I’ve always thought that having an entourage at the hospital during birth—or shortly after—is a bit ridiculous.
I mean, I understand that families want to share in the new parents’ joy, but would a visit a few days later hurt? When I got pregnant, I knew for sure that an audience wasn’t for me.
As I learned more about how stress can impact the progression of labor, I have become even more guarded about who will be with me when I deliver in the coming weeks—including who will visit in the hours after. In my gut, I know that even certain people lingering in the waiting room will stress me out, but it has nothing to do with how I feel about my loved ones and more to do with the concept of having an audience.
I’ve tried turning to other women as I figured out my next steps and found that there’s no single answer. Some women love the rush of guests, while others I’ve spoken with look back and wish they had been a little more restrictive on who was there. They say that certain guests were overwhelming or upsetting, and took away from much-needed bonding time, interrupted breastfeeding during critical phases and distracted them from speaking with helpful nurses.
In an effort to make an informed decision that suited me, I also turned to studies.
During a recent childbirth class when the midwife told us “labor is not a spectator sport.” My husband wanted our birth to just be him, me and our midwife, but I wanted to go a step further – I didn’t want a crowd after delivery as well.
One of the reasons why I think he comprehends my anxiety is because he knows I have panic disorder and a searing fear of hospitals. When I was able to explain that stress clinically can have a negative effect on birth and the health of our baby, he seemed to really understand and respect my wishes. After all, I will be the one delivering.
Guard Your Oxytocin
Many experts agree that labor can be longer, more complicated or more painful when women have an unwanted audience—even if that includes family members herding in the hospital waiting room and not all up in your va-jay. If you’re like me and get overwhelmed with crowds to begin with, you may fall into this category.
In The Positive Birth Book: A New Approach to Pregnancy, Birth and the Early Weeks, author Milli Hill talks about the vital role of oxytocin—what she calls the “shy hormone”—in the birth process. She says oxytocin likes “darkness, safety, quiet, warmth, privacy, love.” It doesn’t like “interruptions, bright lights, strangers, cold, fear, unfamiliarity.” Some women aren’t as sensitive to those stressors, but others are and the impact of them can hamper birth efforts.
According to the National Childbirth Trust, even switching rooms can reduce oxytocin levels and slow labor. If a woman in labor is stressed, hormones such as adrenaline can inhibit the release of oxytocin.
Hill advises women to listen to their intuition and guard their oxytocin; in other words, if you feel like an audience may impede it, speak up—it could mean the difference between smooth labor or stalled labor…or even needing a C-section.
“What is needed for effective labor with lowered levels of stress hormones is a comfortable, dimly lit cozy space that allows you to access the part of your primitive brain that sets up the process of hormonal ebb and flow, and facilitates the smoothest functioning of the normal birth process,” Ina May Gaskin writes in Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. “We share this need for privacy during labor with virtually all other mammals.”
You still need that oxytocin after you deliver, and post-partum visitors could disrupt it then as well. So if you feel like you need to limit visitors after delivery, you’re within your right. Allow yourself to be flexible with what you need, and make sure your partner understands this. It’s not about getting your way (which you deserve anyway); it’s about the health of mom and baby—even if mom is being a little “paranoid” or “selfish.”
I like to tell loved ones that I’m really going to need them long after the baby is born…in the weeks after when the visitors (and their casseroles) stop showing up. That may change, but I have grown more in tune with my wants and needs, and am not afraid to express them. The real gems in my life understand this—something I am eternally grateful for.
The concept of turning loved ones away gets tough when family is involved…especially if they’ve religiously traveled to the hospital to welcome previous clan members. That’s when speaking up is imperative, but do it ahead of time or at least plan for a brief, firm explanation when you feel it needs to be given. If you’re lucky enough to be delivering somewhere that restricts the number of visitors for you, explaining it may be easier. Otherwise, watch out because you could be in a crowdbirthing situation—again, cool if you’re into that sort of thing.
Keep in mind that not everyone understands that the stress of others can impact labor. They may think because others want visitors that you should, too. Some people may actually be angry at you…a good indication they shouldn’t be there anyway (if they stress you while you’re pregnant, imagine what they’ll be like during or after delivery!)
With all our best-laid plans, you may change your mind about having an audience at the last minute. Mommy, this is the one time your wishes should come first—and anyone who doesn’t understand shows that they do not have your best interests at heart.
In the end, this isn’t about restricting who visits and who doesn’t. It’s about stepping into your own power to decide what you want during your birth experience—and ultimately, what’s best for your little one. That includes what’s best for you, too.