Throughout my time as a midwife supporting families in birth, I have witnessed many parents and mothers wish they had known the reality of what it takes to have a positive birth in the hospital system. It is common to get overwhelmed when you are faced with so many decisions to make, often feeling swept along with the process and looking back feeling defeated. Here are my top recommendations on how to take control of your birth experience and increase your chance of having an empowered and positive journey.
Allie is an Endorsed Midwife having worked in the birth space for 10 years. She has had a variety of experiences working in large tertiary hospitals, rural birthing facilities and home birth. Allie worked with a team of birth workers to develop The Good Birth, as a result of her witnessing the misinformation and disconnection faced by families in the pregnancy and birth space.
Through The Good Birth, Allie offers private and group antenatal education workshops, either at the studio in Coorparoo, in home visits of Brisbane’s suburbs, or through virtual classes and consultations. She also offers private postnatal midwifery services as home visits from late pregnancy to 6 weeks postpartum, for those wanting side-by-side support with the knowledge, skills and guidance needed bringing new life home. To work with Allie or attend a workshop please visit www.thegoodbirth.com.au
14 tips on how to have a positive birth experience:
- Carefully choose your care provider
Not all care providers in birth are equal and will provide you with the same care. It is important to consider your needs and wants in birth. The evidence tells us that regardless of your risk profile in pregnancy, continuity of care with a midwife improves birth outcomes and overall satisfaction. Midwives are great at consulting and referring onto other practitioners when needed, so this is a safe option. In Australia, home birth attended by a midwife has the lowest intervention rates, highest vaginal birth rates and high birth satisfaction. It is important to consider the door you walk into and those you have around you have a big influence on your birth outcomes, so do your research before you decide.
- Educate Yourself
Knowledge really is power. Attending high-quality antenatal education is key to understanding the normal process of birth, learning the right mindset, and understanding all your options to make informed decisions about your own healthcare to advocate for you wishes. The more informed you are, the more confident you will feel.
- Create an oxytocin-rich birth space
Make your birth space like you are about to have sex. Yes really! The hormone oxytocin is essential for labour and the same hormone for love and connection. Surround yourself with the things that bring you feelings of calm and safety both at home and once you transition to hospital. Consider having a dark room, mood lighting, quiet voices, a do not disturb sign on the door, warmth, soft touch with a partner, or calming music to name a few.
- Clearly Communicate Your Birth Preferences
Take the time to discuss this with your birth team. People often choose to make this into a birth plan (birth plans have been given a bad rap lately, and whilst you can’t plan your birth to a tee, you do have options!). There is a great new concept by Catherine Bell called The Birth Map for those wanting to approach this differently. Share your desires, concerns, and any specific requests you may have. To do this you will likely need to be well-researched and informed about your options in birth. Ultimately, open and honest communication will help ensure that your wishes are respected and honoured during labour and birth.
- You can say NO
Everything in health care is a choice, even if it doesn’t seem to be presented that way. It is important you fully understand the options being given to you before you can make an informed decision. If it doesn’t align with your wishes, if you’re not convinced of the benefit or need, if it gives you an uneasy feeling – you can say a big fat (and polite) NO! Your autonomy in the birth space is paramount. You are not there to please others. This highlights the important need of being an active decision-maker in your own health care by being fully informed of what the option entails. Continuity of care with a midwife, attending a birth class or doing birth preparation chat are very helpful for this.
- Build a Supportive Birth Team
Surround yourself with people who will support and advocate for you. The people in your birth space and their beliefs on birth have a huge impact on your own journey. They need to trust that birth works and believe that you are capable. They need to be your motivators, advocators and not fear the process (or at least not show it!). Communicate clearly with your partner and other support people about what is important for you in birth.
- Consider investing in a Doula
A doula is dedicated to your needs, offering you support and guidance as an experienced birth professional. Their focus is on nothing but ensuring you have a safe and supported journey. Even the evidence tells us that this option improves birth outcomes for women. They do not replace your partner or other support people, nor the expertise from you care-provider, but they do help you and your partner navigate the journey of birth, decipher complicated decisions and support & advocate for your desires in the birth space.
- Involve your partner and support their journey
Whilst pregnancy and birth is heavily focussed on the birthing mother, and for good reason, birth does involve the family unit as a whole. Partners have an integral role in birth, and their experience of a positive outcome can play into the family dynamic. Partners who feel well-informed about the process of birth, feel they have an active role to play and have confidence to advocate for the birthing mother tend to look back on birth positively. This strengthens your bond as a couple and can help you both enter parenthood with resilience and confidence.
- Practice Self Care
I know we have all heard this a million times by now, but please don’t ignore this advice or brush it off. Prioritising yourself throughout pregnancy ensures your mind and body are prepared for the journey ahead. Eat well, stay active, get plenty of rest and look after you mental health. Engage in activities that bring you joy and help you relax. Remember, a healthy and happy mum is better equipped to handle the challenges of labour.
- Debrief before birth
Birth is a huge mental game. Carrying your fears and anxiety into the birth space usually make them manifest. Working on your own emotions about the idea of birth or parenthood before you enter the next stage of your journey is important to feel you can surrender to the process. This might involve attending a birth preparation chat, attending a birth debrief to work through any previous birth experiences, unpacking your own childhood before you enter parenthood with a child of your own, or speaking with a registered mental health professional.
- Listen to positive birth stories
When you announce your pregnancy, it might seem like a magnet for everyone sharing their pregnancy and birth stories with you, sometimes (maybe a lot of the time) being negative. These mums often have not had a space to debrief about their own birth experience and feel the need to share. But learning from sharing can be beneficial. You can discover a lot from their experiences in understanding what they wish they did differently. However, balancing this with listening to positive birth stories is vital to appreciate how powerful the birthing woman is, how incredibly our bodies work, and how empowering and transformative birth can be. Podcasts like Positive Birth Australia or Australian Birth Stories can be great for this.
- Take a tour of your birthplace
Entering a familiar place when you’re in the birth zone is so vital. Oxytocin is the predominant labour hormone and for it to work uninhibited you need to feel safe and in control. When you transition in labour to an unfamiliar place, on an unplanned journey with unfamiliar people this hormone can slow down, which can slow down labour and for good reason! Our primal instincts are to avoid birth in a dangerous place, so if our bodies feel threatened, it’s likely not a good place to bring a baby into. If you’re not planning a home birth, take a tour of your intended place of birth, so you and your partner know how to get there and walk into a familiar space.
- Don’t tell people you are in labour
It is without a doubt such an exciting moment when the day arrives to meet your little one. For some people sharing the news with family and friends that labour has begun might be important, but for the vast majority it can put undue pressure on the process. The messages asking if baby is here yet, when can they meet them, or subtle comments that it might be taking a long time can put you in a negative mindset. The bubble you experience as a new family when your baby is born is precious and doesn’t have to be interrupted by anyone else until you are ready.
- Be prepared for the unexpected
Labour and birth are unpredictable, no matter what your intentions are or how well you prepare. Having a fixed mindset heading into birth to only accept and be happy about a specific outcome may lead to disappointment. It’s often not the outcome of birth but how you were made to feel throughout your journey that leads to a positive birth. It can be helpful to have the mindset of feeling powerful and in control over the choices you make, rather than the outcome you experience.