Culturally we can talk negatively about it, like it is something women are not capable of doing without help – we have somehow become detached from believing in our ability to labour and birth. We focus on the risk rather than its normality and the need to manage risk rather than assume the worst is always going to happen. So how can you prepare well for labour and birth, so you know more about your options and what could work well for you as labour unfolds?
Keep it simple…
Keep it simple and try not to fear what your body needs to do but it is important to have realistic expectations about what labour and birth could be like.
Just as if you needed to go for a long run, it’s going to hurt. The muscles of your uterus will be working hard in labour, that shouldn’t be feared because it means your body is working well and as it should be to birth your baby. This pain is going to be harder to manage if labour is long, if there is an additional on-going backache, if you aren’t able to move freely, if you are scared.
While every labour is different – duration, intensity, where the contractions are felt, the pattern of contractions – there is also a range of consistencies…
- needing to feel safe – if you are tense and scared, contractions might be harder to work with and your contractions might not be as efficient.
- being communicated with – this can you help you to feel safe and supported.
- being able to move to be comfortable – labouring women often need to have gravity and to move to ease pressure, to maximise space in the pelvis and to respond to what feels right.
- listening to your body – I have yet to experience a labouring woman who doesn’t want to get up and move.
- using your breathing to stay calm and to work with contractions – this makes all the difference, I have seen this change labours from being out of control to being relaxed and manageable. This is something you can control when you may feel you have no control with your labour.
- drink water, eat if are hungry – this helps to give you and your baby the energy you need and so you don’t become dehydrated.
- go to the loo regularly – this helps to keep you comfortable and to maximise the space for your baby.
Labour is a dance of needs…
- being upright-conserving energy
- gentle words of encouragement-firm words to continue
- cuddles and a hand to hold-wanting space
- being guided by your body-needing suggestions to refocus
- feeling like you can do this-feeling like you are struggling
Birth supporters need to be responsive, caring and encouraging.
How do you prepare?
- Rest & Relax – you don’t know when labour will begin but rest and relaxation in those last few weeks is important. Eat well, stay hydrated, go for walks, nap if you can and have some early nights. We focus so much on how much it might hurt that we can underestimate how exhausting it could be.
- Read well – a bit of wisdom from Ina May Gaskin and Sheila Kitzinger never does any harm. And you can’t go wrong with my Labour & Birth Handbooks, which are practical, realistic and written from an experienced perspective as a busy antenatal teacher.
- Book onto some good antenatal classes – it can help to do some research to find classes run by someone who is experienced and which will provide you with all-round information. Obviously I want expectant parents in Tyneside and Newcastle to book with me! But sessions with a range of practical information and breathing skills can be really beneficial especially if it includes caesareans, induction and pain relief.Part of my teaching focuses on caesareans, as well as induction and epidurals and how you can manage these – I passionately believe that gravity, movement, using your breathing to stay calm and saying what you need are just as important to manage risk, to keep you connected to your labour and to enable your contractions to work efficiently.
- Think about where you will birth your baby – home, birthing centre, maternity unit. Where will you feel safest and with the best options for you?
- Practice and know how to use your breathing and relax your body. This is a simple practical skill, it’s beneficial for you and your baby and it’s very effective.
Labour is about endurance, energy, strength and trust. It is both physical and emotional, it can be demanding but let’s not fear it, prepare well for it instead so you can manage expectations and assumptions as well as to gain realistic , practical knowledge and skills.
Just get in touch if you have any queries about how to prepare well for the birth of your baby.
Janine – a specialist in pregnancy, birth & parent support