1. Find a great midwife, family physician or OB. The type of provider you choose will make a huge impact on the type of birth you have. For most low risk women a midwife is your best option. Many women still think using a midwife means you cannot have any pain relief and you have to have a home birth, this is not true. Midwives who work in the hospital can do everything an OB does except surgical births. If a surgical birth is needed they work closely with the OBs in the hospital in case surgical help is needed. A big difference between a midwife and OB is, midwives look at birth as a normal event and help you have the birth you desire and are with you or nearby for your entire labor. OBs have been taught all the things that go wrong and look at birth as a surgeon and tend to be quicker to interfere if they think there is a problem. OBs do not come to the hospital until the mom is at a 10 relying on the nurses to update them on the mom's condition. Some OBs are amazing and work very well with women to help them have their ideal birth, but they are better suited to deal with high risk pregnancies than low risk. Family physicians are a great middle ground and usually look at birth similar to midwives and can be a good alternative if you can find one. Do not hesitate to find a new doctor if you feel the one you are seeing is not listening to you and your concerns and does not respect you.
2. Hire a Doula! No matter how great your provider is they may not be available at all times to help you during labor. They also have many tasks they need to do and may not be able to just focus on the mom's needs and comforts. A doula is there just for the mom's and partner's needs, she is hired by them and has no other agenda but to help them have the best birth possible. A doula provides physical comfort measures, emotional support, gives non-medical advice, helps the couple/mom make decisions by weighing the pros and cons, and is usually available for the entire labor and stays with the mom. No matter what kind of birth you have from an all natural home birth to a c-section a doula is one of the most important needs you have.
3. Take a good childbirth education class. When I say a good class I mean something that is not just an afternoon, a good class should be 6 hours minimum 8-12 hours or longer is better. The class should include everything from pain management options with non medical options and pro and cons for medical options, what to expect during labor, hospital policies and pros and cons for each, variations in labor, stages of labor, newborn procedure and pros and cons for each, basic breastfeeding information, postpartum information and first days with baby. Some places split the breastfeeding and newborn classes into separate classes. There are many types of classes with independent teachers that teach all the above and many other things, Informed Beginnings, Bradley Method, Hypnobirthing, Hypnobabies, Birthing from Within, Sacred Pregnancy, and many more. There are many hospital based classes that tend to be cheaper but it usually comes down to you get what you pay for. Occasionally there are great full childbirth classes that hospitals offer, but usually they are quick and extremely basic, "here is one way to breathe, here are the hospital policies and here is what an epidural is." Any class is better than none and even a basic hospital class can give you more information than trying to figure it out on your own.
4. Find a lactation consultant or breastfeeding support person. Most women can breastfeed, it should be simple, easy and natural, unfortunately it is not always as simple and easy and as it should be. Finding a good breastfeeding support structure before you have the baby is ideal. La Leche League and Breastfeeding USA are great free mother to mother support structures to help with breastfeeding questions and problems. You can go the meetings before you even have the baby and get to know the leaders and ask any questions you many have. For more advanced problems a lactation consultant may be needed, many hospitals have LCs available that can help you get started, some are better than others. For difficult breastfeeding issues or struggles an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) is your best friend. They have the most training of any other breastfeeding consultants, they are the PhD of lactation support.
5. Find a good for you family physician or pediatrician. You want to find a doctor that is OK with what you as a parent decide even if it not what they would do. A good for you doctor looks at the baby as a whole and not just a number on a chart, and will explain things to you and listen to your concerns. So many parents stress out about finding a good pediatrician, do you know unless your baby is sick or has a congenital condition you do not need a pediatrician? Just like OBs they are for the babies and children who are sick and/or need the extra care. Most babies can be seen by your family practice doctor, that way the doctor knows everyone in the family and sees what is normal for your family. Pediatricians, like OBs, are trained to look for what's wrong and heal sick babies, not healthy ones. Also like OBs there are wonderful ones and others who are not so great. If you feel the doctor you are seeing is not listening to you and your concerns, and does not respect you as the parent then do not hesitate to find a new doctor.
Bonus. A word about postpartum doulas. Not everyone will need a postpartum doula. If you have a good support structure and have family and friends who can and are willing to help out after the baby is born you may not need one. If you do not have a good support network, or cannot get any help until a later date, consider hiring a postpartum doula. They are a great resource to the new mom, they can allow her to get some much needed "me" time with a shower or a nap, they can help with laundry or other light chores around the house, they can help with other children, and help with basic baby care information and breastfeeding information. I wish they had postpartum doulas when I had my first baby, the week I had him I had no support, my hubby had to go back to work the day we came home, and my mom could not come out until the end of the week. That was a long hard week and a postpartum doula would have made a world of difference.