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4 Tips for Creating a Positive Birth Environment

Registered Nurse and Doula Caitlin Dyer of Mother Down Under ( shares her tips on creating a positive birth environment. Always seek medical advice for your specific circumstances.

1. Think about your home

Women tend to labour really well at home. 

It is a place where we feel comfortable and safe.  And while hospitals are known for near constant disruptions, your labour won’t be interrupted at home.
But there are a few things that you can do to ensure that you labour even better at home!

Create a birth circuit with basic active labouring stations (things like an exercise ball, a yoga mat, you can even use your couch).

Consider your access to water.  If you have a tub, is it easy to get in and out of and is it deep enough to provide some relief?  If you have a shower, is it big enough to put an exercise ball or a plastic chair in the space?  Speaking of the bathroom, remember to use your toilet…there is a reason it is often referred to as the dilation station!

Make sure everything you need is prepped and waiting for you to use.  When you are in labour you want to try to stay out of your head so you can focus more on listening to your body.  And things like wondering where your wheat bag is will trigger your neocortex which will interfere with your birthing instincts.  So, make sure your hot water bottle, rice bag, TENS machine, snacks, and water bottles are ready to go!

Remember you want to stay at home for as long as you are comfortable, so it is well worth ensuring your home environment is as conducive to labour as possible!

2. Think about the hospital

At some point during labour, most women will go from their home to the hospital (if this isn’t you, then you get to continue to enjoy the lovely home atmosphere you created). 

When you are thinking about your hospital environment, you basically want to apply the same principles that you applied to your space at home…really, you want to make the birth suite feel as homey as possible! 

If you can do a tour of the birth suite prior to being in labour, that will allow you to feel more comfortable with practical aspects (where to park, how to get into the hospital after hours) as well as allow you to see what equipment is available (a birth pool, a tub, exercise balls, peanut balls, floor mats).

Once you know what you are working with, you can come up with a plan for how you want to use the space.

You might want to create a mini birth circuit with the stations that were working best for you at home.  If you are visual, you can bring some affirmation cards or other inspiring images…just pack some BluTack in your hospital bag.  To create that labour mood lighting, you can bring in fairy lights or LED tea lights (just make sure they are battery operated). 

The final thing to consider when thinking about your hospital birth environment is the bed.  You want to make the hospital bed work for you. And what generally works for women isn’t being on their backs with their legs up in stirrups!  You might want to move the bed out of the way, so you have more room to set up your circuit and use active birth techniques.  You might want to get in the bed.  And if that is the case, ask the midwife to show you the different bed configurations and to bring in extra pillows or a bean bag or a peanut ball.  Even with an epidural, you want to avoid being flat on your back as that makes it harder for your baby to navigate their way through your pelvis.

Don’t forget to also pack your speaker, headphones, any essential oils you want to use, snacks and water bottles for you and your partner, and your own pillow!    

3. Warm, dark, safe

Oxytocin is the primary labour hormone. 

When you are in an environment that is warm and dark and where you feel safe, that oxytocin will flow!  When we produce ample oxytocin, it makes labour easier, faster, more comfortable, even enjoyable (oxytocin activates the pleasure and reward centres in our brains).

But, when you are in an environment that is cold and bright and where you can’t fully relax and let go, your sympathetic nervous system will be alerted and the hormones produced by that activation, inhibit oxytocin.  When our oxytocin is blocked, it makes labour longer, harder, and more painful.

This is why it is so important to create both home and hospital environments that support oxytocin.  When in doubt, think warm, dark, and safe!

4. Think about YOU

There is no point in creating a birth environment that looks like something you’ve seen in a birth video if that doesn’t resonate with you!

I am sure you have seen women birthing in a dimly light space with a birth pool, fairy lights, a diffuser, and affirmations on the wall.

But if that doesn’t feel good or right for you, then don’t recreate it!

Think about what you actually value going into this experience.  Maybe you value physical touch, gentle guidance, bodily autonomy and you don’t really care about diffusers and tea lights!

Don’t create an environment that looks like you feel it “should” look, instead create an environment that actually feels good for you!

Start with what makes you feel comfortable and loved when you aren’t in labour and go from there…those tools that allow you to feel relaxed and safe in your everyday life, will allow you to feel relaxed and safe during birth too!

Caitlin Dyer runs the Positive Birth Program in Brisbane and online. Get 20% off the online course with code ActiveTruth

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