Tending to your 5 Senses in Birth

Once the confetti settles from your virtual or drive-by baby shower (thanks, pandemic) and you’ve put away all your gifts, the reality of birth seems to really set in. You might think, “Wow, this is really happening, now” or “I can’t wait to meet this baby!” or “Holy Sh*t! How am I going to give birth in a few days or weeks?” Taking the time to think beyond the registry and the maternity clothes is essential. If you haven’t made a birth plan, make a date with yourself to do it! We know from experience that tending to your five senses during labor and birth can make the difference between a good birth and an optimal one. You’ve been feeling a lot lately and thinking a lot about your baby. We encourage you to pause and put your feet up with a pen and paper or your tablet and write down what ambience you want to be surrounded in during your labor and birth. Are you rolling your eyes? Well, fine, but you should try this anyway because there’s nothing better than thinking about what you want for this major experience you’re about to encounter. It will benefit you more than you might realize.

1. Your Sense of Sight.

You can plan in any order you like, but let’s start here. What would you like to see (when your eyes are open, of course, because let’s face it - a lot of the time they’ll be closed attempting to focus on birthing baby out! But still...) Are all the typical lights on or are they dimmed? Perhaps they are completely off and you want some candlelight around you. Are the windows flooding in light or even showing a gloomy sky or are the curtains drawn? Write it down. If your birth calls for an induction and you’re waiting (which you will be waiting) what would be a great visual distraction? Is it a movie? If you own the DVD, most hospitals are still equipped with in-room DVD players. If you don’t, see if you can rent it, buy it or stream it. I was induced at 8am and watched two and half of my top three favorite movies before I had to close my eyes to breathe through strong contractions. Perhaps you’d prefer to read. Cool - pack that book or magazine or download it onto your device. 

2. Your Sense of Touch.

We know that birth is most often feared because most of us actually understand very little about the physiological ways we are capable of birth. We also know that birth is most often feared because we’ve heard everything about how much it can cause us discomfort and even pain. So we know that you would ultimately like to feel nothing, but what sense of touch would bring you the most comfort during labor? There are physical sensations that can displace discomfort. Massaging areas of discomfort in the body can bring relief. We recommend packing a massage tool so your hands don’t cramp and/or so you can reach “the spot”. If you can have a labor support person with you, this can give them a tangible way to support you during labor. If you are able to, taking a shower or submerging in a bath can be relieving during labor, too. This might be particularly helpful if you’re giving birth in a hospital that doesn’t allow any labor support person with you due to the current pandemic. We come from our mother’s sack of water, so the water sensation can be cathartic. After all, the sensation of touch is powerful. 

3. Your Sense of Smell.

Perhaps during this pregnancy you’ve been more sensitive to particular smells. Some smells may have been revolting, while others might have become more appealing. Other smells may have given you a headache or some other abnormal reaction since your pregnancy. This is a delicate sense that is known to be especially heightened during pregnancy. Consider this one carefully for your birth experience. Hospitals are mostly neutral, but can have a very sterile smell, too. If you have a favorite smell, or one that recalls special memories for you, consider having it available to you during your labor. Maybe it’s your partner's unique scent and if they cannot be with you, pack a recently worn (but not sweaty) shirt of theirs to hold onto. There are some perfectly safe essential oils you can use during labor, too. Our favorite is “clary sage”, but there’s several well-vetted oil options. We recommend trying these before labor, to ensure you have no immediate aversion. Once you’ve identified the one you love the most, consider a roll-on applicator, or DIY jar and pack in your bag. While we adore oil diffusers, we don’t recommend them during labor just in case you decide against the scent. It will be harder to rid the scent if it’s being dispersed through the air in the event you decide the scent is too much for you. Instead, we suggest a roll-on applicator to your wrist or behind your ears. These are “hot spots” that will naturally disperse the scent as you labor. They’ll also be less intense and wear off over time, but can be reapplied, if desired. If you prefer not to have a topical application, consider a few dabs on a soft, cool wash cloth that is applied to your neck or head when you’re feeling overly hot. If you prefer the scent of a favorite candle, we recommend you consider finding that scent in a brand like Pure Plant Home coconut oil wax-based candles. Coconut oil and beeswax based candles are the safest burning wax candles. Yes, we believe candle ingredients matter - particularly for an occasion such as birth!

4. Your Sense of Sound.

You’ll hear a lot of beeping in your labor room at the hospital. From your pulse tracker and your blood pressure cuff, to your EFM (external fetal monitoring), every cord beeps at some pace. What might help you concentrate, relax and subdue those rhythmic beeps? Is it the sounds of your favorite instrument, singer, band or composer? For some those preferred sounds are calming and serene, while for others their preference is more energetic and well - distracting (cue the “push it real good”). No need for a boom box (I see you born-in-the-1980’s mommas), but something that can play softly while you labor is worth considering as another comfort measure. Many mommas put together a “labor playlist” and it’s entirely personal. Maybe spa-like soundscapes would be calming for you versus hearing lyrics? What words or sounds do you want to receive while you’re laboring? Maybe it’s hypnotic affirmations on a rhythmic repeat. If you have a labor-support person such as your partner or a doula or midwife, they can hum or speak softly affirming and encouraging words to you that embolden you through labor. You might prefer it to be a compilation of these sounds, but consider its effect on you, because what we hear and what we tell ourselves matters.

5. Your Sense of Taste.

I know, you’re probably thinking, “I was told I can’t eat or drink during labor.” Well, mommas, here’s where we stand - this is your birth and if you want to taste something while you labor, it is quite simply your right. No one can refuse you food or drink, but they can advise against it, and if you’re birthing in a hospital they more than likely will make you feel like you can’t. We aren’t recommending a cheeseburger or a salad, but something easy to digest (especially in a fully equipped hospital) is not going to kill you or your baby during labor. So what do we suggest? Pure water or coconut water to drink because they’re hydrating and coconut water is naturally rich in electrolytes (unlike sports drinks which are full of chemical-based electrolytes and food coloring). For a natural source of energy, which your body most certainly can use during all those contractions in labor, we recommend honey sticks. In fact, we pack two sticks in every tier of our non-toxic, pre-packed hospital birth bags: Belly & BagTM. Just snip off the top and sip the sweet, yet gentle honey from the dainty little plastic stick it’s contained in for a natural energy boost. Not even your nurse can argue with that - but if she does, just smile and take another sip. 

Turns out those five senses add up to a lot for us laboring mommas. When we take the time to consider how powerful our bodies are to grow, birth and nourish a tiny human from start to finish, we can be astounded, but most importantly we can be empowered. If we plan anything before giving birth, we should plan on empowering ourselves. If you read this blog, you’ve done that, just now. You should be proud of yourself. Even if you’re unsure of some of the suggestions we’ve made, that’s alright. Your curiosity is the beginning of your empowerment. The more you know for sure, the better your birth will be. Here’s to a better birth experience, that you empowered yourself for. You’ve got this momma. #babyboldly

Today’s Bold Momma

Natalie is co-founder of Baby Boldly, wife to James and mom to Abigail (5 years) and Mabel (23 months). Her passion is to empower new parents for improved birth and postpartum experiences and changing the way society relates to new moms’ and dads’ unique needs. 

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