Let’s just say this shall we: are you afraid of going into labour? Is there a little bit of you that thinks it’s impossible that you’re going to give birth? Please don’t worry, because we all feel that.
Having a baby felt like it would be a parachute jump to me, except, unlike a parachute jump, there was no option to back out at the last minute. It simply had to be done – but how? It’s over a decade now since I stood in front of that mirror, and in that time I’ve performed the miraculous feat of childbirth three times and even written a book about it. And if there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s that the best thing to do with fear is to replace it with facts. Good, solid information is what every pregnant woman needs, and these facts will make you feel like birth really is possible.
7 hard facts that will make you feel more confident when you go into labour:
Up til now, your vagina has only accommodated relatively small things, like tampons, and penises, right? So surely something as big as a baby just can’t fit out of it? It does seem amazing but trust me, your vagina is a pretty awesome piece of kit. Just as we’re used to the idea that penises can change size and shape (often dramatically!), so too can your wondrous vagina.
1) Your vagina can streeetch!
Sadly for the guys, there is a limit to how big a penis can get – but not so with your vagina. It can get big, really big. Certainly as big as your baby – and probably a whole lot bigger than that. Imagine crepe paper, or tightly bunched up fabric – this is how your vagina is built. So there’s plenty of scope for stretching. And babies usually descend fairly slowly, sometimes even seeming to go down and a little bit back up again, which helps your vagina to gradually unfold and stretch. Oh, and don’t panic – post birth, pelvic floor exercises will help to restore that pre-baby shape.
This is one of the biggest fears and misconceptions about birth, and I often hear people say, ‘I couldn’t have a home birth, what about all the mess?’ As a mum-to-be, you might be picturing the whole affair looking a bit like a scene from Alien. In fact, it’s really not that messy at all. The biggest amount of liquid comes when your waters break, and still, most women have only around a litre of amniotic fluid.
2) Birth is not that messy
You can also expect a little blood after the birth – around 350ml (that’s a can of coke’s worth). Midwives are experts in keeping your birth area clean and dry and, even if you do birth at home, it’s unlikely you’ll have any permanent stains to show the neighbours!
If you picture a woman in labour, chances are you’ll imagine her on her back, on a bed, looking pretty distressed. This is how we’ve all seen women give birth in films and on TV. But how you give birth is likely to be very different. Lying on a bed on your back might be one of the worst things you can do during labour, as it narrows your pelvic opening and means you have to fight gravity by literally pushing your baby out ‘uphill’.
3) You’ll dance your baby out
Far better to get your compilation playlist ready and think about some serious hip hop moves during early labour, helping your pelvis feel loose and your baby’s head gently whip and nae nae onto your cervix, helping it dilate. If labour slows, you might go for a walk. You might use a birth ball, too, to support you as you find different positions, and being in a birth pool is also brilliant for helping you to work with gravity and listen to your body. Whatever – you’ll be following the dance of labour, which is altogether a better image to keep in your head.
The only thing you really need to give birth is the hormone oxytocin. You literally cannot give birth vaginally without it and, if you don’t make your own, the hospital will give you a synthetic version via a drip. And you are already an expert at making this ‘love hormone’ – you will have produced it by the bucket load when falling in love with your partner, and when you made your baby, too!
4) You’re already making oxytocin
Trust your body to make this amazing hormone as you labour. Marvel, too, at the way it interacts with other hormones, promoting the production of feel-good, pain-relieving endorphins which can bring that labour ‘high’, and working with prolactin to help you make milk for your baby. Keep your environment dark and quiet and your body will make melatonin, too, which boosts oxytocin production. Clever? Yep!
It’s normal to feel a little afraid, but it’s important to keep a sense of perspective. In our privileged Western society, birth has never been safer. Birth is designed to work well in the majority of cases, otherwise we can be sure there wouldn’t be so many humans on the planet!
5) Birth is safe
Most of us are now very well-fed, healthy and strong, and midwives and medics understand how labour works and what to do if it doesn’t. And this great combination of strong women doing what we’re built to do, with the safety net of medical back-up, makes birth in our culture very safe.
You might think you only have one brain, but it has three major areas: the neocortex, the limbic brain, and the cerebellum. In modern life, the bit you use most is your neocortex – this is the ‘thinking’ bit, that decides who to vote for on Strictly and what to have for tea. In labour, you don’t need this bit, not at all.
6) You can do it without thinking
You need to let your consciousness drop down into the ‘monkey’ bit of your brain, the limbic part, which is more of an emotional, sensory and altogether more ‘feely’ place. As birth guru Ina May Gaskin says, monkeys don’t think about how dilated they are or how their bottom is looking from a certain angle. They just go for it. And you can do just the same.
Just like your magical unfolding vagina, your baby’s head is all part of the intelligent design of childbirth. It has two fontanelles, or soft spots, and unlike yours, the bones of his skull aren’t fused together yet. During the birth, this all means the bones of his skull can move, and even overlap, as he’s born.
7) Your baby’s head isn’t solid
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