By Heather Marr, Birth Doula
I’ve attended many births and there are always certain things my clients know before the birth: what music they want to be listening to, who they want in the room with them, what they want to eat afterwards. I’m often surprised at the things they don’t know. Here are the things I wish they did know.
1. Contractions Are Positive, Productive Pain
Are you rolling your eyes? Yeah, I know. I realize it can be, shall we say, challenging to focus on the words “productive” and “positive” when they sit alongside the word “pain.” Yes, contractions hurt. But the pain has a positive purpose: to birth your beautiful baby—first by gradually softening and opening your cervix, then by nudging your baby (and afterward, your placenta) down the birth canal to the outside world—as opposed to the not-at-all-positive pain of, say, illness or a broken bone.
Yes, it’s still pain. But sometimes just knowing that the extreme intensity of labour doesn’t mean anything’s wrong or injured can help you feel better about the whole experience. Each contraction—or wave or surge or whatever you like to call it—is bringing you closer to meeting your baby. Your body is working exactly the way it’s supposed to.
2. It’s All About the Oxytocin (and other hormones, but we’ll focus on the big O for now)
During labour and birth, oxytocin, aka “the love hormone,” is what stimulates that positive, productive pain that helps open your cervix, moves your baby (then placenta) down and out, and helps stop the bleeding in the area where the placenta was attached. After birth, oxytocin helps you bond with your baby and makes breastfeeding possible.
Usually, the higher the level of oxytocin, the smoother the labour, birth, and postpartum go. Low oxytocin can cause contractions to stop or slow, or can cause excessive bleeding right after birth. If possible, you want to increase oxytocin naturally during labour, rather than synthetically (that is, using Pitocin or Syntocinon to induce or augment labour), because labour can respond way quite differently to the synthetic form.
There are as many ways to boost oxytocin naturally as there are people, but here are a few ideas for labour and birth, many applicable to both vaginal birth and C-section births:
• Stay as comfortable and confident as possible, however that looks to you.
• Labour and birth in an upright position , if possible and that’s comfortable for you. Gravity can assist your baby in’s descendingdescent.
• Enjoy sensual (or sexual!) touch, if it feels good and right to you. As midwife and childbirth educator Pam England said, the same movements that can get the baby in, can help get the baby out.
• Listen to music that makes your heart soar.
• Avoid disturbances. Examples: Being surrounded by too many people, unfamiliar people—or people who just harsh your vibe—can be disruptive, as can bright lights, jarring noises, having to think too much, or having to make too many decisions.
• Hold your baby skin-to-skin immediately after birth (even if it’s just cheek-to-cheek for a moment, post-C-section), and encourage him to breastfeed as soon as possible.
These are just ideas. In short, ANYTHING that makes you feel loved, nurtured, respected, heard, held, comfortable, safe—or just plain good—increases oxytocin. And an attentive partner or good doula (or both!) can help out big time.
3. You Might Vomit and That Is Totally Normal
TMI alert: Both times I was well into labour, I came oh-so-close to puking. My husband quickly brought me the nearest bucket-like object, which turned out to be a clean bedpan … but nothing came up (even though early in my first labour, I had eaten a fair bit of take-out from my favourite Chinese restaurant). Turns out that both times, I was in transition—often the most crazily intense part of labour, when your body is dilating that last little bit and getting ready for your baby’s home stretch down the birth canal. Same story with many of my doula clients (minus the take-out, plus some actual vomiting a time or three). The nausea and vomiting are normal, and often short-lived.
Vomiting is, alas, also quite common during C-sections. Not fun, but try not to be too alarmed if you feel the urge.
4. You May Poop When Pushing and That Is Just Fine
For some reason during both my labours (much less so during the second, probably because everything went so fast), I was peripherally preoccupied with whether or not I was pushing out poop at the same time I was pushing out my baby. The nurse, the doctor and my husband all reassured me that no, I was not. In all honesty, though, I probably was, at least a little. And you know what? That’s OK! When your baby’s coming out, your body’s using the same muscles you use when sitting on the toilet. Nurses, midwives, doctors and doulas are totally used to it and not bothered at all, and someone will just quickly wipe it away. You probably won’t poop on your baby, and even if you did, it’s not a big deal: again, someone will just clean it up, and neither you nor your baby will notice.
5. One Way or Another, You WILL Birth Your Baby
Whether it’s in hospital, in a birthing centre, at home, in a car, in water, on an airplane (yikes), whether it’s vaginally, by C-section, induced or spontaneous, with all the pain medication available, without any pain medication, with or without directed pushing, with or without directed breathing, with or without a doula or a partner, flat on your back or in a perfect squat, whether or not you remember a single thing from that expensive childbirth class—you will give birth to your baby. A tiny, gorgeous human (or miracle of miracles, multiple humans) that your body made and grew and nourished. Just let the reality of that sink in for a moment. You are strong. And I mean, REALLY strong.
Your birthing body is a glorious, wondrous thing. Celebrate it!
Heather Marr is the certified birth and postpartum doula behind Rio Doula Montreal. She’s also a mom of two, a native Californian, world traveller and lover of long runs and coffee (though not usually at the same time). She strongly believes that when it comes to pregnancy, birth, parenthood and, well, life in general, it’s about the journey AND the destination.