No matter where you plan to have your baby, you want to be as comfortable and relaxed as possible. For women who plan to have their babies at the hospital or a birthing center, there can be aspects of unfamiliarity, a sense of institution and even sterility that can throw you out of your comfort zone. Here are some tools and tips to create a Zen birthing environment, wherever you plan to welcome your little one.

There’s no place like home.

For most women, home is their comfort zone and is the best place to experience early labor. You have access to everything you call your own: your bed, shower, kitchen and even your pets, who may help you feel more relaxed. At home, you can walk your neighborhood, not unfamiliar halls. You can go out to eat or enjoy a meal together to prepare yourself nutritionally for labor. At home, you and your partner have the freedom to decide how and when you will rotate between rest and activity without unwanted distractions or interruptions. Your home environment is the best place to help get you in your comfort zone, which is the most effective way to manage the early stage of labor.

Grab your bags. It’s time! 

Once you are no longer able to walk and talk through contractions, they seem to take your breath away, you must concentrate through them and they are coming about every 4 minutes, then it’s a good time to go to the hospital or birth center. Bring aspects of the “comfort of home” with you.

  • Pack snacks. In early labor, you should eat whatever foods sound good to you and drink fluids frequently. Consider that you are preparing your body for a marathon-like event, so eat and drink for preparation and sustainability. For the hospital or birth center, pack a small cooler or insulated lunch bag with the types of food and snacks you normally eat. Labor is not the time to try the newest protein bar on the market or the blended fruit beverage with 30 fruits and veggies you’ve seen at the market. Snacks like yogurt, crackers, trail mix, string cheese, fresh fruit, and electrolyte drinks will serve you best. If you had cravings during the end of your pregnancy, it’s not a bad idea to have some of those items on hand as well. As your labor progresses, if you decide to use an epidural for pain management, you will only be allowed a clear liquid diet. In addition to water, apple juice and lemon-lime soda, you can also enjoy Jell-O, popsicles, and broth, which should be available at the hospital or birth center.
  • Essential oils can transform a labor. Essential oils are a wonderful way to freshen a stale room, lift mom’s spirits, increase relaxation by dropping into a running bath, and decrease nausea by gently wafting on a gauze or tissue. Labor and birth can also be a bit smelly at different stages, so having room sprays infused with essential oils on hand can make the experience much more pleasant. My favorite spray is Mama Rose’s Natural Sunshine Spray . This spray helps reduce anxiety and increase relaxation, but it can also be used to heal your bottom after birth or other skin irritations like diaper rash. My favorite oils to use in labor are lavender, ylang ylang, orange blossom and peppermint. You don’t have to be an expert to know what to get, and there are lots of resources available online.
  • Mood lighting. A short string of small holiday lights or decorative indoor lights really helps set the tone. Bringing lights to births was one of my signature moves as a doula – I often got comments on how much they enjoyed having them. The medical staff even enjoyed them. The soft light gives off just the right amount of warm glow. You can hang them in the bathroom while mom is laboring in the tub, or hang them across the window to illuminate the room perfectly. They create an atmosphere for relaxation, sleep or settling in with baby in a dreamlike state of admiration and accomplishment.
  • Sarongs are “so right” for laboring! A beach sarong or tapestry is light weight, soft to the touch and dries quickly. They are perfect to wear in labor, offering you freedom to move with a bit of modesty. With no buttons or zippers, they easily accommodate for monitors, chords and IV lines. Sarongs are easy to throw on after a shower or soak in the tub, and to use as a lightweight blanket to cover up as your temperature fluctuates or as staff and guests come in and out of the room.
  • Rice sock to the rescue. A heated rice sock or heating pad can bring a lot of relief. You can hold a rice sock in place with a belly support band, your sarong or the band that supports the baby monitors. Typically, the rice sock feels best on the lower back or placed on your lower abdomen. The staff is usually more than happy to heat the sock up for you in their staff room microwave, or there is often a family kitchen with a microwave on the birthing unit that your partner or doula can access.
  • Feel the rhythm. The rhythm and familiarity of music you enjoy is a great tool to use in labor to set the tone and encourage relaxation. Make your own labor play list. It doesn’t have to be slow and relaxing. There may be times in your labor when you want to lighten the mood, feel energized or shake your groove thing a bit. Swaying to the music and hip movement is ideal for moving baby down and opening your pelvis. A blue tooth speaker and earbuds will ensure the volume is just right.
  • Beat dry mouth! Mints, gum, suckers, lozenges and lip balm will help moisten your mouth and lips when it is feeling dry and blah from breathing through your contractions. If you vocalize to help cope with contractions, your throat may become sore. Also, at different stages of labor, you may also feel nauseous – Preggie Pop Drops and mint gum can help decrease nausea. Suckers can easily be removed from your mouth during a contraction so that you don’t bite down, keeping tension in your jaw. For dry lips, I like to use GroVia Itty Bitty Magic Stick. It is made with natural and organic ingredients and is safe to use for minor skin irritations … chapped lips and skin, stretch marks, most anywhere you need extra moisture.
  • Massage – yes please! Massage is a great relaxation tool and helps reduce discomfort. You can use unscented, natural massage oils like sesame seed or almond oil, or infuse unscented oil with essential oils. Baby powder or lotions work well, too. I like to use Earth Mama Angel Baby calming lavender lotion. Its light, non-greasy formula is perfect for massage. Finding a massage tool can be helpful, too, making your partner morph into a real masseuse. A tennis ball or racket ball is great for applying pin-point pressure.

There are three specific techniques that work quite well for a pregnant or laboring mom:

Effleurage- long, circular medium-pressured strokes. This works well with a shower hand wand or light pressure for rhythm, but not necessarily muscle therapy.

Kneading- using your whole hand and thumbs, moving up and down the area you are working on.

Stripping- using your fingers or thumbs to make long strokes. For example, on both sides of the spine.

  • Remind yourself why you are working so hard! Sometimes during labor, the fatigue, discomfort and amount of time that has passed can easily cause you to lose focus. It is important to be reminded what you are working so hard for — your sweet baby! Bringing special items can be a great spirit booster and a powerful focal point to work through contractions. Bring pictures of your ultrasound and place them in a visible spot. Maybe you have had the perfect going home outfit for baby sitting out and ready to go for months, or the quilt someone special made for baby. Take these items out of your bag so that you can be reminded of the sweet body that will soon fill it up with joy!

Becky Orchard is a retired Doula and Childbirth Educator who has helped nearly 200 families with their pregnancies and births. She is the owner of Mother’s Haven, the sister shop to Mama Nook.