Facing up to your fears about childbirth and making some advanced preparations for labour could make for an altogether more pleasant experience, and help you to see it for what it really is – the most exciting day of your life
We’ve all read the tabloid stories about women giving birth on busy train carriages or having babies delivered by cab drivers on the way to the hospital, but is getting caught short really a warranted fear?
The truth is this situation is pretty unlikely, particularly for first-time mothers. It’s far more likely you will arrive at the hospital too early, and will need to be sent home again.
Check with your midwife in advance, to find out how long the contractions should be and how far apart before you set off to the hospital to avoid arriving too early – or too late.
‘Try to have your bag packed ready before your due date,’ suggests Sheena Byrom OBE, Chair for the Campaign for Normal Birth, the Royal College of Midwifery. ‘If you feel your baby is coming when you are still at home, then ask your birth partner or whoever is with you to call emergency services (999) and the hospital, telling them exactly what is happening.’
“What if I can’t have a natural birth?”
If you only want medical intervention to be used as a last resort, be clear about this when talking through your birth plan with your midwife.
But do have an open mind about accepting intervention when your midwife thinks it’s best.
‘There is absolutely no need for feelings of guilt or failure,’ says Elizabeth Duff, the NCT’s Chief Policy Adviser. ‘You have many years of parenting ahead to show how you’ll do your best for your baby.’
Kirsty Gallacher, who runs a Birth Preparation Course at Yogahome, suggests using the acronym, BRAIN, to remember which questions to ask yourselves when faced with the choice of having a medical intervention: What are the Benefits? What are the Risks? What are the Alternatives? What does my Instinct tell me? And what would happen if we did Nothing?
“How will I cope with contractions?”
It is widely believed among midwives as well as hypnobirthing practitioners, that breathing techniques can go a long way to help manage the pain of contractions.
Try a hypnobirthing course to learn more about breathing, relaxation and visualisation techniques. According to the hypnobirthing philosophy, even semantics can affect the way in which we handle pain.
At the onset of labour, Kirsty suggests using a technique called yogic breathing – it calms and relaxes you, but also energises and helps build strength.
‘Inhale into your belly, feeling it rise, then continue the inhalation up into your ribcage, feeling it expand outwards and upwards. When your ribs are fully expanded, inhale a little more then expand into the base of your neck, lifting your collarbones and shoulders,’ she says.
‘Exhale to relax your lower neck and feel your collar bones and shoulders drop, before letting your ribcage relax, down and inwards, and your belly fall, trying without strain to allow your diaphragm to push up towards the chest to empty your lungs completely.’
“How will I know what pain relief to go for?”
Gas and air, epidurals, TENS machines, pethadine, hydrotherapy… understanding the different pain relief options available can be confusing so arm yourself with as much information as possible, on your pain relief choices, sooner rather than later.
‘As a rule of thumb, the more you take away the pain of labour, the more side effects the drug/procedure has,’ says Sheena.
Before you’re in labour, it’s hard to know just what your contractions feel like. But at least knowing what different pain relief options involve will help you make a decision.
“What if I’m too scared to push?”
‘When you get to the pushing stage of labour the desire to push usually over-rides the labour pain,’ says Sheena. ‘Although it can take time and a lot of energy, pushing baby out is probably the most fulfilling part of labour, and the excitement is high as you will soon meet your little one.’
Also think about learning a hypnobirthing or yoga technique. ‘It’s the idea of breathing your baby down and gently nudging it out, instead of pushing, as forced pushing at the wrong time can damage both mother and baby,’ says Kirsty.
“What if I accidentally follow through?!”
We’ve all heard the stories about women who accidentally pushed out more than they bargained for during the final stages of labour. If it’s your partner’s reaction you’re worried about, it’s probably the last thing on his mind, given you are about to deliver his baby into the world.
However, if you are concerned, Sheena suggests asking the midwife for a small enema to empty your bowels when you are in early labour.
“What if I tear or need stitches?”
While tears are not uncommon, they usually heal quickly and do not always need stitches. Stitches are usually done under local anaesthetic and any soreness or discomfort can be relieved using painkillers.
‘More serious, ‘third or fourth degree’ tears are less common and there is some evidence to suggest that massaging the perineum before labour can reduce the risk of tearing,’ adds Elizabeth.
“What if there are complications in labour?”
Life-threatening complications during birth are very uncommon in the UK, thanks to the thousands of highly skilled medical professionals we have access to.
However, as a precaution Elizabeth recommends taking an antenatal class to understand more about what may happen in the unlikely event of such a situation.