I believe for women to feel good about our births, we need to own our births by being prepared, well-informed, and making sure we have the right kind of support. Although there is much about the labor and birthing process that we cannot predict or control, we can empower ourselves by choosing baby and mother-friendly care providers and hospitals/birth centers, knowing our options, being an active part of the decision-making process and trusting in our ability to birth– all which will enable us to become more confident and nurturing mothers.
Whether it is an obstetrician or midwife that practices in a hospital, birth center or home, it is imperative that mama-to-be feels safe and trusts her care provider. This is one of the most important decisions you will make. Your care provider will ultimately make all final decisions about you and your baby’s health and safety. Routine visits should not be rushed and there should be plenty of time to ask questions, discuss options and communicate preferences. Mother-to-be should be treated with care, kindness and respect and encouraged in her ability to birth and mother. Check out this great post written by the creator of BellyBelly 11 Questions to Ask Before Choosing an Obstetrician. For home births, there are specific questions that are important when interviewing midwives, such as how many clients they take a month, if they work with an assistant midwife, what their transfer rate is and how it is handled if two people are in labor at the same time.
Birth doulas are experienced and trained professionals who understand the physiology of birth and the emotional and physical needs of a woman in labor. A birth doula provides continuous physical, emotional, and informational support before, during and just after birth. She perceives her role as nurturing and recognizes birth as a key experience the mother will remember throughout her life. A doula’s role changes, depending on the needs of the woman and her partner. Doulas can encourage the partner to become involved in the birth to the extent he or she feels comfortable by demonstrating effective techniques that can be used by the partner during each stage of labor, offering reassurance about the normal progress of labor, and/or allowing the partner the freedom to simply be present with the mother and love her. When making decisions about the course of labor, the doula can hold space for the couple and instill clarity and confidence by drawing upon information shared at a prenatal visit regarding their birth wishes. She can offer an objective viewpoint and facilitate communication between the laboring woman, her partner, and care providers as needed to help get information that will allow the woman and her partner to make consented decisions. Studies have shown that by hiring a doula, unnecessary medical interventions are decreased, thereby improving birth satisfaction. To learn more about my services as a certified birth doula, please click here.
Place of Birth
The location and environment of the birth greatly impacts how a woman feels and copes in labor. The most common options are at a hospital, birth center or at home. Hospitals and birth centers vary in policies and protocols so it is important to take a tour, meet the staff and bring a list of questions. For hospital births, questions might be about the labor and birthing environment, routine newborn care, if the hospital is part of the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative, what their intervention rates are, who is allowed in the operating room if a surgical birth becomes necessary, etc. One option is not better than the other. Women birth best where they feel safest and most comfortable.
Private Childbirth & Breastfeeding Classes
There is a tremendous amount of information available about birth. While it is important to do research, read books and hire a good birth team, it does not replace a good childbirth education class, preferably taught by a trained childbirth educator in a private setting (opposed to a hospital). My husband and I really looked forward to our weekly class and viewed it as a fun, interactive and social experience. We fully utilized that time that was set aside to ask questions, discuss our concerns and reflect. We learned a lot about ourselves and each other and bonded with other expecting mothers and partners. Although childbirth classes cover breastfeeding basics, attending a prenatal breastfeeding class can help you better prepare for and understand how breastfeeding works on a deeper level which will get you off to the best start possible. To learn more about my breastfeeding classes and private consultations, please click here.
Nourishment is important not only nutritionally, but also physically, spiritually and emotionally. Pregnancy is a sacred time to be surrounded with goodness, calm and beauty. I enjoyed taking outdoor walks, listening to soothing music, journaling, preparing wholesome meals, taking relaxing baths and spending time with uplifting friends and family. Some women enjoy prenatal yoga, meditation, dance and other activities. Whatever it is, take some time to nourish your mind, body and soul. One thing also worth mentioning is that even well-intentioned folks love to share stories and advice with pregnant women. Although some information may be useful, expecting mamas should avoid negative stories, media, and disengage from negative thoughts, conversations and behaviors in general.
Confidence in Birthing
Women have been birthing babies for thousands of years. Physically, we can do it. The majority of childbirth lies in our mental space. Our minds tell our bodies what to do and they need to work together synergistically. In order to relax during labor and childbirth we need to put our busy minds to rest, trust in ourselves, trust the process, tap into our body’s ancient wisdom, and let go. Finding some quiet time to breathe, being present and focusing on our inner strength are great ways to prepare. Some books I recommend are Birthing From Within, Mind Over Labor and Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. You can also try this little experiment and get a glimpse into what our minds can do!
Reverence for Birth
Create an energy of reverence for everything happening in the first moments after the birth of your child. It was important to us that the time of our son’s birth and the following hour (known as the Golden Hour) were protected by keeping things warm, calm, quiet and private. Even if there are medical things to attend to, the energy and mood can be kept calm with gentle voices and low lighting.
Although the breastfeeding process is instinctive, it can be challenging for a lot of mamas and seeking help early is important. La Leche League International is a wonderful place for mother-to-mother support groups. Support group leaders are volunteers who have breastfed their own babies and have been trained in basic breastfeeding management. Leaders do not generally do home visits, though they volunteer to answer phone calls. If you cannot get to a La Leche League meeting, private home or office visits with a Lactation Counselor or Consultant can be essential and may be covered by your health insurance. I was able to overcome breastfeeding challenges with the continued help and support of lactation professionals, which inspired me to become a certified Lactation Educator and Counselor. Breastfeeding can be such a rewarding experience and I am passionate about helping other women to achieve their breastfeeding goals.
New mothers need sleep and rest which can be challenging with a newborn. They also need guidance, help and support from family and friends, especially in the first weeks after birth. It is important to make sure that people know their job is to help take care of the new mama and the house so she can tend to her baby and not the other way around. Postpartum doulas can be of tremendous help offering education, companionship and non-judgmental support during the postpartum fourth trimester. She assists with newborn care, empowers mama so she can be confident taking care of her baby, eases the transition that comes with the addition of a baby to a family, meal preparation and light household tidying. She also offers information and support with infant feeding, helps with emotional and physical recovery from birth, infant soothing, and coping skills for parents.
The Baby Blues, Postpartum Depression &/or Anxiety
A woman’s body undergoes significant changes during pregnancy and childbirth. Hormonal changes, the physical and emotional experience of birth, lack of sleep, and the new responsibility of parenting can be overwhelming. It is very common for new mothers to be more sensitive and emotional for days or weeks and some mothers don’t experience it until months later. The “baby blues” is a common occurrence and there are varying degrees of intensity. More extreme cases could be postpartum anxiety and/or depression and should be followed by a health care provider. It is important to know that there is help and support to recover and come back into balance. A heightened sensitivity and feeling of being overwhelmed is also common and can be related to The Baby Blues and PPA/D, but not necessarily. I came across this personal thought in the weeks after the birth of my son which I found to be very insightful.
Something occurred to me in the first days after the birth of my first child. I had an extreme sensitivity to thoughts and words: I felt intense gratitude, but I also had a heightened awareness of everything and everyone surrounding the baby, of people’s words and moods, of sounds and light, temperature and textures, and I was feeling so very vulnerable, teary and raw. Then, looking at my little newborn, it dawned on me that I was in an emotional state that somewhat resembled her physical and emotional reality. She was entirely a sense organ of touch, taste, smell, hearing and sight, and was completely defenseless against the sensory onslaught of the outer world. It suddenly seemed to me as though the emotional space I found myself in was giving me a natural insight into the baby’s reality and sensitivities, if I could turn my attention to it. It made me smile, that yet another thing we often consider inconvenient, or as something we just have to go through, in the whole birth process may really have an undiscovered purpose that nature intended.
These are simple ways to help create an empowered, positive and fulfilling birth experience. Each woman, birth experience and baby is completely unique so it is good to be open and embrace the unknown with preparation, confidence, safety and support!
Image used with permission by Nirrimi.