Afraid of giving birth? Then try training for it

Extracted by Mernie Gilmore from Gentle Birth Method by Gowri Motha & Karen Swan Macleod
Daily Express. 22 June 2004

Four in five mothers find that going into labour is frightening and half say that giving birth is a “shocking” experience. But it doesn’t have to be like that, says Dr Gowri Motha.

I have always been bemused by the fact that pregnant women spend longer preparing the nursery for the baby than their bodies. We sigh over wallpaper swatches, pore over name books and coo over cots without thinking about readying ourselves for birth. Perhaps the inevitability of it just leaves us wanting to bury our heads in the sand; anxiously awaiting those first rumbling contractions.

After all, birth is presented to us as a traumatic, painful and undignified rite of passage that most women – sooner or later – must endure. A vast number of women of childbearing age have grown up with the received wisdom that this is how birth is.

I only encountered this negative attitude towards birth when I moved to England after growing up in Sri Lanka. I worked as an obstetrician in London and delivered hundreds of babies. Unfortunately most of the mothers were rigid with fear, in poor physical condition and emotionally out of control.

Medical professionals’ attitude towards childbirth was, and is, of crisis management, of dealing with complications the pregnant mothers suffer once they were in labour.

Very little thought was given to preventing the problems.

I began to wonder: could the quality of a mother’s pregnancy determine her labour experience? If she prin1ed herself with physical stamina and mental resilience, could she condition herself for the birth, like an athlete training for a race?

In the 15 years since then I have devised a gentle birth programme with three levels. The first tackles your physical condition, with a wholefood diet, physical treatments such as massage and daily exercise.

The second addresses your attitude and any resistance you have towards pregnancy as well as any fears about the birth. To do this we use visualisation and self-hypnosis techniques to reflect on your feelings and develop your mental strength.

We engage on an emotional level, helping you to extend a loving welcome to your unborn baby and learning how to bond with him or her.

More than 1,200 mothers have followed my Gentle Birth programme but numbers are not the motivation for Gentle Birth Method. Motherhood is the greatest gift and deserves a happy beginning. I hope the programme will help you to celebrate pregnancy as one of the most precious chapters in your life and equip you with the potential for a birth that is a calm, intimate and body experience.

Bonding with your baby

You can begin bonding the moment you’re pregnant. There are many ways you can love your baby in the womb.

  • Humanise your baby; don’t call him o r her “It”. Choose a nickname that is loving, fond and intimate. It doesn’t need to reflect your real name choices.
  • Lather and hug your bump while you’re in the bath or shower.
  • Stroke your bump at every available opportunity – it’s especially good when the midwives record the baby’s position and you know where to place your hand to feel for his or her face, bottom, hands or feet. You might even get a little kick or prod as a reward.
  • Try gently humming your favourite lullaby or tune. The soft reverberations that you create in your body while doing so will massage and relax the baby. The chances are that the same music will be instantly soothing to him or her after you give birth.
  • Pore over the scan photos. It’s uncanny how much newborn babies look like their 20-week-plus scan photos. The shape of the head, profile, lips and nose will all correspond with those of the newborn in your arms.
  • Generate a new thought about your baby every day. Imagine your first walk together, your first bath or the delight of the first smile.
  • When deeply relaxed, visualise your baby floating in your tummy, bathed in a glorious white light. You might like to imagine the colour changing to blue to link to yellow, or perhaps just brightening in intensity.

Tips for the father when his partner is in labour

  • Try to control the number of people in the room and asking questions of your partner. See whether you can answer any questions on her behalf.
  • Ask that people respect the quiet and calm of the birth room and that they don’t do any unnecessary examinations.
  • Stroke your partner to induce a sense of safety and deep relaxation.
  • Repeat encouragements for her body to open and relax, such as “You’re doing so well” and “Your pelvis is wide and open”.
  • Perform reflexology on the soft space in the centre of her big toes for one-to-two minutes at a time every half-hour or so to stimulate strong, efficient contractions.
  • It’s normal not to want to be touched or spoken to during contractions, so don’t be offended. You can still look after her, but in a more passive way, by making sure that the lights are low, the room’s not too hot and she’s not bothered by countless doctors and midwives, for example.

Exercise during pregnancy

I am constantly amazed at how little people think about the fitness that’s needed for pregnancy and birth. Early in your pregnancy it’s understandable if you are less active, but during the second stage it’s paramount that you introduce some exercise.

It will make your pregnancy more enjoyable because it will make you more mobile, rather being stranded on the sofa waiting for the big day. You’ll also be thankful for your fitness when you go through labour, which is like a marathon. You could have six or more hours of intense physical activity. The following forms of exercise are especially important.

  • Yoga – From 14-16 weeks into pregnancy try to do 20 minutes of yoga a day. Gentle yoga exercises will increase your muscular strength for pushing and help with the flexibility needed for getting into delivery positions.
  • Walking – Daily brisk walking for 30 minutes is one of my favourite forms of exercise. It encourages the baby’s head to engage and the “bounce” of each step you take can also facilitate the tinning of the cervix.
  • Swimming – This cradles the baby in your bump and helps with its positioning. It also takes the weight off your joints and is excellent exercise for your heart and lungs. But health concerns have been raised about the effects of chlorine in pregnancy. So find a pool which uses ozone instead for disinfection, or swim no more than once a week.

Exercises to relieve pain during labour

FIGURE OF EIGHT

Stand with your legs shoulder-width apart and, with your legs slightly bent, rotate your hips in a figure of eight. This helps cradle the baby into the front of the bump, reducing pressure on your spine. Repeat as often as you want.

THE CAMEL WALK

This is like doing the “sand dance”, only you don’t have to wear a fez! Walk forward with an exaggerated walk, lifting your legs up high as if you’re stepping over logs. At the same time, tip your pelvis and belly backwards and forwards in an up-and-down circular motion. Some mothers find it helps to think of their pelvis like a scoop. Very funny to do and watch – and an effective way to reduce back pain.

THE CHARLIE CHAPLIN WALK

Walk forwards, taking small steps, with your feet pointing outward, loose hips and a sloppy gait. This will loosen your pelvic ligaments and open your pelvis a little bit further.

CRAWLING ON ALL FOURS

This is very good for getting the baby in the best position. It involves simply crawling around the room on all fours for a couple of minutes at a time. I especially recommend this exercise after 32 weeks, when the baby begins to have less room to move about and the position he or she settles in becomes more important.

Case history: Carol’s story

I would never have thought that, after the delivery of my first baby; which involved induction, pethidine, epidural and forceps, I would enjoy giving birth the second time. After the technological nightmare first time around, I became interested in a waterbirth, so the hospital put me in touch with Dr Motha.

I expected to find a doctor behind a desk. To my dismay I was seated on a cushion and told l was to be taught “self-hypnosis”. In classes Dr Motha told us that the uterus is a strong muscle designed for the labour process, so let it work without tension and you can allow the baby to slip through comfortably.

This was fine in theory – and admittedly the relaxing cured my bad back – but would it help me get through labour? When my waters broke at 4pm, I went to the hospital even though I didn’t have any contractions. I was strapped to a monitoring device, but by 11pm, nothing was happening so I was admitted to the antenatal ward with a view to inducing me the next morning.

Alone in the ward I decided to stop fretting and do something positive. I sat in a dark corner and relaxed as Dr Motha had taught me, shutting off everything around me and concentrating on letting myself open up, welcoming my baby.

By midnight I was being hustled back down the stairs by a nurse who refused to wait for the lift. “Hold on dear; we don’t want you having it up here,” she told me.

In the delivery room Dr Motha turned down the lights and told my husband how to set up the pool. The relief of getting into the pool was immediate and I soon found a rhythm, kneeling in the water; leaning my head on my arms on the side, breathing deeply as each contraction did its work. I could feel the baby’s head coming down a little further each time.

Finally I felt a sharp pain and thought I must be nearly there, so I put my hand down and felt the baby’s head. The next contraction caught me unready. I yelled, the baby yelled and my husband yelled: “You’ve done it!”

Then I stood up to take my baby from Dr Motha, feeling exulted and incredulous that it could all be over so soon, so beautifully. Later, I felt I could have got to the post-natal ward taking the stairs two at a time. Then I heard the woman in the next room shrieking in the accepted, expected way. And I wanted to tell her – there is another way, so old that after centuries of innovation, research and drug testing, we’re having to rediscover it.

Daily Express, 22 June 2004

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