Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Training Your Team

I received this question from lovely reader Hilary:

I'm pregnant with my third, planning my first natural birth. I'm reading everything I can get my hands on. My husband is super supportive and reads whatever I ask him to. I'm thinking of having my two sisters, who are my best friends, in the room with me as part of my labor support team.

The only problem is, it's not like my husband or either of my single sisters has experienced a natural labor either, so I don't know how to prepare them to help. Are there books/videos/websites you'd recommend to help them prepare for the experience, possibly with some suggestions of things they can do to help? Thanks!

Hilary, congratulations! First, so glad that you're reading voraciously, and that your husband is so willing to absorb the knowledge, too. That's the ticket, girl. My first question is where you're planning to give birth. For the purpose of this post, I'm going to assume you'll be in a hospital setting. Much of the information will still apply if you're in an independent birth center or home, but I just wanted to note it for certain.

Okay, onward: The two best books for your whole team to read, IMO, are "The Birth Partner" by Penny Simkin, and "Your Best Birth" (the link to which is on my sidebar there). The former is just essential, does a fantastic job of explaining the stages of labor, and is very manageable. The latter is written in a way that it's addressed to the mother, but it would be very helpful for them to read through, particularly if you're in a hospital setting. It explains typical interventions, procedures and protocols in a wonderfully accessible way. The related website My Best Birth is also very helpful.

Another classic book that's terrific for labor supporters of all kinds is "Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way" by Susan McCutcheon. Like "The Birth Partner", it also breaks down the stages and processes of birth and addresses supportive techniques (it's assumed it will be the husband, as the original term for the Bradley Method is "Husband-Coached Childbirth", but could really apply to anyone). It also discusses various common interventions, how to fend them off and otherwise cope with a hospital setting. Though it is coming from the perspective of a specific 'technique', the lessons are very useful for anyone in a supportive role. Admittedly, this came out a while ago, and" Your Best Birth" is the most up-to-date of the three (by far), but the core information in them all is still helpful.

Next, are you attending a childbirth class? I would recommend an independent class, as in, not the one that the hospital offers - or at least, not ONLY that one. (Here's 9 reasons why.) It could be Hypnobabies, or the aforementioned Bradley Method, or Birthing From Within, or a more comprehensive class that uses a little bit of everything. Look around and see what appeals to YOU the most, and what's available in your area. What might be key is seeing if you could bring your sisters with you to some or all the classes - check with the instructors to see what's kosher, of course, but having them fully committed, informed, and on the same page as you would be a great bonus if at all possible.

As for videos, I do think y'all should have a "Business of Being Born" movie night if you haven't already! My next recommendation for you all to watch together, preferably with these handy printed PDFs, is the videos for Lamaze's 6 Healthy Birth Practices. I cannot think of a more succinct, clear, straightforward and current set of videos for just such a situation. These 6 Practices can seriously make ALL the difference if they're fully put into practice. Here's a sample, the video for the third Healthy Practice:

But then, of course, you're going to want to watch some actual births. Looking on YouTube for "natural birth" and "home birth" actually yields a lot of great examples, if not full-length instructional films. I of course cannot sing the praises of this collection of older videos from France enough. Other birth professionals out there, especially childbirth educators, do you have favorite films for your clients? Do share!

Now. ALL that said, being me, I still have to plug the option of a doula, even with your wonderful support system, for many of the reasons that I laid out in this post. As loving and devoted as your team may be, you stated that this is the first natural experience for all three of them, and sometimes having an experienced pro who knows the ropes can make the difference when the going gets rough. I say that not to cast doubt on the intentions or the abilities of your team, because with all three there and working harmoniously, you're going to be well-cared for. I just have to include it as another option.

Oh, come on, now, Anne, wouldn't it be overkill with three people already helping? Okay, assuming those people are very well-prepared as per the above, yes, it's possible, but there are still legitimate reasons to consider it. I just gotta throw it out there.

I hope you'll report back here about your experience, both in preparation and in execution (egad, what an awful way to refer to the birth of a child, please forgive me), and I wish you and your team the very, very best!


  1. My labor team (other than the nurses and midwives) consisted of my husband, my sister-in-law (who had two previous c-sections and was invited on a whim as I was headed to the hospital and realizing that my "dream" team that included my mom - a veteran of 4 natural births - wasn't going to get there in time). I am so glad I had a doula to help them along (and shush my sil who had a lot of things to say that had the potential to distract me). My original team included my doula, my husband, my mom and my mother-in-law (who didn't make it either). I only had 3 people in my support team, and I definitely could have used more. I needed people to help me with my body, take pictures, run get ice chips, and I could have used someone to go get stuff from my car. Hope this helps.

  2. Thanks so much! I've already ready Simkin's book, and Best Birth. And last weekend I had a movie night where my sisters and I watched "The business of being born" while switching back and forth between cracking up and raging loudly at the screen. :-)
    I've been debating classes -- thanks for the suggestions! (I took two different classes with the last two pregnancies, but nothing geared towards natural.)
    It will be in the hospital, with a highly recommended midwife (one who is in a group midwife practice that doesn't even have an OB as part of the group -- they obviously have a back up one for insurance and other purposes, but he's in a completely different practice across town), and I plan on laboring at home the majority of the labor.
    As far as a doula goes -- I have a cousin who is training to be a doula who is planning to be there if at all possible (but lives out of state -- BUT spends the few weeks surrounding my due date in state visiting family during the summer). I have another aspiring doula in the family, my amazing sister in law, who is also hopefully going to be making a few week long visit to my town during the summer, that if the stars align, may just coincide with my birth. Either (or both) of these women would be great additions to my support team, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed!
    With my last two births, it was just me and my husband most of the time, and I loved that time, and I feel weird about having people besides us in there, as the previous births have felt, well, intimate . . . but I think female companionship of women I love and trust would be hugely beneficial for facing labor head on with a support system in place. I'm still trying to figure this all out. :-)

  3. Hillary, this all sounds really, really great for you! I'm excited on your behalf. Have fun training them! You should put them through drills and everything, complete with whistle around your neck. Maybe even have a tryout! ;O)

    Again, make sure to let me know how everything goes!