Updated: May 19
So many people underestimate how much of an influence the birth environment can have on our birth experience and the progression of labor. We will discuss what to consider when selecting a birth environment and how to claim your space for a positive birth experience.
Sense of safety
I encourage you to think about what safety means to you. Think physical safety, psychological safety, and emotional safety. Having a deep sense of safety in all these areas is crucial to allowing labor to unfold.
Why is safety so important? As mammals, we are instinctually wired to ensure our babies are born into a safe environment. Imagine if you were going into labor in the wild and you sensed danger or a predator was nearby. Your body's stress response (cortisol) blocks the hormonal chain of command that allows labor to progress. This is designed to allow you to get to safety before birthing your baby.
Our hormonal imprints remain the same today. If we sense fear, our labor will stall as a self-preservation response. Not only does fear impact the progression of labor, but it can also drastically influence our perception of pain and our ability to cope with labor sensations.
There is a lot of research behind the fear, tension, and pain cycle. What happens when you get startled? You tense up. When we experience fear, our body and our muscles tense, and we are more likely to experience painful sensations.
The inverse is the cycle of safety, relaxation, and comfort. The safer you feel, the more relaxed your mind and body will be, and you will experience more comfort.
Privacy & Intimacy
Birth is a private and intimate process, and the body will react positively when there is a sense of safety and privacy. I’ll give you two non-birth-related examples that highlight this fact.
Have you ever needed to go “number two” outside the comfort of your home but simply couldn’t use the restroom because you were too nervous that someone might find out? Not having a sense of privacy can definitely stall or stop your elimination process altogether. Our mind can impact our bodily functions!
Another example would be when your experiencing intimacy and passion with your lover. What do you typically do to set the mood? Make sure the temperature is right, dim the lights, close the blinds, get comfortable, and maybe play some music. Privacy, comfort, and safety are all at play. Things start to heat up. Imagine just as you’re about to… and someone comes knocking on your door. What happens? You are put on high alert, get in your head, and your body tense up. The mood has been killed. It will likely take you a few minutes to get back in the game. Both you and your partner need to reestablish a sense of privacy and safety before allowing your body to relax and experience pleasure again. This same dynamic can take place.
Intimacy can help your birth experience in many ways. When we experience love and connection, our body produces the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin, often referred to as the love hormone, has a very important role in birth. It gives the message for the uterus to contract and serves as a natural pain killer! The more intimacy, love, and connection you feel during labor, the quicker and more comfortable your experience will be.
Claiming your birth space
Choosing where you give birth
In the USA about 99% of birth take place in a hospital and 1% take place at home or in a free-standing birth center. The reasons for selecting a specific birth environment are different for each person. For some, safety means knowing that emergency care is a few doors down at a hospital, for others, safety is the comfort of home or a cozy environment where unnecessary interventions are not a concern.
Regardless of where you choose to birth your baby, I want you to start thinking about how you will intentionally set the mood in that space. Think of your five senses. Consider mood lighting, pleasant aromas, music that calms or energizes you, comforting touch, calming tastes, and access to comfort measures that speak to you.
Who will you allow in your birth space?
Remember, you have the right to privacy. This means you do not have to labor or birth your baby in front of anyone you don’t want present. You can ask for privacy whenever you want it, regardless of what birth environment you select. If you’re giving birth in a teaching hospital, you can ask for no students to attend. If you don’t jive with someone on your care team, you also have the right to request care from another provider.
Sometimes deciding who is present for your birth can be a challenging one. This comes down to finding a supportive provider and choosing your support people. I have a client who opted for having her grandmother support her over her partner because she needed her comfort and energy present. Another client had to ask her mother not to attend the birth. Her mother became extremely anxious seeing her daughter uncomfortable, which was distracting and challenging for my client during her first birth. These can be challenging conversations, but they are necessary to create an optimal birth environment.
Tricks to set the mood
Lighting makes a huge difference. Dimming the lights can completely change the way you perceive your environment. Turning off the bright overhead lights in a hospital setting can really change the mood. You no longer notice the sterile environment or machines around you. You can bring electric flameless candles, twinkle lights, or a night light projector to set the mood.
Bringing a speaker can also help change the environment. Make a playlist for the different stages of labor, or listen to meditation tracks.
Scents can also help us feel more at home. Bringing your pillow or packing your favorite essential oils can make the room more comfortable. Choosing to wear your own clothes can also impact how you feel. Studies have shown that people feel more exposed, disempowered, and uncomfortable when wearing a hospital gown.
What resonates with you? What will make your birth space feel special?
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Meet the Author
Clara O'Rourke (she hers),
Holistic Doula & Childbirth Educator.
I am a researcher turned total birth nerd with a passion for supporting people birth in their full power! I guide people through their pregnancy, labor, and postpartum journey by helping them overcome fear or anxiety about birth, providing evidence-based information so they can make informed decisions, and ensuring they have everything they need to birth with confidence. Birth is sacred and it should be treated that way. I am committed to providing support for birth and beyond, regardless of a person's background, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or relationship status. También ofrezco mis servicios en español. I wish you and your growing family the brightest of beginnings!