Q: My baby’s dad doesn’t want to be with me in labour. What can I do?
A: Although it’s now become the norm for fathers to be present at the birth, many men find the thought of witnessing someone they care about in pain extremely difficult. You may find that your baby’s father comes to think differently the more informed he becomes, but the again he may not.
You could suggest that he attends childbirth preparation classes with you. These may help him to explore his feeling about the birth and will give him the opportunity to talk things through with the experts. He’ll also learn what to expect during the birth and how he’ll be able to help you, which may help to reduce his anxiety. Talking things through with a midwife may also help him to identify those areas where he may need support and rationalise his fears and anxieties.
It would also be a good idea for you to think carefully about what you are expecting of him at the birth and why having him there is so important to you. His reluctance could simply be because he thinks he won’t be able to support you in the way you need.
Ultimately however, you must allow your partner the freedom to choose what is right for him. You can’t force him to attend the birth and if he really doesn’t want to attend, why don’t you take a family member or close friend – or both – who you trust to be with you instead? Some women find having other women with them even more useful than a partner, especially one who doesn’t want to be there!
Another alternative is to hire a doula. This is a woman who has usually had children herself and who is trained to provide support during late pregnancy, delivery and the postnatal period. Have a look at www.doula.org.uk for more information if you think this may be an option.
Q: I am 30 weeks pregnant and have not been exercising. People have told me that it would make the birth easier, so can you suggest any specific moves that may help my body be more prepared for labour?
A: You are right in thinking that starting some form of gentle exercise will help to support a positive birth experience. These exercises are not just for labour but will do wonders for your health and wellbeing now and during the final weeks of your pregnancy.
It does not matter that you have not exercised before. What is great is that you are starting the process of strengthening and preparing your muscles to build endurance for labour.
There is a need however, to take care with your choice of exercise because your body will be releasing a hormone called relaxin which loosens your joins in preparation for the birth. So safety is an important consideration. If you are unsure about exercising, seek advice from your midwife.
These gentle exercises take into account your changing shape. Sticking to these low-impact activities and keeping the sessions short will prevent you experiencing any physical instability or undue tiredness.
- Daily gentle walks: Walking is a safe activity with great cardiovascular impact. Start slow and build up to a brisk 30 minute walk, about 3 times a week. Take water along to keep well hydrated.
- Swimming: This is safe, increases your muscle tone, and builds endurance. Even if you are not a swimmer, gently kicking and stretching your legs holding onto the pool side is beneficial. If you experience any tenderness in front of your pelvis, avoid the breaststroke. Choose a stroke that you can do confidently. The water will support your joints. Floating on your back and kicking the water may be ideal.
- Aquanatal: These are special classes held at many pools for pregnant women and new mothers. They involve gentle, low impact exercises and are directed by a trained instructor.
- Pelvic floor exercises: These are perhaps the most important exercises you can do to prepare your body for labour. They can be done anywhere – in the car, on the bus, while brushing your teeth – and will promote pelvic flexibility, healing and the restoration of muscle tone once your baby is born.
Exercise 1 – You can do this exercise in any position, lying, sitting or standing position. Your legs should be slightly apart. Tighten and then release the muscles around your vagina. Work up to 100 or more a day, preferably in batches of 10 or 20.
Exercise 2 – Tighten and release the vaginal muscles as in exercise 1. This time however, tighten the muscles slowly as you count to 6. Then slowly relax to the count of 4. Then repeat. Start with a minute, then work up to 5 minutes at a time, several times a day. Breathe normally. Resist the temptation to hold your breath as you count.
- Swinging feet: Sit on a chair and draw large circles in the air with your toes. Rotate your ankles and feet to draw the circles, but do not move your legs. You can do both feet at once or one foot at a time. Do some circles to the left and some to the right.
In summary, while there is no evidence to suggest that exercising shortens your labour, there is a great deal to suggest that it enables and empowers women to stay in control, prevent early exhaustion, reduce leg cramping and urine leakage and promote vaginal healing.