“So what were the things that helped your through the birth of your baby?” – it is a question I often ask the women I have worked with during their pregnancies as it is too easy to assume that these things are the same for everyone, static and un-changing – whereas they are, of course, dynamic and variable – just as labour and birth are.
So I posted the question on my Facebook page and in various other social media groups that I belong to in order to elicit responses from women who would be willing to share – not exactly unbiased research but useful feedback for me to reflect upon.
What fabulous responses I got! Why am I surprised…women do love to share their birth experiences after all. And while there were many common threads to the replies there were also some differences which are worth considering.
I have enjoyed collating this Top Ten Tips and I hope you will enjoy reading it and sharing it with anyone you think might be interested in reading it. In my role as a childbirth educator at Holistic Birth Prep I want to do what it says on the tin – help women and their partners prepare, holistically, for birth…so here goes!
1. Within Woman – this covers a multitude of tools that women used…breathing, visualisation, hypnobirthing, Natal Hypnotherapy, yoga – all of them were mentioned over and over again. Sometimes they were the only thing women used and other times they were used alongside other ideas mentioned below. Women talked about feeling mentally prepared, having confidence in themselves and having a strong belief system. Almost every response (and there were about 50 in total) mentioned some sort of technique to maintain focus and calm. ‘Horse Lips’ or ‘Horse Breathing’ came up a few times as did sleeping/resting between contractions. These ideas come from a self-selecting group which maybe makes this an expected set of answers, but nonetheless it is heartening to hear how many women used the techniques I spend so much time promoting/teaching.
2. Midwife Support – the right kind. Good midwives who listen to you, let you just ‘get on with it’, encouraging you rather than putting you down. The importance of the midwife trusting the process was key to many women, although opposing views were expressed about whether vaginal examinations help or hinder. For women whose labour progressed rapidly it seemed to me that the most important message is for the midwife to believe her rather than assume she just wasn’t coping and therefore needed help.
3. Birth Partner Support – whether this was a husband, mother, doula or friend. Supporters were mostly there to offer encouragement and reassurance. Some women were grateful from more specific hands on help – be it massage, reiki or specific acupressure or chiropractic techniques. For other women their birth partner became their spokesperson, liaising with health professionals and being fully involved in the decision-making process.
4. Meeting my baby – this was expressed in a variety of ways such as knowing they would soon meet their baby, that contractions were just steps bringing their baby closer and that the pains were good pains with a positive outcome of a baby. Such an important mindset to keep hold of.
5. Environment – this did not come as a surprise to me…knowing what I know about birthing hormones and how they are influenced by the environment a woman is labouring in. Sometimes women mentioned a calm atmosphere whatever was happening around them and others were more specific about being at home where they felt safe and comfortable, or at their local unit where they felt well looked after and cared for.
6. Water – water pools get a huge thumbs up! Whether used just during labour or for the birth itself there were strong positive feelings about being in water. It is so great that our local units are both supportive of women using water during labour – with 3 pools now in Guildford and hopefully more coming to add to the one currently in Frimley. Women also mentioned keeping hydrated and frequent toilet visits to ensure full bladders didn’t impact of their descending baby, as well as a lovely description of having warm water poured over the back from a measuring jug – priceless!
7. Positions – many women talked about moving around and changing positions. Not getting stuck in one place and being helped to get comfortable. Birthing Balls played a part as well and women were grateful when these were available in the hospital setting as well as at home.
8. Classes – many different classes were mentioned as useful preparation for labour and birth. Not surprisingly (as I had asked the question in the first place) my classes were given praise (Natal Hypnotherapy, Yoga, NCT, Refreshers) alongside other NCT courses, pregnancy yoga classes and hypnosis sessions. The information these offered was important to some women and their partners, as well as the opportunity to learn practical skills and discuss issues. All good stuff…
9. Drugs etc – the biggest votes were for TENs machines and Gas & Air, both of which women found helpful. For other women stronger drugs, epidurals and even general anaesthetics were what got them through. A great reminder that there are many ways for babies to be born and how lucky we are to have the more medical support when it is needed.
10. Bits and pieces – and so the very specific things that women highlighted as well because even if one woman mentioned them they have value and importance: Blessingway Beads, the 999 Call Centre and a book: Ina May Gaskins Guide to Childbirth
I hope you have enjoyed reading all these ideas and I am sure that you have plenty more of your own to add which I would be really happy to hear about – who knows, perhaps next year there will have to be a Top Twenty Tips instead!