Giving birth need not be a source of anxiety. Childbirth classes can help women learn coping techniques and also stay in tune with their natural rhythms.

Nature has her own timing. She decides when the time is right for a baby to make its appearance. The baby, on its part, follows the natural rhythms of the mother's body. But, as technology advances, we become more and more dependent on it, ignoring our inbuilt natural rhythms and instincts. “Technology is great,” says Nutan Pandit, a natural birth therapist in New Delhi, “but it must be used wisely.”

Unnecessary interventions

Dr. Shacchee Baweja, a New Delhi-based paediatrician, has held new-borns, examined, cleaned and swathed them before handing them to their waiting parents.

She has seen cruelty and callousness towards labouring mothers and unnecessary medical interventions. “When I got pregnant, I was afraid,” she confesses. “What if I had to go through all that?” She decided to train her body with coping techniques taught at a birth education class. Sacchee was so thankful for the coping techniques she and her paediatrician husband, Dr. Vipul Baweja, learnt that she decided to learn to teach other women.

All of us have heard of babies being born in the oddest of circumstances. Recently, a young father delivered his baby in a parking lot. Another saw his first baby being born at home, just as his 39-year-old wife got ready to go to the hospital.

“Choose a labour support team and use comfort techniques to enhance the birthing experience,” says Deepa Santhosh, a Chennai-based birth educator. Ramya Krishna, now a proud mother of a baby girl, says, “I wanted information from a reliable source. With too many different sources: from the Internet to our grannies, I was lost,” she says.At Deepa's birth education classes, she learnt about nutrition, caring for the unborn, exercise and information on medical tests.

The most important aspect of any birth education class is coping with pain. “During my first pregnancy, I was very anxious. I had a very tough first trimester,” says Shikha Jain. “Many friends, who had had C-sections, kept telling me that it was a convenient option.” At Nutan Pandit's birth education classes, she realised the long-term benefits of giving birth naturally.

Unlike the old days, men today are totally involved in their wife's pregnancy. “Due to the confidence he gained from the classes, my husband Abhinav was my strongest pillar of support in the delivery room.”

Big fear

The other big fear is doubts about their ability to handle the newborn. “Since this is our first baby, we had a billion questions and were reluctant to ask our parents,” say Radhika and Rajiv Prakash, Divya Deswal's students in Noida. Despite books and the Internet, “the best way to deal is to ask an experienced and knowledgeable person.”

To this, their birth educator, Divya Deswal says, “Women know how to give birth. They simply need respect and space at a time when they are bringing forth a new life.”

Often, a woman does not understand that her bones, ligaments and muscles have 40 weeks – give or take a couple – to get ready. In fact, during delivery, the cervix dilates enough for the baby to pass through like a turtle neck sweater that expands enough for the head to pass through and shrinks back to normal again.

“Caesareans are meant to safeguard the mother's health and protect the foetus,” says Chennai-based Dr. Rajsri Shankar. In recent times, though there has been a change. Mothers are requesting caesareans in the absence of medical reasons.

C-section

“The commonest reason is a fear of labour pains. One patient requested a planned C-section as her pilot-husband's schedule permitted him to be at home for five days during her 38th week.”

“A caesarean birth is convenient, but the repercussions are great too. The caesarean is a surgery and so the mother cannot give her newborn the attention it needs,” says Dr. Sashi Joshi, an obstetrician from Panchkula. “I trained in birth education because I feel strongly that I can bring about a change as I now have the knowledge to do both.”

Dr. Manisha Gogri agrees: “During natural childbirth, mom and baby experience innate, mutually-regulating, hormonally-driven processes that developed during human evolution.”

Today's mothers have choices. They can and do get the knowledge they need to make informed choices. “Remember, your body was designed to give birth. Have faith in it,” says Nutan Pandit.

Positions for labour

Gravitational pull is best when you are upright. The coccyx bone or the tail bone moves when you are upright so the baby has more space to be born through the pelvis.

A mother feels more in control when she is upright and moving. In labour, a woman instinctively knows which position she is most comfortable in. Sometimes, women find squatting during labour helps them push better.

Walk around slowly. Stop during a contraction. Place feet nicely apart. Cup your hands and place them below your abdomen. Circle your hips clockwise and anticlockwise.

Get on all fours during a contraction and circle hips. This takes pressure off your back while giving the baby the space it needs to birth.

A midwife speaks

I have attended three home births last year. Families that want to have a baby at home will make it happen. Home-born babies gain weight in the first week. I credit this to the non-separation of the mother from her partner and family members. The love hormones of birth are not interfered with when one is in the relaxing and "known" environment of home. In hospitals, strangers walk in and out, delivery rooms are too brightly lit, un-known procedures are taken for granted, and temporary or prolonged separation from loved ones make birthing challenging. It's not surprising that women and families who experience a homebirth would never do it another way!

Lina Duncan trained as a midwife in the U.S. and is based in Mumbai.

Exercises

Stay relaxed. Walking is the best exercise for a to-be mother.

Don't stand too much. If you have to, move; shift that weight around. Scrunch your toes, get on the balls of your feet; shift your weight from one side to the other.

Maintain the right posture. Due to the extra weight, straining the back is common. Stand comfortably, knees loose. Place feet hip-width apart. Imagine a string drawing you up, through your spine and neck and connecting you through your head to the ceiling, straightening you. Drop your shoulders to your hips and let arms relax loosely.

Get the weight off your back by getting on all fours, keeping knees hip-width apart, palms flat on the floor shoulder-width apart. Make sure your head is down and spine is NOT arched. Rest in this position by lowering your forehead on cushioned arms.

Ameeta Agnihotri is a Childbirth Educator in Chennai. Website: www.ameeta.in

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