Birth in the United States is said to be in crisis. Our cesarean rate is sky high with our national average being over 32% in 2008 and in areas it reaches over 50%. Being induced (artificially starting labor) and giving birth with an epidural is the cultural norm for most in our society. Women today have a greater chance of dying during childbirth than her mother and grandmother did. Yet we spend more money on birth than most industrialized nations, use more technology and 99% of our births occur in the hospital. This all sounds like we should be the best, right? Wrong. Mother nature has created us, women, to give birth. We are literally made for it. Technology doesn’t give birth, we do. Now I’m not saying that all women who wish to have children are ready to give birth unassisted, at home in the bathtub with lit candles and sage burning in the background. Although that does sound nice. But there are things that we all can do to empower our births and become informed health care consumers. These aren’t in any specific order as I believe they are all equally important.
1. Find out who your local midwives/OB’s are and meet with them. The midwifery model of care holds a high standard in maternity care. Unfortunately midwives aren’t available in all parts of the U.S. so when looking for a care provider ask lots of questions. Find someone that meets the needs of you and your family. Don’t hesitate to shop around. Even if it’s near the end of your pregnancy. It’s crucial that you feel 100% supported by your provider. If you are dissatisfied with the care you have been receiving let the appropriate people know. You are the consumer. Nothing will ever change unless we facilitate change.
2. Take childbirth classes. An informed woman is a powerful one. A few well known childbirth classes are The Bradley Method, Lamaze, IBWP (formally known as ALACE). They will usually cost $200-$400 depending on your location and which one you choose but it’s well worth it. Most of us spend that much money on cribs, clothes and car seats by the time the baby comes. The confidence and connections you develop are priceless.
3. Become involved with your birth community. Not to say that you can’t have a baby if you don’t have community but there’s so much to be said for having women who have experienced what you are experiencing being there when you need them. Find your local birth circles or La Leche League meetings and go to a few. It’s a great way to become informed and feel support during your transition into motherhood.
4. Hire a doula. A doula can offer emotional and physical support to you and your family. They typically attend anything from home births to planned C-sections. They can be an invaluable part of your support team.
5. Take good care of yourself. Eat well. Be well. Eat fresh, whole foods at home. Visit local farmer’s markets and produce stands. Become a part of a CSA. Drink LOTS of clean water and herbal teas. And for goodness sake, take a good, whole foods based prenatal vitamin.
6. Get fresh air everyday. Go for long walks outside and bring plenty of water.
7. Join a prenatal exercise class. Yoga, bellydance, pilates… the choices are endless, really.
8. Meditate. Visualize. Relax. Let your mind rest. Find a place that you can visit when are feeling the intense rush of your labor. Do it often so that you get into the habit of it. Start and end with a deep cleansing breath.
9. Rally your support team. Make sure that the people who will be with you during the time of your birth are on the same page as you with what you want. Emotions from others on your team can effect the laboring women, whether they are positive or negative. So talk about your wishes and needs for labor openly with your support team.
10. Create a birth plan. A birth plan is a useful tool to let your care providers and support team know what your expectations are for your birth. It can cover a broad range of topics from dimmed lights, to pain meds to how your baby is cared for in the post-partum period after the birth.
11. READ, READ and READ some more. In addition to taking childbirth education classes it is a good idea to read books that highlight the positive aspects of a normal birth. Books like Pregnancy, Childbirth and the Newborn by Sheila Kitzenger and Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by midwife Ina May Gaskin. This sort of literature puts birth in a very positive light. It informs us that birth is to be respected and functions best when it is in the most natural and simple of forms.
12. TRUST BIRTH. Trust your body. Know that every women before you has stood where you stand. Be grateful for the miracle you are assisting and receiving.