There are ways in which you can increase your chances of having a quick labour – start your training regime now
There’s one birth all pregnant women dream about – a quick, simple labour followed by cuddles with your newborn. Ok, so you don’t want your baby to arrive so quickly that you end up crouched by the side of the M5 to deliver. But there is something attractive to all pregnant women about being the quietly smug one who says, ‘Ok, it was over in a couple of hours.’ As well as aiming for a personal best, the longer you’re in hospital the more likely you’ll be exhausted, which can lead to intervention.
The length of your labour depends on factors out of your control, including strength of contractions, the shape of your pelvis and your baby’s position. But, there are still things you can do to increase your chances of labour being more of a sprint than a marathon.
1. Sleep well
Sleeping well can be a struggle in pregnancy, but the more shut-eye you get, the better. Feeling well-rested before labour will mean you have energy for the physical experience to come.
According to scientists at the University of California, mums-to-be who have more than six hours’ sleep a night tend to have shorter labours.
‘Make yourself comfortable by lying on your side with pillows between your legs and under your bump,’ says Mervi Jokinen, midwife and spokeswoman for the Royal College of Midwives. If you like to sleep on your back, use extra pillows to sleep semi-upright and reduce the chance of heartburn.’
2. Stay active
Being active during pregnancy should help you have an easier time when it comes to giving birth – research by the University of Vermont found that women who exercised two to three times a week had a shorter labour than women who stayed on the sofa.
If you’re not used to working out, start by walking for 15 minutes, two to three times a week. ‘Walk fast, but not so fast that you can’t talk,’ says Elizabeth Kamm, a pre- and postnatal personal trainer.
3. Recruit a mum as your birth training partner
You might feel happy to just have your man by your side in the delivery suite, but research by the University of Toronto last year suggests that continuous support from a fellow mum can make labour shorter and reduce the likelihood of intervention. Add your best mate with kids or your own mum into the mix.
She’ll know just what you’re going through and be able to mentally coach as you experience each stage.
4. Prepare your body and mind
While it’s natural to feel nervous about giving birth, those jitters could make the process slower, according to a 2012 study that found a fear of childbirth can prolong labour.
‘When you’re stressed, your body produces adrenalin, which interferes with oxytocin and progesterone – the labour hormones – and can slow down your contractions,’ explains Mervi. ‘The key is to distract yourself during contractions. Try listening to a hypnobirthing CD from about 32 weeks to prepare for an easier birth.
5. Go to the toilet during labour
After spending the past few months making toilet trips every hour, on the hour, you’d expect this to continue. But when you’re in labour, the force of your contractions can actually make it difficult to tell when you need a wee. It’s important to take regular toilet trips, though, as they could actually help things progress.
‘A full bladder can slow labour down by pressing on the birth canal and obstructing your baby’s descent,’ explains NCT teacher Barbara Kott. It can also make your contractions feel more painful.
6. Swing those hips
Many women instinctively move around in labour, and with good reason – being upright and mobile can shorten it by up to an hour.
Indeed, your midwife will also encourage you to stay active because gravity helps your baby’s head descend and get into the right position for birth. Plus the weight of your baby on your cervix could also strengthen your contractions.
‘When a contraction begins, breathe out, drop your shoulders to release tension, and move your lower body rhythmically as if you’re belly dancing, holding onto your partner for support,’ suggests Barbara.