Easing the Pain of Early Labour- Straight from the Mouths of the Experienced!

When asked the question, what worked for you? Several homebirth mums shared their experience. Regardless of where you actually give birth, the majority of women spend early labour in their homes, so these top tips from mums in the know may be helpful to consider….

Distraction- Whether it’s Desperate Housewives or Solitaire, find something engaging in early labour to take your mind off the pain. The more you concentrate on the discomfort the worse it will seem, so find the (restful) distraction that works for you and go wild!

Massage- This ancient cure for all sorts of ailments works for pain too, so rope in your birth partner get them to try a few gentle back massage techniques and be directive about the one that does the business. Light finger tapping taught in natal hypnotherapy was described by one of the mums as a real winner.

Warmth- Whether it’s a warm bath, a hot water bottle, a wheat bag or a snuggle under the duvet, heat can be really effective in easing early labour pains.

EFT -Emotional Freedom Technique is a practice based on the meridian points of traditional Chinese medicine. EFT combines gentle tapping with important affirmations related to the upcoming birth. Women can use these techniques at home throughout their pregnancy. It provides a quick and easy way to reduce fear and, most importantly, to build a woman’s confidence in her body’s ability to give birth.

Natal Hypnotherapy- Hypnotherapy is based on easy relaxation and visualisation techniques that enable women to harness the incredible power of their subconscious to bring their baby into the world. Using hypnosis for childbirth, women exert a remarkable degree of control over their minds and bodies, allowing for reduced pain, fear, and anxiety during labour.

Breathing- Yes, this simple subconscious activity can, when focused on help relieve the pain of contractions. Even though many are tempted to hold their breath when in pain, it is undeniably important to breathe deeply allowing the maximum amount of oxygen to enter the body. Breathe in through your nose and out through the mouth in a rhythm that you feel comfortable with.

I Love Home Births Because......

1) Giving birth is one of the most natural human experiences a woman will ever encounter, and the perception that 'hospitals are for sick people' can create a feeling of unease which can in turn slow down labour.

Source: Babywatching Desmond Morris (paraphrased)

2) '...as soon as you go through the hospital door the chances of having forceps are much higher and you are less mobile, which increases stress.'

Source: Dr Caroline Gatrell, leading Sociologist at Lancaster University

3) Preliminary research carried out by the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence shows that women who give birth at home may be more satisfied with the experience than those who give birth in the delivery room.

Source: The Independent on Sunday 14th May 2006

4) Look at nature. Animals and primitive humans look for a quiet, familiar place to give birth, a place where they feel safe and away from any possible danger.

Source: Babywatching Desmond Morris (paraphrased)

5) Homebirth is on the rise in the UK, a move which is welcomed by members of the National Childbirth Trust.

'At long last the whole movement into hospitals in the 1970s and belief that homebirths were unsafe, which was based on incorrect statistics, looks as if it may end.... It has taken decades for this issue to be taken seriously, even though the evidence has built over the decades that having birth at home is as safe or safer than in hospital.'

Source: Belinda Phipps, Chief Executive of the National Childbirth Trust

6) Increased publicity of infection in hospitals and threatened maternity unit closures, means that many more couples are considering homebirth as an alternative to a hospital birth.

7) Increasing staff shortages means that one midwife can be shared between several women during a hospital birth. With a homebirth you have a dedicated midwife throughout established labour and birth, plus another midwife that joins during the final stages as backup.

8) A homebirth gives you a sense of control. You invite midwives into your home and there is an immediate sense that they will respect your wishes and choices during your labour and birth. Sheila Kitzinger, a leading childbirth guru author and campaigner said that women are often processed as if on 'a conveyor belt in a factory' while in hospital. 'The fear that women have of childbirth is more the dread of other people over-powering them and taking control rather than actual birth.'

9) Research by Midirs found that women who have had both a hospital and a home birth say they much prefer a homebirth.

10) If located within a reasonable distance, you can change your mind at any time during your labour and be transferred into hospital, giving you ultimate control of your birth.

Jasmine's Birth Story- Baby No 1!

It began on the way out for a curry one Saturday evening. Firmly believing in all the methods of encouraging the baby out from its cosy bubble I had been working through the various steps over the day and by 5.30pm I was at the hot curry stage.

It was my due date, but this was not the only reason I felt ready. Two days before my wonderful midwife Becky had informed me that if my baby was born over the weekend, she would be on call. This meant a huge amount to me as not only had we built up a trusting relationship over the months of my pregnancy; I knew that her chirpy personality and positive nature would have a huge part to play in my state of mind during the birth.

As a first time mum, I had the usual fears of the unexpected but knew that these fears would be greatly reduced in the comfort of a familiar environment. I had learned through my antenatal yoga class that regardless of whether you choose homebirth or a hospital birth it was best to stay at home during the first stage of labour and the idea of milling around eating chocolate and taking a lavender bath for the early labour pains appealed to me greatly.

In reality it didn't quite work out like that. As we were leaving the house, I felt a short, sharp cramp and a flush taking place down below. It certainly wasn't the waterworks I was expecting, but I rushed to the loo and out dropped the mucus plug, like a small gungy five pence piece.

Relieved that it was starting but still at the early stages, I informed my partner Nick and sister Serena of what had just happened and insisted that we still continue with our plan for curry. You can't deprive a pregnant woman of her food after all!

Five minutes later, we arrived in the supermarket which was heaving with early evening shoppers. As we passed through the automatic doors my first contraction stopped me in my tracks and I remembered Becky's comment that when you have your first contraction you know. There was no longer any confusion in my mind between this and the late term twinges I had been receiving over the past few days.

Suddenly the desire for curry was replaced by an immediate urge to seek the quiet tranquillity of my home. Nick immediately drove me back, leaving Serena to shop.

Back at home I realised the contractions were coming every two minutes and lasting for up to 30 seconds which was much quicker than I had expected at this stage. I phoned Becky immediately and she was round in what seemed like minutes, full of smiles that mirrored my excited anticipation.

Serena returned and Nick began preparing their meal. Becky sat with me in the adjoining lounge and observed me quietly as I chatted excitedly to my parents on the phone. Even during the short conversation, my contractions had strengthened and I found I needed to stop talking and breathe during these 30 second periods.

As I came off the phone, Becky said that although on arrival she thought I was in early labour, it turned out to be progressing quickly and she would be staying on to monitor me. Totally oblivious to this conversation, Nick emerged from the kitchen offering me an onion bhaji! Becky jokingly refused on my behalf and I smiled on, unable to speak as another contraction descended.

About 20 minutes later, while it was just myself and Serena, I confided in her that I was getting concerned as the contractions were much stronger than I expected so early on and if they were going to continue for another 18 hours, I would not be able to bear the pain.

She gently reassured me that I would be fine and that once Becky had completed her examination we would have a much clearer idea of how long the labour would last. In the meantime she told me to visualise each contraction as a wave and continue breathing and swaying my hips in a figure of eight. As a paramedic, who had never been called to a homebirth but had done some training shifts in a maternity ward, I trusted her advice greatly and it was a massive support to have her there with me.

As anticipated, within 30 minutes Becky asked if she could complete an examination to see how far my cervix was dilated and we decided to go to the bedroom. A few moments into the examination she excitedly proclaimed 'Wow Charmaine you are doing so well - you're 6 cm dilated!!!!' As I had only been in established labour about two hours, this was excellent progress. Nick and Serena later told me as they sat downstairs that they had almost thought the baby was born due to our happy squawking! It actually took another five hours until my beautiful Jasmine emerged.

After choosing my bedroom as the place where she would be born, Nick immediately started to lay out the plastic sheeting and towels, pushing back the bed to allow more room. Serena lit some candles and placed lavender oil into a burner and as my favourite album 'Café Del Mar' began to play in the background, I felt hugely at ease. At this stage I had started to take the entonox which was doing a wonderful job of making me feel relaxed, slightly elated but totally in control. I felt as if I was floating and allowed my mind to journey with my breathing and the music. It was quite an extraordinary experience and one I will never forget.

Nick gently massaged my lower back which provided huge relief for me during the contractions. Serena kept popping into the room with various offerings of fresh fruit, energy drinks, water and other small snacks to keep my energy levels up. Becky sat by the entrance to the room, taking notes and offering words of encouragement. I was well and truly looked after and although I felt unable to communicate with them most of the time, I could feel their immense support.

When the second midwife arrived an hour before I was due to give birth I immediately felt the dynamics change, but this was only momentary. She was extremely sensitive to the situation and actually sat behind Becky in the corridor leading to our room, still able to see me clearly, but not imposing her presence in any way.

As my mind floated, I remember hearing Becky's voice saying, 'She's going to breathe this baby out.' Nick chimed in, 'She's totally away with the fairies isn't she?'

I immediately felt myself click back into the present. As this happened, the urge to push fully kicked in and I suddenly felt I needed to change position.

Moving around onto my hands and knees, everyone seemed to re-arrange themselves around me ensuring the floor was protected. As I begun to push, a huge flush of water rushed out and I felt a significant reduction in the pressure. Finally my waters had broken. What seemed like moments later but was probably more like half an hour, Becky announced she could see the head and I pushed furiously, completely determined to get the baby out as quickly as possible.

As I heard the first cries I saw my new baby being passed up through my legs looking like she wanted to know what the hell was going on. I later found I looked back at her with the expression that asked 'Where an earth did you come from?' Within seconds our uncertainty had diminished and we snuggled together, perfectly at ease with our new found status.

Jabs, afterbirth and stitches followed but none of it mattered as I had a perfectly healthy, beautiful baby girl in my arms. Serena ran me a lovely bath and the three of us chatted as I took a long soak in the candlelight, Nick embracing our tiny new bundle. Afterwards as Jasmine slept between us, I lay watching her and reliving the events of that evening in my mind, not being able to think of a more perfect scenario for her entrance into this world.

Top 10 Tips when Considering a Home Birth

It’s so important to make an informed decision when planning where you are going to give birth. There are so many uncontrollable factors in pregnancy and birth (i.e. when the baby is going to arrive, what sex it’s going to be!) that there is a real source of comfort in choosing and planning the place where you want this special experience to take place.

1) RESEARCH There is a wealth of information surrounding homebirth and one of the best resources available is http://www.homebirth.org.uk/ which is regularly updated and reviewed. The issue of homebirth has continued to be a hot topic over the years and there are many ‘opinions’ floating around but also well founded research on this subject. Delve into the information that is available and make your own mind up on whether this is an option you would like to pursue.

2) SEEK PROFESSIONAL ADVICE Everyone’s pregnancy is different and home birth is not advisable for everyone, even if it is your preferred option. Bearing this in mind, a midwife or doctor cannot actually decide whether you can, or cannot, have a homebirth. Their role is to advise, the decision itself lies with you.

3) GAIN SUPPORT FROM YOUR BIRTH PARTNER Although it is fundamentally your choice, it is so important for your birth partner to be completely on board with your decision. They will play a vital role in the birthing process (who else is going to make the tea?!) and will be a support throughout. Share with them the research you have done but also the emotional reasons surrounding your decision.

4) FIND A LOCAL SUPPORT NETWORK The National Childbirth Trust (NCT) has a number of homebirth support groups operating throughout the UK. This is an invaluable resource and gives you the chance to meet other mums who have had a homebirth or are planning to have one. See http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=ds95d3n_3cbrvzr72 for information on support groups in your area.

5) EXPLORE A WIDER ONLINE SUPPORT NETWORK http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/homebirthUK/ offers a great online discussion forum that allows women who are interested in homebirth to share information. Social networking sites such as Facebook are also worth checking out as there are a number of homebirth groups such as 'Homebirth UK' and 'Homebirth' where stories are shared and issues are discussed that are relevant and useful.

6) SORT OUT THE PRACTICALITIES This is where companies like mine come in and although we can provide you with a box of all you need for your homebirth http://www.homebirthkits.com/ you may find you already have much of what is need under your own roof! Check out http://www.homebirthkits.com/notesformum/ for some ideas on what is needed for a homebirth. Also look at the homebirth equipment list on http://www.homebirth.org.uk/ for some midwives suggestions on practical preparations.

7) CONSIDER THE ‘WHAT IF’S?’ Preparing for the unknown is always sensible, so having a hospital bag packed is definitely worth doing. If you are the type of person who likes to have all bases covered you will benefit from reading up on the occasions where hospital transfer is recommended. There is an excellent article on http://www.homebirth.org.uk/ that explores the ‘what if’s?’ objectively supported by a wealth of birth stories that will hopefully inspire and reassure.

8) BRIEF YOUR BIRTH PARTNER As you will be somewhat distracted during labour it’s important that your birth partner knows exactly what your wishes are and how you’d like things to be done. If you’ve planned to have a room set up with candles, aromatherapy and cushions for example, they need to know in advance so it can all fall into place on the big day. It is also important for them to be fully aware of other items on your birth plan such as pain relief needs and the ‘what if?’ scenarios, just in case they need to take a more active role in communicating your wishes during labour.

9) RELAX When you’ve made the decision to give birth at home, be at peace with it and feel safe in the knowledge you can change your mind at any time. Once the preparations have been taken care of and your birth partner knows what they are doing there is little more you can do, other than wait for little one to get things moving.

10) ENJOY(!) Sounds unrealistic to some, but homebirth is an incredible experience. Many people who successfully give birth at home become complete advocates for this exact reason and would never chose another place they’d rather be.

For me, there was a distinct sense of nature taking its course in a calm, peaceful environment where I was totally at ease and in control of my surroundings. My ‘best bits’ the birth were cuddling my new baby in bed whilst everyone cleared up, then soaking in a candlelit bath as my birth partner cradled our newborn- complete bliss and I wouldn’t change it for the world.