Basic Labor Strategies

Behold, basic labor strategies for a natural birth!

Alas, we do know the labor process is largely unpredictable (shall we say wonderfully mysterious?) and typically not wanting to follow any kind of measured, mechanical pattern. This list of ideas can be helpful even if your labor doesn’t compartmentalize itself into neat and easily identified “stages.” This is because physiological birth is shaped by common elements (an expansion of that topic will be saved for a separate post). If you haven’t watched an animal give birth in the wild and observed their instinctual coping behaviors, I highly encourage you to do so!

While I understand the labor journey does not truly begin with the “first contraction” and doesn’t precisely conclude with baby’s exit from the birth canal, for the purpose of this post I’ll only focus on the dilation and effacement stage.

Early Labor

Birth Giver

  • Go about your day as usual, staying mindful of energy conservation. If it’s nighttime, sleep! If it’s daytime, take a stroll outdoors, cook a nourishing brunch, engage in a creative project, swivel and swirl your hips on a birth ball… what do you find enjoyable?
  • “Ignore” labor as long as possible. Remember, birth is not an emergency and this is a natural process. Adjusting expectations to give space to the possibility of a long labor can be helpful for mentally coping.
  • Consider the early labor comfort measures you can use if needed.
  • Increase oxytocin. What are your favorite ways to do this?
  • Cut out toxic people, unnecessary use of technology (i.e. phone surfing), “thinking brain” activities.
  • Connect with your baby, speak to him/her. Surround yourself with positive imagery, pleasing smells, affirmations or music that make you feel good.
  • Be curious about any changes happening within, which might include bloody show, mucus plug loosening, waters releasing… or maybe more “invisible” signs on the emotional plane. Tune in with yourself.

Birth Partner

  • Lovingly tends to birth giver. Ensures you’re staying fed, hydrated, resting smart for the duration of this journey.
  • Aware of the environment’s influence on your experience (i.e. how can we create a “labor cave,” keeping in mind we are mammals who require privacy, quiet, warmth, a sense of safety to open up and surrender to labor?). Ideas: positive attitude, smiling face, attention to temperature, no talking during surges, dim lighting, quiet voices, machine sounds off, doors closed, respectfully moving about the space.
  • Makes your creature comforts available.
  • Makes arrangements for pets and other children and other mundane tasks, as needed.
  • Knows the importance of focusing on bonding together. These last days or hours are a special and sacred time for you both.

Birth Team

  • Your doula, care provider, and anyone else you plan to attend your birth can be notified of any changes, how you’re feeling, and made aware of any needs that have arisen.

Active Labor

Birth Giver

  • Bring out the big-guns comfort measures if needed. Maybe for you this means hands-on help using hip squeezes, counter pressure, massage. Maybe it means water therapy, such as a shower or hopping into the labor pool. Maybe you feel motivated by verbal affirmations, music, etc. Or maybe you need time and space to be alone, to freely pace, to get swept into labor-land without other bodies nearby.
  • What coping tools have you been practicing that you really respond to?
  • Follow your instincts, go with your body rather than against it. 
  • Switch up your positioning and movement.
  • Use your throat. Breathe… in and out. Low, moany sounds — think sexy, guttural, humming, howls. The kind that allow you to feel uninhibited, at ease in your wildness, present in your body and in charge of yourself. Shrieky, throat-restrictive high tones can increase body tension and subsequently pain.

Birth Partner

  • What kind of support do you want from your partner at this time? What tasks are on their list to accomplish? How would you like your partner to help you if they notice your muscles are tense or you’re feeling stressed?
  • Partner should be knowledgeable about how to communicate with you in labor and how to be receptive to your evolving energies, rhythm, flow, and emotional state (i.e. partner follows your rhythm, avoids asking a lot of questions or interrupting surges with noise, mindful of language choices — for example, perhaps you prefer the word “power” over “pain” or “waves” instead of “contractions”).
  • Eye contact is shown to reduce pain. Paced breathing is another option if you prefer your eyes to remain closed.
  • In pregnancy, partner can work on developing their listening skills (versus “problem solver / fix-it” side) and learning how to hold space; this helps you not feel like a “watched pot” AND honored in your autonomy.
  • Partner is equipped to bear witness, to support your birth wishes and choices, to advocate for you should you find yourself in an environment that isn’t aligned with your interests.

Birth Team

  • Active labor (when the labor rhythm is established and rolling) is a good time to call your doula, midwife, photographer and whoever you’d like to attend your birth.
  • If birthing at a hospital or birth center, at some point in active labor you’ll head to that location. Consider time of day for traffic, distance, intensity and frequency of surges, etc. Partner and/or other birth team members can and should facilitate this to ensure you aren’t pulled from the “mammal brain” of labor by concerning yourself with plans, minutiae, numbers.


Birth Giver

  • No one knows whether you’ll experience a markedly challenging transition, one that subtly blends into the crowning of your baby, or something uniquely indescribable somewhere in the middle. Invest time and effort in pregnancy (or before!) working on trusting yourself and your body, on strengthening your belief in the “bigger plan,” and digging deep to uncover and confront buried fears that can otherwise surface at this time.

Birth Partner

  • Your partner should know this is the point when many laborers “hit a wall,” so to speak, and announce a desire to give up. If this is the case for you, you may need extra reassurance, verbal affirmations, anchoring, and encouragement from your partner. Or maybe this is when you’ll tap into deeper resources of power on your own. Perhaps you will conjure vivid mental imagery; or you’ll connect with your ancestors and the primal nature of birth, maybe with the thousands of others laboring alongside you this exact moment; or you will pause to join your baby somewhere between this place and the stars.

Birth Team

  • Choosing your birth place and team VERY carefully can make a world of difference in your transition stage experience.

Additional Resources:

Holistic Stages of Birth (article)

Stages of Labor & Collusion (article)

Following Your Intuition in Birth (podcast)

The Birth Partner (book)

It’s Not About The Nail / feel it or fix it? (video)

The Most Scientific Birth is Often the Least Technological Birth (article)

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