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Getting in the Mood for Birth - Top Tips for Creating Your Birth Environment

Setting the scene for the birth of your baby isn't just about creating a lovely atmosphere (although, why not?!). There is hardcore science behind it. And as usual when it comes to birth, it's allll about the hormones.


The hormones oxytocin and endorphins are the fuel of birth - they work together to make birth happen, and keep the sensations manageable. Oxytocin is responsible for the contractions that gently open the cervix, the surges that push your baby down to be born, the birth of the placenta, minimising bleeding, it plays a role in bonding with your baby, the list goes on! Endorphins are absolutely super-duper natural painkillers which we release when we are engaged in physical hard work - they have a stronger analgesic effect than morphine, and they make us feel good. As need oxytocin for birth to progress, and endorphins to keep us comfortable, obviously we want to do everything we can to ensure we are producing shedloads of both during labour. So what can we do to boost our production of this absolutely magical stuff?


Lighting

As mammals, we tend to produce the most oxytocin (and therefore labour and birth most easily) in conditions where we feel calm, cosy, safe and unobserved - and usually in darkness or dim lighting. For this reason, lighting is one of the key elements to think about when creating your birth environment. At home you will have different options (table lamps, dimmer switches etc.), but even the most stark hospital room can be instantly transformed simply by turning off the main lights and putting out some battery-operated tea lights. You could also string up some fairy lights, or you might want to look into a Himalayan salt lamp for an extra warm glow. It's worth thinking about having an eye mask or sunglasses to hand too as these can be handy, especially if you are transferring from home to your birthing place or moving between rooms within a hospital. By creating a softly-lit environment, you will be creating that feeling of warmth and cosiness that we need to get the birth hormones flowing, as well as promoting the body's production of melatonin (the sleepy hormone), which in turn boosts the production of oxytocin. See - science!


Sound and Music

We tend to labour better if we are undisturbed and in a calm environment where we can get into 'the zone' and focus of staying relaxed during contractions. However, hospitals can be busy, noisy places! Having a playlist of relaxing or positive tunes, spa-type or classical music, ready to listen to during labour can help you to tune out what's going on around you. Don't be afraid to ask people in the room to keep talking to a minimum, and maybe consider some ear plugs or noise-cancelling headphones for maximum peace and quiet.


Scent

Aromatherapy oils can be powerful aids to relaxation, and specific oils have other properties too. Whether you put a few drops on a tissue or cloth, in a diffuser, or mixed with a base oil for massage, they can have a fantastic effect during labour. If you aren't keen on oils, you might like to bring a particular room spray or scent that you like. We know there is a powerful connection between the sense of smell and our emotions and memory, so if you are doing any kind of hypnobirthing or pregnancy relaxation practise, it's a great idea to use the same scents or oils that you are planning to use during birth. In this way you can create a mental connection between that particular smell and a feeling of relaxation and calm.


Affirmations and Images

It's a great idea to blu-tack some positive words of encouragement around the room, or to put up some images that make you feel happy and at home e.g. a scan photo, or pictures of other children, family members, or places that hold special memories.


Privacy

Last but not least, create a polite sign for the door asking people to knock and wait for a response before coming in. This helps you to feel as though the space is your own, and increases your sense of safety and privacy.


So, wherever you plan to birth your baby - whether at home, in a midwife-led unit or birth centre, or in hospital - there are lots of wonderful ways to ensure that you are feeling comfortable and relaxed, so your body can get on with what it does best and produce lots of those lovely birth hormones!


Resources

Burns, E.E., Blamey, C., Ersser, S.J., Barnetson, L., & Lloyd, A.J. (2000) An investigation into the use of aromatherapy in intrapartum midwifery practice. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 6(2), 141–147.


Lin, H.H., Chang, H. H., Chang, C.P., Huang, M.Y., Lui, S.J., Tsai, C.H., Lei, W.T., & Yeh, T.L. (2019) Effect of music interventions on anxiety during labor: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. PeerJ 7:e6945


Lothian, J.A. (2004) Do not disturb: the importance of privacy in labor. The Journal of Perinatal Education, 13(3), 4–6.


Pirdel, M. & Pirdel, L. (2009) Perceived Environmental Stressors and Pain Perception During Labor Among Primiparous and Multiparous Women. The Journal of Reproduction and Infertility, 10(3), 217-223.


Tanvisut, R., Traisrisilp, K., & Tongsong, T. (2018) Efficacy of aromatherapy for reducing pain during labor: a randomized controlled trial. Archives of Gynecology and Obstetrics, 297(5), 1145-1150.


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