Giving birth is one of the most monumental moments in your life, and creating a birth plan is an important piece in preparing for the birth experience that you desire. To create a birth plan, take time to consider and learn about the many aspects that can play a role in your birth and collect your thoughts, needs, and desires as you go. Whether you end up with a detailed 3-page bulletin or a simple overview sketch, making a birth plan will have a significant impact on your birthing experience.
During labor, your brain will be utilizing all of your 5 senses to continuously process your surroundings, greatly influencing your emotions and impacting your sense of well-being. In fact, Little Lilacs recommends using the five senses of sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch to guide you in creating your birth plan!
When it comes to sight, it all starts with the neocortex, the part of the cerebral cortex that is concerned with both sight and hearing. If a laboring mother experiences a visual surrounding that is peaceful and safe, her neocortex will respond by sending a signal to the primitive brain that everything is ok and that there is no need to go into panic and protection mode.
The primitive brain, also called the “brain stem,” is located at the junction of the spine and the brain. It controls many of the automatic functions of your organs, particularly your breathing. When it receives the signal that you are safe, it will continue functioning in a state of rest by maintaining steady, relaxed breathing. This type of breathing encourages a calm state, which will in turn, positively impact your oxytocin levels, even further reinforcing a sense of well-being.
This chain of reaction is why surrounding yourself with peaceful things to look at during labor is a prerequisite for optimizing your state of consciousness and happy hormones levels.
Consider the opposite effect of when a laboring mother is surrounded by an atmosphere that looks unwelcoming or unsafe. The body’s natural reaction to this kind of environment is the classic fight-or-flight response. The hypothalamus tells the mother’s sympathetic nervous system to kick into gear, causing the body to speed up, tense up, and increase overall alertness. It also signals the adrenal-cortical system to start pumping out more stress hormones.
This chain of reaction causes increased intensity in contractions and an extended length of labor, exhausting the laboring mother before it is even time for her to push!
Ensure that you begin a positive chain of reaction by creating a peaceful visual environment. You can do this by dimming the lights, lighting candles, and surrounding yourself with peaceful items and pictures that will help you experience feelings of safety, tranquility, and warmth.
For partners, be aware that your facial expressions will indeed influence the atmosphere. Focus on maintaining an inner sense of peace and self-control, and your calm and relaxed face will help the birthing mother maintain the same.
The neocortex is also responsible for processing your audible surrounding and signaling the results to your primitive brain. Loud, stressful noises invoke the instinct for the fight-or-flight reaction; whereas soft, soothing noises encourage feelings of safety and well-being.
Whether your location of choice is a hospital, birthing center, or home, some undesirable background noise may be unavoidable. Although you might not be able to control the nurses talking or the midwives preparing, you can choose a soothing music playlist that will help everyone relax!
In my own labor experience, I was so focused on giving birth that I didn’t hear as much of the background chatter as I thought I would. However, I do remember my midwife and doula putting on some relaxation music to help me remain calm as my contractions started getting stronger and closer together. It also became a distraction of sorts for my brain, allowing me to focus primarily on the beautiful sounds instead of the waves of contractions.
Music is especially powerful in that it helps to switch the brain from logic to creativity and impacts the medial prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that controls the link between sound, memories, and emotion. Create a playlist in the weeks leading up to your due date that features sounds that evoke positive, safe memories. For instance, you may find that ocean waves, chirping birds, or a bubbling brook remind you of relaxing on a day off without a care in the world. Soothing instrumental music, such as soft cello or piano, is also relaxing.
You can even amplify the relationship between music and memories by dedicating time in the weeks leading up to labor to creating new memories by listening to these playlists while you read a relaxing book or take a nap.
If you’ve ever experienced the feeling of being hangry, you know how important satisfying your tastebuds can be! In the first stage of labor, eating complex carbohydrates and foods rich in Vitamin B is beneficial, as they provide a gradual, sustained release of energy that will help you stay strong throughout the contractions.
It’s important to remember to eat early on in your birthing experience while you have an appetite, as most women become uninterested in eating food once they have reached active labor. Even then, it is always a good idea to have some extra nutritious snacks handy that will provide energy and reduce anxiety or fatigue. Here is a short list of a few of our favorite suggestions:
Whole grain crackers
Bananas, apples, or celery with almond butter
Staying hydrated is also important, so you might as well choose a beverage that feels pampering and calming, such as soothing decaffeinated herbal tea and plenty of cool water with fresh slices of lemon and cucumber.
Your sense of smell is tied to your olfactory bulbs, which send messages directly to the primitive brain, the limbic system, and the neocortex. Smells can greatly impact the consciousness of the laboring mother for positive or negative, signaling either safety or alert to her brain.
Several essential oils have been used throughout pregnancy and during labor for centuries, and they are even found in the Bible. Regardless of where you are giving birth, you can bring along an essential oil diffuser to fill the room with soothing scents to create a tranquil atmosphere. Certain essential oils have an especially powerful calming effect on a laboring mother, such as lavender, bergamot, and geranium. Be sure to become familiar with these oils before labor to create the combination you like best.
Similar to music, the sense of smell directly influences emotions and memories as well. Create new positive memories by diffusing these oils during moments of total relaxation in the weeks leading up to your baby’s birth.
The homunculus is the part of the brain that is engaged during experiences of touch. It communicates with the somatosensory cortex, an area of the brain that is located near the brain’s surface. When someone touches you, receptors on the skin and in the muscles transmit a signal through the spinal cord and medulla to this area of your brain. Your brain has the incredible ability to monitor a map of your entire body and maintain a detailed awareness of the touch you are experiencing!
During labor, the desire for physical contact – and the type of contact – varies for every expectant mother. Here are a few forms of touch that can help the mother relax, as well as provide some relief during contractions:
Hydrotherapy: A laboring women can benefit by the touch of water in each stage of labor. In the beginning stages, soaking in a light bath or placing a wet towel on her forehead helps to relax a laboring mother, which then allows her more time to rest and conserve her energy before active labor begins. During active labor, a nice warm bath is so effective at calming muscles that it is known to be the “Midwife's Epidural”!
Counter Pressure: Have you ever heard of the Hip Squeeze? It is counter pressure applied to areas such as your hips or lower back, and it is simply amazing! During my own labor, my husband and doula teamed up to provide constant double Hip Squeezes through each of my contractions. This technique is often used when a laboring mother is experiencing back labor, bringing her great relief during contractions.
Gentle Pressure: As contractions increase in intensity, it is common for the mother’s body to begin tightening up. Since the goal is to keep your body relaxed and supple, applying gentle pressure helps you identify areas of tension and consciously release them. You can even experience a total-body release of tension by having your birth partner or doula give you a big bear hug as you lean into them, breathe out, and relax all of your muscles. This is also a great way to reset your mental state back to relaxation!
Massaging: Massaging can significantly help the laboring mother release tension. Stroking consists of your partner or doula using slow, firm pressure to run their fingers down an area of your body. Kneading is a another technique which involves circular movements done with the palm or the closed fist. To release tension, both techniques can be used across the shoulders, down the thighs, or wherever you may be feeling the waves of contractions the most. For optimal results, the one massaging should maintain constant, flowing contact by having their one hand begin a motion before the other hand ends its motion.
Reflexology: Lastly, reflexology involves applying pressure to certain areas of the feet or acupressure points to relieve pain or problems in other parts of the body. The use of reflexology can help create stimulation of the nerve endings, sending messages to the tensed area and releasing happy endorphins, which then help to control the intensity of the contractions.
Have your birth partner and doula practice these touch techniques with you before labor. This will allow you to figure out your favorite techniques, give feedback, and prepare them to know exactly how they can help you when the time comes.
Would you like help creating your birth plan? Little Lilacs greatly enjoys guiding expectant mothers as they craft a customized, personal plan that includes all 5 of these senses! Contact us to learn more or set up an appointment.