No matter how excited you are about the prospect of meeting your baby, it’s inevitable that you’ll have some worries about the birth. After all, we’ve all heard horror stories about painful, complicated labours. The best thing you can do to overcome these concerns is, of course, to be well prepared, both mentally and physically – and a technique called the Gentle Birth Method may be able to help.
Obstetrician Dr Gowri Motha first developed the Gentle Birth Method in the 1980s, because she had witnessed lots of women who were unprepared for labour and wanted to help them to have an easier birth. ‘Giving mothers something they can do to prepare is empowering,’ she says. ‘I firmly believe that the baby knows how to be born and that it’s up to the mother to prepare and relax her body.’ To achieve this, the Gentle Birth Method aims to make mums-to-be ‘birthfit’: physically fit and supple for labour, confident, emotionally in control, and able to understand how to manage the demands of labour and birth.
Celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Elle Macpherson are fans of Dr Motha’s Gentle Birth Method book, but following it to the letter may be a tall order for busy working mums-to-be. However, incorporating some of it into your own lifestyle may help you to have a better birth experience.
Dr Motha says, ‘A mother should step out of her normal life for a few weeks or months before giving birth, as working until the end puts extra strain on the mother and baby. Working causes stress, which can cause elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the mother and also cause stress in newborn babies. Change your lifestyle and give up work as early as possible. Then the body will relax and produce more helpful hormones like relaxin, endorphins and other placenta hormones.’
Obviously, it isn’t practical for every mum-to-be to give up work: every woman is different, and some jobs are more demanding and stressful than others. Monitor how you feel, and take things at your own pace. Perhaps your employer can be flexible, and offer reduced hours or the option of working at home to remove the stress of commuting in the later stages of your pregnancy.
Your diet is vital
Your eating habits during pregnancy are key to the Gentle Birth Method. ‘The physical body needs to be fed in the best possible way,’ says Dr Motha. ‘Gluten [a mixture of proteins found in some cereals] is not useful for the tissues, as it clogs everything up. Go wheat-free, sugar-free and gluten-free as soon as possible – and certainly for the last four weeks. Maple syrup can be used as a substitute for sugar. You can eat lots of rice, corn and quinoa-based foods and, of course, vegetables, fish and meat. Have one meal per week of whatever you like, though, because it’s not good to deprive yourself completely.’
If these changes sound too dramatic, try making things more gradual. Most supermarkets now have aisles dedicated to wheat- and gluten-free diets. Have a look next time you’re shopping and start by choosing some items that you can easily incorporate into your meals. And ensure you’re eating a wide range of other foods, particularly fruit, vegetables and foods containing calcium.
Fans of the Gentle Birth Method often say that what they found most helpful was the change in their mental attitude. ‘When people start eating correctly and being relaxed, nature helps them to become more confident,’ says Dr Motha. ‘Then the body begins to feel well and the baby follows automatically.’ There are easy ways to increase this sense of wellbeing during pregnancy. Yoga, for example, is a great way to get to know your body and start paying closer attention to how you are changing and growing.
Mum-to-be Amy Whittington, 31, found exercise helpful: ‘Walking daily and swimming twice weekly has been a great help, and I wish I had started yoga sooner – I’m planning to use the breathing techniques from the classes during labour.’ There are now lots of classes specifically for pregnancy – ask your midwife or health visitor about ones in your area.
Pay attention to your thoughts, too. Focusing on what you want is more useful than worrying about things you don’t want to happen, so read up on positive birth stories and talk to your midwife about your birth plan. Hypnotherapy can also help to teach simple techniques for visualising the kind of gentle, healthy and happy birth you want to enjoy. Dr Motha has produced relaxation CDs that can be listened to at home – Amy feels that the visualisation CD ‘really helps you to connect with your body and growing baby’. See the Gentle Birth website for details.
Combining complementary therapies with more traditional medicine is a big part of the Gentle Birth Method, so this is a good excuse to try lots of pampering treatments! Many therapists are qualified to treat pregnant women, and reflexology and massage have long been thought to be beneficial for relaxation and easing aches and pains during pregnancy. This was advice mum-to-be Amy was happy to follow, being a reflexologist herself. Now, she’s having regular back massages and doing self-reflexology. ‘By focusing on the very strong link with mind and body, it has made me feel really positive and confident,’ she says. ‘I feel this has helped me to really enjoy being pregnant, and I also plan to get my husband to massage my back during labour for pain relief.’
Nicole Benjamin, 34, mum to Michael, one, sums up how adapting ideas from the Gentle Birth Method can be useful. ‘It’s not about following every single rule, because it’s a very strict book,’ she says. ‘For example, I stayed off wheat later in pregnancy and tried to go for a walk every day, but I hadn’t done nearly all of it. It’s more about being open to things, and changing your mental attitude. It’s impossible to know what my labour would have been like without the Gentle Birth Method, but I had a very good labour. You don’t have to be a natural Earth Mother to take things from it.’
Susi White, 32, mum to Arthur, six weeks, found out about the Gentle Birth Method from a friend who had her baby with Dr Gowri Motha.
‘I went to the library and got the book, but I didn’t follow it to the letter. I do reiki and reflexology myself and I am wheat-free anyway. I did eat a lot of sugar, though – I ate my body-weight in chocolate and had a mug of Green & Black’s hot chocolate every night! ‘With regards to treatments, I saw an osteopath. The back and pelvis are obviously vitally important for the birth – if they’re very tense because they’re supporting the extra weight of the bump, they can be a blockage rather than facilitating the birth. I also found hypnosis very helpful for “programming” my body to give birth easily, and for relaxation. I loved knowing that there was a safe place I could take myself off to. ‘My approach was that even if all the Gentle Birth Method does is keep me calmer, that’s no bad thing. Of all the mums in my NCT group, I had the easiest birth by far: it was absolutely text book, from starting labour to dilating, and I didn’t tear. Whether it’s a placebo effect or not, I don’t care – it really works!’