Ask the Expert: Preparing for Birth
Preparing for the birth of your baby is exciting but can also be daunting. And if you’re a first-time parent, it can be quite overwhelming. From birth plans to types of birth, to pain relief and what…
When should parents start preparing for birth?
Around the four to a five-month mark of your pregnancy is a really good time to start thinking about birth and begin making plans. However, if you do leave it until later, you can still get a lot done. Doing this early on means that you will have someone there at the end of the phone to talk with if you have any questions about your appointments or the various stages leading up to the birth. However, some parents do leave it until the last minute, perhaps because they had a traumatic birth previously and anxiety is building the closer it gets to the birth, and this is also ok.
What is a birth plan?
It is normally something that is discussed with women when they go to their appointments with the midwife. As a doula, we would be looking at that in more detail and discussing things like types of pain relief, who you want to be present at the birth, if and when you want to transfer into a hospital, when and who will cut the cord, whether you want vitamin k or not and how you want the ‘golden hour’ to unfold – which is the first hour of a baby’s life. It helps parents feel more in control. It is also something that the partner can take on during the actual birth and advocate for. It means there is always a point of reference, even if things go a little off-plan at points, and parents’ wishes can always be known and taken into consideration.
What are the different types of birth?
It is always up to the parents to choose the type of birth that would suit them best.
One option is home birth. There are many networks out there, like the Positive Birth Movement, who can support parents around that. If you decide to give birth at home, you’ll still have a midwife there to support you while you’re in labour. If, for whatever reason, you need help or your labour is not progressing as it should, your midwife will arrange for you to be transferred into hospital.
Another option is to have a hospital birth. If you decide to give birth in a hospital, you’ll be cared for by predominantly midwives, but doctors are available if needed. You can still make a lot of the decisions around the kind of birth you want and bring things with you to make it feel more homely.
Within a hospital birth, there is also scope for a c-section. This is an operation to deliver your baby through a cut made in your tummy and womb. Some women elect for a c-section for non-medical reasons. For others, it can be unplanned. There are various reasons for this such as the baby being in the breech position or the mother having high blood pressure (pre-eclampsia).
Some midwife-led units are less medicalised and are more comfortable and homely than a maternity unit in a hospital.
It is really about working out what you think would be best for you and doing some reading and research to decide. Parents should always take into consideration any medical or health needs too, so speak to your midwife and the hospital team who are taking care of you to talk through your options.
How can mums prepare physically and mentally for birth?
If you are someone who exercised a lot before your pregnancy then it is fine to continue, as long as you have discussed this with your medical team. However, it is not advised that you take on a new demanding and intense exercise regime if this is not something that you did previously. Swimming and yoga are really good as they can help you stay relaxed and you can also try out different positions for birth. At the end of pregnancy, lots of walking is recommended and sitting straight and upright so the baby can drop down into position.
When it comes to preparing mentally, having the support of a doula can help as you then have someone who can talk through all of your options with you and be an advocate for you. They can also make sure parents have got all the knowledge they need. Putting together a birth plan can also really help parents have a clear idea of what they want your birth to be like.
What are the essential things to get for the baby?
The most important thing for a baby is to have its parents and to bond with them. We sometimes worry too much about the kit and having the latest things when it isn’t always necessary. Having a safe space for the baby to sleep, whether it’s a Moses basket or a crib, finding the best nannies is important. Always get a firm and brand new mattress – other things can be second hand but the mattress must be new. Moses baskets are useful — especially in the early weeks and months — as you can put them on the sofa or and move them around easily. Swaddling can also be lovely as it gives babies a sense of security and can help settle and soothe a baby to sleep, just make sure you follow the safety guidelines around it. Also just make sure you have plenty of muslins and baby grows. If you’re wanting to bottle feed, you need to think about bottles and sterilising equipment. For additional help needed for looking after your baby, you need nannies in the UK from the top nanny and childcare agency.
What are the signs to look out for that show you are going into labour?
Every woman is different, so the road to birth is always different. You might start to feel some twinges, often described as period pain. Sometimes your waters break, although this isn’t very common. Although in films birth is often incredibly dramatic with lots of screaming and shouting, that’s very much not like most women’s experience. It is normally much slower and more gradual. It can go on for a day or two. You might have some pains that then subside, then wake up the next morning and have them come back. The best thing to do is to stay at home for as long as possible and keep hydrated. If you fancy it, have something to eat. If it’s the middle of the night, try to get back to sleep to preserve your energy levels for later on. The pains will become stronger and closer together and not just dip away like in the early stages. At this point call on your midwife and get their guidance and advice on when you should be going into hospital (if that is what you choose to do).
What should parents bring to the hospital?
What is important in birth is that you feel safe and secure, as our bodies work much better when we are in this state. Therefore, it is really important to take with you things that will make you feel relaxed. It is nice to bring things that feel personal to you. It could be lots of blankets and extra pillows so that you get comfortable. Some people take fairy lights and oils to burn. Others take pictures and photos to put on the wall of family and friends to create a nice space and atmosphere. Music is also a great way to get into the birthing zone. And of course, you need snacks and food for you and your birthing partner. When it comes to clothing, lots of women like to wear big baggy t-shirts or nighties to be comfortable. Then also pack some clothes to change into afterwards and some clothes for you little one, like vests and babygrows. When it comes to taking your baby home you will also need a car seat.
What is the best thing a partner can do to support mums giving birth?
Partners are so important when it comes to supporting through pregnancy. They should be involved in all the decisions that need to be made and go to as many appointments possible. If parents do have a doula, they are there to answer the questions that partners have as well as mums. There are lots of breathing techniques and massages that partners can do to help with surges and contractions during birth. They can make sure the birthing space is kept the way the mum wants it to be. This could mean keeping the lights down low and making sure everything is set out nicely. They can also be the advocate for the mum during birth and make sure the birth plan is being implemented and wishes respected. This is important because when women are birthing they need to get into the mammalian brain, and every time she is asked questions or lights come on the birth can be stalled. Partners can be important when it comes to protecting that space and taking on those questions so the mum can focus on giving birth.
Why is skin to skin important?
Skin to skin immediately after birth is great for the baby as it helps to regulate their heartbeat and temperature. The skin to skin can be with the mum or the birthing partner and is a lovely way to bond, especially in the first minutes of birth.
What is the best way for a mum to emotionally and physically recover after birth?
It is great to have a plan in place for those postnatal weeks, just like for birth. All the baby needs in those first weeks and months is for the parents to be there and to bond with them. Mums should make sure that they are eating well and try to rest as much as possible. They don’t need to be rushing around and doing all the housework, which is where a nanny housekeeper may come in handy. Partners can make sure there is lots of nutritious food around for the mum to graze on throughout the day. Reaching out online or by phone to support systems can be a great reassurance. Rest – for both mum and baby – is key.
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