Thinking back to before I gave birth, I thought I knew everything there is to know about how to give birth “naturally” (there are several meanings to the word “natural” in this context, and the one I am referring to is without any medication or procedure whatsoever) and how to parent in a way that is biologically normal (breastfeeding, attachment parenting type practices, etc.). I realize now I knew nothing. I still do not know everything. It would be the farthest thing from the truth if I said I did. But having experienced birth, I know a little bit more now.
For the benefit of other expectant first time mothers out there, I have compiled a list of what would have helped me to be successful in my quest for a “natural” birth, and to parent “naturally”.
The hindsight is 20/20 wish list
Have a home birth:
You are 7 times more likely to receive an epidural at the hospital than when you give birth at home. By getting an epidural, you start a cascade of interventions that define the birth you would be least happy to have, and that cause maternal and neonatal morbidity and mortality rates to increase, (in the case of maternal morbidity and mortality, the rates increase drastically).
Hire a doula:
Whether you decide to have a hospital birth, home birth, or birth center birth, hiring a doula (a labor coach) decreases the chances of unnecessary interventions being performed. A doula is someone who has been there, done that and knows what to expect, what to suggest (positions to labor in, specific massage, other non-medical pain relieving techniques), what to take care of (getting lunch for your spouse, or you, or bringing you a change of clothes), when to give you space, and when to speak up. They are worth their weight in gold. And if you cannot afford one, you can find a doula in training that would charge either nothing, or a very reduced fee. You can look up a doula or doula in training on DONA (Doulas of North America) International’s website.
Interview your medical provider:
Interview several midwives or OB/GYN’s before choosing one. Ask them their statistics – cesarean section percentages, induction percentages, maternal and neonatal outcomes, etc. See if you “mesh” with them. In the very least, the relationship you have with your midwife or OB/GYN should be based on respect and trust. And I do mean it needs to go both ways – the medical professional needs to respect your autonomy and should be willing to discuss the benefits, risks, and alternatives to any procedure beforehand.
Research research research! If you come across any breastfeeding problems, it is good to have some basic diagnostic skills yourself since breastfeeding knowledge is very limited in nurses, doctors, pediatricians, etc. Even after researching everything I could on breastfeeding, I was still largely clueless. Please, try to find a lactating mother and have her show you what the proper latch and good positioning looks like. Reading is one thing, but seeing it makes everything you read suddenly make sense. In my personal experience, my baby had a perfect latch, but it did not look that way to me. I had NEVER seen anyone breastfeed in person. If I had, things would have gone more smoothly.
Collect a list of contacts as breastfeeding resources. Find an IBCLE (International Board Certified Lactation Examiners) certified lactation consultant close to you that is listed in your health insurance directory. Find and go to a local LLL (La Leche League) meeting before you give birth to familiarize yourself. If you have problems breastfeeding, these resources are invaluable. And if you do not have problems, the LLL is a good place to find support, in case your family or friends are not very supportive.
Educate your spouse and/or support person:
Tell them, in detail, what you expect or want from your birth and breastfeeding experiences. Hell, make a spreadsheet outlining what is normal and abnormal, what to look out for, and when to speak up for you. Labor is all consuming, and I found I lost my voice, so I needed some one to speak for me. Make sure they know what’s up.
Hire a postpartum doula, or have your mother (or whoever is unobtrusive, yet helpful) come over and take care of daily household tasks like laundry, feeding your pets, making meals, etc. Hole up in your bedroom with your baby for two weeks and just breastfeed, take naps, relax, and heal. You will get a good milk supply going, bond with your baby, and have a chance to recover from birth. Limit visitors (or preferably, exclude visitors) for those two weeks. The baby will still be there to show off later.
Have that postpartum doula make you ice packs (they are the closest thing to heaven – I made the ice packs from diapers: separate the inside lining from the fluffy part of the diaper and stuff in crushed ice, the diaper absorbs the water as the ice melts so you are not constantly wet or dripping water), and run a warm bath with some soothing herbal additions. Have your spouse give you massages. Buy depends (the adult diapers)! They are less bulky than those maternity pads but do a good job of absorbing fluids, and they conveniently house those ice packs I mentioned earlier and act as back up for any leaks.
After those two, beautiful, relaxing weeks, it is time to get into the swing of being Mom. And that means taking back up those daily chores while tending to your baby. “Wearing” your baby in a sling is convenient as it allows you one or two hands free to do chores while still keeping your baby happy. You can even breastfeed while your baby is in a sling.
The most beneficial skill for your sleep that you can learn is how to nurse in the side-lying position. Practice it and learn it as soon as you can. When you have mastered the side-lying position, it becomes easy to feed your baby during the night without waking yourself up all the way, so that it is easier to get back to sleep. When your baby wakes up, you just roll over and offer a breast, and keep on snoozing.
Well, I think that covers all the things I wish I had known before giving birth. If anyone has a question, or an additional suggestion, please leave me a comment!