Owning your birth environment
Updated: Jun 26
In some senses, we're all birthing within the same environment. We're all living in the same culture and most of us are being cared for by the same medical system. Some things are outside of our control like how well-funded our local maternity services are or what the priorities of the management teams are. We see headlines in newspapers and form an expectation of what's "normal" from the births we see in television dramas.
Pregnancy is a time were we can really start to reflect on how our cultural and family environment has affected us and our expectations and about what is in our control to change within ourselves. If you didn't even know you had choices about your birth we hope this information will get you started thinking about the things inside your control and what choices you really want to make.
If you haven't already got ways that you know you can relax pregnancy is a great time to develop these. Try out different things and see what suits you. Some people like mindfulness, some guided relaxation, others like to be creative and write a journal or try out art or learn crochet or knitting. Lots of people find peace and relaxation in nature, many in massage or other hands-on therapies.
Taking ownership of the space inside your head in terms of how you relax and in terms of the information you learn about the process of birthing and what's available for you to use to support yourself is a great place to start planning for your birth.
Place of birth is just the start of the plan.
When we say birthing environment we're not just talking about if you choose to birth at home or in the hospital or in the birth centre. These are all things you may want to consider but regardless of your choice of birthplace, your birth space remains yours and we're going to talk about things you might want to consider in all of these places.
The most important thing about your birth space is that it's somewhere that you feel is a safe space for you.
The way your body works, all the hormones and muscle contractions, the bodily process not under your conscious control work at their best when you feel your most safe and comfortable. So, when you're choosing where to birth and the things and people you will have with you in that space, you may want to ask yourself "will this make me more or less safe and relaxed?"
Using your senses
One way to start thinking about how you might feel safe when giving birth is by thinking about how you feel safe and comforted when you've had a hard day. What is it that you are looking forward to at the end of a difficult day?
When you're setting up your birth space, you might find it really helpful to think about how your environment will affect your senses.
To feel cosy and comfy and safe you can use all of your senses, you can use soft pillows, duvets blankets, and create a nest to snuggle in. You can use low soft lighting like candles or fairy lights or even just use a sleep mask or eye mask and totally take yourself off into your own world. You can choose relaxing or familiar music and ask the people around you to just keep their voices down or to whisper. You can find smells that help you relax like a familiar scent from home or from your childhood, or choose some essential oils that smell nice and relaxing to you.
Your team are a vital part of your environment
One of the most important things in your birth space. Is the people who are there. And the time when you're pregnant, you've got time to train your birth team. To decide who's going to be the right people to be there with you. You can choose people who are going to believe in you, trust you and your choices and support you and your choices. If your partner is likely to feel like they want to protect you from the 'pain' of birthing your baby while you are pregnant you may want to help them change their perspective to trusting that you have what it takes and being your cheerleader, being prepared to marvel at you and trust your judgement for what support you need. The protection they may need to be ready to provide is protecting your space. This means keeping things calm and relaxing around you. The support they can bring that might be the most valuable is to ensure not only are they listening to you and respecting what you say but that those caring for you are also listening to you and showing your respect.
Practical Plans for your birth space
Making a birth plan is one of the things that you can do to set up your birth space. we always suggest the idea of making a birth plan that doesn't only say this is my ideal birth. A birth plan that says this is what is important to me, even if things go differently to my ideal birth on the day can be very helpful.
Unless you have a planned cesarean birth or induction of labour all birth plans may need some thought about what you will do at home for as little or as long as you are there. Here are some of the ideas that our team have found helpful.
There are lots of safe and comfy spots around your house and you will already instinctively know where you like to be to relax. Often people find that they feel happiest in places they weren't expecting so you may also want to plan to go with what feels good to you on the day.
It can be tempting to get excited when you feel yourself going into labour and try to be really active immediately to 'get your contractions going' but also remember that the process can be long and tiring so being prepared to try to rest even if you can't sleep might be a good point to have in your plan.
If moving around feels really good it's also nice to know you can really relax and walk all around your house or even your neighbourhood. Lots of people find being in contact with nature very relaxing even just hanging out in the garden if you have one or opening up the window and letting the fresh air hit your face can be soothing.
Because it is somewhere that we are very used to feeling relaxed and "letting go" a lot of people find that sitting on the toilet is a great way to get comfortable in labour. It's also been observed to be such an effective way of moving labour along that it has even been dubbed the dilation station.
Whether or not you're planning a water birth or to use a birth pool for labour you can still use water during your labour. Having a bath or shower is another time we often relax in our daily lives and the sensation of warm water can be really helpful in labour too.
Environmental comfort measures are portable.
Sure you can't take your house with you to the hospital but there are lots of things you can take with you. Most important of these things is the knowledge that you still have the same rights to feel safe and be respected in the hospital as you do at home. Doing things that are not the usual hospital way of doing them doesn't make you a nuisance or a trouble maker.
Movement and getting sleep are as important in early labour when that's induced as they are when it's come on spontaneously. Use the hospital as your neighbourhood for a wander and make sure you have ear plugs or noise cancelling headphones and a sleep mask to help yourself get those things while you're going through the induction process. At home you can use your TV or the radio to watch or listen to some comedy which is another way to relax and build your good hormones. If you go into hospital for an induction having funny films, TV shows, podcasts or audiobooks downloaded in your phone or laptop is another way you can build a relaxing labour environment around yourself.
Moving the bed to the side of the room (so that you have a good amount of space to move around as you labour) and closing the blinds or curtains are really strong ways of feeling that the space is yours. You can bring your own battery tealights or fairy lights and a battery essential oil diffuser if you like. Bring your own pillow and blanket and make a cosy space for when you need to rest, bring photos of your loved ones and/or birth affirmation cards to have up around the room if that helps you feel relaxed.
If you have questions about any of this or anything related to pregnancy, birth or postnatal experiences and plans please come along to our meet-ups details are on the front page of the website and the meet-ups page and also on our social media pages @informedpbb on Facebook and Instagram.
If you would like a check list of ideas for your birth bag or home birth box we will send you one for free when you sign up for our email list. You'll also get a monthly email with lots more information and ideas about all things pregnancy, birth and beyond.