Have you ever felt overwhelmed by information during pregnancy – while at the same time feeling like you don’t really know or understand enough to make confident decisions? Despite living in the Information Age, it can be surprisingly tricky to find straightforward, balanced, and trustworthy information about having a baby.
Some individuals and influencers seem to wildly romanticize (”you can have the most blissful pain-free childbirth”) while others lean into fear mongering (”your brain, vagina, and career will never be the same!”). 🥴 It can be a lot to take in…
I’ve learned a lot over the last decade, working as birth and postpartum doula, having my own two kids, and most importantly creating Birthsmarter, which has had the honor of educating over 7,000 new and expectant parents since 2019. So, to help you whittle down what’s truly important and provide some context for taking the information in, I want to share three critical things you need to know about the birth and postpartum experience.
1. What’s right for someone else might not be what’s right for you (and visa versa).
Wondering if you should get induced? Opt for the epidural? Hire a doula? Introduce a pacifier? Sleep train?
No matter the question, you’ve got to know this: there’s NO right.
No right way. No right choice. That means what worked for your friend, cousin, or colleague, might not work for you – and that’s OK. Your job isn’t to follow everyone’s advice, it’s to figure out what might work best for you and your family.
How do you do that? We use a simple framework when making decisions.
First we want to do some research to understand what is objectively known, about a certain issue based on the physiological process (how does X happen?). That means you’d learn how and why labor induction, epidurals, or doulas could be helpful (in optimal birth conditions, for an average pregnant person) based on how birth works. Or, what we know about infant development related to pacifier use or sleep training.
Then we consider our societal context. What about the United States makes giving birth more complicated here than in many other parts of the world? We’d consider how our for-profit medical structure incentives certain interventions that are not always medically indicated and how a lack of cooperation between midwives and obstetricians leaves birthing families with fewer options. The pendulum has swung far when it comes to infant feeding and sleep, it’s hard to keep up. Recognizing the societal context can help you understand how and why conflicting advice is so common.
Lastly, we have to consider YOU. Your personal lived experience. Physical and mental health history. Socioeconomic status. Religion and family values etc, etc. Someone delivering their first baby after three rounds of IVF at age 39 might make different choices than someone delivering their third baby, conceived naturally, at age 29. Similarly someone with a history of anxiety who has to return to full-time work at 8 weeks postpartum might make different feeding and sleep choices than a stay-at-home-parent who’s able to exclusively breastfeed.
The Venn diagram looks like this:
The more we can give ourselves permission to make individual decisions, while holding space for people who make different choices, the more we can move past feeling like parenting is a game you might lose and more like a game where we give out participation trophies for showing up!
2. Preparation is worth it (no matter the outcome!)
Using the framework we explained above requires some research and critical thinking. While some people are ready to dive into books, podcasts, and classes, a lot of families are happy to “wing it,” and simply “want a healthy mom and healthy baby.” Mental and physical health outcomes for birth parents and babies in the United States suggest this is no longer enough. Megan Davidson, author of Your Birth Plan explains “Even with the possibility of being let down, we make plans. We do this because making plans ultimately reduces the chances of having those disappointing experiences.”
Wedding planning is a wonderful analogy. Even though your wedding is just a few days of your life, most Americans put a great deal of time, money, and energy into planning big and small details alike since we know the memories last a lifetime.
You can also think of making plans for childbirth like we make plans for travel adventures. Davison writes, “we book airline tickets, even though flights are sometimes canceled, delayed, or overbooked. We reserve hotel rooms and rental housing even though we’re occasionally disappointed by the quality or cleanliness of our lodging.”
And for anyone thinking it still might not matter – Dr. Neel Shah, a U.S. - based obstetrician who’s leading the charge to lower our national cesarean rate, said, “Safety during labor is the floor of what people deserve. What we should all really be aiming for is the ceiling: care that is not just safe, but also supportive and empowering.”
3. You can come out stronger on the other side!
Remember the fear mongering voice I mentioned at the beginning: ”your brain, vagina, and career will never be the same!” We need to dig into this a little more. On one hand, it’s true. There are changes that come from pregnancy and parenting that are irreversible, it’s also true that they’re not all bad. In fact, I can say personally that I am in a better emotional, physical, and professional state - not just after having kids, but because of it!
Childbirth and postpartum life create opportunities for us to improve so many aspects of our lives… if we’re willing to embrace the journey. At Birthsmarter, we call this The Pregnant Opportunity.
Birth physiology and labor coping preparation teach us about hormonal health, postural alignment, pelvic health, and stress management. We can start small by focusing on how we breathe (often and deeply) or make simple postural adjustments to improve our core and pelvic health (improving strength and function). Understanding the societal context of birth invites us to learn how to navigate power dynamics in the medical system and advocate for ourselves and loved ones. So we can practice setting boundaries and communicating clearly, not just in medical settings but with partners, family, and colleagues.
In the sea of personal development work - as people look toward leadership coaching and career development, improving personal habits, birth can help us become better versions of ourselves.
Ashley Brichter is birth and postpartum doula, childbirth educator, lactation counselor, certified Fair Play Facilitator, speaker, and entrepreneur. She is the founder of Birthsmarter, which provides unbiased, inclusive, and award-winning, pregnancy and parenting classes in-person throughout New York City and Salt Lake City, and virtually across the world. Born and raised in New York City, she's currently living in Salt Lake City, UT with her husband and two, quickly growing, amazing children.