Guest Blog - Good Enough Mama
I’m Ali (AKA Good Enough Mama) and I am here to tell you that you don’t need a perfect experience of pregnancy and birth to be a good mum. Many of the pregnant women I support in my work as an antenatal teacher are already piling on pressure to have a perfect pregnancy and a perfect birth experience. Unfortunately, this pressure often gets in the way of them achieving either of these aspirations. Because our minds and bodies don’t respond too well to stress hormones, particularly in the context of birth, so be kind to yourself.
Here are a few insights to help you manage any expectations and anxiety pre-birth:
No matter how healthy you are, things often crop up in pregnancy
Sometimes, the very fittest, most clean eating mamas are shocked that they test positive for gestational diabetes, or need extra scans, or a number of other common things that crop up in pregnancy. Although good diet and general health are obviously important in pregnancy, there are many things you cannot control. Your body is growing a whole new human being, and carrying a baby to term is essentially like running a 40-week marathon! There is an innate intelligence at work in this process, and also a large influence of both your and your partner’s genetics.
So if something happens in your pregnancy that means you may need consultant care or a different type of birth experience, please don’t despair. IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. And there are usually still options available to you. Research what you are being told and ask questions about any interventions you are offered. It may not feel like it, but it is always your choice. Have a look at the following tips and ideas to focus on having a more positive experience of pregnancy and birth.
Breathing is your friend - before, during and after birth
Understandably, pregnancy is often a very worrying time for women, particularly if they have pre-existing anxiety, have struggled to conceive, experienced loss of a baby, or have underlying health concerns. Even if you don’t identify with any of these points, you may still find that your anxiety levels skyrocket!
Rather than pushing through this, it is helpful to acknowledge that the anxiety is there, is very common, and can be reduced with some simple techniques.
The next time you feel anxious, sit down and take a few deep breaths. Try to locate the feeling somewhere in your body, perhaps a heaviness in your chest or tightness in your head. Place your hand there and feel the warmth radiating from it. Repeat these words to yourself on the out breath - soften, soothe, allow.
Taking deep slow breaths activates the parasympathetic nervous system and counteracts your body’s stress response. So it can also be incredibly useful to ground and calm you during birth itself.
And it is a deceptively simple but powerful skill for life. Breathe deeply when you are latching a screaming baby on; breathe deeply when you are dealing with a toddler tantrum; breathe deeply when you feel worried and are not sure why.
Have a Plan B, or C, or D when it comes to your birth
Often, birth like life does not go to plan and that can leave women and their partners feeling like they have failed in some way.
Too rigid an idea of what you wish to achieve in your birth may set up unrealistic expectations. I once worked with a woman who was so fixed on the idea of a water birth that when she got to the hospital, but all the birthing pools were occupied. This caused her labour to slow down and stall, leading to more intervention. The influence of your mind is very important in the birthing process. So while it is important to research your options, know your preferences, and communicate these to your support team, it is also vital to remain open to how things actually are, other than how you would like them to be.
In fact, rather than a birth plan, it is more helpful to think of birth preferences, and to have a plan B or C or D!
Allow yourself to consider the possibility of a transfer to hospital if you planned a home birth, the possibility of a c-section if you had hoped for a natural birth, or the possibility of pain relief if you thought you would have a drug-free birth. This flexibility does not mean those things will happen but it does mean you are more likely to remain calm when birth takes an unexpected path.
Knowledge and support are key to a positive experience
Often anxiety in pregnancy is exacerbated by fear of the unknown. Birth and life with a baby are the ultimate in uncharted territory for any new mum. You have no idea how you will respond and it doesn’t help that everyone seems to have a horror story to share with you.
The key to minimising this fear is to build up sources of knowledge and support:
- Join a local or online birth preparation class - ideally something which includes active birth education and breathing techniques. Different teachers vary in their approach, but hypno-birth, pregnancy yoga and Daisy Birthing classes are often great in this regard.
- Don’t leave it until the last minute - I often get enquiries from women who are 34 weeks + and suddenly panicking about birth - it really helps to prepare throughout your pregnancy.
- Find your tribe - again, this is so worth doing in pregnancy rather than trying to stumble out of the house in the early days with a newborn. Find your local breastfeeding support group and attend a session or two while you are still pregnant. Research sling meets or buggy fitness class or baby classes near you and note when and where they meet.
- Read evidence based information rather than listening to unsolicited opinions - I recommend ‘The Positive Birth Book’ by Milli Hill as a good place to start for balanced and practical advice.
Ultimately, even if you don’t do many, or any of these things, my overarching advice is NOT TO BEAT YOURSELF UP about anything. A less stressed and anxious mum is far more likely to have a positive experience of birth and postpartum. So don’t let this be another list of things you have to do. Pick one or two and see how you feel.
Finally, always remember my Good Enough Mama mantra, which that you are good enough already...