You might want a natural, empowering birth experience, yet you may be persuaded there is no such thing if you check out what the media has to say about birth.
Hair raising TV shows like One Born Every Minute and frenzied social media discussions are no friend to the positive birth movement.
You might have friends and family sharing stories about excruciatingly long labours and emergency dashes from birth suite to theatre.
You’re determined not to have this happen to you. You’ve searched the internet for positive birth stories and among your circle there are women who seemed to have survived birth with a smile and a desire to do it again. So how do you go from basically being told it’s nigh impossible to making it a reality?
Reducing Your Chances Of A Bad Birth Experience
While of course there are no guarantees, here are 8 things you can do to help increase your chances of having the best birth experience possible.
#1: Prepare For Your Birth
Birth is a peak physical performance. Whether your labour lasts two or ten hours, your body is doing some hard work!
During pregnancy you’re building another human being in there – how amazing is that! Treat your body well, provide it with the fuel it needs to nurture your baby and prepare for labour. Eat well, move your body and rest. Look after your emotional health too – being positive and happy helps you to relieve stress and worry. Take on some relaxation exercises like yoga or meditation and let go of your fears about birth.
Read our 8 important tips to help prevent postnatal depression. You might be surprised what the biggest causes of depression are.
#2: Be Informed About Your Choices
This sounds like a no brainer but it’s actually surprising how many women think because their doctor/midwife/best friend/Facebook group said so, then it’s so.
Starting from the beginning, where and with whom you choose to give birth has a massive impact on your birth outcome. Interview different care providers and find out what their thoughts are about birth. Do they view it as a normal process or an event that can easily go wrong?
If you want a highly managed birth and all the bells and whistles in case, then you’re likely to get it. Obstetric care has been associated with high rates of interventions and surgical birth.
Low risk women have a better chance at a positive and natural birth experience when choosing a midwifery led model of care. Having a primary midwife reduces the likelihood you will have interventions or a c-section and you’ll be more likely able to cope with labour and birth. Continuity of care has so many benefits for mothers and babies.
Home birth might not be your thing but it has been shown to be a safe option for low risk women. Birth centres may be available in your area and are worth a look – although many have strict criteria for eligibility which it pays to know early on so you aren’t disappointed later in your pregnancy.
If you'd prefer to see a doctor, here is a great list of questions to ask them before hiring one.
#3: Learn What Makes Labour Positive
Another no brainer perhaps, but you really need to know this. Birth can be an amazingly simple process if we are in the right environment and supported by the right people. When we get those things right, our busy intellectual brain switches off and our birth hormones take over.
You might not achieve an ecstatic or even an orgasmic birth. But knowing how your body is supposed to work and providing yourself with the tools to do that work undisturbed will go a long way to ensuring you have a positive birth experience.
Independent birth classes are a good way to ensure you learn more about birth than hospital policies. There are lots of really great books about birth as a normal process as well – check out BellyBelly’s top ten here.
#4: Work Out A Birth Plan
Or birth preference, or birth wish list. Whatever you like to call it, start doing your research about what you do and don’t want. Heard of delayed cord clamping but not sure what it’s? Want to avoid an epidural or an episiotomy? Hospital policy is continuous fetal monitoring or admission vaginal examination? Knowing what birth you want to achieve helps you to navigate these possible problems well in advance.
Labour is the time to focus inward, not deal with hospital procedures and staff insisting you comply with their requests. If you have a birth plan worked out, talk it over with your midwife or doctor before your due date.
#5: Understand What Informed Consent Means
Unfortunately in today’s birth culture, women are not aware they have the right to say no to any and all procedures in hospital. On top of that, many women are not aware that a number of routine hospital procedures are optional. Staff often present these procedures as a choice, but in fact fail to obtain true informed consent.
“The midwife didn’t ask if she was could to check to see how dilated I was. She told me that she was going to. At no point did she tell me the examination was optional or why it was important to know how dilated I was. I had been managing the contractions well until I heard I was only 4cms. Hearing that number made me do crazy maths in my head and I was worried about dealing with these intense contractions for another 10 hours. I opted to have an epidural and then baby’s heart rate dropped. Before I knew it, I was being prepped for an emergency c-section.’
Kate’s story is very typical of how one seemingly innocent procedure can contribute to the cascade of intervention. There was no choice offered and Kate’s informed consent wasn’t obtained.
Many people believe informed consent is simply saying yes or no to whatever procedure is offered to them. Informed consent is a process – it’s not simply yes or no. A care provider must provide the risks and benefits of the procedure as well as provide any information the patient requires to make an informed decision. You are also entitled to change your mind at any stage.
Read more about informed consent in our article, When Doctors Don't Listen.
#6: Get Some Awesome Birth Support On Board
You’ve probably heard of doulas by now. A switched on, dedicated birth support person might seem a little superfluous when you’ll have a midwife or a doctor during labour.
A doula isn’t there to look after your medical health. A doula will support you during pregnancy to become informed and feel prepared for birth. During labour, your doula will support you (and your partner) in whatever way needed, whether that’s back massages and hand holding, or coping if your birth plan needs to change.
If you give birth in a hospital, your doctor and the midwives will be looking after other women. They cannot stay in the room and help you through contractions. This is what a doula is skilled at doing – providing trained support to help you reach your goals for the birth.
#7: Be Flexible About What Might Happen
Okay, so we did just say make a birth plan. That doesn’t mean you have to hold onto every single dot point if things change. Sometimes late in pregnancy medical conditions arise and your natural water birth at home has to go by the wayside. Or during labour things can change and medical assistance is needed to help your baby be born safely. Being informed about the ‘what ifs’ and what you and your partner want to do will help you avoid feel like you’re on a runaway train.
It can be hugely disappointing for women to feel as though their bodies have failed or they aren’t going to achieve a longed for birth. Often others can say things which make us feel guilty or even selfish for wishing it had been different. Go into birth well informed about your options and choose your birth carers to match your birth philosophy. If things do change then being respected and owning your birth experience will make a big difference to how you’ll feel after.
#8: Look For The Positive
It sounds pretty simple but it’s very effective – don’t let negativity into your space. People will want to tell you about their birth experience, warts and all. You might need to come up with a way to deflect the negative ones. Or you can listen and remind yourself this is their birth, not yours.
Search out women who have positive, empowering stories to tell about their births. They don’t all have to be water births with dolphins type stories either! There is a lot of power and positivity in hearing stories about women who have achieved VBACs (vaginal birth after c-section), women who needed medical interventions being able to delay cord clamp or have immediate skin to skin.
Having a baby has come to seem like a very hard thing to do despite all the advancements of modern health care. Most pregnant mamas-to-be spend a great deal of time listening to negative and downright frightening stories about other women’s experiences of birth. Having a bad birth shouldn’t be the default experience. Having a positive birth experience is possible even if things change before or during labour.