I am a huge advocate of home birth and think it is fantastic. Both of my children were planned home births (neither were actually born at home though – that’s a whole other blog post!), but the more I work in the birth field, the more I am becoming convinced that it is not the actual place of birth that matters. It’s what and who is in your birthing space that has the strongest influence. Birthing in a hospital does pose some challenges to achieving a natural birth (if desired), but contrary to popular belief, it IS possible to have a good, enjoyable, and drug-free birth in a hospital setting.
The Birthing Space
In my opinion, the absolutely most important thing to consider is your birthing space. Feeling safe and comfortable plays such an important role in your body’s reaction to labour, and your environment has a lot to do with how you feel. So take the time to plan how you want to personalize your birthing room at the hospital. Always remember that you can control most environments and make them as birth friendly as possible. Whatever and wherever your original plans – it is always possible to retain some control over your birth environment.
Lighting is key! – Hardly any hospital rooms have oxytocin/melatonin friendly lighting. Bright lights are a huge inhibitor of labour progress, which is why most women prefer a dimly lit environment to birth in. In hospital rooms you are unable to light candles (compressed gas!) and so I am a huge fan of battery operated candles. So shut the blinds, dim the lights, and scattered some battery operated candles around the room to get that oxytocin flowing!
Play some tunes – My husband’s main job during labour was to be my DJ! I found music so relaxing. It helped me tune out all of the hospital hustle and bustle around me. Some mamas-to-be make a ‘labour playlist’ containing their favourite songs. They don’t all have to be relaxing, either. Play whatever music will help you feel comfortable. I have even had some doula clients who preferred to play sounds, such as rainfall or crickets.
Get rid of that ‘hospital smell’ – Our sense of smell is the sense most closely related to our memory. This can work either for or against us. The smell of medical equipment, antiseptic and latex gloves can bring up unpleasant feelings for us, most often triggering the release of adrenaline-- which in turn can slow labour and increase pain levels. Whereas the smell of plants, flowers, the ocean and the smell of our home can all encourage us to relax and feel good. Consider bringing some aromatherapy with you (but first make sure that you are not birthing in a ‘scent-free’ hospital).
Ask for the staff to respect your privacy – The feeling of safety and privacy is so important when you are in the birthing process. Consider asking for the staff to enter the room as minimally as possible, and to limit vaginal checks. I’m sure you can imagine that an unfamiliar doctor entering the room, turning on the lights, and sticking his/her hand up into your cervix is not particularly beneficial to the birth process!
Don’t confine yourself to the hospital bed. If you require an IV, or need to be monitored continuously, there are lots of positions that you can try! I have been to many births where the nurse tries to convince the labouring mom that she MUST stay in bed because of the monitors. This is simply not true. Sitting on a birth ball and leaning on bed, hands and knees on bed, or standing up and leaning on bed are all positions you can try while trying to stay close to the bed/monitor. Being in the hospital also doesn’t mean you need to birth on your back. Speak to your caregiver in advance about other positions that they may be comfortable with, including hands and knees on the bed and squatting using squat bar.
Don’t Arrive at the Hospital Too Early
Early labour often moves slowly, and also starts and stops. Being at the hospital before active labour is established might make it more likely that your labour is augmented. Induction agents are so commonly used today, even for women already in labour. If you want to avoid them, then you may want to get some of your dilation out of the way at home, where you can move freely and are not on the hospital's schedule.
Be an Informed Birth Consumer
Though it may not often seem so, birth is a consumer issue. When speaking about their experiences with labour and birth, it is very common to hear women say, “they won’t *let* me do that”. Some women seem to have forgotten that they are customers receiving a service, hiring a service provider, not a boss. YOU are the expert on your body, your labour, your birth, and your baby. The rest are paid consultants, not experts whose opinions, ideas, and preferences override your own. You might frequently feel comfortable with your doctor’s recommendation, but if you don’t, remember your right to informed CHOICE.
Tackle Perceptions, Concerns & Fears
You may have fears about going to the hospital and the routines that may come with that birth location. You may feel as though these are the very things that may get in the way of you having an enjoyable experience. I can empathize with that worry (as I was once in your shoes) but want to encourage you by saying that when you are well prepared and educated, you will be able to negotiate, avoid or adjust to many of these procedures. It is important that you talk through your concerns with your partner, doula and care provider before your birth.
Whether you are at home or in the hospital, being surrounded by those that allow you to feel comfortable and uninhibited during labour is key. Consider hiring a doula! Doulas are not for everybody, but they can really help both mom and dad have a better hospital birth. Even when you have prepared well for a birth class, a doula can help you remember what you have learned. If you want your partner to be your main source of comfort, you can always talk to the doula about helping him, help you. Labour can be long, and an extra pair of hands can be really helpful. If you don’t want a doula for one reason or another, consider asking your mom, sister or friend to be that extra support.
We live in a society where many women are terrified of childbirth. We are constantly inundated with stories and images of birth complications, pain and trauma. It's no wonder that birth is something that many women fear. But maybe it's the fear that is contributing to longer and more painful labours with higher rates of complications? Does fear breed pain, which breeds more fear? Let's take a look at the cycle.
There is a connection between fear and pain. The efficiency of uterine contractions depends on your hormonal, circulatory and nervous system all working together, and fear upsets these systems by producing stress hormones that counteract hormones that your body produces to enhance labour progress and relieve pain. As a result, labour is longer and more painful.
Fear also causes a physiological reaction that reduces blood flow, and thus oxygen, to the uterus. An oxygen-deprived muscle will tire quickly and will lead to increased pain.
Lastly, fear produces muscle tension. Tight muscles not only hurt more, but they struggle to work in harmony and open the cervix. Normally, the contractions of the upper muscles of the uterus, together with the relaxation of the lower muscles work to dilate the cervix. Fear affects the lower muscles, causing them to tighten rather than relax. As a result, the muscles of the upper uterus contract against the tight muscles of the lower uterus, producing a lot of pain with little progress.
Perception is Everything
It is our perception of a situation that matters. Two people can be in the same situation and one can be stressed about it, while the other is not. When you look at labour you can decide how to interpret the situation. If you see it as and natural and beautiful process, then it doesn’t have to be stressful. If you see labour as threatening and terrifying, you will go into fight or flight mode, causing slow labour progress and increased pain.
Reduce Fear & Increase Relaxation
Some fear of labour is perfectly normal, resulting from anxiety about the unknown and individual experience with pain. However, unresolved fears can impede your labour. Here are some suggestions to help reduce fear and keep the normal birth hormones following:
1) Read inspiration stories about birth and seek out women who have had positive birth experiences.
2) Try to avoid being around women who like to tell you how awful birth is.
3) Address your fears about birth before labour starts. What do you specifically fear about birth? Do you fear pain? A cesarean? Problems with the baby? Talk about your fears with your partner, friend, childbirth educator or doula.
4) Be informed. The more you know, the less afraid you will be.
5) Surround yourself with fearless labour support because fear is contagious. Try not to have anyone who sees birth as a horror story around you while you are in labour. Consider hiring a doula.
6) Warmth, low lights, privacy and the feeling of safety, support and love will reduce fear.
7) Use a bath or slow, deep breathing to relax the whole body.
8) Total surrender and relaxation between contractions will allow you to conserve your energy and further promote relaxation.
9) Use mental imagery as a relaxation tool.
10) Touch and massage promote relaxation.
11) Remember that pain in labour is normal and natural. Try to welcome and surrender to each contraction, as each one brings your baby closer to your arms.
Kiss-ass doula, pretty okay-ish mom, spreadsheet enthusiast, punctuality freak, ice cream addict.