Birthing Preparation Health, Work / Play / Leisure Suitable for stages: Pregnancy
One thing is certain of the pregnant body; the baby will come out one way or another.
Each stage of pregnancy has its activities, feelings and emotions for you to experience. Generally speaking, it is not until after the halfway point at around 24 weeks that when your baby is getting big, it really sinks in that the birth-day is coming and it's time to get prepared. There is also the realisation that birthing your baby is how you will transition to becoming a parent.
Birth is the activity by which Mothers and Fathers are created. It is powerful, nature-driven and unpredictable.
It is not easy to explain what birth will look like or feel like to expectant parents as there is no one way to birth. No one size fits all approach. Birth can look and feel different from one person to the next and one baby to the next, resulting in a unique birth each time. This is why it takes time to understand what birth is and what it can look like and be flexible in your thinking about your birth and proactive in your preparation.
Birth preparation is not just about ticking off checklists of to-dos such as attending birthing professional check-ups and birthing classes, reading books, packing a hospital bag etc. These things are useful to do, but birth preparation is also an inward journey toward tuning into all aspects of your body, baby, mind and spirit. When the outward and inward preparation comes together, birth can be a bodily, emotional, and spiritual experience. Even if you are not a spiritual person, it is hard to ignore the experienced power of pregnancy and birth as a priority changing and deeply personal life-altering experience.
Birth is not just a major transition for your baby. It is a transition you experience with your baby and your birth partner as your first activity as a family, working together to descend and emerge from womb to world.
Birth preparation can take on many forms and be personal to what you need to prepare yourself for your birth experience. Both the birthing and the supporting parent benefit from doing the homework to prepare for the birth and the moment of becoming a parent and then the early parenting days that follow.
Possible birth preparation activities include:
- exploring your birth options which includes coming to terms with the changeability and power of birth. This also involves exploring the range of possible birth journeys and scenarios and knowing about common interventions to give informed consent should the need arise. There is a large range of interventions available, some can be very positive at the right time to progress labour, and at other times, can hinder the process or lead to further intervention.
- Work out your birth preferences (birth plan) including what is most important for you to feel safe, supported and progress your labour. Birth is a right-brain and deep brain, intuitive, emotional, hormonal experience. For these parts of the brain to be uninhibited, the birthing body and birthing space needs to be comfortable, safe, protected and supportive. If you have resolved your left brain logical, worries and fears before birth, this serves to quieten your left brain/mind during birth so you can be present and uninhibited in your body and experience. Wherever you birth your baby, you and your birth partner/s can create this type of space. This is both a physical birth space and also a mental birth space that can be created.
- Work towards your birth preferences with your care providers exploring their usual practices and the possibilities to work within their guidelines. Conversations with your care providers either need to occur before labour progresses or can be easily communicated through your birth partner or birth attendant (such as a private midwife, Doula or friend who has attended many births) who understand your preferences and choices.
- practise birth skills involving your birth partner/s so they learn how to best support you and can be involved and hold space for you in the process
- Tuning into and exploring your outer and inner pregnant body. How you feel about your body and sexuality (especially if you have experienced trauma) can be brought up by the birth process. Birth has many connections to the hormonal process, which conceived your baby and required a similarly safe, protected space for you to feel comfortable and uninhibited. The strength of and awareness of your mind/body connection can also influence your birth.
- Know and understand enough of the physiological processes of birth to know what you might expect (removing worry and fear) and to know what to do to progress your birthing body through labour. You may want to know everything there is to know about the changes in your body during birth and what your baby may experience, or you may be happy knowing the basics and focus on imagery and metaphors around what your body is going to do during birth. The important outcome is to know enough about your birthing body to relax into the birthing process. For vaginal births, it is a balance of doing and being to both help and work with your body to open up your birth canal for your baby to birth through you. For C-sections, it is equally important to relax into the birthing process, being in the moment that your baby emerges, feeling safe and that your baby has arrived safely and lovingly into this world.
What about a birth plan?
It can be great to have put enough thought and preparation into your birth to have a birth plan. The process of writing a birth plan opens you up to the possibilities of birth and is part of your preparation of imagining or visualising what your birth might be like. However, birth is a process that we are not necessarily in control of, so becoming too attached to a plan can be counter-productive when faced with the unexpected during birth and lead to disappointment and difficulty processing the birth experience after the fact. There are many schools of thought on birth plans. One is that it is less of a plan and more of a prioritised list of birth intentions which are not solid, but more of a fluid guide that adjusts to the reality of your birth, in her book Transformed by Birth, Britta Bushnell, PhD advocates for developing birth intentions rather than a birth plan. In the Birthing Better birth preparation online courses, it is recommended to write 2 birth plans, one communicating to your birth professional what you expect of them, and one telling your birth professionals what you are going to do to actively progress your labour (a skills-based plan). Going through the process of creating the first plan helps with the communication process with your birth professional during your antenatal visits to explore options and collaborate towards achieving your birth outcomes. The process of creating the second plan is an exploration and expression of the birthing skills and tools you can use during your birth which you can practice during the lead up to your birth. It is a truly proactive approach to birth.
Once you have your birth plan figured out, it is also a good idea to write a section in your birth plan, known as a Birth Recovery Plan described in this link: My Biggest Birth Plan Regret - www.Candokiddo.com.
You can also consider a breastfeeding plan - see the Australian Breastfeeding Association Breastfeeding Plan template here.
Birth is not a linear, controlled, time-dependent process. It is a balancing of the forces of effort versus letting go, surrendering, flowing with. During birth, the contractions come and go, and the space between provides rest and reflection time. There is a culmination of strengthening contractions where pain can be experienced during both the effort and the letting go phases.
There is a lot of talk about pain in labour. In life, we are taught to associate pain with something bad happening, an accident, an injury. With pain can come fear and a survival instinct to run and escape to remove us from the pain source. In hypnobirthing or calm birth teachings, they emphasise that fight or flight hormones are activated when we are afraid or anxious, which serves to amplify the pain experience and inhibit labour. In this theory, pain can't exist without fear, so removing fear can result in a pain-free labour.
The ability to perceive sensations in your body is known as interoception. We experience feelings in our body and can choose to tune into them. For example, we know what it feels like to be hungry, thirsty, and gassy in the intestines because we experience the sensations in our body and have explanations and learnt to label these feelings. Having explanations for the feelings can help us take action to relieve these feelings such as eating, drinking, avoiding certain foods or massaging our stomachs. For first births, the labour sensations known as contractions are something new that your body hasn't experienced before. It seems to help label the feeling and understand what it is doing - contractions are an involuntary contracting or shortening of the muscles surrounding and forming the exterior of the womb (like a series of rings) which creates a feeling of pressure and pulling down your baby in your body. If you resist contractions, it makes sense that your body will feel and perceive this as pain.
There is more to the pain story. Pain can be very real in the case of a posterior positioned baby or if the mother's birth canal size or shape is not physically going to fit her baby's head through it. This is why birth preparation has to be more than one size fits all. There can be circumstances that occur through no fault of our own, that when recognised can change the plans and options around our birth. In these cases, knowing what can occur is not there to cause fear, but to serve you to know what you can do to help progress your labour or communicate to your birthing partner and professionals. That being said, in most cases, the pregnancy length and baby size is set by your metabolism, and the pelvis adapts to fit.
When your baby's head is emerging through a fully dilated birth canal, another sensation is felt known as the 'ring of fire'. This name explains it all. In this case, stretching the tissues to their maximum is experienced as a stinging pain. Like all the challenges in pregnancy and birth, it can be seen as an expected final hurdle in the birthing process, functioning to move you to transition into parenting fully. The intensity of the experience, when you have overcome through your power, in its own way works to magnify the joy, relief and love felt when your baby is in your arms.
Doing and being in birth
Birthing requires both effort (labour) and surrender (to open). It is a combination of doing and being. When you are 'doing' birth, you use your will, body and active birth skills to move your baby down. When you are 'being' in birth, it is a bodily letting go while your mind is surrendered in that moment. 'Being' requires different skills which you can practice through mindfulness, relaxation, meditation and breathing techniques. Even with all the tricks in the book and preparation, labour, as it is aptly named, is not easy, it is a rite of passage, and even the most 'natural' birth process can feel unexpected and intense.
With a C-section birth, you are still doing the birth, and there are ways to stay present and relaxed including dimming the lights, listening to relaxing music, and having skin to skin contact with your baby in the first hour after birth.
You'll never forget your birth
Birth cannot be underestimated; it is powerful and life-changing. The heightened state of awareness due to the hormones of birth also amplifies the experience and memory of the experience. Decades after birth, mothers can recall their births with great and accurate detail—an experience that stays with you for life. There is a tendency for mothers and storytellers to share the stories of when births go wrong (whether to them, people they know or stories they have heard from others) over the less dramatic but equally powerful birth experiences.
Birth has a bad reputation
Childbirth over its known history has been something to fear. It was one of the most dangerous activities a woman could do. For an abbreviated history of childbirth, this YouTube video is a good overview. There is a lot of lost history; midwives' collective knowledge was not well documented; it relied on being passed down from generation to generation and was not always respected. Childbirth has been through many fashions, some more successful than others. Even though there is always more work to do, birth still has a bad reputation.
People use stories to warn of what can happen and hopefully avoid repeating, but at the same time, only sharing the horror stories serves to skew the common perception of birth to something that needs to be feared. It is also problematic how birth is portrayed in movies and television shows, typically dramatising the waters breaking, straight into intense labour. The baby is pushed out with great pain and agony, and the baby which emerges is more like a 1-month-old than a newborn. When these images of the birth process are all we have seen, it becomes the starting point for our expectations and educating ourselves to understand the birth process's reality. Taking a balanced approach to educating yourself about birth, exploring any fears you have, and being proactive in seeking a better birth can go a long way towards a positive birth experience.
Processing your birth - debriefing
After birth, it can take some time to process your experience, and it can help to get plenty of rest and find a good listener to talk about it when you are ready. The process of writing down your birth experience can also be very healing for any unresolved feelings and powerful to acknowledge your own strength.
Finding out more
There are some great courses, online resources and books which can guide you in preparing for your first birth. If you are returning for another birth experience, you may have specific areas to explore further to enhance your next birth experience. Many talented birth educators are committed and passionate about the birth experience and enhancing outcomes for birthing families.
Simply put, your birth preparation will at least prepare you to the point of knowing what can happen, what might happen, what you can do to help birth your baby, and preparing to work with and be present in the birthing process.
There are so many resources out there that the following list is by no means exhaustive. The suggested resources are here to give you a starting point. From there, you can be drawn down whatever path that fits with what you need and what interests you and your birth partner to prepare.
Antenatal or birth preparation courses:
Your first port of call may be to contact your local or chosen hospital maternity ward to see if they offer antenatal classes. Your Midwife, GP or Obstetrician may know of some in your local area. Other than face to face options, there are online birth preparation courses that may further your preparation. The following options are not exhaustive as there are so many course offerings around birth preparation:
Find a CalmBirth educator - Calmbirth Childbirth Education Programs are built around beliefs that with knowledge comes confidence, protecting your emotional and mental wellbeing with a birth which feels safe, undisturbed and respected. The course which includes 12 hours of content face to face, a booklet and audio recordings offers education around the physiological process of birth, how mental state affects the experience of birth, practical skills to assist mentally and physically, working with intervention, birth stories, visualisations and meditations and breathing techniques. It also involves the partner as the protector of the birth space and active participant in assisting birth positions for labouring comfort.
Find a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator (LCCE) in your area - Lamaze education uses six healthy birth practices as the foundation to prepare parents to make informed decisions. They believe that being informed leads to confidence in asking questions and making decisions to navigate your path through pregnancy, birth and parenthood. Lamaze International is a non-profit organization, a trusted global leader, with a mission to advance safe and healthy pregnancy, birth and early parenting through evidence-based education and advocacy. They also offer free videos on YouTube & low-cost online classes.
Find a hypnobirthing Australia practitioner - Hypnobirthing Australia believes that birth can be a positive and empowering experience. It is a natural approach to childbirth (regardless of the type of birth) preparing you with the knowledge, confidence and tools you need to birth calmly, without fear, with knowledge, good support, and tools for birth. The 'Hypno' part of 'hypnobirthing' refers to the use of hypnotherapy in their program.
Find a Birthing from Within Educator - Birthing From Within Mentors and Doulas see their role as helping "you prepare for birth and parenting with resilience and self-compassion, bringing their non-judgmental approach to pregnancy, birth, and postpartum". On their website, they state that they aim for you to "'Learn' about the birth process and explore what is important to you, 'discover' your inner resources and develop a pain-coping mindset, 'connect' with your support team, your partner, and yourself in birth and postpartum, 'face' the unknown with courage and self-love by preparing for birth as a rite of passage".
Birthing Better Online Birth Preparation Courses - Offered by the Common Knowledge Trust (Charitable Foundation). Their range of online courses are based off their original Pink Kit offering, which was developed in partnership with hundreds of families. The birth resources have a long history of helping families birth better by practising birthing skills and performing the internal work taught within the course. Course offerings give access to videos, PDF resources and audio recordings via the online platform within the complete course, the separate skills-based courses and VBAC skills course. The course offerings provide the opportunity to delve into everything you and your partner need to know about the process of birth regardless of the birth setting and practise different skill areas to promote opening the body and understanding your birthing body. It also includes the birth partner as an essential part of the birthing team, practising the skills together to learn the best ways to be involved in encouraging and supporting or coaching their partner. It is recommended to start the course at 24 weeks and complete one lesson per week until 36 weeks - they have a week by week post to help you along and a summary of the journey to birth here.
Birth Beat Online Childbirth Classes - Video-based online antenatal class consisting of 9 modules covering everything you need to know before birthing and the first few weeks following. Created by Registered Midwife Edwina Sharrock as an alternative to traditional antenatal classes.
Find a birth doula to attend your birth and personally guide you and your partner through the birth process. Some doulas also offer childbirth education services and postpartum home visit packages.
Other multimedia resources:
Birth Time Documentary Film - The film that asks the question, "what would it take for women/people to emerge from their births physically well and emotionally safe?" Three women embark on a mission to find out why an increasing number of women/people are emerging from their births physically and emotionally traumatised. Their discoveries expose the truth and lead them to join the birth revolution and create this Birth Time education platform that hopes to change the face of maternity care across the world. Multi-award winning documentary not to be missed.
Australian Birth Stories Podcast - where Sophie Walker interviews women from all backgrounds and birth experiences to recount their real-life birthing experiences. The stories document the variety of experiences which occur in different birth settings and circumstances.
One Born Every Minute Australia Documentary Series - Documents births inside the Birth Unit at Sydney's Westmead Hospital. Based on the UK and US versions of the show. Classic quote from the show "Labour is hard work, if it was easy it would be called 'Holiday'".
Microbirth - Infant Microbiome free mini-course - Learn from 7 professors to understand why vaginal birth, skin to skin contact and long term breastfeeding are critical to the infant immune system. You can also watch the Microbirth 60 minute documentary for a small fee.
The Birth Reborn (Documentary Film) - available to watch on Netflix. An exploration of Mother's and medical professional's experiences with the hospital birthing practices in Brazil results in inflated numbers of caesarean deliveries often against the will of the birthing mother. This film highlights the human rights around birth and why choice in childbirth matters.
The Beginning of Life: The Series - Episode 2 Becoming a Parent - Periodically available to watch on Netflix. Stories and interviews from around the world exploring the experience of becoming parents, including their birth stories. Despite being from different cultures, different parent journeys, different parenting partnerships, there are common universal themes, yet every experience is unique. It explores the female experience of becoming a mother, the extra work gestating a baby, and the changes in her body, making her look inwards and prepare for motherhood. The interviewees discuss the highs and intensity of motherly love which is a culmination of what you go through to grow and nurture your baby. Then it explores the lows, the mourning that happens for the pre-baby life, 'baby blues', postpartum depression and the less common postpartum psychosis and talking of the hardships of motherhood such as loneliness, isolation, and losing your sense of self. There is also an exploration of what it means to be a father and choosing to be an involved and present father.
- PANDA offers Dads resources on their "How is Dad Going?" website worth checking out.
- The Raising Children Network also has a dads guide to pregnancy filled with everything you might want to know for each pregnancy stage.
Birthing and postpartum books
An authoritative guide to natural childbirth and postpartum parenting options from an MD who home-birthed her own four children. Sarah Buckley might be called a third-wave natural birth advocate. A doctor and a mother, she approaches the question of how a woman and baby might have the most fulfilling birth experience with respect for the wisdom of both medical science and the human body. Using current medical and epidemiological research plus women's experiences (including her own), she demonstrates that what she calls "undisturbed birth" is almost always healthier and safer than high-technology approaches to birth. Her wise counsel on issues like breastfeeding and sleeping during postpartum helps extend the gentle birth experience into a gentle parenting relationship. See our review here.
Ina May's Guide to Childbirth (book) by Ina May Gaskin - a well-loved childbirth guide based on the female-centred Midwifery Model of Care. She explores birth from a mind-body connection to how to give birth without technological intervention.
Ina May's Guide to Childbirth takes the fear out of childbirth by restoring women's faith in their own natural power to give birth with more ease, less pain, and less medical intervention. It is filled with inspiring birth stories and practical advice.
Birthing from within - An extraordinary guide to childbirth preparation (book) by Pam England & Rob Horowitz - Examines birth as a rite of passage and act of self-discovery. Exercises and activities such as journal writing, meditation, and painting will help mothers analyze their thoughts and face their fears during pregnancy. For use during birth, the book offers proven techniques for coping with labour pain without drugs, a discussion of the doctor or midwife's role, and a look at the fathers responsibilities. Childbirth education should also include what to expect after the baby is born. Here are baby basics, such as how to bathe a newborn, get the little one to sleep, and tips for getting nursing off to a good start. Pregnancy, birth, and postpartum is a process of continuous learning and adjustment; "Birthing From Within" provides the necessary support and education to make each phase of birthing a rewarding experience.
Transformed by Birth - Cultivating Openness, Resilience, and Strength for the Life Changing Journey from Pregnancy to Parenthood (book) by Britta Bushnell, PhD - this book is the transformative, intelligent and empowering pregnancy and childbirth guide that will add a new perspective and personal awareness of your power to your birth and beyond.
The New Active Birth: A Concise Guide to Natural Childbirth by Janet Balaskas offers an extensive step by step photographic and drawn guide including prenatal exercises to prepare for an active birth, active birth positions for labour and how to facilitate an active birth, and postnatal exercises. This is the sort of book that is timeless, getting passed around among friends and family to help reduce labour interventions. First published in 1990, the book has been extended with new information including sections on water birth and recovery after birth. Janet Balaskas has also written a book on Water Birth as a companion to hypnobirthing and active birth.
The Calm Birth Method: Your Complete Guide to a Positive Hypnobirthing Experience by Suzy Ashworth - In The Calm Birth Method, hypnobirthing expert Suzy Ashworth helps you to build confidence in your body and its abilities, and shares practical techniques to support you so that, no matter what happens, you feel prepared. Walking you and your birth partner through the whole process of birth preparation, Suzy explores: * Why many women feel so scared of giving birth and how to eliminate these fears during pregnancy * How relaxing your mind and body during birth transforms your physiology * Practical tools and techniques to promote deep relaxation and mindfulness * How to unify birth partners and care providers, to ensure the birthing environment is stress-free and has the most conducive set up for a calm and relaxing birth * Breathing techniques and visualizations to help with the sensations of birth.
The Fourth Trimester: A Postpartum Guide to Healing Your Body, Balancing Your Emotions, and Restoring Your Vitality (book) by Kimberley Ann Johnson - This is not a purely birthing book, but this book offers advice for pregnant women on how to prepare their body for birth; how to organize themselves and their households for the best possible transition to motherhood; simple practices to facilitate healing and restore energy; and how to strengthen relationships and aid the return to sex. Johnson also explores the complex and often conflicting emotions that arise post-partum, and explores the profound nature of childbirth and new motherhood. She helps women contextualize their experience and tap into the spiritual opportunities it can provide.
Kimberly Johnson, a doula, post-partum recovery expert, and yoga instructor has created a wise and supportive illustrated guide that offers women a roadmap to this significant transition that can last a few months--or even a few years. She draws from her vast professional experience, as well as her own personal experience, and also several disciplines including Western medicine, traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, yoga, herbal medicine, energetics, and traditional (folk) remedies, among others, to create a truly rich and holistic guide.
There is also a range of parenting books for dads and fathers.
Please note: Above all, any information on this website aims to provide general ideas for informational and educational purposes only. We encourage users to investigate several information sources, including, where necessary, independent individualised medical advice before making any decisions that could affect you or your child’s health or wellbeing.
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