Have you ever wondered why nearly every image you see of a women giving birth shows a dramatic scene of screaming, agony, fear and panic. And almost every story you’ve heard about birth from your family, your friends, or even the person in front of you in the supermarket, tells a tale of woe, of horror, of struggle, where someone, somewhere had a terrible birth experience.
And with these images in your head, you start to sow the seeds of fear and doubt for your own coming labour.
You think about making all the necessary plans to have an epidural, or even a C-section, and wait with quietly rising fear for the trauma to arrive when you eventually go into labour.
IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE LIKE THIS
You might also have a friend, a sister, or you know someone who knew someone who had a magical, gentle, peaceful, inspiring and beautiful birth, and now you want to know how they did it.
It is absolutely within your reach to have the birth you want.
Here’s the bottom line –
Every woman you see on TV, whether in a documentary, a soap opera or a comedy sketch, is depicted as being distressed to add dramatic value. When did you last see anyone in a film or TV show who gave birth gently and quietly in a birthing pool?
It just doesn’t make good TV.
But there’s a second bottom line. Most women who are having a distressed labour are very likely to be:-
- Lying on their backs
- Not in control of their breathing
I can show you how to tackle each of these 3 barriers to a positive birth experience.
You can have a positive birth – one where you feel empowered, confident, safe. You can learn the tools and techniques to help you birth quicker, and with less pain, than the average birth you are likely to see on TV or hear about on the grapevine.
But first, I want to share the latest beautiful birth story from my returning second time mum who delivered baby Poppy into the water after 4 hours of labour:-
I want all mums to have the opportunity to create a birth story like this, and I want to make it possible for you too. I also understand that it isn’t always possible – there will occasionally be medical reasons why your birth may be different. You may need constant monitoring. You may need to be induced. You may even need an emergency C-Section.
And we are so lucky to have access to these life-saving interventions.
But if you don’t need any interventions, if you have a normal, straight forward pregnancy with no underlying medical conditions, then you want to have the quickest, easiest birth that you can possibly have. In this post I’m going to run through those 3 barriers to a positive birth experience that I mentioned earlier, to give you a better understanding of how you can make your labour different.
the 3 barriers to a positive birth
BARRIER 1 – LYING ON YOUR BACK
Think again of all those images you’ve seen on TV, films, documentaries. Nearly all of the labouring women have been lying down on their backs. Now this may seem intuitive:-
- there is usually only a bed in a labour room – what else are you going to do?
- this is how you have seen everyone else do it
- you might feel tired and want to lie down for a rest
But there are plenty of reasons why this is the WORSE position to have your baby in…..
1. IT MAKES YOUR CONTRACTIONS MORE PAINFUL
Enough said, right? That should be more than enough information to get you off your back in the delivery suite. But if you’re not convinced, here’s the background info.
The sacral plexus, (the bundle of nerves that feeds into your lower abdominal organs, including your uterus) lies between your uterus and the back of your pelvis (in your sacral area). When you lie on your back, you compress these nerves which can then intensify the sensations of your contractions.
And that’s not the only reason it makes your contractions worse…..
When you lie on your back, you become pretty much immobilised. The most instinctive thing that we do when we feel pain in any part of our body is TO MOVE OR RUB THE PAINFUL AREA. We might shake out our hand if we hit our thumb; we rub our elbow when when bang it. If you are lying on your back, you can’t do either. No-one can rub your back, and you can’t move your hips.
2. YOUR BABY CAN’T GET INTO THE OPTIMUM POSITION
In the first stage of your labour, the contractions are doing several things:-
- slowly dilating your cervix
- squeezing your baby deeper into the pelvis
- and also guiding your baby into the optimum position for delivery (or Stage 2)
If you lie on your back throughout your labour, the weight of your baby may draw his spine backwards towards your spine (back to back labour). This will make the birth much more difficult due to the awkward position of your baby – many OP labours (occiput posterior) end with instrument delivery or C-Sections.
3. YOU HAVE TO BIRTH YOUR BABY ‘UPHILL’!
The shape of your pelvis dictates the journey your baby makes through your birth canal. Your sacrum and tailbone form a solid obstacle for your baby and dramatically reduce the amount of space available at the ‘exit’.
Luckily, Mother Nature designed our wonderful female bodies to take this into account, and has been gradually pumping ‘relaxin’ hormones into your system. This hormone softens and loosens ALL the connective tissue in your body (giving you heartburn, hip pain and a leaky bladder, to name a few!). Our sacrum and tailbone are usually fixed firmly in place, until the relaxin gets to work and starts to open up the sacro-iliac and sacro-coccygeal joints (the joints between the sacrum and pelvis, and the sacrum and the tailbone).
When your baby moves down through your pelvis, he will MOVE your sacrum and tailbone out of the way with his forehead, making more space for himself. Your pelvis will open up, just like a cat flap!
BUT IF YOUR ARE LYING ON YOUR BACK, YOUR PELVIS WILL BE PRESSED AGAINST THE BED. THERE WILL BE LITTLE OPPORTUNITY FOR THIS PELVIC NUTATION TO HAPPEN.
Then you have another issue. Gravity. In any upright birthing position – kneeling, squatting, all fours – gravity will help your baby to move downwards and out of your pelvis, helped by the ‘cat flap’ action mentioned earlier. When you are lying on your back, your baby has no gravitational pull, the sacrum and tailbone can’t move out the way, and your baby has to be forcefully ‘pushed’ uphill.
This is exacerbated by the direction of your birth canal. Your vagina isn’t a straight, vertical ‘down pipe’, but in fact a ‘U bend’. The first section of your birth canal moves backwards, from your cervix towards your your sacrum. Then the second section moves forwards from your sacrum towards your pubic bone. If you are lying on your back, the second section of your birth canal is now UPHILL.
WOMEN HAVE USED POSITIONING AND GRAVITY FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS TO BIRTH THEIR BABIES.
4. YOU MAY CAUSE FOETAL HEART DISTRESS
Your baby’s heart rate is usually monitored, either continuously or intermittently, throughout your labour. Most babies cope well with the rigours of birth, but some don’t. If foetal heart distress is identified in your baby, immediate intervention will ensue: either a forceps/ventouse delivery or a C-Section. It is of utmost priority that your baby gets out as soon as possible.
However, if you lie on your back throughout your labour, you might actually cause foetal heart distress. And here’s how:-
The main vein carrying all of your used-up, de-oxygenated blood back to your heart (the vena cava) lies right behind your uterus. When you lie on your back, the weight of your baby, your uterus and membranes puts a considerable pressure on this vein, and can restrict the blood flow back to your heart, where it should be pumped back into your lungs to receive another dose of life-giving oxygen, and then gets pumped back around your body, and your baby’s body.
You are told frequently during pregnancy not to lie on your back, because it restricts the blood flow to your baby. SO WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO DO THIS IN LABOUR, WHEN YOUR BABY IS ALREADY DEALING WITH THE STRESS OF CONTRACTIONS AND THEN BIRTH?
So I know what you’re thinking right now. If all this is true, then WHY OH WHY DO MOST MIDWIVES AND OBSTETRICIANS PUT BIRTHING WOMEN ON THEIR BACKS?
Why indeed? For that answer, we need to go back in history, to a time when male doctors started to exert a more medically-based influence on birth. The medical model for birth limits the process to what has been termed ‘the 3 Ps‘ – the POWER (contractions), the PASSAGE (your pelvis), and the PASSENGER (your baby). At no point is the mother included in this scenario. There is just no scope in this model for the mother to bear any influence on the journey of her baby through her own body.
The doctors want to have unhindered access to the PASSAGE and the PASSENGER, and any position that a labouring mother may find more comfortable, ie. squatting, is seen as an obstacle to their unobstructed view of the events.
There is also a strong theory/urban myth that Queen Victoria had a part to play in this. The myth goes that Prince Albert wanted to see his children being born, and asked the Royal Physicians to develop a structure so that Her Royal Majesty could lie on her back with her legs up. And so was born the birthing table. Not sure how accurate that is, but it leaves you with an unshakable image!
But what IS known of the Victorian birth protocol, is that she was one of the forerunners of using analgesic compounds for pain relief. For the last 2 of her 9 births, Queen Victoria opted to use the newly developed chloroform to ease her labour pains. One of the side effects of chloroform is being rendered unconscious, so it would make sense that she would be lying on her bed for these deliveries.
But back to the present day………. In many labour suites, the bed is often the only piece of furniture in the room. You have no option but to use it.
Unless there is a medical reason to do so, ie. epidural use, the need for constant foetal monitoring, being attached to a drip etc, then
THERE IS NO JUSTIFIABLE REASON TO PUT A HEALTHY MOTHER, WITH A HEALTHY BABY, AND WITH A HEALTHY BIRTH PROGRESS, ON HER BACK
BARRIER 2: NO BREATHING TECHNIQUES
If you can stay in control of your breath, you are more likely to feel, and to be, in control of your labour.
When we are stressed, or overwhelmed, our breathing is short, rapid and uneven. When we are calm and centred, our breathing is long, slow and smooth. The main reason that Yoga is so popular as a stress management practice is the element of breath control – in every class there should be an element of maintaining control of our breath.
But it goes one step further – by slowing down and controlling our breathing, we actually induce the relaxation response. The parasympathetic nervous system is stimulated, and we feel calm and relaxed. By controlling our breath, we control our stress. And by focussing on our breath, we can work with our body in labour, and not fight against it.
BARRIER 3: PANIC
So the main thing that you probably notice in all the dramatic birth images and films, is the PANIC and overwhelm that the Mother seems to be enduring. And that’s probably more than enough to put you off having a natural birth, right!
But now that you know how positioning and breathing can have a positive (or negative) effect on birth, you can start to guage why any particular birth would have these kinds of outcomes. You might also begin to see how adopting a non-supine (not lying down) position, plus engaging in some specific breathing techniques, can reduce the panic and increase the sense of being in control.
There are two other techniques that complete the picture, and ensure that (in the absence of any intervention being necessary), you can manage a calm, centred, and easier birth. The first is being mobile (sometimes called Active Birthing). I’ll cover this later – it’s a big topic!). The other is learning some specific relaxation techniques.
As a Yoga Teacher and long time Yogini, I have lots of tools and techniques at my fingertips when it comes to helping my Yogini Mamas become totally relaxed, centred, calm and tranquil. It’s my job, after all. When you learn modified versions of Yoga Nidra (Deep Relaxation techniques), Meditation, and even some gentle Mantra (sound work) in pregnancy, it is SOOOO effective at developing an unshakeable sense of peace which you will take with you into the delivery room. Here’s the proof:-
HypnoBirthing is also a really effective way of learning specific relaxation techniques for birth. And some Birthing Workshops or Birth Education Courses also include partner massage (mine do!) so that your partner can begin the process of developing a state of calm and relaxation before your due date by learning some simple, effective massage techniques.
Stress and anxiety has such a negative effect on the progress of labour. Be sure to include some form of relaxation and stress relief in your birth preparation.
So now you might be starting to visualise an easier labour where you are upright, mobile, calm and in control of your breath. You might be starting to visualise yourself managing a beautiful, natural birth. Everything is possible. If you feel you need some in-depth preparation, I’m developing an Online Birth Preparation course, which includes all the elements mentioned above, and many more. I’ll take you through all the practical steps that you, and your birth partner, will need, based on all the work I’ve done in my Birth Partner Workshops. Please feel free to check it out,or book a Skype Birth Partner session.
Thanks for reading this Megapost! If you have any concerns or questions, please drop me a line in the comments below.
Shine On xx
- ‘DO NOT SIT’ – A History of the Birthing Chair, and ‘THE ANAESTHETISED QUEEN AND THE PATH TO PAINLESS BIRTH’, by Dr Lindsey Fitzharris, at www.thechirurgeonsapprentice.com
DISCLAIMER: These are my personal opinions and whilst they are backed up by 12 years of experience, rigorous training, consultations with midwife colleagues and feedback from the Mums I have worked with, they should never take preference over the medical advice of your healthcare professional.
I am offering my heartfelt advice, which sometimes may seem contrary to that of your midwife, consultant, ob/gyn, doctor, mother/mother-in-law and even your hairdresser. We all need to work together, and we all have the best interests of you and your baby at heart. My aim is to give you options, information and a deeper understanding of pregnancy and birth, which can then lead to open and honest discussions with your healthcare team to give you the choices you deserve.
Do not undertake any of the recommendations, practices or advice on this website if there are any underlying medical reasons. Always seek professional advice if in doubt.