So you're scrolling through Facebook when, all of a sudden, you see that run-for-a-cause event jump out at you. Such a good cause it is that you find yourself clicking the "going" option on the event. You even take the steps to register, choose your t-shirt size, put the date in your calendar and...you are in! You wouldn't consider yourself a runner but did some running in college and even enjoy the occasional run on the treadmill at the gym so you're confident that this should be easy and might even be fun. Plus it's for charity!
But then, you receive the event welcome email. You do a double-take and you feel your heart drop as you read the subject line: "You are now registered for the Run-For-a-Cause Marathon Race!" When registering, you had accidentally clicked the "marathon" option instead of the 5K you had planned to participate in. All of a sudden fear grips you. You can't run a marathon!! Isn't a marathon, like, twenty something miles long??!!! But you've already paid the non-refundable race fee and ordered your t-shirt!!! Oh well, what's a little sweat and a few extra miles when it's for a noble cause right? You've decided that you're just going to go with it, show up at the race and see what happens. Sound like a good plan?
So often I hear people say "I'm going to try for a natural birth", or "I'm just going to see what happens this first time". We all talk about how our bodies are meant to give birth so why shouldn't we be able to just show up to our birth place and "see what happens" and expect to have the natural birth we desire? Where there are times that this can happen, more times than not, new parents are surprised when things go differently than they had hoped during their birth experience. Why does this happen? It's not really like running a marathon, is it? Why would I need to train to do something that my body is biologically built to do?
One of the reasons I believe it's important to train for natural birth is because we have a system that is often set up for a one-size-fits-all type of birth often leading to interventions that could very well have been avoided with the right education and training. Labor must begin by this many weeks gestation, shouldn't exceed 12 hours in length, must be done in a bed, on your back...but the problem with this is that every birth is different and we have to learn to work with all of the variations of each individual birth instead of making each birth fit into a formula or making it more convenient for the birth team than for the mother and baby.
Birth is not a straight shot process. So often there are detours that we have to work through to get to the finish line and that doesn't always have to include medical interventions. With the right education and training, you (and Dad) can be provided with a road map that will present different routes to help you navigate your individual birth. These routes can include different laboring positions, relaxation techniques, comfort measures and natural pain relief methods, learning how to communicate your wishes with knowledge of informed consent, and learning how to choose a birth team that can cheer you on and go the distance with you, supporting your desire for a natural birth.
In Birth Boot Camp, we also train couples in the variations of labor and how to know when medical interventions might truly be necessary. If a true need for medication does arise, couples can step into that decision prepared with knowledge of informed consent, how to ask the right questions, weigh the risks vs. benefits and ultimately make the decision that is best for you and your birth.
I mentioned dad earlier and he is another really important reason to train for birth. Where this process often comes naturally for mom, it rarely does for dad. And we teach that dad is often your biggest ally in your birth. He is the one who knows you best, the one who will be the most in tune with you and your needs, which is why it's so important for HIM to be trained as well. He can learn different comfort measures to help support you during labor, learn ways to communicate with care providers and truly advocate for you in your birth, and to be the best birth coach he can be. This was such an invaluable tool for my husband to be able to go into our birth prepared and equipped.
Another reason to train and prepare for natural birth is because we tend to fear the unknown. Long ago, births were attended by mostly women. It would be common for little sister, aunt, cousin, or the next door neighbor to be present to help assist. These women were familiar with what birth looked like, having participated in that process, so when it was their time to give birth, it wasn't such a scary thing. For many of us, our only exposure to birth has come from movies and TV and what a shock that often is!! If you're ever needing an extra form of birth control, just go watch an hour of prime-time television and, more-than-likely, you'll see some traumatizing birth experience that will make you re-think your desire to have children! One of the most helpful components of my natural birth training was taking birth classes where I was able to see some wonderful, hand-selected birth videos with different scenarios, and then process them as a group. I also spent tons of time reading positive birth stories to help normalize the process in my mind. The more I did this, the more confident and the less fearful I felt in my ability to birth naturally.
In Birth Boot Camp, we teach that birth is 90% in your head. When you start to learn about birthing hormones and the incredible role they play in the birth process, and how stress hormones can greatly interfere with that process, this concept begins to make sense and you realize how important your thoughts about birth actually are. So training for birth means training your mind to relax through the different stages of labor and learning to combat the fear that so often hinders the birth process. We have a hard time relaxing in our day and age. I have students who come in saying they have no problem relaxing until we start our relaxation exercises. And then they realize how difficult it actually is, especially under stress.
Lastly, training for natural birth might include physical training where you learn how to properly fuel and condition your body for the "marathon" of labor. In my Birth Boot Camp Comprehensive class we provide weekly guidance and instruction in nutrition and fitness to help prepare your body for birth. I remember the very first time my birth instructor asked us to get into the "birthing squat". I was 27 weeks pregnant and had never been in that deep of a squat my entire life. It was extremely difficult to say the least! But by the end of our series, after weekly practice, it got to where it was almost comfortable. I'm so thankful for that time of training because when I was in active labor with my first, my body naturally gravitated to that position which is one the most optimal for opening the pelvic cavity and bringing baby down. My legs didn't tire out like they would have if I wouldn't have trained. And because of the weekly accountability and guidance I received in my nutrition, my body was properly fueled to provide the stamina I needed for labor.
Of course you wouldn't show up to that 26.2 mile marathon race without properly training. You would probably run to the nearest bookstore to buy all the running books and training guides you could find. You would start shopping for good running shoes and gear. You would want to start a weekly running plan where you were working your way up in mileage. You would adjust your diet and up your hydration to prep for the big day. You might even find a running buddy to help stay motivated during the process. Why not approach your desire for a natural birth with this same mentality? Birth Boot Camp is all about training for birth, mentally, physically, and emotionally. Sign up for birth classes and don't just try for that natural birth...train for it!
Cristi Wean, Author
I could chat about babies, birth and breastfeeding all day long, especially over a hot cup of coffee. Come chat with me!