My Advice for Expecting Families

As a childbirth professional I am often asked “What advice would you give expectant parents?”. Expectant parents are often bombarded with advice, suggestions, tips and tricks; sometimes conflicting and contradictory information that adds to the ‘information overload’ that parents can be overwhelmed by.

So I only have two pieces of ‘advice’ that I give every expectant family:

Take Birthing From Within Classes

I am admittedly biased about Birthing From Within as a childbirth preparation program, but I believe that even if I wasn’t a Mentor, I would still endorse it highly, for some very specific reasons.

For one, it is not outcome focused, that is- it does not promise you a ‘natural’ birth, or a ‘pain free’ birth. It doesn’t tell you how to have a perfect birth or a ‘your way’ birth or that it will overcome birth location or providers or anything else. What it does do is give you everything you need to fully participate in your birth however and wherever it unfolds. The message is not “Avoid, avoid, avoid!” it is “Recognize, understand, take the next best step, continue.”

Secondly, it is the only childbirth education program out there that speaks to expectant parents as whole people, and recognizes that personal, emotional self exploration is just as vital as learning facts and figures. It approaches birth both as an informational, physiologic event and as a personal journey. It recognizes that you have a lifetime of experience and messages and beliefs about birth and parenting, and that those matter during labor, birth and postpartum. It encourages and challenges parents to dig deeper into their birth preparation, and not just cram study like it is finals week.

Lastly (but certainly not least of all the reasons Birthing From Within is awesome…), is their approach to pain coping. They recognize that ‘pain’ (ie. the nervous system response to the physical work of labor) is a normal part of many labors & births- some experience lots of pain, some very little, some perceive the sensations as intensity or even pleasurable. Feeling pain or discomfort or other ‘negative’ sensations of birth isn’t seen as lack or failure in the person, or of the classes.

What isn’t welcome, in any birth environment, is suffering: pain that is unendurable, that can not be coped with, that overwhelms the laboring person and the birth process.

To prepare for labor, we build a pain-coping mindset. Using practices that build on each other, families are helped to develop an unconscious, reflexive response to the pain of labor. Because the ‘thinking’ part of their brain will be disengaged in labor, birthing people need practices that can be accessed without thought and planning; and these pain coping practices can be used not only for the sensations of contractions and cervical dilation, but for the emotional intensity, physical fatigue and uncertainty that can happen in labor. When you have these coping tools, and partners who are also practiced in these tools, then the risk of suffering in labor is diminished.

Through these three things; Not focusing on the outcome, recognizing birth as more than ‘just’ physiology, and building a pain coping mindset; Birthing From Within prepares parents in a holistic way for birth and parenting.

Mind you, I do think that, if you can’t/don’t wish to take a Birthing From Within class, then almost any childbirth preparation is better than none at all…but that’s a different blog entry.

Hire a Doula

A doula is, briefly, a trained childbirth support person. Not a nurse, or a midwife, or anyone who would be doing the clinical, medical work, but someone whose job and focus is the physical, emotional and informational support of the parents.

It has been shown in numerous studies that continuous support in labor by a trained professional helps birth outcomes. But more than that, a doula provides an anchoring, steady presence for mom and partner through the whole experience. She (mostly she, there are some male doulas) is there to help with pain coping, position changes, comfort measures, and more.

Having a doula frees support people to participate in the birth as an emerging parent or caregiver, wholly physically & emotionally present at their own comfort level, rather than trying to be the know-it-all ‘coach’ that remembers everything from class, and everything they both read, and everything they wrote down. It helps prevent neglecting self-care (like food and bathroom breaks!) because they don’t want to leave their loved one alone.

When someone is laboring in a hospital, there will be many times when the nursing staff is away – caring for other patients, doing needed paperwork, having a needed break, or preparing for a shift change. Parents may find themselves facing a change of labor, or a need, without someone there to help. A doula helps fill in the ‘gaps’ in modern L&D care.

And when an intervention or procedure is recommended, parents can turn to the doula for information and knowledge, so that they can make a truly informed decision.

Even in midwife-attended births, doulas can be a valuable asset. There will be times when the midwives need to be focused on the medical aspects of birth, and a doula can remained focus on supporting the person giving birth.

Doula care can be expensive, and insurance companies have been slow to provide coverage for them; however many areas have doulas with sliding scale fees, or doula programs for low income families. It is well worth the investment.