Strength vs. Softness: How To Find Balance During Childbirth
Giving birth is a huge physical endeavour, it takes great strength, stamina, and determination but it also requires a gentle and intuitive approach.
As a midwife, I’m aware on a daily basis just how special pregnancy and childbirth are. They’re the most miraculous things our bodies are capable of and despite having delivered thousands of babies, each time I’m reminded of how childbirth is a delicate balancing act between strength and softness.
Endurance and Equilibrium
I liken this contrast to the practice of yoga, which involves gentle movements that build strength and power. Yoga positions combine controlled movements, and engaged muscles with mental focus and the release of tension and resistance through using the breathe. There is a term for this – Sthira, which refers to the challenge of endurance but also of awareness and the ability to be present. These facets are incredibly important when you are labouring, as you allow your body to engage in the physical sequence of pushing your baby down the birth canal. Rather than pain, discomfort and fear, thinking about birth differently and finding a sweet spot between surrender, and controlled calm can be a very beneficial way to prepare.
In childbirth, your body needs to be able to endure the physicality of labour, coping with intense contractions and the sting of the pushing phase. While it sounds relentless, it’s not a constant battle. At times it can feel like a rhythmic and beautiful symphony that’s designed and guided by Mother Nature. And while it may sound a little hippy-dippy, many women will contest that submitting to the process of labour and birth can be an empowering and enlightening experience.
There are lots of things you can do to prepare physically and psychologically for the endurance test of labour and childbirth. The principles of strength and softness are present throughout labour and birthing, and these tips can help you negotiate them both.
Dealing With Contractions
You may have heard of this analogy before, but it really does ring true; contractions can be thought of as waves rising up then crashing on the shore. Just like waves, each contraction increases in intensity until it gently rolls away. Between contractions, you are left with no pain or discomfort and knowing that each “wave” has to crash and dissipate is really reassuring when you are dealing with them on a physical and mental level.
In order to better cope with your contractions, I’d ask you to visualise yourself riding a wave or diving underneath one. Importantly this means submitting to them and letting them carry you along. Fighting against the “waves” of your contractions through tensing your muscles or becoming fearful, can make them harder to endure.
While it’s not realistic to say you can ‘breathe out your baby’ it has to be said that controlled, guided breathing can be a very powerful tool for coping with labour pain and contractions. I’d suggest using slow focused breathing when a contraction starts coming. On the out breath, slightly open your mouth and drop your shoulders. Pull your mental focus onto your breathing and visualise how your cervix is gradually opening up with each wave of pain, bringing you one step closer to meeting your baby.
Recharge and Restore
Labours can vary massively in the amount of time they last. That’s why it’s so important that in between contractions you use these windows of calm to take time to relax and restore. If you can, relax your jaw, as your jaw muscles can hold a lot of tension which can actually slow down how quickly your labour progresses.
Draw On All Your Resources
Transition is considered the most intense part of your labour where the cervix is not yet fully dilated and yet you may have a strong urge to push. I’ve found that it can be really helpful for some women to groan when they get to this stage, using a low voice on the outbreath to help ground them and help them to give into the transition stage before the pushing stage. It’s worth talking to your midwife about this sort of breathing so you can practice it at home.
It takes strength of mind not to fight against pain during labour. During the pushing stage, a stinging or burning sensation is absolutely normal and it can sometimes feel as though your perineum is going to split. These sensations are to be expected and if you can help your body to go with them rather than resist them, then it can help with a more straightforward birth.
Pushing or Panting?
When it comes to pushing, it’s important to listen to your midwife, but also your body. Your body will tell you when to push hard, but your midwife will be able to tell you when to slow things down to a gentler pace to avoid tearing. Allowing yourself these soft moments of quick recuperation between pushes is really important. It’s not a race to the end.
A lot of women worry about knowing when the right moment is to push, and it’s totally normal to question whether you will know, especially if it is your first experience of childbirth. One thing I always say is that when your baby’s head starts to crown it will feel as though you need to do a big poo. You should see this is a really good sign. Forget about feeling embarrassed and push as hard as you can – as though you’ve been constipated for a few days. Baby will soon be here and you’ll feel a new admiration and appreciation for your body, as well as awe at your brand new bundle of joy.
For more tips and advice on labour and childbirth, register your interest for the HATCH antenatal course for your birth preparation.
I have lots of articles here to help pass on experience and knowledge from my midwifery career. And if there’s something you’d like me to cover then please contact me .
Photo credit: J. Alvarez Birth-maternity-family photographer
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