How are you preparing for birth?
It’s no secret that birth is, shall we say, INTENSE. On all levels. Physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, energetically (and probably dozens more adverbs-ending-in-ly). I love the word “intense” because I find it quite adequately describes the range of experiences, perceptions, and sensations that can come with labour. Intensity is something I like to talk about diving into, or embracing. For me, it has positive connotations. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t get uncomfortable or bring up all sorts of emotions.
If it will be your first time giving birth, you won’t exactly get a practice run. But there are many ways to prepare for this major life rite of passage. Here are a couple of methods you can use to help ready yourself for dealing with labour and the intensity of contractions.
When I was about six weeks’ pregnant with my daughter in 2007, I cautiously yet optimistically enrolled in a prenatal yoga class down the street from my home in San Francisco. Up until I peed on a stick, I had been attending my regular, rigorous vinyasa flow classes, and a few months prior I had still been running long distances. So I was in great shape, but decided I needed something more chill during this phase of my life.
Expecting a super laid-back hour in the Womb Room (yes, it was really called that), I watched as the instructor demonstrated Toe Pose, something I had never done in all my years of power yoga. Basically, you go onto all fours, then curl your toes under and sit back on your heels. Looked easy enough.
“Now you try it!” she said, smiling. I did. OW. It freaking hurt. Almost immediately. Not in an “I’m injuring myself” kind of way, but suffice it to say, the bottoms of my feet were NOT used to being stretched out like that. My entire body was protesting mightily.
I came out of the pose after about 15 seconds, took another breath, and went back into it. “Nope, not doing this,” I told myself. “I didn’t join prenatal yoga to feel pain!” We rested for a moment, and then the teacher asked us to do it again, this time, focusing on our breathing. And then again, while vocalizing on the exhale. It was pretty tough. But over the next few months, it did in fact get easier. And I took much of what I learned to the hospital with me months later.
Watch Jenny Bee demonstrate the Toe Pose
My friend, prenatal yoga teacher and Rock the Cradle doula extraordinaire Jenny Bee, made this video demonstrating exactly how to do Toe Pose to help with labour: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vhEZMxsAD_U
Note: Don’t do Toe Pose if you have a foot injury. (Though it can actually help if you happen to suffer from plantar fasciitis. I speak from experience.) This pose should be uncomfortable and, well, INTENSE. If you have any pain in the joints of your toes or ankles, though, stop. If the pose isn’t uncomfortable—maybe you already practice it regularly, or you walk barefoot a lot or don’t squeeze your feet into shoes that are too restrictive, or whatever—Jenny shows you a variation in her video that should give you a lot more of that lovely sensation. When in doubt, check with your doctor first.
Ice Cube Method
I learned this one in the prenatal class my husband and I took to prepare for birth. Simple: Take a good-sized ice cube or two, place it in the palm of your hand…and keep it there. You can let it slide around, or pass it back and forth between your two hands. But don’t put down the ice until the time’s up.
Note: Don’t do the Ice Cube Method if you have circulatory issues, or if your skin goes numb right away. Frostbite is definitely not the goal here. When in doubt, check with your doctor first.
You can practice either Toe Pose or the Ice Cube Method, or both on alternate days—however you want to do it. The key is to practice regularly and consistently.
Throughout, remember: This is your practice. You are in charge. You make the decisions. And you can stop at any time. Be compassionate with yourself, and thank yourself and your baby. Also, keep in mind that nothing is permanent. Not Toe Pose; not ice-cube juggling; not a contraction.
How to Practice Either Method
You’ll do three rounds. For each round, set a timer for 30–60 seconds.
Between rounds, rest for 60 seconds. Place the tops of your feet on the floor and sit back on your heels for a counter stretch. Or place the ice aside.
Simply notice where, if anywhere, you’re feeling discomfort. And pay attention to what you tend to do when you’re uncomfortable.
Is your breathing getting shallower? Are you starting to sweat? Is your heart rate speeding up?
Do you start to fidget? Do you close your eyes? If you’re doing Toe Pose, do you find yourself moving forward a bit to lessen the intensity? Or maybe you naturally move more deeply into the pose—interesting—bring it on! If you’re holding ice, do you let it move around on your hand, or between hands?
Are you feeling annoyed or angry? Do you swear or feel like crying? Or laughing? Do you crave touch or comfort?
This time, focus on your breath (using a favourite breathing technique, or simply noticing the inhalation and exhalation) or another focal point. I had a client who made her own beautiful jewelry, and when practicing Toe Pose, she would mentally walk through the steps it took to make a piece of jewelry. For her, that was meditative.
Focus on your breath or the focal point you used in Round 2. Then change one thing.
For example, if you’ve been instinctively closing your eyes, keep them open this time. Or maybe tell yourself over and over again, mantra-style, how strong and capable you are. Because you are, you know. “I am STRONG.” “I AM doing this.” Get curious about the sensation you’re experiencing. Get friendly with it, and see if you can envision it helping you rather than hurting you.
I won’t lie. You can enroll in the best prenatal class out there, read all the birth books in the library, hire a doula, and practice Toe Pose and the Ice Cube Method till the cows come home. This is all fantastic preparation for birth, and I promise it will help you immensely. But the real deal with still exceed all expectations you might have, in beautiful ways and in possibly really challenging ways. It’s a mind-blowing adventure, and like any epic journey you head out on, there’s only so much the guidebooks and workshops and physical conditioning can prepare you for. But that’s part of the fun, wouldn’t you say?
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