Nesting is the act of creating a safe and comfortable space to give birth, where your body can make oxytocin; the love hormone. Just like a cat will escape to a secluded dark spot to deliver her kittens, humans too do best delivering in a private, safe, dark location.
In order for our body’s natural, instinctual birth process to best unfold, women need to be in a place that allows them to relax. Anxiety or fear causes the body to release adrenaline which works in opposition to oxytocin, and can actually prevent, stall or even stop labor entirely. Catecholamines are another type of stress hormones, which include epinephrine, norepinephrine and dopamine. Increased levels of these hormones are associated with fetal distress and dysfunctional labor. This can lead to more medical interventions and even more stress, creating a domino effect.
Wherever you plan to deliver, do your best to create a safe, private, comfortable and dark space for yourself. If you are giving birth in a hospital, don’t be afraid to make the space your own.
We are lucky in our area in that we are generally safe most of the time. Not so true in the rest of the world. Many people choose a hospital birth for the perceived increased safety that it offers, but you must also be able to completely trust your care providers in order to genuinely feel safe. This is why these first choices in your care; where and with whom you deliver, are the most important.
Another level of safety people might not consider is related to past experience. Lots of people carry emotional wounds like sexual abuse, post tramatic stress, or anxiety. In theses cases feeling safe may be more complicated during the vulnerable period of labor. Talk with your provider and your partner about your history and what you can do to feel more safe during labor.
Darkness encourages the body to release melatonin, which synergizes with oxytocin to create coordinated and strong contractions. It’s part of the reason that most women go into labor during the night. As a doula, the first thing I usually do when I enter a birth room is close the blinds. A sleep mask is another great way to maintain your body’s perception of darkness as staff comes and goes. You could also bring battery operated candles, Christmas lights or other low lighting , and dim or turn off the room lights. If you bring anything electrical, be sure it is CLEARLY marked with the UL seal for safety. Some hospitals require approval from maintenance for outside equipment.
The basics of physical comfort should be covered in a hospital room, a place to lay down, comfortable air temperature, and food and beverage as needed. But you will need much more than this to be truly comfortable. Don’t be afraid to ask if the room is too warm or too cool. Most hospital rooms have a thermostat that you can access, if not, ask for a fan, or a warmed blanket. the staff should be eager to help you feel comfortable. Some women like to listen to music or relaxation sounds. You can easily plan ahead for this by creating playlists on your phone or downloading some relaxation apps. You may want to bring some type of speaker and your ear buds, depending on your preference. Something special from home may help you feel more relaxed as well. Do you have a photo of a loved one or a special pillow or blanket? Don’t be shy. I have served moms who have brought a special “lovey” like a teddy or old blanket from their childhood, and religious items. It’s okay and nobody will laugh at you. A sleep mask and/or ear plugs can also be helpful in minimizing interruptions from nursing staff that come and go. Your own preferred foods can also make you feel more relaxed. If you have dietary requirements you may have favorite foods that the hospital may not offer. Gluten free, diabetic or allergic? Stick a few of your go-to safe foods in your bag. This is true for mom and dad. Even without dietary issues, some people just feel better when they can have a familiar favorite food. Bring it.
Privacy is probably the hardest part of your nest to build in the hospital. Most hospitals have policies in place that require nursing staff to take vitals and make other connections with you on a regular schedule. Add visits from meal delivery, housekeeping and the lab and you may feel like you are trying to give birth in a train station. But there really are many things you can do to increase your privacy to a level that feels right for you.
The first thing to consider seriously is who you will be inviting into your labor room. It may sound great to have your two close sisters and dear aunt Ethel by your side to cheer on your labor. Remember that every extra person in your room will add extra interruptions. In reality unless it is someone that you would be willing to have in the bathroom with you while you poop, they don’t belong in your labor room. That’s the kind of comfort level you need from the people that support you. Anything other than that is only going to prolong your labor, and nobody wants that!
Other than your own guests, you can limit interruption by staff by requesting they minimize the number of times they enter the room. You can ask your nurse to post a note on your door that no one should enter without checking with her first. Take advantage of that curtain in front of the door and draw it closed to give you privacy from the hallway when people do come and go. If you are trying to rest, leaving the door slightly cracked allows your nurse to slip in and out without the noise of the door opening and closing. And remember that you can refuse any procedure the nurses might tell you is hospital policy, including vaginal exams, monitoring of you and or your baby on a set schedule, or anything else that makes you uncomfortable.
Many hospitals place laboring moms near the nurses’ station for convenience, so don’t hesitate to ask for a room in a quiet spot when you first come into the hospital. Nurses’ stations can get very noisy, as can the main entrance and any refreshment areas.
When all else fails, retreat to the bathroom and build a little nest in there. It gives you a second layer of privacy. Make yourself at home in there. The toilet is a great place to labor. Put pillows behind your back or turn around backwards and let your partner rub your back. Take a nice long bath or shower. They won’t run out of hot water; go ahead, stay in there all day. Take the birth ball into the shower with you, that can be a great combination. Your partner can also drag a chair in and hold your hand or rub your back.
All in all, the more comfortable you are, the more readily your body will relax and open for birth. You can achieve this in a hospital setting with a little pre-planning, some gentle requests, and always remembering that you are in control of your birth space and experience. Your providers should be happy to help you make your birth room your own nest, but you have to make it clear to them what your needs and wishes are.
Having your baby will be one of the peak experiences of your life. Don’t hesitate to do what will make it feel good and special for you!