cancelled.

These include videos about pregnancy, labour and caring for a newborn (University Hospital Kerry), online courses (National Maternity Hospital) and learning hubs (Rotunda Hospital).

There are virtual tours of some maternity units and hospitals.

Check with your maternity unit or hospital about online resources that may be available.

Breathing and self-help techniques for labour

Learning the art of relaxation will help you during pregnancy and labour. It may also help you with the transition to parenthood.

Developing a relaxed state of mind in response to labour takes practice. Breathing with purpose can help you relax throughout your pregnancy.

Breathing techniques

Focusing on your breathing requires you to concentrate. Focused breathing means that your thought process is directed away from any discomfort you may be feeling.

It helps reduce tension in your muscles and may ease the birthing process. It may also help you deal with any stress, anxiety or anger that you may be feeling. It reverses some of the physical symptoms of anxiety.

How to do focused breathing

  1. Practice taking deep slow breaths from your abdomen (stomach area).
  2. Rest your hands at the bottom of your ribs, so that your fingertips are touching.
  3. Your fingertips should move apart slightly as you breathe in, and then come together again as your lungs empty.
  4. Breathe slowly, for example for a count of 5.
  5. Breathe out slowly, as this ensures the diaphragm is pulling air into the bases of the lungs.

Work with your body

Contractions during labour are important. By listening to your body, you will know what positions work best for you, how to move, and how to breathe.

Every contraction is bringing your baby closer to you. As contractions get stronger, your body will produce natural pain-relieving chemicals called endorphins.

Labour starts a sequence of events in your body. These result in your body producing hormones, to help you bond with your baby, and to breastfeed your baby.

Positive affirmations

Thinking positive thoughts during labour can help reduce feelings of discomfort.

Examples of positive affirmations (thoughts) to help with birthing your baby:

  • I am doing well.
  • My body was designed for this.
  • I am strong and healthy, labour is normal.
  • My body and my baby are working together for a safe birth.
  • Each contraction is bringing me closer to holding my baby in my arms.

Your baby’s position

At the start of labour the best position for your baby to be in is with their head down and their back faced outwards, towards your tummy. This is called the occipito-anterior (OA) position.

Sometimes babies may be head-down with their back facing your back. This position may lead to a longer labour time. This is called the occipito-posterior (OP) position.

occipito-anterior and occipito-posterior position
Occipito-anterior and occipito-posterior position

‘Optimal foetal positioning’ is a theory developed by a midwife called Jean Sutton. This is about the movements and positions of a mother during the final weeks of pregnancy. She found that this could influence the baby’s position in the womb.

Some mothers use these movements and positions during the final weeks of pregnancy, because they believe this can change the position of the baby and make labour quicker and easier.

There is anecdotal evidence (individual stories) and testimonials, but not many clinical trials have been done. The techniques recommended are non-invasive and safe.

Movements and positions to use

From 34 weeks onwards:

  • spend a lot of time kneeling upright, sitting upright, or on your hands and knees
  • kneel on the floor while watching TV
  • keep your knees lower than your pelvis when sitting
  • keep a wedge cushion in the car, to tilt your pelvis forward
  • don’t cross your legs
  • don’t put your feet up when sitting down
  • sleep on your side
  • swim with your belly downwards – don’t do the ‘backstroke’

Related topic

Staying active and upright positions during labour

Perineal massage

The perineum is the area between your vagina and your anus. Sometimes this area can be damaged while giving birth. Massaging your perineum from 34 weeks of pregnancy onwards may reduce the risk of damage.

A good time to try perineal massage is after a bath or shower, as your perineum will be softer.

You can use an organic oil (such as grape seed oil) to make the massage more comfortable. Do not use scented or synthetic oils.

It may help to use a mirror when doing a perineal massage.

Follow these steps to massage your perineum:

  1. Get comfortable.
  2. Place a thumb inside your vagina, against the back wall. Rest your forefinger on your bottom.
  3. Press down a little towards your rectum (back passage).
  4. Gently massage by moving your thumb and forefinger together in a “U” shape, inside your vagina.
  5. You should feel a stretching sensation. This should not be uncomfortable or painful.

Aim to do this for 5 minutes.

Tell your midwife or physiotherapist if you had a significant perineal tear in a previous pregnancy.

Do not do perineal massage if you have:

  • genital herpes
  • thrush
  • bacterial vaginosis
  • any vaginal infections

Related topics

Breathing and self-help techniques in labour

Hospital bag for labour and birth

Ways to deal with labour pain

You can find more information on the HSE website at

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