No matter what your birth preferences may be, whether you want an unmedicated birth or you know you’ll opt for an epidural, feeling as calm and unstressed as possible during labor is usually a part of everyone's birth plan.
It’s one reason why some people opt to birth at home, where they feel most comfortable and are surrounded by familiar sights, sounds, and smells. This sense of comfort contributes to the production of oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone.” Oxytocin is a crucial part of labor, responsible for uterine contractions, labor progress, attachment to baby, and even breastfeeding.
When you are feeling stressed or fearful, oxytocin production is inhibited, and labor can slow or stall. As a doula, I help my clients with relaxation, comfort, and helping their partners support them better (being near your partner, hugging and even kissing in labor can really get the oxytocin flowing!)
In a hospital setting, creating that at-home state of relaxation and comfort can sometimes be a challenge. First there is the ride to the hospital— I don’t know of anyone who likes laboring in the car! When you arrive at the hospital, you spend some time in triage before being admitted to your own room. It can take a while for you to settle in and get back into a labor rhythm, which is why it’s not uncommon for contractions to slow or space out a little when you get to the hospital.
But when you take steps to a bring bit of home into your hospital birth space, getting back into that at-home state of comfort becomes much easier.
It’s all about the senses
Whether we realize it or not, what we see, hear, smell, feel, and even taste can affect our ability to relax. When we bring items from home that appeal to our five senses, we associate what we are experiencing to the comfort of home, even in a hospital setting.
Hospital lights can be very bright, or give off an unappealing florescent glow. It can be helpful to close the curtains in your labor room, or to turn off or dim the lights to create a “cavelike” space where you can burrow down and work through labor. You can bring in soft lighting like battery-operated candles, or you can hang up strings of twinkle lights around the room for a more personal touch.
Think about the mood that restaurant lighting creates— dim lighting promotes feelings of closeness (hello, oxytocin!) while bright, harsh lighting can be jarring and unnerving.
There may be times when brighter lighting is best. Sometimes in labor the mood becomes stagnant, or tired, and so do the contractions— opening the curtains and letting sunshine in can bring in a needed burst of energy to move around and get labor going again.
Even if everyone in the room is silent, the sounds of the external fetal monitor, your blood pressure cuff, or even the air conditioning can cause an unwelcome distraction. Think about what sounds make you feel relaxed at home and bring those sounds with you to the hospital. You can bring in a sound machine, your Hypnobirthing soundtrack, or a playlist of your favorite music downloaded to your phone. Bring earbuds if you want to totally zone out.
I recommend that my clients add both relaxing music and upbeat music to their playlists. Sometimes some dance-inspiring tunes are a good way to lift the spirits and get my clients moving in labor.
Sense of touch can be very sensitive in labor. Hospital pillows, while functional, are thin and don’t have the highest thread count. Bring your own pillow from home, or your own pillowcase. Consider bringing your own blankets, too (if you are afraid of special items getting dirty, you can save them for postpartum recovery.)
Bring your own clothes to labor in, if you don’t want to put on a hospital gown. Bring your well-worn stuffed animal from childhood, or a lovey you plan to give your baby (these things can serve as a visual focal point as well!)
Bring your favorite lotion or massage oil, your favorite chapstick, your favorite pair of socks or fuzzy slippers. Bring your own birth ball to bounce on, that is the perfect size for you and feels familiar. Bring your own cup or water bottle to drink out of. Bring the things you are used to at home that bring you comfort!
You know how certain smells can take you down memory lane, remind you of something, or instantly relax or repulse you? The same thing happens in labor, only that sensation can be intensified.
Sometimes, scents that usually relax you can become too much in labor, so instead of bringing in a scented plug-in or a diffuser, consider dabbing the scent on cotton balls in a plastic baggie. That way, if the scent becomes too much, you can easily remove it from the labor room.
If you bring essential oils with you, make sure you know what possible effects they can have on your labor. Be very careful with oils that you put on your body as well, as some can be dangerous for newborns or can interfere with breastfeeding.
Consider food smells, especially if your partner or family members are going to be eating around you. That pepperoni pizza smell that usually makes your mouth water may be too strong of an odor for you in labor. Suggest that visitors eat outside of your hospital room so that food smells don’t linger.
Be cognizant of bad breath, especially for longer labors or labor that lasts throughout the night. I always carry breath mints or chewing gum in my doula bag and offer some to my client’s partner— no laboring person wants to smell stale breath in their face!
Bring your favorite snacks with you to the hospital. I recommend high-protein snacks that can be quickly munched on or that can be eaten with one hand. Sometimes something sweet like your favorite candy can be nice when you need a little energy boost. Aside from water, bring your favorite electrolyte drink or juice so you can keep hydrated, which is very important as you labor.
I am a certified birth doula, postpartum doula and childbirth educator serving clients in Boise, Eagle, Meridian, Nampa, and the Greater Treasure Valley.
Are you planning a hospital birth? Discover how the continuous support of a doula can help keep you calm and relaxed in labor.
You announce your pregnancy to your family and friends, and it begins: you are subjected to birth horror stories. Sometimes others recount stories that aren’t even theirs--- they may share with you a scary news article they just read, or a third-hand account of someone else's traumatic birth experience.
What is it about pregnancy that makes others want to share negative news? When you announce an engagement, people don’t start telling you about their marriage problems. When you share the news about a work promotion, they don’t dump on you about their own workplace drama. But pregnancy seems to open an invitation to others to give you unsolicited advice and warnings.
Negative comments from others can interfere with your ability to keep your own worries and anxiety at bay, or to simply enjoy your pregnancy. And when the negative stories are related to your personal birth choices or preferences, or used as a way to discourage you or shame you for those choices, the emotional impact can be great.
Here’s how to deal with those birth horror stories:
1. Understand the motivations behind sharing them.
There are several reasons why people overshare the negative aspects of birth. Often they just want to connect with you, and they feel that sharing the hard parts of pregnancy and birth is a way to do it. What they don’t realize (or remember) is that you’re still in it! You’re pregnant and haven’t given birth to this baby yet. Even if this isn’t your first birth, each pregnancy and labor are unique and you really don’t know how it will go until you actually give birth.
Sometimes people haven’t yet processed their own birth trauma, and instead of speaking to someone who can help them work through it, they are dumping their negative feelings onto you. Perhaps their concern for your well being creates a need in them to tell you about what can go wrong, as if speaking it aloud is all that’s needed to keep you safe.
Some people are talkers with no filter. They see that you’re pregnant, and they blurt out all of the pregnancy-related things they know, even if they are negative. They don’t think about the impact on you.
And sometimes, people just think they know more than you, and know what’s best for you. But they aren’t you. This is your pregnancy, and your baby.
2. The story is incomplete.
Someone can tell you something negative about their birth experience with all the gory details, but here's what you may not know:
You don’t have all the facts about someone’s birth story. What’s missing may explain what contributed to a negative outcome, or their negative feelings about their birth.
I'll say it again: Every pregnancy and labor are unique. Even if you have the same care provider as someone else, birth at the same location, at the same time of year under the same full moon, your experience is uniquely your own.
3. Consider the source.
There are aspects of birth that can be painful, uncomfortable, and difficult. Knowing what to expect during labor and during your postpartum recovery, learning about the warning signs so you know when to seek medical care or when to see a specialist-- these things are valuable and important to share. But there is a difference between education and fear-based story telling.
Consider who is giving you the information-- what is their knowledge of birth, of perinatal research, the policies and practices of your care provider, or of your unique medical history?
Very rarely does an event or experience have only negative aspects. Is the person sharing information with you not aware of or are they withholding the positive aspects of a situation?
Your care provider, childbirth educator, doula, lactation consultant, or informed friend may be a more reliable source for information than someone recounting a horror story.
4. Challenging births can still be positive births.
You can’t predict or control how your birth will play out. Birth, by nature, is unpredictable. That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily dangerous, or to be feared, or that things will go wrong. And it doesn’t mean that what happened to someone else will happen to you. The way someone else feels about their birth experience, will not have to be the way you feel about yours.
Even if you face challenges that you didn’t anticipate or want, or if things veer off course from your birth plan, you can still feel positively about your birth. When you feel informed and supported throughout, when you feel like your birth team cares about you and respects your wishes, when you feel safe and loved, then you are likely to feel more positively about your birth experience.
Inductions, Cesareans, very short or very long births, unintentionally unmedicated births, high intervention births, or any birth that didn’t go as desired— these can all still be positive births. Birth is in the eye of the beholder.
Preparing yourself by taking a childbirth education class, knowing your options in labor, choosing a care provider who supports your goals, and surrounding yourself with a strong birth team-- these steps themselves can help to buffer you against others' birth horror stories.
You can also just stop them before they start. Change the subject, find an excuse to hang up the phone, or tell your family and friends what you do and don't want to hear when you are pregnant. Surround yourself with what will help you approach your labor with confidence, calm, and joy-- start your positive birth experience now.
I am a certified birth doula, postpartum doula, and childbirth educator serving clients in Boise, Meridian, Eagle, Nampa, and the Greater Treasure Valley.
Learning about the birth process and having caring, knowledgeable support throughout pregnancy and labor can make or break your birth experience.
You can use water in labor, even if you don't plan on a having a water birth!
Water is one of my favorite pain management tools in labor. Whether you give birth at home or in the hospital, at some point my clients end up in the tub or in the shower.
Here’s why hydrotherapy can be a wonderful option in labor:
You can relax!
Even for those who aren’t pregnant, a nice, warm bath after a long day of work can make you feel more relaxed and calm. Immersion in water can lessen anxiety and promote relaxation. These same benefits apply when you are in labor.
The calming effects of water can actually help with labor progression. When you are feeling relaxed and calm, your body releases endorphins, which promote the production of another hormone called oxytocin. Oxytocin plays an important role in labor, stimulating contractions. (Known as the "love hormone," oxytocin is also involved in attachment and breastfeeding).
When the oxytocin is flowing, your labor can progress. Conversely, when you are feeling stressed and anxious, adrenaline is produced, which can interfere with oxytocin production. So taking a warm bath, combined with other relaxation tools such as music, meditation, dim lighting, massage, and self-hypnosis, can help your labor keep a nice, active pattern.
Note: In early labor, taking a bath can slow down contractions. This is just fine-- early labor should be a time of rest, since it can take hours or even days to turn into active labor. If active labor is imminent, taking a bath won’t stop it!
It provides pain relief.
Water is sometimes referred to as a “liquid epidural.” While water doesn’t take away all sense of pain (although some clients report that at times it comes pretty close), it definitely helps to make the pain of labor more manageable.
The website Evidence Based Birth gives a review of the evidence behind water immersion as pain relief in labor. In a meta-analysis of several studies, it was reported that people who labored in water were less likely to use epidurals or spinal anesthesia for pain relief.
Submerging your body in water isn’t always necessary. Standing in the shower, with the hot water pointed at the part of your body where you are feeling the most pain or discomfort, is also very effective for pain relief.
You can move.
While submerged in water, it may be easier to move your body into positions that may be more difficult or uncomfortable "on land," like hands and knees, or in a squat. Being in water can help take pressure off of areas of your body that ache. You may feel more buoyant and lighter, contributing to feelings of relaxation.
If you are laboring at home, you can use your own bathtub or shower. (In early labor, I encourage my clients to take a bath and then try to sleep for a while, to reserve their energy for active labor.)
At the birth center, there are tubs and sometimes showers for your use. And more and more hospitals are offering tubs to labor in (although most hospitals still don’t allow pushing or giving birth in the water).
Fortunately for those in the Treasure Valley, both St. Lukes and St. Alphonsus offer labor tubs, either in each room or in a single-use shared space on the labor and floor. Some tubs sport jacuzzi-style vents for additional comfort.
For low-risk pregnancies, you can labor in the tub at just about any time, including after your bag of waters has broken, or if you have been induced. When laboring in the hospital tub, the nurses can monitor you intermittently without you having to get out of the water; if you consent to cervical exams, these can often be done in the water as well. (Note that with narcotic pain medications and epidurals, you won’t be allowed to labor in the tub for safety reasons.)
You can try it again.
At some point, if my clients aren’t planning a water birth, they decide to get out of the tub, either to push out their baby or to continue laboring on land. At this point, I can help them maneuver out of the water and wrap them up in a nice, warm towel so we can try some other comfort measures.
Sometimes, my clients decide to try the tub or shower again, and they easily can.
With some pain medications, you can have only a certain number of doses, and your mobility may be decreased for a while. With hydrotherapy, you can return to the tub or shower at just about any time during labor.
If you are worried about an accidental water birth, your doula and care providers can often get a sense of how close you may be to pushing based on your behavior and sensations you are reporting. We can recommend getting out of the tub to give you enough time to get to the place where you intend to birth your baby.
I am a certified labor (birth) doula and postpartum doula serving clients in Boise, Meridian, Eagle, Nampa, and the Greater Treasure Valley.
Do you have questions about using water in your upcoming birth?
If you are pregnant, sooner or later you will think about how to manage the pain of labor. Some clients know they want to get an epidural, and others would prefer to either forego pain medication entirely, or see how they feel in labor and make a decision in the moment.
Pain management and comfort measures are topics I discuss at length with my clients in our prenatal meetings. When clients want to avoid or delay pain medication, we talk about natural pain relief methods like counter pressure, hydrotherapy, heat therapy, and position changes.
When clients are open to pain medications, but want to avoid or delay an epidural or narcotic medication, nitrous oxide can be a great option.
Nitrous oxide has been used by laboring people in the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada for decades. The ACNM (American College of Nurse-Midwives) supported its use in a 2011 position statement, affirming nitrous oxide as a pain relief option that fits into the midwifery model of care.
While nitrous oxide was once frequently used in United States, in the 1970’s its use declined as epidural analgesia surged in popularity. As of 2017, one report stated that nitrous oxide was available in only around 150 hospitals and 50 birth centers nationwide.
Fortunately for those in the Treasure Valley, both major hospital systems, St. Lukes and St. Alphonsus, offer nitrous oxide, also known simply as “nitrous,” in their labor and delivery rooms.
With all interventions, there are benefits and risks. Here’s what you need to know if you are considering using nitrous oxide in your upcoming birth:
The Benefits of Nitrous Oxide in Labor
The Risks, or Downsides of Nitrous Oxide in Labor
I am a certified labor doula (birth doula) and postpartum doula serving clients in Boise, Eagle, Meridian, Nampa, and the Greater Treasure Valley.
Are you considering using nitrous oxide in labor? Would you like more information about it?
It’s the holiday season, and that means interaction with family members you may see just a few times a year. Even if you have wonderful relationships with your extended family, if you are pregnant around the holidays, conversations can get difficult when talk turns to your plans for birth. Everyone seems to have an opinion to share about what you should or shouldn't do, or they offer a prediction of how your birth will go.
Here are five tips to navigate the holidays while pregnant:
1. Modify your holiday plans. Modify your plans, and minimize your stress. If you usually host a family gathering, ask someone else to host this year. Plan on bringing in prepared foods instead of cooking, or make the dinner a potluck event.
Can you limit family time this year? Use your pregnancy to your advantage. Perhaps you stay for just a few hours at your sister’s house instead of the whole day. Or take a nap while everyone else is watching football.
If you are nearing your estimated due date, your care provider may actually warn against you traveling more than a couple of hours from your home. That means you can avoid a prolonged visit with family altogether, if that is your preference.
2. Prepare for difficult conversations. Chances are, your family members are excited about the new addition to their own extended family. But instead of only sharing in your excitement, they may also feel the need to share their opinions.
Conversation will inevitably turn to your pregnancy, and will likely consist of three topics:
If you are making choices for your birth that are different from those your family members have made for themselves, be prepared for push back. You might hear things like, “Just you wait! You have no idea!” or “You’ll change your mind!”
If your choices are vastly different, you may even hear things like “You are putting your baby’s life in danger!” or “You are being selfish.”
With pregnancy hormones at play, and if you yourself are still navigating your birth options, these conversations can get heated, emotional, and very difficult.
If you anticipate these conversations in advance, you can avoid feeling blindsided. You might tell your family before the event (or have your partner tell their family) that you don’t want to have these conversations at all. Or, you may choose to be more selective or vague in your answers to probing family members.
3. Practice disengaging. Sometimes these difficult conversations can’t be avoided. Maybe your relatives already know your plans for birth and they are using this holiday gathering as one more instance to voice their disapproval.
In these situations, don’t try to defend your choices, or try to convince your family members to accept them. Instead, answer their questions or comments with a neutral phrase, like, “Hmmmmm” or “Huh!”
Or you can make them feel heard and say, “You know, that gives me something to think about.”
Sometimes, you may feel the need to stop the conversation entirely. You can say, “Thank you for your concern. I don’t want to talk about this anymore.” Or redirect the conversation to another topic: “Okay. Hey, congrats on your promotion. How do you like your new job?”
4. Make time for self care. Taking care of yourself is always important, but especially so during the busy holiday season. Book a prenatal massage, take a long bath, make time to exercise, or plan a night out with your partner. Enjoy the time you have now that is all yours.
Whatever brings you relaxation and calm increases your oxytocin levels. Oxytocin is the "love hormone" that plays a role in labor, attachment, bonding, and breastfeeding. Taking deep breaths, centering your mind, and finding ways to relax amidst the tension around you is also excellent practice for managing labor.
5. Create your own holiday traditions. With a baby on the way, your life will be changing in just a few short weeks or months. Whether this is your first baby, or you are adding a sibling, take the time to reassess what you and your partner want for your growing family. What traditions will you adopt? What will you let go? What is important? What’s not?
These answers look different for everyone. They may not fit into what your extended family has chosen. But when you take the time to pause and think about what you want for your own family, the stress and furor that accompanies this time of year lessens-- which makes for a better holiday season, and a better pregnancy.
I am a certified labor doula and professional postpartum doula serving clients in Boise, Eagle, Meridian, Nampa and the greater Treasure Valley.
This holiday season, ask for doula support! Elevated Birth gift certificates are available in any denomination and can easily be added to your baby registry.
These gorgeous photos are courtesy of Natalie Koziuk Photography. Clients of Elevated Birth get discounts on sessions with Natalie!
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I've worked in the forest, in the lab, and in an office cubicle. My favorite and most passionate work has been alongside clients as they reach inside to find their innermost strength, and give birth to their babies. Each birth is an honor to witness.