Taking control of the birth environment

Posted on Posted in Birth

Before even reading this, take a few moments to consider what kind of environment you would want to birth it – just spend some time thinking about – would it be light, dark, warm, cold, what would be in it, who would be in it?

Someone once said to me, the baby should come out as the baby got there in the first place – privately and in darkness….. that’s a long way removed from the hospital environment we are so used to seeing birth take place in.

Women need a number of conditions to help them achieve a good birth.  Whilst there is nothing as certain as how uncertain birth is and there are always things out with our control, there are simple ways you can improve your chances – that cost relatively nothing and are easy to implement. Along with good birth preparation, you can control the environment and that’s by far the easiest way to start taking control of your birth – own the space – make it yours.  Here’s my top tips for supporting you (for both the birthing woman and the birth partner) – specifically looking at a labour ward but this can of course be used in any birth environment so is applicable to anyone.

Background

The conditions for a good birth are where:

  • Women feel unobserved
  • Women are not thinking and can become primal
  • Women feel safe
  • It is dark (you need to release melatonin which needs darkness and specifically remove any ‘blue’ light)
  • It is warm
  • Women are nourished and hydrated
  • There is lots of oxytocin
  • There is no adrenaline

These are what can help a good birth and are very much what we as doulas do to support a better birth.  So for dads/birthing partners – think about making your partner feel safe, warm, protected and calm.

Hospital transfer/triage

  • Whilst transferring to hospital, use earphones and play either hynobirthing recordings or carefully selected music and if it helps to make you feel more ‘hidden’ – a cap on the woman’s head (I can hear the giggling now – but seriously this works).
  • In triage, the birthing partner (ie dad, doula, friend or family member), be the sole person to liaise with the triage staff unless needed.  For the birthing woman, keeping in her earphones so she can focus entirely on her body and keeping her thinking brain off by not having to converse or discuss anything she doesn’t need to.
  • In triage, you can ask for the lights (often ‘blue’ light) in the consulting room to be turned off (they might say no, but you can ask).

Labour ward – room environment

  • Bed – remove the bed from the centre of the room – where the bed is not the focal point of the room, women are less likely to end up lying on the bed and thereby stay active
  • Place a shawl, blanket, sheet or something from home on the bed so it feels familiar and your own pillow so the birthing woman can lay her head on it if need be
  • Use the bed as a piece of equipment so raise it so you can lean on it standing up
  • Shut all the blinds, turn off all the lights and put on fairy lights/led candles (make it a beautiful, calm and safe environment).
  • In the hospital, the room might be hot – if this is the case, you can open the window and ask for ice and a fan (they might not have a fan but you can ask)
  • Bring some tea towels or muslin squares with you so you can put some ice in a tea towel and keep it close by
  • Face cloths help to keep you cool – the birthing partner should regularly wash the woman’s face
  • If it’s too cold, place a shawl or dressing gown on the woman
  • Using essential oils can be of benefit.  Smell is one of our biggest senses, so by altering the smell to something we like can instil calmness.  There are also some popular essential oils for birth – my favourite are Clary Sage, Bergamot, Neroli, Grapefruit, Lavendar and Peppermint (if there is nausea) – smell these before the birth and others like jasmine and frankincense and see what might be nice to have at the birth bearing in mind, everything might make you feel nauseous
  • You can ask for mats and a ball to sit on
  • Stick up birth affirmations if relevant and any images or items that make you feel strong and powerful
  • If you have any hypnobirthing music, this is the time to put it on

Interactions/touch/conversation 

Birth is a different experience for everyone.  Limiting any conversation and touch can be helpful for some women but for others, laughter, love and massage can be powerful – especially where the woman is feeling tension.

  • Where possible, the birthing partner should be the main point of contact with the health care team and leave the birthing woman to focus entirely on herself and let her initiate any discussion.
  • If the woman is looking like she needs massage or is tense, a gentle massage might help – let her guide you as every women feels her labour somewhere different – for some – it’s the base of their backs and for others, it’s the hips and thighs.
  • The woman might need some help to get her oxytocin levels up if she’s feeling a bit stressed. Laughter can help, touch can help her relax as can a hug, a kiss, or just holding her.
  • If the birth partner is feeling at all stressed, leave the room for a few moments until they are feeling calmer.  If they are wondering – why is it taking so long, she should take the drugs, can it possibly get any worse, I need to sleep, or something else – then leave the room and go back when they are feeling much more in control (this is exactly why a doula can help the birth partner)
  • If there is a clash of personality with the midwife or any other health care professionals (even the loveliest of midwives can sometimes have a clash with the loveliest of mums – it’s not a reflection on the individuals), then the birthing partner should go to the labour ward reception and request gently a change of staff.
  • Ensuring the woman feels unobserved as much as possible – where there is a lot going on in the room, this is again, where headphones and hiding themselves in a corner of the room or the en-suite can be helpful.

Movement

Movement is key and looking at different positions (squats, lunges, sometimes inversions). However, REST is just as important so finding positions where she can rest for points – often I suggest lying the woman on her left with her knee towards her hip and lots of pillows underneath.

Food and drink

  • Regular food and drink – little and often – a bendy straw is ideal so the birthing woman can stay holding onto something or not having to think too much.  Offer her water every 20-30 minutes.
  • Water/coconut water/possibly isotonic drink or labour aid (check out pinterest for ideas) are ideal
  • Small amounts of dried fruit (ie dates), spoon of honey, small square of chocolate, lollipop, small sweets or anything else that’s high sugar – it’s unlikely that anything bigger will be needed in active labour

Of course, where you choose to birth at home, you have SO much more control over the environment and some of the above will help you to set that up but it’s less of an issue as smells and environment are so much more familiar to you that you don’t need to take ownership of the space as it yours already.  You already feel in a place of safety and comfort.

These are some of my tips for helping make a better birth in the hospital environment and are something that every birth partner could read to help them.  There is nothing that can replace having a doula nearby to help you (of course……).

Much love, Tricia

Link: Doula support

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