Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Language of Birth

When I say "The Language of Birth" I don't mean all those clinical terms your birth team use (usually between each other, that you may or may not understand); I'm referring to the way you are spoken to, about or on behalf of during the labour and birth of your baby.

Imagine you had been labouring for a long time. You are tired. You are feeling weak. You may even be questioning whether you can actually do it! You arrive at the hospital. The 'medical person' asks if you'd like her to check how dilated you are. You consent. She or he does the V.E. (vaginal examination) and finds out you are 3cm. In the realm of language, it can be said one of two ways:
  • "Oh, you're only 3cm. You've really only started labour. If you haven't had the baby in another X amount of hours, we'll have to think about augmentation (speeding up labour) [which means you'll need to be strapped to a monitor and your movement will be limited, and there's also a much higher need for pain relief as chemical contractions can be much more intense than 'natural' contractions]." You are being restricted in your abilities already. Is there any need for implying that you don't have a choice as to what happens next if your body doesn't birth your baby in a certain time? This language may be considered quite threatening and you might start to feel as though you can't trust this person.

  • "Wow! You're 3cm. You've done such a good job to get to this point at home. Some people consider the most difficult part of first stage labour is 0-3cm. Keep doing what you're doing and if you need more support just let me know." You are been given a lot more freedom and probably feeling much more positive about how far you've come.

The language of birth can be so vastly different, and in the same way drive vastly different outcomes. When thinking about what to say during labour to a woman there are many things to consider, such as:

  • past experience of the woman

  • choices the woman has previously made

  • how much the woman already knows

  • what the woman would like to know

  • present choices the woman is currently needing to make

All in all, the language of birth should always be positive (even if an unexpected outcome occurs). Consider that any person that supports a woman during labour and birth (including doulas, midwives, obstetricians and others) can strongly drive how a woman copes with labour, how positive her experience is, how confident she will feel going into parenthood, and specific labour and birth outcomes, such as:

  • comfort during labour

  • feeling safe during labour

  • feeling supported during labour

  • length of labour

  • outcomes for the woman

  • outcomes for the baby

How then can the language of birth not be considered as a main concept of supporting women during such a cathartic time?

Talk to your support team during pregnancy to find out what they consider important when it comes to communicating with you at the birth of your baby.


Jen Staniforth

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