Every pregnancy ends in labor and delivery. The clinical definition of childbirth is "the culmination of a human pregnancy or gestation period with the birth of one or more newborn infants from a woman's uterus." A more pleasant way to think about the entire procedure is as the process leading up to the moment when you get to hold your baby in your arms.
The process of babies being born is nothing new and there's nothing historic about the process. All babies are born the same way and this hasn't changed since the first humans. What has changed is are the resources and aids available to a women in labor.
For the most part, woman midwives were responsible for taking care of laboring women throughout childbirth history. Regardless of the culture, there were always women highly knowledgeable about the birthing process. Most births were at home and in many places today, even in first world countries, it's still more common for women to give birth at home than in a hospital.
In the 1840s chloroform and ether were more often used by American doctors to relieve the pain of childbirth. By the 1900s more women were choosing to have their babies in hospitals so they could enjoy relief from the pain of natural childbirth. According to childbirth stories, women who had hospital births experienced what was called Twilight Sleep. Morphine was first given and then ether or chloroform when the baby's head was delivered which meant many women had a type of amnesia following their babies' births. This happened up until the 1950s. By the 1930s half of women were having babies in hospitals and by the 1960s 95 percent of women were having hospital births.
The 1970s saw an increased interest in natural childbirth again. Many women choose to have births at home sometimes with family and close friends there to watch the childbirth of the newest member of the family.
Labor preparation can begin as early as the end of the first trimester where you may be tempted to watch a childbirth movie or two or look at a few childbirth photos. Some women can handle this and it doesn't cause them any additional stress. But other women find the whole process of watching a challenging labor too much to handle, especially if it's a first child.
But the majority of women choose not to prepare for labor until much later in their pregnancies. If you're taking any prenatal or birthing classes, you'll probably be shown a childbirth video so you know what to expect. The videos tend to be graphic with close-ups of strained faces and crowning baby heads. Some women find this helpful; others find these types of visuals scary. You'll also be shown ways to breathe which you may or may not find useful.
The most important thing you can do to get ready for the birthing event is to be prepared to have an open mind. Create a birthing plan if you must and if it makes you feel more comfortable and in control. But don't be crushed if the entire process doesn't go exactly how you planned. Your baby may not cooperate with your wishes. You may choose to use pain medication after all. Or an unforeseen event could mean you have to have a hospital birth when you really wanted a home birth. Flexibility is the key to mentally preparing for the actual birthing event.
Exercise can make childbirth easier. You don't need to be a fitness queen but simple pelvic exercises from approximately the 20th week of pregnancy can help reduce the length of the second stage of labor. Practice Kegels to help condition and stretch the muscles that support the uterus, bladder and other pelvic organs. It'll also help reduce the chance of perineum tears during delivery by strengthening those muscles.