Environment: Preparing Your Birth Space

Your Birth Environment

The environment where you birth and meet your baby is very important. You are a mammal. Mammals love to be in a safe place away from predators so that they can focus on their birth and bringing their babies into the world. We know that the chances of a hawk swooping out of the ceiling are pretty slim. But our brains and hormones are preconditioned to have a flight or fight response as we birth our children.  The truth is that the only environment that feels like home to us is literally our home. And while home birth is the choice for many women, birth centers and hospitals are the more common choice. And there’s nothing wrong with any of these options.

With three options in mind, the hospital is the one where it is hardest to feel comfortable and safe. And while hospitals are safe for medical reasons, they are the places that least feel like home due to the lighting, the smells, and the other common associations with hospitals.

I’m going to talk about some of the easiest things you can do to make your birth environment feel more like home.

Lights Down Low

Lighting is everything. When you wind down from a long day and prepare to sleep at home, you dim or turn out all of the lights. Being in a dark room makes us feel sort of cocooned. At home, you can light candles for some ambiance. In a birth center or hospital setting, your midwife really does want to see when it is time for your baby to be born, but you can close the blinds, dim the lights, or use battery powered candles. Bright overhead lights are harsh. And it’s hard for women to feel like they can relax or nod off to sleep during contractions if it’s always looking like noon in their room. For longer labors, it will also be hard to keep with a circadian rhythm if it is bright all of the time, even at night.


Necessary People Only, Thanks

If you’ve had a baby before, you know that the second you put out the bat call that labor has begun, everyone starts to come out of the woodwork. And they want to be there with you, in your room.

Fortunately, most hospitals have a limit of people allowed in the room. But the people that want to be with you will circulate through your room constantly. Your family. Your friends. People you met once at Wal-Mart.  Okay, so that last one was a stretch. Babies are exciting. Unfortunately, it gives you the feeling of constantly being watched, pressure to perform, and a constant rotation of change.

The more constant the room and the people and the environment are, the easier it is to find a labor vibe. The people in your room should be important. You should love them. They make you feel safe. You feel like you need them, or will need them. You can’t imagine having a baby without them. Anyone else can go eat Taco Bell in the waiting room. And it’s okay for you to tell them that.

Quiet, Please

The mother always knows when she’s in the middle of a contraction. But it’s often hard for other people to tell. People naturally imagine that contractions are a loud event. But most women are quiet during a contraction up until transition.

Sometimes, when a woman is working her way through a contraction, she has gone to a quiet internal place. She is coping and working. And she is doing it well.

But when someone starts talking to her during a contraction, it takes away all of her positive focus. It makes it harder for her to process the sensations, and possible pain, of her contractions. The goal of anyone in the labor room during a contraction is to to either be silent, or to focus all of their attention or helping her through the contraction. The pause between contractions is when you make her laugh as much as you possibly can. If you’re not sure whether what you’re doing or saying is helping her, ask her in between contractions, not during.

Get Your Garlic Breath Away From Me

Women are super sensitive to smell during pregnancy, labor, and postpartum. It’s like a super power. Scents that didn’t annoy them before now make their skin crawl. They will literally fight you. Some of the strongest smells are coffee, garlic, and things that smell gross. Fart near a pregnant woman and she might kick you out. Not to mention, due to hygiene protocol in the hospitals, they always smell weird clean. You know what I’m saying? They look and smell kind of sterile. And our homes or mama caves are not exactly that level of sterile. You can bring it scents that she likes if you ensure no one in the room (including the nurses and doctors) are allergic to it.

But you know how she once told you she wanted a grilled chicken sandwich from Chick-Fil-A, but then cried when you gave it to her because it wasn’t chicken nuggets? Smells are like that, too. She may love lavender one second, and hate it the next. A lot of families use essential oils. If your family uses them, and you know you enjoy them and aren’t sensitive to them, you can put them on cotton rounds in a zip-loc bag. She can smell the smell when she wants to. And throw it out of the room with violence if she suddenly hates it.

Ditch The Hospital Gown

Many hospitals will allow you to ditch the hospital gown in favor of your own clothes or your own gown so long as they can access everything that they need to. It would be pretty hard to help deliver your baby if you were wearing pants. The hospital gown just feels strange. You may feel more comfortable in a gown designed for labor. They’re neat, and usually also unfasten at the top for breastfeeding (if you’re going to do that).

Bring The Beat

If you’ve ever turned on the television with music channels in the hospital, you know they’re playing rain forest sounds. Which is delightful, if that’s your jam. But if your jam is Eminem or Willy Nelson, bring that. Many of my clients utilize hypnobabies or hypnobirthing and bring their own tracks with them. Chances are really good that whatever you listen to when you wash your dishes is really going to help you through labor. The act of listening to a consistent pleasant noise that is external helps the mother not focus so much on the sensations that are going on inside of her body. Win.

Bring Comforts From Home

I already talked about how hospitals look and smell, but now we get to talk about the way they feel. The linens are thin, and not comfortable. And it is cold in there. Because germs like heat. So let’s freeze them. But people like warmth. It’s okay to bring a fuzzy blanket from home, and comfortable pillows. My best advice for bringing pillows from home is to put a colored pillow case on them so you can tell them apart from the ones in the hospital. Because even with your own pillows, you were also use the hospital pillows. Pillows are life. When you spend 24+ hours in a hospital, it does feel weird to be wearing shoes all the time. You can bring your own (non-slip) socks from home, or your house shoes/slippers.


Focal Points

It’s nice to have small objects from home. Some women like to bring a baby outfit and lay it out in the open. They visualize birthing the baby and putting the baby in the outfit. It helps make the baby more real for both of the parents. Or people bring a picture of a deceased relative or person who can’t be with them. Or a religious symbol that helps them feel safe, loved, and protected. A focal point can literally be anything.


Read more about the A-Z’s of Comfort Measures For Labor At the Houston Central Doulas Blog


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  1. […] I discussed in the blog Environment: Preparing Your Birth Space,  lighting is a strong environmental factor. Amazingly, the brightness of the room you birth your […]

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