As a doula and antenatal educator, my job is to prepare mums for their birthing day through a combination of movement, information, birth hypnosis and birth planning. Here is what I believe you must hold onto most when that day arrives.
Leaving home is the first intervention
A lot of women will say during their pregnancy that they are hoping for a low risk, natural delivery. When considering where to give birth, it is assumed in our culture that the hospital is the place to be. Our key labour hormones, oxytocin (love hormone that stimulates contractions) and endorphin (natural pain relief and relaxant) work most effectively at home. This is why many maternity units will encourage you to stay at home as long as possible, as we know this is most likely to contribute to easier pain management and a speedier labour. What’s not to love? Travelling to a hospital or maternity unit is likely to slow things down for a while, and it takes time for your body to adjust to the new strange environment and start producing that oxytocin and endorphin again. If you are birthing in hospital, bring your own familiar items such as blankets and cushions, music and scents – and make things as dark as possible to help that oxytocin to thrive.
Bring a hard copy birth plan
There is nothing worse than hearing somebody say ‘I’m just going to go with the flow.’ What this generally means is, I don’t want any expectations and then I won’t be disappointed, However, birth puts us in an immensely vulnerable position where often we are required to make really important decisions, all of which has an effect on the birth experience and ours and our baby’s health and wellbeing. The best way to make an informed decision is to research the risks and the benefits of certain choices before you may have to make them. A birth plan should read like a list of preferences, that encompasses your ideal scenario right down to the outcome you are least hoping for, and what you would like to happen should that occur. You might have several different care providers during labour and they all need to be aware of your wishes so they will know how best to support you. The birth plan also shows that you are an informed, confident person who understands your options.
Your birth partner is your advocate
Choose them wisely. Your birth partner and birth plan go hand in hand – hopefully you will have chosen somebody who knows your wishes, can keep you calm and is not intimidated by medical professionals. The job of the birth partner is to make you feel safe and increase those oxytocin and endorphin levels, to make labour more manageable and progress well. Their job is to help navigate interactions with caregivers so that you are not overly disturbed during the important job of birthing your baby. They are there to reiterate your plan and remind you to eat, drink and empty your bladder. They are there so you can switch off and focus on each contraction. The birth partner is the protector of the birth space and allows the mother to go inwards and draw on her inner birthing power (and apply counterpressure when needed!)
You can refuse anything and anybody
Bodily autonomy is something that you can easily forget on the day, as you are assimilated into the medical system and the assumed authority of medical professionals. Phrases such as “You can’t” and “We won’t let you” are often heard in the birthing room. What you need to remember is that you can decline anything that is offered to you, and decline care from anybody who is having a negative effect on your wellbeing. Nobody should be using threats, coercion or emotive language to convince you to do what they want. Negative phrases and negative people can inibit your oxytocin production, and may slow down or even stall labour. Most importantly, right now, YOU are the expert as you are the one in labour birthing your baby. Nobody prioritises your baby more than you and it is your expert instincts that will guide you to the right choices.
Breathe and move – you can do this!
Our pelvises are perfectly designed to open during labour as the baby navigates its way out – this is assisted with dynamic birthing positions. Stay away from the bed! Lying down minimises space in the pelvis and compresses the tailbone, making it more difficult for the baby to get into a good position to progress labour. Squats, all fours, knee-supported squats, rocking, swaying, all these things will create space and also help you manage the intense sensations of birth. Try to take deep breaths as this will help you to stay calm and in control, as well as getting oxygen to your uterus and baby. Avoid focussing on how dilated you are or how long you have been in labour, as this cannot tell you how long it will be until you meet your baby. You are evolution perfected and would not be here if millions of women before you had been unable to give birth.