The best birth partners need support too.
It’s a very common concern that doulas will take over from or push out the birthing woman’s own partner. If you chat with people who have had a doula though you will find they say in reality the opposite is true. Doula support for women extends to and fully includes their partner. Having a doula helps partners feel more involved and more confident in supporting their partner.
You can be a confident and relaxed birth partner too.
There are quite a few things that doulas talk about and do in antenatal sessions and through labour and birth that are useful tools for birth partners. We’ve put together a list of some of the tips to remember to help you feel confident and be a great birth partner.
- Remember it’s all about the birthing woman. Her opinion and decisions are the ones that matter and you must always be on her side. Professionals working with the birthing woman may give advice but it’s just advice ultimately the decisions are hers and you support her. If you’ve got concerns or questions you can and should chat through them with your partner and or her midwife ahead of the day. This will allow you to understand and better support your partner’s decisions and choices. But always remember it’s up to her to decide and you to support.
- If you’ve got fears about labour and birth talk about them openly with the woman who you will be a birth partner for well before the day. It’s normal to be worried about something you’ve never been through and there are a lot of scary stories told about birth. Make sure you really listen to her and between you find a good source of information on the facts (your midwife or doula will help you find what you need) that can help to bring your fears into perspective. Read books and or go to antenatal classes together.
- On the day keep yourself calm and strong, well hydrated and nourished. Pack your own bag for labour and birth with things you might need to stay comfortable so you can be there for your partner without worrying about having to go off and look after yourself. Remeber when choosing snacks to pack pregnant and especially birthing women have a very strong sense of smell.
- Respect that your partner is the one doing this birth, much as you might find you’re uncomfortable seeing her work so hard or want to take away her pain it’s not your job. Your job is to be on her side and in her team. See her working hard and grow in your respect for her do not pity her.
- Make a birth plan for yourself by asking your partner what you can do to help and support her as she labours. Make a list for yourself the things you can do at each stage of labour to support her. On the day work through that list any time you feel lost or worried.
- Be the guardian of the birthing space. Birth requires the same hormones that making the baby did. Imagine you’re trying to seduce your partner in the most romantic way you can and those are the conditions you’re looking for to help support her labour and birth. Privacy, calm, loving, positive talk about how amazing she is, low lights, relaxing music, slow dancing, massage, snogging are all perfect for getting through labour. Follow the lead of the birthing woman in terms of which things are working for her at the time.
- Don’t take it personally if in labour it turns out your partner just wants to close her eyes and disappear into her own world and not be touched. Don’t think this means she doesn’t need or want you. Be close by and be prepared to provide practical support such as help getting to the loo or pass the water bottle and remember just being there is your number one priority. Your very presence in the room is allowing her to feel safe enough to go into herself and be completely vulnerable and surrendered to her labour and birth.
- If things don’t go according to the first plan don’t panic. Remember to help your partner ask the questions she needs to know the answer to in order to make new plans and decisions. Don’t stop talking up the birthing woman. Whatever happens she’s still amazing and you need to keep telling her how great she is.
- Feel free to quietly ask questions of your care provider if there are things that you don’t understand or want to know more about why they are going on. Quietly if it’s a time you need to not disturb the birthing woman from her rhythm but also confidently and insistently if it’s at a time when she’s being asked to make decisions about possible interventions.
- Enjoy the journey. Grow your love and admiration for the woman you’re lucky enough to witness labour and birth and be ready to be totally bowled over by the amazing new person who’s about to burst (not literally) in and take over your world
It’s not unusual to feel sad about birth memories especially when you compare to how you hoped it would be.
If it’s too late for you to make use of our birth planning tips because your baby has already been born then you might be looking back on your birth and loving the memories. If you are please do go along to your local positive birth group or join tell me a good birth story as a buddy. Share your positive story to help change the narrative pregnant women are hearing.
If things didn’t go according to your birth plan you might be feeling more mixed feelings or the feelings could be overwhelmingly negative. Please know that mixed feelings and feeling disappointed or guilty or traumatised are completely normal and legitimate feelings to have after a difficult birth.
Bottling up the way you feel about your labour and birth because you and baby are alive so you don’t like to complain is not going to help you feel better in the long term. You matter too, your mental and physical health are just as important as anyone else’s and how you were treated and how that made you feel is one of those things that can stay with you for the rest of your life if you don’t find a way to process and make sense of it.
Birth trauma and PTSD
Sometimes birth experiences are so difficult that women can develop post-traumatic stress. This can sometimes be miss diagnosed as (as well as often happening alongside) postnatal depression. Often women don’t seek help for it even though the symptoms such as panic attacks and flashbacks can be really overwhelming. But just as with postnatal depression it’s time we change the stigma that prevents women from seeking help.
If your birth felt traumatic to you for any reason reach out and talk about it. Talk to your midwife if you’re still seeing her or to your health visitor or GP or refer yourself to your local support service such as italk in much of Hampshire. Talking change in Portsmouth and Steps2wellbeing in Southampton. Another place you can find information and support is through the birth trauma association. There’s also an ever-growing list of resources on the make birth better website.
There are lots of options for support and treatment explore your options and pick the one that works for you and please don’t be reluctant to try something else if the first thing you try isn’t helpful.
A birth debrief is a service that some experienced midwives offer (and sometimes other professionals such as counselors). It is often taken up by women who are pregnant for a second time and realise they aren’t happy about what happened last time they had a baby. But it can be helpful to some people at any stage post birth. Contact the hospital where you had your baby and ask if they offer this if you feel you have questions about what happened during your labour, birth or postnatal hospital stay, you don’t have to wait until you’re pregnant again.
Not traumatic just disappointing.
But even when birth wasn’t traumatic sometimes we may feel a bit sad about birth memories and disappointed by what happened. That is also completely normal and nothing to be ashamed of. We all make the best decisions for us in our own unique situation with the information we have at the time. When we look back we may feel sad about the situation that led to that decision we might even think if we did it again we would make different decisions. We can’t go back in time and change what happened what we can change is how we think about ourselves now and in the future. Accepting and loving yourself and your decisions can be hard work but it’s really worthwhile.
One of the options that many women find helpful recovering from a birth that didn’t go to plan is to take a bath with baby. There’s some information on how you can do this and how it can help in our blog about skin to skin.
No matter how much or how little time has passed since your baby was born you can take some time to change how you think about your birth experience and often changing how you think begins to change how you feel.
Birth story writing exercise.
This exercise can be done alone but it’s much easier if you do it alongside a supportive friend or partner (or if you find it brings up very overwhelming feelings a therapist). It’s a great opportunity to recognise you’re feeling sad about birth experiences and to change that around so you can feel proud of yourself.
- Write your birth story with all the details in.
- Add how you felt when all the things happened, don’t worry if you can’t remember what order things happened exactly writing the feelings is the most important part.
- This can be hard going and you might need to take it gently, take breaks when you need and have a really good cry.
- Next, imagine it’s been written by a good friend or your sister and read it through thinking what would you say to encourage and support her.
- Ideally get someone who is your good friend or sister or partner and who is positive about birth to read through and do this with or for you (a doula is another person who can help you with this).
- Then rewrite the story. This time write things you are proud of yourself for and use positive language about all of your decisions through the story recognising that you made the best decision for you at the time.
For example, if your first story says “I’d been having contractions for 6 hours and only got to 4cm dilated I couldn’t stand it anymore I gave up and asked for an epidural I feel like I really failed as I always wanted to avoid an epidural.” You might look back and change the story to say “I did an amazing job of breathing through really strong contractions for six hours. Then when my midwife checked and gave me the information I had made it to 4cm dilated and completely effaced and I knew I probably had quite a few more hours of work ahead of me I took the decision to make use of an epidural to allow myself to rest and regroup my strength.”
Always remember not to brush aside or diminish the way you feel; your feelings are what they are. But they are feelings, not facts, the facts are that you are an amazing woman and a loving mother and that you deserve love and respect not just from those around you but also from yourself. Feel the feelings and then allow yourself to move on and be proud of everything you have been through in life and the person you are now allowing yourself to become.
Other helpful resources include:
Hampshire Doulas Top Tips for making a Brilliant Positive Birth Plan.
Almost as soon as you tell people you’re pregnant you can expect to start hearing horror stories about how terrible people’s births have been, about how it’s the worst pain ever, worse than breaking all your bones at once. You might hear one or two people say actually for me birth was amazing I coped ok with the contractions and holding my new baby was the best moment of my life, I felt like a rock star. But in among all the other negative stories and all the images in the media of women screaming and suffering it might seem like those people were just lucky. You might hear it said that there’s no point in a birth plan, birth never goes to plan anyway, you’d just be setting yourself up for disappointment.
Is there any point to a birth plan?
If you feel like you would like to change the script, step out of the madness and even maybe look forward to giving birth the power is in your hands. Planning for birth might be just what you need. Information is power. Regardless of what you choose to put on a birth plan or even if you choose to have one, in the end, the power is in the planning stage. Knowing how birth works and what your rights are and talking through different possible ways that labour can go with your birth partner and how you would handle changes in the plan can give you the power over all the worries and fears that our society fills your head with.
Where to start?
Reading a good book about birth is a great place to start planning for your birth. The Positive Birth Book by Milli Hill is one great example another is Bump by Kate Evans. Going along to a Positive Birth Movement Group is another great place to start hearing other people’s stories of how they weren’t just lucky but they did have a positive birth.
Positive births can be any kind of birth, the way you are treated and cared for and being aware of your own power in the birth situation are the keys. You should know that every choice is yours, your caregivers will give you the very best medical advice they have but you can always ask what are the alternatives and ask for more details or time to make your own decisions.
What is oxytocin?
Here comes the science bit, bear with me it’s not that complicated and there’s only the one new word. There’s a hormone that your body and brain both make it’s called oxytocin. Oxytocin does lots of things in your body, probably more than have been discovered so far. One of the things it does is to make the muscles in your uterus contract in a coordinated way. That coordinated muscle contraction is what your uterus needs to do to pull back your cervix and push out your baby (otherwise known as labour and birth). This is a system of your body much like digestion or walking that works much better if you don’t overthink it. Another handy function of oxytocin is it helps you feel ok about pain and it helps to encourage your body to make endorphins which actually help you feel less pain.
So here are the practical top tips for planning for your labour and birth.
- Plan to give yourself the highest possible levels of oxytocin. Oxytocin and labour and birth thrive in the same conditions as sex and romance. As Ina May Gaskin puts it ‘the energy that gets the baby in gets the baby out’. We’re talking low lights, relaxing music if you like it, lots of laughter and positive talking from someone who loves you, loving touch such as cuddles and massages. Just as we need to feel safe and loved to enjoy sex, feeling safe and loved helps us to birth more easily.
- Understand that the pain of contractions is not the same pain as the pain of injury. The pain of contractions is the overwhelming feeling of your body working the hardest it ever has. Think of when hardcore athletes say they love to feel the pain and push through the pain that’s the pain your feeling with contractions. Your body is signalling not that something is wrong like with an injury pain but that everything is right. Helping your birth partner know the response you need is for them to admire you like a professional athlete not pity you like someone being damaged is a really good start to helping them learn what you need from them through your labour and birth.
- Find ways that help you work with your body. You might be planning to have an epidural or gas and air or a water birth or just to bite on a piece of wood. But whatever the plan as labour goes on there’s also going to be an early stage where you need to work with your contractions and allow your body to get working. You might be someone who likes movement or someone who finds something to repeat in your head to distract and relax you or someone who likes to really focus on breathing deep and slowly. Consider looking in to antenatal classes that suit you, hypnobirthing, yoga, active birth, aquanatal anything that gives you a practical tool rather than just basic information. Check out our ideas for positive affirmations if that appeals to you.
- Remind your birth partner to respect how amazing you are giving birth and to focus on being your biggest fan not worrying about you. Help them to help you by talking about the things you find it encouraging to hear when you’re working hard and things that might annoy you. Also, help them learn how you feel about the complications and deviations from plan A that could occur during your labour and what your choices might be in those situations. Help them learn to help you ask questions and make informed decisions and be prepared to accept and support your decisions on the day whatever they may be.
- Don’t forget after the birth comes life with a baby. Make a postnatal plan too. Plan to look after yourself to get the support and ask for the help you need. Plan to take it easy, live a 24-hour lifestyle when it comes to sleep and spend as much time as possible skin to skin with your baby.
A doula is someone who’s support will come in all the ways that we’ve talked about here. They get to know you, support you with all the practical things you need during labour, support and encourage your birth partner so they can enjoy the birth too and always focus on how amazing you are and support your decisions whatever they may be.
If you would like a doula to help you make a birth plan or a doula to support you through the whole of labour and birth or a doula to help with your postnatal plan head over to our find a doula page or send us a message.
These yummy chocolate energy bites are perfect for nibbling in labour or when you’ve got a new baby and need some quick energy now. They’ve also got dates in them which have been shown to be potentially very helpful to pregnant women. Find out more about that from the Evidenced-based birth website.
The only problem my taste team discovered was they were all gone too soon.
There are loads of ways to make easy energy bites so watch out for more soon on the blog.
We wanted to find out what hypnobirth was all about so we thought a good place to start would be a chat with a hypnobirth teacher. Here’s what we asked and what we found out. It’s all about relaxation and practice.
There are lots of assumptions about what hypnobirthing is and people can feel quite confused about whether or not it’s for them. Can you explain to us what hypnobirthing really involves, please?
To understand hypnobirthing it’s good to come from a place of understanding how the body and brain work together during labour and birth. As you will know as a doula and if you’ve had a birth doula, birth is something the body does and anything that stimulates our neocortex (thinking brain) can cause us to produce adrenaline which is the natural enemy of the hormone oxytocin. Our body needs oxytocin to produce the contractions which allow birth to happen. Adrenalin also stops us producing our own natural pain-relieving endorphins. So we need to switch off our thinking brains to give birth the best opportunity to unfold without any assistance. This will help us to feel safe and let our bodies get on with the job.
Hypnobirth provides practical tools to really deeply relax and allow our bodies to let birth happen.
It’s not just ‘woo’ and it’s not just putting on some relaxing music and hoping for the best. For hypnobirthing to work as it should the relaxation exercises need to be practised consistently through the pregnancy until your body relaxes without you having to think about it when you use the prompts. It needs to become second nature.
Some people are concerned because they have an idea about stage hypnosis appearing to show people being controlled by the hypnotist but not only is hypnobirth nothing like that neither is stage hypnosis. When ‘hypnotised’ no one is completely out of their own control. People may be open to suggestion (like eat an onion or cluck like a chicken) but they still have the ability to say no, I’m not doing that. No one can make you do something you’ve already decided is dangerous or not for you by hypnotising you. Likewise,
when you use self-hypnosis as a relaxation tool for birth you are able to take yourself to a relaxing place in your head and feel separate from what’s going on around you but you’re equally able to switch back on to what’s happening around you and interact with other people if you need or decide to do so.
Some people compare the relaxation they experience in hypnobirthing to that feeling you get when you are between waking and sleeping. They say it’s like when you’re aware that your alarm is going off but you choose to keep on drowsing through. Others describe it as being like when you drive somewhere that’s very familiar and your body takes over and gets you there on auto-pilot and when you arrive you can’t really remember the journey but you’ve made it to the destination.
So if we practise the hypnobirthing relaxation we’re definitely going to have a zen floaty birth and be completely serene and pain-free?
Maybe you will maybe you won’t. Hypnobirthing cannot promise you how your birth will go or how you will feel but what I can say is that by doing hypnobirthing you will maximise your chances for a straightforward birth if you acknowledge the conditions for enhancing your birth hormones. Hypnobirthing will reduce fear and stress and you will have the tools that will enable you to be calmer and therefore more comfortable no matter what path your birth takes.
Some people find they don’t experience labour as painful and some people labour silently. But not necessarily. Using hypnobirth tools won’t change who you are as a unique person and your birth journey will be unique to you. If you don’t feel zen or stay silent it doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong and it doesn’t mean you’re not relaxing. Sometimes and for some people, the best way to relax and allow your body to work hard at contractions is to let all the feelings go in a vocal way. Sometimes, despite everything we do, things don’t go according to our plan for our birth but the relaxation tools you learn in a hypnobirth class can be incredibly useful even in these situations to help you keep calm and focused when your plans need to change. There is evidence to show that the more relaxed you are during surgery, the better your healing time is afterwards.
I always loved the mantra ‘failing to plan, is planning to fail’, although we can’t make any guarantees that things will go according to our plans for birth this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do what’s in our power to increase our chances.
What practically speaking can people expect from your classes?
The classes are a complete antenatal preparation so you can expect to cover all the birth basics, what happens when things don’t go to plan, how dads can support the mums complemented by how hypnobirthing works, what tools and visualisations to use, breathing, positions and techniques for dads to physically support mums. I try to make the classes as interesting as possible so we mix things up and get everyone involved and try to avoid a typical death by powerpoint scenario.
There are 4 sessions that last 2.5 hours long and they can go away and practice something after each session and come back for more support at the next session setting them up to practice little and often up until the birth so that everything becomes second nature.
For the dad’s, I prepare a cheat sheet to help them prioritise the most important things on the day as on the day, mum needs to be able to relax and dad is charged with sorting things out which can be a lot of pressure.
Dad’s are my biggest cynics but funnily enough, they are often the biggest converts too. During the classes, the parents get the opportunity to bond with each other and with their baby in a way that our busy lives often limit. They have the chance to really focus on each other, on their hopes and choices around the birth and on their feelings about becoming parents.
I am also a trained doula and have attended many births supporting mums and dads navigate the minefield of birth choices that are out there. I feel this helps me deliver my classes in a very informative manner always keeping the parent’s right to choice at the forefront of my teachings.
The relaxation tools can become tools for life not just for labour and birth. The principles can be useful in the early days, for example, if they want, there’s a script you can use for breastfeeding and the principles are relevant for later for any stressful and challenging situations we come across in life, both for mums and the dads.
The relaxation has positive health benefits for mum and also for baby. There’s some evidence that mum being stressed during pregnancy can affect baby’s brain development so that they will be more sensitive to stress. We can’t control if stressful life events happen when we are pregnant so having a tool to use to keep our bodies calm can not only benefit us but can even have positive effects on baby’s development.
As someone who has experienced hypnobirth for their own birth what was it like for you on the day?
I’ve watched the video of my third child’s birth and it does look like it was a wonderful zen calm birth. In some ways it was but inside my head, it still felt really intense and fast and I had to really focus on relaxing my body. I’ve always been a mind over matter sort of person so for me the hypnobirth tools were great because they allowed me to get quickly into that relaxed state.
When it came to the birth itself I felt really present in my body, really aware of all the different sensations and what my body was doing as it pushed out my baby. The breathing techniques were key in helping me to consciously work with my body slowly allowing my body time to stretch and not tear. I found being so relaxed through my labour had allowed my body to build up such a great amount of oxytocin that the high of holding my baby for the first time was amazing. The same oxytocin resulted in no blood loss at all, my midwife was amazed and said she would have to write 100ml in my notes as no one would believe her if she said none at all.
That said, I am very aware that every birth is different and we all have our own challenges to overcome and I try to be sensitive to that at all times and encourage a couple to find what works for them to empower them as they begin one of life’s greatest adventures.
You can get in touch with Wendy and Erika via their website https://www.wondrousbirthhypnobirthing.co.uk/
On the website, you can book a taster session or a whole course group class or private classes just for you.
You can also find Wondrous Birth on Facebook
All of our Hampshire Doulas will be happy to support you with hypnobirth if it is one of your chosen tools for birth. Find the right doula for you on our find a doula page.