Childbirth may not be an event in the Olympic games, but it is an event in the life of a woman that makes her into a true Olympian! It is an intensive athletic event that is one of the most challenging and rewarding tests of strength and endurance that will ever happen in her life.
An athletic event you wonder? Perhaps you have never thought of it this way, but let me explain why having a baby is much like an Olympic event and how a mummy to be (or mummy to be again) can best prepare her body for this event.
When a woman begins labour the largest muscle in her body is her uterus. During this time it is continuously flexing and relaxing over and over again for an average of 15-17 hours for a first time mum! Imagine lifting weights for 15 hours straight! Sounds exhausting… and it is! Dr. Bradley, OB/GYN, in his book Husband Coached Childbirth, states, “The amount of energy involved is comparable to what a football player uses playing a full game of football, offense and defence.” He goes on to emphasise that a player who attempted this without proper training and preparation would be so sore afterwards he would probably need to be carried off the field. Even though a woman might appear to be relaxed during labour, her body is still working incredibly hard! Then comes pushing, which could last an average of 2 hours for the first time mum. Contractions generally space out a little during this stage, but the mother becomes a more active participant in the event by actually pushing with the uterus to get the baby out. The end result is that regardless of how well she handles the labour, she is bound to be exhausted and in need of some well deserved rest!
So birth is an athletic event, but it happens everyday and will happen with or without preparation, so why bother? Well, if you knew that you HAD to participate in an Olympic game or run a marathon would you just sit around eating whatever you felt like and doing little to no conditioning exercise and then get up one morning and go perform? Most likely you would start training and prepare your body so that you could do your best and suffer the least wear and tear? Being properly prepared for birth will not only make the process of labour easier to handle, it can also make recovery quicker. It is important that you condition your body to work effectively and efficiently. Now that we understand why it is important to prepare for the athletic event of birth, how exactly can we do that?
One of the first things you can do from the moment you find out your pregnant, or even better from the moment you decide to try to become pregnant, is start watching what you put into your body. This means not only eating healthy foods, but also avoiding harmful substances. We all know that it is best to avoid smoking, drugs, and alcohol, but pregnant women should also be cautious about the use of over-the-counter and prescription medications, food additives, caffeine, cleaning chemicals, environmental toxins, and even some natural drugs such as homeopathics, herbs, and teas. These substances do not merely affect how the mother’s body operates, but also can greatly affect the unborn baby. Dr. Bradley gives the simplified example of a baby weighing 7 pounds in the uterus of a mother weighing 140 pounds. In this example he explains that the medicine dose for the mother would affect the baby twenty times more than the mother. The effect can be more or less depending on the specific drug. So it is important to always weigh the risks and benefits of any drug when pregnant or considering becoming pregnant.
It is important to focus on eating healthy foods too. If you were preparing for a demanding athletic event you would eat well so that your body was in prime health. These healthy foods will help your baby to grow strong and healthy as well as help your pregnant body to be efficient and effective during the event of birth and recovery afterwards. So what should you eat? Dr. Bradley uses the work of Dr. Tom Brewer (www.drbrewerpregnancydiet.com) when he suggests a daily diet of 4 servings of milk products, two eggs, two servings of protein, two servings of fresh green leafy vegetables, four servings of whole grains, one citrus fruit, three servings of fats or oils, at least one other fruit or vegetable, and salt to taste. It is also recommended that each week you eat an additional three yellow or orange-colored fruits or vegetables, one serving of liver, and three whole baked potatoes. Protein is extremely important during pregnancy and it is recommended that a pregnant woman eat 80 to 100 grams of protein daily. Dr. Brewer relates this diet to the decrease or avoidance of toxemia (also known as preeclampsia), low birth weight, and prematurity.
And let us not forget the proper fluids. Water is extremely important for the pregnant body and the unborn baby. In fact, 75% of the baby’s weight at birth is water! Water also prevents dehydration, which leads to a decrease of energy output of more than 20%; so drinking water during labour is extremely important as well.
When training for an athletic event one of the most obvious aspects of preparation is physical conditioning through stretching and exercise. Prior to beginning any new exercise routine one should consult with their primary care provider to ensure the safety of the routine for their own particular situation as health conditions vary from person to person. Having some level of regular physical exercise is necessary for building stamina. In addition to regular exercise Dr. Bradley recommends “tailor sitting” which is basically sitting cross-legged on the floor, routinely squatting rather than bending down at the waist, pelvic rocking which Dr. Bradley defines as “lifting (not arching) and relaxing her lower back rhythmically while on hands and knees”, “butterfly” exercise which strengthens the abductor muscles, the Kegel exercise, walking which’s helps to condition the body during pregnancy but also can be used during childbirth to open the inlet of the pelvis and actually speed childbirth by an average of 28 percent, and finally squatting which tones the perineum to help prevent tearing and also can be used in the pushing stage of labour to open the outlet of the pelvis by more than 10 percent. These basic pregnancy “exercises” help to stretch and tone the muscles involved in childbirth as well as preventing and lessening the effects of other common pregnancy problems like varicose veins, hemorrhoids, and incontinence. Bradley Method® classes offer a great way to learn these exercises more thoroughly through demonstration and hands on practice. They offer the opportunity for observation to ensure correct performance as well as offering an exercise regimen that gradually increases in intensity.
Relaxation is the next key component of preparation for childbirth. When likened to training for an athletic event, relaxation is the technique used to pull you through the event and help you cope with the temporary discomforts. Relaxation is best achieved through abdominal breathing rather than the short choppy breathes often thought to be best for labour. In reality, short choppy breaths can lead to hyperventilation. Deep relaxation is mental, physical, and emotional and requires devoted training. It should be practiced daily for at least ten minutes. Relaxation can help you safely avoid unnecessary pain during labour.
Anytime a new challenge is attempted, knowledge is an important factor in preparation. If you were planning on running a marathon you would want to ensure you knew the route to include where the hills and water points are located. If you were participating in any athletic competition you would want to know the rules and the options. Childbirth is the same way. Depending on the choices you have made regarding where your baby will be born and who will be attending the birth, your rules may be stricter or more lenient. Knowing the rules of your selected birth place and your options or choices as well as the possible side effects of those options can make a huge difference in your ability to enter birth with confidence and feeling mentally/emotionally relaxed. Margie Hathaway, co-founder of the Bradley Method®, offers this good example: imagine yourself at a party where you know everyone. If someone comes up behind you and taps you on the shoulder, you would probably turn around and say, “hi.” However, if you were alone in an unfamiliar dark alley and someone tapped you on the shoulder, you might scream for help, or run, or both!
Knowledge provides the reassurance you need to make birth a comfortable experience without fear. Fear causes tension, tension causes pain, and guess what, pain causes more fear… so the cycle continues. How do you obtain knowledge? The best way to obtain all the knowledge you need is to attend an extensive childbirth education course like the Bradley Method®.
What athlete would go into an event without a plan? So why should a woman go into labour without one also! Once you know your options and the rules of your facility you need to make decisions about how you will operate under those rules and what options you want to use depending on individual circumstances. This is called a birth plan. Its primary purpose is a communication tool. It helps the birth team know what your desires are for birth during a time when your ability to communicate verbally may not be too great. Your birth plan should be brief (not more than one page) and to the point, but also polite and full of positive communication. You should always keep an open mind and be sure to leave room for unexpected circumstances when writing your birth plan. You wouldn’t want to tie the hands of your providers in case of an emergency. They need to be able to feel free to act to save lives if necessary. Always discuss your birth plan with your primary care provider during a prenatal visit. This gives them the opportunity to let you know if something in your plan is unrealistic and to make compromises as necessary. It also can assist the parents in deciding upon a compatible care provider. Once you have a plan that you and your provider agree on you should type it out and make a copy for your provider, one for your birthplace, and one for you. It is a good idea to have one copy with you when you go to your birthplace in labour, just in case yours has been misplaced.
Last, but certainly not least, you need a coach! All professional athletes have some sort of coach helping them to achieve greatness. Every pregnant woman should have the same. A coach can get water, remind you to use the bathroom, rub your back, help you to relax, help communicate with the medical staff, and just provide good old-fashioned attention and encouragement! Your coach is your biggest cheerleader! Where do you find a coach? Look around, they might live with you (i.e. husband/partner) or be someone you know well like a close friend or relative. There is also the option of hiring a professional doula. A trained coach is always a benefit and outside of a professional doula you will need to ensure your chosen coach gets proper training in how to best attend to your needs when you are in labour. The Bradley Method® of natural childbirth actually trains your spouse/partner, close friend, or relative to be your coach while preparing you to give birth at the same time. Communication is a big factor in training a labour coach. Your coach needs to be able to meet your needs even when you can’t communicate them. This ability doesn’t just happen miraculously, but requires many discussions prior to the big event. Your coach needs to understand how you handle pain, where you tense up first, how to tell if you are completely relaxed, and how to ensure you are breathing with your abdomen rather than your chest. Your coach also needs to know how to time contractions. It is a big job, but you will be glad you have someone there to do it!
With a healthy diet, avoidance of harmful substances, proper exercise, training in relaxation, a wide array of knowledge, a complete birth plan, and a well trained coach you can approach your labour with complete confidence in your body and it’s ability to work for you. You will know what to expect and how to react. You can be relaxed knowing you have done all that you can in advance to prepare yourself for the birth day of your child! All that is left is to show up for your event and prove to the world what an outstanding athlete you are; and don’t forget to treasure every moment of the most rewarding experience of your life!
Are you ready to go for the gold in childbirth? If so, your training can begin with one simple step by signing up for the extensive childbirth education offered by Jade Chapman who teaches the Bradley Method® of natural childbirth and offers free doula support to all Bradley Method® students. Is it worth it? Over 86% of the more than 200,000 couples that have been trained in the Bradley Method® have experienced spontaneous, unmedicated vaginal births.