Attending a Birth
July 1, 2004 6:59 PM   Subscribe

One of my dearest friends is having a little girl later this month, and as her massage therapist, I get the honor of being present for the birth. If any other MTs, doulas, midwives or experienced moms and dads have suggestions for things to have on hand, techniqes for soothing the mom-to-be or general wisdom about the blessed event, I’d sure be grateful.
posted by Fenriss to Human Relations (15 answers total)
posted by pieoverdone at 7:24 PM on July 1, 2004

Where is the birth supposed to take place? O.R.? Birthing room? Pool? Home?

[Gin only for bystanders. A pint o' Guinness, by all accounts, for the new mum. Lots of B vitamins.]
posted by stonerose at 7:29 PM on July 1, 2004

Don't wear your good shoes. Seriously.
posted by mischief at 8:15 PM on July 1, 2004

Where is the birth supposed to take place?

Birthing center. A doctor will be present.
posted by Fenriss at 8:24 PM on July 1, 2004

As a father, the best thing I can advise you to do is to stay nearby but out of the way. The family will already be swarming around the mother, as well as the doctor, nurses, and any other caregivers. Amuse her from a distance, be there to talk to her, and be there for her if she needs you. If the labor becomes long, your professional services may be called upon -- it's hard to relax when you're in the worst pain of your life!

Don't worry about bringing Stuff. It's not your job to outfit the joint. If there's something she has already requested, by all means bring that. Perhaps volunteer to be the runfetch person for forgotten items.

She'll be fine, and your job is to be there and reassure her that's the case.
posted by majick at 8:39 PM on July 1, 2004

Hot wet towels, hot as you can make them, provide good pain relief.

Be prepared to be abused by the mother-to-be, and don't take it personally. She will have other things on her mind.

Stock up on drinks, snack food. It could be a long time between meals.

Pay an advance call and scope out the birth centre. That way you can be deputed to run errands etc.

If the mother has a birth plan, review it with her now. If she doesn't, help her make one. She will not be in a good space to advocate for herself, this is a good thing you can do for her.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:46 PM on July 1, 2004

If you're really new to this whole thing, you should be prepared for - pardon the word, but - a gory experience. Miracle of Life and all, but it is quite bloody, in a way that films, etc never show. I think part of the reason why fathers & family were traditionally left in the waiting room is the danger of their fainting in the delivery room. If you're just there to witness, you should take care not to be a problem yourself. Keep your blood sugar up, stay hydrated, sit down if you feel at all light headed, and keep your wits about you.
posted by scarabic at 9:59 PM on July 1, 2004

One word--"counterpressure".

My wife and I took an excellent birthing class at the Elizabeth Seton Center before it closed, and when the baby was due about 2/3 of the way through the course, the instructor took us aside at the end of one session and said, "Just in case you don't make it back before we get to it, you have to know how to do this." (We didn't make it back, and we--especially my wife--were enormously grateful.)

"Counterpressure" is a technique where you apply pressure to two spots low on the mother-to-be's back, _as_ she's having a labor pain. The woman sits leaning forward--we found that sitting backward in an armless chair, so she can lean her chest against the back of the chair, and her back is completely exposed, works well. Leaning against a wall, or over a low railing or table can also work, when she's having trouble in another position.

Basically, when a given wave of pain starts, you dig your thumbs or knuckles right into where the two dimples would be at the base of her back, to either side of the spine, right above the pelvis. As the pain builds, you basically dig your fingers in as hard as she can stand, and it really makes a tremendous difference in helping her withstand the pain. As a massage therapist, with "thumbs of iron", I'm sure, this is probably one of the most valuable things you could contribute, if it's something that works to help her deal with the pain. (I'm a pretty big, strong guy, and my hands were just dead from this after both deliveries.)

There's no guarantee, but it did wonders for us--my wife went through two very long labors with our two kids, and counterpressure was the only way she could stand it at some points. The theory, as it was explained to us, was that you're affecting the nexus of nerves that come out of the pelvic saddle--that the pressure somehow mitigates the pain messages those nerves are trying to relay to the brain during a labor pain..

That being said, obviously take any idea like this under advisement, and make sure it's something to mom-to-be expects, and is willing to try when the pain hits. Even if you practice ahead of time, it doesn't really do anything until she's actually in labor, so you may have to remind her of the option and volunteer to try it if it doesn't occur to her to ask. (As others have noted, be prepared for her to snarl and tell you to screw off the first time, maybe.)

Also, while I've never seen or heard of any medical reason to think this is dangerous, make sure that whoever's medically in charge during the birth is advised in advance, as well. Some folks get really leery of anything they're not familiar with, and you don't want to be having a debate with the doctor while the poor woman's in the middle of a crushing labor pain.
posted by LairBob at 10:03 PM on July 1, 2004 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah, and to second what other people have said... counterpressure is something you could do during the labor period, which might actually start at her house and last a day or more. (A lot of places, especially birthing centers, will send her home if she's not dilated enough, even if her labor's already pretty painful.) Nevertheless, that helpfulness doesn't include the birth process itself.

Especially if this is their first kid, you'd be well-advised, and polite, to fade into the background or even leave the room once the actual birth starts. It's an intensely personal and emotional time, on a whole number of different levels, and unless you're the sister she always wishes she had, you're not going to be much help at that point, nor very welcome. I'd recommend you let them be once she's pushing for real.
posted by LairBob at 10:11 PM on July 1, 2004

Once the real pushing started, my sister barred everyone from the room except for the doctor, her husband and myself. And yes, it is quite bloody.
posted by Tholian at 5:25 AM on July 2, 2004

An epidural. For you or for her.
posted by davehat at 6:04 AM on July 2, 2004

When she screams at you and tells you to get the hell away from her, don't take it personally. Women in labor turn into Wookies.
posted by bondcliff at 6:26 AM on July 2, 2004

Thanks for the suggestions, folks. I'm not terribly worried about the gore factor, since my training as an MT included cadaver study. I've got a stomach of steal. But I've never witnessed someone I love deeply being very bloody and in pain, and subsequently yelling at me a lot, so I will remember my deep breathing, and prepare to be a soldier about it.

The counterpressure suggestion is excellent. I'm going to consult with some teachers of mine about this technique. As you mentioned, it's related to what's called the "Gate Theory" of pain management, which is used a lot in manual therapies.

Incidentally, I really love AskMe. MeFites helping MeFites! Wheee!
posted by Fenriss at 7:26 AM on July 2, 2004

Best of luck to you (and especially your friends), Fenriss. If the cp does work for her, you'll really be rendering her an incredible service, and one that's perfectly suited to your skills. When it really gets down to the nitty-gritty, I'm sure your friendship with them will guide you through what to do best.
posted by LairBob at 8:15 AM on July 2, 2004

As someone who witnessed their first birth on Monday (yay! baby!) I will second or third the hot, wet compress thing - the worst pain the mom experienced was in her anus/perineum, and we had to keep the compresses there for hours - make sure the birthing center has literally hundreds of washcloths available, as we found we'd wet one in the microwaved water, place it where she needed it, and it'd be cold in a matter of seconds. We probably went thru 200 compresses (yeah, it was a loooong labor).
posted by tristeza at 9:24 AM on July 2, 2004

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