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Birthing with your whole being

By THE MINDFUL MUM IN Connect

Mind-body approaches to birth preparation. Childbirth is an experience in a woman’s life that holds the power to transform her forever.

Passing through these powerful gates, in her own way, remembering all the generations of women who walk with her. She is never alone. – Suzanne Arms

There are countless scientific studies pointing to the advantages for baby and mother of normal physiological birth where there is no unnecessary medical intervention and the cocktail of powerful birth hormones is able to have its full impact. Yet, the tide of our birthing culture is sadly geared towards intervention of one kind or another, with small interventions leading to more significant ones in what is known as a cascade of intervention. Some even refer to ours as the “labour bypass era” with a high incidence of numbing our bodies during labour or having our babies taken from our wombs by surgical hands. All of this seems largely driven by fear, a lack of trust in women’s bodies and the need for institutions to meet timelines and bottom lines. Without a doubt, medical back up has its place – but simply as that – and only when the benefits outweigh the true risks. Navigating the hospital system can be daunting at best. It is no wonder that most women who birth there will opt for the path of least resistance and succumb to becoming “patients” rather than viewing themselves as women with powerful bodies involved in a completely natural, non-medical process. In taking on the identity of patient, they unwittingly hand over trust in their bodies and thus begins their journey of being disempowered and fear-based in the birthing space.

More than ever, it takes powerful intention and total dedication to birth preparation on physical, emotional and psychological levels for a mother to optimise her chances of normal physiological birth.

So…… are you up for it?

The average life expectancy of women in Australia today is eighty-five to ninety years, and in that time most of us are pregnant for say eighteen or twenty-seven months. So why not make the most of this precious time as a gift to your baby, if not yourself? Why not prepare as you would for your own wedding, and more?

There are many mind-body or holistic approaches to birth preparation which take into account that our thoughts, emotions and bodies are inextricably linked, and preparation on one level alone is not enough. Whilst it is important to understand the phases of labour and birth, your birth choices, hospital protocol and so forth, you cannot birth you baby through your brain! Many a devoted midwife would say that if women simply took their negative thoughts and fears out of the way, the rest would follow with a lot less drama. Indeed, women in coma have been known to birth their babies quite instinctively and without obstetric intervention.

So, in any form of birth preparation, it would be useful to understand the psychology of labour and birth:

that you are likely to hit a brick wall despite all your preparation and good intentions, that you may hear yourself say “I’ve had enough now, I want to go home” or “Yes I want an epidural” despite knowing the risks involved for your baby and yourself, that your partner is likely to interpret your endorphinised state as “suffering” and become your advocate for alleviating it via medical intervention such as pain relief, and that the physical sensations of labour and birth are intense no matter what thoughts or language you chose to re-frame your experience. To navigate these situations to your liking, you will need to select a birth team that is on the same page as you and fully supportive of how you would ideally like to give birth if there are no unexpected challenges.

As well as this understanding, here are some ideas for optimising your birth preparation so that fewer stones are left unturned:

Practise self-care as an absolute priority – investigate your individual nutritional requirements for pregnancy and beyond; ensure good amounts of quality sleep or rest; keep moving through pregnancy with exercise that suits your body and lifestyle; reduce the stresses in your life as far as possible.

Capitalise on the power of your breath – slow, deep breathing via your nostrils is powerful in calming your nervous system and facilitating a state of deep relaxation. The resultant increase in levels of nitric oxide in your bloodstream has the effect of altering your state of consciousness and dampening your experience of pain. Appropriate breathing for labour can be practised during birth hypnosis and pre-natal yoga.

Learn to surrender deeply – a sense of deep relaxation and trust may be cultivated through nurturing massage & bodywork, birth hypnosis, pre-natal yoga and meditation. Birth hypnosis can be personalised in 1:1 sessions by some practitioners or be experienced in a group context. All of these approaches can return your nervous system to equilibrium and alter your blood chemistry to promote calm

Overcome aches and pains – these can hinder your enjoyment of this precious time and can interfere with sleep. Pregnancy massage with a qualified therapist to address issues specific to each trimester can also prepare you for the physicality of birth and instil a sense of trust in your body.

Address musculo-skeletal issues early – nip in the bud any significant pain or discomfort brought about by the physiological changes of pregnancy that are impacting your muscles, joints and ligaments. Pilates, physiotherapy, osteopathy or chiropractic with a peri-natal specialist are great options.

Deal with fears – every birth experience entails stepping into the unknown no matter if you’ve birthed before or not, so be real about any fears you may have about your pregnancy, birth, baby or parenting. Acknowledge these to yourself and discuss them with a trusted professional so that they are less likely to impede your labour.

Clear prior trauma – debriefing with an experienced therapist and clearing previous disempowering or traumatic birth experiences via body-centred approaches (e.g. Somatic Experiencing, holistic bodywork, cranio-sacral therapy) is vital so that you do not carry the memory and energy of these experiences into your labour.

Listen to empowering messages about birth – open your radar to only positive birth stories of other women and get clearer about your boundaries if these are being transgressed through others’ need to share their disempowering experiences.

Be in your body – while physical exercise is important, the internal space of your body is where your awareness may need to be heightened for birth. Learn pelvic floor exercises for toning your muscles and also for letting down or relaxing them which will be required during birth. Learn perineal and vaginal self or partner massage as a means of desensitising this area to stretch and releasing any fear or trauma which may be held here.

Create more space in your pelvis – simple techniques of pelvic “jiggling” and the use of a rebozo (or Mexican shawl) methods can be learnt by your partner or birth support person to facilitate gentle stretching your pelvic ligaments in the last six weeks of your pregnancy. The smallest amount of extra pelvic space could make the difference between an easy descent for your baby, or not.

Promote the release of birth-friendly hormones – as your pregnancy progresses, take time to tune in with your five senses or sensuality to notice the simple things around you that give you the most pleasure. Also use your sexuality to promote the release of birth-friendly hormones (e.g. oxytocin, endorphins), and to encourage your body to relax and feel open. Tigress Yoga For Birth is another excellent way to cultivate this subtle energy and hormonal state in your body.

Use your intuition and metaphor to advantage – make time to intuitively communicate with your baby on a regular basis so that you feel more confident about listening to his or her needs during labour. Create a birth altar at home where you place objects, images or words of special significance to help you gain trust in yourself and a sense of support from other sources. This altar is then easily transportable into your birth environment. You may include helpful visualisations (e.g. a flower opening, your baby’s face), affirmations or empowering words and statements, journaling, and art-making in relation to your birth vision, dreams and hopes.

Enlist empowering support – of an independent midwife, birth coach or doula for birth support; for assisting with clarifying your wishes and the creation of a birth plan; for personalised birth education to fill any gaps in your knowledge; for streamlining your research and reading; and to ensure a balance between mind- and body- level preparation. Numerous studies highlight that that continuous birth support before, during and after birth from a trained professional such as independent midwife or doula results in a more positive experience and improved physical and emotional outcomes for mother, baby and the entire family

Educate yourself discerningly – knowledge is power so enrol in comprehensive independent (non-hospital-based) birth prep classes or online birth education with your partner or birth support person.

Seek health support that is philosophically aligned – if you require conventional medical or complementary health support during pregnancy, seek a practitioner who has similar values to yours around health and wellbeing so that you continue to be empowered in your choices.

Celebrate the journey – make the most of this short time of rapid change and celebrate the miracle of bringing new life into the world. Consider a pregnancy photo shoot, belly painting or casting as a special memoir of your pregnancy.

 

With the wide range of information on pregnancy and childbirth it may be confusing to know where and when to begin your birth preparation. Personally I would say that you can never start too early.  And most of all, trust your inner compass to find the people and resources that feel right for you in making a positive difference to your experience of pregnancy and birthing your baby.

THE MINDFUL MUM

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