By Jacky Bloemraad-de Boer
This never-ending discussion in our birth world about home birth versus
hospital birth sometimes misses the point entirely. In shifting the
emphasis from where to birth, to informing and preparing women and
their partners about how the mechanisms of labour work, often
enables then to make a more informed choice as to where would be
the best place for them to labour.
To start with it is essential for couples to understand that giving birth
should happen in a similar situation to that of making love – the
common factor here being privacy. In the same way a couple will seek
out a warm, private place to make love, a labouring woman will most
effectively maintain the flow of hormones needed to encourage
contractions in her body if she is in a place where she feels safe and
secluded. Unfortunately couples are not sufficiently informed to
understand that this ‘safe-haven’ does not necessarily mean a hospital,
where staff are often unable to give the time and attention a labouring
couple needs. This lack of time often leads to managed labours and
interventions to ensure a quick turn over of patients. Resulting in
unhappy women who are denied the most empowering and lifechanging
event of their lives.
It is essential to raise awareness and encourage the feeling of
confidence in parents about the capabilities of women’s bodies and
their own inbuilt knowledge about labour and birth. By simply informing
them about how labour actually works they will automatically choose
what is right for them.
Understanding the hormones of childbirth is a simple and helpful tool
for parents. Especially when they hear about the ‘love hormone’,
oxytocin and how they can best encourage its production.
It is important to explain that the cervix, the mouth of the uterus, which
needs to open up during labour in order for the baby to be born, is a
sphincter, like the rectum; its action is to soften and open up so as to
allow its contents to pass out of the body. Interestingly, sphincters are
involuntary muscles, which inherently function poorly within an
environment of fear or force. She should understand that in the same
way that it would be difficult for her to spontaneously have a bowel
movement in an unsafe situation while being observed and judged she
will find it difficult to give birth surrounded by these same unfavourable
Another import reminder for parents-to-be is that a labouring woman is
vulnerable and highly impressionable during labour, so the attitudes
and expectations (both positive and negative) of the people present
in the birthing room can have a significant influence on labour. In fact
the less people the labouring woman encounters the better. In
hospitals couples will often be subjected to any number of staff
especially if they happen to be there for a while, they will most likely
experience a shift change with a whole set of new, foreign faces.
Lastly the issue of the relentless fear of pain.
Explaining that labour pain is different from any other pain; it is
purposeful pain because it warns the woman and her surroundings that
a baby is going to be born. The pain is an intermittent pain lasting up to
only one to one and a half minutes and helps ‘switch off’ the thinking
(large) brain and stimulates the animal (small) brain needed for labour.
If she understands that the pain ensures that her body makes
endorphins and encourages her to take on various positions to find
more comfort for herself and thereby aiding the baby’s passage
though the pelvis she may well observe it differently.
To conclude, if couples understand that by setting up a birth space
that embraces privacy, surrounding ones self with likeminded people,
feeling confident and having a united, positive attitude to pain, labour
is more likely to progress efficiently. Additionally couples experiencing
sustained support with respect from all the birth professionals present
will improve their chances of a positive and empowering birth