When I became pregnant, I dived deep into the world of birthing, positive birth, and hypnobirthing. I already knew prior to my pregnancy, that there are some big problems with the way women birth in the West. For example the WHO advises that the most appropriate C-section rate should be 10-15%; if the rate is higher than this, it means there are unnecessary C-sections happening. Alarmingly, a report from the BMJ showed that 106 out of 169 countries have rates higher than this, and rates are increasing globally. It has been around 30% in the US ands 25% in the UK.
I also knew that lying on your back is the worst position for giving birth, as it narrows the pelvic space, and prevents the help of gravity; “UFO” positions (i.e Upright, Forward, Open) result in shorter labours with fewer complications. Yet the lying down position became routine when King Louis XIV decided he wanted to watch his children being born, and continues to be standard practice so medical personell can easier monitor women/intervene.
However, once I started reading more about giving birth today, I was honestly shocked when I discovered the deeper layers of the corruption of the natural birth process in our society. I learnt about the ‘Cascade of intervention‘ where having one intervention often leads to more and more, with all their associated risks. According to the journal article linked “Every intervention presents the possibility of untoward effects and additional risks that engender the need for more interventions with their own inherent risks”. I learnt about the many guidelines and protocols that hospitals and obstetricians follow that are not based on evidence (for example induction after a certain date, due dates in general, routine CTG monitoring, etc). I learnt about the extent of birth trauma, and disempowerment of women through the many stories posted in the online birthing groups I was a member of. But I also learnt of another way. I learnt that homebirths are generally just as safe as hospital births for low risk women and that some places such as “The Farm Midwifery Centre” have C-section rates below 2%, and much lower than average mortality! I learnt of ecstatic birth, and spiritual awakenings, and primal Goddess power and women who saw birth itself (not just the welcoming of their child) as a beautiful, incredible experience.
So I feel it is really important to talk about the myths and truths of childbirth, and hopefully help eliminate some of the fear of any women who are pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant reading this. It’s a real shame that most people’s exposure to childbirth are media representations of screaming women in hospital beds or sayings such as that “childbirth is the most painful thing ever”, which means that most women don’t even realise what a positive birth experience they can have.
We are really lucky to be living in the modern age with our scientific advancements which mean that giving birth is really safe. However just because we have medical technology doesn’t mean we must always use it. The evidence shows that supporting a natural, empowered birth process, and intervening only when necessary results in happier, healthier women and babies.
So what are some things I learnt, that I think every woman planning on giving birth should be aware of?
- Like all other mammals, the optimal environment for giving birth is one that is dark, quiet, safe and familiar. In today’s world, the optimal place is where you feel safe, but wherever that may be, it’s best to try and keep it as quiet, dark and comfortable as possible.
- It is generally as safe to give birth at home as in the hospital for women with low-risk pregnancies in the UK. In fact, giving birth at home leads to less intervention. (see Birthplace study).
- Sometimes C-sections are done for convenience not because they are necessary. (There are of-course situations, such as transverse lie, placenta praevia, etc where C-sections are absolutely lifesaving, but it’s important to be educated on what these situations are).
- Mindset is everything when it comes to labour – being in a state of calm and relaxation optimises the hormones of birthing, allowing it to proceed smoothly. Breathing and hypnobirthing are extraordinary tools for coping with pain.
- Feeling empowered and in control during labour leads to better outcomes and less birth trauma. – It astounds me how often women are patronized (for example being told what to do rather than it being framed as a choice which it should be) and disempowered, or not even fully consented to procedures and examinations! These things often contribute to birth trauma and PTSD.
- Plans are important. People often say that birth is unpredictable so there is no point making a plan. Yes, birth can be unpredictable and things may not always go to plan, but having a plan gives the best chance of things going that way, and some things can be done regardless of how birth unfolds (for example delayed cord clamping, and ensuring immediate skin-to-skin contact no matter the type of birth).
- Researching things and using the BRAIN acronym to make decisions puts you in control. When the midwife or doctor offer interventions or suggest plans, use the BRAIN acronym to remember what to ask/discuss. It stands for Benefits, Risks, Alternatives (what else can I do?), Intuition (what is my gut telling me?) and nothing (what happens if I do nothing/wait longer). This is invaluable to help you make a decision that is best for you and your baby. It’s important to remember that YOU, as the birthing woman can accept or deny what medical professionals offer you; you have a choice, and it must always be an informed one.
What I did to have a positive birth
- I read books that empowered me with knowledge and confidence. I have listed them all in the “resources” section below. As a result of this, I looked forward to my birth, because I knew that the most likely thing to happen was that I was going to have an amazing, empowering birth, and I did!
- Hypnobirthing – this is the main tool I used to get through contractions. I also had gas and air for pain relief, but when I had to go without for a few contractions during active labour, I realised the gas and air wasn’t actually offering much pain relief; it was mainly my hypnobirthing, and my belief that it was helping that made my contractions manageable. Obviously what worked for me may not work for everyone, and if the pain was not manageable, I would have requested stronger pain relief in a heartbeat. Hypnobirthing is not just about the breathing though; the tools I learnt have continued to help me during motherhood too!
- I recorded lots of guided meditations, and self hypnosis audios that I listened to every day in the weeks leading up to my birth. This allowed me to access a state of relaxation easily, and positive affirmations helped me truly believe I could successfully birth my baby without intervention.
- I hired a doula. Studies have shown that continuous labour supports results in fewer interventions, shorter labours and reduced need for pain relief. Doulas act as trusted advocates to support birthing women emotionally and physically. Since midwives work on shifts, and you generally haven’t met them before , me and my husband decided to hire a doula, and it was one of the best decisions I made. She visited twice before labour to talk about it and do the Rebozo relaxation technique, and during labour helped with massage and support, taking a lot of the burden off my husband. When the midwives wanted to take me to hospital to break my waters, she was there to remind me of my birth plan, and help us decide a plan (to wait for a bit and get back into safe/relaxation mode before making a decision) – in the end my waters broke on their own just minutes after chatting to the midwives!
- I did perineal massage a few times a week from 37 weeks of pregnancy. Then when the baby was crowning, with the guidance of my doula, did quick shallow breaths, with slowed down pushing to prevent tears, and all this must have worked, because all I had were some superficial grazes that healed within days!
- I chose to give birth at home, so I could be in a relaxed, familiar environment. The curtains were closed, and I created two playlists; an upbeat happy one for early labour and a slow relaxing one for later. I diffused essential oils like lavender and clary sage. All this created a perfect birth atmosphere for me, but whether you choose to give birth at home, a birth centre or hospital some of these ideas can be used to create your perfect birth environment.
- As well as researching and learning all about natural and normal birth, I researched complications and interventions (mainly using the Evidence based birth website, link below), so I could be prepared during my own birth to make a decision that was right for me (using the BRAIN tool).
Obviously, I could write pages and pages about having a positive birth, and if you want to learn more, please check out the following resources I used, or feel free to contact me.
Evidence Based Birth – Evidence on pretty much everything to do with birth
Home Birth reference site – lots of information on home births
AIMS – independent information about pregnancy and birth