Mindset Tips to Help You Approach Delivery Day with Confidence

This is Nike (M)

Tapping into your inner athlete (even if pregnancy has you not feeling like one) can make the uncertainty of labour a lot less scary.

Last updated: 15 November 2022
6 min read
  • Staying physically active throughout your pregnancy has been found to have major benefits in the delivery room—especially when it comes to mindset.
  • Having the tools to manage your thoughts, tapping into the power of your breath and understanding your body's comfort levels can make for a smoother labour process.
  • Keep your athlete mindset sharp with the Nike (M)ove Like a Mother programme in the NTC App.

Read on to learn more …

How Exercise Can Prepare You for Labour, According to Experts

*This content is designed to inform and inspire, but it is not meant to diagnose, treat or give specific medical advice. Always check with your health care provider about how to stay healthy and safe before, during and after pregnancy.

You're breathing hard. You're pushing to the finishing line. You might feel as like you're at your absolute limit. No, you're not at a race—you're in labour.

Luckily, if you're already an active person, you may have a leg up in the delivery room. "There's good evidence that patients who exercise during pregnancy cope with the discomforts of labour and the pain of childbirth better than their peers who don't exercise", says Amanda Williams, MD, a board-certified obstetrician-gynaecologist in Oakland, California, and member of the Nike (M)ove Like a Mother advisory board.

Why? Movement can certainly train your body for some of the demands of childbirth—increased lung capacity, anyone?—but the benefits aren't just physical. "Often, folks who exercise and are used to overcoming challenges have some of the best birthing experiences", says Dr Williams.

As with any long race or tough workout, summoning confidence for delivery also requires some solid mind-body strategies. You may not be able to predict exactly how your delivery will pan out, but you can prepare yourself to tackle whatever happens. Here are some simple but powerful ways to feel like the tough mother you are on the big day.

1. Understand the power of your thoughts.

A positive, powerful mindset allows you to harness your physical capabilities, whether in the gym or the delivery room. If you don't believe you can, say, lift something heavy (or push out a baby), your body often responds in kind. "If you mentally fight a contraction, you're likely to physically clench, which results in closing up your body—and your cervix", says Cherie Seah, a birth doula based in the Bay Area.

To reduce the chances of triggering a physical reaction that does the opposite of what you want, studies suggest swapping out worried thoughts with positive ones (think "I can do this" instead of "this is scary"), which can reduce anxiety. Prior to your expected delivery date, Seah suggests writing down affirmations that speak to your specific fears: things like "my body knows how to push out a baby" or "I can breathe through this for one minute".

Reciting those affirmations to yourself while you're pregnant can shape how you think about your birth and what you're capable of. If you're able, bring your affirmations when you deliver. "Sometimes the process of writing them down and hanging them up where you are birthing can be a therapeutic process to help release the fear", says Seah. Positive self-talk FTW.

2. Educate yourself.

You wouldn't try a new workout class without getting a sense of what's involved. And learning about what's happening in your body during labour and delivery—for example, checking out illustrations showing how contractions help open the birth canal, or reading about not-scary C-section experiences—can help you feel more prepared in much the same way.

The caveat? There's a lot of information (and some intense birth stories) out there, and Seah says taking in too much may not exactly be calming. Get the info you need, but try not to overdo the Googling, and choose only a few real-world information sources you trust. Your obstetrician-gynaecologist or midwife, a doula, or a childbirth class that aligns with your values are good places to start.

How Exercise Can Prepare You for Labour, According to Experts

3. Home in on what you can control.

Like a long run or tough conditioning workout, birth can be unpredictable. You may wish for an intervention-free birth or vaginal delivery, but for your safety and/or the baby's, things may go a different way—and that's OK. (Also? Anaesthesia can be a godsend. No shame in that game if it feels right for you.) To better cope with the potential twists and turns ahead, be open-minded and focus on the parts of your birth experience you can control, says Dr Williams. "Pick your top priority, like having a supportive person in the room or having your baby on your skin as soon as possible".

Focusing on controllable elements can also keep you from beating yourself up afterwards. "I tell people to go into it as prepared as you can be, but understanding that each delivery is unique and it's not a personal failure if it doesn't happen the way you'd hoped", says Andreka Peat, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist with a speciality in maternal mental health based in Decatur, Georgia.

4. Use your breath.

If you start to freak out during labour (#normal), it's hard to think creatively about how to get through it. That's because the logical part of your brain essentially shuts off when the stressed-out part jumps in, says Peat. But as athletes know, you can use your body to signal to your brain it's time to calm down.

Deep breathing is one of the most powerful ways to do that, says Peat. Slow, deep breaths can signal to your body that you're safe, which can help turn down the fight-or-flight response. "You're giving your mind a job so it's not just racing, and physiologically sending a signal to the body that it can be calm", says Peat. (Plus, focusing on your breath helps take your mind off the intensity of the contraction, notes Seah: five long breaths in and out, and that one's over!)

It's hard to try new tools in the heat of the moment, so practise your deep breathing techniques or any other coping strategy you want to bring to the delivery room in advance.

5. Remember that it's fine to be uncomfortable.

When you push your body to new heights during a workout, it's normal—beneficial, even—to feel some discomfort. And by now, you've hopefully learnt to distinguish the type of pain you can power through from the kind that means it's time to stop. The same principle is helpful during delivery, says Peat.

Trust your body to tell you when something isn't quite right (seriously, you'll just know). On the flip side, remember that those intense physical sensations often mean something good is happening. "Birth is a natural, physiological process, and discomfort doesn't always equal danger", says Dr Williams. "To get that comfortably uncomfortable feeling and remember you have the tools to manage it, is incredibly empowering", Kind of like (you guessed it) a tough training session. It can feel like hell in the moment, but afterwards? You're proud, joyful and stronger for it.

Words: Ashley Abramson
Photography: Vivian Kim


Want to work that mental muscle? Check out the Nike (M)ove Like a Mother programme in the Nike Training Club App for guided breath work, workouts and more expert advice. Or tap into your athlete mindset with antenatal guided runs in the Nike Run Club App.

Originally published: 18 November 2022

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