Labour will always fascinate me – just how different it can be, how different each individual woman can feel and handle those contractions and the different support a woman might need.
I have seen women roar during their labour – they have come to life with their contractions and can labour with very little hands-on support, just having the right people in the room has been enough.
I have seen women need support with every contraction, from mild labour and right through to pushing out their baby.
I have seen women need their partner by their side at all times.
I have seen women need their partner to be far far away from them.
I have seen women accept and embrace their contractions and I have seen women dread each one, only to feel relief with an epidural or a caesarean.
I have seen women relax and feeling safe and less pain in water and I have seen women hate being in water, feeling too exposed.
I have seen women who believe in their ability to give birth and I have seen other women who doubt themselves.
what do labouring women need?
A labouring woman is so unique, as are her needs and expectations about labour and her contractions but, in all the labours I have attended, some things are the same…
women need to feel safe – although what makes them safe is different because it’s about being in the right place with the right people with you, which could include midwife, partner, mum, doula, friend or sister.
the right communication – although some women need gentle words while others need more direct communication.
the right environment – some women want/need to be at home, others feel safer in the hospital. Some women need dark or quiet, while others are ok with light and noise.
women need to move – I haven’t yet seen a woman who is happy and comfortable to labour lying on a bed because the natural instinct is to be up and to move, even when they are knackered. But women are comfortable in different places – some need to stand, walk and rock, others need to kneel, lean and sit
women need to breathe – breath holding is quite common during contractions, as is rapid breathing but both of these can create more panic and pain. I have seen women slow their breathing down – with gentle, slow in and out breaths – and be in more control and be less frightened.
This is why I so what I do – to be an effective antenatal teacher I need to attend births – and this is why I am passionate about what I do.
Attending antenatal classes and hiring a birth doula doesn’t guarantee an ‘easy’ birth but it can empower, inform and prepare, it can boost confidence and it can encourage labouring women to be assertive, to say how they feel and to say what they need. If women know a little more of what to expect from labour – rather than leaving it to chance – they can prepare for the panic points. Simple things like saying what you need, knowing how to use your breathing and using positions and knowing more about your options makes a huge difference. Even just knowing more about the range of normal for labour and birth can be pretty powerful.
I hear the phrase: “I’ll just do what the midwife says, she’s the expert” quite a lot. And that can be important but what if your midwife can’t be with you all the time? Most of the midwives I have worked with encourage labouring women to do what feels right, they haven’t said what to do because labour doesn’t really work like that. If you have already been able to give this some thought, you are probably less likely to feel lost and panicky about what to do next.
And, as getting the support you need is about saying what you need and what feels right, rather than being told what to do, women need to be more empowered and ready for birth.
Janine Smith | a specialist in pregnancy, birth and parent support