In her book “Active Birth,” Janet Balaskas explores the importance of movement before, during and after labour. Part of labour and birth is being self-aware. Knowing what your body is doing and knowing that if something isn’t working then trying something else. Balaskas talks about how being upright is the most normal way to birth. This requires the woman to become an active birth-giver instead of a passive patient. Although there is a long list of scientific, medical and anecdotal information on why we should birth in an upright position, I will not get into it here. I would like to give you some practical suggestions on how you can remain active before and during birth.
Learn how your body works: where is your pelvis? Find your ‘sit bones’, coccyx (tailbone), sacrum (back wall of the pelvis). Learn how your pelvis moves as you lean forward, backwards, laying and sitting. Find out about your amazing cervix, your uterus, vagina and pelvic floor muscles.
Yoga: before, during and after pregnancy yoga is a tremendous help for flexibility and relaxation. It helps with self-awareness and awareness of the baby you are carrying. “Practically speaking, yoga provides a system of exercises to help you recover the natural range of movements your body is designed to make, in harmony with the force of gravity, and to help you maintain structural fitness.”
Breathing: it is important to become aware of your breath. Learn how you breathe normally. Do you ‘breath from your belly’, quickly, slowly, deeply or shallow? An easy way to become aware of your breath is to sit quietly in a relaxed position and follow your outward breath, if your mind begins to wander just bring it back to your breath. If you want to practice deep breathing, breath out through your mouth and in through your nose, try and count the same number in and out. For example breathe out for 4 and in for 4. You don’t necessarily need a special technique during labour but if you feel yourself getting tense or you are feeling anxious deep breathing can help calm and focus you. It can also help after birth as you are learning to feed and care for your baby. Remember not to hold your breath during birth as your baby needs oxygen from you.
Massage: “Massage is an art that needs to be cultivated, and the only way to learn is through exploration and experiment.” Take the time before birth to find out what kind of massage you like. Some women will enjoy this during labour and some may not or may find it distracting. Light stroking or effleurage involves a series of long, smooth, rhythmic strokes over the skin, using either the fingertips or the palms. Deep stroking is similar to effleurage but with more pressure. Deep pressure is done by firmly pressing with tips of fingers or thumbs over a small area at a time, use small clockwise circular movement, this works muscle tissue. Kneading is done with your whole hand alternately squeeze and release muscles, this feels good on your thighs and buttocks. You can massage your own hands and feet or you and your partner can have some massage time together.
Positions for labour and birth: “birth is a very special event in your sexual life as a woman. It is a time when you are transformed: you become a mother; you give birth to another human being.” Although we do not want women to suffer during birth pain does have a purpose it is life-giving pain. One of the main causes of unnecessary pain in childbirth is the reclining position. If you are not comfortable where you are try something different. Some helpful positions are: walking, leaning on partner or wall, squatting, sitting and leaning forward, sitting backwards on a chair, kneeling, side lying, knee-chest position, supported squat, hands and knees, using squat bar and rocking on a birth ball. Try and stay off the bed as much as possible.
Nutrition: whole and healthy nutrition will help support you and your baby throughout pregnancy and birth. Stay hydrated during labour and eat things like yogurt, toast, honey, homemade soup, homemade juice or smoothie’s.
Learn, learn, learn: learn about yourself and what you need to know for labour and birth. Hire a doula!
Postpartum: doing gentle yoga, stretches and exercise will help your body to heal. Rest is also a very important part of postpartum recovery. Take time to cuddle and hold your baby. Ask for help with meals and housework not help to hold baby while you do meals and housework.
“If having the freedom to move and adopt upright positions makes sense to you, and you want to give birth actively; you will have to make the possibility of an active birth your own responsibility; you will have to prepare your body to find ease and comfort.” Although you will not see your doctor during most of your labour it is important that they know your intentions and as always if you have any questions or concerns talk to your care provider.
Winona Morland, CSS,CCCE