Updated: Nov 18, 2021
In our last blog post, we discussed the importance of oxytocin and the mind-body connection. The role of oxytocin is pretty fundamental to birth. It promotes strong, regular contractions which help the cervix to thin out and dilate, moving your baby down and out through the birth canal. It’s easy to talk about the importance of oxytocin and remaining calm and relaxed during pregnancy and labour but what are the actual practicalities of this? How can we remain calm about something our bodies may not have done before? And how can we be relaxed when people around us are quick to let us know about the difficulties of birth? In this next post we are going to be looking at some of the practical aspects of ‘realistic positivity’; things we can do that will keep us calm, optimistic and positive whilst realistic about the potential twists and turns of birth.
1. Think Positive
A fundamental part of feeling positive is thinking positive. Remember the statement from the last post? Where the mind leads, the body follows. Thinking positively is one of the very first and most crucial aspects to a positive birth. That doesn’t mean our birth will be perfect or easy or pain free but thinking positively in the run up to labour is crucial. It makes us feel strong and capable and excited. More and more I see the importance of a positive mindset in pregnancy and I always advise couples to surround themselves with positive images and stories before going into labour themselves.
During our Bend and Breathe workshops we talk about this extensively and Hailey and I often hear how difficult it is to hold onto the positive vibes when pregnant. I remember as a first-time mum hearing lots of negative birth stories (hard to avoid when you are a midwife too!) and I really did find it difficult to focus on the positive when I had heard so many scary stories. You are under no obligation to hear people’s birth stories. Ask your friends, colleagues, the woman in the bank (people love to recount their birth story when they see a bump) to tell you their story after you have birthed your baby. Watch positive births on youtube. Make sure your social media builds you up and doesn’t scare you. Use affirmations. Read positive books. Remember your Granny did this. Your body was made to birth a baby.
2. Attend antenatal classes
I admit. I’m biased. As an antenatal educator I am pretty passionate about birth preparation. Feeling prepared helps us to relax and when we are relaxed, we feel more positive (see above!). Good antenatal classes should inform us and offer realistic but empowering information about both birth and parenthood. Knowing what to expect can alleviate some of the fear we may have surrounding birth. And remember our previous post about Grantley Dick-Read’s ‘Fear-Tension-Pain’ cycle? Find classes that suit your needs, that are fun and will allow you to ask all the questions you need to. I hear Grow and Gather run some good ones....! If you would like to attend classes but are finding the cost to be inhibitive, email the course providers. Antenatal classes are to birth what instrumental practice is to performing. A space to rehearse, to get familiar with the notes. And when the performance arrives you have practiced, you feel calm and relaxed. Sometimes the audience does something unusual or the beat changes, but you are prepared, confident and at ease.
3. Look after yourself
Keep fit. Drink water. Take your multivitamins. Go swimming. Remember to breathe. Try hypnobirthing or practice mindfulness. Ultimately birth is like running a marathon without any time to recover afterwards. Rest when you can. Enjoy time with your partner. If this is your second or third baby (fourth? Fifth?) see if you can find a babysitter and get out for a little bit of quiet time on your own. Enjoy the process of your body growing a human. I appreciate this isn’t always easy and that sometimes pregnancy feels like a long slog but just remember what an incredible thing your body is doing.
4. Be an active participant
There are so many factors involved in the amazing process of growing and birthing a baby. Some of these things we can control, others we can’t. And thank goodness for that, we worry enough as it is. Our pregnant bodies often do things we don’t expect (hey there gestational diabetes or raised blood pressure!) and ultimately our babies may decide the course of events. We can’t change many of these things. However, what we can do is make sure we are active participants during our births. We don’t need to be passive bystanders that let birth happen to us. It is your body and your baby. Ask questions if you need to. Say no to interventions if that feels right to you and your birth partner. Or say yes if that feels better. Write some birth preferences. Think about your birth. You wouldn’t plan a wedding with the mantra ‘I’ll see how it goes’ or ‘I’ll turn up on the day and hope for the best’ and while I think this attitude is sometimes helpful, I would encourage couples to take ownership over their pregnancy and birth. What is your ideal scenario and how can you work towards this?
5. Be Realistic
Most couples I meet are hoping for a straightforward, vaginal delivery. Or are planning an elective caesarean birth. I have yet to meet a couple who have hoped for an unexpected intervention as part of their birth preferences! Birth is an unpredictable event. We cannot plan for every eventuality and whilst we may hope for it all to be straightforward, that may not be our reality. In the UK many, many babies are born by emergency caesarean or delivered by instruments such as forceps. We are lucky to live in a country where all women have access to the skilled care of an obstetrician should they need it. Interventions such as caesarean sections can save lives.
During our pregnancies we need to give ourselves and our partners some headspace to think about what we would do in certain situations and to consider how we might react if plan A is no longer the best option. Talk with your birth partner about this and how you might feel if this happens. How can our partners advocate for us if something unplanned happens? How can we work alongside the medical team to ensure the best outcomes for us and our babies whilst also being actively part of the process?
6. And Finally...
It’s important to think about your birth with hope and excitement, surrounded by positivity whilst also recognising that things might just happen along the way that may not be as you had planned. The best outcomes aren’t ‘just’ a healthy mum and baby. It’s coming away from the experience feeling like you made the best decisions for you and your baby at the time, regardless of any complications or difficulties that arise. Women’s bodies are made to give birth. We need to learn to think positively about our bodies and their amazingly capability to do something that is both incredible as well as natural and mundane. Remember. If your granny has done it, you probably can to.