The holy grail of child birthing is the natural, intervention free birth – whatever that looks like for you – water birth, active birth, hospital or home birth…… there’s one thing that most of us agree on: the less need for medical intervention the better. So how do we give ourselves the best chance at birthing our little prince or princess naturally, without intervention? Birth plans and hope have their place of course, but what one really needs is practical tools and skills that you and your PRE-EDUCATED birth partner can draw on when the baby drops and show time begins.
Let’s start with the prep work. Shaping up for labour is an obvious no brainer, whether you’ve managed to find time between work and family demands/convince yourself that your deep-seated dislike of exercise can be overcome – or not – we all must agree that birthing is a demanding creature, and like a four-day hike through the Andean mountains at ridiculously high altitude, one really should at least try to train perhaps a little before the big event (true story, much pain).
Prenatal yoga is a wonderful way to move and stretch the body, and research suggests it can improve sleep, reduce stress and anxiety, increase the strength, flexibility and endurance of the muscles needed for childbirth, and decrease the aches and pains we often experience during pregnancy . Walking or swimming at whatever pace and distance you’re comfortable with is also invaluable, especially in those last weeks when the body and mind should be kept as quiet and calm as possible. In general though, find what exercise works for you and just get moving.
A weekly 20 minute massage has been shown to be significantly useful for pregnancy and labour (so I’m sure an hour must be five times as good!?). Research shows it lowers depression and anxiety pre AND post-natally, as well as eases back and leg pain .
Acupuncture from week 37 of pregnancy is a fantastic way of preparing the body for labour, and can help get things started when the time is right. Acupuncture encourages cervical ripening and opening, innervates the muscles of the pelvis to prepare for the birthing process, stimulates the production of Oxytocin to signal the ripened cervix when it is time to begin labouring, and initiates deep relaxation to allow the mind to ‘step aside’ and let the body lead the way. It’s a really great way to take some ‘me time’ that can have a big benefit when it comes to labouring as efficiently as possible. If you can find a therapist that combines acupuncture with massage, you’ve got it made in the shade!
But let’s get down to the main event. What tools can we get on board to give ourselves the best chance possible for an intervention free birth? A most fabulous study conducted in Sydney showed that mums-to-be and their birth partners educated in complementary therapies including yoga positions for labour, breathwork, visualisation, and acupressure for labour saw a significant reduction in number of epidurals and caesareans, were less likely to require their labour to be artificially accelerated, had lower rates of perineal trauma, and a shorter second stage of labour. Babies were also less likely to need resuscitation at birth . Another study showed that birth partners instructed on how to massage labouring mum’s back and legs for 15 minutes at the start of every hour of labour, resulted in the women experiencing significantly less pain, and their labours were on average 3 hours shorter with less need for medication .
The key is to have mums AND birth partner/s educated and empowered with these tools, so that if/when mummas lose themselves in the ‘moment’, someone is there to guide them back to the strategies they’ve learned to help them stay calm, in control and, hopefully, on track for that natural intervention free birth. We can never predict how we will go in labour – what will be helpful and what will get thrown out the window. Sometimes medical intervention is necessary, and thank goodness the option is there. However, studies and common sense tell us that the more knowledge and skills we have on board to manage the physical and emotional gauntlet, the more chance we’ll find those things that will help us get to the other side as comfortably and naturally as possible.
- Curtis K, Weinrib A and Katz J, 2012. ‘Systematic Review of Yoga for Pregnant Women: Current Status and Future Direction’, Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Article ID 715942.
- Field T, Hernandez-Reif M, Hart S, et al. 1999. ‘Pregnant women benefit from massage therapy’, Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetric Gynaecology, Volume 20, pp31–38. [PubMed] •• Showed decreased anxiety and stress hormones (norepinephrine) during pregnancy, and fewer obstetric and postnatal complications, including lower prematurity rates following pregnancy massage.
- Levett K, Smith CA, Bensoussan A, Dahlen HG, 2016. ‘Complementary Therapies for Labour and Birth Studies: A Randomised Control Trial of Ante-natal Integrative Medicine for Pain Management in Labour’, BMJ Open, Volume 6, Issue 7.
- Field T, Hernandez-Reif M, Taylor S, Quintino O, Burman I. 1997. ‘Labor pain is reduced by massage therapy’, Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetric Gynaecology, Volume 18, pp286–291. [PubMed] •• Massage therapy during the first 15 min of every hour of labour decreased anxiety and pain and the need for pain medication. In addition, the massaged mothers had shorter labour, a shorter hospital stay and less depressed mood.