We are coming to the end of 2020, a year that will be remembered as one of the most stressful for many of us. At the same time, it is also the year that I gave birth to my last baby, a completely unplanned but very welcomed daughter. A “lockdown baby”, a “corona baby” as she is now known in our family, a blessing in the midst of a very challenging year.
It is my 4th baby and you would expect that by now, I know my way around pregnancy and childbirth, but she has taught me much. After a few months of recovery and reflection (in my postnatal fog brain), here are a few thoughts for mothers-to-be who want to take charge of their baby’s birth:
- There is ONE thing that is out of your control (apart from a planned caesarean delivery), and that is WHEN baby is born. Babies come whenever they are ready, and only then. I actually had an induction at 39 weeks for this baby, which failed. I asked to be discharged (after ensuring that baby was completely fine) and she ended up being born at 42 weeks plus. There are loads of tips online about how to bring on labour: eat spicy food, go for a walk, drink raspberry leaf tea…These might or might not work, and in my experience, they only work when baby is actually ready. Use that precious time to go out, take in a movie or exhibition, see friends, exercise, relax. Learning to let go is a learning curve!
- Labour NEVER really goes as planned, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t have it your way. I wanted a home birth. I had planned it for months with my team of midwives, I had bought tons of towels and plastic sheets for the floor, I had my birthing ball and I had freed up my guest room to make space for labour. In the end, after much fretting, I had to go into hospital because baby was too late. Here, I want to make it clear that it was MY choice, and mothers (in the UK at least), always have a choice of where they give birth. It was my own risk assessment, and while risk remains very low after 42 weeks, I felt it was time to go in. Remember that you always have a choice of where to give birth: at home or at hospital, in a midwife-led unit or a birth centre…Go with whatever makes you feel more comfortable.
- Bring your “birthing kit”: the one thing I wanted for my labour was a birthing ball, as I find it very useful for the first stages. It ensures you stay in an upright position, which helps baby find his way down the birth canal, and bouncing on it gave me something to focus on. Sitting on it seemed to take the edges of the contraction pains for a while, relieved pain in my lower back, and I felt freer in my movements. For other women, a TENS machine might do the trick, or a relaxing soundtrack and a back massage (don’t forget your massage oil). I also kept lavender essential oil with me because it calms me down, and some chamomile homeotherapy pellets which I took every couple of hours. You might prefer a water birth, in which case you might have to hire/buy a pool or find a hospital where this option is available.
- Find a comfortable position for the 2nd stage. One thing is for certain: lying down on your back is NOT and is NEVER the best position for pushing a baby out, whatever we have seen in movies! This position was actually introduced to make it easier for doctors to see what’s going on, but it is not a natural birthing position. Prefer a position where your body stays upright, such as squatting, standing up while holding onto something, kneeling forward…This helps your pelvis open and the pressure of the baby’s head help him/her to push forward.
Look at this graph: it’s clear that staying upright is the best position for the baby to come out without straining the body too much. Lying on your back, on the opposite, will need more effort and might lead to more tearing. It’s completely fine moving around until your body naturally settles in one position. In my case, I asked for a mat to be placed on the floor and actually gave birth there, kneeling forward while gripping on the hospital bed.
- Focus on your breathing! This is so important, I just can’t say it enough. Ideally, this is something you will practice throughout your pregnancy: there are many videos online that will demonstrate breathing techniques for labour, and there are extremely useful. Essentially, you should take long, deep belly breaths through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth, letting the air run out of your lungs. As you move on to the 2nd stage, your breathing naturally changes; try to keep taking long deep breaths, and exhale in fast movements (as you do in intense exercise). Breathing completely changes your birth experience: it helps you remain calm, set the rhythm for your body and keep in control of its movements.
- Make informed choices, and don’t be afraid to ask for a 2nd opinion. You might not be a medical expert, but you know what is happening in your body. How many times do we hear of women being told their babies are too big or too small, only for them to be born perfectly average? In this pregnancy, I was told I had low fluid and had to be induced immediately (which failed). I then did my bit of research, realised that many measures taken in pregnancy are only estimates, and requested a new scan. This showed fluid was above average, and baby was completely fine. Doctors always err on the side of safety, but this can cause a lot of unnecessary stress. Similarly, if you feel something is “wrong” with your pregnancy, never hesitate to contact your midwife or ask for a scan. Women have strong gut instincts, so learn to trust yourself.
- One last piece of advice, which might be quite controversial. If you are standing upright, the baby’s weight will help him “come down” so that you shouldn’t really need to actively “push”. For my 2nd baby, I was so desperate for the pain to stop that I started pushing too early, which lead to minor tearing. This time, on the opposite, I kept focused on my breathing and trusted my body to do its job. This can be a bit frustrating because in-between contractions, you might feel as if the baby is moving back up, but this is completely normal. There is no need to rush: baby will come out eventually! In effect, the baby was “pushed out” without me having to make a conscious effort. End result: no tearing at all.
I hope sharing my own birth experience will be useful for some of you out there! Pregnancies are such individual journeys, but they are life-changing in so many ways. Please do share your own experiences and tips!