Make the most of the last days of pregnancy

Last week I went to my local Positive Birth Group Meeting, a monthly meet-up of mums to be and local birth professionals – midwives, doulas, lactation consultants and hypnobirthing teachers like me.

At each meeting we take time to share positive birth stories, to help prepare the expectant mamas for birth and early motherhood and answer any questions frankly and honestly. So often, the final days of pregnancy are undervalued and treated with irreverence but in the eyes of most birth professionals and perhaps also current mamas, they are critical – both magical and unnerving, all at the same time.

Here’s the advice I gave them, that I wish I’d known when I was still pregnant:

Make slowing down a priority

I meet a mama to be at the meeting who was working so hard on house renovations that she admitted she was exhausted. At 37 weeks, this seemed so sad to me. Admittedly, pre labour jitters can be soothed by keeping busy and taking your mind off what is to come but bringing yourself to the edge of what’s possible, this late on, is wasting your precious mental and physical energy.

A great example of planning for slowing down would be getting as much as you can ready for the baby before you start your maternity leave. Washing and folding a few baby clothes, making your bedroom ready and choosing toys are lovely last jobs to do, even great ways to occupy yourself during early labour but try to complete as much of the painting and choosing furniture as possible.

Also, as I’m sure every parent to be knows, sleep will be at a premium. Getting annoyed by that constant night waking now you’re in the last few weeks of pregnancy? Think of it your body’s way of preparing you for life with your newborn. Learn to balance the wakeful nights with naps during the day. The more you practice, the easier it will get to switch off quickly and grab some rest when you get a window of newborn sleep.

Prepare your body for labour

You can do so much to get you and body ready for labour. These are all small things but they all add up.

Gradually start drinking more raspberry leaf tea once you have past 30 weeks, building up to 4 cups a day providing it doesn’t make your Braxton-Hicks too strong. Eating your 6 dates a day will improve your hormone sensitivity (making it more likely that you’ll start labour naturally) and yoga will keep you strong and supple – very useful when you consider how physical labour can be.

Add sitting on your exercise ball when you’re watching TV to keep baby in a great position plus some acupuncture in the final weeks and you should be ready to go! Last but not least – perineal massage and pelvic floor exercises are the jobs no-one likes to think about but really will make you feel more comfortable, during and after your birth.

Meditate, relax or practice

Whatever birth ethos you’ve chosen and whatever kind of birth you’re hoping for, now is the time to keep your mind clear, positive and focues. Read as many positive birth stories as you can, help your baby stay calm and happy by minding your own adrenaline and stress levels and relax as much as you can.

This can be much easier said than done when you have 3am insomnia after receiving a swift little kick in the ribs as a wake up call I know. I relied heavily on relaxing music playlists and mediation apps in the final few weeks before I was due. My snoring husband was not that much help.

If you’ve taken a hypnobirthing course, now is the time to really master your breathing techniques and make sure you know how you’ll use what you learnt in labour. You can always contact your teacher if you have any questions.

Triple check your birth plan

Your birth plan is a crucial document, especially if you’re going to be asking for choices that aren’t routine practice or are less common. You have time now to research any choices you’re not sure about – Vitamin K shots, cord clamping and how you want to deliver your placenta commonly get overlooked. Discuss it with your birth partner and midwife then when you’re happy, print out some copies to put in your notes. The best way to make sure it becomes a reality is for your birth partner to know it so well, it doesn’t need to be looked at all that often. Again, now’s the time to get familiar with it and your choices.

Spend quality time as a couple

Although the later stages of pregnancy can seem endless, there is definitely much more chill time now than there will be on the other side. Spending as much as you can with your partner is a great idea. For now, you’re still a couple, not mum and dad as well as a couple. Some quality time can also help reassure each other that although a huge change is coming, the basics of your relationship and how you feel about one another are still solid. Any fears or worries that come up are much easier to discuss without a layer of sleep deprivation on top.

I so wish someone was there to give me this kind of advice. I wouldn’t say I wasted my final weeks of being just me but I certainly didn’t enjoy them as much as I could. Time is so precious and your little one will be here soon enough. Then you’ll have trouble imagining life before they arrived.

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This post was written for and first appeared on The Natural Parent Magazine.

What now for normal birth?

Over the last month in the UK, there has been a lot of news coverage of the Royal College of Midwives’ (RCM) decision to end their campaign for normal birth. It’s been met with a predictably mixed reception – agreement and an outpouring of emphatic support from some and confusion and worry from others. A lot of people, like me, fall somewhere in between.
The Times had it as front page news and then the RCM issued a clarifying statement a couple of days later. Since then, stories of negative birth experiences and sad outcomes have been filtering out, filling the news once again with the most popular view of birth in Western culture – that it’s the most dangerous day of our lives and that medical intervention is a requirement for most.

Full disclosure – I’m a hypnobirthing teacher and I had my baby naturally at home. I know I was extremely lucky to be able to do so. I know this. My heart also goes out to the families who didn’t receive the care they deserved and are still missing their babies who they so rightly had expected to arrive safely in the world. It’s the worst possible outcome to what should be the best day of parents’ lives. I can’t imagine what it is to live with that kind of heartbreak.

As I write this, I also hold in mind all the many, many mothers who didn’t have the kind of birth they had hoped for and still feel the effects of that today. I know full well what it is to live with the small injuries, the changes in how you feel about your body and the shift of emotions you experience – the outright shock of going through such a life changing experience in a way that you don’t feel prepared for at all. I also know how hard those first few months are and that if your early days care with your newborn isn’t as supportive as possible, how that can impact your feelings towards your baby and your new role as a mother for months to come. I understand.

I have to be honest though – I’m worried that natural birth will once again become something that isn’t encouraged and this in turn will have its own negative effect, perhaps exacerbating the problem of women feeling unsupported and steam rollered. That women will stop believing in their ability to deliver their babies and that fear of childbirth will return to previous levels. Being afraid and treating birth as a medical emergency will become normal once again. It seems like a step back in the open and ongoing conversation around finding what’s best for each and every unique case.

I’ll also make clear at this point that hypnobirthing principles hold that women should give birth where and how they feel safest, which means they make all the decisions and can give birth in exactly the way that makes them feel most secure – at home, in hospital, with drugs, without… it all makes no odds. The goal is always a healthy, happy baby and a mum who has felt she was able to do things her way and was empowered in all her choices even if she did have a birth which went off her plan. The emphasis is always on her.

When I hear the stories of births that went wrong, I’m truly shocked. Every midwife I’ve ever met seems so far from the picture built in the media reports and goes above and beyond to support the women they work with. I can also imagine how hard it would be for the mum to not feel informed and like she was able to steer the decisions made too. After all, it’s her body and her baby. She will live with the long term impact of whatever choices are made by her and the team around her.

I also find it pretty tough to swallow when I see Jeremy Hunt jumping in to the fray with a tweet that (whilst it looked like a valid, mainstream opinion) actually makes it seem like he lacks basic understanding of how the system works for most women and that he was commenting on the details of a relatively small unusual set of occurrences.

I have no crystal ball to help me see how this will play out of course. I have a suspicion that the resurfacing of difficult stories will have an impact on pregnant women for a few years to come. Whilst I don’t think we should shun hearing more negative stories (and certainly shouldn’t diminish their impact or tidy them away), we would do better to have a conversation about them to enable the birth professionals in attendance to learn from them and for the mothers to get the support they need.

After all, as Sarah Wickham so succinctly points out, stories really do make a huge difference.

We need to stop gory birth scaremongering

“Oh wow! You’re pregnant! That’s amazing? When are you due? How are you feeling about – you know – the birth….? Did I tell you about my sister in law/best friend/daughter? She was in labour for 60 hours and had a c-section in the end anyway. The she couldn’t walk for a week. But I’m sure you’ll be fine… No really you will”
Agggghhh! What’s a newly expecting mother to do? Politely smile and tell these well wishers to get lost? Or politely smile and try not to listen but secretly wonder how they will cope and if they dare wish for anything better?

There is something so British (and maybe American too) about this ritual. I suspect it has it’s roots in the whole stiff upper lip, plan for the worst, be realistic mentality that seems to be part of our culture now. I’m sure the people who share the gory stories are the same ones who watch ‘One Born Every Minute’, ‘Eastenders’ and ‘Crimewatchers’ – because it’s real life right? It’s just what happens.

And so, this poor new mum goes to all her antenatal check ups and giggles nervously when the midwives start to talk about coming in to see the hospital and planning for pain relief. She goes to her NCT group and hears the birth talk covering inductions, breech babies and c-sections. Then she goes home and watches some really dramatic birth videos on YouTube because the most popular ones are the ones which are the most sensational, with the most blood.

Is it any surprise that by the time labour starts this poor new mum to be can’t sleep, can’t eat and is so afraid that she’ll take any advice she’s given from this point on, no matter what she’d hoped for?

Why do we women do this to each other? Is it mindless continuation of the norm? Or is it passing on their tale like an old war story – it was so challenging and traumatic for them that they still need to talk about it? Or worse, a brutal way to make sure nobody has it better than them?

Well – I’m here to say I’m over it.

And that I hate it.

And that women will not begin to see more positive outcomes until we buck the trends and encourage them to think differently.

We lose nothing by being positive, by educating ourselves, by planning for the best; nothing at all.

We need to put down this idea that pessimistic thinking and scaremongering equates to grown up realism. The human mind is so powerful that all words and thoughts can have great meaning.

Fortunately, for hypnobirthing mums who are dedicated to their learning and practice, the current standard ways of thinking about birth can be gently altered and challenged. I hope that at some point soon, my teaching will become obsolete.

Once women consider childbirth to be the beautiful right of passage that it is, hypnobirthing will just become birthing.