Making space for birth... ways to release, relax and let go.
So the topic of ‘due dates’ comes up a lot in my pregnancy classes and workshops. So, do questions about how to best prepare or get ready for birth, and how to avoid the often dreaded topic among expectant mamas of ‘induction’.
As I have mentioned in previous posts, there are many ways to help support and prepare a woman and her partner physically, mentally and emotionally for their birthing experience and you can read more here about support, yoga, nutrition. Today though I wanted to share about the need to address or shed any mental or emotional holding in order to release and make that much needed internal space to welcome your baby into the world. As Pam England states in the wonderful book ‘birthing from within’;
“Childbirth is a profound rite of passage, not a medical event.
The essence of childbirth preparation is self-discovery not assimilating obstetric information….
it is a continually evoling process, not a static structure of techniques and knowledge.’
Due Date looming....
The whole idea of ‘due date’ and the increasing pressure applied to pregnant women to go into spontaneous labour very close to or on their calculated due date is immense.
We know the stats for women giving birth on their due date is a tiny 4%. Today in the UK, 1 in 5 labours are induced and what I have increasingly found as a doula and birth support, listening to, teaching and learning from women during pregnancy is that they feel a real pressure regarding induction. A feeling that the clock is ticking as they near that 40th week and for many even earlier. The impact is their focus and attention moves away from their body and into their brain.
Now I must add here that I fully advocate and encourage that women understand all their options and choices in birth. It is important that women are informed in a totally balanced and unbiased way of the benefits and that they feel supported with whatever choice they make. We know that this support impacts directly on women’s positive experiences of birth. Yet I feel we have to look more closely at what it is we are communicating to women about their ability to birth in the process.
So for this post I wanted to shift the focus point away from intervention and managed birth and back to the woman. To explore how we can reframe the societal imprint that birth is something difficult and dangerous that we have to manage and instead look at how we can begin to nurture women’s trust and faith in their bodies, their babies and the physiological process of birth.
I’m over due… what now?
Climbing out of the attic - Feeling over thinking.
Often one of the biggest obstacles for an overdue mama is often not the body, but the mind and external pressure. There are lots of great posts about natural induction methods and how to encourage spontaneous labour (see links below), but here I want to highlight the importance RELEASING, and exploring ways to let go to make some internal space in preparation for birth.
Birth is a visceral not an intellectual experience. Women need to be encouraged to actively climb out of ‘the attic’ of their mind and dive deep into their heart and soul. The ‘expert’ in birth is the birthing woman, and the doctor, midwife, doula or birth support teams role is to protect and honour her birthing space, listen to and allow her to birth without interruption (unless medical assistance is needed).
'With great respect and love
I honour my heart
My inner teacher'.
5 Ways to prepare for spontaneous labour
Ultimately baby will come when baby is ready but any activity in that lead up to your labour day which helps you to feel supported, loved and protected is so important. Here are some practical tools to help release tension, address fears and foster self belief, to support a physiological, spontaneous labour.
1. Emotional Release - Have a good cry!
An emotional release or a good cry can sometimes be just the ticket. I’ve found over the last few years supporting women that after a strong emotional release, labour often swiftly follows. Some women as they move into the ‘overdue’ period (technically from 42 weeks but which seems to be suggested as starting from 40 weeks) can feel overwhelmed with worries, thoughts and external pressures and for some women this isn't always conscious.
Often an emotional release is a way of the body processing or letting go of held tension. This might be through uncontrollable laughter, a good scream, or cry. I’ve both seen and listened to women recall a real dip in mood or uncontrollable weeping in women just before their labour starts.
There is such a complex range of emotions, thoughts and physical feelings which come throughout pregnancy and which for many women are heightened during those final weeks. In the world we now live in there is not much we have to wait for so patiently and waiting for the unknown is challenging.
Letting emotion come without need to label or judge it as ‘bad’ or ‘good’ but rather allowing yourself an outlet for expressing it, will help to create internal space and release so you can relax and trust the birthing process.
2. Get it on - intimacy and the calm connection response
Intimacy and making love when the woman and partner feel comfortable is such a powerful way to help release held tension, both physical and emotional in the body. It is also an act which encourages us to FEEL, rather than THINK and importantly stimulates release of oxytocin in the body. In those last 4 to 6 weeks leading up to labour, there is a natural and steady hormonal increase of both oxytocin and prolactin in the body and one of the most powerful ways to encourage this release of oxytocin, is through intimacy and touch.
Oxytocin plays an essential role in the calm and connection response in the body and supports well-known qualities such as receptivity, closeness, openness, nurturing and nourishment. The calm and connection reaction is marked by lowered heart rate, blood pressure, and lowered levels of the stress hormone cortisol, all of which are the building blocks for a physiological birth. However you could say oxytocin is a shy hormone which is why a labouring woman needs to feel totally unthreatened and unobserved to facilitate this delicate balance of hormones.
Ways to stimulate this calm and connection response?
- A warm bath
- Meditation or any conscious, mindful breathing
- Gentle touch, caresses or strokes from a loved one
- Take a peaceful walk in nature
- Feeling the warmth of the sun on your body
- Gentle yoga or movement
- Laughter – watch a favourite movie or series
- Disconnect - especially toward the end of pregnancy withdraw from heightened drama and stimulation from media/news/devises.
3. Clear your mind
Today our ability to access information is immense and all consuming. In daily life we are surrounded by visual, auditory and kinaesthetic stimulus. As a pregnant woman it can be very difficult to differentiate from the learned social, cultural, familial and medical opinions, views, beliefs and advice about birth, and find space instead to trust and listen to our own hearts.
As a woman preparing to birth her baby the challenge is to reduce the chatter of the mind and preconceived notions, expectation or judgement about birth and make space to really feel and open and welcome whatever experience, surprises, intensity or challenges arise.
- Take some time to sit quietly
- Away from distractions
- Turn of devises
- Light a candle
- Or play some relaxing music
- Or enjoy the stillness of silence
- Find a comfortable position where you can sit with a long tall spine (lean against something or lie down if that suits)
- Focus for a few moments on your breath
- Feel the rhythm and length of your inhale & exhale.
- Observe how you don't have to 'DO ANYTHING' the breath will look after itself
4. Make friends with fear.
As Michel Odent suggests, the fear of losing control experienced near the end of labour is needed to facilitate the physiological process of birth. We need that heightened peak of adrenaline to give us the energy to birth our baby. Adrenaline and fear are not the enemies in birth, however too much adrenaline in the body in the lead up to birth can draw a woman into a high alert ‘fight or flight’ response. This highly active 'doing' mode results in increased cortisol and suppresses the production of oxytocin in the body.
Below are some practical ways to address and explore your fears, so you can acknowledge and begin to process them. Before you try the suggestions below, it can be helpful to take a moment to clear your mind as described above.
Identify your Paper tigers;
‘In appearance it is very powerful but in reality, it is nothing to be afraid of; it is a paper tiger. Outwardly a tiger, it is made of paper, unable to withstand the wind and the rain.’
It is totally normal to feel apprehensive, scared or even fearful and most women have experienced these emotions at some point during their pregnancy, be it imagined or suggested.
Fear is a physiological part of labour and most often near the transition phase women will be confronted by fear. This is usually the point that signals they are very close to meeting their baby and where the the birthing woman support team play a valuable role in making her feel secure, protected and empowered to trust herself and let go.
it is a really invaluable practice to explore some of your fears during pregnancy and to make peace with this process, rather than being first confronted by this when you are in labour.
Below are some questions you could explore;
· Write down your hopes for birth?
· What do you feel women fundamentally need for their birth?
· What are your fears about birth?
· What do you feel most strongly about my birth?
· How have you faced challenge in the past?
· What could I do to prepare for or even prevent what I am worrying about?
· What questions do I want answered?
Create some Positive Affirmations
A great way to process fears and use them constructively, is to create personal affirmations (visual or written). Again this comes back to empowering and owning your birth experience by cultivating your inner belief, trust, strength and resilience to birth your baby.
To benefit from this its important to really embrace these affirmations; put them up where you can see them, repeat them to yourself verbally or mentally. Feel them, visualise them, really BREATHE THEM IN and let them anchor. See the affirmation as a seed, and the more you repeat and absorb it the more your belief in it will grow and flourish.
Release held tension - Breathing with sound
Using sound with the exhale is an excellent way to help draw the attention away from the mind, to calm the nervous system and lead the body into a really healing stillness.
- Settle in a comfortable position
- Start inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth
- Take a few moments to feel the natural rhythm of your breath
- Consciously relax your face, jaw by allowing the the back teeth to Un-grip
- Draw your shoulders away from your ears to relax the neck
- Try licking your lips or yawning to relax your lips and mouth
- Take a few exhales to let a sigh release as you exhale
- Breath and feel the waves of breath releasing tension
- Take a few rounds of breath like this
- Now you can begin to introduce sound with the exhale
- Let the breath be natural and slowly let each exhale extend as the sound draws out.
- Allow the lips and jaw to soften and let the sound vibration move through the body to release held tension
- Try the following sounds;
- Ahhhhh’ ‘OOOoooohh’ ‘MMmmmmm’..
- Then sounding out the vowel sounds; “AAAAAAaaaa’, ‘EEEEEeeeee’, ‘IIIIiiiiiii’, ‘OOOOOooooooo’ ‘UUuuuu’
5. Self Expression
Finding a way to actively and creatively express yourself is a fundamental part of moving out of your head and to a place driven by feeling and trusting your intuition.
Exploration of this nature helps us to process and bring to consciousness our strengths and sometimes over looked resources and also identifies obstacles and inhibitions.
One thing that we know is that for physiological birth to take place the neo cortex functioning needs to be reduced. Language is verbal communication is something which can greatly hinder a woman’s visceral response to birth. In this same way, to really move inward and connect on a deeper level during pregnancy it can be most effective to explore non-verbal forms of expression and communication to really tune into our inner psyche and remove or reduce the influence of external restrictions or impressions from social or cultural beliefs.1
Without direction just noting down what comes into your head, how you feel, what you’ve done etc
Drawing / doodling / Birth art
Again without direction or and end goal, draw, make marks or colour. Mandalas, spirals and labrinths have all
Recalling your dreams
it’s really common to have very vivid dreams during pregnancy - this maybe in part to do with hormonal changes in the body and waking during a dream as a result of babies movements.
Why not use your dreams as inspiration for your journaling or birth art! This is another way to explore hopes/fears/wishes/anxieties that maybe held in the body on a deeper unconscious level.
Trust yourself mama...
Trust your body....
Know your baby is coming....
Further reading if you want to know more about induction, and natural ways to bring on labour…
Links / Reference
Birthing from within – Pam England & Rob Horowitz
Eat Pray Doula – Robin Lim
The Oxytocin factor – Kerstin Uvnas Moberg