As I write this, I’m 38.5 weeks pregnant and my second child is “due” in 9 days. You’ll note the use of inverted commas there – she could come tomorrow, she could come in three weeks – we all know that due dates don’t really mean anything. Whilst this isn’t my first rodeo, it is my first attempt at vaginal birth. After an unsuccessful induction with my first baby which resulted in a caesarean section, I’m hoping to have a VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarean) this time around, with the ideal scenario being that I go into spontaneous labour and spend much of the latent phase at home before heading to the labour ward for delivery.
In some ways, I feel like a first time mum-to-be again. I don’t know what it feels like to go into labour – to have my waters break or to lose my mucus plug. As a firm subscriber to the “knowledge is power” school of thought, I’ve read plenty of books and I’m aware of the signs to look out for, but I still worry about whether I’ll “know” when it’s actually happening. I know I won’t be alone in my pre-birth anxiety (worrying comes as standard with the pregnancy and motherhood package), so I thought it might be helpful to share the things I’m doing in order to stay calm, positive and encourage things to take their natural course. I hope they help you too.
Taking Courses, Reading Books
When my son was born, I remember asking my best friend for advice about some newborn worry or other. She had a one-year-old, she knew her shit, right? Apparently not: “Oh God I can’t really remember” she replied apologetically. I didn’t get it – until my friend asked me something about her new baby recently and I turned out to be equally unhelpful. You just forget. Or rather, you move on to being consumed by other worries and phases. My point here is that despite reading a lot of books in the run-up to my first birth, I’ve had to go back and re-read them all again in preparation for round two. Whilst I firmly believe that being informed is the best way to approach birth, information overload is very much a thing, so I recommend keeping your reading list streamlined. I found Milli Hill’s The Positive Birth Book and Hollie De Cruz’s Your Baby, Your Birth informative, accessible and actionable. If you’re interested in hypnobirthing but don’t want to commit to a course, Your Baby, Your Birth teaches you the fundamentals and comes with accompanying meditation and positive affirmation MP3 downloads – the relaxation one single-handedly got me through the multiple vaginal examinations I experienced during the induction process. This time, I’ve also been reading Hill’s second book, Give Birth Like a Feminist, which, whilst not so much a practical manual for birth, is essential reading if you want to feel empowered and at the centre of every decision concerning your pregnancy and birth.
NCT won out over a hypnobirthing course with baby no.1. I wanted to make some mum friends and, I’ll admit, I was a little sceptical about it all. Breathing a baby out? Sure. Fast-forward to my postnatal recovery and a career pivot to personal trainer and I soon realised how much I’d underestimated the power of breath (more on that later). I’m currently working my way through the Positive Birth Company’s Hypnobirthing Digital Pack. At £39 it is an absolute bargain – many courses cost upwards of £200 – and easy to digest. I love the fact that it’s virtual so you can chip away at it whenever you have time. Being self-employed with often irregular hours and having a toddler at home, I knew that having to commit to attending a course on a set day or time would only stress me out. From the very first lesson I realised I’d filed hypnobirthing into a box marked “woo-woo” – I still think the name doesn’t help – when in reality, it’s completely logical and rooted in science. Hypnobirthing really helped me understand the physiological side of birth., The uterus is a muscle and it acts like any other muscle during a workout – which, essentially, is what birth is – contracting and relaxing, needing oxygen to do so effectively. Understanding this instantly alleviated the fear I had around the pain of giving birth – personal training has shown me that utilising your breath can make even the hardest exercise more bearable, so hopefully, it’ll be the same when it comes to my uterus! I’ve also found the positive affirmations, various MP3’s, sample birth plan and Facebook community full of positive birth stories that come with the course endlessly helpful.
Whether you’re attempting a hypnobirthing, plan on asking for all the pain relief or are somewhere in the middle, tuning into your breath during pregnancy will help in any birth scenario. Alongside the positive affirmation tracks, I found taking deep breaths helped enormously with the vaginal examinations during my induction. As our uterus expands during pregnancy, the diaphragm gets squished, making it harder to take a deep inhale and exhale. Practise doing so before birth and not only will it help to keep you calm when anxiety strikes, it’ll ensure your uterus is getting the vital blood flow it needs during labour. The Positive Birth Company course recommends inhaling through the nose for a count of four and exhaling through the mouth for a count of eight to ten, and the Bloom Method has a great blog on diaphragmatic breathing during pregnancy here. I find getting exhaling for ten pretty hard, so I stick to six to eight – do what works for you, and make sure you’re breathing into your ribs, getting a full 360-degree expansion.
If you’ve read our round-up of pregnancy fitness plans, you might know that the NHS recommends pregnant women aim for 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week, including two strength sessions. It’s important to remember that every woman – and every pregnancy – is different. While some want to keep working out during the third trimester, others just want to take a nap – I swing between the two daily! If you’re up for keeping active, do, but remember that it doesn’t have to be a typical cardio or strength workout – yoga, mobility and simply walking all count too.
I’m not going to sugar coat it: for me, this one has been every bit as unpleasant as it sounds. I didn’t get around to doing perineal massage during my first pregnancy as it’s recommended that you start at 36 weeks and I was induced at 37. As I’m hoping for a VBAC, I’m grinning and bearing it in an attempt to make the tissue more supple and hopefully avoid any tears. Dr Brooke Vandermolen, aka @theobgynmum, has a great how-to blog here, and if you’re wincing at the thought (I hear ya), it’s worth noting that a 2020 study found that perineal massage reduced the risk of episiotomy or tear, reduced the risk of 3rd or 4th-degree tear, reduced perineal pain, reduced the length of the second stage of labour (the pushing phase), reduced the risk of bowel incontinence and increased wound healing. I’ve been using olive oil – any natural oil will do – but women’s health physio Clare Bourne recommends Nessa Organics’ Vagina Victory oil too. Get comfy, pop on a meditation track and practise that deep breathing ladies…
Eating All the Dates
Well, six a day. Which, even for someone who loves dates, feels like a lot. Whilst it may sound like the ultimate old wive’s tale, so many friends have sworn that devouring six dates a day in the later stages of pregnancy (from 3 weeks) has helped to ripen their cervix in preparation for birth, with midwives commenting on how soft it was. The idea is rooted in Islamic tradition, where the date is considered a sacred fruit and, according to the Quran, Allah instructs the Virgin Mary, Mariam to consume dates when she gives birth to prophet Isa. Don’t worry, there is some science to it too. In a 2011 study, researchers had 69 pregnant women eat six dates a day for 4 weeks leading up to their estimated delivery dates. The study also consisted of 45 pregnant women who didn’t eat any dates prior to their delivery dates. Researchers found that the date-eating women had a shorter first stage of labour, a higher mean cervical dilatation, and their cervix was riper for giving birth. Additionally, 96 percent of the women who ate dates experienced spontaneous labor compared with only 79 percent of the women who didn’t eat dates. More recently, a 2019 study of 154 women compared 77 who ate dates late in their pregnancy and 77 who didn’t. Again, researchers found that the date eaters had significantly less need for medical intervention to induce labour compared to those who didn’t eat any dates. For someone who’s cervix didn’t even begin to open last time, I’ll try anything. Add them to porridge, smoothies or smother them in peanut butter when your sugar craving strikes.
Listening to My Body – And Baby
AKA forcing myself to slow down, to nap at 11am if I feel like it and stop feeling guilty for doing “nothing”. Being self-employed means there’s not an official “last day” at work and it’s easy to think “oh just one more client, one more copywriting brief won’t hurt”, which is where I was last week, but right now, I’m bloody knackered and yesterday’s pre-lunch nap was blissful, so work is finally properly taking a back seat. I’m also trying to really tune into how my body feels physically and look out for the changes that could indicate labour is coming – low back pain, the bump dropping, cramps – and, in lieu of any more scans, focusing on baby’s movements for reassurance that all is well.
Writing My Birth Story
Yep, the one from two years ago. Like many women, my first birth wasn’t the one I hoped for – I was weirdly excited about experiencing birth and labour and, as is often the case with a caesarean section, I felt like I’d been robbed of that. Without going into too much detail, my birth was very medicalised and saw me spend a week in the hospital, separated from my baby for four of those days. There’s definitely some trauma lingering from my experience – it’s why I opted for a completely different hospital this time round – and I hope that writing about it ahead of baby no.2’s arrival will be cathartic. My best friend bought me a beautiful journal after my son was born, and the birth story page is one of the only ones still blank. I’m finally ready to change that.
Burning Essential Oils
Between the bump, aches and pains and the constant need to wee, a good night’s sleep during pregnancy is almost as elusive as that Garnier Ambre Solaire face SPF everyone is raving about. I’ve found two to three drops of lavender oil (I use Tisserand) in my diffuser works a treat at helping me fall – and stay – asleep and calming any anxious thoughts. I’ve also bought some Clary Sage oil to take into hospital, which can help to reduce pain, fear and tension, but it’s thought to be potent enough to potentially bring on labour, so I won’t be opening that one until my due date! Peppermint, citrus, frankincense and jasmine are also said to calm nerves and reduce pain. If you don’t have a diffuser, adding a few drops to a hot damp flannel and inhaling or dabbing oil onto your pulse points will do the trick.