Bear With Me
What makes a better birth? Every woman has their own expectations on how they think their birth will transpire. Some will still take a ‘wait and see’ approach, however there are a growing number of women who are researching their options and preparing themselves to give them, and their babies, the best chance when it comes time to birth. Everyone agrees that a healthy mum and healthy baby are the first outcomes we want, but what does that actually mean, and how can we help achieve that? And, can we have a positive experience while we are there? The answer is yes.
I became a certified doula in 2008 and since then have had the privilege of supporting many families during their journey through pregnancy and the birth of their babies. I have been told many stories by women feeling fear at the thought of birth, and also stories from those who have suffered trauma as a result of a previous birth experience that wasn’t quite what they had bargained for. As a doula I am truly honoured to support these women, and as satisfying as it is when they say: “We couldn’t have done it without you!” I sometimes wonder if perhaps they could have. The truth is, given the right amounts of information, support and confidence in themselves, and in birth, most women can achieve the birth experience they are hoping for. Not all pregnant women want to hire a doula, and now there is another way for them to get information and support, and it comes in the form of a weekly dance class designed specifically for mums-to-be. Since holding these classes I have witnessed a new level of self discovery and empowerment from the women who attend.
The reason that these classes are so powerful is because they incorporate a range of rituals and activities that not only keep mum fit and active throughout pregnancy, but also prepare them emotionally and physically for labour, birth and motherhood. Venus is a first time mum who started attending classes in her second trimester of pregnancy. When I asked her what she liked about the class she said: “It’s the celebration of pregnancy with other beautiful bellies to connect, share, dance, move and play! Is an absolute joy and one the highlights and special part of being a woman on the rite of passage to becoming a mother”
During the class women learn dance moves which can assist them in labour and birth. Given creative names such as Birth Goddess, Infinite Patience and (my favourite) Dilation Gyration, each move is inspired by feminine world dances such as Bellydance, African and Latin. By naming each move and sequence, we assist women in remembering the movement, and also give her permission to move her body in a way which is often of great comfort and instinctive for a labouring mother. When a pregnant women dances, her stress levels drop and her mood elevates. She produces the ‘love hormone’ oxytocin as well as endorphins, the ‘pleasure hormones’ (which prime her baby to give and receive love) rather than the stress hormone cortisol, which is an inhibitor of fetal growth. As women learn each movement, they are also educated about the benefits of an active and upright labour and how dancing and changing positions can assist them and their babies. Many pregnant women aren’t aware that there is an optimal position for their baby to be in during the later parts of pregnancy and birth, and that there are ways that they can help ensure that position. With each class mothers are encouraged to listen to, and have confidence in her body and her ability to birth. Women also learn comfort techniques during class which they can use with their partners to ease discomfort during pregnancy and labour. Rochelle attended the classes for 10 weeks before she gave birth and shared with us when announcing the safe arrival: “My wish to labour at home as long as possible came true as our baby was born just one hour after we arrived at the hospital! As I did labour at home I was able to use many of the dance moves we learnt, and my partner also used one of the techniques to squeeze my hips to open up my pelvis which helped incredibly during contractions.”
Along with the dance and education comes reflection and sharing. This, I believe, is one of the most powerful elements. There are many different support groups for mothers, however, there are so few for pregnant women who can often feel overwhelmed by the journey ahead. Given the opportunity to share and reflect each week, the ritual of sitting in circle with one another is reported to be a favourite part of the class. Mothers-to-be are able to release fears, share stories and gain wisdom from one another. More importantly, they are able to celebrate their pregnancies together in a fun and supportive environment.
Although classes are aimed towards pregnant ladies, many women often return after their baby is born. They are able to share their birth story and often talk about how the class assisted them during labour. New mums can continue to participate by dancing with their baby in a sling or carrier, and their babies are often soothed by the familiar movement.Their babies are also receiving many benefits by dancing with mum which can help baby self-regulate cardio vascular function, sleep rhythms, immune function and hormone levels. Dancing while wearing their baby also contributes to baby’s strength and coordination, and decreases the chances of developing Plagiocephaly (flattening of the head), ear infection and low muscle tone.
It is the combination of dance, education and support which is enabling more mums (and babies!) to achieve the ‘healthy mum + healthy baby + positive experience’ trio. Not only are mums keeping active during pregnancy, but are also equipping themselves with knowledge and a support network to enter into their birth experience with power and positivity. Sure not all births go to plan, but preparing yourself physically and emotionally goes a long way towards a positive outcome.