pregnancy

'I've interviewed over 300 women about their pregnancy and birth. Here’s what I've learnt.'

I started my podcast, Australian Birth Stories, after the birth of my second son. I wanted to share my positive birth experience in an audio format so friends and family could listen and, if they felt inclined, recommend it to others. 

Never in my wildest dreams did I expect it to become a podcast with eight million downloads; a platform for women to share all the little details of their pregnancy and birth experience. 

After 300 interviews with women all over Australia, I’ve learnt that while all of our stories may be different, we have so many shared experiences in pregnancy, birth and postpartum. 

While you're here, watch mums (and non-mums) answer questions about childbirth. Post continues after video.


Video via Mamamia.

Here's what I've learnt.

Fear is a very normal part of pregnancy.

There’s a phrase in the birth world that goes, "First time mums fear the unknown, second time mums fear the known".

For many women, fear underpins their entire understanding of labour and birth because when it comes to education, lots of us have only heard the negative stories. 

Fear is a really normal part of pregnancy, but it’s always best to acknowledge your fear and actively let it go. The best way to do this? Get informed - learn about the role of hormones in labour, what your body (and your baby) is doing in labour. 

And then? Get prepared - learn practical skills that will allow you to embrace labour and birth, regardless of whether you’re birthing at home, in a birth centre or in a hospital. 

These skills aren’t complicated; simple breathing techniques and mindset tools that you can practise in pregnancy that will help you navigate the challenges of labour. The antidote to fear? Education.

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The phrase, "I wish I'd known", is really common.

If you’re a first-time mum, chances are you feel quite overwhelmed by everything you don’t know. This overwhelm often peaks in the first trimester, hence it’s commonly accompanied by nausea and vomiting, so you might not feel like you have the mental space to search for information. 

Remember, you don’t need to learn everything at once. And the best way to learn? Listen to stories from other women who have been right where you are. Tune into the podcast to hear a variety of pregnancy and birth experiences so you can understand: 

  • our choices when it comes to care providers (the health professionals who will care for you in pregnancy and birth) 
  • the normal things that you may experience in pregnancy (they may be normal, but they’ll probably come as a rude shock!)
  • the best ways to get informed about birth (for you and your birth support partner)
  • what actually happens in labour and what you can expect from a vaginal and caesarean birth (it’s good to learn about both experiences)
  • what the hours, days and weeks after birth can look like.

Second time mums who have had a negative first birth experience do ALL the birth preparation.

Second time mums are my most avid listeners because they know exactly what happens when you don’t do any preparation and you walk into the birth-space thinking you’ll just "go with the flow". 

Statistically, this "flow" looks like a lot of intervention. In Australia, 45 per cent of first time low-risk women will be induced, 36 per cent of births are a caesarean and one-third of women who give birth in hospital return home with birth trauma. 

Regardless of where and how you give birth, it can be a positive experience. But research tells us that a positive birth is dependent on two things; the birthing woman is able to make informed decisions and those decisions are supported and respected by her care provider. 

If you want a positive experience, you need to be proactive with your birth education because in the majority of cases (especially with COVID restrictions and an increase in Telehealth appointments) your midwife or OB won’t have time to give you all the information you need in your pregnancy appointments. Each appointment is about 10-15 minutes, which leaves no time for education.

It’s just as important for support people to do birth preparation classes.

Labouring women need to be told that they’re safe, their pain is good pain (it’s bringing their baby closer!) and they need to be reminded of breathing techniques when the challenge of contractions has them flailing. 

A prepared and educated birth support person is absolutely essential for a positive birth experience.

It’s best if support people understand the process of birth so they’re not overwhelmed or confronted by what can be a very overwhelming and confronting experience. 

A support person is prepared when they have a toolkit of affirmations, pressure points, massage ideas and breathing techniques to practically support the labouring woman.

Listen to The Delivery Room and learn all about the realities of a planned c-section. Post continues after podcast.

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Most women don’t know where to go for advice when they fall pregnant.

The first trimester can be really challenging, especially for women who don’t share their news till they’ve had their 12-week scan, hence they’re hiding their pregnancy and often dealing with quite debilitating symptoms. 

There’s often a really big gap between the first GP appointment to confirm pregnancy and the first appointment with your care provider (sometimes it’s as long as 12 weeks) and this can be quite a lonely time as women deal with typical first trimester symptoms; nausea and vomiting, overwhelm, doubt, confusion, worry. 

I created my audio course, Welcome to the First Trimesterto bridge this gap because I wanted women to have answers to all the questions that naturally arise in early pregnancy. 

One very common question at this time is related to pregnancy and birth care; so many women don’t understand what care options are available nor do they realise the importance of booking a care provider early, especially if they want continuity of care with a known midwife. 

This means that you see the same midwife throughout pregnancy and they’re at your birth, hence you have the opportunity to develop a trusting relationship with them. 

Continuity of care has the best mother and baby outcomes and in the public hospital system, it’s free if you’ve got a Medicare care.

So how early do you need to book in? As soon as you’ve peed on a pregnancy test! True story! 

Sophie Walker has a Masters in Public Health, is a mum to three boys, and is the founder and host of Australian Birth Stories podcast that has over eight million downloads and is endorsed by the Australian College of Midwives. She also has a range of education resources available, including her online birth preparation course, The Birth Class. Every week on the podcast she shares an interview with a woman who steps into her most vulnerable space to detail all the precious details of her pregnancy, birth and postpartum experience. Each story is unique, hence the podcast is an amazing education resource for pregnant women, their birth support partners and professionals working in perinatal health.

Feature Image: Getty.

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