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Trust your birth intuition

Trust Your Birth Intuition
Your intuition knows how to birth.

Trusting your birth intuition can make all the difference.

by Sophie Fletcher

I wanted to talk to you about birth intuition today, as it is so important with birth.  One of my mantras is ‘trust your intuition’, but it’s a bit of a floppy suggestion, what does that actually mean?  What is your birth intuition and how do you listen to it when it’s trying to tell you something?

I was at a birth recently, a super fast, second birth with no drugs at all, a baby girl who was a little over 8.5 lbs with a physiological third stage and no nicks or tears.  The look on the mothers face afterwards – it was awesome.  For her it was a completely different experience to her first birth when labour was hurried along by breaking her waters, which lead to an epidural, episiotomy and forceps delivery.  After her first birth, she was so shaky she couldn’t hold her baby.

What a difference!  But it wasn’t just because she was a second mum, true, she prepared well with hypnosis for birth but she also listened to her birth intuition this time and didn’t try and tick the labour checklist off with every little niggle or set of Braxton Hicks, falling into the trap of thinking labour had started while her body was still just warming up.   She didn’t go to the hospital too early and she listened to what her body was telling her to do.

It was an interesting birth, my head told me that she would be early, for certain reasons, but I didn’t feel it. I was in no hurry to pack my back, and the birth somehow felt distant to me.  I didn’t get many texts from the mum, as she was so busy with other things.  Then the Thursday before the birth, at 40+3 I packed my bag. I didn’t even think about it, I suddenly stopped myself and thought “Hmmm why have I done that?” This commonly happens, somehow I know when to pack a bag.

Then on Friday I cancelled a tennis match that I really wanted to play in. It would have taken me 1.5 hours  away from my client, and although I’d played a match on the Thursday, this time is was different; it didn’t feel right, like a hint of pressure in my chest when I thought about going.  I even had a vivid dream that night, that her labour was so quick they wouldn’t have time to fill the pool!

Sure enough Saturday afternoon I got a text saying that she was going to call her mother in law, for ‘a bit of security’ to look after her other child. I knew then that this baby was coming, even though she wasn’t in labour.   She wrote, “nothing is happening, thought it was the start in the morning, but they must have been Braxton hicks contractions as they stopped”.   She reflected afterwards that if this were her first birth, she would have probably gone to the hospital at that point.

Then in the evening I got a message saying things had started and that she was fine, then later in the evening, I got a very laid back text saying things were moving along they were 5 minutes apart and lasting 1min30 seconds. I just knew, rang and asked if she wanted me there, so she said “I think you should come over but don’t hurry” (when a very laid back second time mum says this, in a spaced out way, I hurry!).

Sure enough she was at home with her music on, just rocking with the contractions and quietly breathing through them.   The dad wanted to go in, but I reassured him that she’d know when to go in. If she’s asking “is it time to go in” or it’s your suggestion as a birth partner, it’s too early.  After the next contraction had passed she said, “no I’ll wait a bit”, then the next contraction came  and she said “now it’s time”;  in the space of 10 minutes it was time to go.  Afterwards she said they were just different, and she just felt it was time to go, her birth intuition had kicked in.

Once we arrived in labour suite they were down to 3 minutes apart, after a quick exam she was 6/7 cms dilated, shortly after that her waters broke.  Her baby was born just 30minutes later, after she quietly gave one little push to little to bring babies head into the world.   No guided pushing or straining, her little girl slid her head and shoulders out, had a good look around and then the rest of her followed very quickly.  Within 10 mins baby was latched on, followed by the placenta.

For me this birth was all about ‘just knowing’ when things were starting, “just knowing’ the right time to go into hospital or call the midwives. This mum had listening to her Mindful Mamma mp3s every day, but had also been busy with a toddler and many other happy distractions in her life, so she hadn’t pounced on those early warm up contractions, instead trusting her that birth intuition.   It also interested me how more and more, I just ‘know’ too. My bag is always packed at the right time, I always have childcare in place, and well, you know, whatever you believe, that dream was true!

Just the difference between two contractions was enough to make the choice to go the hospital. Prepare so you are relaxed and trusting in birth, let go of your fear using hypnosis if you can.  When you get near to your date see those niggles and on off contractions as warm ups, stop starting maybe until your body just clicks into the rhythm of labour.  Stop thinking about it, switch your focus to something else that can absorb you, don’t intellectualise. Trust you will know, here is a checklist:

Listening to your birth intuition:

  • Trust hunches, don’t ‘think’.
  • If it doesn’t feel right or you are asking someone else’s opinion, consider not doing it.
  • If you have to question if it’s the right time to go to hospital, it is probably far too early. (Don’t let other people push you into going, research shows that women often end up in hospital too early as their partner wants to hand over responsibility). If you recognize these, “shall we go? Maybe yes – just to be on the safe side, “Why don’t we go in just to get checked”, “You can get settled in. oh, okay” it’s not the right time.  It should be a “Let’s go, now!” from the mum.
  • If you are able to make a cup of tea, have nap either in bed or the bath it’s too early to go in.

Signs to go in hospital or call the midwife in a normal birth;

  •  It just ‘feels’ different.
  • Your contractions are 3-4 minutes apart and lasting longer than a minute – this really does mean a minute or more – early contractions may get regular, but may still be shorter than a minute, maybe lasting 40 seconds or so, then may drop off for a while before starting up again, then they may be more spaced apart but lasting longer. Some antenatal teachers may say strong and long.
  • You have pressure in your bottom, not your back  – you feel as if you need to have a poo.
  • You really don’t want to get in the car (this is unfortunate if you are off to hospital).
  • You don’t really want to hold a conversation with everyone around you.
  • Something tells you that you absolutely have to go to hospital now, or call the midwife.


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Sarah, Dave and Sophie’s Homebirth

Home Birth Hypnobirth Mindful Mamma
Sarah and Dave Welcome baby Sophie

Sophie’s Birth

Sophie Faith Banks was born in water at home on Monday 4 February 2013 at 5.50pm, weighing 8lb 7oz, this is the story of her amazing birth.

I woke at around 3am on Monday 4 February and felt wet, I went to the bathroom and I believed my waters had gone.  I tried to go back to sleep but was getting contractions on and off and wasn’t comfy in bed, so I got up and came downstairs and watched telly whilst sitting on my birth ball.  By about 6.30am I felt that the contractions were getting a bit closer so I woke Dave up and asked him to start timing them and they were about 20 minutes apart.

We pottered around with Molly and had some breakfast and I spent most of my time on the ball as it was the most comfortable place to be.

We rang Stephanie (our doula) and she arrived about 10am, by which point I was baking cakes with Molly as she was getting bored as we’d decided to keep her off nursery.  I was still contracting regularly and using the breathing techniques I’d learnt at the Mindful Mamma class to relax through them.

By about 12noon my contractions were coming every three minutes and I was sat on a chair with Stephanie massaging my back. As they were getting closer and longer Dave started to get the birth pool ready with Molly before taking her over to her friend’s house whilst Stephanie and I had some lunch.  Things slowed down a little while I ate but went back to every three minutes after so we decided to call the midwife at about 2pm.

The midwife arrived just after 3pm and I was in the dining room breathing through my contractions whilst Stephanie continued to massage my back.  Everything was going well and I was well into my birthing zone.  The midwife spoke to Dave and wanted to examine me, so reluctantly I came out of my zone and went into the living room – by this point it was 3.45pm.  I was a little disheartened as despite my birth clearly stating that I didn’t want to be told of my progress she informed me I was 4cm whilst she was still examining me and that my waters hadn’t actually gone.  As the shift was due to change at 4pm she said that the hospital wouldn’t send another midwife as it would be a while but could I provide a urine sample before she left.

Dave and I went up to the bathroom – I was feeling quite disheartened after the ‘progress report’ and we spent about  half an hour up there so that I could restablish my breathing and get back into my zone – I didn’t even try to provide a sample!  During this time the new shift of midwives arrived as they had been sent straight here at the start of their shift.

After our time in the bathroom I could feel pressure building and said that I felt the baby wouldn’t be long – so as with our last birth the magic time in the bathroom helped things progress quickly.

I came back to the dining room and Dave spoke to the midwives who were very happy to leave me to get on with things.  I wasn’t really aware of time but I’m told that I only got into the pool at about 5.20pm as both Stephanie and Dave felt I was in transition.

I remember being totally relaxed in the pool, breathing through the contractions and visualising my baby moving down.

Dave was sat at the side of the pool talking to me, and Stephanie asked me if I could feel babies head, I could but she was still a few cms inside.  The midwives came in and checked the pool and Stephanie went to get some more hot water as they said it was too cold.

Whilst Stephanie was in the kitchen I looked down and Sophie was floating in the water in front of me!  I had obviously breathed her out and she had taken everyone by surprise, I wish we had a video so we could see what had happened but she must have swam up to me.

I lifted her out of the water and was passed my glasses so that Dave and I could see her sex for ourselves. She was a perfectly healthy little girl, covered in vernix. There had been no shouting, no pushing and no drugs.

I left the pool for the third stage and after about half an hour of being fed cake and tea, my placenta was delivered naturally, still attached to Sophie.

Just over an hour after Sophie’s birth I had a lovely bath, Molly came home briefly to meet her new sister before going back to her friends for a sleepover and by 9pm, Dave, Sophie and I were tucked up on the sofa eating egg and chips.


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Why the Amish Birth So Well.

I’ve been really interested in how Amish women birth recently as they nearly all birth at home, unless there is a medical risk. This is partly cultural but also because of expense of going into hospital or antenatal care, many Amish don’t have insurance.  Interestingly, research shows that despite a higher prevalence of several risk factors for perinatal and infant death among the Amish, neonatal and infant death rates for Geauga Settlement Amish in Ohio have been very similar to the corresponding rates of white children in Ohio State.

Amish women do not tell people apart from their midwife or husband that they are pregnant, it’s said that when they go “they go quick”, probably because they are not tied to due dates. Neither do they have pain relief during labour. They don’t believe in birth control so they often have huge families, sometimes around 10 -12 children. As a result pregnancy and childbirth is a normal part of everyday life, someone is pregnant or in labour all the time and they don’t fear it. Children see this natural process and, as they grow up, girls are not exposed to the international culture of fear and uncertainty around childbirth. Amish children don’t grow up  fearing that there is something wrong with their bodies or that they are incapable of a normal birth.

Amish women birth quietly, often just with their husband a birthing mother, and older woman from the community, who often plays a similar role to a Doula. When in labour, very often they continue doing their daily chores around the home until they are unable to any longer. They certainly aren’t preoccupied with imminent birth or early labour itself!   Research also shows a link between their psychosocial state, which is typically secure and unstressed, and positive birth outcomes.

Ina May Gaskin works closely with the Amish communities, which are close to her birthing centre, in fact it was from the Amish that she first learned breech birth was possible. Nowadays we know that the Amish have a c-section rate of around 2% similar to the Farm, Ina May Gaskins Community.

What is also interesting is the absence of autism in Amish communities. Amish women are very rarely induced as they don’t have ‘due dates”. Recent research shows that some forms of autism are associated with oxytocin deficiency, and questions are currently being raised about the links to this and the use of artificial oxytocin, syntocinon (Pitocin) or other drugs routinely used in labour. There have been very few studies done, but there are calls to investigate this link further. This article explores that link further.

Here is an extract dictated by a midwife with experience of working in Amish Communities.

Taken from

Sarah* is a direct-entry midwife in New York state. She practices in rural dairy country near the Canadian border among the many Amish and Mennonite families living there. Currently, Sarah attends more than three-fourths of the births that take place within these close-knit, insular groups of highly-religious families. In Sarah’s own words, here is what is like to attend an Amish or Mennonite childbirth at the beginning of the new millenium:

“The women I work with give birth at home, almost exclusively. This is a matter of finances, for these folks mostly milk cows, which isn’t a big money maker if you have a small herd and milk without machines, as they do. They do not carry health insurance because of their religious beliefs. Additionally, they feel very suspicious of the medical establishment not honoring their beliefs and treating them with respect. They prefer to remain at home, where they have control over such things as allowing nature to take its course rather than, for instance, trying to save a very premature baby.

When the time comes time for an Amish woman to give birth, there is always an older woman from the church community with [the birthing mother]. The mothers have their husbands present as well, but the whole thing is a big secret to their other kids. The Mennonites usually do tell their other kids. Many of the Mennonites prefer to birth with only their husband present. When a young woman in either of these communities gives birth for the first time, she has never really heard much about what the birth experience is going to be like. I usually tell first-time mothers what to expect and that’s all the education they get, except for what their mothers tell them. The pregnancy is absolutely hidden until the baby is born.

I have never seen one of these women ask for medication for the pain of childbirth. I don’t know why they don’t use pain relief. The one time I asked, the woman acted as if she had never heard of the idea. They just don’t seem to have terrible pain.

These women have between ten and twenty children each. They give birth well into their forties. The Amish seem to have as many babies as a human can, spaced according to how long they can go without having another child, usually one per year or year and a half. I have personally delivered the sixteenth baby of a forty-six-year-old. The Mennonites–some of them–use birth control.

The women almost always give birth in a semi-sitting position.They wait until the baby is about to crown to even lie down. They stay clothed the entire time, but the women have special dresses that they wear at birth where the belly can be exposed so that the baby can be immediately placed on the mother’s belly after birth.

The Amish women in the community who attend births are called “catchers,” but since Amish religion prevents anyone from getting an education past the eighth grade, the catchers are not formally educated, carry no equipment or drugs, and generally do not know how to treat most serious complications, although they are very well-versed in herbal medicines and I have learned a lot from them. Their main role when I am there is taking the baby immediately after birth and wiping it from head to toe with baby oil, binding its belly, and dressing it in a special dress and bonnet. The young brides seem to take great pleasure in sewing the dark blue baby dresses and caps and quilting a baby blanket. They like to get the baby dressed as soon as possible, with his belly bound and feet wrapped, and covered with many blankets.

One thing the Amish believe is that there is no breastmilk at first, and some don’t feed the baby until the next day. Some give the baby things like jello water or watermelon seed tea, which is supposed to be good for preventing jaundice.

For postpartum women, they use sheperd’s purse tea for bleeding. For a month after birth, the new mother has a ‘hired girl’: an Amish neighbor who, for $15 per week, lives there and does all the household chores including cooking, child care, canning, and quilting. Occasionally another one will stop by to help with laundry.

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Birth Space, Quiet Place

Keeping the birth space a safe, quiet place

Birth Space
Silence before Humour

Noise. It’s like a belisha beacon, or a loud game show buzzer jumping out of the screen every time I watch a birth on One Born Every Minute or a birth on television, or even homebirths where people chatting away while mum’s in the pool, I even saw one when a telephone rang just as the mother was birthing her baby. The noise sets my teeth on edge. Instinctively it just feels wrong, I want to “shhhh!” them. Why do people feel the urge to fill that  birth space with chat?

Last weekend I finished my Doula training with Michel Odent and experienced Doula Liliana Hammers. I was mesmerized listening to Liliana’s accounts of how even when awoman shouts out or asks questions, she treats it as rhetorical, just quietly shrugs and smiles with a calm reassurance, not even necessarily answering the question. This does take skill and at one point I realized that Liliana would make a fantastic counsellor. Very often in counselling, clients ask a question as part of their own internal process. Entering into an internal space, with the unspoken support of someone nearby, allows them to connect safely with their emotions and to ask questions of themselves.  Asking a question out loud doesn’t always mean that they are asking you for the answer, but seeking that answer from within themselves or even expressing an observation. Silence is often used as a technique to allow someone to become still and to engage with the feelings that arise in that moment, free of judgment.

Why are people so uncomfortable with silence in a birth space? And why do they feel the need to talk all the time.  So often people feel compelled to speak when there is silence and to fill that birth space with the clutter of words and noise.  Very often this is what happens at births, people seem to find it difficult to just sit and to be.  Some midwives are chattering away, interrupting the mother, some fathers or birthing partners use humour to break that silence as it feels uncomfortable and humour is an instinctive way to ‘break the ice’. Sometimes there evens seems to be a bit of a social event going on around the mother.

Why not chat away, interrupt, engage the mother with conversation?  During the birth a mother goes into an internal birth space, it’s a different state of being than she is in every day life.  Naturally, she quietens down her chattering mind, her neo-cortex, the same part of the brain that shuts down as you drift off to sleep at night. Michel Odent told me he called it “falling into sleep and falling into labour”.   To allow the right birth space is to allow the mother the same space as she falls asleep in every night. Secure, dark, unobserved, protected and quiet.  If someone were chattering away to you, or standing over watching you while you were trying to get to sleep it would be difficult wouldn’t it!

Very often midwives used to knit so that they could just be in the birth space, occupied with something that allowed them to be present without making their presence felt.  This strong, calm, non-judgmental, quiet reassurance helped to hold the mother in that  birth space, without the need for interruption.

So when it’s silent be silent too. If the mother makes noise, or asks questions that seem irrational and unlike her,  don’t always feel like you have to reply or even give words of reassurance. Bite your tongue, be strong, present and calm.   Consider that nothing needs fixing, everything is fine and that by wading in with words you are disrupting something that needs to be uninterrupted and undisturbed .  Sometimes that quiet, calm presence, and that reassuring shrug and smile are all that’s needed for the birth space to be a perfect space for birth.