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
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.
This world doula week we’re really pleased to bring you the birth story of a Hampshire Doula baby.
We talked to his mum and their doula and we’re sharing the story here and across our social media to celebrate the way doulas help make ‘it’ happen. That ‘it’ might be: better births, bonding, support, breastfeeding, information or comfort.
Doula Vikki Young starts the story.
I saw the birth of a brand new soul last year. His name is Brodie. He’s a Hampshire Doula baby through and through!
Mum, Ali is a Hampshire Doula and I was her birth Doula.
It’s a pretty huge honour to be asked to be anyone’s Doula. But when it’s for a Doula herself you literally BEAM sunshine and rainbows.
Doula and Mum Ali Russell-Webb can start the story from further back. She tells us about her first birth and why she wanted a doula with her during her second birth.
After my first birth, I was completely traumatised. Naive to the world of, anything to do with, healthcare, I had no real idea what was happening to me or what was about to happen. Everything had been quite stressful, I had undiagnosed antenatal depression and I was overdue. This led to me being coerced into an induction, with the only thing I was terrified of, being a c-section.
My induction failed (or as a VBAC midwife once told me- it didn’t fail because it put me into labour). Well after 24 hours of that induced labour, and pain, I ended with a c-section for, what we thought was a failure to progress. This, we later found out, at a VBAC session, was not the reason, but the baby had turned OP and couldn’t get out. I stayed in the hospital for 7 days, after the birth. During which time my baby was topped up with formula, I was made to feel like I couldn’t feed him and I was shouted at by a midwife. This all resulted in terrible PND, with which I was suicidal, and PTSD. It took me 10 months to go near the hospital again.
[Editor’s note: post-traumatic stress disorder is something that can happen after any traumatic event including a traumatic experience of birth. There is help and support available if you think you may be struggling with this the birth trauma association is one good place to start. If you’re local please contact us here and we can also help you find local support. If you’re planning a birth and looking to avoid this please consider attending your local Positive Birth Movement meet-ups and look into having doula support for your birth.]
Despite all this, I knew I didn’t want an only child. When I found out I was pregnant again, I was terrified. This pregnancy was awful- HG, for 4 months followed by nasty PGP. Between both babies, I had trained as a Doula, and studied, inside and out, maternity care. I knew I needed a Doula to support me this time, and wonderful Vikki Young agreed. Even though I am not easy to support, and probably even worse when pregnant. I spent my whole pregnancy beating myself up because I was a Doula, I know about birth, why was I so terrified? Also, I have never felt so lonely, as I did in the last weeks, probably another bout of, less severe, antenatal depression.
So now we come on to the birth story. Ali tells us how things got started.
I planned my HBAC, still terrified of the hospital and was fairly content with the plan. Due to my newly learned knowledge about my first son being OP [positioned back to back with mum in the uterus more details here] and PGP [pelvic girdle pain –more details here], I had chiropractic treatment all the way through my pregnancy. I did yoga, Spinning Babies and anything else to ensure good positioning.
After a second dose of evening of primrose oil, [this is a personal experience Hampshire Doulas recommends you research anything before deciding if it’s for you which applies to alternative therapies as well as suggested medical interventions] I woke up about 3.30am, the date after my EDD (estimated date of delivery – those are nonsense) with a lot of fluid, but mostly smelling of evening primrose oil. 😁 I thought it was my waters but tried to go back to sleep. After being kicked in the face, by a toddler, for the millionth time, I gave up. There were mild surges starting (remember I’d never gone into natural labour) and I was bloody determined they were going to develop because I was so over being pregnant! (I don’t do pregnancy or babies small)
After labouring, well, staying active and being able to chat to Vikki, everything seemed all good. I got into the pool, which was blessed relief. Everything gets a little hazy, at this point, perhaps due to the amazing gas and air, perhaps I was in the zone.
One of the advantages of having a doula is they can fill in the gaps of your hazy memories of the day!
Ali laboured at home all day. Having one contraction every three minutes from about midday to the point Brodie was born at 21:20. Not just the little breathe through it contractions. But the ones that curl your toes and make you try and glue yourself to the floor. She had a bit of gas and air and a pool. I mean MAN ALIVE she was awesome.
That kid was quite happy where he was though. Unaffected by his mum’s heroic birthing efforts.
Intensity was really building and from the look of everything, Brodie was ready to come into the world. The room was peaceful and I was able to make it through the intensity of the contractions with Vikki keeping my eye contact and reminding me to breathe. Her calmness was invaluable.
After a while, and some gas runs later, things seemed not to be moving and I couldn’t feel his head. I am absolutely an advocate of physiological birth and less focus on interventions, but there is a reason we have medicine and are fortunate to be able to access expertise.
I had received no VEs but knew at this point, although it was uncomfortable out of the water, there was something not quite right. The midwife examined my cervix and found I was 3-4cm dilated, and after the work so far, I knew I needed some relief if I was going to be able to birth him. Vikki’s calm reassurance was amazing, as I had that nagging feeling of failure, but it went.
After hours at the same dilatation and no let up in those contractions, it was time to get some help. Drugs would be good right now.
Birth is unpredictable, but with good support and knowing the decision to change to plan B is yours, that unpredictability and positive birth are not mutually exclusive.
An ambulance came…
The ambulance ride was hell for Ali. Being told to lie down and keep still on this teeny bed are not things a woman in the throes of labour will ever take well.
She made it to the ward with only a few choice words 🤣
As they monitored her with the CTG [Cardiotocography (CTG) is a technical means of recording the fetal heartbeat and the uterine contractions during pregnancy.] it was clear the contractions were still coming thick and fast with no sign of the baby. An epidural was requested.
Your doula and your midwife will always tell you to trust your instincts and this was one time those instincts were needed and right.
Once we arrived at hospital I knew, in my heart, I was done and I needed a section. I am so grateful that I was in a position to know what was happening to my body, and feel self-assured enough to make an informed decision about the way forward.
I am indebted to my wonderful Doula for her sitting with me through the section, keeping me calm during the hardest parts of pain, and her presence reassuring me of my body and my ability to know exactly what I needed.
Ali had decided that this was the same road as Fin. She knew it. Mums always know. The baby was not coming without some assistance and trying to delay it was futile.
As the doc suggested waiting a bit, Brodie’s heart rate started to dip with the contractions. [This is one sign that baby might not be coping well with labour anymore.]
He was tired, she was tired and more importantly, Ali knew this baby needed to be born by c section. And soon.
The medical staff listened to Ali and she was whizzed round to theatre. I accompanied her as by now we were pretty much one unit. The eye contact was keeping her going and she needed that.
Her totally amazing husband knew it was what she needed and totally supported her ❤
So off Ali and I went to theatre.
Little (ha!) Brodie was out in no time. He was in my arms and held up to Ali so she could get those intoxicating new baby smells and hugs as she was stitched up. [Sometimes skin to skin isn’t possible immediately but it’s never too late.]
I popped out to get Ali’s husband while she was still in recovery so he could meet his brand new baby boy 💕
It may not have been the HVAC I planned, but as Doulas, we know birth is never a sure thing. I was safe and followed my instincts as my space was held for me, with love.
What started off as pretty textbook labour (whatever that is, right?) turned in to a real need for those wonderful obstetric wizards to come out and say “Hey, it’s ok. I’m here to help you. Let’s make a plan.”
I know we moan about them a lot. Terrible communication skills and an inability to listen to the woman are most common complaints. They are often seen as the worst thing to walk through a delivery room door BUT do you know what? Sometimes we need those peeps. We need their years of training in seriously complicated surgery. They can step in and save lives.
So what can we learn about doula support from this birth story?
Doulas still need Doulas. We lose our rational brains when we’re in the zone of labour and birth and are TERRIBLE at taking our own advice.
Breastfeeding Support People are called all kinds of things. (Not all of them kind or nice things but that’s another story.)
Breastfeeding support is one of those areas where there’s little or no regulation as to who can set themselves up as a breastfeeding supporter or what they call themselves. One of the consequences is that you can see a lactation consultant and they might be someone with a degree in breastfeeding and many hours of experience supporting breastfeeding. Or they might be someone who used to be a midwife or trained as a nanny and thinks they know from experience. The thing is, some midwives know loads about breastfeeding and some nannies are great at educating themselves and naturals at support. But, you have no guarantees that you pick a great one and just as much chance that you pick one who really doesn’t know that much and will give you information and advice that leads to you giving up breastfeeding before you want to.
So how can you find good quality well-trained breastfeeding support? In the UK the best way to start is to look for local groups or ring a helpline that’s supported by the reputable and knowledgeable volunteers from one of the four main breastfeeding charities. The Association of Breastfeeding Mothers, the Breastfeeding Network, the La Leche League and the National Childbirth Trust. These organisations all train their volunteers to a great standard and also train them to be honest and refer mums to someone who knows even more than they do when they reach the limit of their knowledge.
But what if you need that top level of knowledge, that expertise? If someone calls themselves a lactation consultant what you need to know is are they certified by the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners. Best way to find someone with this level of knowledge is to check the Lactation Consultants of Great Britain website.
It might be that you still need to do some research into local people, to find the right one for you.
But that’s just like you do with doulas, it’s about getting that feeling and clicking with someone when you already know they have the knowledge and training you’re looking for.
Here’s a personal tale on not stopping at the first person you ask for support with breastfeeding.
When my third baby was born I was already a qualified breastfeeding counsellor (with the ABM) you would think if anyone was going to find breastfeeding easy it would be me. This photo of our second feed is lovely because it shows how easy it is for even babies who struggle to get a good latch to keep hold of it in that laid back position. I love the photo of our first feed too (it’s not on the right storage device to share here now but maybe soon) because it really shows the truth
about the post-birth glamour (there really isn’t any glamour but there’s a kind of raw beauty to be sure). But what you can also see in that first feed photo is that from the very first feed I had to support my daughter’s latch. She had a try at breast crawl and self-attachment and while she had it all going on with trying to find the breast she just couldn’t get a good enough latch to be happy until I gave her a little support.
Well as the first two weeks went by I put all the effort into all the things I was so used to telling other mums about. We used skin to skin contact and laid-back feeding positions but still, I was in so much pain I wanted to cry every time she wanted to feed (which was basically all the time.) But also because of having my breastfeeding training, I started to notice things about the way she fed and the way her tongue looked and wonder if she might have a tongue tie. Luckily for me, I also knew that the infant feeding co-ordinator at my local hospital was an IBCLC and that I could call her direct and say “help!” As a breastfeeding counsellor, I could be pretty sure we were struggling with tongue tie but it was so good to be able to hand over the worry and be reassured by the next level of expert. She confirmed that yes, that was the problem, and I hadn’t just forgotten everything I knew and ‘done it wrong’ (there’s no right or wrong in mothering but sometimes it feels like that in the heat of the moment.) Also, luckily for me although the local hospital wasn’t treating tongue tie I could go to the one in the next town away and another wonderful IBCLC was able to divide my baby’s tongue tie and it was onward and upward (although of course not without twists and turns in the road) from there on.
So that is why I’m grateful for IBCLC’s on a personal level and a professional level and why I’m celebrating #happydayoftheibclc and that’s why I think it doesn’t matter what your breastfeeding supporter calls themselves it matters what they really know. I’m grateful there’s an easy way to tell if someone really knows their stuff or just likes the idea of being a lactation consultant.
Are you starting out with breastfeeding? Maybe our top tips can help it go smoothly for you and you won’t need the top level of support but at least if you do you know where to find it now.
Skin to skin it’s the answer to everything.
You may have already read about skin to skin and how many benefits it has for babies when they are first born. If you’re pregnant now read up on those benefits and think about if you want to add skin to skin to be kept in your birth plan whatever else happens.
But if you’re looking back on what happened when your baby was born and skin to skin didn’t happen as you hoped for whatever reason don’t despair it’s not too late. Equally, if you’re looking back thinking how lovely that skin to skin time was now is a great time to get back skin to skin with your baby.
If you had a birth that didn’t go to plan or if you and baby are struggling to get breastfeeding going well or if you’re finding it difficult to feel that overwhelming bonding and falling in instant love that you’ve been lead to expect will happen as soon as baby arrives skin to skin can help. Skin to skin can happen as much as you like, any time you’re in the house you can snuggle skin to skin under a blanket or pop baby skin to skin in a stretchy sling. Skin to skin raises oxytocin (the feel good loving hormone) levels so don’t worry you can not overdo it. Babies and mothers (and dads, siblings, grandmas etc) benefit in many ways by spending as much time as possible skin to skin.
Bathing with your baby.
One way of being skin to skin that many people find really positive is to have a bath with your baby. Sometimes this is called re-birthing but it’s nothing spiritual or just for hippies just an opportunity for mum and baby to get the skin to skin and cuddles they might have missed out on at birth or just to get some more. Here’s a quick how-to guide if you think you might benefit from this.
- Have someone help you, run a nice deep bath, get in and relax.
- Have your helper pass you your baby.
- Hold baby between your legs (in the warm water) as you sit in the bath make eye contact and talk to your baby about how long you’ve been waiting to meet them, how important they are, how beautiful they are and how much you’re going to love them.
- Then bring your baby up on to your tummy/chest so you are tummy to tummy just as you would have been had birth gone to your original plan. Relax like that as long as you and baby are happy.
- Have your helper put a towel over your baby to keep them warm if necessary and be prepared to hold your hand or stroke your arm if the tears start to fall. If the tears fall do not be surprised, let them come and let the emotions out. Make sure you’ve picked a helper who is prepared to be with you through the emotion and offer loving sympathy not try to cheer you up or fix the problem. The talk and the helping may come later but this is the time for just feeling and letting the feelings out.
- It’s quite likely that in this position tummy down, head between your boobs baby will start to root. As long as baby isn’t getting upset try to leave them to it to find the nipple and latch on themselves.
- Your helper can take your baby and then offer a support if needed for you to climb out of the bath when you’re ready.
Your birth or postnatal doula will be more than happy to be your support person or helper through this process. If you don’t have anyone who’s right for the job yet check the find a doula page.
At Hampshire Doulas we’re always on the lookout for good local opportunities to learn more about supporting women and families through pregnancy birth and postnatal times. So, of course, we’re very proud to be able to be involved with Positive Birth Portsmouth first ever conference.
It’s going to be an interesting day learning all about how the way women and their families are cared for during the perinatal period affects their mental health throughout life.
One of the speakers is a trained doula, and also a consultant anaesthetist. We’re really looking forward to hearing all about how those two things can be brought together to promote positive birth experiences for more women. We will also be hearing about supporting women with mental health issues and about recovery from birth trauma.
If you would like to join us make sure to get your name on the guest list on the PBP website https://www.positivebirthportsmouth.org/conferencedetails.html
Everyone will find their own way of coping with labour on the day. But being prepared with some ideas of things you can try that might help you cope with your contractions and positively work with what your body is doing is a great way to feel prepared and confident for when you go into labour.
Active labour positions:
Your body’s first job with your contractions is to move your baby into the best position for coming out. Sometimes early labour with contractions that stop and start and often feel strongest in your back can be frustrating especially if they are very intense but don’t seem to be having a measurable effect on your cervix. This is very normal and doesn’t mean anything is wrong. Moving about and changing position can not only help the potentially overwhelming sensations of your contractions to be easier to cope with but can also help to create space in your pelvis to allow baby to move around and tuck their chin in to be in the best position to move easily through your pelvis.
Deep relaxing breathing:
Planning to ‘just’ breathe through your contractions might sound hippy-dippy or too simple to be of actual use. It’s good solid science though. Controlling and relaxing our breathing allows us to relax our other muscles which allow our body to get to work birthing. Tensing our muscles feeds into a fear response which encourages our bodies to produce adrenaline which is the natural enemy of oxytocin the most important hormone for labour and birth. Switching off our thinking brains and doing everything we can to raise our oxytocin levels gives our bodies the best chance they can have to get on with the job. Breathing doesn’t have to be done any one specific way as long as you breathe in a relaxing way and find a rhythm that feels relaxing to you it will have a relaxing effect. It can help you to feel relaxed and ready with ways to remind yourself to breathe deeply if you practice in pregnancy. Some places you can do this are at pregnancy yoga or Daisy Foundation classes.
Having something to repeat to yourself in your head is another effective way of keeping your thinking brain relaxed and allow your body to get on with the job of labour and birth. There’s another blog post with more details on how they work to get your head in a good place approaching birth and can be used to keep your brain busy thinking positively during labour and birth.
Water can help you in two ways, labour is really hard physical work and like with other physical activities your body needs to stay hydrated. Having something that’s easy to sip and easy to drop when you need to focus on a contraction is a handy tool. Water can also help to relax you when you get into it. A shower or a bath can be a useful tool for early labour and in later labour, a birth pool is brilliant for providing a lovely safe space and wonderful support to allow you to relax and to find comfortable and effective positions for birthing.
The sensations of labour and birth can be really overwhelming, finding something that keeps you grounded can help you to focus on the things that keep you relaxed. This is where a good connection with your birth partner is vital. Not only can your birth partner help you keep calm by helping you feel that you’re not alone but the way they make you feel loved and cared for actually raises your oxytocin levels. The physical connection your birth partner provides also raises your oxytocin levels and increases your relaxation.
In a previous post, we established what a positive birth is as far as the Hampshire Doulas are concerned. Now it’s time to get practical with some tips for enjoying your birth.
(Please note the book links in this post are affiliate links if you click through and choose to buy these wonderful books I will receive a small amount of commission but even if I didn’t I’d still recommend them).
I asked the Hampshire doulas for their top tips for planning and having a positive birth. They came up with some varied ideas but when it comes down to it we’re all saying the same thing, surround yourself with positive people, people who know about birth and how good it can be. Choose people you can trust to be honest with you not sugar coat things but focus on what’s under your control. How can you do that?
Here are our top 5 ideas.
- Join a Positive Birth Group. There are Positive Birth groups all over the world. These are a network of groups where pregnant women come together and support each other. There are no experts and no medical opinions it’s just women sharing their positive experiences with each other.
- Read and watch positive birth stories. There are lots of places to read positive birth stories online. The Birth Without Fear Blog is a very good place to start. There are lots of positive birth stories on YouTube too. On the flip side avoid watching popular TV programs that feature birth, they’re edited for drama not education. If you prefer to read on paper this book is a good start.
Home Births: Stories to inspire and inform
- Get the negativity off your chest before the big day. If you have fears and worries about labour or birth and how you will cope talk them through with someone who knows about birth. If you had a previous negative birth experience consider having a birth debrief (ask your midwife to refer you to this service at your local hospital) or finding a counsellor who can help you move forward and work through any trauma you’re still carrying. You might also find this book helpful.
How to Heal a Bad Birth: Making sense, making peace and moving on
- Learn about birth. Most doulas will have a few good books they can lend you to read. These will help you start learning how our bodies work when it comes to birth and what the range of possibilities might be for working with your body and cope with your contractions. A good antenatal course such as a hypnobirth course will help with this too and of course your antenatal sessions with your doula. Here are some of the books we recommend and lend out most often.
The Positive Birth Book: A New Approach to Pregnancy, Birth and the Early Weeks
Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth
Bump: How To Make, Grow and Birth A Baby
- Make a really good birth plan. Writing a birth plan has a value of itself regardless of who reads it on the day. The most important thing about birth planning is the process of thinking through what might happen and working out what choices you would like to make in many different situations. Writing a birth plan together is a great opportunity to have a really good talk with your partner about your expectations and what they can do to best support you through all the stages of labour. Having a doula or a well-trained birth partner with you who knows your birth plan in their head (and has an easy to read short and sweet copy to refer to in their back pocket) might be the absolute top thing you can do for yourself. But it’s important they and you know what plan B and plan C are as well as being able to focus on plan A and all the things that will give you the best chance of plan A being the only one you need on the day.
Put it all in one sentence: how do I plan a positive birth? Learn about birth and surround yourself with loving supportive people.
Here’s a recipe for our Nourishing the New Mother series that can be made meaty veggie or vegan whatever your preferences. It’s great comfort food and really nourishing. Perfect for your doula to make for you or to make and freeze in small batches ready for when you need it.
Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie
Notes: apparently strictly speaking it’s only a shepherd’s pie if you use lamb mince, with other kinds of mince it’s a cottage pie. The original inspiration for this recipe came from Alexandra – BBB doula.
Ingredients. Quantities for two people.
- 1 onion
- 1 carrot
- 200g mushrooms
- 225g mince of your choice (lamb, beef, quorn, or substitute lentils or cannellini or pinto beans)
- 400g tin chopped tomatoes
- 200ml stock of your choice
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 teaspoons mixed herbs
- 200g sweet potatoes peeled and chopped into squares
- Peel and chop onion and carrot slice mushrooms. Cook sweet potatoes in boiling water for around 10-15 minutes, until soft and well done.
- Saute onion in olive oil in a large/deep frying pan or wok (if you like you can add some garlic too). When it starts to look transparent add carrot mushrooms and mince (you can change these for other vegetables if you prefer or have different veggies in the fridge). Stir-fry for a couple of minutes then add stock, tomatoes and herbs, some people like to add a teaspoon of sugar too. Season to taste.
- Cook for about 20-30 minutes stirring regularly until the sauce has reduced. Place in casserole dish. Drain and mash sweet potato (sweet potato is so soft it usually doesn’t need any liquid to mash easily if you feel it does use a little of the sauce from the mince mix.) Top the mince with the sweet potato and a little grated cheese (or vegan cheese substitute) and when ready to eat pop in a medium oven until hot and bubbly around the edges.
Establishing and maintaining a good breastmilk suply is one of the top worries that many mums have about breastfeeding. Our society and the prevalence of formula advertising have made us think that this is a very common problem but it’s really quite unusual to not be able to make enough milk with the right supportive atmosphere. There are some people who have conditions which mean they don’t make any or enough milk and if that’s you this blog post may not be of much use to you but you might need support from a qualified breastfeeding counsellor or an IBCLC.
Your doula is more than happy to provide you with practical support and confidence in your normal breastfeeding journey and will be glad to refer you to expert support if you need some.
Should you even be worried about how much milk you’re making?
Probably not if your baby is putting on weight, producing wet and dirty nappies, not making you sore and feeding frequently.
Making sure you have a good breastmilk supply and get enough milk into your baby is as easy (and as hard) as following your baby’s lead.
Here are our top tips.
- Make sure your baby has a good latch and can easily transfer milk from your breast. Being well attached to the breast makes it easy for baby to get all the milk they need and the more milk they take the more milk you will make. The easiest way to help your baby get a great latch is to use a breastfeeding position that will encourage all your baby’s natural instincts. Laid back breastfeeding positions are perfect for this. If you find it difficult to get a comfortable latch even in this position please get in contact with a breastfeeding counsellor or an IBCLC there are sometimes physical reasons for that pain (such as tongue tie) that need extra support and care. If you want to focus on relaxing and feeding baby, don’t forget your postnatal doula is there to bring you water and snacks and hang out your washing while you do this very important job.
- Get skin to skin. When babies are born they are ready and good to go with breastfeeding and the easiest start to that feeding journey and to having loads of milk is to hang out skin to skin as long as you can. If you miss out on this initial skin to skin don’t panic it’s never too late to get skin to skin with your baby and once is never enough. Hang out with your baby skin to skin anytime you like as much as possible for as long as possible. Not only is it great for your milk supply but it’s a great way for dads and babies to bond too.
- Feed feed feed. In the first few days, every moment your baby spends suckling is a moment that’s switching on more of the milk-producing cells in your breast. And in those first few weeks, there are many growths spurts where you baby (who will always feed frequently) will seem to feed constantly. That constant feeding suddenly happening again often makes women worry they haven’t got enough milk but it’s actually nature’s way of putting in the order for more milk in the next couple of days. Even if you think baby can’t possibly be hungry again allowing them to keep swapping sides and feeding more will allow them to build up your supply, never forget you can’t overfeed a breastfed baby.
- Look after yourself. Making all the food another human needs to survive and double their weight in six months is hard physical work. Make sure that you keep hydrated and well nourished and find ways to fit in any extra sleep you can get. Even malnourished women can make enough milk for their baby but a mother’s body will prioritise milk over its own well being and keeping your head in the game without feeling completely run down and overwhelmed is important too.
- If you plan to mix feed in the long term manage it carefully. Mix feeding is prefered by some women for many different reasons. It can be done and it can suit some families really well. But making sure that breastfeeding and especially your milk supply is established first is important too. Maximising your baby’s time at the breast in the first six weeks will mean your supply is well established and much more flexible after this time. If you do any bottle feeding before six weeks try to use your own expressed milk if possible and if you find baby is still hungry after a bottle feed offer a top-up from the breast, not the bottle. Also, remember the purpose baby is increasing feeds during growth spurts and add in extra breastfeeds not extra bottles.
What about galactagogues and lactation cookies?
You might like lactation cookies, lots of them are really yummy and there’s no harm in munching them if you do. But ultimately you don’t need them to make plenty of milk for your baby. Some women find them helpful especially during growth spurts and your doula will be happy to make you some but eating them is no magic pill and will only help if you’re also frequently feeding your well-latched baby. Sometimes complex feeding issues may be helped by the use of galactagogues but if you’re in that situation you need the expert help of a breastfeeding counsellor or IBCLC who will help you find the right solution for you.