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.
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.
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.
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.
What are positive birth affirmations and how do I use them?
Doulas, above everything else, are positive about birth and about women and about new families. One of the most outstanding benefits of inviting a doula to your birth is the positive way she will talk to you and encourage you. Sometimes (especially as women and especially as British people) we’re not all that kind to ourselves and thinking positive thoughts about ourselves and our abilities doesn’t always come easily. This is one reason positive birth affirmations can be so helpful. Make your own or print ours if you like. Stick them around your house where you will see them when you’re going about your day and read them every time you pass. That repetition of thought will make those thoughts start to get into your brain. Then when you’re in labour you can choose the one that works for you and repeat it to yourself as you breathe through your contractions. If your baby has arrived already you might find the positive affirmations for life with a new baby more useful.
I love my baby and I am doing all that is necessary to bring about a healthy birth.
This one can be helpful as you’re planning your birth, especially if you’re making choices that are not in the normal routine of things. People may say discouraging things to you but focusing on why you make your decisions and remembering you’re making good choices for you and your baby is important. It can also be helpful if you reach a point in labour when you make a different choice to your first choice birth plan you might need to help yourself focus on letting go of that first choice and feeling positive about your new choice knowing you’ve made it for good reasons.
2. Keep breathing slow and even. Inhale peace, exhale tension.
This is a good affirmation for anytime you need to relax, for times you feel stressed while pregnant and as your contractions start to feel like really hard work during labour and then when you’re holding your new baby wondering at the enormous love and responsibility you’ve taken on.
3. I feel the love of others around me.
It’s always good to remember as we birth we’re never alone, we’re surrounded by the love of the long line of birthing women we come from. The love of our sisters (by blood and by choice). One of the most positive things you can do for yourself as you prepare for your birth is to surround yourself with that support. Hang out with people who tell positive birth stories. Prep your birth partners to focus on increasing your oxytocin through every stage of your labour. Always remember if someone is in your birth space and is not helping you feel the love you have the right to ask them to leave no matter who they are.
4. My body will give birth in its own time.
Due dates are just estimates. Guidelines that stipulate a certain number of centimetres of dilation per hour are not the rules. There are no rules in how birth unfolds. If you’re happy and your baby is happy it’s all good.
5. I accept myself completely here and now.
Each birth is a new adventure for you and how you deal with contractions, the choices you make and the way you feel in each moment is always okay. Birth is not a pass or fail event it’s part of your journey and it’s up to you to speak kindly to yourself and accept how you feel and love yourself through each moment.
When your doula goes on call for your birth one of the first things she will do is make sure her doula bag is all packed and ready to go and safely kept so it can be grabbed on the way out the door to be with you.
You’re probably wondering what’s in this bag that makes it so special but before we get into that always remember what’s outside the bag is much more important. Sometimes birth happens fast and sometimes it takes even an experienced doula by surprise and we turn up by your side with nothing more than purse and keys. Any of the things we’re going to talk about can be improvised from what we find at your house or the hospital and many women will give birth without any ‘things’ at all just calm loving people marvelling at how wonderful they are.
Sometimes it can be a challenge, especially in our society where we find speed and measurement are so often expected to be a feature in birth experiences and where we often birth in unfamiliar surroundings, to reach that place of being totally in the zone and able to find the power in us to follow what our body is doing. The calm relaxing presence of a doula by your side is her main tool in helping you reach that place of feeling safe and relaxing into what your body is doing and letting it take over and get birth done. Her reassurance and ability to help those around you respect and honour your need for that calm quiet zone is her main tool and you can’t keep that in a bag.
When I asked the Hampshire doulas what from their doula bag they were most likely to use at a birth it came as no surprise that the things we use the most often are things that help women to find their birth zone and follow their body’s cues with the least possible disturbance. Our tools of the trade are the things which work with us in helping to hold the space women birth in and increase their natural levels of the all-important oxytocin.
Here we go with the answer to what is in our doula bags?
Battery Tealight Candles or Battery Fairy Lights.
One of the most important things for increasing the levels of oxytocin a birthing women is producing is to keep the lights low. Bright lights can make women too aware of their surroundings and the possibility of being observed which can stimulate the production of adrenalin -oxytocin’s natural enemy. Even when we’re at a birth without our bag we will help women to find a nice quiet spot to labour with low lights. The added benefit of the tea lights or fairy lights is they have a soft comforting light that we naturally associate with warm cosy evenings with our loved ones which helps women feel safe and produce more of the lovely oxytocin.
Women in labour need to keep hydrated, their bodies are doing really hard work and when we exercise we need to stay hydrated to keep our muscles working well. But when a woman is following her body’s cues to find the best position to stay comfortable she may not be in a great position for sitting back and drinking from a cup or bottle. Also taking small regular sips of water is often easier than trying to take a big drink. One frequent task doulas take on is holding the water and popping the straw in the right place to help the birthing woman stay hydrated without having her natural rhythm disrupted.
Coconut water, honey sticks, honey water, high protein nibbles.
As well as staying hydrated women need the energy to maintain their muscles to keep going through all the hard work, especially if they have a long labour. This needs to be provided, just as with the bendy straws for water, in a way that doesn’t disturb their natural labouring rhythm. So, having small easy to nibble high energy options to tempt mum with that she can finish in between contractions is something we’re practised at. We’re also very prepared for (and used to having) small amounts of things spat into our hands if a contraction hits and a woman feels she would prefer an empty mouth during contractions. One of the other things often in our doula bags is hand cream for ourselves in case we need to wash our hands frequently or have them into the water of the birth pool giving a back rub etc.
Not in every doula bag but in many because of the benefits of positive and relaxing smells in helping women stay in their labour bubble. A smell that you enjoy can help you relax and can cover up any unwanted smells like the medical smell of the hospital. There are other smells which can help you if you feel sick and others that can help you get your energy back. Some doulas have training or experience in using essential oils and will have a whole selection for you to choose from, the most popular during labour seem to be lavender and peppermint. Your doula will always chat to you about this during your pregnancy to make sure she only brings smells that you like into your birth space.
Flannel or face cloth.
This is a practical tool that gets used for various reasons. Sometimes it can be combined with the essential oils to keep them close enough to smell. (Not to be used for other things after that so sometimes we need two.) Other times it’s covered in cold water and used to help soothe a sweaty brow or on the back of the birthing woman’s neck to help cool her down. Sometimes it’s not needed till right at the end of labour when it can be soaked in warm water and used to support the perineum to help prevent tearing. Last but not least sometimes it’s needed after the birth to help the new mother clean herself up -those times we are ready to say thanks for all the hard work and goodbye to that trusty flannel and time to get a new one.
Homoeopathy, Acupuncture, photography, hypnobirthing, etc.
Some doulas are trained in other therapies or skills too and will bring their tools for that job with them. It might help you decide who’s the right doula for you if you know you would be interested in a certain type of complementary therapy or service check if your doula is willing and able to support you with that.
Snacks and a really good coffee for myself.
Knowing that we may well not get the chance for a break once we arrive at a birth we make sure we have good energising snacks for ourselves and potentially to share with a birth partner or midwife too. We need to keep ourselves full of energy so we can be as useful to you as long as you need us to whether your birth is short or long we’re totally in it with you for the whole time.