The Ultimate Guide to Preparing for Labor and Delivery: Build a Birth Toolbox

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Published by 
Jess Miller
Last updated: 
February 4, 2023

In the last month leading up to my daughter’s birth, I thought I was completely prepared for labor and delivery.  The nursery was organized, I had taken my childbirth classes, and stocked my freezer.  I thought, I’ve checked off all the ‘boxes’, so now baby can come.

Turns out, there was so much more I could have done before labor and delivery.  Education is the key to unveiling the unknown.  And if this is your first baby, what’s more unknown than childbirth and life with a newborn?

That’s why I want to encourage you to take some time compiling and creating your very own birth toolbox.  It’ll be ready to go for labor and delivery and those first few weeks with your new baby.

With most projects or endeavors in your life, before you begin, you first read up and gather everything you’ll need to execute your goal.  Birth shouldn’t be any different!

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Today we’re going to discuss the benefits of creating your very own birth toolbox and what exactly it should include.  Most of these things aren’t physical items, but instead ways you can prepare and learn about labor and delivery, and newborn care.

Education is the key to unveiling the unknown.  The result will be a confident and comfortable mama who’s truly prepared for labor and delivery, and beyond.

So, why should you take the time to intentionally prepare a toolbox for birth?  Let’s look at what you’ll be missing out on without it:

5 Benefits of creating a birth toolbox

1. Confidence in your body. The more you learn and do to prepare for labor and delivery the more willing you'll be to trust your body.  Women are strong, and our bodies are designed to give birth.  Don’t let your mind hold you back.

2. Attain your birth and breastfeeding goals. What goal have you accomplished without resources and supports in place? I’m guessing the number isn’t very high.  With a toolbox full of resources and supports you’ll be more likely to achieve the birth you desire and succeed at breastfeeding.

3. Ease anxiety. Remember that comment about not letting your mind hold you back? Having a variety of tools at your fingertips will let your mind relax and focus on birth and your new baby.

4. Knowing where to get help. Labor and delivery, and life with a new baby comes with a steep learning curve. Knowing ahead of time where to turn when things get challenging is going to save you a lot of time, stress and trouble.

5. Empowerment. With a well thought-out and ‘organized’ toolbox for birth, you’ll be left feeling empowered for whatever birth and a new baby throw your way.

This list is just a handful of the benefits you’ll receive from preparing a birth toolbox.  Remember this isn’t about physical things, but a metaphorical toolbox that is going to prepare you mentally, emotionally, and physically for labor and delivery, breastfeeding and life with a newborn.

So, you’re ready to get started and give yourself the gift of confidence and peace as labor and delivery approaches? Great 😊 Let’s get to the actionable advice!

What exactly should I have in my birth toolbox?

Below you’ll find a list of 10 must-haves.  Remember every pregnancy, mama, and birth are unique.  This is meant to be a process and exercise in reflecting on what will best serve you.

Consider these 10 things your strong and essential foundation.  Let them inspire more additions to achieve your own exclusive birth toolbox.

For additional inspiration for your birth toolbox, enroll in Mama Natural’s free email series. It will provide you with tons of great natural remedies and advice for your best pregnancy and birth.

The 10 Must-Haves for your Ultimate Birth Toolbox

  1. Labor Pain-Coping Strategies
  2. Breathing Techniques, Birth Affirmations and Visualizations
  3. Childbirth Education
  4. A Detailed and Realistic Birth Plan
  5. A Prepared Partner
  6. Knowledge of your Birth Place’s Resources and Policies
  7. Planned Birth Logistics
  8. A Prepared Home
  9. Breastfeeding Resources
  10. Determination, Flexibility and a Positive Mindset

The Details:

1. Labor Pain-Coping Strategies

Your first focus when preparing your birth toolbox should be on a variety of ideas and strategies to help you cope with pain during labor.  Even if you plan on using pain interventions, you are still going to have some pain to manage when your labor begins at home, and in the beginning part of your hospital labor.

To help make this more manageable, it’s a good idea to have a list of things to try to help you cope with the pain.  Brainstorming ahead of time what strategies you want to try will make it easier to attempt different things during labor.  If your goal is to avoid pain interventions, even if it’s just for as long as you can, then a variety of pain management ideas will help with this goal too.

Complete List of Pain Coping Strategies

  • Yoga Ball
    • Kneel on the floor and drape your upper body over the birthing ball
    • Squat on the ball and roll your hips in circles. Hold onto the edge of a bed, or something else for support
  • Yoga Positions and Stretching
    • Cow/Cat Yoga Pose (On your hands and knees inhale and arch your back, exhale and round your back up like a Halloween cat)
    • Yogi Squats (with a wide stance and feet pointing out, squat down and cactus your arm, move in and out of the squats with your breath)
  • Laboring on the Toilet
    • This is a natural place of release for your body. Try sitting on the toilet opposite so that you can rest your arms and upper body on the back of the toilet
  • Hot Shower
    • Many hospitals and birth centers have hydrotherapy showers. This was so effective for me during labor.  Don’t forget to pack a fluffy towel and robe in your hospital bag so you’re not chilly what you get out!
  • Warm Bath Tub
    • Before heading to the hospital, this is a great place to labor at home as long as your water hasn’t broken. It will also help you rest and relax which is so important
  • Massage
    • Practice this with your partner before labor so that they know what amount of pressure feels good for you. Massaging feet, shoulders, low back, legs, etc. are all helpful
  • Counter Pressure
    • Practice this with your partner ahead of time, but also don’t be afraid to ask your labor and delivery nurses to help get this right. Basically, your partner should apply pressure to your low back and sides of your hips to counteract contraction pains
  • Hot Water Bottle/Heating Pad
    • This will be especially helpful if you wind up having back labor.
  • Slow Dancing
    • Draping your arms around your partner to support you while they put pressure on the outside of your hips will feel good and help emotionally support you through contractions too
  • Aromatherapy/Essential Oils
    • Frankincense and lavender are calming, and peppermint can help with exhaustion, heat, and aches. I like to add essential oils to a carrier oil like sweet almond oil to use for massage on my low back, feet and ankles. Be sure to mix your massage oil in a dark, glass container like this for best results.
  • Walking around
  • Positional changing while laying down
    • This is important whether you are laying down to deal with exhaustion, or if you are in bed due to an epidural. Either way, ask your labor and delivery nurses to help with ideas for this! Changing sides, leg positions etc. will all help you dilate faster.
  • Stacking pillows between your legs while laying down
    • This goes along with positional changing but is an especially effective position while laying. Some women even put their birthing ball between their legs to promote opening
  • Visualizations
    • See more details below
  • Breathing Techniques
    • See more details below
  • Birth Affirmations/Mantras
    • See more details below
  • Music
  • Movies/TV

How painful is childbirth?

Labor pain is definitely intense, but it is something that your body can handle.  The best way I can describe it is as a very strong and painful menstrual cramps.  Labor contractions come in waves of intensity and then subside which allows you a minute or two to recover.

While it is very painful, the most difficult part of labor for me was not actually dealing with the pain, but the exhaustion that accompanied breathing and working through contractions for over 18 hours before deciding to get an epidural.

Think of childbirth as a marathon not a sprint

I bring this up, because I had the pain worked up so much in my head, that I hadn’t seriously considered how exhausting the length of labor was going to be.  I was so focused on how I was going to deal with the pain that I didn’t put enough emphasis on the importance of resting, hydrating and sleeping during my early labor at home.

Preparing for labor exercise

Any amount of movement and activity you do while pregnant will help you prepare for labor.  Having a strong core and pelvic floor will help you during labor and most importantly in your postpartum recovery.

Here are some great exercises to get you started:

  • Walking
    • Focus on good posture and tucking your tail and hips in. Proper alignment while walking (especially with all the extra weight) is great for your core.
  • Yoga
    • Prenatal yoga focuses on pelvic floor strengthening and hip openers. Even just watching one or two videos will give you ideas on stretches to use throughout your pregnancy and during labor.  YouTube has a lot of great free prenatal yoga videos taught by certified instructors.  Find one for your level, there’s lots of great beginner ones. Alternatively, ask about prenatal yoga classes within your community at your next appointment.
  • Swimming
    • Not only will it feel heavenly to be weightless in the water and help with swollen joints, but it’s great for toning the whole body. Because N was born in September, the hot summer and third trimester meant I went to the lake daily.  I got into the habit of walking and doing yogi-squats in the water.
  • Kegels
    • Don’t skip these. Seriously 😊

2. Breathing Techniques, Visualizations and Birth Affirmations/Mantras

In point one, I mentioned contractions coming in waves.  They build up, have a peak point of intensity and then subside.  Knowledge of breathing techniques can help you ride these waves effectively.  Visualizations and affirmations can also support you through each contraction.  Practicing these strategies before the big day will mean you are familiar with the techniques and can do them on autopilot.

Practice these!

Just like you wouldn’t enter any competition or race without practice, birth should be the same.  Practicing these techniques will help you get better and better at using them.  Find time each day to be present with your baby and practice breathing, visualization and mantras.

If you’re looking for support with this, you can find relaxing, guided practice sessions for breathing and visualizations that you can do at home, here.

What breathing techniques should I use during labor and delivery?

  • Slow Breathing
    • When your contraction begins (a moment when you’ll need to pause your talking or stop moving) Take an ‘organizing breath’ like a big sigh.
    • Release tension, focus specifically on release tension in your jaw and face and rest of the body will follow suit
    • Take inhales through your nose and audible exhales through your mouth, count during your inhales and exhales and aim to have them last the same lengths of time.
  • Relaxation Breathing
    • Breathe in and exhale out until you cannot go any longer without breathing air back in. As you do this, focus on relaxing different parts of your body and ‘sending breath’ to areas where you feel pain
  • Verbalize Your Exhale
    • Don’t be ashamed to make noise! As you exhale making noise can help with pain-coping through breath. Try to keep your verbalizations low and deep to make breathing and contractions more productive

How does visualization help with labor and delivery?

Visualization is a great support to help you through labor pain.  There are a few different ways to use it effectively:

  • Connect a vision to the wave of a contraction
    • Many women find the visualization of a wave crashing on the shore to match well with the surge of a contraction.
    • Other’s visualize a color filling their body, kind of radiating from the womb and then slowly fading as the contraction subsides
    • A blooming flower, or growing tree can also be used
  • Find peace and focus by visualizing a special place in nature
    • Prior to labor, choose a place in nature that is special to you. Envision yourself in this place, tap into all of your senses while you are there.  Ideally, visit this place often leading up to your birth
    • Share this space with your partner, this will allow you to do shared visualizations. During a contraction, your partner can remind you to envision your special place, and describe it to you
  • Visualize your end goal
    • Believe it or not, during labor it can be easy to forget that in the end you will have the greatest gift of all! Be intentional about not forgetting this throughout your labor.
    • Visualize holding and snuggling your baby to help motivate you through the pain

Consider using birth Affirmations and Mantras

The key here is to have a phrase that will keep you feeling focused and positive.  You want to stay away from all negative language Instead, try to keep your entire mindset positive and productive.  Learn specific strategies to help with this in the hypnobirthing method.

Birth affirmations can be longer, memorized phrases, quotes that mean something to you, or simple, positive reminders.

What are some Birth Affirmations I could try? 

  • “My body is open, My mind is strong; My body is strong, My mind is open”
  • Relax, Breathe, Open
  • Come down baby, I want to meet you baby
  • I am strong, I can do this, I am doing this
  • Loose lips, loose hips
  • I soften, I open, I release
  • Each surge brings my baby closer to me
  • With each breath, I come closer to meeting you
  • It is not pain, it is power
  • I can, and I will
  • I trust my body
  • Here comes another one, I can ride this
  • I believe in my power to birth my baby

Don’t forget to clue dad in on some of these phrases.  Just in case you start to spiral down a negative rabbit hole, dad will be ready to swoop in and remind you just how amazing you are.

3. Childbirth Education

So, we’ve gone over some concrete tools that you will be pulling out during the actual even of labor and delivery.  The next thing you want to ‘pack’ in your birth toolbox, is childbirth education.

Are birth classes necessary?

Almost all women approach birth with some sense of anxiety.  Even if it’s not your first birth, there is still a huge element of unknown because every birth is unique.  For this reason, learning as much as you can about the process ahead of time will easy your mind and boost your confidence.

What will I learn in a birth class?

Traditional childbirth classes, like the ones that are hosted at hospitals and women’s health facilities, are the most popular choice.  They provide a strong foundation of knowledge for things like:

  • How to track contractions
  • When to go to the hospital
  • Overviews of different pain intervention available
  • How labor progresses
  • What to expect in terms of fetal monitoring
  • How the nurses check for dilation
  • Decisions you’ll need to make regarding newborn care right after birth

For this reason, if you can only manage to take one childbirth class, go for one like this and try to get your partner there with you.  We’ll talk more about preparing your partner in point 5, but the more he knows about the process, the more confident he’ll feel as well.

If you’re having a hard time fitting it into your schedule due to the time it’s offered or proximity to the location, why not do one online at your own pace?

This course is taught by a veteran labor and delivery nurse, is geared for couples, and is exactly like the childbirth class that would be offered at your hospital.  I wish I’d known it existed sooner.

4. A Detailed and Realistic Birth Plan

You will likely receive a birth plan worksheet from your provider at some point in your third trimester.  Take the time to fill this out thoughtfully and research different options.

While you complete your birth plan, try to be open-minded.  Avoid ruling anything out entirely, because you never know how your birth is going to go.  Instead, prioritize your birth goals and indicate certain options as ‘only if medically necessary’, or emphasize not wanting certain option offered.  This will help you feel more in control.

Birth Plan vs. Birth Wishes

Most importantly, as you work on your birth plan, try to think of it as a ‘Birthday Wishes’ worksheet instead.  Learn as much as you can about choices during labor and decisions for newborn care in the first few days.

If your provider’s birth plan is lacking suggestions and support, doesn’t focus on recovery, or doesn’t include your partner, learn about our birth planning worksheets in the Nesting Planner.

Your Birth Plan Checklist:

  • Include labor, delivery and postpartum care
  • Include newborn care decisions
  • Complete it with your partner
  • Keep an open mind towards pain-coping options
  • Ask questions and do research on options

5. A Prepared Partner

Having a partner to support you during childbirth will be amazing.  Having a partner who’s knowledgeable, prepared, and confident in their role, will be even better.  There are a lot of ways that you can help get your husband prepared before the big day.

A few good places to start:

  • Brainstorm ways dad can bond with baby
    • This will help him be more excited about birth and connect with the baby. It can be more difficult for dad to connect while the baby is inside of you.  It’s not unusual for it to seem abstract to dad until the actual birth.
  • Think about how dad can support you in breastfeeding
  • Talk about dad’s role after bringing baby home
    • Again, this will help him connect and promote readiness
  • Learn about ways he can support you during labor
    • In addition to a more traditional childbirth class, consider a class that is designed just for dads. Imagine the peace of mind and confidence YOU will feel knowing your husband completed this.
  • Discuss ways life will change after baby comes home, focus on preparing your relationship as part of this ‘tool’ as well.

6. Knowledge of your Hospital’s Resources and Policies

Another great tool to have will be a complete understanding of what is available to you at your birth place.  Even if you did a hospital tour early on, prioritize another visit.  You want to be able to fully visualize where you will be giving birth.

You should also find out about general policies and practices regarding things like breastfeeding, rooming-in, immediate skin-to-skin care, and your partner’s role and comfort through labor, delivery, and recovery.

7. Planned Logistics Surrounding Birth and Coming Home

At this point, we’ve already talked about having a thorough and well-researched birth plan in your toolbox.  Now I want to make sure you arrange for the logistics of leaving your home for 3+ days to give birth.

There’s more to organize than you’d think and doing it ahead of time will save you anxiety and panic when it’s go time.

  • How you’ll share labor and birth updates with your family
  • Visitors in the hospital and after arriving home
  • Your thoughts and policies on photography and social media
  • Arranging or planning for pet care while you’re in the hospital
  • Arranging or planning for childcare of siblings

I always find planning worksheets and checklists to be the most effective way to get organized.  Who knows if you’ll even adhere to your social media “policy” if you aren’t intentional about creating one.

Keeping this important information together in one place will make it impossible to forget when you’re rushing to the hospital!  Find worksheets and checklists to get this all done in here.  It’s a must-have in your birth toolbox.

8. A Prepared Home

Now that we’ve thought through logistics surrounding leaving your home for 3 days, let’s make sure it’s ready for you to bring baby home.  While this is an even more abstract part of your toolbox, it will make your transition into life with a newborn so much easier.

Here’s a checklist to get you started:

  • Stock up on paper products and cleaning supplies
  • Purchase a small package of newborn diapers, and a large supply of size one diapers
  • Make sure your car seat is safely installed and that you know how to operate it
  • Fill your freezer with healthy, prepared freezer meals for easy and delicious meals once baby arrives.
  • Buy any remaining items from your registry. Check our list of non-glamorous baby items
  • Buy postpartum care products like maternity/overnight pads and witch hazel
  • Buy nursing supplies like nipple cream, a nursing pillow and nursing bras
  • Set up a safe sleeping space for baby in your room
  • Set up any bouncy chairs, swings, and rock and plays you plan to use
  • Finish organizing your nursery

9. Breastfeeding Resources

Set yourself up for breastfeeding success by including breastfeeding knowledge and resources in your birth toolbox.  Breastfeeding within the first hour of life decrease the risk of infant death by 50%!

What are some ways to get your breastfeeding relationship started off right?

10. Determination, Flexibility and a Positive Mindset

Determination, flexibility, and a positive mindset might just be at the root of all of this. They will serve you throughout the remainder of your pregnancy and during childbirth.

Keeping that mindset as you transition into life with a newborn will be crucial.  The learning curve associated with becoming parents, figuring out breastfeeding, and newborn care is steep.  There’s no doubt that you will be facing challenges, but if you step back, focus on the positive, and be flexible in your journey, you’ll always come out on top 😊

Start Building your Toolbox for Birth Today!

Are you ready to start building your ultimate birth toolbox right away?  Wonderful!

I am so glad that you will have this as birth approaches.  I wish I had been more intentional in my preparations for labor and delivery.  Sharing these ideas and knowing that you will have these tools at the ready makes me feel so much better.

I know that this is a lot to digest, coordinate and tackle.  Luckily you don’t have to take it on alone.  Enroll in our FREE Nest Smart Crash Course right now.  Over the course of 7 days, we’ll support you in getting all of this done in time for birth.  Whether it’s early in your pregnancy, or you’re a week out from your due date, let’s do this!

Have you been working on your birth toolbox without even realizing it?  What are your ‘must-haves’ for birth?

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