When I became pregnant with my first, my idea of a typical birth experience was you go to the hospital, lay in a bed hooked up to an IV and an epidural, until the Dr and nurses “deliver” your baby. Basically, I thought it was pretty simple; how many decisions could I really have to make? After all, I don’t really have that many choices (other than whether or not I get the drugs), right? It wasn’t until my Doula asked me to prepare a birth plan that I was faced with all the things that go into planning for the birth of a baby and the freedom I had to decide the who, what, when, where and how of it all (besides maybe the day and time I would begin labour).
Here are the top 5 decisions you can make BEFORE the big day to help you achieve an empowering birth experience that is truly your own.
Whether you are partnered or single, its important to think about having another person there with you in labour. They can be a friend or family member, a spouse or life partner. Whoever it is, its important that this person be a comforting presence to you, not an anxious or stressful one. This person can offer words of encouragement and even support you physically while you move through the stages of labour. You might consider hiring a Doula, as they have valuable tools and training that can help you feel truly supported and empowered physically, emotionally and informationally in your birth experience.
One of the questions I got asked most often as I approached my due date was “Are you going to get an epidural?”. In my mind, that was the only means of pain relief available to me in labour so of course I opted in. There are in fact LOADS of alternative comfort measures available to you in labour! Position changes, Laughing Gas, Rebozo, birthing ball, hydrotherapy, counter pressure, massage, hot and cold packs, and of course the infamous epidural. You can choose which ones you would like to try and at what stage of labour you would like to try them in. You can even make specifications like “I want a walking epidural so I don’t have to stay in the bed” or “Ill try everything but if I ask for the epidural please give it to me”. Should you have a Doula or other support person with you, they can be super helpful in getting/doing these things for you.
While birth typically happens without any significant intervention, its still important to get clear on the types of interventions sometimes used and what you are and aren’t ok with. Things like the use of forceps, vacuum assistance, episiotomy and cesarean section are often what we think of in terms of interventions and should be explained to you before you go into labour. Its also important to note that things like induction or “augmentation” of labour, whether its with drugs, sweeping the membranes or manually breaking your waters are also interventions and should be discussed and decided upon before the big day. Should an intervention be necessary during your birth, having decided this prenatally will help you to feel more in control of the situation even if it seems scary or “out of control”.
After you’ve gone through the marathon that is labour and birth, your brain will be flooded with hormones. So much happens after baby is born and all so quickly that its important for your healthcare providers and support team to know you wishes in case you are unable to communicate them immediately after the birth. Things like weather you want immediate skin to skin and/or delayed cord clamping can be accommodated best when communicated prenatally. If you would like baby to stay on your chest while nurses do their assessments of baby or if you would prefer your partner or support person to stay with baby should they need to take them anywhere are also great to know before hand.
The first hour of a newborns life is crucial for establishing feeding and is appropriately named “the golden hour”. Deciding how you will be feeding baby is important so that you can get the appropriate support in whatever you choose. Should you choose to breast/chest feed, exclusively pump, formula feed or combo feed your baby, there are specialists and consultants available to help you get started.