So I said that I would write a short post about our experience at a free physiotherapy workshop that we were attending, ran by our NHS trust in the hospital we’ll be giving birth in. I didn’t know how useful this class would be considering I’ve not needed to see a physio or anything during my pregnancy so far but it was actually really informative and I’m so glad we attended.
The workshop covered:
- Pregnancy advice, stretches and exercises
- Positioning during the stages of labour
- Breathing and relaxation techniques
- Practical use of birthing balls and beanbags
- Pain relief options including use of TENS
- Tour of delivery wards
It was led by a lovely lady who was an obstetric physiotherapist, someone who only deals with women (during pregnancy, post natally, or those who have had gynaecological surgery etc) and the whole thing was 3 hours from start to finish but we were plenty of breaks! It was strange for it not to be ran by someone from a midwifery background but also really useful to look at things from a different point of view and for it to be all about looking after yourself first and foremost.
So first of all we talked through the changes our pelvis goes through during pregnancy and labour and how to avoid or minimise aches and pains in the final few weeks. We got some practical advice on pelvic floor exercises and some exercises to do after birth to help the ab muscles to get back in place.
We were then split into two groups, men in one and women in the other, and asked to put some basic prompt cards about the stages of labour into order. Things such as “one contraction every 20 minutes” or “one contraction every 3 minutes” and “take a bath” or “go to hospital”. The men actually did okay at this and it just helped to make sure everyone was on the same page about how long to labour at home and when you really should be going into hospital. It was also stressed to us that the longer you can stay at home the better, as you labour more comfortably and easily in the comfort of your own surroundings.
The lady then took us through the stages of labour and showed/explained what happens to the cervix and with the baby coming down the birth canal etc. We went through different positions for labour and delivery with an emphasis on staying active and upright or kneeling to let gravity help you bring the baby down and to keep the pelvis as open as possible.
After this we moved onto pain relief options starting with the lowest (using heat like a hot bath at home or a hot water bottle), then going through the use of a TENS machine to talking about gas and air, Meptid/Pethidine and finally the epidural. Again there was an emphasis on trying to keep pain relief to the minimum that you can deal with and just seeing how it goes.
We also practiced some breathing techniques and got our partners to time 30 seconds of breathing so that we could visualise breathing through a contraction. Partners were asked to remind us to breathe deeply and steadily when in labour to help cope with the pain as best as possible.
After another break we moved on to the fun part of playing with the birthing balls and beanbags. We were shown some simple Pilates style exercises to do during pregnancy on the exercise ball to help strengthen the core, then we moved onto how we could use the balls during labour to lean against on the bed, either standing up and leaning over the ball on the bed or sitting on the ball and leaning onto a beanbag or pillows etc. My favourite one was kneeling on the bed facing the backrest and leaning into a beanbag. The beanbags were super comfy to lean on because you could make a nice hole for your bump and almost be lying on your stomach which takes a lot of pressure off your back.
Finally after all that we got to take a tour of the delivery wards. I was really surprised by how quiet they were, when we got to the low dependency ward (midwife led unit) there was actually no one in labour at all so we got to see a room with an inflatable birthing pool and another room without one. Interestingly there was a sign up in the corridor saying that in the month of May, 67 babies had been born on that ward/suite and 5 of those were water births. I was shocked by the low numbers but then I realised that probably a lot of people start off in the MLU but then get transferred to central delivery due to either wanting an epidural or having complications etc.
It was explained that the reason water birth numbers are so low is because you really have to have a perfect, straightforward labour for the midwives to be happy with the baby being born in the pool. That’s because they can only do minimal monitoring in water with a quick Doppler check every now and then so they have to be absolutely certain the baby is happy and healthy.
The high dependency ward (central delivery unit) wasn’t really that different in terms of the delivery rooms apart from being a little bit more medical with more monitors and also a baby resuscitation cot type thing in each room. It was useful to see what you could expect either way and to put my mind at rest that even the central delivery unit wasn’t overly clinical and if I was to end up giving birth there I had at least already seen it so would know what to expect.
I would 100% recommend attending a workshop like this if your hospital offers one, or even just a tour of the delivery unit(s). We had to sign up super early on, the details and a form were actually sent in with my 12 week scan appointment letter so when you think about how early on that is when you’re probably not even considering what antenatal classes you want to take or even thinking about labour! I guess these things get booked up so soon and they only do them once or twice a month so the availablity is low. Either way I hope this post might have helped someone out in deciding what classes/workshops might be useful!