What You Need to Know about Birth Affirmations

Beautifully illustrated affirmation images used in this post are shared with permission from Kaya Edwards. Visit her Etsy shop for more.
 

Orange County breastfeeding support what you need to know about birth affirmations

Research tells us that hope and optimism have positive effects, and perhaps that is why positive affirmations have been gaining popularity over the past few years.

Affirmations for labor and birth are a tricky thing, though. Of course, it's natural to seek support for a task as big as birth, and affirmations can be a helpful source of encouragement in that regard.

But recently, I've been noticing that many birth affirmations actually seem to be very limiting in their perspective. Here are a few affirmations I've seen frequently on Pinterest and recommended in Facebook pregnancy groups:

  • "My body knows how to birth"

  • "My body achieves what my mind believes"

  • "I am relaxed and calm"

  • "I trust my body and birth"

While there is a certain rhythmic comfort in each of those phrases, there may be some hidden downsides to relying on affirmations like these for labor. There is also the fact that these (and many other popular birth affirmations) tend to skew towards those planning natural births (as much as that wording bothers me... but we'll leave that for another post).

Let's examine these four affirmations and see if there might be more open and expansive alternatives:

 

"My body knows how to birth"

In our western culture of convenience, chairs, cushy mattresses, driving, and other comforts of modern life, our bodies are no longer moving, eating, resting, and playing the way they used to. While it's a lovely thought that our bodies innately know how to birth a baby, that doesn't take into account the fact that our bodies are just plain conditioned differently than our ancestors' were.

And what about the fact that there is another body involved in birth? And that the intricacies of how your those bodies interact in labor and birth are still somewhat mysterious?

If you accept this affirmation as truth and birth didn't go the way you planned, what does that mean you might think or tell yourself about your body? Sometimes, feeling that your body failed because birth didn't go the way you planned or expected can be a source of birth trauma. Let's start to head that off by recognizing that birth is unpredictable, and that if things happen in an unexpected - or even an unwished-for - way, you and your body are not to blame.

Try this instead: "People all over the world are birthing with me"

 

"My body achieves what my mind believes"

If I could control my body with my mind, I would never feel tired, I would never get sick, and I would be an awesome dancer. As I sit here yawning, feeling under the weather, and definitely NOT an awesome dancer, let's just say I'm proof that our bodies can't always do whatever we set our minds to.

Thoughts like this, while they may feel comforting when preparing for birth, may trigger very different emotions on the other side of birth. If something unexpected occurs during labor, "mind over matter" simply may not work. Remember - there is another body at work in labor too!

Talking ourselves into thinking we can control birth strikes me as unproductive and possibly even traumatizing. Ask any parent who planned for birth to go a certain way but ended up with a different experience: birth is a natural process. Like the weather or the ocean, birth is too big to be controlled. If birth takes a different direction, can we find resilience in the face of change, rather than holding onto rigid expectations?

Try this instead: "I am a strong and capable mother/parent"

 

"I am relaxed and calm"

Our culture loooooves telling women how to do things, right? We know this. So of course there are books, tutorials, and even entire childbirth preparation methods that teach mothers-to-be how to be "relaxed and calm" birthing goddesses. This message is getting through to women. The number one thing people say when they sign up to take our birth classes is that they want tools to help them relax in labor.

I know there are people who have experienced truly calm births. There are plenty of videos on YouTube and personal stories to confirm this.

But here's the thing.

It isn't a realistic goal for most of us. As a doula, I've never once seen a birth where "relaxed and calm" were central players. And why should they be expected to? Why should a person be expected to remain perfectly relaxed and calm during something as huge as bringing a new person into the world?

If staying relaxed and calm is your number one goal in birth, what happens when those things go out the window for whatever reason? What story do you tell yourself about YOU when you need to roar or tense up or cry through a tough contraction? If you judge yourself by these standards, you're setting yourself up for failure.

Rather than subscribing to a narrow view of birth as something you need to be relaxed and calm about (or you're doing it wrong), it can be helpful to begin to expand your definition of success in birth. What if instead your goal was to be brave? Or flexible? Or to do the best you can?

Try this instead: "I can do hard things"

 

"I trust my body and birth"

Pam England, the author of Birthing From Within, published a new book last year. It's called Ancient Map for Modern Birth and I recommend it for anyone looking for meaningful, holistic preparation for pregnancy, birth, or early parenthood.

There was a quote that particularly struck me when thinking about affirmations for birth:

 
It is essential that any conversation about trust and birth be honest, compassionate, and realistic, not idealized, horrific, or oversimplified...Trusting your body is helpful and important; the problem arises when you believe that if you just trust enough, or in the right way, that you will have an ideal or natural birth. No amount of trust or preparation can guarantee an easy birth.

First of all, the words "honest, compassionate, and realistic" caught my eye. YES to this. 

Next, I'm sure this sentiment is one many of us would rather not face when we are anticipating this rite of passage. The fact that "no amount of trust or preparation can guarantee an easy birth" is unsettling.

"But what if I do all the prenatal yoga or drink all the red raspberry leaf tea or do all the squats or have all the chiropratic care or... or... or...?"

Living in this space of uncertainty during pregnancy can be very difficult. We are used to feeling a sense of mastery and ownership over our lives, and many of us experience anxiety when we start to feel like we're losing control of a situation.

Uncertainty and the unknown are things that we talk about a lot with our clients, particularly in our childbirth classes. Because learning to cope with these things is a real and difficult task of becoming a parent, and it (very often) doesn't come naturally.

Trusting your body and birth may not get you very far. But what about trusting your own resilience? Your own resourcefulness? Your own willingness to do what needs to be done?

Try this instead: "I am patient with myself and my baby"

 

Affirmations for birth should be "honest, compassionate, and realistic."

Irvine birth doula affirmation it is okay to be scared

And when affirmations don't fit that bill, as in the examples above, they do a disservice to the people relying on them for emotional encouragement and support.

Shane Lopez, PhD, is a psychologist, senior scientist at Gallup, and the author of Making Hope Happen. He identified 3 basic steps for building hope:

  1. Envision the future you want

  2. Take practical steps to move toward that future

  3. Plan for contingencies and change your plans if needed

Don't those steps seem applicable to planning for birth? As Lindsey Morrow put it, "Embracing the unexpected, the unknown and losing control is part of birth and therefore should be part of birth affirmations."

Knowing that birth is bigger than us and that change in the moment may be necessary, perhaps there is a better way to approach the affirmations we choose.

Yorba Linda doula affirmation I am doing the best I can with what I know

Instead of choosing limiting affirmations that are focused on an outcome of birth (a vaginal birth, an easy birth, a fast birth, a less painful birth), try choosing expansive affirmations that can apply to the emotional experience of birth, whatever form it takes.

By pushing the boundaries of what birth "should be" in your mind, you make room for more self-love and self-acceptance. Both of these will be absolutely invaluable on your birth and parenting journey!

 

Affirmations should be for everyone, not just parents planning a natural birth.

Fullerton doula affirmation I will meet my baby soon

If you're planning a birth that involves pain medication, induction medications, or already know that your baby will be born by cesarean, you deserve affirmations too! (If you want them.) Birth affirmations have been exclusive enough of parents who are planning other kinds of births that there are now specific sets of affirmations labeled FOR ANYONE/ANY KIND OF BIRTH.

Case in point.

 

 

Here are some honest, compassionate, and realistic affirmations for ALL births that we hope you'll love:

  • I love my baby

  • I am a strong and capable mother/parent

  • It is okay to be scared

  • I am doing the best I can with what I know

  • I am flexible and open to change

  • My baby is coming

  • People all over the world are birthing with me

  • I am brave

  • I am ready to meet my baby

  • I've got stamina

  • I am patient with myself and my baby

  • I can do hard things

  • This will not last forever

  • I am surrounded by love and so is my baby

  • Even though I feel overwhelmed, I can still do this
     

For good measure, we put together a Pinterest board with these and other affirmations that might be valuable in your preparation for birth. Happy pinning!


Let us know if you found this helpful, and if you have any other honest, compassionate, and realistic affirmations to add to this list!