Practical Packing for L&D

Packing

This post is for all the Mommas who’ve asked me over the years, “What should I pack for the hospital?” But it’s especially for two particular Mommas who asked me over the weekend. One posed this question during an express class and I didn’t have time to get into my list, so I directed her to the one that was in her book. The other asked me on the tour if I had the info I was sharing with the group in written form. I promised that if she checked out my blog this week, I’d have it in writing for her. And I don’t go back on my promises.

So here, without further ado, is the world’s most practical packing list of things to consider packing for labor, delivery and postpartum. This is not comprehensive, these are just things that I know will get used and -bonus! – you probably already have them all.

Grab two separate bags – one will be for labor and delivery and one will be for postpartum and can stay in the trunk of your car until after the baby is born.

Pack your postpartum bag first – this one’s easy. It’s whatever you and your partner would normally pack if you were to go away together for a long weekend. All the toiletries you’ll need and comfy clothes that you’d like to wear while getting to know your newborn. The hospital usually provides nursing gowns, “special” undies, and the monster pads that you’ll be wearing for the first couple of days, so unless you have personal issues with wearing these, I’d just let the hospital worry about it.

But for going home, Mommas will want to pack something they wore when they were about six months pregnant – something that is loose and comfortable. You’ll lose a lot of weight according to the scale after you give birth, it just won’t look like you have. Remember: It took nine months to put the belly on, please be gentle and give yourself nine months to a year to take that belly off.

The only thing you should need to pack for your baby is an outfit for them to go home in. And, then… a back-up outfit. They almost always decide to do a huge poop as you’re trying to leave the hospital and you’ll have to change everything and put them into something new.

As for the “Labor and Delivery Comfort Bag,” don’t think you have to bring different lotions and massage tools. You shouldn’t have to go out and buy a bunch of stuff – it’s completely unnecessary. What you’ll end up using you probably already have. While I think it’s fine for the Momma to gather all the items for this bag, it’s better if partner packs it so they know what’s coming to the hospital and where it is in the bag. Once you’re admitted to a room on the L&D floor, partner needs to make sure to unpack the bag, or you won’t remember to use anything you’ve brought with you.

Things to consider:

A way to hold your hair off your face. Even if you only have bangs, you might want them out of your face and eyes.

What do you want to wear in labor? The advantage to using the sexy hospital gowns (with the open-air option in the back – ooh, la, la!) is that there are a million of them and if one gets dirty you can always put on a new, clean one. Birth is messy business. But if putting on a hospital gown will make you feel like a sick person, then wear something from home instead. Just make it something you won’t mind getting rid of after birth – because it will probably end up in the trash can.

Laboring Mommas get overheated during the pushing stage and their heart rate can mimic that of their baby in utero climbing somewhere between 130-160 beats per minute. It’s not unusual for women to take off their gowns because they’re so hot. If you’d like a little more coverage, a sports bra (that you don’t care about) under whatever it is you’re wearing would be a great idea. The quickest way to get your baby on your chest, skin-to-skin, after birth would be to cut the bra off, because trying to wrestle out of a hot, sweaty sports bra is like giving birth – and we’re only doing that once, if we can help it.

Moving onto partners: pack some good quick snacks you can grab to eat that will sustain you and help you help her throughout the birth. You can’t tell a Momma in active labor, “I’ll be right back! I’m just going to jet down to the cafeteria to grab something to eat. I’ll be back in about a half hour.” Not unless you want to hear about this for the rest of your life.

Pack a swimsuit for yourself. Every laboring Momma should be planning on using hydrotherapy (a fancy word for the shower or tub) to help her cope with contractions. Depending on the size of the tub, you might be able to get in with her. But you’ll definitely both be able to fit in the shower together and your nurses will continue to check on Momma’s progress. They’re super comfortable with naked pregnant people, but wildly uncomfortable with naked non-pregnant people! Cover up.

You’ll want to bring toiletry supplies, including glasses, contacts, a toothbrush and toothpaste for you both: Mommas will sometimes throw up late in labor and nobody likes barf breath. If you, dear partner, have eaten nacho cheese Doritos in the past six-eight weeks, she’ll be able to smell it on your breath. Don’t let that be the reason she’s throwing up!

Throw a hoodie into this bag, because her temperature might be all over the place during labor and you’ll appreciate being able to put on and take off an extra layer.

Mommas might feel overheated, but still have cold feet. Warm socks or slippers would be a good idea. The floors in hospitals are cleaned several times a day and are a lot cleaner than your floors at home, but they are hospital floors. Wear some sort of foot covering.

Pillows from home will be appreciated both during and after birth. Hospital pillows suck – they’re good for propping you up in the tub, but not much else. Your pillows will smell like home, which can be extra soothing, and will help get you better situated for breastfeeding on the other side. Make sure they’re coming in bright pillowcases so the hospital doesn’t mistake them as part of their stash.

Lip goop is a necessity! It seems inconsequential, but can become a huge irritant during birth if she’s using breathing as the great coping technique that it is, and her lips become dry and chapped.

Last, but absolutely not least, remember to make your “Birth Mix.” Yep, I’m talking about taking the time to come up with the playlist of music that you love and would want to listen to as you’re giving birth to your baby – the emphasis here is: music that you love. If you love Enya, or whale mating calls, or songs from the rainforest, then by all means make that mix. But if that’s not for you, remember there’s nothing that says you can’t rock out to whatever music you really enjoy. Quiet and mellow music has it’s place in labor – but so does AC/DC. You’ll want to have a mix of music to chill to and music to move to so that when it’s required, you can change the energy in the room.

And some sing-along music is a great idea, too. If you open your mouth in between contractions to sing the chorus of your favorite song, it’s really hard to stay tensed up. If your jaw is open, your cervix is opening. If your jaw is clenched tight, so’s your cervix. It’s called the “Sphincter Law.” I didn’t come up with this, renowned midwife Ina May Gaskin did. And here’s what she has to say: “The state of relaxation of the mouth and jaw is directly correlated to the ability of the cervix, the vagina, and the anus to open to full capacity. A relaxed and open mouth favors a more open vagina and cervix.” Something to think about, for sure.

As for any other items you want to bring with you – go for it. This is just a list of what I consider the absolute basics and extremely practical things to consider when packing your “Go Bag.” As a Momma of four, I’m nothing if not practical.

Happy packing!

Are there things that I’ve missed? What other (practical) items would you consider essential to the labor and delivery bag? I’d love to hear what you think should be added.

“I’m getting so fat!”

I'm Getting So Fat!

I had two class series that began this past week. Night one, we discussed anatomy and terms using a set of slides that show the changes that occur in a woman’s body from before she was pregnant to just about to pop – 37-39 weeks along. My goal is to have these Mommas walk out of the classroom that evening with a deeper appreciation and respect for their bodies and all the changes that have happened. I want them to be impressed with themselves. And, I’ll admit that I want their partners to be a little bit in awe of them.

The uterus starts out as a pelvic organ, but it’s clear to see by the end of pregnancy that while it might still originate in the pelvis, it has greatly expanded and is now shoving out of the way and applying pressure on all the other organs housed within the abdomen. Depending on how much space a woman has in her torso, the space that exists between the bottom of her ribcage and the top of her hips, greatly determines how she’ll carry her baby: tucked up and inside, or way out in front. Both situations have their drawbacks, believe it or not, as I talked about in an earlier post that you can read here.

I know that I’m fighting a bit of an uphill battle in trying to get women to feel more positive about the physical changes that are happening during pregnancy – but I’m determined to try. I’m someone who had issues with my own body image as a young woman, and sadly I’m not alone. But it was pregnancy and birth that transformed the relationship I now have with my body. 

I was a “tom-boy” as a child and I grew up thinking that at least some of the power men seemed to possess was, in due part, because of their masculinity. Until I got pregnant, that is. Then I remember thinking almost every day during pregnancy – “I’m so freaking powerful! I’m creating a brand new human being – inside of my body! And after my body opens up to birth this baby, my body will make all the food my baby needs. I am incredible. My body is amazing!”

In my youth, I wasted so much time wondering if I was carrying too much weight, or how my body looked as I tried to wear whatever fashions were the most popular, even if they weren’t the most flattering for my particular body type. I still work out and take care of my body today but my focus has completely changed. It’s not so I can be a certain size or see the “right” numbers reflected back to me from my bathroom scale. I work out so that I’ll be healthy and strong enough to keep up with my four children now, and hopefully, I’ll still be around to enjoy my grandchildren someday. This marks a huge transformation for me.

I want that same transformation to happen for the Mommas in my classes. But the issue is that too many women view their bodies negatively during pregnancy. They catch themselves in the bathroom mirror or their reflection from a store window and think to themselves, “I’m getting so fat!” Now is the time to stop berating your body and instead give it some well-deserved love and respect. Now is the time to go out in a bikini and strut your stuff – without concern of your tummy sticking out. There’s no way you could suck it in if you tried, so why not show it off instead? What I’m trying to do is switch out the negative tape that’s been playing in their heads with a positive one instead because I think all of this follows us into our births.

It’s hard to feel strong in our birthing bodies if we feel shame in our pregnant bodies.

I know this message resonates with my students because I can see partners nudging the pregnant Mommas and whispering things like, “See? What did I tell you?” Sometimes I’ll even notice a Momma whose eyes are full of tears – it just happened again this past week – and I know that I’ve obviously struck a nerve.

I’m not trying to make anyone cry, but I am trying to get them to switch out those tapes. I can’t think of anything else that we get to experience that has the possibility of such incredible transformation. Pregnancy and birth allow for both personal and relationship transformations that can forever change how you view yourself as a woman, as a mother or father, and as a couple.

And this transformation begins in how we view our bodies while still pregnant. You are not getting fat – your body is changing to create space within you for that transformation to start even before your baby is born.

How has pregnancy changed the way you feel about your body? Has this been a positive or negative change for you?

Just Dance

Dance

Childbirth Educators usually encourage their families to consider dancing their babies out. Why?

Well, it’s an upright position which helps gravity do it’s job of bringing the baby down before it comes out (essential to the process, really). Dancing allows her pelvis to be nice and loose, and every move of her hips provides a tiny bit more room for her baby to make all the twists and turns that are necessary to be born. It also allows the woman and her partner to be in a position that really promotes intimacy and connection. This, in and of itself, can increase contractions and progress the labor due to increased oxytocin production. And lastly, dancing is a really easy position which can be cranked up or down depending on the circumstance. Is she trying to get her labor to pick up speed, or does she just want a slow swaying rhythm to help keep her in a coping mindset as labor intensifies?

I usually introduce this position in class as the “Middle School Slow Dance.” You know what I’m talking about, Momma places her arms around partner’s neck and their hands rest on her hips. Because I went to a Catholic school as a child, we were told by the nuns to not get too close – we had to “leave room for Jesus!” I’m pretty sure that when you were making this baby your bodies were not three feet apart, so leave Jesus out if it for now and move in really close.

There’s always a moment of awkwardness in class when we start practicing positions – especially this one. I get it – there’s usually a bunch of other people in the room and it seems silly. But if you practice positions before labor ever begins you’re much more likely to actually use those positions while having your baby.

Once families are in position, it cracks me up that I always have to remind them that the position is called “Slow Dancing” for a reason – dance, people! That movement of hips swaying from side to side, even if only a little bit, can have a real impact by providing a calming rhythm and some movement to help the baby maneuver through the pelvic structure and down the birth canal.

We can make this position even more comfortable for Mommas if we encourage them to lean directly onto their partner’s chest and drop their arms to their sides. Making this position more comfy for the partners might mean having them lean up against a wall, or sitting them on the edge of the labor and delivery bed – positioned just at the right height – so they can feel supported as they support her.

In my classes, this is about the level of dancing I can get my couples to practice ahead of time and in front of a small crowd of people. But, I’d love for them to think about dancing for real when they’re actually in labor.

I did some dancing this weekend – it was kind of spontaneous, and it might have involved a few beers and maybe some Karaoke – but it made me feel so good. My calf and neck muscles ached a little bit the next morning, and at first I couldn’t understand why. But then, I thought back to the jumping up and down and a little bit of head-banging that went on the night before and a big smile came to me. My whole body was remembering how happy I’d felt in those moments the night before, and then – bonus! – I got to experience the residual happiness I had in the memory of it all.

I think dancing in whatever way feels good to you – to try and induce labor, to distract yourself during early labor, or to encourage rhythm and ritual in coping with contractions as they intensify in active labor – should be taught and encouraged in all of our classes. I’m even considering another certification to teach families how to dance their babies out. I found this organization called, Dancing for Birth, while I was looking for YouTube video examples of how women have used dancing to either start their labors or get their babies out.

What do you think about adding dancing into your prenatal fitness routine, your labor and delivery toolbox, and even as part of your postpartum recovery? It feels like forever since I had my last baby – only 6 1/2 years, really! But I think if I were to have another (it’s never going to happen – I’m all done!) I’d consider using much more dancing throughout the process to help bring my baby into the world. Dancing your baby out might make the whole process much more fun and enjoyable – something to look forward to with excitement. And you know I’m all about that!

Did you dance your baby out? Does this sound impossible? Or does the thought of using dance to move through your labor sound wonderful? Let me know your thoughts about attending classes that specifically teach you how to dance for birth.

Bridge-Building Activism – Is That a Thing?

Arch

Sometimes I wonder where my place is in the world of birth. There are so many people who have come before and paved the way for where we are today. Some would argue we have so much farther to go, and they’re right.

There are a lot of people who work in my field who are activists – writing and speaking and fighting for change. I am grateful for them, their words and their actions. But sometimes I struggle with not having that particular fire in my belly. When I started seriously working on my book, one of my lovely mentors, Heidi, asked me straight up if I considered myself an activist – and I could almost feel myself physically recoil from that word. An activist? Me?! No, no no…

While it’s true that I don’t shy away from conflict (as my Mom told me once – what does t mean?), what I really love is conflict resolution. That moment when two people sitting across from one another with an ocean of division between them inch ever slowly toward one another, noticing just how similar “the other” actually is to themselves. When these two can cross that chasm because of a bridge that I have helped to build, that’s a straight shot to my dopamine reward center.

When Heidi suggested that I was an activist, the word didn’t seem to jibe with the picture I had of myself. Until, she suggested that I was an activist for my families. Not the whole world of birth, but the people that I work with directly within that world of birth. Yes! This, I could agree to wholeheartedly.

I am an activist for my families.

But my way of activism is to encourage dialogue, to create bridges, to seek out similarities, and downplay differences – to create community so that we can all work toward the same goal: birth that is family-centered and recognizes the powerful transformation that is possible when this is held at the core of the birth experience.

It makes me think of the moment of birth that I’ve been lucky to witness before, in my own births, in births that I’ve been fortunate enough to attend, and in the retelling of  transformative birth stories – when everyone in the room was acutely aware something extraordinary had just happened. 

Because it does happen in every single birth – but how often is this recognized?

It’s challenging for that awareness to occur if bridges of understanding and trust haven’t been built. Bridges between the couple, and then with other birth support members, their L&D nurses and their provider must be in place for that moment to happen. I’d like to think that the work I do in my classes and through my writing is not to actually build those bridges, but maybe to act more like the arch of those bridges. I’d like to think that I’m providing my families with the support that they need in order to build their own bridges. So that when that moment of transformation happens they can experience it fully. And anyone else lucky enough to act as witness can be transformed, too.

If this makes me an activist, then I guess that’s what I am. In my own way.

Do you consider yourself an activist for birth? In what way? Can bridge-building and activism go together? I’d love to hear your thoughts, please leave me a comment.