It's becoming increasingly popular, but what exactly is an active birth and how can you get one?
Birthing options and having an active birth
The active birth movement started back in the 1970s in the UK as a reaction to what was rapidly becoming the norm: women labouring while lying on their backs confined to a bed (where doctors can easily see what's going on).
Active birthers pointed out that since the dawn of time women have used a variety of positions to give birth in, many of them upright, and that moving around during labour and changing position can help to relieve labour pains and help the body do its job. At the most simple level it makes sense to work with gravity to push your baby out.
Active birthing is all about empowering and encouraging women to get in touch with their own bodies and to stay active during labour, working with their bodies to bring their babies safely and calmly into the world using the most natural positions. The focus is on approaching labour with a positive mindset, relaxation techniques to help cope with the pain, and plenty of confidence. And it's growing in popularity.
This ideal of an active birth appeals to many women, and if you're one of them you might be wondering what you can do to ensure that that's the kind of birth you experience. The bad news is that you can't: No-one can tell you how your labour will go and what birthing positions or medical intervention will be safest for your baby when the time comes. The good news, however, is that there is plenty you can do to boost your chances of an active labour, and that many of the techniques you learn along the way may come in useful to help you cope with whatever kind of labour you're ultimately faced with. The key is to prepare for how you'd like your birth to be without fixating on that as the only way your labour should go. So if you are going to rush out and buy a birthing pool, don't lose sight of the fact that you may not get to use it.
Provisos aside, here are our top tips for an active birth.
1) Birth Preparation classes
One of the most effective measures you can take to increase your chances of an active birth is to be both mentally and physically prepared for labour and the changes your body will have to go through to release your baby into the world. Special preparation classes in the run up to labour, antenatal classes, are provided mainly by the NHS and (at a cost) the NCT (National Childbirth Trust). These classes are designed to give you an overview of what happens during labour, techniques for relaxation and pain management and information on pain relief. Depending on your location, you can also find classes specifically addressing active birthing from the Active Birth Centre which specialises in yoga during pregnancy and birth, massage and water birth.
2) Prepping your body for labourRegular gentle exercise will help keep your body in good shape for the physical demands of labour. Walking and swimming will keep you generally fit while special pregnancy yoga courses are designed to teach you how to breathe for relaxation while improving your physical fitness and enhancing your self-confidence and general sense of well-being. If you take birth prep classes then make sure you practise the techniques and exercises at home that you're shown in class.
3) Birth positions
When you're considering a place to give birth, find out in advance whether they support active birthing and what props they may have to support you in different positions, such as a birthing stool, birthing ball, sling, cushions and birthing pool. It's a good idea to read up on different birthing positions
and when and why they may be useful, but do try to keep an open mind about what will work for you.
4) Birth partner participation
Whatever kind of birth you're planning it's important to know you have the support of a birth partner who understands the kind of labour you'd like and can give you vital encouragement when your energy is flagging. This doesn't have to be your husband/partner, it can be anyone who you feel will give you the support you need to get you through.
One of your partner's key birthing duties may be massage, which can be great for helping to ease labour pains. But s/he will need to put in the time to learn and practice some techniques first and be able to adapt to your needs when it actually comes time for labour.
6) Natal Hypnotherapy
You might also want to consider using natal hypnotherapy
, no, no swinging watches and 'look into my eyes', but learning the techniques of self-hypnosis for deep-relaxation during labour. It's been tried, tested and approved by the ThinkBaby team and is gaining popularity with mums who want an active birth and natural pain relief, but it won't be everyone's cup of tea. You can either look for a hypnotherapy teacher or go it alone with a birth preparation CD
7) Know your pain relief options
Proponents of active birth will usually emphasise natural, non-medical methods of pain relief for labour
(such as massage, aromatherapy, hypnotherapy, acupuncture) because they don't make you groggy, spaced out or temporarily physically impaired. That said, medical forms of pain relief won't necessarily stand in the way of an active labour. Even an epidural doesn't, these days, necessarily reduce your mobility as you can have a 'mobile epidural'
using a lower-dose anasethetic that should mean that you retain feeling in your legs and feet as well as control of your bladder and abdominal muscles, while blocking the pain of contractions. This means that you should still be able to get up, walk around and change birthing positions and be able to push effectively when you reach that stage.
Keep an open mind. There's no telling what the particular circumstances of your labour will be and you'll be best set for a positive experience and avoid disappointment if you prepare for the active labour you want, but also be prepared to be flexible should the need arise for the safety of you and your baby.