Jump around! Just what is active birth?

Giving birth is a bit like dieting. Everyone knows the basic theory (eat less, exercise more – have contractions, do some pushing) but there’s a huge industry, shrouded in mystique and an often devout following who will swear there’s only one way to do it (drink only kumquat juice – give birth standing on your head).

Don’t listen to the gurus – you’re the expert in your body. Some people want to be in water, some pulling on a rope, some want to be left alone and others want lots of quiet help. Women often want to be in hospital while others prefer to be at home or at a birth centre. Whatever your preference a Doula is there to support you in your choices and never to dictate or show you how you ‘should’ behave. She won’t tell you to live only on grapefruits either.

Nevertheless there are lots of different approaches, theories and ideas and it can be helpful to some women to find out a bit more in advance if only to challenge the misapprehension that you have to lie on your back with you feet in stirrups to give birth (which you don’t, unless of course you want to).

So what is Active Birth? For those of you not inclined to exercise don’t panic – this isn’t a suggestion that you should labour whilst performing 100 biceps curls or 20 miles on the cross-trainer. Active Birth is an approach founded by Janet Balaskas whose Active Birth Centre (with lots of classes, workshops and training) is rather handily situated for those of us who live in London. You don’t however need to spend weeks studying or pouring over books (though, Active Birth, by Janet Balaskas is a good read if you fancy it) to find out a bit more about it.

Like most theories it isn’t really anything new. Women have known since the beginning of time that in a good deal of cases women who are allowed to choose positions to labour and birth their babies in will find the sensations of birth more manageable, may progress through their labour more swiftly and may well find the second (pushing) stage easier.

Women do naturally tend to gravitate to upright or semi-upright positions which cleverly allow gravity to help the baby descend and the cervix dilate. Women in labour often naturally rock from side to side and back and forth to ease the sensations of their contractions. Once again their instincts are helpful in more ways than one with the rocking movements assisting with getting the baby to descend.

Though traditionally in recent times women give birth on their backs, for many women this can be more painful and the position itself doesn’t have the benefits of gravity doing some of the hard work. Interestingly lying on your back actually makes the gap in the pelvis through which the baby descends smaller. Squatting, kneeling, standing etc. all give the women a larger gap in the pelvis through which to birth her baby.

But, but, but this isn’t to say you should make sure to be upright throughout labour and deliver only in a squatting positions. Most women find if they listen to their instincts their bodies jsut tell them what to do. I know a couple of women who actually found pushing on their backs with legs in stirrups much easier and one woman who planned to stay upright throughout labour and spent 90% of the time lying on her back in the bath. The latter instinctively realised she was having a fast labour and chose a position that helped slow things down. We women are fairly marvellous creatures.

In the end what’s important is to know that you have options. Whether you want to lie on your back, go for a walk in early labour, deliver on all fours or retreat in to a quiet corner, go for it. Maybe give the kumquats a miss though.

p.s. my favourite antenatal classes in my area are Jessica James’ active birth yoga, couples classes and postnatal group. But, if you are interested in private antenatal support (covering some active birth bits and bobs) do check out my antenatal sessions.

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The Hackney Doula

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