Expert / 6 January, 2020 / Angela Spencer
I am constantly surprised by the conversations I have with mums where they haven’t realised that they can choose what they want for their labour and birth. Where did this lack of knowledge come from? At what point did personal choice and preferences take a back seat? Is it budget pressures, lack of midwives or just not enough information out there?
It seems that in an age of ever-improving technology and information sharing when it comes to labour we seem to know even less and feel we have no voice. This has to change! When it comes to your pregnancy, your labour and giving birth, the focus should be on you, your choices and preferences, even if things don’t go to plan.
One of the overwhelming things I hear after an emergency birth or when things go wrong is “I wasn’t in control” or “I didn’t have a choice”. When things go wrong or nobody has prepared you for what might happen, or words you might hear used, in the stress of the moment you can feel pressured or out of control. For many, this results in post-traumatic stress, post-natal stress and not being able to bond with baby.
To start with, I think it’s important to give mum as much knowledge and information as possible about the birth process, and what her options are. At around 30 weeks, I sit down with the mums I work with and we talk birth plans.
There is a very long list of all the things to think about when it comes to your labour options.
From deciding whether being naked for a water birth or if you would be more comfortable in a bikini top, being in your comfort zone is really important. Choosing whether to have your baby delivered straight onto you or if you would like the midwife to clean your little one up first is another important choice.
It’s these kinds of details that matter to a mum, and if something makes them uncomfortable and therefore gives them an unintentional adverse reaction to their baby, it matters! It matters to how mum feels and also how baby feels as they are reliant on those first instinctual reactions. I show my mums a picture of NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, it may be called something similar in your hospital) and talk about what it means so that if they have to see their baby in there, they just look at their gorgeous baby instead of focusing on the wires and tubes.
Being prepared matters.
Knowing what matters to you is important. It should be the focus of all basic care provided, but it’s not. Pressures of underfunding and understaffing mean many mums experience rushed ante-natal appointments and lonely and impersonal births, even though this may not be how the mum or the midwife wants it. Unfortunately, this is the reality for many.
The only person who truly knows you and your choices is you. Making a birth plan is something I really recommend. Having everything written down for you or for your birth partner to share or vocalise for you is really important to your mental health and wellbeing after the baby is born.
Not everything always goes to plan, but if you know your choices have been vocalised and listened to if they have to be overridden for medical reasons or for the wellbeing of you and/or your baby then that is much easier to understand and cope with afterwards. It’s when you haven’t been listened to or didn’t even get a choice that many mums find it difficult to cope with.
One of the things I recommend to all of my mums is to find one thing you can keep control of no matter what (or in most circumstances anyway). One of the easiest examples of this is music! I have spoken to many midwives and surgeons over the years and most of them are happy to have music playing, even in an operating theatre. If you end up having an unplanned c-section you can still have your music choice, or a sensory comfort blanket if you like. To allow you to be that means you are still in control of something!
During the last trimester with the mums I work with, I help them to create their own ‘relaxation place’. I make suggestions, but ultimately this is a personal preference (as long as it’s relaxing to them) and we create the ‘space’ mentally and physically together. A candle-lit (or dimly-lit) room, the essential oils in the diffuser and music playing soft, I take them through a meditation that helps to prepare them for labour and birth by creating a familiar sensory oasis that they can return to at any time just by ‘creating their space’. Practised over at least 6 weeks leading up to labour, you are not only ensuring mum-to-be gets some much-needed relaxation, but you are also creating ‘triggers’ that when the time comes to help you to feel relaxed and in control. Your labour, your way, can and should be achieved.
Angela Spencer, Babyopathy – Relaxed Mum, Contented Baby is published in May 2019 by Panoma Press and available from Amazon and www.babyopathy.com RRP £19.99
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