1. Having the continuous reassuring presence in labour of another woman, who has had a positive experience of birth herself (your mum, sister, friend, midwife, doula), seriously increases your chance of having a straightforward vaginal birth. The government recommends all women be told this.
2. Birth is an involuntary bodily function controlled by the autonomic nervous system, which also controls your breathing, digestion, going to the loo and other automatic functions over which you have very little control, except to stop or slow it down. Labour will be easier, quicker and less painful if you feel safe and in control enough to let go and let it happen, letting the hormones flow and the muscles work.
3. When you go into labour you should stop thinking about what you have learnt and simply tune in to your instincts and do what your body tells you to do. Tune out from the world.
4. Planning a home birth triples your chance of avoiding a caesarean, or assisted birth and also improves outcomes for mother and baby across the board, inc. length of labour and amount of pain. Everyone should at least consider this option. After all, by planning for a home birth you are maximising your options – you can still go into hospital at any time.
5. Cocoon yourself in labour to let the birth hormones flow freely. You need to feel secure and in control enough to let go and let it happen. Fear makes your uterine muscles contract and labour more painful; fear releases adrenaline which slows down or stops the flow of the birth hormones. Let your birth partners be your advocates and protectors – let them deal with any hassles. Be a queen.
6. The uterus is a muscle and so you need to apply what you know about how muscles work best – be relaxed, breathe steadily, keep hydrated and fed. Labour can be physically demanding.
7. ‘Breathing through contractions’ is simply breathing out through your mouth in a rhythm. By concentrating on your out breath, you keep your breathing steady (not holding your breath, nor breathing too fast), you get oxygen to your muscles and your baby, you will be more relaxed, and it gives you something to focus on, all of which reduces the pain.
8. In a midwife group in London almost 80% of women (not having operative deliveries) had no form of artificial pain relief. You can reduce pain of contractions by having good support, relaxing your body (go saggy with the pain), using distraction and positive thoughts, being upright and mobile, breathing steadily, looking after your muscle, using water, massage, and making the most of the interval between contractions (pacing yourself). Women who think they will be able to cope report less pain than women who think labour will be unbearable.
9. Pharmacological methods of pain relief use either muscle relaxants, mind-altering drugs, or interrupters of nerve messages. By using the methods above to relax your muscles, change your perception of the pain, or to interrupt the pain messages, you can go longer without these, or work with them to make them move effective.
10. It is not just important to have the baby’s head down, your birth will be smoother if the baby’s back is towards your front. In late pregnancy there are things you can do to move the baby round; in labour, keep upright and leaning forward, moving (walking, marching, whatever your body tells you) and be prepared for a longer labour.
REMEMBER: It is your body, your baby, your birth. It is the law of this land that everything is your decision. Health professionals can only recommend an action. This applies to everything from where you give birth to having any treatment, including being induced.