The end game
As they think about the last stages of the birth, and can feel the baby start to move, women may become anxious and uncertain, or feel that they will just not be able to get the baby out. But remember that no matter how she finally gives birth, every woman is a winner and deserves to feel like one as well.
Sometimes, though, things just don’t turn out as you expect: it’s a fact that some 8 to 11 per cent of women will need a C-section or some other sort of help. No matter how well prepared you are, there is always the X factor, the unknown element. The wind may shift at any moment, and you have to be flexible and go with the flow. At times like these, it’s important to resist the feeling that you may not have done enough. I am convinced that all women give of their best in the circumstances they find themselves in, so I raise my glass to them.
It makes me sad that a competitive element has entered even this area of our lives. It’s not about who has had the better, faster, most natural, etc. birth. Just bringing another being into the world is something very special.
Coping with a crisis
Even if things don’t end up going the way you want them to, you can still use your preparations to calm yourself in the face of uncertainty and anxiety, and make the most of any situation, as the following story illustrates.
Case study: deep breathing
I worked with a couple who were well prepared and who were hoping for a natural birth. Louisa was sitting in a bath tub, the atmosphere was calm and serene, and all looked set fair for the birth they had in mind. But when I checked the baby’s heart rate, it was dropping down very low, and taking a long time to recover to a normal rate. I checked a few more times at frequent intervals, but there was no improvement. We tried a few techniques to improve the baby’s heart rate, but it was clear that they were not making any difference. I explained my concerns to Louisa, and asked if I could examine her cervix.
Unfortunately her cervix was only four centimetres dilated, so there was no birth in sight yet. I had to transfer Louisa to the labour ward, knowing that if things did not improve we might have to go for a C-section. In the labour ward I handed Louisa over to the care of the obstetric team, but I stayed with her to help her with her breathing. Every time the baby was in distress, Louisa’s deep birth breathing at least brought its heart rate up a bit quicker. But time was running out, and finally we had to go for a C-section. The surgeon lifted out a small, sweet baby boy, completely tangled up in the umbilical cord. There was simply no other way this baby could have been delivered.
This birth showed me yet again how much good breathing can help: it might not guarantee you the birth you wanted, but it can still help you and the baby in the face of an emergency.
Louisa had got practically everything she didn’t want, but at the end of it all shwas still holding a beautiful baby in her arms. So that is why I think every woman is a winner.
After the birth: the undisturbed golden hour
Once you are holding your baby in your arms, you should feel free to enjoy the sense of achievement. Whatever you experienced during pregnancy and labour will be worth it once you feel that little body resting on your chest.
Now is the time to enjoy a moment of privacy, and it’s good for the couple to be left alone to savour this magical moment. Undisturbed skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby will enhance the release of oxytocin, the happiness hormone. The oxytocin levels of newborn babies peak at around 30 minutes after birth, and mothers will experience a peak at around 60 minutes after the placenta is born. This is the golden hour that mothers, babies and partners should revel in. This moment will never come back, which is why it’s worth asking the staff at your hospital or birthing centre to allow you the time and space to appreciate it fully.
This is also the time to get acquainted. While animal mothers usually lick their newborns, human mothers usually cuddle, kiss and stroke their new babies very gently and lovingly. The babies themselves are born to be very alert, and to participate in this moment. All their senses are wide open, and they are attuned to survival.
Licking, nuzzling, and finding the breast – all these help babies feel good, safe and secure. Through their closeness to her they can smell, feel, hear and understand that this is their mother, on whom they depend for their survival. Mother and baby recognise each other at the deepest level, though their senses.
It is because of their sense of smell that babies are attracted to their mother’s nipple, and their instinct is to try and crawl up to the mother’s breast to feed. It’s important to understand this, especially if you end up having a C-section, because you will need lots of skin-to-skin contact with your baby to get the oxytocin flowing. There will be plenty of time to weigh and dress the baby later, after she has had her first feed and the crucial bodily connection between you both has been established.
Leading oxytocin researcher Kerstin Uvnas-Moberg has discovered that oxytocin acts as an effective anti-stress agent. In her research she demonstrated that mothers who breastfed for more than seven weeks were calmer by the time their babies were six months old than mothers who had not breastfed at all.
As a midwife, I feel it is a special privilege to be present at the birth of baby, no matter how many mothers I attend. Being the gatekeeper of birth for the mother, the father and the whole family has always been, and continues to be, a great honour.
So I speak from my heart when I congratulate you and urge you to enjoy this precious instant in time, holding your priceless gift in your loving arms.