Hands up who’s watched One Born Every Minute? Or Call the Midwife? It’s likely that you’ll have seen a lot of births which are rather dramatic and potentially noisy too! If you’re pregnant, then for some people, this can give you the impression that births are noisy and painful. If you’re the kind of person who has it in their heads that birth is highly stressful for both mother, partner and baby, then we need to change that! Birth doesn’t have to be something to fear or dread, but something to embrace; after all, women have been giving birth for all these years and it’s not going to change. 

Women’s bodies are perfectly built to give birth and our hormones are wonderful at regulating the different stages of labour, including up to the moment when we give birth and experience a rush of hormones which help us bond with our baby. And did you know, that our body even automatically changes subtly so that once the baby is born, it can better locate the nipple to feed?! With Google and social networks, there’s plenty of research we can do on giving birth and like the news, people love sharing all the negative experiences. But put those out your mind for now, for we’ve got some practices that you can put in place for the best chance of a calm and relaxed birth.

 

Be Prepared

Whoever your birth partner may be, make sure they are clued up as to what you want during the birth. Make a birth plan together and have a think about your birth ‘wishlist’ – how would your ideal birth go? Decide whether you want to be offered pain relief, or if you want to give birth lying down or sitting up, or if you want an epidural that totally relieves all pain, or if you want the lowest possible dose so that you can still feel contractions. If all this sounds a little overwhelming, then speak with your midwife at your next appointment to discuss when’s the best time to put this plan together and to run through all your options. Classes such as NCT and Hypnobirthing can also help you determine which decisions you can make. And remember, this is your birth, so you can have it how you want, within reason.

 

But Not Too Prepared

Try to keep an open mind about the birth. After all, even you can’t rely on the best paid plans if nature decides otherwise. If you’re set on a natural birth but decide to opt for an epidural because the pain is too much, then don’t beat yourself up about it. If you require an intervention when you had your heart set on a water birth, then that’s ok too. It’s brilliant to have a plan but when necessary, you may have to wing it or go with the flow; the important factor is that both mum and baby are healthy and safe.

 

Harness the power of smell

Scents are powerful. They have the ability to bring back a flood of memories, or have us wrinkling our nose up in aversion and some smells can immediately put us off our food. Used in the right way during pregnancy, smells can help keep us relaxed and some can even be used as a replacement for pain relief. Lavender is beautifully relaxing and if you’re feeling stressed, spritz lavender spray around the room. If you’re thinking of taking gas and air but aren’t sure whether it will agree with you (it can make some people feel nauseous and dizzy), then try a few drops of Clary Sage on a wet flannel and breathe it in – it has a deep, earthy smell which can help ground you and also bring on labour – so if you’re in your final stages and need a helping hand, then this may be good for you. It’s advised not to be used during pregnancy – labour only – so be careful about when you use this. As with all essential oils, seek professional advice if you would like to use this. Another option for calming labour nerves is Rescue Remedy – the spray and the drops both work well. Why is it so important to be relaxed? When you’re relaxed during labour, birth is likely to be shorter – we’re designed to give birth when we’re feeling safe and secure. So if we’re stressed, adrenaline can kick in and this can slow the whole birth process down.

 

Breathe

The idea of Pranayama, or ‘control of breath’, is something which has been used in India for centuries. And there’s a good reason why – it can help people achieve a high state of being and significantly affect the body. Practising control of breath during labour can help improve the process, direct attention to where it’s most useful and relax the body. Here’s one way you can use breathing to keep you calm and focused during labour:

 

For general relaxation: Breathe in and out of your nose, focusing on a long, steady exhalation. Count down in your head from 5, all the way down to 1, imagining different areas of your body relaxing as you count. Associate 5 with your head and shoulders, 4 with your arms and chest, 3 with your stomach, hips and pelvis, 2 with your thighs and 1 with your knees and feet, imagining each loosening and softening as you go.

 

If you’re keen to learn more about breathing exercises for labour, hypnobirthing can cover this, as well as pregnancy yoga. There are also special videos which you can buy or watch on YouTube.

 

Visualisation

Visualisation goes hand in hand with breathing exercises and there’s many ways you can use this technique – in the lead-up to the labour as well as during it too. Again, don’t underestimate the power of the mind as it can banish harmful thoughts and turn negative expectations into something positive. Every morning before your due date, spend a few minutes visualising your ‘perfect’ pregnancy and really believe it. This will help alleviate any fears and set you up for a beautiful birth. And during birth, when you need to relax, along with breathing exercises, you can visualise being in a safe, calm place; imagine walking down to a secluded cottage in gorgeous countryside, surrounded by flowers, basked in sunlight, where you can hear birds chirping and leaves rustling. Everything is serene. And in the garden is a comfy chair which you sink into, feeling fully relaxed. Here you stay, just taking in the sounds of the countryside, watching the clouds float by and feeling the earth beneath your bare feet. Imagine every detail of this scene, enjoying the moment and really believing you’re there. If you can take your mind off the hustle and bustle of the hospital, you can keep your body and mind relaxed and bring on a smoother labour.

 

Clear Communications

Whoever your birthing partner is, make sure you’ve covered all aspects of communications. For example:

  • If there are decisions to be made, is your birth partner ok to speak with the healthcare professionals and confer with you when needed (you may be ‘in the zone’) or would you want to speak with them directly?
  • If your birth partner is going to be supporting you with techniques such as massage, how will you tell him when enough is enough, when what he’s doing is good or if you want him to apply more pressure? It’s likely that during contractions you may not be able to speak so having gestures can help.

Understanding in advance how you will be communicating with your birth partner in different situations can help prevent confusion and stress when there is the potential for tension or clarification.

 

More haste, less speed

When you think labour has started, try and wait awhile before you rush off to hospital, the birth centre or to call the midwife for a home birth. After all, some hospitals may turn you away if you’re not dilated enough and that can be frustrating and stressful. Whilst you have the chance, relax on the sofa lying on your left side, or watch TV, have a sleep, practice your breathing exercises, even have a shower or eat something small. Once you get into hospital, you’re in entirely strange surroundings without any of your home comforts. And your contractions may even subside for a day or so and it’s worth making sure labour is actually happening before you jump to conclusions.

 

Trust your body

Your body knows what it’s doing. Listen to it! We often have our heads full of expectations and fragments of information we’ve picked up from Google, ante-natal classes, our midwife, friends, family, books and more, that we entirely forget to listen to our body. There’s no set way that we ‘should’ give birth – our body will guide us as to what position feels the best, even down to when to push. Believe you can and you will.

 

Use affirmations

Affirmations are used in positive thinking and self-empowerment, with the premise that positive thinking backed up with affirmations can help us be successful. These are short phrases or sentences which are said out loud or within which help change our mindset and beliefs about what we can achieve.

Either use affirmations from the list below during labour and before, or make up your own:

RELAXING MY MIND RELAXES MY MUSCLES

I AM PREPARING FOR THE BIRTH OF A CALM BABY AND CONFIDENT MOTHER

I NURTURE MYSELF SO I CAN NURTURE MY BABY

I SURROUND MYSELF WITH POSITIVE PEOPLE WHO SUPPORT ME AND MY CHOICES

I FEEL STRONG AND EMPOWERED THROUGH PREGNANCY AND BIRTH

 

What kind of practices are you using in preparation for being a parent or for birth? Did you find that any of the above helped? We’d love to hear your birth preparation stories! Tell us on Facebook.

 

TEN Skincare supports mums through pregnancy and once baby has arrived, providing natural, gentle skincare solutions for both mum and babies, including baby massage oil, stretch mark prevention cream and diaper cream.