By Carson Meyer, DONA Certified Birth Doula
In the 1920’s, childbirth in the United States moved from the home to the hospital. By the 1960’s more than 95% of women were giving birth in hospitals where they were treated as high-risk patients. Unnecessary Caesareans, profuse intervention and sedation were all commonplace, often causing more harm than good. It wasn’t until the Seventies that fathers were even allowed in the delivery room to support their wives and welcome their babies into the world. Hospital birth in America has improved since then, but we are also seeing a resurgence of “home birth” culture as well. Giving birth in a hospital is a medical necessity for some and a choice for others who find comfort in being in a clinical setting with access to pain relief. The majority of women in the US give birth in hospitals, and that environment is familiar to most of us. However, there are many beautiful and comforting aspects of home birth/birthing center birth that can be implemented in the hospital that would benefit both mother and child. Wherever one gives birth, it is important to prioritize feeling comfortable, safe and supported. Here’s some advice to help you achieve some of the warmth and intimacy of home during your hospital stay.
Hire a Doula
A common misconception is that birth doulas are used exclusively to assist a home or unmediated birth, when in fact a doulas job is to support women through all types of birth experiences. A doula is very valuable in a hospital setting because she can help create a loving and relaxing environment in a hospital room with medical equipment, needles and plenty of new faces. A doula provides physical and emotional support, helps to educate you and your partner about your options and encourages good communication with the hospital staff. In a recent Cochrane study, it was found that women who had continuous support during labor were more likely to have vaginal birth without intervention and experienced shorter labors. Those who had continuous support also showed lower caesarean rates than those who did not. The evidence-based benefits of doulas are a wonderful resource for families and as Dr. John Kennell said, “If Doulas were a drug it would be unethical not to use them. “
Set The Mood
First things first, turn down the florescent lights. According to a study in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, low light helps promote contractions. The hormone Melatonin works in conjunction with Oxytocin to progress labor. Oxytocin, which is also known as the “love hormone”, releases throughout the body during labor. Along with bringing on contractions, this hormone promotes milk production and bonds you to your baby. Creating a warm environment with safe battery operated candles, Christmas lights and a good playlist can actually help to speed your labor along!
Sip and Snack
Would you run a marathon on an empathy stomach or without water? It takes a significant amount of strength and power to give birth. It is important to stay hydrated and keep your blood sugar steady. As labor progresses you will likely lose your appetite, so make sure to eat a light and healthy meal in early labor or bring a high quality protein bar, some nuts, and honey sticks to snack on in case you need an energy boost. Even if you don’t have much of an appetite, staying hydrated is crucial. Take small sips of water frequently in order to avoid needing an IV. Some hospitals may restrict eating during labor or advise against it in high-risk situations. These policies were put in place in the 1940’s to avoid aspiration when patients were given inhaled anesthetics without the proper breathing equipment we use today. However, if you are scheduled for a caesarean, you will be asked to fast before and after the procedure.
Ditch the Hospital Gown
Mental strength is equally as important as physical strength. Often times we associate hospitals with illness and even death and surrender our intuition and power to those who specialize in dealing with emergencies. Pregnancy is not an illness and giving birth is rarely an emergency. I always suggest my clients pack their own comfortable clothing to wear. Lets face it, when was the last time you wore a hospital gown to one of your own joyous and powerful occasions?
Utilize the Shower
You may have heard of women giving birth in the water or even laboring in the tub. It is rare that a hospital provides this opportunity that is often associated with home birth or a birthing center. Being in water can help a laboring mother relax and release tension. Some even refer to water as nature’s epidural. Although most hospitals do not provide birthing tubs, a warm shower in the hospital can be a wonderful form of relief. Placing the showerhead at your lower back or lightly on your belly can act as a massage tool! Of course, make sure someone is accompanying you while in the shower.
A typical post partum hospital stay is 24-48 hours after a vaginal birth and 94 hours after a caesarean, so be sure to pack your bag full of the products you want to use on yourself and your baby. When babies are born they are covered in a cream cheese like substance called vernix. Hospitals routinely wipe this away but some women ask to leave the vernix on their babies for a period of time after birth. Research suggests that doing so helps the baby regulate body temperature, provides moisture to the skin and contains antimicrobial properties. Whenever you choose to bathe your baby be sure to use eco friendly products without chemicals, toxins and artificial fragrances. This goes for you and your partner’s bodies as well. The hormone disrupting fragrances and toxins used in perfumes, deodorants and body lotions can be easily exposed to your baby through cuddling. Bring a jar of pure coconut oil for yourself and invest in trusted products for you and your little one. The app Think Dirty and EGW’s Skin Deep website are easy ways to find out if the products you are using are baby safe.
Carson Meyer is a DONA Certified Birth Doula from Los Angeles, California