We all know you need a shedload of equipment for the baby, God, where do I even begin?! Cots, Prams, Car seats, Changing tables… It’s amazing how such a small thing requires such a vast amount of space-stealing equipment! Then comes play mats and baby gyms and baby bouncers and let’s not even start on the Jumperoo! (WHERE DOES IT ALL GO???). But what most people don’t think about is the stuff they might need to buy (or hire) for birth. Luckily you don’t need a lot. In fact, there’s just four things you might want to consider getting and if you’re having a hospital birth, then there’s just three. So please don’t worry, this list is a short one (in numbers, not words).
First up, a birth ball. I got mine from Birth-Ease and they come in two sizes depending on how tall you are. The 65cm one is for women up to 5’8’’ and the 75cm one is for women over 5’8’’ i.e. the supermodels amongst us! The Birth-Ease birth ball is great because it’s reinforced and designed specially to support the weight of a pregnant woman. And let’s face it, you’re going to be using this ball right up until the end and by then you’re going to feel pretty whale-like (even if you don’t actually look it).
The birth ball can be used in labour and is one way of resting while remaining ‘active’ and upright. You can bounce on the birth ball or simply sit on it by the side of a bed and lean forward resting your upper chest and head on the mattress/a pillow.
It is important in labour to stay in an upright and forward position for as much as possible. This is because you have gravity on your side which will help the baby descend and be born, which is what we are aiming for after all! Also the weight of the baby’s head will encourage the cervix to open, therefore speeding up the whole process. If you do choose to lie down on the bed, try and avoid lying on your back, as it’s least optimum position. This is because not only do you not have gravity helping you but by lying on your back you prevent your coccyx moving out of the way, which is what it does to create more room in the pelvis for the baby to descend and be born. Clever design our bodies. It’s almost like everything has been thought of!
So using the birth ball is great because it keeps you in this optimum upright forward position without you having to stand the whole time. And there’s something quite therapeutic about bobbing up and down whilst breathing your way through labour.
I was once (9 years ago with my first) told to remember the acronym U.F.O. when in labour and it’s stuck with me. U for Upright, F for Forward and O for open. Any position where you are upright, forward and open is great. By open I mean your legs are apart and you are creating room in your pelvis rather than restricting the space. Upright you obviously have gravity and by leaning forward you’re encouraging baby into the most optimum position for birth, as the weight of the back of the baby’s head will be round to the front of you as opposed to resting against your back. This will all make life, or at least labour, easier for you.
The birth ball is also great in pregnancy for encouraging baby into the most optimum position for birth. If you think about our ancestors they would have always have been in a slightly tilted forward position; walking, cleaning, farming, tending to children etc. In our modern lives we spend more and more time being tilted backwards or reclined; we drive in a slightly reclined position or we slouch on a bus or train seat, we sit at desks and then we come home and flop on to sofas. This is having an effect on the position of our babies in the womb.
The most usual position for birth is a baby that is head down, looking towards mum’s back. So the spine of baby runs almost parallel with the front of mum’s tummy. You may have heard of a back to back baby? This is a baby who is head down but instead of facing mum’s back, they are facing mum’s tummy, meaning their spine is running parallel to mum’s back. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with this position, it’s simply less usual and means the mother is more likely to feel the pressure and sensations of labour more intensely in her back, as opposed to round the front of her uterus. There are also other positions babies can be in such as breech (bum/feet down rather than head) or transverse but we can’t discuss them all here as this blog post would never end!!
How the birth ball helps in regards to the above, is that by sitting on it, as opposed to slouching on a chair at a desk or flopping on a sofa, we are in a more forward position, just like our ancestors were. The heaviest part of the baby is the back of its head so if we spend time in this forward position, gravity will pull this weight down and round to the front, meaning baby is in the most optimum and usual position. If we spend all our time reclined, then gravity will pull the heavy weight that is the back of baby’s head round towards our backs meaning baby will be in the back to back position we have just spoken about.
So the best thing you can do in pregnancy to encourage baby into the optimum position for birth is buy a birth-ease birth ball and use it at work if you can, but certainly at home in the evenings. Again the more you use it and assume this forward position the more effective it will be at encouraging baby into optimum birth position.
Second item on the list is a TENS machine. I have used a TENS machine for both my labours and absolutely love them. Weirdly however when I have tested them (when not in labour), I find them quite irritating with their buzzing and almost too much to bear. But for some reason in labour, that buzzing sensation is comforting and really helpful and I’ve come to rely on it a lot.
The TENS machine is essentially a form of pain relief but it doesn’t involve any pharmaceuticals, so has no effect on baby and also means the mother is able to be fully present and is not left feeling out of control in any way. It also doesn’t inhibit the mother from being active during labour. It works because the electrical pulses it produces stimulates the body to produce endorphins, which are the body’s natural pain relief and far stronger than morphine. If you use the TENS machine from early on in labour you’re essentially filling your body with endorphins, meaning you can enjoy a more comfortable labour, even when everything is established and surges are coming thick and fast.
The TENS machine also works because it is distracting. This doesn’t sound very scientific but it’s true. If you concentrate on the surge, you will be more aware of its intensity as you’re giving it all of your focus. If you’re using the TENS machine which has a boost button that you can press during a surge, then you are thinking of that and the change of sensation that you will be experiencing when you press the boost, as opposed to solely concentrating on the power of the surge. It’s like if you get a small cut on your finger, sometimes you won’t even notice that it has happened. But as soon you do and you start examining it, it starts hurting. Where you place your focus in labour really matters and has a big effect.
You can buy a TENS machine either new or second hand. I got mine on eBay this time but I’ve got one before at a nearly-new baby sale. They also sell them in places like John Lewis if you’d rather get one new. You can also hire them from the NCT, or sometimes from your local hospital. So ask your midwife or have a Google and give it a go. If you buy one second hand, you can always sell it on afterwards for much the same price, so there really is nothing to lose in giving it a try.
Third on the list: a Birth Pool in a Box. This is the one you won’t need if you’re having a hospital birth. You can pack all kinds of things in your hospital bag but I think the general consensus is that the birth pool and kitchen sink are off limits! Hopefully if you want a water birth, you’ll be able to use a pool at the hospital (just make sure you or your birth partner tell the midwives when you ring up, before going in, so they can get it ready as they do take a long while to fill!).
However if you’re having a home birth, as I’m planning, then getting a birth pool of your own is definitely a good idea. I use Birth Pool in a Box and you can either buy a single use one new from The Good Birth Company or hire a professional one (just Google for companies that offer this). They come in two sizes – regular or mini. I’ve got a mini one again and it is definitely spacious enough for me. However if you’d like your birth partner to get in too, consider getting the bigger version.
WARNING: If you do get one second hand, you must make sure it is thoroughly cleaned and sterilised (you’ll need to inflate it to do this properly) and that you buy a brand new liner and hose kit. This is really important as you do not want any bad bacteria in the pool! You can buy a liner and hose kit for The Birth Pool in a Box direct from The Good Birth Company.
Once you’ve got your birth pool, I’d definitely recommend doing a dry run (no need to use the liner for this!). I also like to do a wet run but if you do this it’s recommended that you use a liner which means you’ll need another for the birth. The upside is that if you do a wet run, you can enjoy a little relax in your pool once it’s full. This might be a good time to ‘pretend’ you’re in labour and practice the breathing techniques and visualisations or the other relaxation tools you’ve got such as light touch massage, relaxation scripts, relaxation tracks etc. You could also try out a few birthing positions in the pool and see how they feel. Basically it’s nice to familiarise yourself with your pool and how it feels to be in water if that’s where you plan to labour and birth.
The other reasons for doing a practice run are that you’ll want to know how long it takes to inflate and fill. Usually inflating doesn’t take very long but the filling can take a couple hours! Another way of working out how long it will take to fill if you don’t fancy the wet run is to time how long it takes to fill your bath. The regular sized birth pool takes approx 4x bath fulls and the mini birth pool takes 2.5x bath fulls. This is actually the reason I didn’t get to have a water birth with my second – my labour was too fast and the pool was not full in time! So it’s good to know how long it will take so you can plan for that in labour. You’ll also want to check your house can produce enough hot water and most importantly that your birth partner knows EXACTLY what he/she is doing because they will be in charge of this on the big day. You’ll also want to know the hose connector for your tap is the right one because there would be nothing worse than discovering this when in labour!! And I’ve been told this happens, all the time.
I will be posting a video to my YouTube channel soon of my pool’s dry and wet run so you can see how to do it! Don’t worry, lots of parts will be sped up so it won’t be a feature length film! You can find my YouTube channel here.
The main benefits of having a birth pool are that women usually relax in warm water when having a bath so we are conditioned to associate warm water with relaxation so the birth pool helps women relax in labour and we know labour is more comfortable, easier and efficient when our bodies are relaxed. The warm water also softens the muscles and tissue making them more relaxed and flexible so the risk of having a tear is reduced when birthing in water. Finally from a psychological perspective, the birth pool is quite nest-like and makes a woman feel safe and protected which, because we are essentially primal mammals, is really important when giving birth. Our bodies won’t birth a baby if there is even the smallest sense of being endangered.
Final note on the birth pool, people often ask how you go about emptying the pool after the baby has been born. It’s really quite easy! You can get a hose kit with the birth pool in a box which has a pump and you just use the same hose you used to fill the pool and simply pump the water out again and it goes down the drain of your sink! It takes a LOT less time to empty than it does to fill.
Fourthly and finally on the birth shopping list: a Birth Photographer! Eyebrows immediately raise. Everyone is thinking the same: YOU WANT SOMEONE PHOTOGRAPHING YOUR VAGINA?!! And I don’t. Not at all. I do however want to document one of the biggest and most significant days of my (and my baby’s) life and have photos to look at it in the future so that I can remember this most special time.
Nobody ever thinks it strange that people getting married hire a photographer or videographer and yet that’s just a wedding. I know I’m cynical but couples can get divorced. But giving birth!! Becoming a mother!! BIRTHING A HUMAN BEING!!! That’s far bigger than any wedding no matter how much cash was splashed. And you can never un-mother yourself. Having a baby and becoming a parent really is for life.
But enough of doom, gloom and divorce rates! Birth photographers! Birth photography! It’s really common in Australia and America to book a birth photographer but less common here. Perhaps because we are all so British and inhibited or possibly because there just aren’t many birth photographers out there? I found it really hard to get one in my area, and I’m in London! But birth photography is beautiful, you only need to look at the winning entries of this recent Birth Photography competition to see that. The images are powerful, raw, magical and the women look incredible.
I want to be able to look back on my birth and remember the day I brought my baby into the world forever and ever, and I’m sure if you think about it and get over the whole vagina thing, you probably would like to be able to do that too. Also I’ve never felt as good as when I had just given birth; I felt invincible, like some kind of awesome superwoman. Now I know the flood of oxytocin helped (not even the best orgasm will produce anywhere near as much oxytocin as giving birth does) but also just the fact I had just produced another human. Birth is amazing and I just think, why would you not want to photograph and treasure that moment?!
So I’ve met with my birth photographer, the lovely Susie Fisher. She knows my birth plan and how important it is for me to have a calm and quiet environment where I can birth uninterrupted and she is going to respect that and capture my birth story without being intrusive. It’s really important if you are booking a birth photographer to meet with them first so you know you’re a good fit and explain what you want from them and also to give them an idea of how you want your birth to go (because you definitely don’t want to be having to explain when in labour).
Birth photography doesn’t come cheap but it gives you something that will last a lifetime. And there’s not much in life you can buy that comes with that guarantee.
So there we have it; birth balls, birth pools, TENS machines and birth photographers. The four things I believe you need to get when preparing for birth.