I’m an anomaly in the birth-professional world in that some of my favourite births to attend are those of first-time mothers.
It’s quite typical of anyone who attends births for a living to prefer what we call “multips”: women who’ve given birth at least once before. It’s commonly accepted that multips birth more quickly and easily than first-timers (“primips”), taking much less time, patience and energy to support!
It’s precisely because of this that I love first-time births so much. I (almost) feel as though anyone should be able to sit with a woman having her second or third baby, be reasonably helpful, and have things have a good chance of going smoothly. Alternatively, not everyone is meant to be attending first births.
Unlike what you see on TV, where birth starts with waters breaking, a mad rush to the hospital and a woman who briefly hates her husband before rapidly pushing out a 3 month old baby without an umbilical cord, first births are in reality typically quite slow and even boring at times. I had a client once look up at me in between early-birthing waves and say, “You sure have to do a lot of waiting in your job!”.
The work of a first birth is more about patience than anything else. I always tell my clients to mentally prep themselves for a few days, and if it happens to be shorter than that so be it. Better to expect it to be long and potentially be proven wrong than to expect a short first birth and spend 3 days wondering when the heck your baby is coming. (Don’t panic! When I say a few days, it’s not days of what you see in the movies! Long births come with lots of the “early” part of the birth process, with sensations that are on the milder side, irregular and spaced out, as well as with periods of rest and sleep and eating! It’s really not so bad!)
Even my electrician-boyfriend has caught on to what it means to have a first-time birth. When I get a phone call from a client needing me, he always asks, “Is she a primip or a multip?”. He asks because he knows if it’s someone’s first baby, he’s likely fending for himself for dinner for the next few days.
So why do I love these first births so much? Because they are so, so rewarding. My teacher, Gloria Lemay said recently, “When a woman has a smooth first birth, it sets up her entire obstetric future to unfold in a healthy way.” I suppose being part of giving a woman her best chance of having a smooth first birth is so satisfying, because I know what a difference it can make for her in the long run.
On top of that, first births are often the ones that show women they are more powerful, more strong, more more amazing than they ever imagined. Birth changes women. It teaches them they can do anything. It gives them confidence they never knew they had. Being there while women discover this for themselves for the first time is a bit addictive, I must admit!
So what can you do to set yourself up for having your first birth go as smoothly as possible?
Here’s my advice:
1) Eat well
Good nutrition is one of the most important things you can do in order to set yourself up for the best possible birth outcome. And knowing HOW to eat properly isn’t the same as actually DOING it! Cut out the sugar, make sure you are eating ample protein, good quality salt, and minerals in your diet and maximize health for your body and your baby to increase your chances of having a healthy birth.
2) Educate yourself
There are a lot of misconceptions out there about childbirth, and one of the best things you can do for yourself is get educated. Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering by Sarah Buckley is my current go-to recommended childbirth book (in fact, I lend a copy to all of my clients). Taking a good prenatal class and having one-on-one prenatal visits with a doula are also invaluable ways to get educated in preparation for your birth.
3) Find the right care provider
Get connected with a primary care provider who understands normal pregnancy and birth, so you don’t get sent down the rabbit hole of an unnecessarily complicated birth. I’m always happy to refer my doula clients and prenatal class students to the best normal-birth-savvy attendants in my city. Book with me early so I can hook you up!
4) Get a good, patience-of-a-saint doula
Your first birth can be your most important birth in some ways, because it sets you up for smooth future births. Make sure the doula you hire for your first birth has experience encouraging first time mothers and their partners through what are often long (but awesome!) births. You’ll also want you doula to have the experience to supplement your prenatal education and prepare you well for your birth during your prenatal visits with her.
5) Consider home birth
Really. Hospitals are great for a lot of things, and they are even great for some situations in childbirth, but they are lacking one critical thing when it comes to first births: time. Hospitals are busy places that thrive by being efficient, and first births are (typically) anything but that! The fact of the matter is, hospitals don’t have all the time in the world to wait for you to have your baby, and this seriously impacts the culture of maternity wards in hospitals, whether it’s intentional or not. Home births are a safe, simple, easy place for first time mothers to labour on their own time lines and in maximum comfort. Planned home births have lower rates of inductions, augmentations, epidurals, cesarean sections and infections, keeping your risk of birth complications to a minimum (find out more here).
There are no guarantees in birth and I of course can’t promise you how your first birth will go even if you do all of the above. However, you can certainly set the odds in your favour by keeping yourself healthy, getting educated, and choosing the right support for your birth.
If you live in Vancouver and are preparing to give birth for the first time, feel free to contact me about my services.