Birth Preparation

What to Pack (In Your Brain) for Labor

If you are first time mom, chances are you have at least one blog post saved to Pinterest titled something along the lines of, “What to Pack for the Hospital.” Packing the hospital bag (or preparing the home birth supplies) is an exciting step! It means you are close enough to the end of your pregnancy to really start planning the nitty-gritty details for the big day.

I also think we make such a big deal out of packing the bag because it feels like one of the few things we can do to prepare for the event itself. Most of our preparation and nesting as first-time moms has more to do with the nursery and maternity leave decisions than the actual labor.

I know that for me, my plans for my first labor went something like, “Go to the hospital. Have the baby. Try not to use drugs. Bring the baby home.” Sure, I attended the hospital birthing class, read a lot of blogs, and watched a childbirth education class on DVD. But when it came down to it, I had no idea what I would actually DO during labor to meet my goal of an unmedicated birth. (Spoiler alert, it did not go as planned.)

Over three years later, as a birth doula and mama to a lovely vbac baby, I have some ideas of what you may want to study up on BEFORE you’re in the hospital wondering what the heck you are going to do now. Because what we pack into our brains in the months leading up to labor is way more important to the experience than what we pack in our bags (but yes, your comfiest pajama pants are for sure an excellent choice to go home in.)

Pain Management:

Probably one of the first things on every new mom’s mind is how they will handle the pain. Whether or not you plan to have medication during labor, packing your brain with ways to cope is a good idea. You never know how quickly (or slowly) things will progress, and chances are that at SOME point, you will need some support. It’s up to you to decide what kind of support that will be.

There are SO MANY great ideas out there for non-medical pain management. Movement, water, vocalization, visualization, self-hypnosis, kissing your partner (for real!), hiring a doula, breathing exercises, and massage, just to name a few. I recommend picking a few options and getting really familiar with them, practicing them, and making sure they are written down so that your birth partner can suggest them to you.

As far as medications for pain management, whether you plan to use them or not, I highly recommend learning the pros and cons of the different options you have available to you. Make a list of them in order of preference, so that if you aren’t comfortable jumping straight to an epidural, you have it clear in your head what the other options are and someone else knows them as well. If you are planning an epidural, you’ll still need to know how you are going to manage until you get it. They aren’t always instantly available, or even possible.

Your Rights:

This one may strike you as odd, and it’s a bit of a delicate topic, so for now I am going to keep it super short. You, as the laboring woman, have rights. No one is legally allowed to force, threaten, or otherwise coerce you into submitting to treatments you do not want. Often in the birthing room, things can move quickly and unexpectedly. I cringe when I hear women use phrases like, “They made me, I didn’t have a choice, they decided…” It is your body. It is your choice. Medical decisions should be made with your participation and consent. Unfortunately, most women in labor are, you know…in labor, and not in the best state of mind to be arguing for their rights. Hire a doula, research your birth place options, make sure your partner knows your preferences, and don’t be afraid to say “no.”


Of all the things you can do to prepare your brain for labor, perhaps one of the simplest and most effective ways is to use affirmations. Use them early, use them often, and use them during labor. I recommend doing a quick search for birth affirmations, finding a few that resonate, and writing them on a few sticky notes. Put them all over your house and then SAY THEM. Every day. All the time. Pick one or two short ones that you can have in your back pocket to use as a mantra during labor.

If none of the ones you are seeing resonate with you, I’ll leave you with a quick exercise to write your own: Write down the fears you have about labor. Now write our the opposite of that fear. Use that as your affirmation.

For example, if one of the fears you have is, “I won’t be strong enough to make it through,” write down, “I am strong and powerful.”

I hope you will use these ideas as a launching pad as you pack your brain with all the things you will need during your birth! Of course there are many more things to know and learn, but above all, remember this: Your body made this baby, and it knows how to birth it.

If you are interested in really taking the time to “pack your brain” for labor, check out my Virtual Birth Planning service to help you get your questions answered and give you the support you need to stay focused in the last weeks of pregnancy!