The Essential Guide to Childbirth

I had lots of questions and anxieties about the before, during and after of childbirth. I also had very different experiences of labour, delivery and postpartum care with my two children.

As a first-time mum to be I had a lot of questions around childbirth. How will I know I’m in labour? When should I go to the hospital? Where should we park the car? What will it be like in the hospital? What should I pack in my hospital bag? Having the answers to my questions reassured me and made me feel in control of the experience. Then as a second-time mum, I had a whole new set of questions.

This guide shares the information and experience I have gained from having my two children. There are also links to more in-depth posts on some of the topics. Click on the links in the contents below to jump to a particular topic.

How to Prepare your Mind and Body for Childbirth

As the big day gets closer you want to do everything you can to get prepared for childbirth. This list contains 12 ways to prepare your mind and body for labour.

  • Read and listen to positive birth stories.
  • Educate yourself on the stages of labour, complications and different types of birth
  • Learn about your options for pain management
  • Write a birth plan
  • Practise relaxation and visualisation techniques – take a look at hypnobirthing
  • Pack your hospital bag
  • Practice any techniques you want to use in labour such as a birthing ball, essential oils, hypnobirthing or a TENS machine (read more about these below)
  • Choose your birthing partner and tell them how you want to be supported in labour
  • If you are able to, try to do some gentle exercise such as walking or swimming
  • Do some prenatal exercises on a birthing ball
  • Eat a healthy diet and drink plenty of water to keep hydrated for the big day
  • Make sure you get plenty of rest

How to Write a Birth Plan

A birth plan is a very personal document. It is optional, but it informs the medical staff of your plans for labour, delivery and postpartum care. There is a lot of information to consider if you do choose to write a birthing plan. It can be hard to know where and when to start but it is easier to write your plan after you have attended antenatal classes and spoken to your midwife.

When writing your childbirth plan you will need to include:

  • Key information about you and your birth partner
    A summary of your medical history,
    Your wishes for labour and delivery
    Your wishes for postpartum care for you and your baby.
Writing a birth plan

A post sharing my experience of How to write a quick and easy birth plan. Also, a detailed list of what to include in your birth plan with helpful tips and advice.


What to Pack in your Hospital Bag

Packing your hospital bag is an exciting time, whether it is for your first, second or even third baby. But planning when to pack and what to put in your bag can seem daunting, especially if this is your first child. It is important to pack your hospital bag by the time you around 36 weeks pregnant, so it is ready if you start labour early.

When you are packing your bag you need to remember that you are packing for the birth, your postpartum needs, the baby and your birth partner. When packing for the birth you need to think about your birth plan. Pack the essentials you will need to keep you comfortable and positive. You may also want to consider your birth partner and take in drinks, snacks and a change of clothes for them. Don’t forget to pack your postpartum essentials and comfy clothes that will fit your postpartum body. Your baby will need several changes of clothes and the essentials such as nappies, wipes and a car seat.

packing your hospital bag

Read the article What to pack in your hospital bag for a complete checklist of items to pack for mum and baby.


The Signs and Stages of Labour

During the first stage of labour, the cervix dilates to 4 cm this can take hours or even days. In this early stage, you may experience a show, irregular contractions, back pain, breaking waters, nausea or an upset tummy. As this stage progresses you will go into established or active labour. Your cervix will dilate to 10cm and your contractions will become longer, more intense and regular. If you are planning to deliver your baby in a hospital you should contact your midwife and make arrangements to go in. The midwife will advise you when would be the best time but it is usually when your contractions are lasting between 30 – 60 seconds every 5 minutes.

The second stage of labour is when you deliver your baby. This stage is quicker but can take over an hour if it is your first baby. The midwife will be doing regular checks but you will feel an intense need to push when it is time. Listen to your body and the midwife they will guide you through this stage. When the baby crowns (pushes through the perineum) you will feel an intense burning sensation. As the baby is delivered the pain will ease and you will feel a sense of relief.

Early labour

The third stage of labour is when the placenta is delivered. The midwife will offer you an injection of oxytocin to speed this process up but you can deliver it naturally if you prefer.

A post sharing How to manage and enjoy early labour. Be able to spot the first signs that labour has started and know how to successfully manage them.


What happens when I arrive at Hospital?

If you are in established labour park your car as near to the door as possible. Have a sign ready-made in your car that explains you are having a baby and will move the car as soon as possible. Also, include a mobile number for your birth partner in case there is a problem. Take your bags in with you if possible because you don’t know how long you will be there for and may want something from your bag.

When you phoned the hospital they will have advised you where to go. When you arrive you will be assessed by a midwife to see if you are ready to be admitted. Then you will go to a birthing room and a midwife will stay with you to support you and your birthing partner.


What Pain Relief can I have?

There are lots of natural pain relief options that can help you through childbirth:

  • Warm bath
  • Moving around
  • Relaxation or breathing exercises
  • Rocking
  • Birthing ball
  • Hypnobirthing
  • Aromatherapy
  • TENS machine
  • Water birth
Pain relief for labour

There are also pain relief options that your midwife can offer you:

  • Gas and air
  • Pethidine injection
  • Epidural

Read 10 Pain Relief choices for labour to find out all of the pros and cons of each type of pain relief. There are also in-depth articles linked below on my experience with hypnobirthing, a birthing ball, and a TENS machine. Find out why I loved these natural pain relief options and how they gave me a positive birthing experience.


What is Hypnobirthing?

Hypnobirthing is a natural form of pain relief you can use during childbirth. It can be used alongside other types of pain relief It teaches you the techniques of visualisation, mindfulness, breathing, and relaxation. When used these techniques give you a positive mindset which can have a positive impact on your labour.

Read the full post on The Essential Guide to Hypnobirthing to find out the full benefits, where to learn the techniques, how to teach yourself and my experience of using it during labour.


Using a Birthing Ball

A birthing ball is a natural form of pain relief that can be used during childbirth. Using it encourages you to sit in an upright position which helps labour to progress naturally. It can also provide relief during contractions by encouraging you to rock and rotate your pelvis.

You can use a birthing ball both during and after pregnancy. It can help with back pain, getting the baby into the correct position, for gentle exercise and just for somewhere comfy to sit.

Using a birthing ball in labour

Read the full article on The Essential Guide to Using a Birthing Ball for advice on choosing the right birthing ball, how to use it and the movements that help labour to progress.


What is a Water Birth?

A water birth is a way to naturally manage the pain of childbirth. A birthing pool is filled with water at a temperature of 36.5 to 37.5. You can be in the pool during established labour and for delivery but not everybody is suitable for a water birth so talk to your midwife first.

There are lots of benefits to a water birth including being a natural pain relief, being able to also use gas and air, giving a sense of privacy for the mum and making the mum more comfortable.

the Essential guide to a water birth

Read my post on The Essential Guide to a Water Birth including what to wear, benefits and complications that can prevent a water birth and what to expect during delivery and after.


Using a TENS Machine

A TENS machine is another natural way to relieve the pain of childbirth. TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. It is a small machine that attaches to your body with sticky electrode pads and sends gentle electrical pulses to your body. It has been effective for many women in their early stages of labour.

TENS Machine in early labour

Read the in-depth post on How to use a TENS machine in early labour. Find out which TENS machine I used for both of my labours and how it worked for me. Plus get a list of tips for using a TENS machine effectively.


What are the main types of Delivery?

Vaginal birth

A vaginal birth can be completely natural and drug-free or you can use different pain relief options. The baby can be delivered in the hospital or at home. If the labour progresses well you will need no intervention and can deliver the baby naturally. During delivery, you may need an episiotomy to prevent tearing. This is when a surgical cut is made to the perineum to enlarge the vagina. If labour slows down or complications develop you may need an assisted delivery or a cesarean.

Assisted Delivery

In a forceps delivery, the forceps are placed around the baby’s head to help to deliver him through the vagina. The rest of the body is then delivered naturally.

In a ventouse delivery, a small vacuum is placed on the baby’s head. The vacuum then works with the contractions to pull the baby down and deliver him. Sometimes this can leave a bruise on the baby’s head which will heal in a couple of days.

Cesarean (c-section)

It is a surgical procedure to deliver a baby if the baby is not born vaginally. A planned c-section is for medical or personal reasons. An unplanned c-section is needed during labour if there are complications or the labour is not progressing.

Before a c-section, you are given a spinal or epidural block to numb the bottom half of your body. If it is an emergency, you may need to be given a general anesthetic. During a c-section, an incision will be made into the abdomen and through to the uterus. Then the baby is removed, the cord is cut and the placenta removed. Finally, the incision is closed.


This is when labour needs to be started for you. This can be because of a complication with the pregnancy or if your baby is overdue and there is no sign of labour starting naturally. To start labour you will need to go into hospital where you can have a pessary or gel placed in the vagina to soften the cervix, This can take a while and you are often sent home. Sometimes you are attached to a drip that contains a hormone to speed up labour. If an induction doesn’t work the first time you will be given a second dose. If this doesn’t start labour or if there are complications you will be offered a caesarean.

Check out this post about breech birth and my experience of delivering a surprise breech baby. Also, find out what happened when my baby was diagnosed with hip dysplasia as a result of her breech birth.

Breech birth questions

What happens in Hospital after the Birth?

If there have been no complications during childbirth the baby will go to mum for skin to skin contact. You can have a cuddle and introduce baby to the first feed, if you are planning to breastfeed it is good to do this as soon as possible after birth. Baby is also given the vitamin K injection (if you consent to it)

The placenta will be delivered while you are holding your baby and the midwife will give you stitches for any tearing. If everything is going well, the midwife will give you and your birth partner time alone to bond with the baby. You can take a shower and get dressed while your birth partner or midwife watches the baby.

After a while, you and the baby will be moved to a postnatal ward. The baby will have a hearing check and a newborn baby check (to check eyes, heart, hips, and testes in boys). If you have had an uncomplicated labour you can go home within 24 hours or even as little as 6 hours.


Introducing a Sibling to a New Baby

It is a good idea to start building a sibling bond before the new baby is born. Where possible involve your child in the pregnancy so they feel a part of this new part of your life. Talk to them about what a new baby is really like, what they need and teach them some age-appropriate ways to take care of them.

Plan the first introduction carefully. Think about who will be holding the baby, if you will have a gift the older sibling, will they bring a gift for the baby, which other visitors you will have there and where it will be.

Coming soon an in-depth post on Introducing a Sibling to a New Baby. It includes tips for building a sibling bond during pregnancy, preparing siblings for the baby’s birth, how to create a positive introduction and sibling gift ideas.


Planning for Postpartum Recovery

It is so much easier to prepare your postpartum recovery kit before childbirth. This means you don’t have to struggle to the shop with a newborn to fetch essentials or to send someone else and hope they bring what you need. So stock up on the essentials in the last few weeks of pregnancy and keep them together so you know where to find them.

Postpartum must have items

Remember you still have the support of your midwife for a few weeks after the birth of your baby. Your care is then passed onto a health visitor share any worries, concerns about your healing or tell them if you are feeling down.

Check out this full list of postpartum essentials that I couldn’t have managed without. Also tips for dealing with postpartum pain and helping your body to heal quicker.


How to Improve Postpartum Hair Problems

Pregnancy and childbirth really affect your body, including your hair. Common problems include hair loss, dryness, brittle hair, frizzy hair or even extra greasy hair. These problems become noticeable at around 3 months postpartum as the hormone levels in your body change. These changes are only temporary and will improve over the next few months. However, there are some things you can do to improve the condition of your postpartum hair. Getting your hair cut, trying a different hairstyle or taking vitamins can all help your postpartum hair problems.

Ways to improve postpartum hair problems

Read 8 Ways to Improve Postpartum Hair Problems to discover the 8 things I did or used that really did help to improve my postpartum hair.

Childbirth is the most amazing and overwhelming time. By finding out as much as possible about your options and what will happen during labour you can feel more in control. Focus on the positive birth stories and work out which pain relief options are best for you. Remember you are the one giving birth to your baby and every choice you make is the right choice for you. Keep up to date on all the latest posts by signing up to my newsletter.

Childbirth the complete guide
Childbirth Guide