There's this meme going round at the moment... It's an ultrasound image of a baby, with the caption: 'Feeling cute, might wreck your vagina later... Idk.'
Dear friends, I will never stop saying this: birth doesn't have to be like all the horror stories!
It's throw-away comments like these which haunt women and fill them with fear. They are so damaging. A woman's body is designed to give birth. Women have been giving birth for millennia. There is a perfect system in place - but here's the thing: this system will not work if it is halted in its tracks by FEAR.
There is so much to learn and indeed un-learn about birth.
In terms of wrecking your vagina, I'm going to start by reassuring you that there are plenty of things you can do, starting right now, to prevent your gorgeous baby from causing you such damage.
1) Find a Hypnobirthing Coach
This really is key to your success. The right coach will support you to get rid of the fear which is holding you back and share with you the knowledge, tools and skills you need to have a positive birthing experience.
2) Learn how to breath
I teach my hypnobirthing clients two very simple, yet exceedingly powerful, breathing techniques to support them at every stage. These breathing techniques help to keep both parents calm, focused and in control; especially during the final stages of labour as baby is making their exit, thereby avoiding unnecessary forced pushing which is so often the cause of vaginal tearing. Speak these phrases into being: baby knows best; patience is paramount; I trust my body and I follow its lead.
Adopt Upright, Forward and Open positions during your labour and birth: UFO - to enable your baby's smooth, gentle passage down the birth canal. For example; on all fours, learning forwards - over a birth ball, beanbag, birthing pool or bed; whilst squatting on a birthing stool, or leaning on your partner. Listen to your body.
4) Perineal Massage
Practise perineal massage to get your body used to the feeling of opening, stretching and then relaxing in this area. You don't need any fancy oil, olive oil works perfectly well. Just make sure your hands are clean and relax into it. Why not get your partner to help...
Imagining your body softening and opening, either literally, or by looking at images, such as flowers slowly blooming. When your body is soft and relaxed, you allow yourself to let go of all fear and tension, thereby allowing your muscles to relax and produce the right hormones to allow birth to happen, just as nature intended. Where your mind leads, your body follows.
I'm a massive believer in the power of positive birth affirmations. They're what I've come to call my 'secret weapon'. A seemingly simple tool, these positive, present statements, when listened to, read and repeated on a regular basis, become embedded in your subconscious mind ready to burst into action when you need them most. Phrases of encouragement such as: 'You can do this!'; 'My body is completely relaxed.'; 'I put all fear aside, as I prepare to meet my baby.'; 'I trust my body and my baby to know what to do.'; 'My body is completely relaxed.' - are some of my favourites. A relaxed mind leads to a relaxed body, which leads to a calm and gentle birth.
Giving birth in water can be a really effective way to prevent tearing. The water helps you to relax, deeply; allowing you to feel weightless and calm in both mind and body. Water can also work to effectively ease any discomfort you may experience; the light touch of water trickling down your spine can help to release endorphins, triggering a positive feeling in your body, similar to that of morphine. The warm water may also help to soften perineal tissue and ease the sensation as your baby's head emerges.
8) Perineal Compress
Ask your birth partner or midwife to apply firm pressure to your perineum as your baby's head is crowning. It's common to feel intense downward pressure during this stage so the counter pressure of a warm pad pressing firmly on your perineum and increasing blood flow to the area, coupled with your calm breathing, your UFO positioning, endorphin release, repetition of affirmations, visualisations, etc. can provide extremely soothing relief and of course, help to prevent tearing.
9) Birth place matters
Where you give birth and who you choose to support you can have a huge impact on your birthing experience. Choosing, or creating, the right birthing environment for you, will massively influence your body's ability to relax and produce the right hormones to facilitate a calm and gentle birth. Giving birth in hospital is not your only option. Here in Tower Hamlets, we are extremely fortunate to have two types of birth centre: a freestanding, midwife led home-from-home birth centre for low risk pregnancies and a birth centre attached to the hospital. We also now have a fabulous home-birth team.
When choosing your care provider, talk to them about the support they offer in terms of preventing tearing: are they familiar with the use of techniques such as warm compresses, perineal massage, UFO positioning, hypnobirthing, etc?
If you've found this helpful, why not come and say 'Hi' over on Instagram and join our supportive Village on FB. You can also join the community IRL at our Tower Hamlets Family Meet Up, held on the 1st Thursday of the month at Poplar Union.
Whilst you're here, you might also be interested in joining us for our Pregnancy Pop Up event which is happening on July 21st. Tickets are selling fast, so be sure to get in there quickly, as places are limited to ensure you get our full support and attention.
Keep in touch with any thoughts or questions!
Love Helen x