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Labour and Birth

When preparing for labour and birth, perhaps the most important consideration is the physical environment a labouring woman needs.  Even though we are highly enculturated and familiar with medical settings, we are still mammals, which means we have evolved to release birthing hormones in specific circumstances.  To release the specific and complex cocktail of hormones most efficiently, international research has found we need to have three specific feelings.  See Dr Sarah Buckley's Hormonal Physiology of Childbearing for more information.

In short, for efficient birthing, we need to feel:

  • private,

  • safe, and

  • unobserved. 

Think about when you conceived your baby.  You needed those three feelings then too.  Then think about the setting of the average birthing room in hospital.  There's bright lights, stranger midwives and doctors coming in and out, a high bed in the middle of the room, stainless steel benches and tiling on the walls, medical equipment on view, smalls of antiseptic.  This means a standard hospital setting is contraindicated for efficient labour and normal vaginal birth.  Research has shown that these aspects increase cortisol (which inhibits labour) not only in labouring women, but in the staff who work there every single day.  Women in this situation are also more likely to experience more pain, longer labours and therefore require more pain relief, which leads to the so-called "cascade of interventions".  This means once one intervention is given, the chances of needing additional interventions is increased, thereby reducing the chances of a normal physiological birth.

So, if you plan on birthing in hospital, consider how you want lessen the impacts of the standard  hospital room.  Dim the lights if possible, or bring a lamp, include in your birth plan (or map) who you want in the room with you.  Is there access to a birth pool or shower?  Does the hospital provide mats for you to labour on rather than only being on the bed?

If you plan on birthing at home, you can set the space up however you like.  You may want to hire a birth pool and have some old sheets and towels on hand. 


If you have other children, organise someone to specifically look after them and is not invested in witnessing the birth.  So, if your child/children don't want to be in the room, that person needs to be with them, meeting their needs at all times.

During your pregnancy, make sure you research artificial induction of labour, as this is an increasingly common intervention and many women have this option suggested to them at 39 weeks (even though full term is considered to be 37-42 weeks);  Dr Rachel Reed's blog Midwife Thinking and her book Why Induction Matters are excellent places to start.

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