10 Things Labor & Delivery Nurses Want You to Know

 

  • We want to see your poop.
  • You’re getting an IV.
  • Take a class or a tour.
  • Your first labor & delivery is the longest.
  • Get a doula.
  • Let go of control.
  • It’s only one day.
  • Are you with the right doctor?
  • Say something.
  • How to thank us.

We want to see your poop.

Let’s get this one out of the way first because it’s my favorite. Everyone who comes into L&D to have a baby is worried about “pooping on the table.” They think that they are going to try and push a baby out, and the baby will stay inside their body, and instead a huge poop will come out and it will be mortifying. Wrong!

When you are completely dilated (10cm) the only thing holding your baby in is your pubic bone. Pushing is the act of bearing down to rock baby under your pubic bone and stretch/make space for your baby in your vagina. When you are doing a great job of pushing, if (big IF!) there happens to be stool (medical term for poop) in your rectum (medical term for butt) at that time (and maybe there isn’t because diarrhea sometimes happens in earlier labor), a little smear of poop might come out with pushing.

Nurses think this is a great sign that you are pushing effectively! We like to see this! We are usually quite good at keeping this discrete. I keep a “poop drape” towel tucked under your bottom and folded up to hide your bum. We change these towels often, and chances are you will have no idea if there was a little bit of poop or not. Ditto for any support people in the room at the time.

You’re getting an IV.

Please don’t write a birth plan that says “No IV unless medically necessary.” You’re all getting IV’s. Think of an IV like buckling your seatbelt when you get in a car. It’s for safety. It’s for just in case. There are people who say “telling moms they need IVs in case of emergency is hospital fear language and negative because it implies there may be emergencies.”

There are people who say “can’t you just start an IV if there’s an emergency?” These people have obviously never started an IV and have never been in a true medical emergency. It’s not always easy or quick to start IVs, so we like to place them soon after arrival to the hospital. An IV is a tiny plastic straw inside a blood vessel. The needle we use to get that straw under your skin doesn’t stay in! Lots of people fear IVs because they mistakenly believe a needle is going to stay inside them. Wrong, it comes right out immediately!

hospital birth IV

The straw (catheter) is connected to a small access port. We can connect that access port to a longer strand of tubing and use it to infuse fluids or medications. If the straw and port are not connected to the tubing, it’s called a “saline lock” or a “hep lock.” But the IV part remains the same. Please don’t write a birth plan that says you want a “saline lock instead of an IV.” That doesn’t make any sense. If you don’t need to be connected to fluid or medications, we will disconnect the long tubing so you will have more freedom of movement.

If you don’t think you need extra fluids and you aren’t requiring medication at the time, it’s always ok to ask for your IV to be saline locked. Requiring patients to have IV’s isn’t a thing that’s going to change anytime soon in the hospital setting. If this is really a big deal for you, look into giving birth at a birthing center or at home.

Take a class or a tour.

If you took a childbirth preparation class, you would have already heard that pooping pep talk, and heard that you’re getting and IV, and had the chance to ask a birth professional anything you wanted! Classes are amazing for lessening anxiety and fears, building confidence, empowering you to make informed decisions about your health care, even teaching you the anatomy basics. I started teaching classes because I couldn’t believe how many times I would be holding a woman’s dilating cervix in my fingers talking to her, and she had no idea what that was or its very important role in labor. Get informed!

At the very least, take the tour of the hospital’s birthing facilities. It’s packed with information, tips, and you get to ask the nurse leading the tour any and all questions about policy or procedure.

Your first delivery is the longest.

Your first labor and delivery usually takes the longest time of any pregnancy you will have. Be patient. Be more patient than you ever thought possible. It can take days or weeks for your cervix to soften, efface and start to dilate. Then it takes awhile to dilate to 4cm (awhile = hours or days). Then it takes about a centimeter an hour to go from 4cm to 10cm. And then it takes anywhere from 20 minutes to one, two, or three hours to push your baby out.

While we’re on the topic of things you should know: know that your doctor won’t come push with you until the very end, like the last several pushes. You could push with your nurse for two hours, and the doctor two pushes. Might as well tell you all of it: it might not even be your doctor. It might be one of your doctor’s partners.

The active labor portion of this whole experience (where contractions are strong and require all your coping attention) can start at any time of the day or night, so maybe you end up being awake for a long time. Even if you are planning on having an epidural, you must come prepared to cope with strong contractions. We will help you cope of course, but it’s naive to think it’s possible to feel nothing.

Many of the epidurals I help administer to patients are for exhaustion, not inability to handle pain. We call it “therapeutic rest” and is very common for first time moms.

Coincidentally, the time when most women think they want to try and have a baby without an epidural is the first time they are pregnant. It’s like if someone tried running for the first time and found out the course was a marathon. Some people might reasonably decide, well running isn’t for me. I sure would. The problem with this is that the second meeting of the running club is just a 3 mile loop around your neighborhood. Your second, third etc labors are much faster! Like, hours and hours faster! Once strong labor contractions start your cervix can dilate to 10cm very fast.

We joke that we don’t trust those moms for a minute. They could “go complete” (-ly dilated) at anytime and push that baby out in minutes. My point is, don’t beat yourself up if you thought about not getting an epidural with your first delivery and you ended up having one. Maybe try it with your next delivery, or…

Get a doula!

If you are a first time mom and your goal is to deliver epidural free in a hospital setting, think about getting a doula. When you are in the hospital, a doula and I aim to do basically the same thing for you, with one catch. The doula only has to do it for you. Sad but true, I may have another patient I am taking care of at the same time as you in the early part of your labors. Additionally, your doula usually starts caring for you at home in early labor. This can keep you home for a longer amount of time than if you were laboring alone.

Constant, reassuring, expert bedside support is crucial for managing natural labor. Doulas can be expensive. If you can’t afford one, make sure that when you first arrive as a patient in Labor & Delivery, you ask to speak to the charge nurse and request a nurse who loves working with natural labor patients (we all are capable of doing this, some just have a special passion for it). 

Let go of control.

There is a huge spectrum of normal in Labor & Delivery, and you can’t plan it all out in advance. You just can’t. Trust your support team and your providers to give you good advice and expertise, ask the right questions, and pay attention to your intuition. Breathe. Think of this as your initiation into parenthood. Anyone who’s been around kids knows “control” is not a word used to describe the experience of raising young children. More like: “SURRENDER”, “LET GO”, “WHAT WILL BE WILL BE”, “BE OPEN TO THE EXPERIENCE”, “RIDE THE WAVE.” Coincidentally those are great birth mantras. Another one of my favorites: “Let go or be dragged.” Breathe. It will be ok.

This is only one day.

Ok, maybe it’s two or three or four days, but your time being in labor and delivering a baby is relatively short. It can be an empowering, life changing, positive experience, but it is still only several days. Parents spend so much time preparing for (and worrying about) this portion of the experience (where you will have a constant bedside presence of a supportive L&D nurse or doula), and neglect preparing for the postpartum period (where you will be sleep deprived at home with another sleep deprived person as your companion and a confusing tiny new member of the family who you love in a terrifying way).

Labor is one experience. After your baby is born, breastfeeding is an experience that is going to happen every three hours for almost the next three months or longer. Breastfeeding is natural, but it doesn’t come naturally. Babies and moms have to learn those behaviors. Take a breastfeeding class; identify three friends who have breastfed successfully that you can text with questions; and get the name of a good lactation consultant in town. Most breastfeeding issues come up after you’ve been discharged from the hospital. Not breastfeeding? No judgment here, fed is best.

Make a postpartum care plan (great book). Put just as much effort into that care plan as your list of birth preferences. Identify a new moms group you can go to, an online community, or a postpartum doula service to come love on you at your house if needed. Make a plan for postpartum mom not being the person solely responsible for dealing with household chores, cleaning, cooking, laundry, etc. Make a plan to have friends drop off dinner. Key words: drop off. You’re not hosting people to dinner every night. Drop off food and leave, thanks. People who understand this are the best kind of people to include in your postpartum plans.

Be kind to yourself. Let your house be a mess. Just a total mess. The default position is on the couch with a baby skin to skin, feeding when needed, next episode on Netflix starting in 12 seconds. Be kind to your postpartum body. Don’t say mean things to it or think mean things about it. It’s beautiful. You’re beautiful. You just did a beautiful thing.

Postpartum depression is real. Postpartum anxiety is real. Weepy is normal. Feeling hormonal and overwhelmed is normal. It’s ok to feel like you should be so happy but you’re just not. If this lasts longer than three weeks or you have thoughts about harming yourself or baby call your doctor or midwife immediately and get an appointment to see them in person. If you feel traumatized by your birth experience, talk to someone. Partners and friends can help, but don’t be shy to talk with your providers. And ideally, if you were delivered by a different provider in that practice, make your follow up postpartum appointment with them. Maybe they can help you work through and process some decisions and emotions from that day. You’re not alone. Seek out postpartum mental health support group or alliances in your town.

when to call the doctor

Some of you are with the wrong doctor.

We scratch our heads over this one all the time. Let’s say Doctor A and her partners are the group at our hospital who have the highest volume of pain med free deliveries (what a lot of people call “natural” childbirth), and the lowest rates of interventions (inductions, C-sections etc). Doctor Z and her partners have the highest rate of epidural deliveries and highest rates of interventions, with all the other practices that deliver with us having A-Z variations in between.

It is always perplexing to us nurses when patients with goals and philosophies similar to Doctor A group (and usually quite adamant about their desires) show up but are patients of Doctor Z group. You’d be better matched with another doctor, but our hands are tied. When we are meeting you, you are already in labor or showing up for an induction. We can’t, and we shouldn’t, tell you then to switch doctors. We can only attempt to navigate you through the maze of possible interventions. This is a finely honed art of professional relationships between the doctor and the nurse.

Our job is to advocate for you and your preferences. Your job is to do your homework. Don’t just choose a doctor because they are popular or your friends go to them or they are already your doctor who’s been prescribing your birth control pills and doing Pap smears for a couple years. Spend some time thinking about your birth philosophies and preferences, ask friends about their births and their providers, and know that it’s ok to interview OB’s before choosing a practice.

choosing an ob

You’re the consumer. Say something!

If you have a bad experience in a hospital setting, say something. Not to your friends, not to the internet, say something to the hospital administrators themselves. All hospitals call you in the postpartum period for a follow up survey. This is your chance to tell us the things we got right, and what areas we need to improve. Be specific. If you didn’t get this call, or you didn’t realize you could speak so openly during that call, call the hospital back. Ask to speak to the unit manager or director. These days, patient voice and satisfaction is everything in health care. Almost to a frustrating degree, hospitals will listen to what patients say more than what the nurses say. Upset about some of practices you encountered in L&D that you don’t feel are evidence based medicine? Let them know.  

Here are some possible suggestions, wink wink: strict restrictions on eating and drinking in labor, nurse to patient ratios in labor, baby remaining skin to skin with you in the first hour of life, enough staff for breastfeeding support.

How to thank us…

We love to eat still-hot Tiff’s Treats cookie delivery and a baker’s dozen Einstein bagels and cream cheese, but we can live off a genuine thank you note for weeks. I still have every one I’ve ever received, and they are among my prized possessions. Oh, but if you’re going for food we also like breakfast tacos, pizza, coffee…

This guest post was written by Maureen Hodges BSN, RNC-OB, LCCE. Maureen has over ten years of Women & Children’s nursing experience. For the past seven years she has been a Labor & Delivery nurse at a very busy hospital in the Austin area. She teaches private, hospital, and online childbirth classes. She has two children, aged 1 and 3, and a husband who knows all her L&D pep talks verbatim from listening to her answer every pregnant woman’s questions at dinner parties, on airplanes, and on the phone in the middle of the night. She has attended the deliveries of everyone in her book club. She could not pick any of their vaginas out in a line up. You can find her online at @empoweredbirthatx or Empowered Birth Austin on Facebook.

Birth Center vs. Homebirth: Things to Consider

One of the most beautiful things about birth is the fact that each experience is uniquely its own. You can never predict with complete certainty how a new baby is going to enter the world (even planned c-sections come with the occasional surprise), but one thing you can control (to some degree) is where and how you decide to deliver your baby. Hospital, birthing center, homebirth…there are quite a few options available and each has their benefits.

Homebirth vs Birth Center

birth center birth

If you’ve come to the conclusion that a hospital birth isn’t what you’re looking for, but you’re still unsure if a birthing center or a home birth would be the right fit for you and are looking for more information, then you’ve come to the right place. Having delivered two of my three babies at birthing centers and one at home, I’ve had the opportunity to see what each has to offer and am going to share some things you may wish to take into consideration.

Choosing a Birth Center over Hospital Birth

My first and third babies were delivered at a freestanding birthing center and I loved so many things about the experience. As a first time mama-to-be, I had planned to go the traditional hospital route, but after 18 weeks spent in care there, realized that it wasn’t the right fit for me. The environment was sterile, the doctors and midwives I met with were impersonal, and everything about it felt so clinical. That said, I also didn’t feel prepared to take on a homebirth as a first-timer and to be honest it felt a little too “woo woo” for me at that point, so I decided that the birthing center was the route I wanted to take.

Pros of Giving Birth at a Birth Center

Right away I was very pleased with my decision. The environment was far more homey than the hospital, but still had plenty of medical supplies on hand. There was oxygen available, pitocin to stop bleeding, and even nitrous oxide as a potential pain management option. The midwives were warm and friendly and I got to know them well, instead of being shuffled from person-to-person as I was during my time at the hospital. Everything about the process was sorted out for me and I didn’t have to plan for much at all and during my delivery and postpartum stay I received so much help and pampering.

The birth center was located very close to a hospital so I felt much more confident about a potential transfer in an emergency. There were midwives available for around-the-clock care during my two night stay, so I could ask questions about breastfeeding and get extra help as I was healing. I was also able to order delicious food and though it may not be the case everywhere (or many places), I also got to enjoy a postpartum massage. To be honest, it felt as relaxing as giving birth could possibly feel and was the perfect set-up for me as a first-time mama who was still trying to figure everything out.

Cons of Birth Center Birth

The downsides of the birth center experience were that as comfortable as it was, it still wasn’t my own home. I also really hated having to actually drive to the birth center – sitting in the car during contractions was terribly uncomfortable. The other downside was that although birth centers offer far more privacy than hospitals, there were still other women coming and going for pre and postnatal appointments and women laboring in nearby rooms so it wasn’t exactly 100% comfort level.

Choosing a Homebirth the Second Time Around

homebirth pictures

After my wonderful and empowering birth center experience, I decided to opt for a home birth for my second baby and there were also many of things I loved about that experience. The first thing I loved about the experience was the fact that all of my midwife appointments took place AT MY HOUSE! This isn’t the case with every practicing midwife, but it was for mine. Having a toddler at home, it was so nice on those days when I felt super exhausted to not have to load up a little one for a midwife appointment. I literally wore my pajamas for many of my midwife appointments.

Pros of Homebirth

I also loved being in the comfort of my own home and having everything I needed. I didn’t have to pack anything, which was wonderful, because all of my clothes, snacks and baby supplies were right at my fingertips. I was able to watch my favorite shows during early labor and walk around in whatever state I wanted, knowing I wouldn’t have to hear anyone else in labor and no one else would hear me. Also, the inflatable birthing tub was amazingly comfortable! At the birth center, I had a water birth in a jacuzzi style tub and while I loved giving birth in water, the tub was hard and uncomfortable. The inflatable tub I used at home was infinitely more comfortable for kneeling in, and while we’re talking about comfort, it was so much nicer sleeping in my own bed. I also really liked being able to have friends and family visit us at home right away.

Cons of Giving Birth at Home

The downsides of home birth were that there was more planning involved regarding supplies to buy and there were less medical supplies at our disposal. I also didn’t have the luxury of around-the-clock care as I did at the birthing center. While my midwifery team did stay for a few hours after the delivery to monitor and to help clean up, I was on my own pretty quickly. This was fine for me since it wasn’t my first rodeo, but could’ve been a bit overwhelming if I had no idea what to expect.

Heading Back to the Birth Center

For my last birth, having both a birth center and home birth under my belt, I opted to go back to the birth center. My home birth experience was a bit difficult for me to process since my son ended up being absolutely gigantic (10 pounds 8 ounces and 23 inches long) and it was an exhausting and difficult experience. Because of that, I needed a change of scenery—to go back to a place where I had experienced birth in a wonderfully empowering way—and for me that was the birth center where I had my first child. As a mom with two kids already at home, it also didn’t hurt to think about not having to cook or clean for anyone for an extra day or two.

In the end, I’ve realized that every birthing option has its pros and cons, but what is most important is to choose the environment where you feel most safe, supported and comfortable. Hospital, birth center or at home; each has their benefits and drawbacks. The very best advice I can give is to do your research and then follow your heart.

This post was written by Lauren Hartmann who shared her birth stories here and here. You can find her on her blog, The Little Things We Do. Photos in this post are by Coeur De La Photography.

Birthing Methods and Philosophies

Different Birthing Methods and Philosophies Plus Finding the One that’s Right for You

You’re pregnant. Congratulations!

Once you’ve moved past the first stage of pregnancy, in which you are so preoccupied with your body’s absolutely wonderful and amazing ability to build and sustain another human, you hit the next stage: contemplating the dizzying prospect of this human baby coming out of your body. For many of us, this thought of actually giving birth is a bit terrifying. Fortunately, education is a way of dispelling fear. And thus, the childbirth education class was born. (See what I did there?!?)

Selecting a Childbirth Class

Actually selecting a class proves to be another daunting prospect. There are so many possibilities to choose from! As a doula, I’ve helped many clients try to figure out which class to take. Here’s a handy little graphic I put together, which will hopefully help you sort through your options:

childbirth education options

In any class you sign up for, you will learn some of the same basic information: what are the stages of labor, what is a contraction, common interventions, when to call your care provider, etc. The differences are in the basic philosophy of the class.

Hospital-taught or Independent Classes?

Your first choice is between taking a class offered by a your hospital or care provider, or choosing an independent childbirth education class. Hospital/care provider classes tend to be focused on helping you be a good patient of that hospital or practice, which can be great if you feel very confident that your hospital or care provider has your best interests in mind. For example, women who plan to deliver at a particular birth center may find that the class they offer in-house helps them to know what to expect in that environment and with those caregivers. Another advantage of this type of class is that the cost tends to be much more affordable than an independent class, since the cost of the class is often heavily subsidized by the hospital or practice.

However, many birthing couples choose to pay a higher price to take an independent class, since the instructors of these classes can freely discuss options in birth without pressure from their employers. For example, a group of OBs or hospital administrators may not want mothers to deliver their babies in any position other than flat on their backs, and so they would not allow an educator in their employ to include information on upright pushing positions. If you want to be sure that you are educated on all of the options available to you, you may want to look into taking an independent class.

But once you choose to go outside the system, so to speak, that’s when things get really confusing. There are so.many.choices. How to decide which class is right for you?

doula taught group class

Which Birth Philosophy or Class is Right for You?

Independent classes can be subdivided into two groups: classes adhering to a specific philosophy of birth and employing methods that correlate to that philosophy, and classes that are more of a mash-up of methods.

In the specific philosophy camp are: Hypnobirthing®, Hypnobabies®, The Bradley Method®, Birthing From Within, Birth Boot Camp®, and many others, though the ones I’ve listed seem to be the most popular options going. Again, all of these will include some information on common interventions in birth, but they all share the goal of helping mothers avoid intervention in general, and pain medication in particular. An exception to this may be Birthing From Within, as it emphasizes acceptance of what comes, more than focusing on a specific (unmedicated) outcome as best.

Let’s go through them one by one, with a brief overview of each philosophy:

Hypnobirthing and Hypnobabies

Hypnobirthing® and Hypnobabies® share a lot in common. They both use guided relaxation scripts and self-hypnosis techniques as a means of coping in labor. Hypnobirthing® has been around longer, and there are more instructors out there teaching in-person classes. Hypnobabies® is newer, so it may be more difficult to find an instructor in your area. Hypnobabies® does offer a home-study course, while Hypnobirthing® does not, though it is possible to buy a book on Hypnobirthing® to read on your own.

The Bradley Method

The Bradley Method® has the subtitle “of Husband-Coached Natural Childbirth,” which gives you a good idea of what this method emphasizes. Bradley Method classes focus on keeping mothers low risk, and on the partner taking a very active role in helping her stay relaxed, and thus able to cope with the intensity of labor and achieve a low intervention, unmedicated birth. Important to note: Bradley classes are required to be 12 weeks long, so if you are interested in this philosophy, sign up early.

Birthing from Within

Birthing From Within takes a different view of the role of partners—rather than helping them to become birth coaches, they view partners as “birth guardians or loving partners.” The role of the instructor in Birthing From Within classes is that of mentor, guiding the parents in their own self-discovery. Above all, Birthing From Within sees birth as a rite of passage, which, regardless of birth outcome, can be an occasion to practice awareness. I once had a birth client asking me for help in choosing a class tell me, “You should know that creating birth art is more terrifying to my husband and me than the prospect of the birth itself.” I steered her very firmly away from Birthing From Within.

evidence based childbirth class

Birth Boot Camp

Birth Boot Camp® uses a unique frame for their classes. They use a militaristic theme throughout their materials, and their tagline is “Training Couples in Natural Birth.” The military theme is clever packaging for some really serious preparation for giving birth naturally and for breastfeeding. This course is 10 weeks long, so be sure to sign up early if this philosophy speaks to you. They also have an online version of the course, for those who don’t have an instructor in their area.

Again, these are the main options for classes promoting a specific philosophy in birth, though there are others out there (probably someone wrote a new one while I was typing this). The other class options are those that use a mixture of methods and philosophies. These vary widely, because the instructor of the class often writes her own curriculum, or at least she adapts a model to suit her own experience and preferences. The class may include a guided relaxation script and/or an exercise in releasing fears, or it may not—it all depends on the instructor. Often these classes will not focus so determinedly on achieving a low intervention birth, but will guide the parents in evaluating the risks/benefits of each intervention and encourage the parents to advocate for themselves in making the choices that are right for them. There are loads of training and certification programs out there—Lamaze*, ICEA, Childbirth International, CAPPA, and many others.

Knowing your Options and Feeling Empowered

I hope this post has helped you to cut the confusion and choose a class that will suit your preferences and help you prepare to meet your baby, whether it is through self-hypnosis or boot camp, the hospital class or mindfulness practice. Good luck! You can do it.

*A note on Lamaze, since a lot of people think it is something it isn’t (or at least isn’t anymore): Lamaze has been around for a long time, and used to be known primarily for their breathing and relaxation techniques. But over the past 50 years, Lamaze has adapted its curriculum, dropped the emphasis on learning specific breathing techniques, and now focuses on helping parents have a safe and healthy birth through knowledge of their “Six Healthy Birth Practices.” Lamaze instructors can be found teaching both in hospitals and independently.

This guest post was written by Stephanie Spitzer-Hanks. Stephanie gave birth to her first child in the Netherlands, where the nurturing and encouragement she received from so many women there inspired her to become a doula. Now she strives to give unconditional support and evidence-based education to families so that they can be confident in making the choices that are right for them. She is an ICEA certified childbirth educator, an Evidence Based Birth® Instructor, a DONA certified birth and postpartum doula, a StillBirthday certified bereavement doula, and a certified lactation counselor through Healthy Children’s Center for Breastfeeding. On the side of all of that, Stephanie is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, and she serves as a chaplain at a hospital and writes and speaks about birtheology when she gets the chance. You can find out what she is up to at www.revdoula.com.

Sources
https://us.hypnobirthing.com/
https://www.hypnobabies.com/
http://birthbootcamp.com/
http://www.birthingfromwithin.com/
http://www.bradleybirth.com/
http://www.lamaze.org/

Should I Hire A Birth Photographer and How to Choose One

I know I’m biased. As a birth photographer based in Denver, Colorado, I’ve photographed over 150 birth stories. But as a mother, I’ve only given birth twice. On both occasions, we invited birth photographers into our birth space to capture what was undeniably two of the most important and meaningful days in our lives.

Your Birth Can Be A Haze

The day you give birth is the day you fall in love. It’s the day you see the little baby you’ve been thinking of and dreaming of for months, sometimes years. It’s the day that you do something harder than you’ve ever done before. It’s the day you push through fear and doubt to find the greatest light on the other side. It’s also the day where your brain shuts off to let your body do it’s incredible work. For that reason, many parents find that they don’t remember much from their birth days. The haze of labor is often incredibly strong.

mama papa laboring

You Will Want to Look Back on those Precious Moments

When I gave birth to my first daughter, I found myself in a whirlwind of contractions. Each wave hit strong, and I sunk into a deep and quiet place to work through them. As I turned inward, I didn’t see the support that surrounded me—the touch of my husband, the prayers of my mom and sisters, and the care my nurses and doctor expertly provided. But when I looked through my birth photos, I found all those previously lost moments. And I cried such beautiful tears as I saw just how perfectly and completely my husband had loved me through that day. I’m also struck by my own strength, my own determination. I’m humbled by the gift my body gave us, by it’s strength and secret knowledge.

As a woman who struggled with body image during my teen years and my twenties, my birth photos have healed so many wounds I inflicted on myself. They taught me to love my body in a way that no other therapy session or self-help book could.

Once in a Lifetime Moments

And then, of course, the moment you meet your baby is a high unlike any other. The joy is intense and unexplainable. There aren’t words for that moment…and so pictures can capture what human language fails to do. In both of my birth photos, the moments where we met our daughters are full of emotion that I doubt we’ll ever see again in our lives. Our love for them is so loud in those moments, pulsing with the intense energy that birth brings. We cry, we laugh, we embrace our babies so fully, and then we embrace each other. Those images are my family. They’re the beginning of our story. They’re everything to us.

The Details are Easy to Forget

My birth photographers also captured all the little details that filled up their birth days. Details that might have easily been forgotten as years past, but are now preserved for days when my husband or I need a reminder of the beauty of parenthood. The soft hair on their shoulders, the thickness in their cords, their tiny footprints, their wrinkled noses, their eyes opening for the very first time. Newborn babies change so quickly. Not just in the first few months, but in the first day, the first hours, the first seconds. We look back at their birth photos and marvel at just how much they’ve changed and also how much of their personality we can find on day one.

I love my wedding photos, but I treasure my birth photos. They are real—no posing or artifact. They are passionate—the depth of love for both my children and my husband captured. They are irreplaceable, the best two days of our lives.

vaginal waterbirth

Questions to Ask Your Birth Photographer

If I’ve convinced you to hire a birth photographer, I’d love to offer you a few suggestions on how to choose one:

Ask about her experience.

You can be an incredible wedding photographer, but that doesn’t mean you know birth. Lighting can be incredibly challenging, as is working with the unpredictable nature of birth. Hire someone who has photographed several births, in several different environments (homes, hospitals, birth centers). You want to find someone who understands that birth follows very little rules but demands that those who enter the space preserve it’s sacredness and safety.

Make sure she has a back-up.

Birth rarely goes as planned. Find a birth photographer who has an established back-up relationship. In the event your birth goes earlier or later than expected, in the event of sickness or a family emergency, make sure your photographer has a plan in place.

Ask about her equipment.

Entry level-equipment doesn’t do super well in birth.

Ask about her birth and photography philosophy.

A good birth photographer blends into your birth team, allowing your birth to take center stage. They capture what they need to capture while respecting the work of your care providers and the sacredness of your birth day.

Browse through her birth photography portfolio.

Do you like the images they’ve captured? Are you drawn to their style? Do you like how the editing?

Meet her. Spend an hour with her. Grab coffee.

Do you feel comfortable, safe, understood? It’s important to bring the right person into your birth day. If you feel even a little bit uncomfortable, keep on looking.

Realize it’s an investment worth making.

No, hiring an experienced birth photographer isn’t cheap. But remember, your birth photos will be one of the greatest treasures of your life. Your birth photographer will be on-call for you (24/7) for weeks. She’ll leave birthday parties, holidays. She’ll wake up at 3am to sit with your family for hours. She’ll bring thousands of dollars worth of equipment. She’ll move through your birth space with grace and skill. She’ll capture the big moments and the small moments. She’ll edit each of your images carefully. She’ll weave together your story…a story you’ll hold onto for the rest of your life. Hiring an experienced birth photographer is worth it. I promise.

This post was written by Monet Moutrie. Monet is a birth photographer based in Denver and co-founder of Birth Becomes Her

Natural Coping Techniques for Labor

Coping Techniques to Aid in a Natural Labor

As a doula who has witnessed many women give birth, I can tell you that the most valuable tools for coping with labor contractions are not stuff you could pack in a bag (although I will get to those!). Your biggest assets by far are your head and heart, and the heads and hearts of the people you surround yourself with. Your best tools are:

Breathing

Soft, steady slow breathing that takes you from that first uncomfortable cramp all the way through to the fundal massage after baby is born.

Moving

Shifting with the tides of your contractions, rotating your hips, leaning over the back of the couch, rocking back and forth on your hands and knees.

Firm pressure

Your partner’s hands on your lower back, your doula’s double hip squeeze, your midwife’s hand with her permission to squeeze as hard as you need to.

Believing in your body and in birth

Your mantra repeated to yourself under your breath with each contraction, your partner telling you how strong and brave you are, your nurse encouraging your pushing efforts, your banner of affirmations made by your sisters and friends and hung with care in your laboring space.

Relaxing into a rhythm

Releasing the tension in your muscles between pushes, sinking into the bed and dozing off between contractions. (No really! By far the most important thing you can do to cope with labor is to find a way to rest in between contractions, especially in the early phase. If you don’t do this, you will be worn out by the time you get to active labor, much less pushing the baby out.)

All of these intangible things are really the most important and useful tools. At some births they are all that is needed. At other births, there are some physical tools that can come in handy.

Here’s my list of items to have on hand to aid in a natural labor/birth

  • A birth ball: Every laboring woman needs a ball! Lean over it on hands and knees or standing next to the bed, sit on it and do hip circles, throw it in the shower so you can rest your legs while letting the hot water run down your back.
  • Water: access to a deep tub in labor is amazing, but a hot shower can also work wonders.
  • LED candles or twinkle lights: it is so important to feel safe and relaxed, and bright overhead fluorescent lighting is no one’s idea of cozy.
  • Unscented massage oil: a woman’s sense of smell is heightened in labor. Your favorite scented lotion may suddenly be unbearable, so have an unscented oil on hand to help your partner give you a back or foot rub.
  • A tennis ball or two, or your favorite massage tool: tennis or lacrosse balls (a little more give than a tennis ball) are great for counter pressure on your low back, especially for moms experiencing back labor.
  • A rice sock or heating pad: some moms have a hard time releasing the tension in their lower backs, and a little heat can do the trick.
  • Rebozo (or twin sheet): there are lots of ways to use a long strip of sturdy cloth in labor, but you will likely need a doula or midwife in the know to show you how.
  • A fan: every mom gets hot during pushing. A cool cloth (freeze wet washcloths ahead of time) to the forehead and a patient labor support person fanning her face can make this intense stage of labor much more bearable.
  • Snacks (toddler food, honey sticks, smoothies, broth): labor is hard work, and there is no medical reason to deny a woman fuel for her journey. Just a few bites here and there are likely all you will want, I recommend hitting the toddler food section in the grocery store and picking up some of those nifty pouches. They are just the right size and consistency for a quick labor snack.
  • Elastic hair band or clips: labor is sweaty. Your long bangs will get in your way, and your hair on your neck will be hot.
  • Lip balm: all that deep breathing takes a toll on your lips. I like this one for a long lasting and scent free option.
  • Your own pillow (with a pillow case that is not white or beige): when you need a spell of rest, it is so much nicer to have your own pillow beneath your head. Hospital pillows are flat, have scratchy cases, and are in short supply. Be sure to bring a colored pillowcase so your pillow doesn’t get mixed up with the hospital ones.
  • Shower shoes: because who knows who used the hospital shower before you?
  • Depends: believe me, when your water breaks, and keeps leaking for the duration of labor, you will be glad to have something comfortable to wear that will keep you dry.
  • Playlists + speakers (and maybe headphones): have at least two playlists: a quiet calm one for periods of rest, and one that gets you moving when it is time to push. Listening to birth affirmations and guided relaxation tracks are also a great way to keep your head in the right space.

It is unlikely you will use every tool in your bag, but you never know what you will find invaluable on your big day. But remember that surrounding yourself with people you trust who can help keep you calm and will cheer you on is what will make the biggest difference in your ability to cope with contractions. You got this, mama! I believe in you.


This guest post was written by Stephanie Spitzer-Hanks. Stephanie gave birth to her first child in the Netherlands, where the nurturing and encouragement she received from so many women there inspired her to become a doula. Now she strives to give unconditional support and evidence-based education to families so that they can be confident in making the choices that are right for them. She is an ICEA certified childbirth educator, an Evidence Based Birth® Instructor, a DONA certified birth and postpartum doula, a StillBirthday certified bereavement doula, and a certified lactation counselor through Healthy Children’s Center for Breastfeeding. On the side of all of that, Stephanie is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, and she serves as a chaplain at a hospital and writes and speaks about birtheology when she gets the chance. You can find out what she is up to at www.revdoula.com.