Preparing for childbirth
The birth of their own child is a unique, emotional and tender experience for the parents. The memories and experiences of the birth may have a strong impact on the life of the mother, in particular, for a long time afterwards.
It is impossible to know in advance how the birth will go, but one can be prepared for it and train for it. It is probable that the birth is easier and perhaps even shorter, when the expectant mother and her partner both know which factors facilitate it.
It is possible to find support for the preparing process from various guides, prenatal classes and discussion groups as well as through trained birth companions, i.e. doulas. At the moment, there is no established municipal or governmental party that would provide these services, so most of them are subject to a charge.
If you are worried about the birth, it is also possible to visit the maternity hospital’s ‘fear clinic’ to discuss the matters. You can get a referral to the clinic from the maternity clinic.
The female body usually has everything it needs for giving birth. Also the hormones of labour and birth help the mother. They work in a natural manner and help the birth to progress normally, when the mother feels safe and secure.
Oxytocin is a so-called hormone of love, which is secreted during embraces, kissing and love-making. In order to secrete this hormone, the mother must feel safe, relaxed and accepted. This is why real connection and being heard are so important, when a woman is in labour. This hormone facilitates the birth and plays a key role in the contraction of the womb, for example.
Catecholamines, i.e. stress hormones (such as adrenaline) decrease the production of oxytocin. The more stress hormones there are in the mother’s blood, the less oxytocin there is. This mechanism is necessary for when something threatens the mother’s or the child’s safety – it gives the mother the possibility to ‘fight or flee’. The birth can even stop fully until the mother feels safer and is calmer.
Endorphins are the body’s own pain killers. The endorphin level increases naturally as the contractions grow stronger.
As the oxytocin level is high and the stress hormone level low, the womb contracts well, opening up the channels as it should. This makes the birth feel easier and progress faster. Therefore the objective is that the mother feels calm and relaxed both at home and later in the hospital. A hospital is an environment that naturally causes many people to feel afraid or nervous. If you feel like you could be nervous, it could be very helpful if you visited the hospital’s delivery room in advance. This way, the place feels familiar, helping you to feel calmer during the delivery.
Relaxation and giving yourself over to the labour have a large impact on the success of the birth. The body, the womb and the baby all get enough oxygen, contraction pains become easier to bear and the hormones of birth work well. Therefore you should not fight against the contractions by straining your muscles.
During the time when deliveries did not take place in hospitals, the mothers usually received support for birth from an older, experienced woman who brought security and comfort to the new mother during the delivery. These days, mothers do not usually have a same kind of support person with them during birth. Midwives have to take care of several births at the same time, and the situation is usually just as nerve-wracking for the new mother’s partner. That is why it is important to discuss the birth with the birth partner already in advance and think about different methods of relaxation and staying calm during the birth. For some women, it is important to have another woman in the delivery room, one who can empathise with the mother’s experience. If there is no such person in your close family of friends, you can also request the help of a trained birth companion, doula. Find out more about the doulas in Finnish here.
The following section has some tips on how to relax. These methods are easy to apply during birth, if you practice them in advance. By training in advance, you can also find out, which parts of your body you tend to tense, so you can relax them easier with some concentration. This helps you to stay comfortable, facilitates the delivery and eases the important work of contractions. Most people tend to tense their shoulders and chins by grinding their teeth together, so you should pay special attention to making these areas more relaxed. With the help of training, relaxation becomes quicker and more automatic. It has been proven that training has a positive effect on the experience of giving birth.
If you have some fears concerning the birth, you should process them and discuss them with others. Discussion partners are available, for example, through various forums, discussion evenings, family guidance, doula evenings, prenatal classes, the maternity clinic or a hospital’s fear clinic.
During the dilation, the contractions can be frequent. There is only a little time to relax. With two deep breaths you can relax quickly. During the first breath, focus your thoughts on relaxation and release the tension from your whole body. On the second breath, you will become even more relaxed. The relaxed feeling will help you to cope with the contraction pains and the child feels better, when the circulation in the placenta improves. Positive mental images also help you to deal with the situation. Remember to keep your jaw relaxed. Grinding your teeth together increases the tension. Sing and make noise, rock yourself and move around in whatever way that feels good. The goal of relaxation is to release the body and mind from the pain and stress. It is conscious relaxation of voluntary muscles and clearing of mind.
Tensing up is quite an automatic way to react to pain. However, tension weakens the circulation and thereby the flow of oxygen to the tissues. Muscle tension slows down the womb’s dilation process. The woman in labour gets tired faster because she has to fight against the messages sent by her body. A relaxed woman, instead, works in cooperation with her body. However, relaxation is not easy when faced with sudden intense pain, and that is why it is good to train in advance. A calm, pleasant atmosphere makes relaxing easier. The mother can relax actively, through some learned relaxation method, or passively with the help of some other person’s touch and massage.
Think calmly about your every body part, like this: ‘My right hand is warm and heavy. My heartbeat is calm. I am breathing deeply and calmly.’ You can start from your fingers and move through your palm to your whole hand. Go through all your body parts in a similar manner. Think about your stomach and forehead the last. It is good to train this relaxation method during the last weeks of pregnancy, for example before falling asleep.
When a person is scared or stressed, their breathing becomes quicker and more superficial. She starts to feel tense – it is the body’s way to tell that the mind is too stressed. The same works in reverse: when you breathe deeply and calmly, the mind calms down, too. When you breathe deeply and calmly, the muscles also get enough oxygen. This relieves contraction pain, because the womb can work more efficiently.
To put it simply, the idea behind deep breathing is to focus on breathing in deeply so that the stomach rises and then breathing out slowly. You can first keep you hand on your stomach to centre your breathing. Allow your breathing to remain effortless and natural. You can feel how breathing calmly relaxes the whole body. If the exercise feels forced or concentrating on your breathing increases the tension, you can just as well use some other relaxation method that suits you better.
Using your voice makes deep breathing more efficient, as breathing automatically slows down when you produce some noise when breathing out. The noise resonates in the body, causing vibrations that decrease the feeling of pain. This is why mothers giving birth have always made some noise. The noise also helps to focus on something else than the contractions and can in part help to ‘ride’ the wave of contraction.
In particular, low sounds such as open vowels or sounds like ‘omm’ resonate in the body, in the abdomen and around the pelvis, facilitating the birth. The volume is adjusted naturally in accordance with the force of the contractions. It can be sometimes difficult to allow yourself to make sounds, but it starts to feel quite natural after just a few contractions. The midwives are used to mothers using their voices during birth and they think it is a great way for you to find some relief.
Try using your voice at home already during the pregnancy. Sit down, stand up or lie down and breathe in deeply. Make some sound when you breathe out – during training, it can be about as high as your speaking voice and low in volume. During labour, it is normal that volume grows louder and lower as the contractions come and go. You can learn more about how to use your voice on Childbirth singing courses. No singing abilities are needed as the course only teaches you how to relax by using your voice.
Just like you can calm your mind through your body and breathing, guided imagery and thoughts can affect the body. Athletes and performers, for example, utilise this technique efficiently by creating themselves an image of a successful performance already in advance. When you have imagined the situation clearly in your mind, it will be familiar and safe when the moment of truth arrives, helping you to act confidently. This same method should be used during birth: think in advance how you are relaxed and confident during the delivery. Then you can probably feel it, even if there are some complications with the birth.
Prenatal classes focusing on deep relaxation offer plenty of information on how to create a positive, calmly confident feeling for birth.
Massage is an excellent way to help the woman giving birth to relax. Massage can be given both during the contractions and between them. If the mother does not want to be touched during contractions, her birth partner can ask her, if she wants to be touched between them. Relaxation in-between contractions feels very good, especially if it is difficult during the contractions.
During contractions, many women feel that a strong touch gives the most relief. Good massaging spots are lower back, buttocks and thighs. They can be pressed, shaken, wobbled or massaged with a wide palm. In-between contractions, try massaging feet, shoulders, face or hands. The touch can be more tender and relaxing. If possible, try in advance what the mother would like. During the final term of pregnancy, massage is also a good form of intimacy for the expectant couple.
Moving around, especially shaking and rotating the hips, helps the baby to be in a good position for the delivery. Moving around and staying in different positions also have an effect on how the contractions feel – that is why the mother should rock herself during the contractions. Vertical position and the earth’s gravity can be very helpful and the mother should keep moving, stay on her feet or sit on an exercise ball as much as possible. This way, it is natural for the baby to move downwards, and the mother does not have to do all work by herself.
Contractions are so powerful in order to force the mother to move around. It is important so that the baby can move around the pelvis area. It also ensures as easy pushing stage as possible, as the baby has enough room to get out. The baby’s head and the mother’s pelvis are like a key and a lock: the baby must be able to rotate in the pelvis during labour in order to get out, and if the mother is moving around, it creates the best condition for the baby. You can move around according to your own feelings. Consult the hospital staff about the possibility to remain moving during cardiograms, for example. If you are given some local anaesthetic, ask the midwife about how you can move around as much as possible or at least change your position regularly. This helps the baby to move around in the pelvis to a position that is easiest for the birth.
Think creatively about what helps you to relax and enjoy yourself: something nice to do, exercising or staying outdoors, bathing, arts and crafts or something completely different? Make sure you have something nice to do at home during the birth and, if possible, also in the hospital. Giving birth is mostly about waiting in-between the contractions. It would be good if you can enjoy yourself and focus on something else than waiting for the next contraction.
The hospital also provides some equipment for relaxation, such as CD-players, exercise balls, warming pillows filled with oats and bean bags. Read also what to bring to the hospital.
HUS, the Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa uses a Thoughts about the Coming Delivery form (pdf), which you can fill in and take with you to the hospital. When you are giving birth, you probably do not have the energy to explain all your thoughts and wishes, but want to focus on the essential, instead: on receiving the contractions. From the form, the midwife can see what you are expecting from the delivery and can better take it into account in your treatment.
You can also write a letter, where you bring up your thoughts, concerns and possible wishes. Think about what the midwife should know about you in advance. Take several copies of the letter of the filled in form with you to the hospital.
Giving birth is one of the biggest experiences in life. The medical part is only a small part of it. The following section lists some sources that can give you more in-depth information about the topic. Many organisations in Finland offer prenatal classes or trained birth companions, doulas.
- Haataja, Minna (2011) Hyvä Syntymä. Kirja odottavalle äidille.
- Rautaparta, Malla (2010) Raskaus, synnytys ja äitiys.
- Siivola, Marjaana (2014) Synnytyksen ABC. Mitä jokaisen vanhemman tulisi tietää synnytyksestä. E-kirja .
Information, support and courses:
- Cowasji, Jaana Luonnollinen synnytys (HypnoBirthing) -kurssit, luonnollinensynnytys.com.
- Kätilätalo - synnytysvalmennus.
- Gaskin, Ina May (2003) Ina May’s guide to childbirth. Bantam Books.
- Siivola, Marjaana (2014) Synnytyksen ABC. Mitä jokaisen vanhemman tulisi tietää synnytyksestä. E-kirja .
- Simkin, Penny (2013) The Birth Partner. A complete guide to childbirth for dads, doulas and all other labor companions. Fourth Edition. Harvard Common Press.