In normal circumstances, you might not give much thought to your birth room.
Maybe you’ve decided on a Home birth so your home is just where you’ll give birth, it always looks like that no problem
The Midwife led Unit – a home from home you’ve been told – no need to think about it.
The Labour ward- you’re being cared for by a consultant so you’re expecting to give birth on the labour ward. You’ve had a look around and the rooms are a good size but hospital looking, and you’re accepting this location.
Yeah – so what? – why is My Birth Room so important anyway? Why Should I give any thought to how it looks, or feels or smells? or what I can see?
We’re not living in “normal” circumstances right now, just in case you hadn’t noticed! Birth centre rules and restrictions are changing all the time, sometimes favourably and predictably at other times not so much. The removal, or threat of removal, of some options like home birth or water births however temporary, can have an impact on your sense of control. Spending some time thinking about how you can influence your birthing space, even if it’s not going to be where you first planned to give birth or even considering how you might mitigate any last minute changes of plan, can go a long way to bringing the focus of the situation back to you and your baby. Here are some thoughts that might help.
But first a note on Oxytocin.
If you haven’t heard of it already – it’s the miracle hormone during pregnancy, labour and birth. There are others, but focusing on this one, brings all the other good things along with it! Good levels of it can keep labour going physiologically, reduce pain perception and gets your body ready for breastfeeding. It works on a feedback loop while you’re in labour – the action of the baby pushing on your cervix during a contraction produce more oxytocin which produces more contractions – honestly this is a good thing!
Oxytocin is a happy hormone. However it’s also a really shy one. It won’t come out to play under bright light or if you are feeling observed, nervous or scared, and it can be completely overshadowed by it’s hormonal big brother – adrenaline, which comes to play when you are feeling observed, nervous or scared. Funny that!
But still – why should I think about my birth room, what difference does it make?
In a bit of a throwback stylee, think Hygge. When your environment is comfortable and cosy, you feel good right? low lights, soft furnishings, nice smells, the presence of people you love. Think about how you relax when you return to your favourite space, after a stressful day, you might throw off your clothes, have a scented, warm bath with candles. Whatever floats your happy boat.
On the other hand how unhappy might you feel if you returned home after a stressful day when you’re having home repairs done. There’s scaffolding around your house, strange people climbing all over it looking in to your windows, the heating’s off and there’s no-where cosy and clean to relax in. The happy boat scenario, that feeling of calm, and peace is driven by Oxytocin, the latter – not so much.
So your immediate, intimate environment can affect your Oxytocin levels and you can get even more of the good stuff by manipulating the environment of the room you’re in to remind you of your Hygge or happy place.
An analogy that is often used, is that the same sort of environment that facilitates romantic sex, will also facilitate a positive birth! All the elements of dim lights, nice smells, good food maybe, comfort, a lack of interruption will help. It’s not trivial.
In these Covid-19 times, it is more apparent than ever, that things change, often quickly, some times with little warning. In my local area at the height of the first wave, our Home Birth service was suspended, it was reinstated quite quickly but any actual or the perception of inconsistency in the services available that might relate to your birth plan can cause feelings of concern and nerves, so now is the time to plan what you’re going to do instead.
Even if your birth is some months away and you’re hoping that any suspensions or restrictions will be lifted by then, it’s really worth thinking about all the possible scenarios that may play out when your time comes. How can you make your birth room as homely, as Hyygeyey (word of the day) and as Oxytocin rich as you can. These things apply without Covid-19 in the mix but, I think they’re even more important now. So here’s a list as a starter for 10!
A note on infection control – when you are allocated a room in a hospital or Midwife Led Unit to birth in, it is yours until your baby arrives, and will be cleaned well, before the next person arrives. Therefore anything you take from your home environment is OK for you to use. Your midwives and Healthcare Professionals will be using PPE, to protect themselves from possible infection, but it’s still a good idea to make sure your property is as clean as it can be, so cleaning and packing it before you need it is a good idea.
Here’s the list! Items that might need packing and/or purchasing are highlighted in bold.
1.Think about how you are going to transfer in to hospital. If you’ll be using your own car then get the person who will be driving you to practice the journey at different times of day. Consider using an app like Waze so that you, the birthing person don’t have to worry about how you are getting there. Your transportation isn’t normally considered as part of your Birth Room set up, but it could be an element of your labour, so making it as stress free as possible is definitely the way to go. This is particularly important in relation to point 3.
2. Your birth room starts with the door, so whether you’re at home or in a health care setting, consider making a sign to let people know what you need from them. Here’s an example you can access and change to your requirements. Don’t forget to pack blue tac to attach it to the outside of your door if you’re not going to be at home.
3. Stay at home – for as long as possible, the first stage of labour is when your Oxytocin production ramps up, but can be easily quenched by stress, change, fear, observation etc. If your home is part of your happy place, then labour at home for as long as you are comfortable. In the very early stages, you could try making a cake! The more established you are in labour, the less likely that the transfer and associated curfuffle when you arrive will affect your progress.
4. Think privacy. How much privacy you need is personal to you, but even if you’re a nudist, birth can be an exposing process. Midwives are aware of the need for privacy, of course, but on the whole, they don’t know you or your privacy needs. You may also find that your needs are different when you’re in labour than they are in your normal life. Midwife Led Units, are generally more flexible in how you set up the room, but Labour ward rooms can be moved around as well.
If you’re going to spend any time on the bed, consider moving it so that the foot end doesn’t point towards the door.
Protecting your privacy is an essential role for your birth partner – making sure the curtain that covers the entrance door is pulled all the way across for example. Make sure you talk to them about this, so they know it’s part of their role before you get there.This is your room for the duration, you can adjust things.
5. Think smells – Not everyone is sensitive to smell but they can be a powerful element in your Hygge/Oxytocin mission. Aromatherapy is becoming a more mainstream feature in Midwife Led Units at least, but if you don’t enjoy the smell of Lavender, a common essential oil used for relaxation in labour, you will need to think about your own preferences and supply your own sources of those smells.
6.Think lighting – Most labour rooms have dimmable lighting, insist that the lights are dimmed. You can bring your own battery powered tea lights or fairy lights and consider going as dim as possible!
Assessment units, labour ward rooms, theatres and the corridors between them are generally much brighter, which can be disconcerting. If you are comfortable with the sensory deprivation, consider packing an eye mask or sunglasses to mitigate the effect of that light on your Oxytocin/adrenaline production.
I have noticed that the ensuite shower rooms attached to labour rooms often have automatic lights that come on when someone enters the room. If the birth room is on a low level of lighting, this can be quite jarring. Shut the door! People entering your room from the corridor can create significant light pollution as well. This might be something you put on your sign, and make sure that your birth support is primed to manage.
7. Think activity. Being as active as you can be during labour, really helps with your progression, and getting baby in to a really great position for birth. Just because there’s a bed in the room, doesn’t mean you have to use it – well not as a bed anyway. All hospital beds go low, high, and bend in several places. So either push it to the side of the room to show your intent on as active a labour as possible or ask to adjust it so you can use it as a prop – maybe with the head end up, you can kneel on the bed and lean on the raised end. There are nearly endless possibilities. Most Midwife Led Units and Labour wards, have access to mats, birth balls and peanut balls. If they’re not in the room when you get there ask for them or during labour if you change your mind. It might be worth a call to the unit you expect to birth in though, to check availability, so you can bring your own if want to
8. Think sounds – Hospitals, and Midwife Led Units are strange places for noise. Sometimes there are machines that go ping; staff chat in corridors, often not quietly and possibly directly outside your room; you might even be able to hear other women in labour. Whatever might be going on, the noises are not familiar and could be popping your birthing bubble! Sounds, like smells, can be a powerful conduit to your happy Oxytocin filled feelings. If you’re a music lover and you have tunes that generate those feelings, then put some work in to your playlist before hand and take it with you! Many units have facilities to play music (or hypnobirthing tracks) in the rooms, but taking a phone or portable speaker means that you will know how it works, and there won’t be any hassle getting the sounds going.
Some speakers have a light production aspect too, to link back to number 5. A little search on Spotify led me to this pre-loaded play list, and there are a couple of others there, if you need inspiration.
9. Think food – in spite of popular opinion, eating and drinking in labour is a good thing. Labour is hard work, and maintaining hydration and energy levels is important to get you to the end! I know from a “recent” experience (11th April) of supporting a hospital birth at Leighton Maternity unit, that they, at least provide a packed meal at various points in the day. These included a sandwich, a piece of fruit, a bag of crisps, a cake/biscuit and some orange juice. I, as the birth partner was offered a meal too. I don’t know what the current provision for any restrictive diets or food allergies is, but pre-covid experience suggests not much. So if you want something delicious and comforting to eat, especially if you have a specific dietary requirement I would strongly recommend taking your own food in. Small snack sized, easy to eat portions are ideal for you to grab a mouthful in between surges. Also take a drinking vessel that has an integral straw – it needs to be easy access, your birth partner might hold it for you or it might just be near you so you can turn your head and take a sip as and when – it seems a small thing, but having to drink out of a cup or a bottle without a straw can get quite tricky when you’re in the thick of it.
10. Think Comfort, Touch & colour – 3 things there – grouped together because I’ve run out of numbers! but this is where I’m asking you to think about what your room looks like. Hopefully, by now you’ll be imagining soft lighting, maybe some fairy lights, and there will be lots of space for you to move around. There might be birthing balls, a pool or large cushions on the floor, but things might still look a little sterile, and the sheets on the bed will be white, VERY white. You could take your own pillow (which will have the added advantage of carrying your smells from home), a colourful blanket or throw, that changes the feel of the room from hospital to bedroom. Maybe you’ve got something you made for yourself, or that someone made for you, that brings with it feelings of love and connection. It can both be seen and then used when your baby is born, and you’re skin to skin to keep you and your new bundle warm and together.
I have a bonus point for these Covid-19 times – think communication. If you and your birth partner are separated, or because of yours or their infection status you are unable to be together at all, or you had planned to have a doula as well, but infection control means they are currently not able to be there, you can still benefit from their support.
Take your mobile and video call them when your need is highest, continuously if the hospital has good wifi or you have a good data contract. You are allowed to use mobiles in hospitals, but remember to take your charger and a charged battery pack so you don’t lose contact when you need it the most. Remember the cables. These will also be helpful if you are transferred to the post-natal ward, as in most places, and Leighton is one of them, visitors are restricted outside of the birth locations.
Remember, babies are still being born, and you still have options and choices, even if they are within a slightly different framework. I hope that some of these suggestions will help you to make the best birth room you can have.
With love and blessings for a joyous and positive birthing experience.
Doulas are still working and able to support you, ante-natally, in labour and post-natally. If you’re thinking a doula can help you navigate your pregnancy, labour and post-natal period in and around Crewe & Nantwich, then you can contact me through my website, or on Facebook. Alternatively search for a doula in your area using the Doula UK Find a Doula page. or the Developing Doulas Directory.