Helping Labour to Happen…

If you want to know how to do something, watch and learn from those who’ve done it already. With this in mind, view the mothers and stories on this site and in our book How to Have a Baby as a resource. Read about the ways they prepared and how they helped themselves. And then do the same. It sounds simple, but it’s a very practical way to enable yourself to have a positive birth too. 

Trusting our bodies

For labour to go well, one thing is key – being able to delegate the job to your body. But letting our bodies lead isn’t easy. Not when we’ve spent our lives to the point of pregnancy head-focused – when doing has always taken priority over being. How on earth do we take our hands of the wheel?

It takes time – and a bit of preparation. A regular active birth class or relaxation practice will be an opportunity to switch your focus from what you’re thinking to what you’re feeling and will help to get body and mind in synch. The simple act of stopping and breathing, feeling what it feels like to be pregnant for a couple of hours a week results in a kind of re-sensitising. It dawns that just as your body has grown a baby without conscious effort, there’s an involuntary plan for labour too. Find out more ways to prepare in our book, How to Have a Baby and if you’re sent a buddy to email, ask what she did to get ready. 

The Shy Hormone

Central to your body’s plan is a hormone called oxytocin. Oxytocin is the petrol in the engine, labour’s driver and without it contractions can’t happen. In an unfamiliar environment, where we feel the need to be alert and in charge of ourselves, the hormone adrenaline takes over, making it much harder for oxytocin to flow. When oxytocin isn’t releasing optimally, contractions are less powerful and can even stall. 

When we’re disturbed like this, labour can feel less manageable too. Slow progress and low morale are where medical interventions begin. Women often feel their bodies were to blame – or that they themselves weren’t able to cope. But usually it was because hormone flow was being stemmed, and this results in labour being underpowered, and as a consequence, difficult and drawn-out.  So it’s crucial that oxytocin flows undisturbed. It really is the key to helping labour to happen. 

How can you encourage it?

The pre-condition for good oxytocin flow is  that ‘thinking’ can  switch off, and privacy, safety and not feeling observed will help with that. By providing a warm, soft, cosy environment, a woman in labour feels safe enough to relax and let go.  What’s going on around her needs to be calm and low key – totally unobtrusive. So when thinking about your birth, consider if the following will be provided for: 

- plenty of quiet, no questions, lowered voices
- dim lights, or darkness
- being warm and cosy 
- your own familiar things (eg pillows, blanket, eyemask) 
- care and support that helps you to feel confident and secure
- support that feels soothing and enabling
- privacy when you want it, contact when you don’t
- avoid internal exams or at least dilation scores which can ‘wake’ you up and create unnecessary expectation/pressure
- freedom to move
- continuous supply of  comforts 

Lots of people make the mistake of setting up an ‘ideal’ birth environment  before they are actually in labour. This would be like trying to sleep when you weren’t tired.  So don’t force your body. Follow it. Listen to what you feel like doing.

Understanding labour

Understanding what to expect in labour is the key to a straightforward birth. Classes and books often say that when you’re having three contractions in any ten minute period, to go into hospital. But timing isn’t a reliable benchmark. Instead go by how you feel. Are the sensations intense, repetitive and staying that way? Is what you’re feeling demanding your total focus?  In labour, most women feel the need to sigh and moan and feel pressure and weight building in their pelvis, hips and bottom.
These are clear signs of labour because that growing pressure is very likely to be your baby moving down and through.  If it’s still early days, but you’re feeling unsure, try to forget about where you’re at or how it’s going, and instead find ways to feel safe and comfortable. Call your doula, or a friend with experience, or speak to a midwife and get some reassurance. Even a little bit of support can help you to be patient and pace yourself.