Pregnancy and birth should be one of the most empowering and important times in your life, especially with your first baby as you are beginning your journey into parenthood. A positive birth experience where a woman’s wishes have been heard and a calm, supportive environment created for her to birth her baby in is what we all hope for. Life as new parents can be demanding and exhausting to begin with but an empowering birth can ease the bonding between mother and baby and aid successful breastfeeding, leading to calm, confident parenting.
It is therefore important for women to have access to information and caring support so they can make informed decisions about where, when and how they would like to give birth (unless there are medical issues that dictate a need for intervention). All the over dramatised births that are shown on television and in the cinema give people the impression that labour and birth is difficult and frightening. Women love to talk about their birth stories and sadly it seems that most of the stories we hear are about traumatic births which adds to the general fear surrounding childbirth that is common nowadays, but we need to ask where have these women given birth and under what circumstances? As women have been led to believe that childbirth is painful and needs to be medically managed, the majority of women in the UK give birth in maternity units under strict hospital guidelines, with midwives who are unknown to them, in rooms full of machines, strangers and bright lights.
How is it possible for women to labour well in this situation, the delicate balance of hormones needed for birthing can easily be affected by factors such as stress and fear (this triggers the body to produce adrenaline which will slow or even stop a woman’s labour), feeling that their wishes are not being respected and feeling that they are being observed? Advances in technology have led to safer births and lower mortality rates for mothers and babies but the majority of women don’t need all the invasive procedures and tests that are on offer today as they cause a lot of worry to pregnant women, of course it is essential to have regular antenatal check ups so anything out of the ordinary can be assessed. If these check ups were done by the same team of midwives then women would be able to get to know the midwives who would be attending their births and therefore feel safer and more confident when they were in labour, this happens with many homebirth teams and with Independent Midwifery care.
The UK government is promising to fund one to one care in labour and birth and to invest in 5000 more midwives so continuity of care before and after birth can be delivered….lets hope this actually happens! Many women are choosing to hire a doula (see www.doula.org.uk for information) for emotional and physical support throughout their pregnancy, labour & birth and into their postnatal recovery so they receive a continuity of care that is appropriate to their needs and desires.
It is important to educate our society as a whole about the possibility of active, natural childbirth that was and should be the norm for healthy women with healthy pregnancies, birth is a normal, physiological process! We are unfortunately far removed from using our natural instincts in everyday life and childbirth requires a woman to access her instinctive, primitive brain and trust her body so she can make movements and sounds that will help her body work with the flow of labour. Michel Odent (French Obstetrician, researcher and author), Ina May Gaskin (amazing American midwife and author), Sheila Kitzinger (M.B.E, social anthropologist and author) and many others agree that ideally you need the same conditions to give birth as you would to make love, a quiet, dark or gently lit room, privacy, safety, warmth and love. These conditions are necessary to produce the intricate flow of hormones which enable the labouring woman to birth her baby and her placenta, to breastfeed and then to recover as she looks after her newborn baby.
“To sum up, privacy, intimacy, calm, freedom to labour in any position, and the helpful presence of midwives are crucial to a spontaneous first-stage labour.”
Michel Odent – Birth Reborn
By Sue Boughton – Massage Practitioner, Birth & Postnatal Doula at Shine Holistic.