Having a straightforward birth isn't always down to luck. There's a lot you can do to improve your chances of having a problem-free delivery - from where you choose to give birth, to who you're with, your position and even your state of mind.
Here are six tried-and-tested ways to make your baby's arrival as easy as possible.
1 Chill out at home
Don't feel you have to rush to the hospital at the very first twinge. If you can bear it, and your midwife agrees, stay at home for as long as possible because labour progresses much more quickly if you're relaxed and in a familiar environment.
Babies very rarely 'fall out', particularly if this is your first labour and your waters haven't broken, so there's usually plenty of time to rest at home. Community midwife Alison Clark says, 'Being in your own space helps you relax. If you're in an environment where you get tense, it slows everything down.'
2 The power of touch
Not everyone wants to be touched during labour, but many women find a firm massage can help to relieve pain, especially in the lower back area. Some aromatherapy oils can help, too - one study found that women who used them during labour had shorter labours and used fewer drugs for pain relief.
This is one area of labour where your birth partner can really help. So in preparation, get them to regularly practise their massage techniques on you during your pregnancy.
If you use aromatherapy oils, always check they're suitable for use in pregnancy.
3 Have a ball
During labour, when you need to rest and relax, it's more comfy to sit on a birthing ball than a chair. Plus, leaning over the ball can really help you cope with contractions. Don't just wait until you're in labour, though. Sitting on a birthing ball can also affect the way your baby lies, especially during the last weeks of pregnancy. This is because the ball raises your hips higher than your knees, which helps put your baby into the'‘optimal foetal position'.
You can buy a Birth-ease Anti-burst Birth Ball for £15.99 from www.birthease.com.
4 Water works
Whether it's your own bath, the hospital birth pool or a birth pool you've hired to use at home, being in warm water is one of the easiest ways to relax during labour. A recent study showed that women who spent some of their labour in water felt less pain and were less likely to need an epidural. Being in water also helps support your body, making it easier for you to move into more comfortable positions to help labour progress. You can go on to deliver in the water or get out for the actual delivery.
'Some women find the water helps take the weight off and it also relaxes them so they dilate. It's also thought that the water helps keep the baby calm when it's born - it's not quite as startling as coming out into cold air,' says Alison.
If you're at home, you can have a bath at any stage of labour.
5 Stand and deliver (or kneel, sit or squat...)
The traditional position of lying on your back isn't the best one. Staying upright, particularly earlier on in labour, is better as it allows gravity to help move the baby down. You can also try kneeling, which isn't as tiring as standing and will help keep your pelvis flexible and open. Some women like to straddle a chair the wrong way round, leaning forward onto the chair back. Squatting is good, too, as it helps to open up your pelvis.
Some positions, like squatting, can be difficult to maintain - although pregnancy yoga classes will help strengthen your muscles.
6 Support act
You're allowed to have more than one birth partner. Most women want to bring the baby's dad, but think about asking a clued-up friend, your sister or your mum to come along, too. Birth partners provide extra support during the trickier moments, and having two can be helpful, particularly if you have a long labour. You'll always have someone with you, even when one heads off to the canteen or the loo, and they can take turns massaging you and fetching refreshments!
Also, research shows that having another woman with you during labour reduces your risk of a having a Caesarean.