By Dr. Kathleen Regan, ND
Some of you may know that I recently welcomed my first child into the world with a natural birth at the Toronto Birth Centre. My husband and I, along with our amazing team of midwives shared the amazing moment that our first-born son entered the world.
In my naturopathic practice I have spent many visits coaching women through pregnancy and helping to prepare them for labour and post-natal self-care whether natural vaginal, medicated vaginal or cesarian section. My patients will tell you that I have long lists of things to expect, items to bring to the birth, pain control methods, birthing positions and natural first aid kits. I’m smiling as a write this because I showed up at the Birthing Centre with a red suitcase that I barely opened full of items from my lists. I can confidently say that the most important thing to bring with you is your knowledge. Birth is an instinctive process for which you are naturally prepared but like all things in life you must also bring flexibility because things don’t always go as planned.
Having said that, my lists will remain intact. If there is a next time, I will still bring my red suitcase. Each birth is unique and will demand different things. However, I have created a short-list of must-haves and asked my husband to do the same. We both came up with a list of ‘things’ or tips for the natural birth process for the Birthing Mother and the Birthing Partner.
For the Birthing Mother:
- Bring your breath. It is the most effective pain control method you will have. Partly because breathing helps to alleviate discomfort but also because pain is experienced in the mind. Breathing helps to focus your mind on broader things than pain. It also physically relaxes the muscles, which are contracting.
- Give yourself permission to be brave even if you feel afraid at moments. Sometimes we feel silly if we feel brave in one moment only to feel terrified in the next. This chips away at our confidence. The natural ebb and flow of labor means that how you feel can change in an instant. That is ok. Go back to your brave place when the fear has subsided (this usually happens after strong contractions when you have an amazing opportunity to relax).
- Do what feels natural for your body. Birthing is instinctual – not textbook. Your body knows best. Trust your inner wild woman!
- Bring snacks and food (ask for my list!) Many women will tell you that you will not use it. This is true – I didn’t use it. My midwife had to convince me to have even a sip coconut water. They brought smoothies and some food but I just wasn’t up for anything other than water. This felt best for me but my active labor was only 9 hours. Many active labors last longer and you will need the calories (energy) to keep up the good work. I was very grateful to see all my favorite snacks when the birth was over.
- Bring clothing that you feel comfortable laboring in. This could be a long t-shirt, pajamas, shorts and t-shirt, bathing suit… Likely you won’t be wearing much of it by the end of labor – but you should feel comfortable and free.
- I do have a list of natural remedies for birthing. This includes things like a herbal formula to regulate contractions, Sheppard’s Purse to prevent post-partum hemorrhage, Passion Flower for anxiety, Arnica for post-partum pain management. It might be the naturopathic doctor in me – but I used these with benefit and felt comfortable having them close.
For the Birthing Partner:
- Leave all your daily worries behind when you enter the birthing room. Use your phone sparingly and not for work. Take photos or collect memories but remember to focus on the moment. It passes quicker than you think.
- If you see your partner in pain – it is good to know that what they are feeling is a natural process for which the body is designed. It is hard to handle seeing your partner in pain and you may be thinking they need pain control or intervention. Stay calm and rely on your doctor or midwives expertise to tell you when the time is right.
- You may have never seen your partner like this before. They may say, do or scream things that they have never have done before but it is all part of the process.
- Make sure your partner has everything she needs from an emotional and material perspective (more water, food, back massage or just your physical presence) – continue to check in with her so she can focus on the task at hand. Always check-in with her before you leave the room – it might not be a good time.
- Open you senses to the experience as much as you can because it is a very, VERY unique experience and it only lasts a few hours. It is a memory you will never forget.
- Bring enough coffee to last 24 hours (at least). Make sure you have some food. Bring some treats. Think about it as if you are going for a long hike – you will need to keep full and energized.