One of the most common questions I would get asked as a midwife was, “Does it put you off having a baby?”. I had a fairly rehearsed response, due perhaps to constant repetition – an upbeat, “Labour and birth are short – lived, parenting appears much longer and more intense. Also, with the cost of living, they don’t move out until 30!”. Perhaps this was to mask that we had been trying to conceive for a while or I just didn’t feel like delving into what I really thought, labour shouldn’t be feared, rather embrace.
“Labour and birth are short – lived, parenting appears much longer and more intense”
As an observer to this phenomenal human experience, it did not deter me from wanting to go through it. I had come to realise in my role as a midwife that women can do incredible things and the human body is capable of being pushed (quite literally), to the limit. Yes, I always thought it was going to be a physical challenge, but I also took on board that there is a strong mind-body connection. Regardless of mode of delivery, birth demands every part of a woman, physical strength, mental strength and emotional strength. I have observed that preparation for this most thrilling and empowering day of welcoming a new life into the world, starts before conception.
I then became a midwife who was pregnant. The question became, “Are you worried about going through it?”. The answer to this was always, “I don’t fear labour and birth and I am more concerned about 4-month sleep regression.” This was my mantra – ‘I don’t fear labour and birth’ (I am yet to experience Lily’s first sleep regression). For me, labour and birth always presented itself as an exciting challenge. Finally! I got to experience something I talked about every day, was a part of every week and had supported women doing for years.
as a midwife
1. Women and their partners who have done antenatal classes have a better understanding of what to expect and are better equipped to manage labour and birth.
2. The shorter the birth plans (I prefer to use ‘birth preferences’), the less likely there is a variation from expectation. My favourite birth plan is always, ‘healthy mum and healthy bub’.
3. Women who maintain a good level of fitness and health, both mental and physical, tend to cope better in pregnancy, labour, birth and their postnatal recovery– regardless of mode of delivery.
4. Good preparation throughout pregnancy in all aspects of life is important because the birth of a baby changes identity, can strain finances/ relationships and creates new roles as parents.
5. Over Complicating the process mentally can be a road block to allowing normal physiological labour and birth. In preparation for labour and birth I was also doing everything I would recommend to women, antenatal classes, regular chiropractor and acupuncture appointments, three cups of raspberry leaf tea a day from 34 weeks, having a bath while diffusing essential oils, hand expressing, Epi-NO’d my vag and did regular meditations and birth visualisation.
For me, I found that this combination was useful in supporting what my body was already preparing to go through and I believed was already capable of with or without these preparation ‘tools’. My pregnancy fitness journey was also a significant factor in preparing for labour and birth. I incorporated swimming, walking, yoga, resistance training and of course, the moofitmoofit pregnancy program. I strongly believe if I did not keep a good level of fitness during pregnancy, I may not have birthed my beautiful Lily Eloise, 4350 grams and 56cm long, vaginally or recovered the way I have been able to postnatally.
as a new mumma
1. Pelvic floor is important. I always knew this, but it became more apparent after my own birth. Pelvic floor, pelvic floor, pelvic floor. Oh, did I mention pelvic floor? Pelvic floor muscles and sphincters can’t be replaced! They can only be strengthened with daily exercises that can start in the early postpartum days and then maintained a few times a week. I have known of enough women who experience prolapse or incontinence (which makes my pelvic floor involuntarily squeeze just thinking about it), that this was a priority. Following up with a women’s health physiotherapist to look at abdominal separation and pelvic floor has also been really helpful. Considering my birth injury, I have had no incontinence or prolapse issues and just need to work on strengthening, which I attribute to good foundational fitness and recovery fitness. Learning to do postnatal exercises properly has been so valuable, especially connection breathing with my pelvic floor – Thanks Jess!
2. Keeping the bowels working and not straining my butt! Whether it is prunes, movicol, increasing dietary fibre, increasing water, preventing being constipated that can undo pelvic floor strengthening is important.
3. Recovering slowly – I found it challenging to go from swimming until 40 weeks to needing to slow down postnatally. I did however do daily pelvic floor and integrated moofitmoofit exercises into my early weeks along with gentle walks. Stretching has also been very important, especially with breastfeeding and sore muscles! Once I saw a women’s health physiotherapist and got the all clear at 6 weeks, I was able to increase my exercise and also jump back into the pool.
4. It’s the simple things that help support recovery – resting as much as possible, eating well and drinking lots of water, especially if breastfeeding. I keep reminding myself that my new “job” was to love and support Lily to grow and also do everything to help my recovery. Looking after myself physically, emotionally and mentally, helps me to better look after her.
5. Being kind to myself – setting realistic expectations and goals on recovery is important. Fitting into my size 8 jeans is not the goal, but rather functional health and fitness is what I am working towards.
Although my birth experience was not completely straight forward, I look back thankful for birthing a healthy baby and it actually being an incredibly empowering experience.