Preparing for Birth – The Birth Plan

Preparing for Birth

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Everyone needs a plan, right? For the big things, for the small things, for the day-to-day mundane things. I’m a big believer in a good plan. Usually my plans take the form of a list; stuff I need to get done. And yes, I’m one of those people who adds extra stuff to the list, purely for the satisfaction of ticking it off. Makes me feel productive.

So when it comes to GIVING BIRTH TO A FULL ON HUMAN BEING, of course I’m all about having a plan. Not only is a plan absolutely necessary in my mind when you’ve got two other kids and logistics to organise (like who will come mind them in the middle of the night?!) but I also believe writing a birth plan (or proposal or set of preferences) is an important and significant step in ensuring you are mentally prepared for birth.

This is because, by drawing up a plan, you are taking time out to really think hard about your birth in a focused way, for perhaps the first time in your pregnancy. It goes without saying that it’s really important to give some serious thought to your birth. Unlike day-to-day parenting, birth is not something you can wing; the more preparation you put in, the better the experience will be and the more you will get out of it. So by taking some time out to draw up your plan, you will be starting to visualise your birth and think about what you want in a really positive way. It’s not all airy-fairy either, you will have a number of things to consider and big decisions to make, from where you want to give birth and if you’d like to to use a birth pool to delayed cord clamping and whether you want a physiological third stage. You will need to research these things and understand the advantages and disadvantages of all your options so you can make informed choices. By drawing up your plan for birth, or at least outlining your preferences, you’re making important decisions for you and your baby, some of which will have a profound and long-lasting effect.

What I will say for those of you reading who like me love a plan, it’s important to realise that birth is unpredictable and doesn’t always go to plan. From when the baby will actually decide to make his/her appearance in that 5 week long period in which he/she is due (the concept of a single due day is such nonsense!) to how quickly you’ll dilate in labour, there are so many unknowns. That’s not to say your birth won’t be beautiful and amazing and empowering and positive, it’s just it might pan out differently to how you expected and you need to be prepared for this. This is why some people prefer to use the term ‘birth proposal‘ or ‘birth preferences‘.

I like the latter best and believe by drawing up my preferences I am making it clear what my first choice is, but also giving some thought to, and allowing there room for movement, if my birth takes a difference course. With this in mind I have a whole section in my birth preferences dedicated to having a caesarean section. Not because I’m planning for one or even thinking I will end up having one, but I’m taking into account it could happen and if it does, I have given thought to it and specified my wishes for how I would like it to be done. This feels empowering and means however my birth goes I will still have made my own choices and will be having the best birth for me on the day.

So to help those who are also nearing the end of their pregnancy (although it’s never too early to start thinking about your birth and researching!!) listed below are the things I believe you need to consider and include in your birth preferences. I have also posted my own birth preferences at the bottom to help you get started, which you’re welcome to use as a template…

THINGS TO CONSIDER/INCLUDE:

* Birth partner details – name, contact number etc.
* Environment – including where you plan to give birth and how you want the space to be
* Positions for labour and birth – as it says on the tin!
* Pain relief – what you think you might want / what you don’t want
* Birth pool – whether you plan on using one for labour and / or birth
* Monitoring – preferences for sonicaid or continuous
* Second stage – how you wish to birth your baby including thoughts on assisted delivery
* Third stage – how you wish to birth your placenta e.g. physiological third stage or active management and if you want delayed cord clamping
* Placenta – state if you plan on keeping your placenta for encapsulation or another reason
* Breastfeeding – whether you plan on breastfeeding and if you’d like support with this
* Special circumstances – your preferences if your birth goes off plan and you decide to transfer in to hospital from home
* Unexpected situations – include preferences for c-section if situation arises
* Vitamin K – confirm that you wish your baby to have this or state if you do not.
* Aftercare – your wishes for afterwards e.g. whether you’d like a private room if on a ward

It’s a really good idea to involve your birth partner in devising a birth plan. Not only so they are involved in the decision making but also because it is their job on the day to ensure your preferences are known, understood and adhered to. It’s a big (and vitally important) job but near-impossible if they are not totally sure what your preferences are! Also, please make sure you do your research before making decisions/writing out your preferences so you are making informed choices that are right for you and your baby. This is most important.

NOTE: I am planning to have a water birth at home and have been practicing hypnobirthing with my birth partner. We have a birth photographer attending and I am having my placenta encapsulated. I also have a history of postpartum haemorrhage and have anaphylaxis. Obviously this is not the case for everyone! You will need to adapt this plan to make it your own and most importantly add any medical information that is relevant for yourself.
 

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Birth Preferences

We wish to have a calm, quiet, water birth at home with no intervention. We are using Hypnobirthing for our birth and therefore the environment and language is very important to us. Please note that we would appreciate it if you could avoid using the words ‘pain’ or ‘contractions’, and instead talk about ‘comfort’ and ‘surges’. I may describe the power and intensity of a surge but I do not wish to think about or feel pain, as I do not believe birth needs to be painful.

Birth Partner

My partner (insert name and phone number) will be my birth companion and we would like to be left alone whenever possible.

Environment

I would like my own choice of music to be playing (including Hypnobirthing audio tracks), candles burning and a birthing ball and aromatherapy oils to use. We would like to take photos and videos throughout and have a birth photographer booked to attend. We will also be using a birthing pool when labour is established and I have a TENS machine to use in early labour.

It is very important to me that the lighting is dimmed throughout.

Positions for Labour and Birth

I would like an active hypnobirth and to use positions that mean I am upright, forward and open which facilitate an easier and quicker birth. I’d like to remain mobile throughout. If I need to rest, I would like to use my birthing ball and lean over the sofa/bed. In the birthing pool I wish to be upright and leaning forward over the side or on all fours.

I do not wish to be lying on my back.

Pain Relief

Please do not offer any pain relief to me.

I DO NOT WISH TO HAVE AN EPIDURAL. I do not want Pethidine/Diamorphine or any other drugs. I do not like Gas and Air because it makes me sick.

***I developed Anaphylaxis to Paracetamol after giving birth previously and carry an epi-pen***

I do not want any drugs introduced during my labour or afterwards.

I have a TENS machine I can use but please do not offer this to me.

Please remind me of the tools I do have which include: my breathing techniques, visualisations (of a balloon filling as I inhale and a golden thread as I exhale), light touch massage, heat pack, cold flannel, essential oils, relaxation scripts, relaxation audio tracks, positive affirmations, the birth pool etc. These will all increase my comfort level.

Please remind me of my desire to feel and experience this birth and of my previous positive birth experience if I have a wobble.

Birthing Pool

I would like to use the birthing pool during labour and would like to give birth in the pool.

Monitoring Baby’s Heart Rate

Sonicaid please. There is no need to ask when you want to listen in. I would prefer not to be asked questions in labour unless necessary.

I wish to be as mobile as possible / in the pool so only continuously monitored if absolutely necessary. If continuous monitoring is necessary and I am therefore in hospital, I would like to use the wireless monitoring if this is available so that I can continue to move about.

Second Stage

I would like to breathe my baby down so he is born gently and calmly. I would like to follow the lead of my body rather than be coached to push.

I would like to be able to bring my baby to my chest immediately after delivery. If it is not possible for me to hold the baby then I would like the baby to have skin to skin time with James.

It is vitally important to me that the calm and intimate environment is maintained after the baby has been born as I have a tendency to lose blood, so plan to do what I can to encourage the flow of oxytocin: baby to breast, a little placenta to place against my gum, calming touch, warmth and reassurance, low lighting, relaxation track playing.

Assisted Delivery

I would rather wait longer than try to rush the process unless the baby is in obvious distress and needs to be born. I will accept assistance if there is no other option.

Third Stage

It is my preference to have a physiological third stage. I would like to birth the placenta without any drugs being introduced to my body. I would like to wait until my baby has received all of his blood before the cord is clamped and cut.

When the cord has stopped pulsating, please assist James in cutting the cord.

I would also like to place a small bit of the placenta once it has been birthed, against my gum to aid the flow of natural oxytocin and encourage my uterus to contract, as it has a tendency to relax after birth.

I am having my placenta encapsulated so please be mindful of this. It will need to be stored in a sterile container which we will provide and placed in the fridge as soon as possible and certainly within half an hour.

In the event that I experience another PPH, I accept that I will need to have the injection. Hopefully this will be enough intervention. If I continue to lose blood then I accept that I will need to transfer to hospital in order to receive syntocinon via a drip.

It is really important that my epi-pen is with me at all time if transferring to hospital and that the hospital staff are aware I have anaphylaxis to paracetamol and am allergic to latex.

Feeding the Baby

I wish for the baby to be put to my breast immediately after delivery.

I feel confident with feeding my baby and do not need assistance with breastfeeding.

Special Circumstances

If I chose to birth my baby in hospital because of special circumstances, I would like to request a private room with a birthing pool. The environment is very important to us so we would like the room to be as similar as possible to our preferences outlined for home birth. Most importantly we would like the room to be dimly lit, quiet and with as few people as possible present. We would like people to knock before entering and to speak in hushed voices. All communication is to go through James please so that I can labour undisturbed.

I do not wish for students to be present, only those who absolutely need to be there.

I do not wish to be cannulated unless it is essential to do so.

Unexpected Situations

If absolutely necessary, I give my permission for an emergency C-section to be performed.

It would be my preference to be awake for this and to receive my baby to my chest immediately after delivery, certainly before weighing him or cleaning him.

Please ensure any electrodes are placed on my back to they are not in the way and do not inhibit skin to skin time.

I wish for only those who are absolutely necessary to be present in theatre. I would like to be able to see my baby be born so would appreciate if the curtain could be lowered at this stage. I would appreciate it if the lights could be dimmed at head end so when the baby is delivered and brought to my chest, he is not subjected to bright light. I would like my choice of music/relaxation track to be playing in theatre during the birth of my baby.

If there is time beforehand, I would like to be given a pack of sterile gauze strips so that I have the opportunity to seed my baby with bacteria and stimulate microbiome development, which would happen if he were born naturally.

I would still like my placenta to be encapsulated after birth, so please bear this in mind and ensure the theatre staff are aware of my wishes. My placenta will need to be stored in a sterile container and kept cool until collected.

If my baby has to be in the Special Care Unit, then I want to be able to care for him as much as possible and to ensure he receives my breast milk. I would like help with making sure this happens.

Vitamin K

I am happy for my baby to be given Vitamin K by injection.

Aftercare

If in hospital, I wish to request a private room if one is available.

 

Thank you for taking the time to read my birth preferences. I am looking forward to the birth of my baby and planning for a positive and empowering birth experience where my baby is born safely and calmly. I believe this is possible however my birth story pans out.

Thank you for supporting us at this very special time in our lives. We will be sure to appreciate all you do for us, now and for the rest of time.

Siobhan and James.

 

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PREPARING FOR BIRTH – THE WET RUN

Preparing for Birth

So I’ve mentioned the birth pool before, in a previous post about stuff you might need to buy/borrow/hire/hopefully-not-steal, for birth. If you’re headed to a birth centre or hospital then you won’t need to get your own birth pool but if you’re planning a home birth then this might be something you want.

There are a few options on the market but I really rate the Birth Pool in a Box from The Good Birth Company. There are two size options – regular and mini. Both come with a liner. I used the mini last time and have gone for the same again. If you’ve not got a lot of space then the mini is perfect and plenty roomy (see photo below) but if you think you might want company in the pool then you’ll probably want to go for the regular.

Here I am enjoying the pool the other evening and feeling totally relaxed…

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Once you get your birth pool, it’s recommended you do at the very least a dry run! This is for two reasons: 1. to check the pool is intact and not damaged in any way. This is highly unlikely but it would suck massively to discover in labour that you were unable to inflate it! 2. to check you have everything you need and know what you’re doing! Again you don’t want to be having to figure this out in labour or popping off to B&Q for the right tap adaptor. When I say ‘you’, I obviously mean your birth partner! This is his/her job. You will be somewhat preoccupied.

Now if you’re going to the trouble of doing a dry run, in my mind you might as well make it a wet one! For one reason it’s good to get an idea of how long it will take to fill and secondly you get the chance to enjoy your pool before the big day! Oh and thirdly you can familiarise yourself with what it feels like to be in the pool so it’s not totally alien on the day and maybe even practice some of your breathing and visualisation techniques, imagining that you are experiencing surges. I think this kind of practice beforehand is really beneficial because sometimes it’s hard to visualise being in labour before it happens – even for a third-timer! Being in the pool with the lights down low and my playlist on really helps me get in the zone and feel excited and believe this is really happening… very soon!!.

I can’t speak for all the pools out there but setting up the Birth Pool in a Box is really straightforward and doesn’t take very long at all – approximately 20 mins from opening the box to being fully inflated and ready to fill. Filling it with warm water takes longer. On our recent wet run, it took 45 mins but this will vary from house to house.

Here’s a little time-lapse video (featuring my birth partner James) that we made the other day to show you just how easy it really is to inflate…

And here’s James’ top tips (in his own words) on getting set up:

  1. Make sure you have all the bits you need as you unpack the box.
  2. Check the tap adapters for the hose! Neither of the ones that came with the pool worked with our taps so I had to take a trip to Wicks. You don’t want to be doing that when your other half is in labour. It won’t be appreciated.
  3. Check the hose will reach from the tap to where you are planning to have the pool.
  4. I really recommend getting the electric inflation pump as one, it will take a fraction of the time to inflate and two, you don’t want to be exhausted after manually inflating it. The midwife should only really be concerned with the breathing of one person.
  5. Inflate the pool from the bottom up, so start with the bottom level and then inflate the floor and seat after this, then move on to the middle level and then last of all the top level.
  6. Don’t inflate the top level all the way at first. Inflate it to about 3/4 done then put the liner in. Once the liner is in place, inflate the top level fully otherwise you will struggle to get the liner over.
  7. Start filling! It’s takes about 45 mins with our taps so don’t expect it to fill up quickly, it’s a big pool with a lot of capacity.
  8. Keep checking the water temp as it fills and adjust accordingly. It takes quite a lot of water to cool it down/warm it up, so best to monitor as it fills instead of trying to correct the temp towards the end.

 

IMPORTANT: If you’re doing a dry run only, then you don’t need to use the liner (keep it in its protective packaging). If you’re doing a wet run it’s recommended that you use a liner, which means you will need a second one for labour as you can only use the liner once. You can buy a new liner here.

I did not use a liner this time but we cleaned the pool with anti-bacterial spray and dried it thoroughly before packing away. We will use our liner for labour. Also we made a milton solution and circulated this through the electric submersible water pump (that you use to empty the pool) and hose for half an hour to ensure it was all clean and ready for its next use.

The electric submersible water pump comes with the standard kit. There is also a basic kit option which includes tap adaptors, the hose and a thermometer, which is cheaper. If you go for this option you will have to empty your pool with a bucket. In my opinion/experience it’s worth getting the electric water pump as it makes emptying the pool so much easier and quicker. The water just gets pumped right out, back through the same hose you used to fill the pool, and then goes down your sink/drain. The standard kit also comes with a few other extras including mats and a sieve!

You can find some more info about the pools and accessories on offer here.

If you’ve got any questions just leave me a comment below and I will be sure to reply or contact the team at The Good Birth Company.

Most importantly if you’re planning a water birth at home, ENJOY! x

PREPARING FOR BIRTH – THE BABYMOON (Disneyland Paris Review)

Preparing for Birth, Reviews

THE ONE WHERE WE TOOK THE KIDS

(& loads of photos!)

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Admittedly it’s a bit of an oxymoron as traditionally a Babymoon is a chance to get away with your other half before the birth of your baby i.e. without the baby (or any other kids for that matter!), to remind yourself just one last time what life was like pre-kids when you were free to be spontaneous and wild. Although the whole being wild is somewhat mediated by the fact you’re heavily pregnant and therefore can’t actually be that wild…

When you’ve got kids already though things are slightly different. Not least because you can’t really remember what life was like before they came along so it’s more difficult to recreate those distant memories. But saying that it’s still nice to get away and spend some time together before you go from a family of 3 to 4 or 4 to 5 in our case.

 

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So I had a Babymoon last pregnancy and have one planned this time too (will be blogging about that very soon! Roll on Friday! Whoop Whoop!). If nothing else, it’s a good excuse to have a break from the kids and get some decent sleep when you’re at your most knackered, so why not take it?!

But it’s not just your relationship with your partner that is set to change with the arrival of a new baby, just as significantly is the change of dynamic that occurs for your existing children with the arrival of a new sibling! So I like to do a ‘Babymoon’ with them too! To spend some time together doing something special before everything changes for them.

 

 

Last time at 34 weeks pregnant I planned a whole weekend of fun with my eldest, just him and I. On the Friday night the fun began when we went to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. On Saturday we had brunch at our favourite spot in Brixton Village before visiting this old fashioned sweet shop just off Bond Street (down a little hidden cobbled street) that we had been meaning to find for a while. Then with bags stuffed with more sugar than we could consume without being sick, we headed off on a duck tour! A duck tour is basically a tour around London in a yellow tank-type vehicle that can be driven right into the Thames. It’s half road vehicle, half boat. It’s proper touristy but really fun! The next day we went to Legoland for the day. We were there from morning until park closing time, riding all the rides and taking in the mega firework display at the end! It was October half term so there were some extra special Halloween-related activities. It was so much fun, albeit totally exhausting, but we have so many memories of our weekend of fun before little Arlo Bear came into our lives.

 

This time with two kids to entertain we upped our Babymoon game and headed off on a proper Mini adventure to Paris! In an actual Mini! That’s right, a family of four with a weekend’s worth of luggage including a pram, drove to Paris in a Mini! It was surprisingly ok.

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We took the Mamas and Papas Armadillo Flip XT which was great for so many reasons:

  1.  It folds down super compact and fits in the Mini’s boot (even leaving room for 2x bags!).
  2. With the footmuff it’s the cosiest thing ever, which given we were going to Paris on a cold wet weekend in February was only a good thing.
  3. It’s built for naps! The seat reclines to flat, the liner is super plush and squidgy which makes it really comfy, there’s a foot plate bit (not the technical term) which extends and lifts up meaning baby’s legs aren’t left to dangle over the edge and the hood is absolutely enormous and can be pulled right over, transforming the buggy into a cosy dark little cave which fully protects baby from the elements.
  4. It has a seriously roomy basket underneath which was meant we didn’t have to lug our stuff about all day and on the rides!

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Since we planned to visit Disneyland and be there for the full 12 hours until 10pm at night (!) having somewhere for Arlo to sleep was really important. We had considered going without the buggy and just hiring one at the park in order to free up some space in the Mini but when we saw what was on offer at the park we were so glad we brought the Flip XT with us! The hire pushchairs at the park were really basic, no padding at all and not even a recline option. They looked just like the metal wheelchairs you find in hospital for transporting patients between floors! Arlo would have been unable to sleep and mega mega grumpy as a result! We would probably have had to leave early. So we were so glad we’d brought our own especially as the Flip XT is practically a bed on wheels! Arlo was obviously happy too because he spent many hours tucked up inside sleeping- making his tired mama very jealous!!

(If interested you can read my full review of the Mamas and Papas Armadillo Flip XT here).

Anyway enough with the pram chat! So I’m 34 weeks pregnant, just like last time, but this time round it’s not just Oisin and I, but also Arlo (as he’s due to become a big bro too) and James (aka Daddy). So the whole troupe.

 

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We set off from Folkestone on Friday morning catching an early-ish Eurotunnel crossing. Typically we arrived with not much time to spare before our crossing so were able to drive straight through and onto the train. The crossing itself is only about half an hour and the drive to Paris is less than 3 hours. So it really is very easy and very quick! We often drive to Devon and Manchester visiting family and that takes longer than driving to Paris!!

We booked to stay at a new hotel called B&B hotel Disneyland Paris. It’s not an official Disney hotel on the park site itself (those cost a bomb) but it’s somehow loosely affiliated with Disney and is listed on their website as a ‘Partner Hotel’. It’s about a mile away from the park and is in an area where there are a number of hotels all existing for the sole purpose of accommodating Disneyland guests.

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The hotel is basic but brand new so everything is really clean and most importantly working! It was a total bargain- £135 for the 2 nights for a family of 4 and that included breakfast for us all. There’s also a free bus shuttle to the park from the hotel which takes 5-10mins. Bearing in mind it’s February half term we thought that was a great deal.

The breakfast was great too- maybe not so much the scrambled egg which looked a little dubious but there were plenty of cereals, yoghurts, croissants, brioche, freshly squeezed juices etc. on offer. And it was all you can eat, so we ate loads, obvs.

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The bedroom had a kingsize bed and two singles all with actual duvets not the annoying sheet and blanket combo you often get. The shower was good (in strength and temp- nothing worse than a weak shower) and the towels were new and relatively fluffy. It was free to park at the hotel for the duration of our stay and the free shuttle to the park saved us quite a bit as I’m sure the parking at Disneyland doesn’t come cheap. Also I imagine the queues in and out wouldn’t have been much fun.

The only negatives of the hotel were that the mattresses were HARD and there were no toiletries or tea making facilities in the rooms. But other than that it was great and definitely did the job. I wouldn’t certainly recommend and look to stay there again next time we visit Disney!

I don’t really need to review Disneyland itself because you either love it or hate it. I firmly fall into the first category. I love the magic, the lights, the music, the rides, the colour, the nostalgia and the escapism. Twice round ‘it’s all a small world’ and there was a definite improvement in my mental state of wellbeing. And seeing my kids’ faces light up also brings me much joy. Oisin was giddy with excitement (and terror-induced adrenaline) after a go on ‘Space Mountain’ and even Arlo was flapping his little arms and squawking with happiness on ‘it’s a small world’ (hence we went round twice).

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The fact it was February meant the weather wasn’t great but that was offset by the fact that the queues were also greatly reduced in comparison to when I’ve been previously in August, smack bang in the middle of the school summer hols! Beautiful blue skies last time but also 90min queues for every single ride and sometimes even longer. February brought grey skies and drizzle but the queues were never more than 30 mins and most of the time less. Many rides only had 5-10 min queue times which was nothing.

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Also one (rather large) bonus of going when heavily pregnant was that we got an easy access pass, allowing the whole family to skip the queue for rides that were suitable for pregos. So that ruled out the rollercoasters. And we had to queue for Pirates of the Caribbean, which was deemed too dangerous for a pregnant person (although weirdly babies were allowed?!).

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So overall I’d say it was better going at this time of year, despite the weather; we got to go on a lot more rides and spent a lot less time standing in queues. Tickets for the park are also cheaper off peak. But saying that, if you can time your pregnancy with the summer break and get an easy access pass, then that might be the ultimate plan! Sunshine and queue jumping sounds good.

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One last tip for Disney: TAKE A PICNIC!! A friend text me before I went saying Disney was ‘full of horrible food and horrible people’. I thought this was harsh until I sampled the culinary disappointment. Then I understood where she was coming from. It wouldn’t be so bad if the food was gross but at least cheap or if it was expensive but tasty. But expensive and gross is the worst combo of the lot. And that’s exactly what’s on offer! Expect to pay 50 Euro for lunch for 3 people and get some pasta slop that tastes worse than a 90s school dinner served with a watered-down carbonated drink. I really really really wish we had taken our own picnic. For the same money we could have had a delicious spread with snacks and treats to last the whole day! We will definitely be doing this next time.

So there we have it – my review of our Mini adventure to Disneyland Paris at 34 weeks pregnant for a Babymoon, with the kids!

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I’m now sat in the car at Calais, writing this whilst waiting to board our train home, and despite the pain I was in last night after a whole day on my feet lugging the bump (and extra lbs) about, I definitely hope we come back soon! Not quite sure how we will manage with 2x babies and a double buggy but I’m sure we’ll give it a go! Although probably not in a Mini, hey…!

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Preparing for Birth – The Shopping List

Preparing for Birth

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).

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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).

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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.

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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!).

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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?!

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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.