Your Birth Environment – Why is Birth Environment So Important?
Have you ever noticed how much you act from your environmental cues.
Your Mum pops over with a plate of cookies and she leaves them on your dining room table. You weren’t hungry, but now you’re eating a cookie.
You walk into a garden centre at Christmas time and smell the candles of cinnamon, frankincense & winter berry and it immediately gets you feeling excited for Christmas.
You see water by the tills at the cafe. You’ll feel thirsty looking at it. There’s juice in the fridge but you’ll choose the water as it’s right there. The next time you go there, there’s juice at the tills, you pick up the juice without giving it a second thought. You choose what’s in your environment.
If you see a chair you’ll sit on it. If there’s no chair you won’t even notice your legs are tired.
If you walk into your lounge do you pick up the TV remote? If you walk into the kitchen do you open a cupboard or wipe a side?
What do you do when you walk into work? How do you act in that environment… do you always put your bag in the same place, or automatically click the kettle on, warm up your computer or open your notebook. Do you bite your nails on the way there, call your partner on the drive home? What do you do as a result of walking into your work environment?
We are the products of our environments and respond to the cues that surround us. We respond either internally, like the feelings of excitement when we smell Christmas candles or externally by sitting on a chair that was placed in a room.
BOTH these reactions matter in a birth environment.
Just stay off the bed
If you see a bed, you’re more likely to get on it. If you see a floor mat, you’re more likely to sit or crouch or lean on that. If there’s a counter, you’re more likely to stand next to it to lean on it.
Why does this matter? If you’re upright in labour (or basically any other position other than your back) then the research shows that
– Your labour time is significantly shorter.
⁃ Your less likely to have an instrumental (forceps or ventouse) birth by 23%
⁃ Your 29% less likely to have a cesarean.
⁃ Your 21% less likely to have an episiotomy.
Your environment matters. The environment could be as subtle as a low bed or a high bed. A low bed- you’re more likely to get on to lie down. But, one of the hospital beds set to the highest setting you’re more likely to lean on it. Leaning on the bed compared to lying on the bed could make a massive positive difference to your birth.
Sight, smells & sound of a hospital.
If you walked into a room where there were bright lights, clinical smells and white coats. How would this make you feel? Often our bodies pick up on these environmental cues without us even being aware. Especially, when usually the only time we are surrounded by white coats & clinical environments are when we are ill and we visit the doctors, or visiting a poorly relative in hospital. It’s not usually associated with fun times.
Ever heard of white coat syndrome? It’s when your blood pressure rises only in a clinical setting. You don’t often know that you feel nervous, but your blood pressure is raised in the Drs. But if you do your blood pressure at home it’s normal. It’s thought that between 15-30% of all raised blood pressure at the Drs is because of white coat syndrome. This is your body picking up on environmental cues and saying “May Day! May Day! Someone’s sick” without you even being aware that it’s happening.
So why does this matter in birth?
⁃ If your body is feeling stressed then it’s signalling that it’s not in a safe place to have a baby. So labour can stall and intervention can be advised, plus it becomes more painful as pain is stronger when you feel stressed.
Some simple ways to make your body respond better to your birth environment- especially if it’s in a hospital or birth unit environment. This right here is nest building at its finest…
⁃ Turn off the lights. Dim lights are more relaxing than bright ones. Fairy lights and tea lights (although your hospital may only allow battery ones) are great for providing that magic.
⁃ Bring a familiar or relaxing smell. Think essential oils or nothing says familiar like your own pillow. Anything that doesn’t make you think you’re in a squeaky clean hospital.
⁃ Bring some things that make it feel more homely. Your pillow, comfy clothes, maybe a photo or picture or even a string of them like in the above photo. I’ve known women to bring bunting in made of photos or affirmations.
⁃ Music- having some music on will not only remind you of happy times and make you feel all zen, but it can also drown out the noise of a bustling hospital or other labouring women next door.
You can pack all this stuff in your hospital bag and let your birth partner know that this is the plan. He/she can then be in charge of dimming the lights and setting up your room to make it homely.
Lastly, knowing how important your environment is, really consider where you’d like to give birth. Your home is going going to give you all the relaxing cues as, it’s your home, it’s your familiar, and that’s a good thing to feel when you’re giving birth. If a midwife led unit or a consultant led unit is chosen/advised for you then think about ways that you can make your environment as comforting as possible. Also think about what’s on offer and whether that’s something you want. If you don’t want an epidural then don’t choose to birth somewhere where it’s on offer. It’s like the cookie analogy- if it’s on the menu where you’re giving birth then you’re more likely to choose it. If it’s not, then it won’t even enter your mind.
Your environment is so important for your birth. You can be a product of your birth environment, or it’s architect.
If you want to know about other ways to have a great birth then…
If you want all the information from our award-winning hypnobirthing and antenatal classes but from the convenience of your own home on your own time, then you can get this with our online course.
Check out our series of YouTube videos on how to make your birth better.