Tips on encouraging a straightforward birth during labour
There are steps you can take during labour to encourage a straightforward birth, which have a number of benefits for you and your baby. When you understand what helps and what hinders the process of labour, you can create the right environment around you. This article covers things you can do wherever you have your baby and the effect of induction of labour.
Wherever you are labouring it is a good idea to keep on the move in the run up to giving birth. During labour, it is best to change positions as there are several benefits in helping you deal with the contractions, encouraging the baby through the birth canal in the best position and encouraging a straightforward birth. Try these techniques:
- rocking or wriggling your hips
- going up and down stairs.
- using a birth ball, which helps you remain upright and mobile.
Focus on managing the strong sensations of labour rather than trying to ‘remove the pain’. Some of the best ways of dealing with contractions are:
- immersion in warm water
- changing position
- emotional support from someone who is calm and that you know and trust
- encouraging the release of your hormones such as endorphins (see below).
If you are planning to have your baby in hospital, it’s a good idea to stay at home for as long as possible once you think your labour has started. Spend the early part in your own surroundings, keep moving and carry on with normal activities for as long as possible. You can try going for a walk, having a bath, cooking a meal, dozing in between contractions – anything that will help you go into labour feeling calm and self-assured.
Once in hospital, if possible, you could opt for the midwife to listen in to the baby’s heart at intervals rather than continuous electronic fetal monitoring. The midwife can use either a small ultrasound device called a ‘Doppler’ or the little trumpet-like tube called a Pinard’s stethoscope to listen to the baby’s heartbeat. Listening in at regular intervals using less intrusive methods is just as safe for you and your baby if you have a low-risk pregnancy. With continuous electronic fetal monitoring you are more likely to have an instrumental birth, a caesarean and have a greater need for pain relief.
There are a number of hormones which have an effect on your body in labour. You can encourage the release of the following:
- Oxytocin is a hormone that your body will produce when you go into labour. It makes the uterus contract strongly and regularly. You will produce more if you don’t feel afraid, anxious, embarrassed or angry, and if you remain upright.
- Endorphins are nature’s own pain relievers that also give a sense of well-being. They are produced during labour and help you to cope with contractions. The best approach is to ‘let go’ and allow your body to work with you and for you. It is known that after a straightforward birth, endorphins are at their highest ever levels in mother and baby.
Try to avoid stimulating the rational part of your brain. If the ‘rational’ part of your brain is stimulated it can override the ‘primitive’ part of your brain where oxytocin and endorphins are produced. The rational brain is stimulated by things like bright light, people asking you questions, or a feeling that you are being watched or judged. Your rational brain can be ‘turned down’ by labouring in a quiet, darkened room, feeling safe and having your privacy protected.
If your labour hasn't started by 41 weeks, your midwife will probably offer you a 'membrane sweep'. This involves having a vaginal examination, when she will insert a finger gently into your cervix and move it between the top of the cervix and the bag of waters. This may stimulate the cervix to produce the hormones, called prostaglandins, which trigger it naturally.
If it still doesn't start after this, your midwife or GP will suggest a date to have your labour induced (started off). If you don't want to be induced, and your pregnancy continues to 42 weeks or beyond, you and your baby will be monitored. Your midwife or GP will check that both you and your baby are healthy by giving you ultrasound scans and checking your baby's heartbeat. If your baby is not doing well, your GP and midwife will again suggest that labour is induced. Read more about what happens with induction of labour and other ways to start labour.
NCT's helpline offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700. We also offer antenatal courses which are a great way to find out more about pregnancy, labour and life with a new baby.
The Royal College of Midwives Campaign for Normal Birth website includes stories, research and video clips of birth positions.