1. Join the head of the class
Take a childbirth course and enroll as early as possible: Not only do classes fill up fast, but some, such as The Bradley Method courses , run 12 weeks, which means you need to start them in your second trimester.
Also, find out what your doctor's philosophy is on Cesarean sections and epidurals versus drug-free ways of managing pain. Ask tough questions—and "stupid" ones, too— to learn about the different stages of labor so you know what to expect. "The better prepared you are, the more choices you have during labor," says nurse practitioner Lynette Miya, M.N., R.N.P., of Torrance, Calif. "You don't want to arrive at the hospital without any idea of what's going to happen." Once labor starts, no surprise is a good surprise.
2. Find strength and focus
"The most important thing women learn through yoga is how to focus," says Carmela Cattuti, L.P.N., a Boston-based Kripalu certified instructor specializing in prenatal yoga certification training. "It also strengthens the entire body, increases flexibility and gives you stamina. But what is possibly even more helpful is that it helps your mind relax." This, in turn, leaves your body free to go about the business of birthing.
3. Nix negativity
Some childbirth educators believe graphic images, catastrophic tales and words of discouragement ("You'll never be able to get that monster out without a C-section!") can affect your subconscious and create a mental block during labor.
At best, negative thoughts make labor stressful; at worst, they'll actually intensify pain. Change the channel on the TV, tune out or walk away when the subject matter makes you uncomfortable; also, shield yourself from scary labor Facebook threads by logging off.
Bonus: Learning to do this now will help you avoid being affected by all the unwanted advice you'll get after the baby is born .
4. Study up
When you're in the grip of labor, it's too late to crack open that self-hypnosis book or locate a birthing ball. Preparation counts.
Case in point: Squatting increases the size of the pelvic opening by about 28 percent. But if you wait until you're in labor to try it for the first time, your squatting stamina won't add up to, well, squat.
5. Secure support
Doulas are nonmedical professionals trained to provide emotional and physical support as well as information to women during pregnancy and labor. Studies have found that with a trained doula's continuous support, labor times are shorter and the need for epidurals, C-sections, oxytocin for induction and forceps were decreased by about half. Another study concluded that women who received support through a hospital- based doula program were more likely to attempt breastfeeding. Check out DONA International ( dona.org ) to help you locate a certified doula in your area.
6. Have a trick up your sleeve
Learn several effective techniques to manage pain during childbirth , such as self-hypnosis, position changes, heat pack application and different breathing methods. "If you don't know what your options are, you don't have any," says Tracy Hartley, a certified doula and owner of B*E*S*T Doula Service in Los Angeles.
7. Get on up
Upright positions, such as standing, walking, kneeling, slow dancing, sitting and squatting, allow gravity to help move the baby down and out. "Sometimes, getting the baby into the pelvis is like fitting a key into a lock," Hartley says. "You need to do a little jiggling. Rocking back and forth on your hands and knees may help to get the baby into position."