10 steps for a positive labor and birth experience
All mothers would like to have a calm, positive, and most of all empowering birth experience. Would you believe me if I told you that it's totally possible? Here are a few steps that could make the difference for you. (click here to read the Italian version of this article)
1. Have an idea of the kind of birth you would like to have
Epidural? No interventions unless medically necessary? Planned cesarean section? Water birth? Whatever kind of birth you would prefer, it's best to talk about your wishes with your care provider. It's true that birth can be surprising, but if you are clear about your preferences, it's more probable that your choices will be honored. Even if in the end your birth doesn't go how you imagined it to go, it is important that you feel supported by those around you.
2. Become familiar with where you will give birth
The more relaxed you are, the more you will allow those important birth hormones to do their job. It's difficult to be relaxed in an unfamiliar place. Take a tour of the hospital or birth center where you will give birth. Get to know the midwives, doctors, and other people who work there. Seeing people and places that you recognize will remind your instinctual body that you are in a safe place, and this feeling of security will help you to open and birth with trust.
3. Learn what is happening inside your body
Knowing the reason why you are feeling what you are feeling during labor and birth will help to diminish fear and increase confidence. For example, knowing that your baby will pass near your rectum towards the end of your labor will help you to recognize this moment (and celebrate it!). Knowing your baby's position will help you to understand certain interventions or recommendations from your care provider. A prenatal course could be a good way to learn about what to expect during the birth and also a good way to meet other women that will have babies around the same time as you. If you live in Genoa all of the hospitals offer free prenatal courses. The birthing center Casa Maternita Le Maree offers one course for mothers and one for couples. Eco Mondo Doula (for Italian speakers) and Debra Pascali Bonaro (for English speakers) offer online courses. Ina May's Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin (2003) is a great first book to read. It includes inspiring birth stories and evidence based information about all kinds of births.
4. Eat and drink
During a marathon runners eat and drink. Physical exertion for many hours requires strength, and childbirth is no exception. Eating and drinking easily digestible foods will keep your strength up and give you the energy you need to carry on for many hours.
5. Use gravity
It's important that you find positions that are comfortable for you. If you are uncomfortable in one position, move. Remember that you can use gravity to help your baby out of the birth canal. If you can (maybe with the help of your partner, midwife, or doula) try standing, sitting, leaning, getting on all fours, or getting on your knees.
6. Water water water
Warm or hot water really helps to alleviate or lessen pain in labor. Try standing under the shower or aim the shower head where it hurts, or you can immerse yourself in a nice warm bath.
7. Let your mammalian instincts loose
In a world of high heels, beautiful instagram photos, and dining with friends on nice white linen tablecloths, we often forget that we are animals. Remember that you are a mammal while you are giving birth. Move how you feel like moving, make strange sounds, and forget about proper etiquette for now.
8. Hire a doula
A doula can help you find a comfortable position, she will remind you that you are strong, that you can do this. She will help you to relax so that you can open and allow your baby to come down and out. All of this without judgement, and without ever leaving your side. We all know that every birth is unique. Some are difficult, some are long, and some are full of unpleasant surprises. A doula can help you to face whatever your birth brings, helping you to reach deep inside yourself and utilize your own personal strength (that you may have not even known you had). Here is a great two minute informative video about what a doula does.
9. Remember that contractions (otherwise known as waves or rushes) have a purpose
The pain (or for some, intense pressure) of contractions doesn't mean that anything is wrong. In fact, every time that your uterus contracts, it is pushing your baby closer to you. The more relaxed you are, the less resistance your muscles will create, and the less it will hurt. Some women do not even experience pain!
10. Don't underestimate the power of love
This may sound clichè, but the more love you feel, the more relaxed you will be. Try feeling your partner's arms with a grateful heart, or better yet, give him or her a kiss. I love American doula Debra Pascali-Bonaro's famous words, "The same love that got that baby in there will get him out." So dim the lights, put on some soft music, and prepare yourself to open to the biggest manifestation of love that ever existed!
I compiled these 10 steps based on personal experience, wise midwives, and many books about labor and birth. I am not a doctor. If you have questions or doubts about your labor or birth, please contact your care provider (midwife or obstetrician-gynecologist).