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  • Writer's pictureTori Smith


Though you don’t have much control of how your labour is going to play out, you can control elements of the environment in your birthing suite (I’m using “birthing suite” as a broad term for any space where you plan to give birth). Small details can have a big effect in creating a calming energy, which can contribute to a more relaxed mother and, hopefully, a smoother labour.

Lighting. Labour often kicks in at night. Bright fluorescent lights can be off-putting or distracting when you’re trying to focus on the task of labour. Think of ways you can incorporate softer light into the room. Maybe you want to use dimmable lights, lamps or candles. Maybe you want to be outdoors. If you’re planning a water birth or using a tub at any point during labour, you might want to get a floating light or submersible lights. If you plan to keep the lights low, it’s always a good idea to have a flashlight handy for your midwife or doctor to use as needed.

Music. The sounds around you contribute greatly to the mood of your labour space. Some may want high-energy, motivating music for early labour, and others may find that anxiety-inducing. It’s highly individual. Your goal should be to create the most comfortable environment for you, the child-bearing mother. So whether it’s nature sounds, tribal drums, acoustic pop covers, heavy metal or pure silence, make a point of curating a playlist ahead of time or jotting down a few artists that fit the vibe you’re going for. I would guess that a more subdued style of music is more comforting in the later stages of labour when you really need to focus inward and keep distractions at a minimum. You may also choose to put headphones on and listen to guided hypnosis, meditation, visualization, affirmations or a birth app.

Pure essential oils. These are invaluable when it comes to setting the tone for the room. Scents are intrinsically connected to our emotional states – just think of your immediate reaction when you pull out a batch of freshly baked cookies from the oven or walk past a lilac bush versus when you get a whiff of sour milk or gasoline. Certain oils, such as lavender and chamomile, are known to have relaxing effects. Others, like peppermint and citrus, are more stimulating and uplifting. Scents can create a spa-like atmosphere, an earthy forest feel or a floral garden oasis. Some have a cooling effect while others create a warming sensation. It’s up to you to decide what will be most pleasing to you. If you are able, consider setting up a diffuser in the room or putting the essential oils directly on your skin periodically (neck or wrists are a good spot). In the moment, you may find certain smells you normally enjoy are suddenly off-putting, so use sparingly at first. Keep in mind, synthetic scents and can be disruptive for yourself and others present, and diffused scents can aggravate asthmatic symptoms.

Refreshments. Because labour takes a lot of energy, it is advisable to stay hydrated throughout the process. As always, listen to the instincts of your body. You can’t go wrong with water, but don’t be afraid to ask for more ice if you want more ice, or lukewarm if that’s what you prefer. You may not feel like eating much, but it’s absolutely your choice. I laugh now, looking back, because I asked my doula if I was allowed to eat during labour. The answer was, I could do whatever I wanted. If you are being told you can’t eat in the maternity ward, you’re already being groomed for C-section surgery. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t fuel yourself at one of the most energetically taxing times of your life. As for my labours, I asked one of my support people to make me a simple smoothie, consisting of ingredients such as cucumber, blueberries, watermelon, coconut water and sea salt. These ingredients are hydrating, easy to sip, easy on the digestive system and help to replenish electrolytes. The act of taking a small sip between contractions became part of my ritual as I coped with the progression of labour. It can feel like a small treat or reward during the rest periods, so think about what simple drink, snack or meal you could have available during labour.

Familiar comforts. My doula gave me another fantastic thought to ponder prior to labour. She asked me what kinds of things soothed and comforted me as a child when I was sick. Did your parents give you a cool cloth for your neck or forehead when you ran a fever? Did they hold your hand or rub your back or stroke your hair? Did they set out a plate of saltine crackers and a glass of ginger-ale with a straw on your bedside table? The things that brought you comfort in those times may be comforting to you in this time as well. Also, there may be a specific item that holds sentimental value for you that you can hold close. You might also want to think about having a photograph or printed affirmations nearby as a source of strength and motivation.

Find the wiggle room. There are some restrictions in a hospital setting, but you may be able to bring in more than you think. When I was pregnant the first time, I was initially referred to an OB-GYN. The hospital was not my first choice for giving birth, but it was looking like I wasn’t going to have a choice because of a pre-existing condition, which thankfully turned out to be a non-issue. I talked to my doula about my discomfort with the hospital setting. I didn’t want to be treated as a “patient”. I didn’t want to wear the gown. I didn’t want to be confined to the bed. She told me I didn’t have to. She said I could walk around and move freely. She told me I could bring my own blankets if I wanted to. This was a surprise to me and also very comforting. So remember, you may have more room to work with than you think. The hospital may discourage some things and they may prohibit certain things for the safety and comfort of others, but make sure to voice your wishes and operate within your rights.

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