No matter where you give birth - home, hospital, or birth center - taking care of yourself during your labor and delivery and immediate postpartum period is so vitally important. Birth calls upon your strength in ways you may not have experienced before. Providing the environment for that strength to fully emerge is what self-care is all about.
Here are some ideas of ways you and your birth partners can help to facilitate your own care. A fully supported mother is a wonderful being to behold.
During labor, our nourishing herbal pregnancy tea is a great way to stay hydrated. After the baby has arrived, we have specific herbal formulations to help with painful afterbirth cramps, establishing an abundant breastmilk supply, and staying hormonally balanced postpartum. We also have a healing spray for c-section incisions.
A wonderful way to nurture yourself and your new baby is a postpartum herbal bath. This concentrated formulation of herbs provides healing and support to your tender tissues especially if you have stitches. The warm water can calm a fussy baby and facilitate a relaxed breastfeeding session. In a home birth, we call the postpartum herbal bath is called the victory bath because it is your reward after all your hard work of pushing a baby out! If you give birth in the hospital or birth center, you and your baby can take your herb bath when you get home and settled in. Each package of postpartum herb bath comes with complete instructions and enough herbs for one full tub bath, or 2-3 sitz baths.
Staying hydrated during your labor and birth is incredibly important. You will lose fluids during labor, and you will want to replenish those fluids so that you can recover quickly and give your body what it needs to begin making breast milk, if you are breastfeeding.
Of course, water is always best. Labor and immediately after birth are also good times to drink sports-type drinks that provide calories, electrolytes and hydration. You can buy versions made without dyes or corn syrup at most natural food stores. You can also make your own tea, using one of our nourishing blends, and add honey to sweeten and add calories.
Easy to digest food, such as fruit, yogurt, and sorbet can be a great energy boost during labor. Sipping on miso soup can give you a good amount of protein, as can smoothies made with a good quality protein powder. At some point in labor, the idea of eating anything at all may not sound good to you. If you find your energy lagging, a spoonful of honey is a palatable way to get some calories. Eating tiny micro meals or small bites are what most women can handle. That means like 3-10 frozen blue berries, 1-3 almonds, a 1/3 of a banana. Little bites can go along way. Just keep nippling every few hours even if you have nausea. If you vomit, think of it as making progress. Vomiting pushes the baby deeper into the birth canal and is considered another way of opening up!
After you have had your baby and all the immediate postpartum needs have been taken care of, you will be very hungry! Just like the victory bath you now get to enjoy your victory meal! You will probably want something quick to eat right after the birth (a homebirth favorite has always been scrambled eggs, toast, and fruit), but a few hours later you will want a fuller meal. If you are in a birth center or hospital they will have something for you to eat, but it may not be what you want. You can bring your own food, and most hospitals and birth centers have a microwave. If you are at home, think about your victory meal to be hearty and nutrient dense, that is high in iron and protein. You just completed a major feat and need something to get you ready for a night of breastfeeding. Think of your favorite foods, I've attended hundreds of births and probably the most common meal includes eggs. Women enjoy vegetable and meat stews, full-fat dairy cheeses and yogurt, whole grains like brown rice or whole grain breads or (gluten free breads). Plan to have your favorite meal available if you can. Steak and baked potatoes, or your dad’s homemade lasagna - if there is ever a time to get exactly what you want, this is it!
No matter where you give birth, it is comforting to have your own blankets and pillows with you. If you are home, this is easier to accomplish, although you will probably want to have some pillows, towels, and blankets that you don’t mind getting stained. Most home birth midwives are experts at stain removal, but you still don’t want your favorite pillow and blanket potentially getting ruined.
If you are in a birth center or hospital, they will provide you with a certain amount of these items, and you can always ask for more. However, birth is an especially sensitive time, and you may prefer to have your own things with you. I’ve never seen a hospital pillow that is king size, for example. The feel of your personal pillows and blankets, their texture and smell, can be comforting during labor, delivery, and after you have the baby.
If you are home, the scents around you will be much easier to moderate. Some mothers experience extreme sensitivity to scents while they are in labor, so keep in mind that you may not want any smells at all! But if scents and dim lights bring you comfort when you are not in labor, planning on having these things available to you during labor is a good idea.
Essential oils provide a wonderfully multifaceted effect. The scents can be pleasing on many levels, and affect your emotions and mind. Clean, grounded scents like lavender, frankincense, or sage can be a wonderful addition to your environment when you are in labor. There are many different kinds of essential oil scented candles available, just ensure that if you go this route, that the oils used in the candle are natural. If scented candles don’t work for you, you can place a few drops of an essential oil on a piece of cloth that you can keep close. If you are going to apply any essential oils directly to your body, remember that their effects can be powerful, and almost all oils need to be in a carrier oil.
If you are birthing in a birthing center or hospital, they may not allow candles with a flame. You can purchase LED candles that will provide the same dim, warm light, but won’t be a fire hazard. Strings of small white holiday lights can also provide the same effect.
Music can set a mood or be a complete distraction. If a mother enjoys music, I often suggest that she make several playlists - one that is more uptempo and energetic, one more relaxing and contemplative. As with many things with labor though, be prepared for your tastes to change from moment to moment. As labor progresses, you may find that complete silence brings you the most peace.
During your immediate postpartum period, you will most likely be so focused on your new baby that you won’t even notice if there is music playing! However, once things settle down, some soft music in the background can set a peaceful mood no matter where you are.
Although by the end of your labor you will most likely not care what, if any, clothes you are wearing, during the early parts of labor you will want to be comfortable. Loose fitting separates that make it easy to monitor you and baby are a good option.
After the birth, you will want clothes that are comfortable and easy to nurse in, if you will be breastfeeding. You will also be wearing a large pad, since blood loss in the first 24 hours is like a heavy period. If you prefer to wear your own underwear, plan for comfortable, full coverage, and snug panties.
Giving birth is a singular, uniting experience that almost every woman will experience in her life. It is incredibly grounding and expansive at the same time. Focusing on your own care during your labor and after the baby is born will help you to connect to the universal power all mother’s share. This self-care can bring you comfort and strength, and help you to let your love and milk flow!