Marching forward with our Hormones and Healthy Birth series, today we look at "Healthy Birth Practice 3: Bring a Loved One, Friend, or Doula for Continuous Support" and how it relates to the findings in the Hormonal Physiology of Childbearing report from Childbirth Connection. This Healthy Birth Practice is pretty self explanatory, but let's look first at why continuous support is so important. In general, being continuously surrounded by those you love and trust during a challenging and exciting event like birth helps boost your confidence and feelings of safety, and enhances your care. More recently, a scientific study has shown that women who receive continuous care in labor and birth are:
- More likely to have spontaneous vaginal birth
- Less likely to have pain medication
- Less likely to have an epidural
- Less likely to experience vacuum or forceps during birth
- Less likely to have a c-section
- Less likely have negative feelings about childbirth
- More likely to have a shorter birth
- Less likely to have a baby with low Apgar scores
That's a pretty big deal, right? So you might be thinking, what does having a loved one with me during labor have to do with my hormones for labor and birth? Many of the practices, suggestions, and encouragement that is provided from a labor support person can directly affect the hormones that flow during labor. For example:
Protecting your privacy and space --> Allows you to feel safe and relaxed, which keeps"fight or flight" hormones (catecholamines) at reasonable levels; too high can slow or stall labor.
Encouraging movement --> As we saw in our last post in this series, maintaining movement during labor allows your body's natural oxytocin (which promotes contractions) to do its work.
Providing comfort and pain relief --> Using comfort measures, like massage, breathing, water, music, also promotes oxytocin to keep labor progressing.
Promoting feelings of calm and relaxation --> Staying calm and relaxed, as opposed to stressed and anxious, helps keep hormones that promote labor progress and hormones that can stall labor at the best levels.
Bring a Loved One, Friend, or Doula for Continuous Support: Here's How
- Encourage your designated labor support person(s) to read The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin.
- Curious about professional labor support? Find out why a doula can be a wonderful asset to your support team.
- Learn about the many ways you can find comfort in labor by taking a good childbirth class with your labor support person.
- Choose a care provider and place of birth that encourages continuous support and promotes the use of a doula.
- Make sure your labor and birth support person knows your preferences for birth.
- Spend time connecting with your birth support person prior to going into labor -- get to know each other (if you don't already), share your feelings about the upcoming birth, and talk about what you envision as the best labor support.
- Pack a hospital or birth center bag with items you imagine will be useful to the person who supports you during labor -- nourishment, scents, favorite lotion, focal point, etc.
- Be sure that your support person or team is only those you actually want by your side. You only get to birth this baby once!
- Be sure your labor support person/team knows that it is not their job to "save" you from the hard work of labor, but rather to support and comfort you throughout your labor, as best as they possibly can. Learn the difference between pain and suffering.
How to Know if You've Chosen the Best Labor Support Team
A partner, spouse, friend, mother, or sister can be a wonderful choice to support you during labor and birth. But sometimes, though this person may love you to pieces, she/he may not be the best choice to provide continuous support during labor. How will you know if your chosen support person will be the best choice to honor your birth preferences and support you in your hard work? The following questions can help get the conversation started. Ultimately, follow your gut instinct. If you feel you may benefit from a different support person or perhaps a doula, consider changing direction.
- How do I feel about this person? How would she/he be helpful? How would he/she be distracting or discouraging?
- How does this person feel about my birth preferences?
- How might this person respond to seeing me in pain?
- How did this person respond the last time I needed her/his support?
- Write down five words that describe this person's qualities. How do those words make me feel?
- Is this person willing to attend a childbirth class with me?
- Is this person willing to learn about the birth process and how to support a laboring woman?
- Read some helpful tips for finding the right doula
- See what continuous support looks like
- Download this awesome, free labor support and comfort measures guide
Buckley S. 2015. Hormonal Physiology of Childbearing: Evidence and Implications for Women, Babies and Maternity Care. Childbirth Connection, Washington, DC.
Childbirth Connection. 2015. Pathway to a Healthy Birth: How to Help Your Hormones Do Their Wonderful Work. National Partnership for Women & Families, Washington, DC.