How connecting with your senses can completely alter your birth!
Updated: Oct 7, 2019
Did you know that your senses can play a huge part in helping your labour to progress, and helping you feel calm, confident and comfortable for birth? You see, setting a mood and creating an atmosphere while in labour will significantly impact how you feel, and how you feel will significantly affect how labour goes. Feeling relaxed WILL effect (and improve!) your birth experience, because birth is a hormonal process, and the hormones we want to release during labour will only work if we are relaxed. Likewise, if we feel stressed, scared or tense during labour, our bodies will slow down the process, perhaps even stop it all together. After all, we need to remember that birth is primal, and during this time our senses are hugely heightened. Here is some information on how you can connect with, and use your senses to really help you and your body during labour, whether you’re at home or in the hospital…
Let’s start with your sight. Lighting has a quick effect on setting a mood, wherever we are. If you’re at home and wanting to create a romantic, calming atmosphere, it’s likely you’ll adjust the lighting to suit the mood. If you’re having a massage in a luxurious spa, it’s probable that the lighting will reflect the ambience. Low lighting makes us feel a certain way – calm, restorative, connected, relaxed. So it’s no surprise that a lot of women choose to lower the lighting during labour too. Our animal instincts encourage us to move to a dark space during labour, to enable us to connect with ourselves, our breathing, our bodies and our minds. Being in a brightly lit room while in labour can make us feel distracted, vulnerable, dis-connected and exposed. Take a moment to close your eyes and picture the room you imagine yourself giving birth in. Picture that room in dark lighting, with twinkling candles and fairy lights. Now picture that room with bright lighting all around. How did they make you feel? I can guarantee you felt a sense of calm in your darker, candle-lit room right? So, make it happen! I recommend packing battery powered tea-lights in your hospital bag, or in your Homebirth box. Ask your birth partner to be in charge of turning the lights off so you don’t have to think about it.
Music can be a wonderful mood-setter during labour, and can also hold real sentimental value when you realise you gave birth while a specific song played in the background. As with our sense of sight, music and sounds can automatically create an atmosphere. You wouldn’t expect to hear heavy metal music while in a spa (!) and you wouldn’t expect to hear classical music in a nightclub. There is a type of music for every occasion, and birth is no exception. It doesn’t have to be music that you normally listen to, or music that currently means something to you (though this can be lovely too!), but it should be music that makes you feel relaxed. If you attend Yoga classes that use music, perhaps this would be the right material for you to use, as it’s likely it will remind you of your classes, and how calm you felt. Do some researching on Spotify and play music to yourself while you’re relaxing in the bath or in bed, and see what clicks with you. If the music you are listening to makes you feel settled, grounded and maybe even a little emotional in some way, then that’s your jam! Download it / buy it and make sure your birth partner knows what it is, and how to access it. Pack your headphones (and a charger!) or portable speakers, to play this music whenever labour begins. Sound doesn’t have to be about music. Some women love listening to affirmations or meditations. Perhaps you are someone who prefers silence. Do you want to be talked to during labour? Do you want to be asked questions, or would you rather be left to zone inward and focus on your breathing? These are all things to think about while you begin realising what you respond to and what won’t work for you. Top tip – if music does work for you, play your chosen sounds in your last weeks of pregnancy while you relax and rest. When labour is happening and your music plays, you’ll think back to those wonderful, calm evenings and your body will naturally ease and soften.
This is very personal for everyone, and we all respond very differently to touch, massage and stroking. I often tell my friends to imagine they aren’t feeling well, and they just want to lay down and rest. When feeling this way, do you respond well to being stroked, or is it the last thing you’d want!? This is your answer! Perhaps you’re a ‘do not touch me’ type of person, or perhaps you’re a hot water bottle on your back / cold flannel on the head person. If you love to be massaged, and it makes you feel good, then touch is your friend! Either way, explore this with your birth partner and ask them to stroke your back / your arm / your hair while relaxing together and begin telling them what you do or don’t like. Personally, an ice cold flannel to my forehead was the most wonderful distraction for me during labour and my husband was under strict instruction not to move from his post until our baby was born! It was the most perfect sensation to keep my mind off of my contractions and to keep me grounded and calm. It’s also worth thinking about a TENS machine, and if it may work for you. TENS machines offer a strong, pulsating sensation on your lower back during a contraction, and lots of women would say it played a big part in their labour. Again, ensure you and your partner are familiar with how it works beforehand!
I am sure you’re aware by now that labour can sometimes be a lengthy process, and we often forget that what’s happening in this time is a physical process, and your body is in a constant state of action – your uterus is contracting the whole time, and your body is working it’s butt off at preparing for your baby’s birth. Eating and drinking is so important, but can be forgotten about easily with all the excitement of what’s happening! You wouldn’t take part in a marathon without eating well, keeping hydrated and snacking throughout the race, would you!? Birth can take a lot longer than a marathon, so think ahead and prepare to snack and hydrate throughout your labour too! Thinking about your senses, eat foods that make you feel great, and that you enjoy. Drink warm teas, fruit juices, water – whatever the heck you want (well, within reason. Hold the gin!) and nourish your body from the get go. I also recommend packing mints or mouthwash in your bag / box too. Fresh minty breath can make us feel really nice, especially if we’ve had gas & air, been sick or if we just want to feel uplifted. I always packed mints and remember asking for some chewing gum right at the end of my labour to make me feel fresh. It might not be something that bothers you, but for me it was wonderful!
You’ve probably realised during your pregnancy how much stronger your sense of smell is, and maybe you’ve even been put off certain smells for the last few months! This is something to consider for labour. Smells can be so effective, and certain scents can be extremely beneficial at specific times of labour! For example, lavender can help to set a mood when labour begins, and in the early stages. Room sprays, massage oils and drops of lavender can help create that soothing, spa-like ambience we so crave during labour. Moving onto active labour and maybe even the transition period (when our body prepares for the second stage of labour – the actual birth) Frankincense can really be your friend here. Frankincense is a very grounding, earthy scent that can really help keep us stay calm and settled. During transition with my second baby, a midwife put Frankincense on a cloth for me and held it under my nose. It was magical. It was exactly what I needed, at exactly the right time. One of my favourite smells is the Liquid Yoga Space Spray and I recommend spraying it while listening to your chosen music, in your dimly-lit room, while your soak in the scent and feel your whole body unwinding. This is exactly what we want you to feel like during labour, and ‘rehearsing’ this in your last weeks of pregnancy will help you prepare for the big day. It makes such a huge difference.
Hopefully the above will have given you something to think about as you prepare for your labour and birth. Remember, what works for me may not work for you, but allow this to open your mind to the impact of your senses. You have the ability to create the perfect birthing atmosphere, wherever you choose to be, and your labouring body will thank you for it.