As doulas, we know that one of the best things we can do to support you in labour is to create a birthing space that feels safe and private for you. Why does it matter? Because our physiology (the way our bodies work) is designed to work best in labour when we feel safe and private.
When physiological labour is supported, your labour may be less painful, happen more quickly, and result in fewer complications for you and your baby
(Want to learn more about physiological labour? Check out Dr. Sarah Buckley's work.)
WHAT IS A LABOUR CAVE ANYWAY?
When we say “labour cave” we simply mean whatever space you are birthing in. While birthing spaces are no longer literal caves in our modern world, we use the word cave because we want to invoke the image of a dark, cozy, safe, and protected space. Just what your inner mammal ordered.
Often when we picture birth, especially hospital birth (which is by far the most common way of birthing in our modern culture), we may picture a bright, big, sterile room, full of medical personnel, our feet in stirrups, vulva fully exposed, everybody waiting for us to push a baby out. Kind of the exact opposite of what our inner mammal is looking for in a birthing space.
SO WHAT TO DO?
With a few small tweaks, the bathroom in your labour and delivery room can become your perfect hospital labour cave, allowing you to access all your innate, mammal-y, birth-y goodness:
- We set up our LED candles. This keeps the lighting dim to help your inner mammal feel safe and welcome.
- We run the hot water (whether you plan to use the shower or not) to make the bathroom steamy and warm. Many women find clothing uncomfortable, distracting, or “too much” during labour, especially strong, active labour. A warm room means you’ll be comfortable even if you decide to get all the way naked.
- We’ll keep the door closed for an increased sense of privacy and, if you’re really wanting to get the good stuff flowing, we’ll pop outside so that you and your partner can have some time alone. While physical intimacy can be a way to help labour along, it may not be your cup of tea. No problem! Just being together alone creates a sense of emotional intimacy which will get your oxytocin (hormone that causes contractions) flowing.
YOU'RE RIGHT - THIS IS COZY! NOW WHAT?
Here are a few ways we’ve seen clients take best advantage of their bathroom labour cave:
- Using the shower or tub (if available). Many, many women find the use of water during labour to be soothing, comforting, and a fantastic way to reduce pain and help you cope with your contractions.
- Leaning forward on the bathroom counter. If you’re feeling a lot of pressure through your pelvis, sitting on anything during contractions can be fantastically uncomfortable. Standing can relieve the pressure, while forward leaning can allow baby plenty of room to move into the best position they can for birth.
- Sitting on the toilet, backwards or forwards. Sitting on the toilet helps open your pelvis and allow baby as much room as possible to move down. Added bonus – when you first start to push, sitting on the toilet can be a shortcut to figuring out how to do it effectively. Your body already knows how to push on the toilet and you can make use of that muscle memory during labour.
SOUNDS GREAT, BUT I HAVE AN EPIDURAL...
No worries! You can still make use of your labour cave:
- While you won’t know until your epidural is placed, some women find they still have enough sensation or movement in their legs to be able to shuffle walk (with support!) to the bathroom. Once your epidural is placed, you can discuss giving this a go with your nurse. If all is well, your nurse will slowly help you sit, then stand, then test your balance – if you are able to do all of these things safely, she will support you (along with your partner and/or doula) in moving to the bathroom. You won’t be able to use the shower or tub due to the epidural, but you can sit on the toilet. And while not everyone has enough sensation through their pelvic floor to manage it, you may even be able to pee, thus avoiding a catheter.
- If your care providers have recommended you stay in bed, you can still make use of the idea of a labour cave – we’ll just have to bring it to you instead! We’ll move the candles into your room, turn off the overhead lights, grab an extra blanket or two from the warmer, make sure the main door is kept closed, and offer a hand massage to help you relax and rest. And while you’ll be staying in bed, we can still help you change positions from side to side to help baby descend and labour to progress. Remember – the main goal of the labour cave idea is to cultivate a sense of safety and privacy.
Now, when we tell you during a prenatal meeting that bathrooms make great labour caves, you’ll know exactly what we’re talking about!
How did you make your birthing space work for you? Did you labour in a bathroom? What worked well for you? What would you do differently next time?
Rachel is a DONA International Certified Birth Doula, Birthing From Within mentor, and mother of three. She is passionate about helping women and their partners discover their own inner strength and wisdom so that they can begin their parenting journey with confidence. With a focus on supporting her clients as they determine what their own priorities and preferences are for their birth while giving them the tools they need to realize those priorities, she feels fortunate to witness her clients come into their own and become their own best advocates.