‘I can do this’ is the best way to approach labor. It’s also a great way to step into parenting. The fact is, your body is designed to grow, give birth to and nurture healthy babies. And the fact is that labor is an act of love, physically and hormonally speaking. The contractions of labor massage your baby for a most responsive and alert beginning. The hormone that stimulates these contractions, oxytocin, is called ‘the love hormone’. It also stimulates the area in your brain that has to do with bonding, love, social connection. So when you love yourself, love your baby and have loving, patient people around you, you are helping with the positive work of oxytocin and labor.
- Eat, drink and appreciate your good health, even if you feel like a whale.
- Avoid negative birth stories. This includes TV and movies. Listen to stories that encourage your confidence.
- Relax your body and calm your mind for at least ten minutes every day. Organize your time so this becomes a habit.
- Maintain good posture. Get up, walk and stretch if you have to sit a lot. It helps your baby and can be especially helpful if you are feeling uncomfortable.
- Exercise every day, doing whatever is comfortable. If you are on bed rest, discuss modified physical therapy with your midwife or doctor.
- Take a childbirth class that teaches how you to co-operate with your body. Ask questions, research and discuss your concerns.
- Talk with your midwife/doctor/partner. As you learn more about labor and birth, you’ll have a better idea of what feels right for you. They can be more supportive if they know what is important to you.
- Decide who will be most helpful to have present when you are in labor. Choose people who you trust and who express confidence in you and in birth. This may, or may not, be your partner, a friend, a sister and/or a professional doula. You decide.
- Do whatever makes you comfortable in early labor. Getting into a rhythm will help when labor becomes more demanding.
- Go back to sleep or do something restful if labor begins at night. Let your partner sleep a little more if possible. You have hormones that will carry you through many hours of labor, but your partner doesn’t.
- Eat as long as you feel like it. If you are on medication at the hospital, this may be restricted. Eat in early labor when you are at home.
- Keep drinking fluids. Something with some calories in it is better than just water: tea with honey, broth, a sports drink, perhaps. (If you are on medication at the hospital, this may be restricted to I.V. fluids/ice chips).
- Make use of gravity! Labor is more effective when you’re upright, walking, sitting or standing. Walking is very helpful.
- Change positions regularly. Try standing and swaying, squatting, lying on one side, the other side, walking, etc.
- A bath or hot shower can be relaxing. Spraying warm water on your belly is nice, too.
Once your baby is born:
- Hold your baby skin to skin immediately after birth. See, smell, feel and hear each other. Slowly, wonderfully, your baby will begin nursing.
- Enjoy uninterrupted contact with your baby. That’s best for both of you, physically and emotionally. You can delay the bath, eye ointment, weighing and measuring until once the baby has finished feeding (even if you had a cesarean).
- Skin to skin contact with the father is good, too. (This is especially helpful if you had a cesarean).
- Take time in the first days to reflect on your child's birth. Make a few notes, however brief, for later.
- Always respect the wonderful things your body has done, and continues to do.
These are simple, but effective, ways to honor your health and your abilities. What makes a positive birth experience? That you are treated with patience and kindness, you make the decisions, you are supported in your decisions and that you have time to reflect on your experience. Every mother should be able to look back and say she had a happy birth day.
Robin Snyder-Drummond, CCE CD(DONA), operates BirthReady, providing independent childbirth classes and resources.