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How to Create a Calm Birth Environment

Birth is an intense, beautiful, physiological experience that you've planned for for months. You've read the books, hopefully taken birth preparation classes, and may have started writing your birth preferences.


Speaking of those birth preferences, one of the most vital, yet overlooked part is how you intend to set up your birth environment. Whether you plan to birth at home, at a birth center, or at a hospital, what is going on around you will make key differences in how you feel about your birth after your baby is here.


As a birth doula in San Diego, when I start working through birth plans with my clients, one of the first things we talk about is how to set up their environment so that the mother has the best frame of mind to be able to go within and work with her surges without distraction.


The first thing you need to know about setting up your space is that as humans, we are mammals, and as such, have the same requirements for birthing. This basically means that we birth better when we can tap into the instinctual parts of our brain, and stay out of the logical parts that tend to overthink things. This knowledge came to us from the the research of Niles Newton, who studied the effect of stress in laboring mice. Then, in the 1980's, obstetrician Michel Odent started to notice that women who felt safe and relaxed in labor were having a much easier time with natural birth and experiencing the fetal ejection reflex. Those who did not feel safe and protected did not experience the fetal ejection reflex. Thus, he came up with the concept that there are 5 essential elements to labor: Silence, Safety, Privacy, Warmth, and Darkness. These essential elements should be set up no matter where the laboring person is, and ensuring set up is an excellent task for partners and doulas to take on.


Let's explore how you can set up each of these elements to best suit your needs and create a calm birth experience.

A pregnant woman's torso in in the foreground and she holds her belly in front of a birth pool and twinkle lights
A calm birth space can help create a calm birth

Silence:

  • Use earbuds to play meditations, white noise, music, whatever helps you cope the best. I also love

  • Ask your team not to talk to you during contractions

  • Think about what noises you can eliminate at home:

  • Pets (can they go to a pet sitter?)

  • Street noises- which room in your house is the quietest?

Safety:

  • Who is invited into your labor space? Do they make you feel safe?

  • Do you feel safer at home or in a hospital?

Privacy:

  • Again, who is invited into your labor space? I often tell clients that every extra person in your labor space can add up to 30 minutes to your labor time.

  • Who gets to know you are in labor in the first place? Think about seeing your partner on the phone updating Aunt Suzie and Uncle John about the state of your cervix. At what other time in your life do you feel ok talking about your reproductive parts to distant family members?

  • You can direct your team to keep doors closed and curtains pulled no matter where you labor.

  • For instant privacy, try wearing an eye mask like this one so you don't see or feel any eyes on you just waiting for your cervix to dilate.

Warmth:

  • Hydrotherapy is a great way to use heat in labor.

  • Rice socks or heat pads are often a labor favorite.

  • Comfy socks and labor gowns like these will keep you feeling cozy (until you're ready to take it all off!)

  • During labor, mom gets to control the thermostat!

Darkness:

  • The eye mask I mentioned earlier provides instant darkness, and is especially effective when moving from your cave-like home environment to your birth space if you are birthing outside the home

  • Twinkle lights, candles, either battery, LED, or actual candles will keep your nervous system calm and relaxed.

  • If you don't already have blackout curtains, this would be a great time to try them out!

Of course, these are all just suggestions, and not a one-size-fits-all checklist. It's important to take what works for you and leave out what doesn't. Just remember, the calmer your space is, the calmer your birth will be.


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