When I tell people what I do, (usually mums at playgroups during the week) sometimes I get a knowing smile…but often I get a slightly confused look and then get asked: ‘so what’s that then?’ and ‘how is that any different from other birthing classes?’ and ‘so does active birth mean that you have to stay upright and moving about all the time?…’
Well, I will give it my best shot at hopefully helping you to understand a bit more about what it is I do, and how active birth might help you during your labour and birth. So… ‘Active Birth’ can sound a little…energetic? shall we say? but it’s not supposed to be an endurance test! and its certainly not about moving constantly during labour and wearing yourself out. Certainly, there are positions and movements that can be beneficial during labour and birth, and that is where I come in.
My ‘job’ is to offer information, and a variety of techniques, which might be chosen during your labour and birth. I use the word ‘chosen’ here, as I am not prescriptive, there are no should’s or shouldnts’. I am there to present the options and to encourage you and your partner to ‘try things out’ before the birth of your baby, a bit like a rehearsal for the birth. This opens the door to seeing, feeling and practicing what might be right for you during actual labour.
By attending regular classes or coming to a workshop, these techniques can start to feel like second nature during labour and birth, and will ultimately empower you for a positive experience as you will feel more informed and in control of what is happening to your body or to your partners body. Particularly for Dads-to-be, or a birth partner, there is a huge pressure to ‘help’ or be the main support during this time, and I can honestly say that birth partners particularly appreciate coming to a workshop and learning about the mechanics of the pelvis! (as it’s pretty amazing…) and also learning techniques to help their partner during labour – from massage, to positioning, to relaxation and visualisation techniques, to the hormones involved in the birthing process – there are a lot of valuable tools to learn about.
So onto the part where I explain exactly why active birth is called ‘active birth’. The term “active birth” was coined by an antenatal and yoga teacher called Janet Balaskas in the 1970’s. This was a deliberate counterpoint to what was happening in hospitals during that time which was “active management of labour”, a medicalised model of birth, and also the management of women to remain on the bed to give birth. At the time it was simply not allowed in certain hospitals to be free to move. Janet organised a Birth Rights Rally in central london to campaign against this, and so The Active Birth Movement was formed. Ultimately Janet fought for women to have the freedom to use upright positions such as standing, walking, kneeling or squatting during labour and birth.
Janet Balaskas found that the female pelvis is ideally designed for giving birth in upright positions, because the pelvis is then free to expand, making more room and opening up, so that up to a 3rd more space is created for baby to pass through. Plus the use of gravity in such positions not only helps the baby to move down the birth canal more easily, but helps the cervix to dilate, hormones to release, and can also make labour less painful. There are many benefits, more of which is covered in my classes. Like I said earlier, it’s not about staying upright all of the time, it’s important to listen to your body and to rest if you need to. There are ways of finding comfort and relaxation whilst still allowing your pelvis to remain free and open, by using pillows to prop you up, or by having a lovely relaxing bath, or entering your birthing pool – which is fantastic for pain relief and a feeling of comfort and ‘support’ when tired.
Active Birth is also a mental preparation as well as physical. It can be lovely to come to classes, and to be in a positive environment, seeking out ways of relaxing and calming the mind in the lead up to birth. To learn to trust your body and acknowledge that you will instinctively know what to do when the time comes, is hugely positive.
Numerous studies in the last 50 years indicate that when birth is active the advantages are:
- the natural rhythm and continuity of birth are not disrupted
- uterine contractions are stronger, more regular and frequent
- dilation is enhanced
- more complete relaxation is possible between contractions
- first and second stages of labour are shorter – some studies show over 40 percent shorter in upright positions
- there is greater comfort, less strain and pain, so decreased need for analgesia
- the condition of the newborn is generally optimal
- women feel that they are fully participating, in control and more often experience giving birth as a wonderful and joyous experience
Author: Nikola-Jane Barile
Birth Educator & Doula, trained by Janet Balaskas at The Active Birth Centre in London
Yoga with Active Birth. Classes run in Farnham & Haslemere
Workshops are run regularly, and these are run as 1 day, or 2 half day sessions for women and their partners in Farnham.
Private Antenatal / Workshops can be arranged.