Don’t get me started on my birth stories. I could go on forever in so much detail it will either get creepy, weepy, gory or intriguing – depending on who you are and whether you actually asked to hear the stories or not. After my first son was born, I was so blown away by the experience I studied to become a doula (because I felt drawn to attend any and every birth thereafter) and so you can imagine I’m a little obsessed when it comes to (late) pregnancy, labour, birth and squishy, gooey, vernix-covered newborns. I even very seriously considered getting a tattoo of the coordinates of BC Women’s Hospital (the most phenomenal, miraculous, beautifully life changing maternity hospital in Vancouver). Sometimes I used to just drive past, and gaze longingly inside imagining women in the beautiful state of labour. I warned you this could get creepy.
And so, when my (fairly naive) hubby and I arrived at our first pre-natal class in the ‘Couve and the nose-pierced, harem-pants-wearing, tattoo-covered, hair-braided doula-instructor encouraged us to bring rolls of white paper to the hospital to make ‘placenta art’ post-birth, you can imagine we were mentally packing up our ‘birth manual’, breathing exercise CD, incense sticks, and the hypno-birthing business card and running for the hills. Even considering a medication free hospital birth was a huge step for us.
All that to say, I’ve come a looooong loooong way from that first terrifying night of prenatal classes and I think I have given birth (a significant amount) more of the respect I feel it’s due. I’ve taken the time to think through things one might overlook in the signing of the hospital papers and donning of the hospital gown.
Here are a few things that, until I got my head into this big, beautiful birthing world, I’d never considered or even thought much about. But after being on this side of it all, I would highly encourage. (These are mainly directed at those planning a natural delivery, but can most certainly apply to both natural and caesar births).
Doula. Get a doula. A good doula is an INCREDIBLE gift to a birth team. She is consistent, wise, forward thinking, reassuring, safe, hands on, and very, very helpful. She’s not intrusive, and knows the birth is not about her. I can’t imagine having had my babies without a good, supportive birth team, especially my doulas who never left me and knew what I needed before I could articulate it (in nonsense-speak during active labour). I felt so cared for, understood and loved during birth. Good doulas will bring up most of these points below in consultations – and give you even more to think about, such as positions to labour in, natural pain relief options and ways to encourage a natural induction if you’re headed over the 42 week mark, as well as home birth, water birth, or hypnobirth information. Read up on the invaluable benefits of doulas here.
‘If a doula were a drug, it would be unethical not to use it’ – John H. Kennell, MD.
Delayed Cord Clamping. Delayed cord clamping is a birth practice ‘where the umbilical cord is not clamped or cut until after pulsations have ceased, or until after the placenta is delivered’. A growing number of new mums are choosing delayed cord clamping for their baby.
Umbilical cord blood is a baby’s life blood until birth. It contains many wonderfully precious cells, like stem cells, red blood cells and white blood cells (including cancer-fighting T-cells) to help fight disease and infection. Yet common practice is to quickly cut off this source of valuable cells at the moment of birth. More and more, people are holding off from this immediate ‘clamp’. Unless there is a medical reason for baby to be checked immediately after birth (which can definitely happen – it almost did with my first), there shouldn’t be any rush to have your cord clamped. In many cases, baby is birthed, lifted up and given to the mother with the cord still connected and held on mums tummy or chest (depending on how long the cord is) until the pulsations have decreased or until the placenta has been birthed. Chat to your care provider about it. (Also, on a side note – how about having your partner cut the cord?).
Your Placenta. Have you even seen one, or pondered the significance of that ‘afterbirth’ (or afterthought?). Friends of mine planted theirs under a tree at each of their childs’ first birthdays (which I think is incredibly special), and others have encapsulated theirs. Once you are holding a baby, who cares about the placenta right? Wrooooong. It is a beautifully fascinating and mysterious nutrient rich organ. It fed your baby. It sustained it. Instead of just checking its all there (which is very important in post partum!) and then tossing it, consider donating it to medical science, encapsulating it, keeping it, or at least giving it a little wink of thanks for all its hard work.
Kangaroo Care (skin on skin). Fight for skin on skin time with baby as much as you can. If for some reason you can’t have your bub on you, get your partner to strip down and put baby on them. It seems obvious, yet most of the time baby is wrapped up in a blanket and placed in a bassinet. There is so much research about the incredible benefits of (naked) skin on (naked) skin, this one is a no-brainer. And it goes beyond the delivery room – continue intentional skin on skin into the early days, weeks and months of life.
Lactation Support. Breastfeeding is not only beautiful, but very healthy, very normal and creates a particularly significant bond between mum and bub. As everyone says ‘breast is best’, but some new mums really struggle to breastfeed. Find help if need be. There are plenty of lactation consultants around, and heaps of advice online (such as La Leche League SA). And if you can’t breastfeed, don’t beat yourself up about it. Your body made a baby, and that’s pretty darn miraculous.
Featured image credit: Evidence Based Birth Blog.
(It is such a beautiful picture I want to cry.)