I have had discussions with many women about their views on natural birth. Their comments were similar to what many women think of natural birth: it is an interesting concept, but not for them. One opinion that struck me recently was when a woman stated “[d]eep down I hope that when I am ready to produce babies, I can do so naturally in my home, standing up.” She knows that she wants to have a natural birth experience, and yet she views the possibility of having her own birth being natural as “just like a fantasy story in [her] brain…” Another woman expressed how she believes that it “takes a strong set of people to go through childbirth au-naturale.” It is amazing how some women today are aware that natural birth is their ideal plan, but when the idea of their capabilities is brought into question, they do not believe they can do it. Every mother-to-be wants a positive birthing experience: one where she feels safe and in good hands. But what does this look like and how can a mother actively give herself a positive experience? When it comes down to it, yes; an experienced birth team is highly helpful. However, the birthing mother and partner have more power than they often believe. Here are a few tips for labouring women and their partners to consider during their big day.
Before the time to push comes around, live your day normally. It is common among society to define labour as when the mother is pushing her baby out; however, this is only one stage of labour. Labour can take anywhere from a few hours to well over a day. The earlier stages of labour, before pushing, help the mother’s body open up gently to prepare for pushing. During this time it is good to live the day as you would any other day. If you’re tired, sleep; if you’re hungry, eat. Birthing can take a lot of effort, so the less fatigued you are prior to pushing, the easier it will be. Going on walks can often help the labour to move along well. I do not recommend doing any heavy lifting or super strenuous activities but do not limit your day’s activities because you are so excited about being in labour.
Do not put limits on your body. Birthing a baby takes a lot of energy! Therefore, this is one of the most vital times in a woman’s life to make sure she replenishes her body with nutrients. When having a baby in the hospital, your intake of fluids and food are often limited in case a caesarean needs to be performed later. This is an unfortunate case since women need to eat in order to give themselves the energy to push. That being said, if you are not hungry during your labour, then you do not need to eat. As previously mentioned, labour can take a while. So, limiting your food and water intake is very unsafe at this point. The only time when a woman should be allowed to limit her food intake is while she is in the pushing phase of her labour. Otherwise a woman may go hours or even days without food.
There is no “normal” amount of time for a woman to give birth to her baby. Since these times range so widely, it is important to let your body prepare for birthing the baby on its own time. Often in the hospital, if the baby is not delivered within an allotted period of time, then induction or other interventions will begin. Honour your body. Know that it is made to give birth, so if your body takes time, then give it that time.
Use Hydrotherapy. Water is used to relax a large portion of the population. Having a warm shower or bath can release muscle tension in the lower back or abdomen. Hydrotherapy includes the intake of water. It is important to drink water on a daily basis to keep hydrated; the same can be said for childbirth.
Keep the atmosphere calm and comfortable. When it comes time to push have your partner or other birth attendants keep the atmosphere calm. Childbirth among all animals, including humans, is highly adapted to keep ourselves and our offspring safe during the labouring process. If the setting of our birth is filled with worried people or situations which we are not familiar with, then our bodies will naturally react to slow the lowering of the baby until we feel safe. It is even possible for a baby who is coming out with good progress to reverse back into the uterus if the mother feels at all scared or in danger.
Women do not need to be highly stimulated during their birth. On the contrary, it is important for them to focus on their contractions over any other stimulus. Consider what atmosphere people often enjoy while about to go to bed. Lights down low, being left to yourself (or with your partner) without disturbances, freedom to adjust when uncomfortable etc. These are just a few examples, but they make a huge difference. When a person is able to be themselves in a familiar setting they feel safe. This allows their bodies to react comfortably. Since the mother feels safe in a calm atmosphere, there is less resistance from her body to keep the baby safe inside. Instead she is able to welcome it to the world more easily.
Work with gravity. The typical birthing position portrayed in the media is the supine position: when the woman is on her back with her legs in the air. This position is highly inconvenient as it means that the mother will have to depend on her pushing strength alone to birth the baby. This position was created for ease of the birth attendant: the doctor has a good view of the baby from this angle, and therefore it has been made the default position for hospital births. But birth is about more than what is easy for the doctor. It is about the mother, partner, and their baby. When a woman is given the freedom to adjust her body during labour then she is then able to find more suitable positions for an easier birth. Positions where the vagina is facing towards the ground have the advantage of gravity being able to help pull the baby down the birth canal. This makes it much easier for the mother as she spends less energy moving the baby. Her cervix is also able to stretch easier in these positions because the tailbone can freely move out of the way. These positions generally work better for releasing pain in the mother, since she is comfortable her tension releases more easily.
Use objects to your advantage. Anything from leaning against a chair to sitting on an exercise ball can aid in birth. Listen to what your mind is telling you. If you really feel like bending over the bathtub: do it. Often Doulas will bring various objects to help in childbirth; from rebozos (pregnancy, birthing, and postpartum scarves) to tennis balls for messaging, and even exercise balls for resting on.
Hire a Doula. I know this may sound like an ad selling the idea of Doulas, but I am being serious. Even if you do not hire me, hire another Doula. They offer selfless support and they do their job to make your birth experience the most rewarding time in your life. If you think you’ve experimented with everything to lessen your pain, chances are a Doula will have more ideas in her bag. Doulas put in countless hours customizing your birthing experience to your expectations. Your partner is able to rest at ease knowing a Doula is in the room caring for the mother in his/her absence (whether they are resting, eating, or just need time to calm themselves down). There are many reasons which justify having a Doula at your birth. As well, having a Doula means that you will have someone who knows all of these techniques and processes, thus relieving you and your partner from straining to remember everything you’ve read.
In the end, having a well experienced support team is a huge help in having a healthy and positive birth experience. However, there are plenty of measures that the parents-to-be can take to further ensure a pleasant labour. It is important to not only trust your care providers, but also to trust yourself and your partner with your abilities. As long as you are aware of your influence on one another, you will be able to create the right atmosphere. Speak words of encouragement, kiss during contractions, and embrace this moment! These are only a few examples of what couples can do to help each other. But it is important to know that out of everyone, you and your partner have something that none of the other support members have. You have the history together to really know one another and what the other needs, and the future to grow together.
**Side Note: This article was written in conjunction with “Birth: The Ultimate Sexual Experience” which explains that it is possible to feel pleasurable sensations during labour. As well, it summarizes what happens in the body during the birth process. If you would like to read the other article, you can find it here.