It’s time to move into the birthing suite! How exciting! The goal of course is to stay as calm, composed and confident as possible but, let’s face it, most birthing suites aren’t exactly the most lavish of places! Particularly if it’s your first time or if you’ve had previous less-than-desirable experiences, the sheer sight of the birthing suite could be enough to cause your heart rate to rise as the realisation that this is really happening sinks in. Embrace it! Take those nervous butterflies and channel excitement at the prospect that you are about to meet your precious bub!
It goes without saying that the environment around us either assists or hinders us in how we feel. As such, your birth environment can affect your experience of labour and birth. The ideal birthing environment is one where you feel safe, secure and supported. One where you are largely undisturbed with your privacy respected, and a comfortable temperature.
Oh, and quiet’s good too! True story, I kid you not: Whilst I was calmly breathing through my contractions in my hospital birthing suite with my firstborn I heard my fellow comrade birthing next door scream: “Get this thing out of meeeeeeeee!!!!” Thankfully moments later we heard their sweet baby’s glorious first cry and I was able to keep my head in the game. Thanks to my education & training (which she could have done with!) I didn’t let it phase me and went on to enjoy an incredible, pain-free birthing experience. But yes, quiet’s good!
Most births still take place in a hospital, but there are other options. Interestingly, “alternative settings for birth such as birth centres (or at home), are associated with reduced levels of intervention and a positive experience of labour and birth for women” (source). Both my children were born in hospital (although my second wanted to make her entrance on the drive there) and I’d love to see more and more women being supported to birth calmly, confidently and naturally in this setting. Regardless of where you plan to birth, think about how you can create the most supportive environment (including your period of labouring at home).
“A comfortable environment is going to help you stay relaxed and this is crucial in allowing the physiologic process of labor to occur. An intricate blend of hormones is released during labor – some are helpful, but others can be destructive and even slow things down. Fear and stress may ‘stall’ labor and create a need for medical interventions. If you do choose a birth environment other than your home, consider laboring at home as long as possible, and explore ways in which you can make the transition to the birth center or hospital as seamless as possible. Music, eye masks, and continuous labor support – such as a doula, family member, or friend – can be a great help.” (Source: Choices in Childbirth)
So think about this in advance – what do you love and what could significantly assist you in feeling as relaxed, calm and in control as possible?
- Use such items as mats, beanbags, cushions, blankets and/or a birth ball to make yourself comfortable. Remember that upright positions will help your labour to progress. Keep moving as much as you can.
- Ambience is more important to some than others. I was so internally focused on the task at hand that the look and feel of the hospital setting really didn’t bother me. Plus, my labours were fast. But you might prefer dim lighting, non-essential medical equipment moved out of the way, blinds opened or closed etc. If there’s anything bothering or distracting you, make it known and ask if something can be done about it.
- Wear comfortable clothing! You’ve probably been living in them anyway these last few months and will most likely continue doing so moving into motherhood lol, so don’t stop now!
- You might like your own pillow, robe, slippers etc.
- Would you like any music playing? Perhaps you have songs with special significance? Perhaps you’ve already been meditating to something or there’s a particular tune or style of music that you just generally find soothing and reassuring? Or it can be fun! Think Wham’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” or Cyndi Lauper’s “Girl’s Just Wanna Have Fun”! You call the shots! Jack Johnson’s ‘In Between Dreams’ album was just right for me. It could be classical, jazz, your favourite musical, pop, hip-hop, whatever! Prepare a playlist in advance with different styles for different times. The faster, livelier tunes may be helpful in the early stages, but as you start to need to focus more, breathe deeper etc I would recommend something slower and more rhythmic. “Ideally the perfect labour soundtrack will be composed of 60-70 beats per minute (BPM) – the same as a healthy resting pulse rate – which can help the brain enter into a relaxed state, also known as ‘alpha state’. It is possible to purchase special ‘alpha music’ – such as that by famous composer John Levine. This music needs to be conditioned, spend some quiet time each day relaxing with your music, condition it to relaxation and slow breathing, if you have a massage, facial or reflexology take it along with you and ask the therapist to play it whilst you relax. On the day a well-conditioned piece of alpha music can have strong relaxation results.” (Source: Sarah Ockwell-Smith)
- What else would make you feel comfortable? Birthing is a whole body experience and your senses are heightened so use them to your advantage – they can also be a great distraction. Have you or could you explore some high quality pure essential oils that you could diffuse in your birthing suite (or place a few drops on to cotton balls)? Specifically relaxing ones, uplifting ones, or simply your favourite fragrance? “The important thing then is to use that oil, build up a connection with it (check it’s safe to use during pregnancy!), use it whenever you relax: in the bath, when you go to sleep, during a massage… and really build up that conditioning. So many forget the importance of this, expecting a ‘labour oil blend’ to work magic on the day, the real magic though comes from the conditioning of the oil before labour!” (Source: Sarah Ockwell-Smith)
- Visuals such as positive birth affirmations (note: The Birthing Journey’s Instagram coming soon) or beautiful landscapes, a favourite place or wonderful memories of past adventures can provide a great focal point.
- Even a favourite stuffed toy from your childhood or one you’ve got ready for your precious bub can provide reassuring comfort and help the oxytocin flow.
- Find out if there’s a bath you can use and even if a water birth is an option if that’s something you’re interested in. Taking a shower can also be calming and relaxing, refreshing plus assist in reducing any discomfort you may be feeling, such as in your back.
Many of these tools to assist you in remaining calm and feeling confident can of course be used at any time in the lead-up to your birth – at home, in the car, wherever and whenever you feel you need them.
Then there’s your cheer squad. Your crew.
Greatly assisting in creating a calm and comfortable birthing environment is your support team. Think carefully about who you will have in the birthing suite with you. Obviously there will be your medical team, but it’s worth asking what their policy is re student doctors/midwives etc – the last thing you need is a whole tribe of strangers observing you and taking notes! In saying this, I did have one student midwife with me who followed my journey with my firstborn and she was absolutely wonderful. We developed a lovely relationship, I felt extremely comfortable with her, and it was so nice to see a familiar face when the time came.
Would you consider hiring a doula? Hugely increasing in popularity, a doulas role is to support and assist you and your partner and their stats are very impressive: significantly less chance of a c-section, less/no pain sensation and pain relief, greatly increased chance of spontaneous vaginal birth and being satisfied with the birth experience.
Then there’s your partner and perhaps a family member or friend that you feel completely comfortable with (this is key!). If you’re going to have someone other than your partner with you in the birthing suite, make sure they’re someone who will build you up in confidence, support and
encourage you and know and be respectful of your birthing wishes. A little word of advice: do your best to speak nicely to everyone involved in supporting you (staff, family and friends) no matter how you might be feeling – it will help keep the atmosphere a calm, loving one.
If someone has the ability or is likely to make you feel anxious, don’t have them present. And, in my humble opinion, no one forces their way in to your delivery space – you call the shots! This is an incredibly special time for the two people who created this precious baby and only you decide if anyone else shares this once-in-a-lifetime experience with you.
One final suggestion. When the time comes, think carefully about who you will let know that you’re in labour, if anyone. Of course it’s fine for you to tell as many people as you’d like, but make sure they’re trustworthy (i.e. will keep it hush-hush until you announce), supportive and won’t be bothersome. Parents can be wonderful. A sister or close girlfriend who’s barracking for you, potentially having experienced childbirth herself, perhaps praying for you, can be hugely encouraging and uplifting. But the last thing you want or need is a barrage of calls, texts etc from well-meaning others wondering how you’re going, whether you’ve had the baby yet etc. It’s your wonderful news to share when you’re ready.
I’m so excited for you!!! Believe in yourself and in your bub. Together, you are a phenomenal team!