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10 Steps to the Ideal Birth Environment

This weekend I taught the Nottingham one day hypnobirthing class in a venue that I’ve only taught in a couple of times, and a long time ago. Even though the environment was lovely and I’d taught there before it was a little unfamiliar to me. So I prepared a little bit more before the day, phoned up and checked that everything was there that I needed, only to find that there was a birthday party scheduled to take place the same day! But it wasn’t my home it was someone else’s and I had to go with the flow. To be honest it made me feel a little anxious, what about the noise? How would I time all the relaxation work?

To minimise stress I packed the car the night before, so I could just get up and drive to the Nottingham hypnobirthing class early and familiarise myself with the layout; which I did, and managed to set it all up and take some time out to focus before the class started to arrive. It turned out that the birthday party was fine, there wasn’t too much noise and the day ran smoothly. However, I have no doubt that this is because I prepared so well beforehand and made sure that I had everything that I needed to help things run as smoothly as possible, even in an environment that is unfamiliar.

Birth is not dissimilar, environment is really important, being surrounded by familiar things, knowing you have everything you need allows the birthing mother to completely switch off and focus on what she will be doing best – birthing baby.

One of the things we spent a lot of time on in this antenatal class is about how to get your birth environment right. What do I mean by right? Isn’t it ok to just roll up and give birth wherever? Theoretically yes, but from a psychological perspective a woman birthing needs to be an environment where she feels completely safe and secure, a place that is above all private. A place where she is uninterrupted, where she is able to focus on birthing the baby, not distracted by unfamiliar noises or smells or people coming and going.

All women have three choices on where to give birth, home, hospital or birthing centre. Every woman has a right to one of these choices. In our classes we spend a good amount of time talking about the pros and cons of each environment and how a mother can create the perfect environment for birth.Did you know that you can pick any place you wish? Some women we teach would rather drive 30/40 minutes from Nottingham to Darley Dale, Grantham or Melton, to give birth at a birthing centre.

Why is the birth environment important? Being in a birth environment that is familiar mitigates stress, and increases a sense of belonging, a sense of security. It’s not just that the environment is familiar , but that the environment is right for the purpose intended.

Birth is a very private event, the most important hormone for birth, Oxytocin, is secreted during birth and stimlates the production of the body’s natural analgesia. It’s the same hormone that makes an appearance during sex. Oxytocin is a shy hormone and just as a woman needs to feel private, secure and safe for sex, she needs to feel unobserved, safe and secure during birth. If there is anything that threatens a women at all during birth she produces adrenaline which reduces the amount of Oxytocin. the hormone that stimulates the production of the body’s natural analgesia.

These ‘threats’ can be as minor as a door opening into the room, the light being switched on, a loud noise from another room nearby, the smell of anesthetic in the hospital or even the possiblity of having an injection. These can all stimulate the threat system and slow things down.

Making the birth environment as conducive to birth as possible is hugely important and can often be the key to a good birth.

Home may be the most familiar secure environment for many women and it is true statistically that if you are low risk and choose to give birth at home you are at lower risk of intervention. However, for many reasons women choose to give birth in hospital, and although it’s harder it is still possible to create a comfortable and secure birthing environment.

Here are our ten steps to creating your best birthing environment:

  • If going into hospital try and get a tour of the unit beforehand, or at the very least familiarize yourself with the route and the reception area. This will reduce any unconscious anxiety on the day.
  • Make sure that the lights are dimmed and low. Think about the type of environment you would like to sleep in and try and emulate that.
  • Ask for fewer interruptions. Ideally on your birth plan give permission to the midwives upfront to listen to the baby with a Doppler whenever they need to, that way you won’t be interrupted for permission every 15/20 minutes – if you are using deep relaxation techniques this is very important.
  • Take your own pillow in. Not only will the scent on the pillow remind you of your bed, a safe secure place and trigger a deep sense of calm in your mind and in your body, but on a practical note pillows are hard to come by in maternity units!
  • Have some relaxation music, or our CD to help you relax.
  • Use aromatherapy oils (many hospitals now offer this service)
  • Make sure that your birthing partner and you have discussed your options for birth beforehand so you are confident that he/she can advocate on your behalf and that he/she understands and feels secure in their role as birthing partner.
  • Stimulate oxytocin! Take something from a room at home that you love and feel very relaxed in, or a photo that makes you smile and feel happy whenever you look at it. Perhaps a portable DVD player with some comedy films/shows. (remember batteries!)
  • Move any clocks or anything related to time from the mother’s view and avoid ‘clockwatching’. A birthing mother when she is properly in her birthing zone will experience what is known as time distortion. Meaning that she will be unaware of time passing, many women who have used hypnobirthing will think that their labour was much quicker than it really was.
  • Keep the room calm, anxiety is contagious and if your birthing partner is anxious you will pick up on that anxiety.