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Preparing for Labour and Birth: What you need to know

In counting down the days until your bundle of joy joins your family, you might experience a mixture of excitement and trepidation. As an obstetrician and gynaecologist at the Mater Hospital – one of Sydney’s leading private hospitals – I often get asked “What can I do to prepare for birth?” or “What is a birth plan?”, and “How will I know what to do when the time comes?”

It’s perfectly natural to be worried about labour and birth, however there are a few steps you can take to prepare your mind and body. Below are some tips for future mums-to-be.

1. Create a birth plan

A birth plan outlines how you want to delivery your baby. That said, it’s best to create a personalised birth plan in partnership with your obstetrician, rather than basing your plan on information found on the internet. A personalised birth plan will take into consideration your birth preferences, and your obstetrician should guide you through the different options that are available to you, so you can make the right choice. It’s important to keep in mind that not all labours and births go as planned, so it’s best to keep an open mind.

2. Join a class

Joining an antenatal class will help you and your partner prepare for labour and birth. During these classes, you’ll focus on your physical and emotional state, talk about your birth plan and ask any questions you may have. Topics can include the stages of labour; strategies and skills used to cope with pain; and induction of labour and unplanned caesarean section. Classes for caesarean birth programs also touch on the admission procedure and what to expect in theatre; what the first 24 hours after a C-section look like; and what happens in the postnatal period in hospital. are available at The Mater, with classes held after work or over weekends to fit a range of schedules.

3. Stay active

While an intense workout may be off the cards in your third trimester, staying active and participating in regular movement throughout pregnancy will help improve your strength and endurance, both of which are necessary for labour. You may wish to try a daily walk, as well as certain exercises which help to get the baby into position, such as sitting, squatting or rocking back and forth on your hands and knees.

4. Perineal massage

Massaging your perineum – the area between the vagina and anus – from 35 weeks onwards is recommended as it can help to reduce the risk of tearing and damage during childbirth.

Some simple tips to follow include emptying your bladder and washing your hands, finding a comfortable position in which you feel relaxed, and using  an organic, unscented oil (such as olive oil) on your thumbs and the perineum. There is a raft of information online regarding perineal massage to guide you through the process.

5. Embrace relaxation

Using meditation, visualisation and breathing techniques to help calm your nerves before and during labour will help to control the pain and keep your body relaxed. The best way to do so is to practice your breathing techniques throughout the pregnancy to ensure you’re comfortable using them when labour starts.

Remember, when you’re giving birth, you’re not alone. You have your support network with you to help you deliver safely.

Author: Dr Karen Sheng, Obstetrician & Gynecologist – Mater Private Hospital


Preparing for Pregnancy: Meet the Experts

Dr Karen Sheng is a certified obstetrician and gynecologist at the Mater Private Hospital with experience in both high and low-risk pregnancies. On Wednesday, 26 February, she and fellow Mater obstetrician Dr Sean Burnet will host a free information night for women and couples looking to conceive, covering the A-Z of preparing for pregnancy. For more information and to register visit the


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