Giving birth in a hospital is almost a no-brainer for the majority of us; however, this wasn’t always the case. It’s only within the last century that hospitalized births have become the norm, and what we now consider an unconventional “home birth” has been the go-to method of bringing life into the world since the beginning of humankind. Although only 2 percent of births in the U.K. currently happen in the home, home birthing is becoming more popular among both first-time mothers and mothers who have had a hospital birth in the past.
Despite one reported advantage of a home birth being a more relaxed atmosphere, it is understandable that some may still feel worried or stressed about the prospect of giving birth outside of the hospital environment. However, by using a variety of relaxation techniques, it is possible to wave goodbye to the cliches of waters breaking in the back of a taxi, frantic rushing through the delivery ward and the abundance of screaming that medical dramas love to show us.
The Importance of Relaxation in Childbirth
Although childbirth is a special and important experience, it can still take its toll on the human body. This is especially true if the mother is experiencing stress, anxiety or fear, and the psychological effects of a difficult or traumatic birth can be felt far longer than physical scaring. In the most extreme cases, women have even reported suffering from PTSD following childbirth. Although this is a rare side effect, a difficult birth can impact the relationship a mother has with her newborn and may even influence her decision to have more children in the future.
For some women, deciding to have a home birth is a matter of empowerment, helping them to create the birth experience they will find most comfortable. While it’s true that labor can throw some curve balls at you – and that for some, a hospital birth represents the lowest risk – with the input of your midwife and other health professionals, you can make the most informed decision available to you. So, if you’ve decided to have a home birth, here are some ways you can make it as relaxing as possible.
You’ve Got a Friend in Your Midwife
It may seem a little strange to start relaxing before you’ve even gone into labor. Yet by growing closer and more comfortable with your midwife, you’re putting in the time in advance to ensure you’ll be as relaxed as possible during the delivery process.
Not only will knowing and spending plenty of time with your midwife make you feel more comfortable and confident in their abilities to look after you, but there may be medical reasons as to why this will make your labor easier: The famous midwife Ina May Gaskin wrote about a concept called “Sphincter Theory,” whereby sphincters of the body behave differently under certain conditions. In her writings, she considers a woman’s cervix to be one of these sphincters and explains how this muscle responds best to privacy and intimacy.
In order for labor to progress as smoothly and comfortably as possible, it is important for the mother to feel at ease with those around her so that her muscles can respond accordingly. For the majority of us, completely “letting go” around strangers or people we do not know very well is extremely difficult. Therefore, having that comfortable intimacy with your midwife can be invaluable to the relaxation process, even before contractions have started.
Just Keep Swimming
Perhaps understandably, this kind of one-to-one care is not always possible in a hospital, and fetal monitoring often has to make up for the lack of a midwife. Although fetal monitoring can be useful, the mother’s mobility is reduced throughout her labor; this in turn can limit her many options for using relaxation techniques, including a water birth. This is not a problem in your own home, however, and water births are a popular birthing method for women giving birth at home.
Many of us rely on a nice hot bath at the end of a stressful day at work, or even if we’re suffering from unbearable period pain. Giving birth in water has all the same benefits; water can do wonders for relaxation and anxiety, which in turn acts as a sort of natural pain relief. In fact, it is said that only 24 percent of first-time mothers who have given birth in water needed pain relief, as opposed to 50 percent of those who did not use water. The buoyancy of the water can also play a huge part in aiding relaxation as it helps to support your weight, making it much easier to move into more comfortable birthing positions.
There are, unfortunately, some circumstances in which a mother may not be able to take part in a water birth, such as a chronic illness or minor complications with the baby itself. Luckily, there are plenty of other relaxation methods available, should a water birth not be a viable option.
The Delivery Spa
A spa weekend is usually high up on the list of suggestions when life gets a little tense or stressful. Creating your very own childbirth spa could be invaluable in ensuring you are as relaxed as humanly possible during your labor and delivery. Our senses have a way of mentally transporting us somewhere far away, even if only for a short time, and so sensory methods are an easy and effective way to create a tranquil environment.
- Aromatherapy: If you’re an avid candle burner, then burning your favorite scent during labor could go a long way toward making the experience feel less clinical and making you feel more at ease during the process.
- Music: Music is arguably overlooked with regard to the effect it can have on our moods. In fact, it has been used to treat illnesses for hundreds of years and has a huge impact on our psychology and emotions. Using music specifically during labor is also said to reduce anxiety and pain perception.
- Massages: These are another staple of any spa weekend. For those mothers who want the extra “push” toward total relaxation during labor, it may be worth investing in some massage oil for your due date. Even if your partner is not usually quick to offer up a massage, he may be willing to help on the big day, especially if you do not have access to any medicated pain relief.
Not only can prepping a spa-like environment help during the delivery process itself, but choosing and shopping for your favorite pampering products and handpicking your perfect labor playlist can aid in reducing anxiety leading up to the birth, framing it as a positive and special experience.
Labor is both a physical and mental process, so finding a relaxation technique that’s effective both physically and mentally can be invaluable. For those who have never even tried meditation, it may seem a little unusual to use it during labor; however, there are countless ways it can help to relax both the body and the mind.
Psychologically, meditation can help induce a feeling of peace and tranquility, which will only be amplified in the comfort of your own home. If you have been practicing meditation during your pregnancy, you may have noticed your sleep improving (no easy feat in the later stages). Using meditation during labor could calm your mind and emotions so much that it may even be possible to nap through certain stages of the labor itself. This could be especially useful in longer labors.
Physically, meditation can lower blood pressure and increase blood circulation, which will not only aid in relaxation, but also lower the possibility of medical complications arising from unnecessary stress. As with other relaxation techniques, meditation can also aid in pain relief. In some cases, meditation has been so successful during periods of pain that people have reported that the pain ceased to exist altogether.
For those thinking about turning to meditation to increase comfort during labor, it may be worth spending some time getting used to the process during the later stages of pregnancy. Trying meditation for the first time during labor could lead to unnecessary frustration if it does not come as naturally to you as you expected, preventing you from reaching a nice, relaxed state.
Contrary to popular opinion, a home birth is often a practical alternative for women who feel a great deal of anxiety concerning hospitals or medical intervention. However, being so far removed from something we have come to view as intrinsic in the delivery process can still cause stress, even in your own home.
By planning ahead, women can work together with their partners and midwives to create the most comfortable and memorable experience possible. With the right approach, this can not only improve delivery, but also the recovery process for months and even years later.