/ The Daisy Foundation with Laura Powell

Is birth painful?

There are so many stories around about how painful birth is; everyone loves to share a horror birth story and films and TV shows are full of women lying on their backs in bed, shouting in agony when giving birth. The language we use can be really disempowering as well – when we talk about how a midwife or doctor (or, in the case of my second son, my husband) ‘delivered’ the baby, it reinforces the idea that labour and birth is something that happens to a pregnant person. It is easy to believe that birth has to be painful and that we are not capable of giving birth on our own. This is not how birth has to be!

In our classes and workshops, we talk about all the different ways our bodies are equipped for birth. We have many things in our toolkit for birth – hormones (relaxin, oxytocin, endorphins), the uterus, a moveable spine, the pelvic floor, the tailbone. In the Active Birth Workshop, we talk about three principles of a Daisy Active Birth:

  • using gravity to work with the uterus as it surges during contractions
  • encouraging the connection between baby’s head and the cervix, which helps all of the wonderful oxytocin to flow and contractions to build
  • keeping the body supplied with all the oxygen it needs for the muscles to work as effectively as possible and the tissues in the pelvis to remain soft and pliable. 

These principles can be used almost as a ‘checklist’ to think about what you can do or change to help your labour journey.

‘Active Birth’ is a term that was coined by Janet Balaskas in the early 1980s in response to the ‘active management’ of birth that was happening in hospitals. An active birth is one in which a woman moves freely during labour and birth to choose positions that feel right and most comfortable. Historically, this is how women would have given birth. It is only relatively recently, in the last 200 years or so, that medical advances mean we have been moving away from this. As Janet Balaskas says, “Active Birth is not new. It is simply a way of describing how women the world over have always behaved during labour and birth throughout history”. (from ‘New Active Birth: A Concise Guide to Natural Childbirth’, Janet Balaskas, 2012)

We know that being able to move freely during labour and birth can help in a number of ways:

  • It can make labour and birth shorter, and reduce the need for medical interventions such as an instrumental delivery or an epidural. A 2013 Cochrane Review of 25 studies concludes that “there is clear and important evidence that walking and upright positions in the first stage of labour reduces the duration of labour, the risk of caesarean birth, the need for epidural”.
  • Did you know your tailbone or sacrum will flare as you get close to having your baby, creating more space in your pelvis? Staying off your back during labour gives space forthis to happen.
  • Squatting and kneeling to give birth can create more space in your pelvis. 
  • When you are in an upright or forward leaning position, you’re working with the uterus as it surges during contractions, and with the direction baby is moving in as they descend. 
  • Afterwards, women are more positive about their experience. 

Active birth is not about refusing any kind of medical intervention, it’s about feeling in control and empowered in your birth regardless of the journey your labour takes. And it’s not about moving for the sake of moving – rest is just as important. It’s about knowing when moving could help your labour to progress, listening to your body when it needs to rest and thinking about what positions to rest in, maybe on your side with one leg supported.

If you would like to find out more about how you can have an active and confident birth, come along to one of our classes or workshops. The Daisy Active Birth Workshop is for expectant mums and their birth partner to prepare together. Daisy Birthing Active Antenatal classes are weekly classes for expectant mums that will give you confidence and knowledge for your birth.