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.
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.