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The Importance of Active Listening in the Birth Space


We know that a woman will birth best when she feels SAFE, UNDISTURBED and RESPECTED, but did you know that LISTENING and being HEARD in the birthing space is equally as importantListening in the birthing space is crucial for labouring women to feel comfortable and it requires great skill. “Active listening” is aiming to get a sense of what someone is saying or experiencing and checking back in with them. The idea here is to avoid judging, criticizing or defending, but rather understanding the context in which it is coming from. Active listening also requires the use of  all senses within the body to take on what is being said.  Watching for gestures, reading the eyes, listening to the tone, observing the muscles within the body.

You can sit with a labouring woman and watch her reaction to each contraction, for some it is the raising of shoulders, tightening of the toes, gripping on the floor, or raising up onto tippy toes. Each movement resembling the inner working of the mind-body. We see active listening through gesture, movement and touch just as we hear words and their tone.

This kind of listening in the birthing space does not need feedback in a vocal context, it can be simple eye contact, the nod of the head, or a smile. By providing this form of feedback it allows the birthing mother to be more at ease, able to communicate effectively, openly and honestly.  As a birthing partner or caregiver, you must learn to listen without vocal feedback but rather reassuring gestures, it is a matter of understanding. For some women, there are stages throughout their labour, where both noise and touch can aggravate them, taking them away from their concentration of listening to their body.

Active listening is simple, you take what is being told verbally and non-verbally allowing you to understand the changing feelings and thoughts a birthing mother has. When a woman feels heard due to the response from their caregivers and partner, this allows them to go deeper inside.  Their mind can go go within, the body reaches out for concentration and calm. Moving through each contraction, the surge of intensity peaking, then subsiding potentially looking out for non-verbal cues, as communication occurs on various levels.  

During labour as a mother goes inward verbal communication becomes far less dominant and for some non-existent.  For those standing on the outside looking in, it can seem like the mother has gone into a trance, or perhaps a deeper state not seen before. She does this as the beta-endorphins, the body’s natural opioids, are released within, naturally easing pressure or pain, allowing each contraction or surge to slip on past, as labour builds.

This is the time to be an observer, there is nothing to fix, nothing to take away, this is the transition into motherhood.  To sit and watch as labour progresses or to stand close, allowing for eye contact, so she knows you are there, she has your support, and she can continue to go deeper within. 

For some a gentle reminder of the breath, gently in through the nose and down to where the pressure is felt, this signals the cervix is opening and baby is moving down.  With the birthing environment, dimly light, soft music, and a sense of calm, mum feels safe to continue. Gentle reassurance with soft words, or a gentle reach of your hand onto hers.  For some partners, they feel like they need to change the moment, move mum out from her current position, move the pressure she is feeling. This can help, however, breaking the mind-body connection can affect the progression of labour.  It is like someone waking you from a deep dream, you can startle, feel unhappy as the mind had you in an altered state of consciousness. The hormones flowing through a mothers body during her labour wane and come in and out. Peaking when she needs them to move her through, the body and the baby connecting.




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