Towards Your Ideal Birth: Ten Steps
by Karen Herriot and Angie Evans
Most women anticipate labour and birth with a mix of excitement, and fear—of all the unknown and loss of control. In the face of that kind of vulnerability, it is good to have a plan, a vision of the outcome you want, and then begin taking steps to get there. Actively preparing with the following practical measures will lead to a birth experience that is satisfying and perhaps even empowering.
- Choose prenatal education or yoga classes that reflect your vision of an ideal birth. Gathering with other pregnant women in classes that discuss pregnancy, labour, and birth will help you to find support and community in which to make your choices, share ideas, and learn together. Many childbirth classes also offer a hospital tour, allowing you to become accustomed to the setting in which your birth will unfold.
- Take a clear-eyed look at the others on your support team. Partners sometimes feel pressured to perform and provide a level of physical and psychological support that may exceed their capacities. Many times it feels unfair to expect them to take on such a new role all on their own. If a friend or relative is invited, are they experienced, will they add calm or stress to your birth, will they come at any time and stay as long as needed? If you’re a solo parent-to-be, consider inviting someone who brings you comfort. Any person coming to the birth should attend prenatal education classes with the mother.
- Hire a Doula. Professional doulas support the birthing woman and her labour team members. Women who have doula support have half the rates of caesarean births as those without. They also have significantly shorter labours, request pain meds at far lower rates (less than half as often), and experience significantly fewer interventions. Doulas are experts in comfort measures and also great information resources. Whether it is a simple question or a complex decision, your doula is there to help you through every choice you make.
- Make a good clear birth plan or “Birth Preferences.” There are many options for labour and birth, yet most people don’t know they can ask questions and design their birth their way. Your plan should use positive language, include only the few things that are unique and important to you. Hospital staff work hard and don’t want a long list of “Do not do,” especially if that list includes all kinds of things they don’t routinely do. Doulas are familiar with current hospital protocol and will help you make a strong birth plan.
- Practice tools to manage the intensity of labour. Birth is hard work, but women are strong! Women who wish to birth naturally in a medical setting need strategies and preparation. Mindfulness, hypnotherapy, yoga, meditation, music therapy, and visualizations/affirmations are also valuable tools. But wishing isn’t enough—practise your coping tools during pregnancy so they’re readily available to you through your birth.
- Take care of your general health. Healthy foods, proper hydration, and pregnancy tea all help to build a healthy baby. Gentle physical exercise, particularly yoga, helps prepare women for birth and a faster recovery. Ensure your non-physical body is healthy, too. What nourishes your spirit and soul?
- Health Care Provider: While you may have limited choices in health care providers, do the best you can to choose someone whose values align with yours. Midwives are often the first choice for women who plan natural births, and they attend home and hospital births. Obstetricians are highly skilled for women with known health issues or are at increased risk of complications. Family doctors who attend births are a great option for a healthy woman who doesn’t need the high-risk expertise of an obstetrician.
- Minimize stress. What adds stress to your birth? That varies with women. For some it’s lack of information, for others it’s lack of privacy. Figure out what causes you stress and do everything you can to eliminate or minimize that.
- Maximize comfort. What brings you comfort? Think of your five senses. We are sensual beings! Do you prefer to see dim or bright lights, hear silence, medical sounds, or music? How would you like to be touched, if at all? What do you wish to smell (hint: birth companions pack a tooth-brush)? What kind of drink would you like to taste during your birth?
- Bring joy into your birth. What brings you joy? In addition to the sensual things such as music, you can dance, move about, wear clothing in which you feel comfortable or beautiful, get snuggly with your partner, create a big personal-space bubble if you prefer solitude, watch a funny movie in early labour, walk in the fresh air—the possibilities are endless.
Karen Herriot and Angie Evans are veteran doulas and doula trainers who have attended over 400 births. They train birth and postpartum doulas through their company www.birthwaysinternational.ca. Their weekend intensives are open to anyone interested in working with childbearing women. In their shared practice, Karen and Angie are honoured to work with couples prenatally to support their process of active preparation for birth as they bring to light their wishes and worries, process them, and pack their physical and psychological birth bags. Services include prenatal classes, placenta encapsulation, and doula support listed at www.AngieEvans.ca. Karen is in demand as a yoga instructor, and her prenatal yoga classes create a safe space for women to explore their pregnant bodies and prep for labour. Angie offers prenatal consultations for creating winning birth plans. For more details call (306) 216-8116 and/or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Also see the display ad on page 14 of the 23.5 March/April issue of the WHOLifE Journal for an upcoming doula training weekend.