5 Things You Want With You at Your Birth: Engaging Your Senses

Doesn't the hospital have everything?

Yes! and no. The hospital has everything that you will need medically to have your baby. This is true. But think about the environment of a hospital--bright lights, sterile environment, potential for loud noises, unfamiliar faces, that distinct hospital smell, and incessant beeps from medical equipment. Neel Shah recently did a podcast interview with the Harvard School of Public Health and he said, "It's not a ventilator that defines an ICU. It's the ability to have one nurse take care of one patient. So if you go to the cardiac ICU of my hospital at Beth Israel, you'll see one nurse per patient. You go to my labor floor, you'l see the same thing. You know they can track vital signs in real time in the cardiac ICU. So can we. The only difference between the ICU and the labor floor is that our operating rooms are attached." For the entire interview, check it out here

So what can you do to ease the feel of such a regulated and regimented environment to help you feel comfortable and safe? You can bring along a few (or alot) of comfort items. Some parents choose to bring one comfort item and some choose to bring everything down to a rug for the labor room floor. I was recently featured by Malka Ahmed Photography explaining the essentials that I always recommend clients bring with them to their birth. Check that article out here.

What do I bring to the hospital with me?

Packing for your senses can help guard the environment in which you give birth. Bring things that appeal to your senses. You want to create a gentle environment that reminds you of a safe place, often home.  Having things that can make the environment seem gentle and encouraging can have a huge impact on your birth experience. 

I try to help my clients think through 5 distinct categories: your senses! That's right- hearing, tasting, seeing, feeling, and smelling all play vital rolls in your birth! The combination of comfort items that are brought along vary vastly from client to client just as all other things in birth. When planning items to take in your hospital bag, think about things that appeal to your senses. 

I was recently featured in a Huffington Post article explaining the best things to advise parents to pack when preparing for a birth. This got me thinking why? Why do those things make the list? What makes those items the necessary items? So I broke it down to a basic level. 

The Pain Gate Theory

The theory behind packing sensory items is to block the pain receptors by stimulating multiple sensory receptors at one time. Pain Gate Theory suggests that it can control signals from the Nervous System by using non-painful input to close the "gates" which block painful input from being received or it is received at a lower intensity.

Here's how it works:

1. Sight – Bring thing from home that are comforting. You can literally transform your birthing room into your own personal space. Take advantage of this aspect. Comfort items from home can be pillows, rugs, pictures of loved ones, your own clothes, your favorite blanket, your robe, your slippers and anything else you think will provide you with comfort and help keep you in the right headspace. Any items that are comforting and remind you of the safety of your home has the potential help your labor progress. 

2. Sound- Hospitals can get noisy and trying to concentrate (and being in pain) in a loud environment is sometimes distracting. Some people find music encouraging. because it is able to block some of the noise and this ranges from “Eye of the Tiger” to calm relaxing, classical music. Some laboring parents prefer earbuds, so it can be louder and more intense like the contractions (make sure to keep the safety of the parents ears in mind). On the opposite end of the spectrum, some people prefer it to be silent so they can connect and remain connected to their bodies. These parents will need earplugs to block out hospital noise.

3. Taste- Snacks! Anything that can be eaten with one hand such as pretzel sticks, cheese sticks, granola bars, and fruit (banana and apples) is so important for birth. Imagine running a marathon and having not prepared by eating. Also, imagine not being able to stop running that marathon for 36 hours.. you would want snack to help keep your stamina up.  Both, you and our support team will want snacks to help keep your energy up. Make sure to avoid any food that have strong odors as labor can bring on a heightened sense of smell. 

4. Touch – Anything than can provide physical comfort such as lotion for massage, a back massagers, a rebozo (a Mexican shawl-like garment used for pain relief), heat packs, and ice packs are useful in birth. Especially for parents who are trying to have an unmedicated birth, finding physical comfort will be imperative to helping the laboring parent stay comfortable and able to manage the pressure of each wave/contraction. 

5. Smell- Things from home will provide a comforting smell, but this won't combat the smell of birth which can be intense. A lot of bodily fluids are expelled during childbirth, plus you have the sterile environment smell of a medical facility. Too help keep the smell of the room pleasant and gentle, parents can bring essential oils. Hospitals do not allow you spray perfume, like candles, or use air freshenersSome hospitals will allow you to use a battery operated diffusers for short amounts of time to make the room smell more relaxing. For experiences in hospitals that don’t allow diffusers, place a few drops of the essential oil on a paper towels hold it close to the birthing parent’s face. Have the laboring parent take deep breathes. This works for any support people too, as long, as they are using an EO fragrant that is okay with the laboring parent and safe in pregnancy and for newborns.

HeHe’s Secret Sauce: Water bottle with a bending straw! This is to ensure you can drink water to stay hydrated in any position. There wont be any reason to move in order to drink because the bending straw will be able to prevent you needing to be in any certain position unlike a cup or open top waterbottle. Again, imagine running a marathon and not drinking water form start to finish. This would most likely end in having to receive medical treatment. Staying hydrated during your pregnancy and especially during labor is important. 

Don't forget the little things: 

Except for a water bottle and things particularly from their homes, these are all things I bring to the birth for my clients. On top of these items, I try to remind them to gather (beforehand) everyday items such as phone chargers, eyeglasses, medications, change of clothes, toothbrushes, and deodorant.

You can successfully have a beautiful birth and healthy baby without all of these things. The most important thing you can have is a support person. The more the better. They will act as your personal cheer team and make you feel comfortable in an otherwise foreign environment.


Tranquility by HeHe, A Concierge Birthing and Doula Service in Boston, Massachusetts
"We can't wait to pamper you."


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