How to create the best birthing environment? Planning where to give birth is arguably one of the most important decisions you will make during your pregnancy. The environment in which your labour takes place can have a great effect on your birth experience.
Where to give birth; your options
You can give birth at home, in a unit run by midwives (a midwifery unit or birth centre) or in hospital. Your options about where to have your baby will depend on your needs & considerations and to some extent on where you live.
‘’Women need to be able to choose where to give birth, because it’s important they feel confident and in charge’’ Cathy Warwick, RCM Chief Executive
Wherever you choose, the place should feel right for you. The good thing is that you can change your mind (as many times as you want!) at any point in your pregnancy.
Ultimately your ‘birthing haven’ needs to be; warm, safe, quiet, private & dark.
So, feeling safe and calm really matters. But how do you set the scene for relaxation and create your ideal ‘birthing haven’?
The overall focus is on the creation of a birthing haven in which you are most likely to feel safe and relaxed during labour and birth. Such an environment is characterised by privacy and homeliness, and provides you with a sense of personal control.
Let’s start with lights. Bright lights make us release adrenaline – so clinical bright rooms work against us in labour. You want your body to release oxytocin and the release of adrenalin prohibits the release of oxytocin.
You want dim soft lights for your ideal birthing haven as this will make you feel safe and less exposed.
We are mammals……think about it for a minute. Would a cat give birth in the middle of a brightly lit room with everyone watching? Nope, in fact when our cat gave birth she did so in our utility room in a box. She was warm there and it was a quiet, dark and comfortable environment where she felt safe to birth her precious kittens.
Prolactin or the ‘nesting hormones’ tell mammals to look for the safest and most isolated place to give birth, where they will not be disturbed. This hormone is also responsible for stopping (or pausing) the labour when the animal feels that she is not safe to continue the birthing process. This hormone is actually present in your body and works in the same way.
We want a nest too, the nesting instinct is something many of us pregnant mamas experience and can start at any time during pregnancy (it often gets stronger towards the end of pregnancy I knew I was nesting when I was cleaning our laminate floor with a toothbrush!). This shows us that we want to create a nest for our tiny human too.
Soft lighting makes you feel calm and relaxed in any situation but in labour it’s even more important. Fairy lights, LED tea-lights & coloured lights are ideal. An integral part of every birth for me was my eye-mask and I often say that it would be my birth ‘desert island item’. Eye-masks aren’t for everyone but for me it helped to create my own cocoon of calm serenity.
Most hospitals will have curtains on the windows so if your labour starts in daylight it may be useful to bring an old (darkly coloured) sheet to hang over the curtains for a more ‘black out’ effect, throw in some duct tape or frog tape to secure them.
Top tip– Battery LED candles and fairy lights are great to use both in hospital and at home and you don’t have to worry about them going out. In hospital you won’t be permitted to plug into the mains or to ‘light’ candles, so they are perfect. They don’t need to be expensive, I bought both from amazon and they lasted for months after the birth. They were a great way for me to create a calm & soothing environment for me to go to when I needed to relax from the ‘new-born’ sleep deprivation!
Music is such a powerful mood enhancer and lots of mamas-to-be make a ‘labour playlist’ containing all of their favourite songs. Ideally music perfect for labour needs to be composed of 60-70 beats per minute (BPM) the same as a healthy resting pulse rate. This helps us to enter into a deep relaxed state, also known as ‘alpha state’. During sessions and as part of your Inspired Birth course you will be given relaxing ‘alpha’ music to listen to.
This music needs to be conditioned and will form part of your essential daily practice. Spend some quiet time each day relaxing with your music. Condition it to relaxation and to your breathing techniques. If you have a bath or massage, listen to it whilst you relax.
During your labour you may choose to listen through headphones (I always found the type that cover the ears worked better as there was no chance they would fall out and interfere with my state of relaxation) or you may prefer to play your music out loud which has the added benefit of calming and relaxing everyone in the room!!
Remember to turn off your mobile!
The sense closely related to our memory is smell and this can work either for or against us. Hospitals no longer have the super strong antiseptic smell that was around years ago but they are still very sterile. They can evoke unpleasant feelings which in turn can release adrenalin and slow labour. On the flip side smells such as freshly cut grass, home baked bread, the perfume your mum wore when you were a child, can encourage you to relax and feel happy.
Aromatherapy oils are a great way to scent your ‘birthing haven’ during labour. There are many ‘labour’ oils on the market but it’s important that you choose the ones which you like the best and make you feel most relaxed, it doesn’t matter if they are not intended for labour. I used lavender for all three pregnancies because I absolutely love the smell and probably as it also resonates on a deeper level. I first started using lavender to relax and ‘by using’ I mean putting drops on my pillow when I was in my final year at university. I felt immense pressure and stress during my finals and I used it to help me sleep. It worked and I have used it ever since, it seemed logical for me rather than trying lots of different scents to use what I was already used to!
The important thing then is to use your oil, build up a connection with it (check it’s safe to use during pregnancy!), use it whenever you relax: in the bath, when you go to sleep, during a massage….and really build up that conditioning.
Oil diffusers are great to use at home during pregnancy and for a home birth but they are a little messy to transport in a hospital bag so a great way to transport your trusted scent to hospital is to use a battery powered scent diffuser.
Affirmations & Visualisations are a key part of Inspired Birth Hypnobirthing. Positive affirmations are specific statements that help you overcome negative thoughts and channel the brain for positive mental & emotional changes. Your thoughts can create your reality and your thoughts can help you have a positive birth experience!
Visualisation works by helping you to relax your body and break the fear-tension- pain cycle that can make labour more difficult.
You will be given affirmations & visualisations during the course which you can put up around your home, your work – anywhere. The more you see them, the more ingrained they become in your subconscious. If you’re planning a hospital birth they can easily be pinned up on the walls with a bit of blue tac helping you create your ideal birthing haven.
What items do you like to cuddle up with? Is it the furry cushion or the fur (faux) throw. Did you have a favourite teddy? We are tactile creatures and soft, fluffy textures can help us relax. If my children aren’t feeling well I’ll wrap them up in the throw and they’ll relax on the sofa. For me having my own pillow with me in hospital was really comforting and helped me to relax. Also bringing some slippers to the hospital can help relax you. For the hospital I bought throw away spa slippers (to save space in the hospital bag, my house slippers are quite cumbersome!) I bought them on Amazon for a few pounds.
Pack for a feast! The snacks need to cover your labour (however short it may be), adequate supplies for your birth partner – they too have to eat and chances are they’ll start to get peckish and you don’t want them to have to leave you in the search of food! You’ll also need food for after the birth pack your rewards – favourite chocolates, biscuits etc. You deserve it! Also depending on what time you arrive at hospital will affect if the cafes are open. So it is always best to over prepare. My philosophy is ‘you can never be too prepared’. The beloved toast and tea after birth for me was always a delight but shortly after I was ravenous, I remember ploughing through chocolate bars and cereal bars it was all about quick fix. High fat, high sugar and lots of calories.
So, how to create your ideal birthing haven in a nutshell;
It needs to be; warm, safe, quiet, private & dark
Things to consider; lights, sound, smell, inspiring images, touch & snacks
Many hospitals offer you the opportunity to visit the labour ward prior to you having your baby there. Even if it’s just to visit the reception area and know where it is located within the hospital, this creates familiarity. Being familiar with the walk, how long it will take, the lifts, the stairs, parking can be really comforting when you return for the main event!
YOU are in control of creating YOUR ideal birthing haven……