Do you want a smooth, easy birth? Do you want to follow in the footsteps of those incredible, birth goddess like mamas? The ones who make giving birth sound like a walk in the park? I'm going to assume that the answer is ‘Hell, yes!’. Well, my beautiful pregnant friend, you're not alone.
I've talked to a lot of mums about their birth preparation. What course did they do? What books did they read? What online resources did they use? It's also a topic that comes up in Facebook groups again and again. There is a common thread. Women who liked giving birth and feel like they had a positive (or even awesome) birth did some serious birth preparation.
As I was thinking about this topic today I heard Chet Baker singing:
“Do it the hard way,
And it's easy sailing.
Do it the hard way, And it's hard to lose.”
Chet wasn't singing about birth but he might as well have been. Putting in the hard yards well before labour starts will pay off big time. I love the analogy of a marathon when trying to explain the intensity of labour. Labour and a marathon, they are both massive events - emotionally, mentally and physically. They both go on for hours and hours and keep continuing long after you feel like you can't do it anymore. They both require a great support team to pull you through the tough bits. And they both need a lot of preparation.
Now I can hear some of you saying, “But birth is a natural event. Women have done it since the beginning of time. It'll just happen. It doesn't need any preparation.” Yes and no. Your body certainly knows what to do but your brain has been predispositioned by our current birth culture - the way birth is displayed in TV, written media and conversations all over the country. On top of that you are birthing in times where intervention rates in hospitals are sky-rocketing and medical professionals often know more about the medicalisation of birth than about how to support a woman through a physiological birth. So with all that going against you, you really do need to prepare the best you can.
Here is my list of non-negotiable birth prep items:
A hands-on birthing class
Finding a hands on course (outside of hospital classes!!) that really goes into the nitty gritty of what labour is like, that's going to load you up with tools and techniques to use when the going gets tough can make all the difference. Hospital classes can range anywhere from woeful to ok. They are usually really good at teaching you how to be a good patient - another topic for another time. However, I haven't seen any hospital classes yet that teach in depth coping strategies to actually get through the hard bits of labour. Research from Sydney University has shown that antenatal classes that focus on techniques and are independently run, produce improved birth outcomes. The next My Kind Of Birth workshop will be in October and will be packed with all the good stuff!
The right books
Now when I say “the right books” what I actually mean is “please don't read Up the Duff or What to expect when you're expecting”. Read books that tell you about amazing birth stories of other women, books that get your mindset in the right place for trusting your body and working through pain, books that open your eyes to the possibility of having a freaking awesome birth but also make you aware of the downfalls of our maternity system. Those are the kind of books I'm talking about! These are my favourites:
- Ina May Gaskin's Guide to Childbirth
- Birth with Confidence by Rhea Dempsey
- The Positive Birth Book by Milli Hill
If you prefer to get your information in the format of a movie this one is for you. The documentary The Business of Being Born is a real eye opener, especially good for partners who have been reluctant to talk much about birth prep so far. And nope, One Born Every Minute does not count. In fact, watching that fear mongering, worst case scenario show is probably the opposite of positive, encouraging birth preparation. Please delete all recollection of this show from your memory.
Questioning your fears
This is a tough one. We know that working through our shit will mean we eventually come out the other side stronger than ever. But we also know it's hard work. Trust me though, it's better to deal with any possible anxieties before you're in labour rather than getting smacked in the face by them when you're at 10cm.
So here are my tips. Figure out what you're worried about or scared of. Read up on those topics. Find a professional birth worker (childbirth educator, councillor specialising in birth, doula, midwife etc.) to ask questions. Ask yourself where your fear comes from? Are you worried about tearing because your mum used to tell you a bad story and you think something similar could happen to you? Are you torn between getting or not getting an epidural because you are worried about how your partner will cope with seeing you in pain?
It boils down to: What are you afraid of? Why are your afraid of it? How can you defuse it? Who can help you?
Every person who will be at the birth will have some influence on the outcome and on your experience. Everyone. Medical team and family members alike. So it is crucial, that you select your team carefully. Have each person's skill set and character traits in mind. Will their presence really benefit you? Do they regularly support women with similar birth wishes to yours? Birth stats vary dramatically between care models, hospitals, different obstetricians and midwives. Do your research. Choose wisely. Doulas and private midwives are the bomb. Just saying…
Move that body, baby!
There is so much movement and instinctive behaviour in birth, that I find women really benefit from being used to working with their body. Whether you used to do hard core weight lifting or a more gentle yoga practise, or doesn't matter. It's about knowing your body, knowing how it moves, knowing how to respond when something doesn't feel right, being able to push and pull through some good muscle burn, being able to relax after a few minutes of hard work. Because guess what, that's what labour will be like. If you haven't been exercising, it's not too late. Check in with your GP to see what level of exercise is suitable for you and then find a prenatal class near you. Anything from yoga, walking, swimming to water aerobics can be a wonderful way to keep moving during pregnancy and learn more about your body.
Acupuncture for oxytocin release
Oxytocin, oxytocin, oxytocin! Going into labour spontaneously (without artificial hormones, just the body doing its thing) is dependent on so many things. Your oxytocin and adrenalin levels are one factor. A relaxing acupuncture treatment can be a great way to prepare for labour and move things along.
Ideally, your tribe is a group of like minded women, online or offline, who either want to or who have already had the kind of birth you want. If you want a water birth, go get advise from a mum who's been there and done that. If you are going to have an induction but want to avoid the epidural then talk to someone who did exactly that. There is so much power in surrounding yourself with people who get it, who get you. If your family or friends are on the same page as you - perfect. If they are not and you need someone else to feed you positive, encouraging messages, then go out and find that someone!
Some great Facebook groups:
For in - person meet ups you can check if any Positive Birth Movement meetings or other groups are happening close to you.
Click here to get your free birth prep scoresheet!
You can absolutely have an amazing birth! So what are you waiting for? Go out there and get preparing!
If you would like some more help in preparing for the birth of your baby check out our Melbourne based birthing classes or sign up to our newsletter to receive free online education materials. Our classes are held by an amazing team and include a midwife, a childbirth educator, a doula, a prenatal yoga teacher and a lactation consultant. There is a mix of gentle birthing techniques like breathing and birth hypnosis and active labour exercises.
You can also follow us on Facebook for more info and motivation during your birth preparation journey!