Cot built? Check. Car seat installed? Check. Baby clothes washed and folded away? Check. LushTums Prepare for Birth course completed? Check.
We have just spent the afternoon taking part in this fabulous birth preparation course, led by Sarah from LushTums Mid-Sussex team. Already I am feeling a lot more calm and positive about what's to come. As second time parents to be, the course has helped us to make time to focus on the birth, remind ourselves of some long forgotten essential information, and taught us a number of new and very useful things.
We did the course at 34 weeks, which felt like a good time for us; far enough along to want to begin to think more about the labour and birth, but not too far on to be worried that the baby, ears burning, might make an appearance. We did the course with one other couple who hosted it at their house, which made it feel friendly, relaxed and personal. We arrived, naturally feeling a little apprehensive; my husband very graciously putting up with some of my now pretty standard, hormonal nonsense: "We should take snacks — better get them from Waitrose, we want to make a good impression", and "We need to leave lots of time to get there, we don't want to be late" [said whilst shooing him out of the door at an overcautiously early time], along with "Are you sure you want to wear that t-shirt?” However when our host Emma greeted us at the door with a big smile and friendly welcome we instantly felt at ease.
After initial introductions with Emma, her partner Bav, and Sarah, who was running the course, we chatted easily about how far along we were, how our pregnancies had been, and our children- both of us couples about to become second time parents and Sarah having two children herself. I had perhaps expected that it would be more likely for first time parents to be taking part but the fact that this wasn’t the case meant that we were able to bring different insights and experiences to the course, as well as having lots in common. It was also a certain sign that all parents need information and support, not just when it’s their first baby. Sarah began by asking us to note down some points about our birth wish list, our fears or concerns and what we hoped to gain from the course. This was a really nice ice breaker that helped us to focus on why we had come and to think about the possibilities surrounding the birth, both the positive things and the things that we were feeling anxious about. A lot is made of “birth plans”, and from our first birth experience, I am aware that a birth plan is just that- a plan, as there are many factors that can change. So using the term “birth wish list” in this exercise was really helpful, acknowledging that birth can be unpredictable, and so it can be beneficial to take a flexible approach to enable you to prepare for any eventuality. One thing we do have control over is our preparation, and equipping ourselves with knowledge is a great way to feel empowered and be able to make choices that are informed, whatever circumstances pregnancy and birth present. This was one big reason for us doing the course, and it definitely delivered on that front. When talking about the things we had written down, Sarah really listened and empathised and was careful to ask us if we were happy to discuss certain things, which made us feel comfortable and well supported- a great start to the afternoon.
We went on to cover the signs and stages of labour, what contractions actually are and what the body is doing during this important process. My husband and I had done a different birth preparation course before our first son was born but this wasn’t
something that was covered on that course. I think we are often programmed to focus on the pain of contractions and not on their function, which leads to a very different perspective, and quite possibly a different experience. Knowing that contractions are very necessary feels like a much more positive take, and is definitely something that will help me to feel like I am making progress with each one.
Having discussed the process of labour, we talked about hormones and coping strategies, particularly using breathing, yoga positions and mindfulness as ways of managing the sensations of labour and birth. These were things I was particularly keen to focus on and
really wanted my husband to have a greater insight into. I have been attending LushTums pregnancy yoga classes since about 14 weeks into my pregnancy, and also went weekly during the majority of my first pregnancy. This has been fabulous preparation in itself, but despite regularly practicing moves and breathing techniques for labour and birth in these classes, during my first labour I found that I was transported to a completely different planet, where most of what I had learnt evaporated as I went into a rather odd state of brainlessness. My last labour was one of those that went from 0 to 100 pretty rapidly, so I think this was part of the reason behind my total mental block.
Whatever the circumstances, your body is doing an awful lot during labour and so shutting down any less necessary functions, like thinking for example, is pretty natural. As a result, it is likely to be difficult for anyone to have the presence of mind to engage with all the really
useful strategies they have been planning. I was therefore really keen for my husband to know about these techniques so that he can talk me through some moves and breathing when labour starts and help me to focus and remember what on earth it was that I had
planned to do. This is definitely one of the useful jobs a birth partner can have. However, it doesn’t have to be a husband, of course. A close friend, parent, sibling (or even well behaved border collie) can do something similar. Alternatively, if you’re likely to be without a birth partner, having some of your favourite moves drawn or described in your birth notes might be helpful to trigger your memory. Or for those of you more technologically able, having some videos of yoga moves and breathing techniques, or some guided relaxations that you can access easily on your phone might work well. There are heaps of fabulous resources on the LushTums website that are useful during pregnancy, labour and beyond, https://www.lushtums.co.uk/watch and https://www.lushtums.co.uk/listen.
During the birth preparation course we practiced some yoga moves and also a range of breathing techniques. It was helpful to talk these through but also to do them, and for our partners to join in. There are lots of positions that you can try during labour but some that we
focused on, and which I have found particularly comfortable, involve being on all fours. This can be especially helpful for easing back pain and helping the baby to get into the best position. Sarah was able to explain these simply and clearly and also demonstrate them so
that we could try them out. Our partners were also encouraged to try, if they were comfortable to do so. One move involved our partners slowly rocking on all fours to create a figure of eight shape, whilst we knelt and leant over to rest our heads on their backs.
Retrospectively this is quite a simple move, and one that can provide a lot of support and a sense of closeness and teamwork, which can be really positive for many people during labour. It is also a move that Sarah explained very effectively and clearly. Unfortunately, my
husband wasn’t quite sure and for a moment had me doing the rocking while he had a nice rest. Not quite the idea! Despite me not being the brightest spark at the moment (pregnancy brain is definitely real for me), I soon realised that what we were doing didn’t quite seem
right. Sarah very tactfully and in slightly different words confirmed that yes, we were being numpties, so we then swapped round. The power of teamwork.
After this slightly more physical interlude (for me, marginally more physical than intended), we took a short break and enjoyed some refreshments kindly supplied by Emma (and of course, our carefully selected Waitrose snacks). This gave us another chance to chat, and with Sarah having established a really friendly and open atmosphere, it turned out to be difficult to shut us up! One of our conversations involved the somewhat baffling phenomenon of strangers who upon encountering a pregnant lady feel the need to share their most intimate and shocking birth stories, and/or physically fondle your bump as if they are long lost relatives, excited about the prospect of another family arrival. Emma and I have both experienced this unfortunately, as I am sure many pregnant women have. Emma told us about a lady who quite uninvited, accosted her in the supermarket, patted her bump and exclaimed rather zealously that birth was: “like shitting out a grand piano.” An analogy that was neither useful nor informative, but which we all found hilarious nonetheless. After this light hearted interval (and a cracking cup of tea), we moved on to talk about interventions, pain relief and how to make decisions about the possibilities that we might be presented with during labour and birth. This was another particularly helpful aspect of the course, and followed the ethos of being open minded and non-judgemental about the various types of birth that can and do occur.
As with the previous topics, Sarah talked things through in a really clear and informative way, making use of props and diagrams to explain certain concepts, and enabling us to engage in discussion about the things we wanted to know more about. This approach made the course interactive in a very natural way (forget the dreadful forced activities or role plays that some courses make you do), and really helped us to absorb the information. It also made it personal and tailored to our needs so that we could spend more time on the things that were most relevant to us. Sarah was able to share her in-depth knowledge and experience with us, and like so many of the LushTums team, her passion for helping and supporting women was really clear to see.
Finally we spent some time talking about the 4th trimester; those early, blurry, new born days, with reminders about feeding and sleeping and setting the expectations dial to low. It’s easy to forget that keeping the baby and yourself alive each day is a big win, even if that’s done in your pyjamas on a diet of crisp sandwiches and cold cups of tea. We also had a very useful discussion about adjusting to becoming a family of four, which is daunting in a different way to having your first baby. It was particularly helpful for us to have time to consider how we would create the right environment for our family to bond and to think about how our roles might change. Equally important was talking about recovery after birth and making sure we give ourselves enough time for our bodies to heal. This is crucial after every birth and can be extra challenging when caring for active toddlers as well. We talked about dedicated postnatal core strengthening exercises, which LushTums also offer new mums, and how they help recovery.
The course was informative, useful, and also really enjoyable. Not only were we able to come away with all the information we had hoped for and spend some important time together as a couple thinking about our hopes and plans for the birth, we also made friends
that we plan to meet up with once our babies arrive. The knowledge and support that we have gained from doing the LushTums Prepare for Birth course have been both reassuring and empowering. We were able to talk about and process our previous experiences, put them into context and think about our coming birth in a positive and enlightened way. This has been completely invaluable. We are now feeling even more excited about the prospect of welcoming our new baby and looking forward to putting into practice all that we have learnt.
Ally is a Psychology Lecturer, amateur yoga enthusiast, part time cake lover (eating, not baking), and currently full time mum to 2 year old Jude and 1 month old Lucas.