Our little treasure, Willem, is 8.5 weeks old now. I figured I better get moving on my promised "birth tips" post before the rapidly-fading experience of labour disappears all together! I swear there is something special that makes us forget it all. As I was birthing, I remember thinking, "People say that once the baby arrives you forget all that you've just gone through.. well, there is no way I can forget this!" But guess what? If I close my eyes and try to remember what those uncomfortable contractions felt like - I can't. I can't re-live the sensation in my mind at all. Maybe it's just me?? But I think that must be what they're all talking about... you do just forget it all. And want to do it all again ;).
So without further ado:
I'm sure you all picked up from my prenatal blog posts, that I had a pretty positive expectation of what to expect from labour. Some might have called it 'unrealistic'. Well, I say you can't be too positive!
Unfortunately, it's usually very hard to be positive about childbirth when everything we see and hear around us (movies/books/mother's experience/friend's experience) is pretty much just pain & horror. So that's why we need a little help in order to see that we actually have good reason to be positive! There are two resources I highly recommend for this. One is a very old book (first edition 1942!) by Grantly Dick-Read called "Childbirth Without Fear." He is one of the forerunners to discover that the Western women's mindset is directly responsible for most of the pain that labour brings. He explains in detail the medical facts to why this is, and his findings have been confirmed by both women all over the world (my mother & several friends included) as well as medical professionals in the decades since. He used to run conferences that 100's of women would attend, and he always said that there was an overwhelming majority of ladies who would testify to the soundness of his principles. Not just one or two that said it worked for them, but always the majority.
The second resource I recommend to gain positivity, is a short course I did with Hypnobabies (more on this further down the page). Hypnobabies not only recaps (in a more modern way) the same medical principles of how fear is directly related to pain, but they also provide a series of MP3 Tracks that guide you into relaxtion, all the while speaking the truths of how wonderful, peaceful & beautiful childbirth can be, and how yours will be!! These were absolutely amazing, and they have special ones that you listen to only during labour. These helped me keep my thoughts on track (so I wouldn't freak & lose my positivity) as well as think thoughts that will help progress the labour. Again, that worked for me. After 4 hours in the bath, and listening to the Track that encourages you to think "opening thoughts" I got out (feeling like nothing was happening) and I was already 8cm dilated! Nearly all the way there!
I believe we need to know, and fully believe the REASONS why we can be positive. So that's why these (or other similar) resources are necessary.
P.S. I just lent "Childbirth Without Fear" to a friend who's due in 10 weeks. Here is what she just texted me: "Im about halfway through that book you lent me, its so interesting! & it all makes perfect sense! It’s a great book, all it does it make you really look forward to having your baby, not being scared of it! Thanks again! It’s a great help."
KEEP GENERALLY FIT: Your body is going to go through a lot of changes as it expands, and you can help avoid a lot (if not all!) of the usual complaints such a sore back/neck etc by staying fit & keeping all your muscles and tendons well toned. If you're planning on becoming pregnant, I would recommend starting a tight exercise regime (it also improves fertility!). Because whatever you have been doing before you feel pregnant, you can continue to do. I used to run a lot on the treadmill, and I continued to run (less & less distance as time went on) up until about 35 weeks pregnant. Although, when you're in the early stages of pregnancy, your doctor will advise you to slow down your exercise (overheating can be dangerous) until you're outside of the 12 week mark.
CORE EXERCISES: My gym (Fernwood) had instructors that specialized in pregnancy, and changed my routine every trimester to make sure I was doing safe things. For example, you can't do any exercises on your back after 12 weeks. One things they particularly encouraged was core exercises. Because the tighter your abs/stomach muscles are, the better you're going to be able to carry that bump! I had no discomfort from belly size, and rarely felt "heavy". Tight core muscles also keep your spine in alignment. Having a strong stomach will also help you during labour AND help your stomach return back to normal after your birth faster. So you don't want to miss these exercises!
PREGNANCY EXERCISES: Other exercises that I did several times a day in my final 4 weeks were:
Inner Thigh Stretch: Makes it easier for your baby's head to engage in late pregnancy. Sit like this while you read or watch TV.
Squatting: I sat like this in front of the TV too. It's the natural position for birth, and you will be in it, in one way or another, when you give birth; legs spread and knees back. Do these all through your pregnancy too. Note: As I was just googling a page on squatting to link to, I came across this amazing article that explains why squatting is what we need to do for our pelvic floor strength & not kegels! I'd LOVE to be free of kegels! It's a very interesting article, read it here.
Pelvic Rocking: This is the best all-around prenatal exercise since it allows your baby to fall out of your pelvic ring and relieve some of the pressure down there, as well as strengthening your tummy & back muscles, both of which will be needed when pushing!
Perineal Massage: Ok, I only did this a handful of times instead of the recommended 'daily'. It's super annoying but I think I will do it more often next time. Because even though I didn't tear, looking back, I wouldn't want that muscle to be anything but flexible! Several studies have shown a lesser likelihood of tearing or *gasp* episiotomy when you've been doing it.
Important: Discuss all exercises with your doctor before commencing!!
For example, in the second & third trimesters, your baby is growing the fastest and building lots of cells, so you want to up your protein intake. Try to add protein to every meal and snack! Proteins also control hunger cravings, so you won't reach for that Mars bar (no good for you or your bub!).
In the third trimester, your baby's brain and nervous system are developing the most, so up your Omega 3's. Having a good intake of Omega 3 has been shown to decrease the chance of depression, help towards an easier birthing, and help babies sleep through the night. How's that?! So add things like ground flaxseeds & chia seeds to your omelets, porridge & fruit smoothies. Eat lots of salmon & sardines, and snack on walnuts.
Other things: avoid sugar. It dehydrates you, decreases calcium (not good when you're trying to up your intake), can cause food allergies, impairs DNA structure, raises your chance of getting gestational diabetes, and interferes with protein absorption. None of which you want when a baby is still in development. And lastly, drink a whole lot of water. I know it's tough with a baby sitting on your bladder, but being really well hydrated aids pretty much everything, including labour.
HYPNOBABIES:I was introduced to Hypnobabies by a good friend. She had a very traumatic first labour, and sought this program out for her second pregancy. What a difference! With the aid of the program, she learnt to fully relax, and go completely limp during contractions. She needed no pain relief at all, and when she was in transition, the nurse wouldn't believe her because she was so calm, and talking normally!
I was skeptical didn't like the idea of self-hypnosis. It wasn't till I found out that Willem was breech (thankfully he turned before end of term) that I was panicking about the idea of a c-section, and looked at the Hypnobabies section on breech births. I could not believe what I read - these ladies could not only turn babies with the self-hypnosis, but also give birth to breech babies relatively easily. The testimonials are here, I highly recommend you read them if you're considering hypnobirthing.
On the day, I just loved listening to the tracks. They helped keep my thoughts in line, spoke positive messages about childbirth & guided you into speeding up the process with things like "opening" thoughts. The CDs also teach you to respond to "cue" words (like "peace" and "release") which your husband/birthpartner can tell you (while stroking your head/massaging) and it will automatically aid your relaxation & provide relief. My mum (who was present) said she couldn't believe my response when Jase used the words on me. Towards the end, she was worried that the words were TOO effective, as I kept becoming too relaxed, when it was time to push & put a bit of effort in! I also found that, although I thought I was being relaxed through a contraction, when Jason said "release" to me, I found my body relaxing even more.
In the end, I only decided to try self-hypnosis (which isn't really like being hypnotised at all, at least it wasn't like that for me) because, well, if it even only provided a little relief.... why wouldn't you do it??! Particularly when I wanted to avoid all drugs.
(Recommended article: 10 Reasons to Consider Hypnobirthing)
TO CONCLUDE:I believe all these things helped me to have the fun, enjoyable pregnancy that I did have, as well as the uncomplicated birth. Although sometimes things happen that are out of our control that mess things up a bit, I believe preparing yourself and being aware of the good you are doing to both you and baby by eating well/keeping fit/being positive/feeling at peace can make a world of difference.
If you have any questions on anything I've said, please feel free to leave a comment or email me. I just love talking about the amazing thing that pregnancy & birthing is!
(photos found here, here, here)