At PregnaPouch we are really keen to support women to have the type of birth that they want and that suits them and their baby. For low risk women, a homebirth can be a fantastic option and so we are thrilled that Ciaran, our technical director, has been able to share the story of his wife’s homebirth in this blog. The story of the birth is first from his wife’s perspective and then Ciaran’s. It covers the experience as well as practical tips for parents considering this option.
Ciaran’s wife’s story:
When the midwife asked if we would consider a homebirth for our first child, neither my husband nor I were keen initially. We didn’t know what to expect, and the transfer to hospital rate (~47%) did not fill either of us with confidence (especially when we were told that it would be in the midwife’s vehicle). However, when I considered it further, I actually was very keen, after all I had had a straightforward waterbirth for our first baby, our little girl, in a midwife-led unit. My husband took a little more convincing, wanting to make sure the baby and I were ok, but once he had done his research, he was confident it could work for us.
I then met an amazing lady, Kate, at a local pregnancy club who spurred me on to have a home waterbirth as she had had two and was a real advocate for them. I quizzed her on how it worked: the midwives, the mess, and what happened with her toddler!
Once we had decided to sign up for a home waterbirth, we started planning. Our midwives lend birth pools for home; however, Kate kindly gave me her birth pool. I just needed to buy the hygiene liner, pump and hose to complete the kit. We also needed a couple of tarpaulins to cover the floor, some old towels and bin bags.
I packed my hospital bag in the same way I would have if we were heading to the midwife unit for two reasons. One, I wanted everything in one place so my husband and midwives would not have to scrabble around trying to find everything while I was in labour; and, two, if we did need to head to hospital we could grab the bag and go.
You need to be 37+ weeks to have a homebirth. Any earlier and you have to go into hospital. As time continued, we got to 40 weeks and I was getting a little concerned I would need to be induced. The midwives in my area offer 3 stretch and sweeps every 2 days, from 38 weeks, which they say has reduced the need for induction by 70%. I opted to start the sweeps at just over 40 weeks, mainly as I wanted to see if the midwife could give me an idea of whether I was in any way close to going into labour naturally. The first 2 sweeps didn’t change anything, so I continued with walking as much as possible, bouncing on the ball and running around after my toddler.
At 41 weeks, I felt the baby was a lot lower, and I struggled with chasing after my daughter. I had the last sweep in the morning at 41+1. The midwife said my waters were bulging, and it looked promising, but she could not say whether I would go into labour before the scheduled induction at 41+6. She suggested doing things to release oxytocin. We went to the zoo for the day, had a lovely dinner and then watched the Greatest Showman before bed.
I started to feel some twinges about 11pm, by 2am these were stronger and I began to time my contractions with an app. They were every 3-5 minutes lasting about 30 seconds so I called the birthing suite for some advice. They said they would get the midwives to come and check on me.
At 3.30, I woke my husband. There is probably no quicker way to get your husband out of bed than to tell him you are in labour! Our NCT teacher for our first baby gave some great advice for dads. She said to let them sleep for as long as possible while you are in early labour so that they can fully support you in the latent stage. I really think this advice is key, as it worked for both our first and second. There is no point both of you not getting any sleep as you will need all the support possible when in the final stages of labour and when the baby is here.
My husband set to work inflating the pool and filling it while I paced the house like a caged animal. He attached my TENS machine to my back; this really helped me with the pain and I would recommend one. The midwives arrived at 4am. As they were the community midwives, I had met one of them a couple of times previously, which helped to make me feel at ease. On checking me, they said I was about 3cm dilated. I was not impressed at this point as the contractions were coming thick and fast and I hoped I was further along. The pool was filled and at the correct temperature by 4.30 and I was allowed to get in. I got my husband to take the TENS pads off my back, whilst inadvertently zapping him multiple times, and got into the pool. The relief I felt was immense. The water supports your body, and it meant I was able to cope with the contractions.
Usually, our daughter would wake from 5am. She chose to wake at 6.15 that day which was great. Seeing her mummy floating in a pool in the lounge was an odd sight to wake up to, but she didn’t question it. There was a moment when she wanted to see me and I had to smile through the start of a contraction and get my husband to take her out of the room quickly. I decided seeing her mummy in pain was not something I wanted her to go through in case she then blamed the baby.
We have amazing neighbours, who were on standby to look after her when I went into labour. They came to collect her at 7am. It was getting a little close, and I was concerned my husband would miss the birth, but she was collected just in time.
Our little boy was born, in the pool, in our lounge at 7.36. It was a really calm birth. The midwives were absolutely amazing. They didn’t leave my side, but didn’t interfere either. They let me labour and read the cues from my body. I got out of the pool to deliver the placenta, mainly as I was worried about our baby boy getting cold lying half in and half out of the pool. This is where the tarp and towels come into their own – they made it easier getting out of the pool and moving to the sofa! After an hour, when the placenta had not budged, the midwives gave me an injection to speed it up. Once it was delivered, they then checked for tears. I had needed stitches for my first, but this time I only had a small first-degree tear which did not require stitches. I truly believe this was because I was so relaxed at home, with the full support of my husband and amazing midwives.
Lying on your own sofa drinking tea and eating toast with your newborn is a little surreal. Having that post labour shower in your own shower, then snuggling up with your newborn in your own bed is glorious.
Our daughter came home to meet her new baby brother at 11.30am. Luckily, he bought her a present, so was instantly a hit!
If you are able, I would thoroughly recommend a homebirth, labouring in the comfort of your own home makes the whole experience much calmer. No need to get in the car and head to hospital, and if you have older children, it is much easier as they can stay asleep if you labour through the night and then go to family or friends.
Ciaran’s experience and tips (helpful for all birth partners):
Our local midwives told us that homebirths for a second child, after a previous uncomplicated vaginal delivery, have a transfer rate to hospital of 10%. Furthermore, the midwifery team assured us the transfer would be by ambulance. This dad found those statistics and practice a much more comfortable risk than what we were told for our first baby.
A homebirth means no drive to the hospital delivery suite. It is still worth knowing several ways to get to the hospital and having absorbent seat covers, topped up fuel tank, change for parking, etc – just in case. If you can, set your dashboard to show live fuel efficiency. It’s a good proxy for smooth driving – practice maximising it. Smooth driving means lower stress for the lady in labour. Smooth means oxytocin; oxytocin means delivery progression!
The primary plan for us was the home waterbirth. My job was to focus on my wife having as calm a labour as possible. It was helpful for me to figure out what it was that I needed to do to keep ME calm! I would recommend this to other birth partners – we are all different. For me, it was checklists and metrics (like the fuel efficiency thing above). You want to be exuding well-practised competence to inspire confidence (and thus calm) in all around you. This includes the midwives. If they are getting irritated because you are putting on a Mr Bean impression, your partner will pick up on this! Another thing that helped me stay calm was practicing with the birthing pool which I would really recommend if you partner would like to use a one during their homebirth. Here are my tips on this:
You need to know how the pool inflates. Do a dry run. Make sure it fits where you want it to go. Can you get around it? Our midwives brought about three suitcases volume of stuff with them – where will you put that? Make sure you can get electricity to the electrical inflation pump. If you need an extension lead, keep that lead with the pump until after the birth. Make sure the hose can reach from a hot and cold tap to the intended location of the pool. Make sure the hose fits on to your tap – get adapters as needed. Make sure the hose will reach from in the pool to wherever you will drain it. Know how to override your boiler’s normal settings to keep the hot water flowing if necessary – you will be doing the equivalent of filling several big baths. Know how the liner goes on. Know how the liner comes off. Know where the sieve is. Know where the thermometer is. Know where the waste bags are. Have at least one pair of rubber, latex or nitrile gloves (but you are likely to need more)! Know where the tarpaulin is. Know how to use the draining pump and how it attaches to the hose. It is just as important to know how to deconstruct the pool as you will be taking it down after the child arrives – time spent faffing with the pool is time away from your newborn and partner.
When labour starts you will be so glad that you have had this practice run as you should be able to prepare the pool on autopilot the second time. This means it will be easier to support your partner and manage any existing children you have more easily. On that note, if you do have children already, it is also worth considering how to distract them away from their mum when she goes into labour, whilst you wait for friends/neighbours or family to arrive to look after them. This will help you, your partner and your children feel more relaxed. All this preparation will enable your partner to feel that all is in hand.
Another thing to think about: if something goes wrong while your partner is in the pool, the midwifery team’s sole objective is human welfare. If needed they will forcibly collapse the side of the pool to get your partner out. If you have anything precious which may be damaged by water make sure it is elsewhere for the duration.
Getting the pool ready to fill took about 15 minutes for us. There were five separate compartments to inflate. Your partner will be going through at least a couple of contractions whilst you are doing this. You should have time to be there for her particularly if you have practiced before; the pump should disengage rather than overinflating the pool.
The pool takes a lot of water – more than you would think! Ours took pretty much an hour to fill to the minimum line. That was a very, very, very long hour. Expect it. Be calm about it. You probably even have time to make the midwives a cup of tea.
As the water hits the minimum line you want the thermometer to be reading 37°C. If the temperature is too high or too low the midwifery team will not let your partner get in. The best thing to do is aim for that temperature from the start – the more water is in the pool, the harder it is to change the temperature. Once at the minimum line keep a trickle of water running in to maintain the temperature – your partner could be in there for quite some time. Do not forget to be there for your partner while the pool is filling. And, if your wife asks you to remove TENS machine pads, make sure it is turned off first! Now your partner is in the pool, you simply need to be there for them, help keep them calm, and await the joy that is a brand-new baby.
Once your partner is out of the pool, switch the hose onto the draining pump and outflow drain. It is helpful to know that this may all happen in a bit of a rush and you may not get much time to prepare for it. The water will be some shade of pink. There will likely be poo! There could be bits of placenta and clots of blood. Now you know what the sieve is for! Have a plan for this. You may wish to wear the gloves mentioned above. I used a portable potty liner.
Our pool drained faster than it filled, and deflated quite rapidly too. Make sure that anything that touched bodily fluids (including the pump and hose) gets treated as clinical waste. Whatever happens, don’t get so caught up in the mechanics that you miss the first few minutes with your new baby.
I want to thank Ciaran and his wife for their story and tips for a safe and comfortable homebirth. If you are considering this option, do discuss it with your midwives. Here is an NHS leaflet on selecting where to give birth.
If you have further queries or comments do post them in the comments below or get in touch @PregnaPouch or PregnaPouch@gmail.com.
The PregnaPouch team
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