Updated: Jul 24
Informed Birth Planning
Knowing how your body works can help you work with it and your baby to feel positive and confident in your birthing decisions and experiences.
There's no one type of positive birth. Neither is a positive birth only possible if all your hopes and plans come true exactly as you wish. A birth you can look back on and feel positive about means one where you knew you were supported by those around you and when you were given the chance to make the best fully informed decision for you whatever the circumstances on the day. You can have a positive home water birth, a positive planned c-section birth, a positive hospital labour ward active birth, a positive birth with an epidural, any kind of birth that feels like the right choice for you.
We're called Informed Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond because we want everyone to have access to the information they need to make their own decisions. We're there to support you to make your own decisions we're not interested in telling you what those decisions should be. Check out more about the reason for our name choice in our first blog here.
In our last post, we talked about shifting your focus from what is out of your control to what is in your control and how this may help you plan for a positive birth regardless of what's in the news or how hospital policies may change. Now it's time to get practical we've been collecting ideas about what practical activities and ideas can help to raise our positive birthing hormones and help us switch off our worried brains and let our bodies get on with the work of labour and birth.
Help my body do what?
Quick "biology of birth" side note. What are we helping /letting our body do? In labour, your body produces hormones (chemical messengers produced in one part of your body and sent to another where they cause an effect) one of the important hormones for labour and birth is oxytocin, otherwise known as the love hormone. Oxytocin is produced when you feel safe and loved and one effect it has is to cause the muscles in your uterus to contract (another which comes in handy later on is encouraging your breast milk let-down.) These waves of contractions cause the muscle to pile up at the top of your uterus ready to push your baby out. They also pull your cervix open to make space for your baby to move through your birth canal and be born. So all of the ideas to practically help yourself are to allow your body to produce as much oxytocin as it needs (and alongside that the other hormones like the endorphins which are your own personal pain relief) and to move into the positions which allow your body to give your baby the space to be born.
Relax? That's easier said than done!
There are so many outside pressures and waiting for your baby to arrive and being in labour (or maybe in labour wondering if this is it yet or not) is another potential stress.
Let's not be unrealistic we can't just tell ourselves not to worry just relax then click our fingers and it's done. But there are lots of ways we can help our bodies relax and give our brains other things to think about.
Make a nest. Follow the lead of other mammals. If you've ever had a pregnant pet you will know they don't overthink what's going on in the world, as they feel the time for their babies to be born is coming close they simply sneak away and hide somewhere dark and quiet where they won't be disturbed. You too can create a nest to birth in and you can snuggle up there in the last weeks of pregnancy and in the first weeks of your baby's life too. Make your own space with low lighting (bright lights can stop you from producing oxytocin) where you feel safe and snuggled and where no one will ask you questions (having to answer questions makes the thinking part of your brain take over and you need to let your basic bodily functions part of your brain do the work of labour). Train your partner to know if you're snuggled in your birth nest you may or may not be about to have a baby but you definitely need to feel loved and not asked questions. So they can snuggle in and cuddle you and feel safe that if you need them to phone a midwife you will let them know without needing to be asked.
Make a portable nest. If you're going into hospital you can take your nest with you by taking your own pillow, your headphones or earplugs or your own blanket to have over your head and your own smells with you.
Keep nourished and hydrated. Your body is working hard it needs fuel to do so. Sip on a drink you like and nibble on things that give you energy. Eat lots of yummy meals while you're waiting for labour to start but once you're having regular contractions you might want to stick to lighter meals and snacking just in case you find yourself seeing your last meal again as labour progresses.
Use the power of aromatherapy. Nice smells can help you feel relaxed. If you like to use an aromatherapy diffuser you may already have some favourite smells. Make sure you work with a professional aromatherapist or buy a specific labour blend to be sure you're using safe oils or stick to something basic like lavender, lemon, orange or mint.
Heat it up. Lots of people like to use a hot water bottle or heated wheat bag on their bump in labour. You might have already felt the benefits of a heat-pad or hot water bottle on your tummy if you've had bad period pain before. Heat pads are also very portable for taking with you if or when you go into the hospital.
Get wet! You've probably heard of the benefits of a birth pool for labour and birth. Another way of using water for warmth and relaxation is to take a bath or a shower. This is useful at home in early labour and in the hospital. Even if you're in a room without a birth pool you will very likely have access to a shower or bath.
Make a birthing playlist. Music is one of the most popular things to use in labour to help you feel relaxed. Many of us find music is a great way to relax and unwind, we find music connects with us on a deep level, helps us celebrate when we're happy and feel comforted when we're sad. Lots of people chose to have traditionally relaxing music such as the track from their hypnobirthing class or a relaxing playlist on a music app. Other people love to have music on that has meant a lot to them through their lives. Given that the ideal atmosphere for birthing babies is the same as the ideal atmosphere for making babies maybe your make-out music could be a good choice.
Turn up the romance. When we said oxytocin is the hormone of love we really meant it. Everything you would want out of a lovely romantic date will also help your body get what it needs for birthing. All the compliments and the romantic atmosphere and especially the cuddles and the snogging. If you want to make the most of the privacy at home in early labour anything that ends with you having an orgasm will also increase all those good hormones you're looking for.
Repurpose your exercise equipment. Popular portable accessories people have found useful during labour include a comfortable floor mat for kneeling and all fours positions which can be very comfortable in labour or a birth ball to sit on.
Raid the bathroom. A sponge or washcloth can have many uses including to bite down on, to cool your brow or to support your perineum while pushing.
Don't forget the dilation station. Honourable mention for unexpected but effective labour aid goes to the humble loo seat. The privacy and experience of letting go and relaxing our pelvic floor that we associate with using the toilet plus the comfortable position all help with the natural processes including birth.
Acupressure can be very useful, there are some good guides on Debra Betts Website
TENS machines that can be hired from most major chemists can really work well especially if you start to use them in early labour.
Massage especially counter pressure (just a consistent firm pressure) on the low back can really help especially when you feel your contractions in your back.
Changes of position can also be really helpful, check out the Spinning Babies website for more information about how and why some positions really help make room for your baby to be born.
Hypnobirthing is really effective for many people at helping them to relax and turn off their thinking brain so their body can do the birthing work. There are several online courses available and some of our local teachers are teaching by Zoom at the moment.
Keep thinking positive. Positive affirmations can help when you're pregnant to get your thoughts on a positive wavelength and during labour they can keep your brain focused during contractions.
Choose and train your birth team. The support of your birth partner(s) through the whole of labour might be the only thing you really need. Your birth partner can provide physical support with getting in a comfortable position or massage for example. But even more importantly they provide you with connection and a feeling of safety that comes from knowing that they are there just for you and completely believe in how wonderful you are. Make sure your birth team know what your birth plan A and your plans for if things change go and that they are fully on board with your choices so they know how you want them to support you.
Note for birth partners.
Many people worry about how it will feel to support their life partner through such a potentially overwhelming situation but one of the most important things you can do to prepare to be a great birth partner is to learn to relax and know that your connection and encouragement is all you need to bring with you. It's your job to just admire how amazing giving birth is and how amazing your partner is. And make sure you're prepared to look after yourself as a birth partner, pack your own stuff for labour, snacks, phone charger anything you might need. This is especially important if you're going into a hospital where you may be there for the duration, no popping out for coffee etc.