It wasn’t until I was knee-deep in my birthing class that I realized the environment in which you labor can play a vital role in how you bring your child into the world. I vividly remember my instructor suddenly stopping mid-sentence to ask the four sets of parents-to-be in the room if we’d heard something. She went on to describe in great detail (we’re talking full-on sound effects and everything) an imaginary cat in labor right at our feet. Thankfully, that invisible cat didn’t stick around long because I was struggling to not crack a smile; according to our teacher, the cat retreated from the roomful of strangers to birth her litter in a dark, cozy closet under the stairs. My husband and I left the class joking about our new feline friend, but my instructor’s quirky approach hit home a key lesson that stuck with me: Other mammals instinctively know what they need to deliver their babies. They look for a place that is safe, private, warm, quiet and dark.
By incorporating these same elements into your own labor and delivery environment, you can set a calm and confident tone for your baby’s birth, whether it takes place in your home, at a birth center or in a hospital. Here’s how …
1| Bring people you trust
The best way to ensure you feel continuously supported during labor is by having a birthing team that you can depend on. Beyond your doctor or midwife, this could include your partner, mother, sister, friend or doula. You may even choose to have more than one person by your side. Having a doula meant my husband could step out and grab lunch or just take a breather when he needed it. (No offense to him, but she also gave way better hip squeezes because she’d done them countless times before.) These are the people you know you can count on to speak up for you and your baby.
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2| Dim the lights
Bright lights aren’t naturally conducive to creating a serene setting, so turn them down or off altogether. Pull the curtains closed. Reach for lamps instead of harsh overhead bulbs. If you’re at home, you can light a few candles or plug in a string of fairy lights. If you’re at a birth center or hospital, flames are out, but you can bring battery-operated alternatives that offer a soft glow.
3| Get cozy
Whatever you need to do to feel comfortable, do it. Move around the room. Find a position that provides some relief or helps you work through contractions (squatting, leaning on the kitchen island, draped over the end of the bed, etc.). Run a warm shower. Rock on a birthing ball. Strip down to your skivvies or nothing at all. Surround yourself with ample cushions and pillows—for coziness and literal support.
4| Warm things up
This doesn’t mean the thermostat must be set to a balmy 85 degrees, but you don’t want to be too hot or too cold. (Full disclosure: I was sweating so much during labor that I only had my hospital gown on around my waist, and my doula was keeping a steady stream of cold washcloths on my back.) The good news is many rooms have individual units, so you can control the temperature to suit your preference. Hot and cool compresses also work wonders.
5| Adjust the volume
Plan ahead and put together a playlist of mood music for the occasion. Some mamas want peaceful melodies; others would rather hear more upbeat tunes to keep their energy levels high. I had two playlists because I didn’t know which might sound appealing in the moment or if the mood would shift as labor progressed. (Tip: It’s helpful having some background noise as many women find vocalizations, think moaning and groaning, helpful when coping with contractions. You’ll be less worried about who can hear you if there are other sounds present.)
6| Block any distractions
Diversions at certain times can be beneficial. My doula had a wonderful sense of humor, and that was one of the main reasons I hired her. Her jokes kept my mind from worrying too much. But as contractions intensify, they’re going to require a great deal of focus. Privacy doesn’t just mean limiting the number of people in your room; it also means you can work through labor undisturbed. So, shut the door. Ask people to quiet their chitchat or silence their cell phones. And, if it helps, cover up that ticking clock.
7| Opt for soothing scents
Let’s not forget about the sense of smell. Studies have also shown that aromatherapy is effective in minimizing labor fear, anxiety and even pain, so you might want to consider adding a few essential oils to your hospital bag. Frankincense and lavender can calm nerves, while peppermint oil can aid in alleviating exhaustion and nausea. (Tip: Instead of using a diffuser, try putting a drop or two on a tissue and keeping it nearby. This way, if you suddenly find floral scents stomach-churning, you can dispose of it and clear the air quickly.)
8| Recreate the magic
If all else fails and you can’t recall the necessary elements of a tranquil birth environment or you accidentally forget the flameless candles, simply remember this: Set the mood for meeting baby the same way you would for making a baby. You’d probably appreciate some ambient lighting and music, and—most importantly—in both situations you want to feel safe and supported. After all, oxytocin, the same hormone that’s released when falling in love, is what triggers the uterine contractions that bring you closer to meeting your babe … and falling in love all over again.