Labour is an incredibly powerful process and event! It is a challenge not only of one's body, but mind as well. It is the process of a baby being born into the world and a woman being born into motherhood! Birth is the journey of a woman deeply discovering her inner most strength while learning the art of surrendering to her very self.
Below, are 12 beautiful and useful labour rules that are designed to guide a mother through her labour with confidence and ease. "The 12 Rules For Labour" are vital for the progression of labour, the comfort of the mother and the safety of the baby in utero.
Labour Rule #1 - Just Breathe
Breathing is absolutely everything during labour and it can be rather underestimated. In fact, breathing during the birth process is powerful and it makes an extraordinary difference; breathing matters.
You may be familiar with the term "Breathe baby down" and in fact, this term holds a lot of truth behind it. Breathing maintains focus and creates a state of calm within the mother. In a calmer, more relaxed state, the muscles soften (specifically in the birth canal) allowing a baby to gently ease itself down and eventually out, exerting less pressure and energy on the mother during the pushing stage.
Breathing also helps to send oxygen to the muscles, optimizing their performance. The muscle doing the most work that could really benefit from some oxygen is the uterus. The uterus exerts huge amounts of energy during contractions and it is oxygen that really helps to give the uterus that extra kick it needs for effective, strong, continuous contractions.
A mother who fights against labour often tends to hold her breathe, this deprives her of oxygen, and this deprivation of oxygen can slow down or even stall labour.
I like to tell my mother's that "when you breathe, your baby breathes" but what does that mean? When a woman deprives her own body of oxygen, she also deprives her baby. When the foetus doesn't receive enough oxygen in utero, it starts to go into distress and it's heart rate slows; this is why a doctor will immediately give the mother oxygen to breathe during foetal resuscitation.
Lastly, breathing is INCREDIBLE for managing pain and keeping a mother calm and focused. When a mother breathes with focus and purpose, it breaks her tension-pain-fear cycle. Tension increases pain, and the increase of pain creates greater fear, and the increase of fear that a mother feels causes more tension within her (and so the cycle continues). When this cycle is left to go out of control, the foetus gets distressed, the mother feels greater discomfort and her labour can become more complicated.
So remember, before all else... Just breathe!
Labour Rule 2 - Get Upright
Upright positions during labour are essential for labour progression. When a labouring woman gets into an upright position, it helps to utilize the force of gravity with her contractions to help the baby's descent. As the uterine contractions 'push' the baby and gravity 'pulls' the baby, it exerts greater pressure onto the cervix, assisting with better dilation and effacement. Once the cervix has dilated and effaced effectively, remaining in an upright position helps to move the baby out of the pelvis and into the birth canal with greater ease, allowing the mother to 'breathe baby down' through each contraction.
During the 'pushing' stage of labour, an upright position helps with the ability to push the baby out with less energy and force exerted on the mother. 'Gentle pushing' or 'breathing baby out' is better accomplished in an upright position, when the pelvis isn't restricted and gravity has become the mother's aid.
With less energy exerted on the mother, it allows her more opportunity to 'rest' and remain calm through the birthing process, saving a large amount of her energy for after the birth by not exhausting herself from 'doing all of the work' while pushing.
Lastly, being upright encourages an active birth. It is all too tempting for the woman to want to be lazy during labour when she is laying down, but this won't help with labour progression. An upright position keeps the mother motivated, encouraged and proactive throughout her labour.
So remember, for a more gentle and progressive birthing experience... Get upright!
Labour Rule #3 - Drink Water
Hydration is so important for sustaining a mother's energy and labour.
Labour is a time that demands a lot of energy from a woman, especially physically; muscles are working at their top performance, the mother is moving around, she's sweating, probably crying, maybe even vomiting and definitely breathing heavily. All of these factors can lead to dehydration and dehydration is a nightmare for both labour progression and the mother's general comfort.
Water helps to replenish what is lost during labour, mostly for the muscles. It refuels the muscles, restoring their energy and kick starting their ability to work at their optimal performance again. When the muscles are not able to function properly due to dehydration, it can slow down and even stall labour. Strong, effective, continuous contractions are vital for the positive and progressive outcome of labour, but dehydration leads to weakened muscles which results in weaker, less effective, irregular contractions.
A dehydrated woman is a weak woman and a woman who is weak is unable to get through the high demands of labour and birth which can greatly discourage and demotivate her, and a woman's healthy mental state during labour is just as important as a healthy physical state. A poor mental or physical state can hinder labour and interfere with it's progression.
Lastly, maintaining hydration helps with a mother's general comfort. Sips of water in between contractions, revives her from the exhaustive demands of each contraction, restores her strength, renews her energy, refreshes her body and mind, and helps to clean and soothe an uncomfortably dry mouth.
To maintain your levels of strength and comfort during the high demands of labour... Drink water!
Labour Rule #4 - Get Active
We all know the benefits of exercise while not pregnant, but did you know that exercise during pregnancy has benefits too, especially for labour? In fact, light and relaxing exercise during labour is vital to the birth process.
Exercise has so many beneficial factors in general like increasing blood flow and releasing endorphins. So how does this benefit labour?
By increasing blood flow, a woman increases her oxygen intake. The more her heart pumps, the more she needs to breathe and with this, the more oxygen she takes in. Breathing keeps a woman focused during contractions and the increase in oxygen assists the uterus with proper function, minimizes distress on the foetus, and calms a mother's anxiety and fear.
Endorphins, on the other hand, are truly magical! These natural chemicals are released by the brain and nervous system during times of stress, pain and over-exertion (sounds like labour right?) and they are responsible for activating the opiate receptors in the brain. What this does, is create a similar sensation to that of morphine; altering one's perception of time and place, blocking one's awareness of pain, creating a general sense of well being and stimulating oxytocin, PERFECT for labour; natures ideal pain killer!
One last benefit of an active labour is the utilization of gravity and the opening of the pelvis; this is perfectly achieved with walking, light squats and rolling/bouncing on an exercise ball. This helps with getting the baby's head pressing firm against the cervix (assisting with dilation and effacement) while opening the pelvis to help the baby's descent.
So, to maintain a healthy state of mind and a stable progress of labour... Get active!
Labour Rule #5 - Lean Forward
In an age where laying on your back is the normal position for birth, I would like to challenge you to break this mould and lean forward as leaning forward during labour accelerates labour progress phenomenally!
Leaning forward (in an upright position), takes the pressure off the sacrum and opens up the pelvic cavity by almost 25% more! This opening of the pelvis allows more space for the baby's head to descend into the birth canal with greater ease. Pushing a baby out in a forward leaning position is also less painful and much easier. It also promotes 'gentle pushing' which lowers the risk of tearing.
Backward leaning/laying on one's back places pressure on the sacrum which constricts the birth canal and causes the pelvic cavity to become a lot smaller, making labour more difficult, prolonged and more painful. It also makes the "pushing" stage of labour a lot more difficult and strenuous as the woman has to work against gravity by pushing the baby "up" the Curve of Carus instead of "down".
Laying on your back also places immense pressure on the major blood vessels that send oxygen to the baby, this deprives the foetus of oxygen in utero and leads to foetal distress during labour.
Backward leaning and "back-laying" labour is difficult, painful and exhausting for the mother and can bring distress to a foetus, leading to interventions being necessary or worse, a cesarean.
Another reason to lean forward is back labour. Back labour is a sensation of extreme discomfort and pain in a mother's lower back during labour (most common with posterior baby's and mother's with abnormally curved spines). Leaning forward, allows gravity to pull the weight of the uterus away from the back, allowing the back muscles to do less work during labour while the uterus compensates. This brings dramatic relief to the lower back and allows for more effective uterine contractions and a less tense mother (helping to break the "tension-pain-fear" cycle).
So, to protect your baby, open up your pelvis, create a less strenuous labour experience and increase your level of comfort... Lean forward!
Labour Rule #6 - Snack Lightly
Snacking on small, frequent, nutritious meals is so important during labour.
Labour is extremely strenuous on the body and can deplete a mother's energy rapidly, causing her to feel weak, demotivated, fatigued and uncomfortable. When a labouring woman's body becomes depleted of energy (namely glucose and carbohydrates), her liver will kick into her fat reserves as a source of energy; a result of 'starvation' on the body. When this happens, the liver releases ketones into the blood. High levels of ketones can alter the pH levels of the blood, cause dehydration, and in sever cases can lead to coma or death.
Another reason to snack lightly during labour is to maintain muscular strength. Labour is exhausting and the continuous pain can cause a labouring mother to feel weak. With longer labours, weakness and fatigue is more common (but of course, no one can predict the length of their labour). When a mother has run out of strength and energy, her muscles can't function effectively and the muscle doing the most work during labour is the uterus and you definitely want this functioning at 100% to give good, hard, continuous contractions to progress labour.
So, to prevent exhaustion, weakness and possible ketosis... Snack lightly!
Labour Rule #7 - Empty Bladder
During labour, you should be drinking enough water to stay hydrated, but with that comes one problem; a full bladder. There are 2 main problems with keeping a full bladder during labour; discomfort and hindering labour.
Pelvic discomfort is caused from a full bladder accompanied by the pain of contractions and a baby's head competing with the bladder for "who gets enough room and who needs it the most". When the baby's head begins to engage further and descend, it presses hard against the bladder, causing pain and discomfort (in severe cases, even mild trauma to the bladder) if the bladder is full.
Now, when the pain and discomfort of the bladder is presenting alongside painful contractions, this creates excess tension in the body and the result of tension is more pain and then fear, kick-starting the tension-pain-fear cycle, which can disrupt the progress of labour. Also, it's rather difficult to relax the pelvic floor muscles to allow the body to open and the baby to descend with ease when you're too busy tensing the pelvic floor to hold a full bladder.
So look at it this way... you're doing subconscious kegals to hold your urine when you're supposed to be doing the opposite in order for the pelvic floor to release your baby... Labour won't progress that way. Another amazing secret to emptying your bladder is the direct influence it has on the cervix; when the sphincter in the urethra is relaxed (to pass urine) it directly affects the cervix by causing the cervix to relax as well, which helps with faster and more effective cervical dilation.
Making a habit to empty the bladder every 30 minutes to 1 hour, will not only help with feeling a lot more comfortable but will also relax the pelvic floor muscles enough to get the baby moving down the birth canal quickly, gently and easily.
So, to prevent discomfort, possible bladder trauma, to help yourself relax and open, and get your baby down and out with ease, make sure you have an... Empty bladder!
Labour Rule #8 - Don't Rush
It's quite normal to feel uncomfortable, fed-up and desperate for labour to start during those last few weeks of pregnancy, and so often women will "try everything" just to get labour started. In some cases, labour has already started and then there's the desperation for it to progress within some made up mental time frame.
Women also often get frightened by doctors because "labour isn't coming quick enough" or "labour isn't progressing quick enough" and will start considering methods of intervention to either start or progress labour. This is all good and well if either mother or baby is in danger, but if not, we need to learn to put this 'clock' away that seems so normal to follow and let the body do what it does, how it does it, and in the time frame that is right for the body and the baby, not what is right for the preferences of the mother or the care provider.
41 weeks gestation is not a reason for induction of any kind, especially if the mother and child are doing well. 24 hours of labour is also not a reason for induction of any kind, neither is 5 days, especially if the baby shows no signs of distress. I would know, I laboured for 6 days without complication; give that a go!
The baby 'prepares' at it's own time and the body 'ripens' at it's own time, and when we begin to accept this and let the two work in harmony with each other, without interference (physical or emotional) we create a birthing process and experience that is unhindered and perfectly able.
Let's look at the emotional side of this now. A mother who is desperate for labour to start and is eagerly walking, bouncing on a birthing ball, doing squats, drinking all the fancy teas, trying all the essential oils, having a lot of sex, even relying on interventions such as 'stretch and sweeps' and even mild inductions, is interfering with the natural process of her body and could actually disrupt her labour. But how?
Think of it as natures instinct! When a woman focuses so hard on her labour and gets too eager or frustrated for it to start, she creates this subconscious anxiety within herself. This anxiety releases stress hormones and these hormones tell the body that she's not in a safe space to birth, and so her labour will delay. This is the body's way of protecting the baby from being born in 'unsafe' territory.
Now on the other hand, labour has started and is slow or hindered, and again, this mom will try everything in the book to try keep it going... the same 'natural instinct' rule applies here. This is why a woman can go from 7 c.m. dilated to only 2 c.m. in a matter of minutes (also known as 'cervical dilation reversal' which can be rectified when a mother feels calm, safe and relaxed)... This subconscious anxiety or 'feeling unsafe' actually has a direct effect on labour, it's even worse when a doctor is laying down time rules (that actually don't exist) to meet a made up time frame, and this often leads to complications and interventions.
The best thing to do is to learn to accept the body's time frame and revel in each moment instead. If labour starts, be glad, if it stops, that's okay too, relax. And if it hasn't started yet... then that's okay too, just relax and enjoy your last moments with your belly... I promise, no one has ever been pregnant for a year.
So, put away the 'clock' on gestation and labour, accept the timing of your body and your baby, focus on each moment instead and please... Don't rush!
Labour Rule #9 - Stay Focused
It is quite easy to lose focus during labour when you're dealing with exhaustion, pain and physical discomfort and quite often this can lead to disorientation, panic and a feeling of helplessness.
However, remaining focused during contractions is vital for effectively applying yourself through the process. A point of focus during contractions can be anything:
It can be a visual focus such as a visualization of waves rising and breaking as the contractions rise and break; or a flower slowly opening while imagining the cervix opening; thinking of your baby; focusing on a specific object in front of you, or paying attention to a specific detail. Focus could be vocal or auditory such as making a specific sound to accommodate the intensity of each contraction; following a rhythm of breathing, or drowning yourself out on an external sound around you. Focus can even be physical by using pressure/pain/pleasure techniques to focus your attention away from the pain, physically, or even focusing on the intensity and pain of the contraction itself.
It does not matter which specific form of focus you choose, it can even be a combination, what is important is that you do focus and remain focused.
Creating a sense of focus helps to centre oneself through the physical and mental demands of labour while helping to tap into the natural, instinctive language of the body to create a harmony of communication between one's body, behavior and instinct during the birth process. This communication helps to obtain an unspoken understanding of the birth process and it helps to instinctively figure out which position is most comfortable/ideal, how and when to breathe, and how and when to push.
Focus also helps with remaining calm. When focused, the mind remains in one spot, which creates a sense of stability, control and safety; and the body follows this example. Yes, the mind is powerful and with labour, the mind has a direct influence on almost everything. When the mind is stable, the emotions are stable and with this, the body is grounded; this creates a sense of calm and well being. When calm, tension is broken and with that, pain is reduced. This helps with pain management and finding a sense of trust and comfort through the process as well.
So, to stabilize your mind and emotions; centre yourself through the birth process; keep your body grounded; and get in touch with your body's hidden, instinctive language... Stay focused!
Labour Rule #10 - Accept Pain
Labour is no walk in the park and it comes with its own challenges, one of those being pain. Contractions are painful but the pain is also very important to the birth process as it plays a vital role; it's the positive feedback between the brain and the body.
Pain is the body's unspoken way of telling someone how the labour is progressing, this is a good thing. When a woman can focus on the level and intensity of the pain of each contraction, it can help bring a clear indication to her and her care providers of where she is at in her labour; early labour, active labour, transitional labour, or ready to push. With the ability to tap into this form of communication from the body, it can greatly minimize the amount of physical examinations on a labouring woman's body as a means of obtaining such information.
Constant and excessive physical examinations from care providers are invasive and are also physically uncomfortable to endure, sometimes even painful, not to mention the increased risk of infection it can bring to the baby and uterus. When a woman is feeling personally invaded and is experiencing extra discomfort, especially too often, it can strip away her ability to feel calm, safe, respected and relaxed. This is particularly worse for a woman who has some past experience of sexual abuse, or even for your very conservative types who hold their bodies as private and sacred.
Now, when a woman in labour is made to feel anxious, uncomfortable, unsafe or disrespected, she immediately creates tension, releases stress hormones in her body, and subconsciously fights against the birth process, ultimately leading to fear and an inability to focus and cooperate through her labour, all of which can disrupt or hinder the progress of her labour and make it more uncomfortable.
Then there is also the labouring woman accepting her own pain. Our brains have been wired in a special way to interpret pain as a cause for concern and something that needs to be avoided. Labour however, is the one area where this rule does not apply. Pain during labour is a sign of progress, not harm and it helps if a woman can understand this and rather interpret her pain as power instead.
When we feel pain our fight and flight responses are activated, but labour is not a pain that a woman can run away from, so instinctively, the 'fight' response becomes the brain's choice of a 'solution' to the 'problem'. But labour is not a problem, and the pain of labour is indicating the opposite of a problem.
When a woman fights against the pain, she immediately becomes fearful, tenses up her muscles and releases stress hormones, and this actually creates greater pain... and so the 'tension-pain-fear' cycle starts. This cycle slows, complicates and even worsens labour.
Surrendering to the pain is the only option of getting through it. When you accept the purpose of the pain and surrender to it as necessary and positive, you are better able to relax your body and focus and breathe through each contraction, allowing your body to slowly respond and open, progressing your labour faster while at the same time minimizing distress on the foetus. You simply must... Accept pain!
Labour Rule #11 - Be Noisy
The process of labour is accompanied by a rainbow of weird and wonderful sounds and it's no wonder; labour is hard, demanding, and at times overwhelming. The beauty of this though, is that labour sounds are actually physiological and come with a variety of huge benefits.
Some women are perfectly able to be rather verbally composed during labour, while other women sound like they're in the middle of an animalistic war, and both versions are completely normal.
Labour is one of the most physically intense moments in a woman's life, and just as a sportsman releases sounds during extreme physical demands, so does a woman in labour. In fact, the physiological factors involved in a noisy labour is the releasing of tension and endorphins.
During times of extreme physical exertion or pain, the body releases pain-managing hormones to help the person cope with the physical demands. This process is the same during labour. The body physiologically responds to the sounds of a woman during labour by releasing endorphins into her system which not only helps her to cope with her labour but helps the baby cope with the labour as well, making the labour process safer for both.
Being noisy during labour also helps to release built up tension in the body, which breaks the tension-pain-fear cycle during labour, making it easier for a woman to remain focused, relax her muscles, and surrender to her labour for a more effective and gentle birthing experience.
Sounds can vary from humming, moaning, groaning, singing, grunting, repetition of specific words, screaming, panting, whining, whimpering, etc. all of these sounds are completely normal during labour and should be encouraged. In fact, the only time that being noisy is discouraged during labour is during pushing as making a noise removes the required energy needed to push effectively.
So, to raise your coping mechanisms; release tension and pain-relieving hormones; encourage a more effective, gentle and safer labour for mother and baby... Be noisy.
Labour Rule #12 - Re Tune
The process of labour is not a "logical" or predictable process; it is a natural, physiological, primal process that can't actually be reasoned with.
Sometimes we expect labour to start in a certain way or at a specific time and sometimes we expect it to progress in a certain way and expect specific signs or symptoms during the process, when in reality we can't really place any expectations on labour and birth since it is totally unpredictable and different for every woman.
Then there's the other side; not expecting anything and then when things happen, it causes a loss of focus by trying to "figure it out" and reason through it. This is why it is important to tune out of the logic brain of trying to "figure it out" and tune into the primal brain instead. This comes with throwing any expectations out the door and following the natural cues and instructions of your body instead.
The saying "your body and baby know what to do" actually holds a lot of truth and this means choosing to trust your body (despite all the weird things it might or might not do) and trust your baby (despite the notion of "babies don't really know anything").
Re-tuning means listening to your body and your baby and trusting them. Instead of listening to what your brain is saying, listen to what your body is saying. Tap in to the natural urges that come upon you during the process and follow them. When you re-tune your mind from the conscious-logical to the subconscious-primal you allow your body to lead and a body led birth is safer, more gentle and more effective.
So, for a gentle, safe, and effective body-led labour and birth; a process that comes more naturally to you; and a greater ability of listening to your body's natural urges and responses... Re tune.
♥ ♥ ♥
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