Yoga meets Labour – Using yoga techniques in the birth of my baby girl
On the 23rd January, Miss P joined our family, making another beautiful birth and entrance into the world – as did my 3-year-old, Master N. I borrowed yogic techniques heavily and also followed the CalmBirth™ approach to labour and birth.
How the day went
Well, I definitely didn’t start out thinking I was going to have a baby that day. It was the day before my due date. I woke up thinking my waters may be slightly leaking, but I had a few things to do that day and chose to get on with it and see how I went. The photographer we booked to take some family pics once bub arrived wanted to do a maternity shoot, so I donned some makeup, styled my hair and frocked up. Little did I realise I was about to be the most glamorous new mum on the ward that evening!
4 hours of super-intense second stage labour (hard and fast – how lucky was I?) but my contractions were all over the place, not regular or consistent and no rest in-between. I’d been through this before with Master N, and thought I was a long way off. But suddenly it was time to push! Our 115-minute pushing playlist got cranked up, but 1.5 songs in and Miss P was here! Whoosh!
Yogic Techniques I used during labour
I was super lucky to have a non-complicated birth, something that many women are not as fortunate to experience for factors completely out of their control. So in the first instance, I was so very grateful to be given another chance for a natural delivery using no pain relief, especially since I spent a lot of my pregnancy preparing for a caesar delivery.
Being a yoga teacher and having a passion for birth and the amazing things the body can do, I was so keen to once again challenge my body and; more importantly, my mind. I had spent many weeks preparing for the birth (you can read about this here) and the big day was finally here. My labour this time was only 6 hours, with Master N it was 16 and I used the same techniques. So here is what I found helped me most in both my labours.
Breath-work or Pranayama
This amazing technique helped my body to stay calm during contractions and allowed me to relax in between. According to Dr Grantly Dick Read’s ‘Fear, Tension, Pain theory’, the more we fear labour and birth, the more tension it creates which leads to the release of stress hormones and adrenaline in the body causing ineffective and painful uterine contractions. We can control this both before, during and after labour by using the breath to ensure the body and mind remain calm. Deep diaphragmatic breathing is a way to stimulate the vagus nerve which triggers a relaxation response in the body. This reduces the production of adrenalin and increases the release of Oxytocin and Endorphins (the body’s natural painkiller), which are essential for opening the cervix and encouraging uterine muscles to work effectively during labour.
So I took as slow, deep conscious breaths as I possibly could. Pranayama, as yogi’s call it. The term ‘pranayama’ actually goes much deeper than breathing. It is a way of controlling the prana or energy in the body, however, breath control is a common way of achieving this. I probably averaged about 4 breaths per minute. I was so completely focused on my breath, thinking of nothing else but the air flowing in and out, trying to extend the exhale and pause at the end of the exhale. In Yoga, we call this Visamavritti Pranayama which is using an uneven but consistent breath ratio consisting of inhaling, pausing, exhaling, pausing. My most common ratio during labour was 5:3:6:5 respectively.
Positioning and Asana
I tried many positions this time including (a sort of) Utkata Konasana (Goddess), an ‘Anjaneyasana (Crescent Lunge) meets Utthan Pristhasana (Lizard) pose, a very high Malasana (Garland or Yogi squat). But found the trusty ‘bouncing on the exercise ball’ (not very yogi at all) was the most comfortable. Of course this is purely a personal preference, however, I found I could rock and bounce on the ball to help draw bub’s head down and manoeuvre them through the birth canal. At least this is what I was visualising as I rocked and rolled! I also found this gave my husband (and amazing support partner) full access to help me through contractions by rubbing my back, massaging my shoulders etc. Then when a contraction was over I could lean back onto his legs and just rest until the next one.
Conscious Thinking and Visualisation (aka. getting in ‘the zone’)
Some yogic mindfulness techniques (I guess you could call it!) also helped me to shift my focus. The practice of Pratyahara, which comes with meditation, is the process of shifting the awareness from the external world and drawing the focus within. This, in combination with Dharana, concentration of the mind. Drawing the attention away from the senses – in the case of birth – away from the sense of touch (pain from contractions) and fiercely concentrating the mind on another aspect ie. visualisations, mantra, breath. In my case, I was so wholeheartedly focused on my breath that I was in my own little world, I barely opened my eyes, I didn’t talk to anyone, I barely made a sound. Just counting the seconds of my breath.
Another technique I did try that was useful (more so before I was in ‘the zone’) was focusing on another area of my body, an area that was not experiencing the intensity. I wiggled my toes…. a lot. And I still use it when breastfeeding! I also had a list of mantra’s I repeated to myself to remind me to believe in my body and surrender to the process.
My husband, my rock and my amazing support partner
My husband probably played the biggest part in helping me during labour. Especially with my first birth when I didn’t know what to expect, wasn’t sure if I could do it etc. And he really didn’t get any of the credit. If it wasn’t for him, my first birth probably would’ve resulted very differently.
Just to know there was someone I loved there with me, cheering me on, motivating me to keep going, believing that I could do this and being so in awe of what his wife was capable of enduring. The midwives even commented on how calm and amazing he was and left us to it most of the time, knowing I was in safe hands. He spent the entirety of both labours counting my breaths with me, talking me through the contractions and encouraging me if I ever doubted my abilities. What a man!
This aspect was much easier the second time around as I knew what to expect and drew a lot of strength that I had done it before. Provided all went swimmingly and there were no complications; I believed my body could do it so much that I didn’t give myself an out. I completely surrendered all control and just trusted my body knew what to do.
So there you have it, the final page of my pregnancy and birth yoga journey. Now the attention shifts to recovery and rebuilding my body post natally.
Guest post by – lauren fitzgerald