STEP ONE in Preparing Mentally for Having Your First Baby:
Prepare Yourself for
the Ordeal of Labour and
Your Immediate Feelings for Baby
From the moment you announce your pregnancy, people congratulate, enthuse and excite about the impending new arrival. Meanwhile, you worry about your expanding waistline or the extra large pants you are forced to buy!
“Pregnancy might not be very comfortable, but it doesn’t matter, soon it will all be behind you, and have been so worthwhile.” You smile grimly, thanking them for the comfort, while you change yet another blouse soaked through with sweat.
“All you have to get through now”, they continue, “is labour”, as if it’s the same as buying the groceries. You listen, reassured, counting the moments before you will, at last, meet your bundle of love and joy. The reality, however, can be rather more complicated.
It is true that for some, once baby arrives, nothing else matters. Their perspective in life is clear, life takes on a deeper meaning and they find a new inner happiness. For others, it is the beginning of a life-changing journey, which may have some very difficult moments. The more mental preparation you are able to do for yourself, the easier you can make your journey.
- Prepare for the ordeal of labour.
I’m here to share the reality of labour, rather then looking at it through rose-tinted spectacles. The point is, YOU CAN NOT PREDICT YOUR LABOUR, even with your second child. I thought I’d know what to expect. Nope! My experiences were completely different.
My first labour was on and off for 2 days, with full-on labour (minute and a half contractions, every minute) for 19 hours, and my waters only broke 45 minutes before he arrived. First time, labour is often longer. It is as if your body is learning what to do, the pain escalating gradually. After hours of labour, once baby arrived, my body was flooded with adrenaline, which lasted for months. I felt amazing. Luckily my yoga teacher, Lolly Stirk, http://www.lollystirk.co.uk/ told me what was happening and to slow down before it all wore off. Thankfully I listened to her because otherwise, after about 4 months, I might have fallen flat on my face with sudden, unexplained exhaustion.
My second labour was over in just over 6 hours, start to finish, with full-on labour only 1 hour 45 minutes, once my waters broke. The incremental increase in pain with each contraction was massive, because I no longer had the cushion of my waters, but also because it was all happening so quickly. My body obviously knew what it was doing this time and didn’t hang around, although quick labours are much more intense! It was over so quickly that I didn’t have that amazing flood of adrenaline like last time – gutting! I also experienced post-baby pains when feeding – yikes! Wasn’t expecting that one! You don’t normally experience any pain when baby breastfeeds after birth with your first, but with your second (and apparently it just gets worse with each baby), the uterus contracting with each feed (to get it back into shape) is such agony you may need pain killers.
Most women will agree that no labour is the same. They’ll also tell you, that when it comes to number two, and thereafter, you hardly even have a birth plan! Of course you must decide where you’d like to give birth (at home, a birth centre, or which hospital), and whether you want the baby to be born in water for example; but all of your choices are made in the knowledge that you cannot control your labour. With this in mind, take it into consideration when planning for the arrival of number one. Make all the preparations you need to make you feel comfortable but what is key is that you focus on the safe and healthy arrival of baby, rather than the smaller details.
- Don’t be afraid of labour.
People do not talk openly about the horrors of labour because they do not want to scare expectant mothers. I understand that, but without openness and honesty, how can you prepare for the possibility of being in labour for hours and hours and hours on end? It may not happen to you, but it also might, and you should be ready for that.
- Don’t be scared of labour pain, prepare for it.
No matter which way you look at it, labour is painful and is likely to be worse than any pain you have experienced before. I tell you this not to scare you, but so that you can prepare calmly for what is about to happen. It can be far more stressful, having planned for a natural birth, to realise after a few hours, that you just don’t know how you are going to deal with this. Mental preparation can give you the ability to deal with anything. How do you, as an individual, deal with pain best? Ask yourself this important question and answer it truthfully. Does music and candlelight relax you? If so prepare this environment for when labour starts at home, at the very least. Everyone is different and no matter how radical it might seem, go with what you think will work.
Labour is pain CREATED by your own body, so it can deal with it. You can deal with it. But if you are not equipped with ways to control that pain, especially over prolonged periods of time, it might be more difficult.
The following really helped me:
- Practices such as yoga (yogic breathing was key to both of my births) and HypnoBirthing (just reading about this was helpful, even though I didn’t end up using it, although I know plenty of people who have done very successfully – some swear that they don’t feel any pain)
- Perineum massage. I’m sure it gave me an extra inch in diameter, and in labour every millimetre counts!
- Devices like TENS machines. It was a God send first time round, to help deal with this new pain which was more intense than I had expected. Second time I didn’t bother, confident it would all happen much faster – I was right!
- Herbal ointments to bath in at home once labour starts to calm you and relieve pain (visit Neal’s Yard Remedies).
- Water is a natural anaesthetic. Having a bath at home to help with the early contractions and giving birth in water can really help. With my first pregnancy being in water really helped with labour, but after many hours, I was advised to get out as everything was taking too long. I ended up having my son standing up a few hours thereafter. With my second, labour happened too quickly to be in water, accept for right at the end where we gave birth!
- Exercise. With my first baby, I walked the dog for hours when my contractions started. It helped distract me and they say it helps move the baby down faster. (After 19 hours of full-on labour, though, I was slightly doubting this, but hey, I guess it could have gone on another 4 hours!)
No matter which way you dress it ladies, labour is painful, so get ready. Mentally.
There is nothing to be scared of. I gave birth without any drugs (not even gas and air) both times and even though it was painful, I would do it all again drug free. Why, you might ask?
- I wanted to be in control of my body at all times, and be able to feel the baby come out.
- If you can not feel when to push, relying on the midwife to tell you, you can tear more.
- Bruising and backache can result from where the anaesthetist puts the needle in your back, which can take weeks to disappear.
- An epidural can slow down your contractions, extending labour.
- Your recovery can be longer.
- Within a couple of days you forget the pain – which is why we go through all of this more than once!
- Research says it is the least traumatic way, for your baby, to bring him into the world.
- Expect to be exhausted and in discomfort afterwards.
Rest as much as you can.
Sleep when baby sleeps. Everyone always tells pregnant women this and they never listen! By the time you have your second, if you go again, you’ll wish you could sleep more but may not be able to because of number one running around. Make the most of being able to while you can. Sleep heals all wounds.
Walk as little as you can until you are totally healed. Check out http://www.nctshop.co.uk/Postnatal-Recovery-Health/products/8/
I used the Healing Herbal Bath sachets after both my births to help heal minor grazing and I was back to normal within 10 days.
- Don’t worry if it doesn’t go to plan – it probably won’t!
Women set their hearts on giving birth in a particular place, in a particular way. It can be incredibly disappointing if you are set on having a totally natural birth, for example, but you are forced to have an epidural or a c-section.
Don’t dwell on it. It’s over. Prepare yourself mentally for the fact that nothing is in your control and that it may all be very different from how you expect. The important thing once baby is safely in your arms, is to focus on him, and be joyful that he arrived safely. Congratulate yourself – you survived labour! You are amazing! Well done! Nothing else matters. At last, after all those months of incubating your little one, you are together. Enjoy!
- Prepare for the possibility of not feeling overwhelming emotion towards your new baby.
It is worth considering that there may not be an immediate, overflowing feeling of love when you first see or hold your baby. If this is the case for you, don’t worry and don’t feel guilty. It is like this for many women and remember baby is still just an external foetus. Some fathers can find it particularly difficult to bond with their new off spring in the first few months, before there is any interaction. With time, as baby grows, bonds develop and become stronger and stronger. Also, consider what you have just been through: labour. It’s the most amount of pain and stress the body will ever put itself through – and you survived! You deserve a medal! It is natural that after such an ordeal you might be surprised by your emotions and feeling, and of course, your hormones will still be all over the place! Good old hormones, where would we be without them?!
- Be as relaxed as possible once he is born, allowing yourself the time to recover and to let the feelings grow naturally.
Finally, remember that babies are incredibly robust little things and they too, have just survived labour. So if you need a break, he’ll be just fine without you for a few minutes. Once you have given birth and have laid baby on your chest, to make that initial contact outside the womb, give baby to your partner, if need be. I did! Have a shower and lie back for a few minutes. After all that, you deserve a break and a moment to yourself to catch your breath! When you are ready you can take up your little angel and put him against your breast, but there is plenty of time.
We are not meant to be doing all of this alone and if you need help after the birth, ask for it, without any feeling of guilty. What is important is that you can rest and concentrate on baby. NOTHING ELSE MATTERS.
- Make sure you take all your supplements during pregnancy. Your baby will take all it needs from you in the womb and if you don’t have sufficient to sustain yourself as well, deficiency can contribute to more severe baby blues or post-natal depression.
When a male friend of mine asked me what to expect, days before their first child was due, I said, “That you will never be your wife’s priority again.” Remember this ladies, it is all a massive ordeal for you, but initially it can be an incredibly isolating experience for them.
 External foetus? It might sound a bit strange, but for the first three months of their lives, that is what your baby is. The reason why we do not give birth after a year when they are more physically formed, is we couldn’t give birth to a child that large without killing ourselves. Thus the baby has to finish his development in our arms, rather than our bellies. Remember this when considering their behaviour in the first few months: there is no thought process, only instinct and survival.