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Special deliveries; More women are shunning the hospital bed in favour of an active birth. KERRY WOOD visits the RVI Birthing Centre.

Byline: KERRY WOOD

WALKING, squatting or on all fours - it's a million miles away from lying in a hospital bed.

Gone are the visions of sweating, screaming women on their backs in the grip of labour as thousands embrace the calming and pain-relieving effects of active birth.

More and more women in the region, with the support of a wave of classes, are hoping to have 'normal' and 'drug-free' births by staying active as their contractions quicken.

The move away from pain-reliving drugs and intervention is buoyed by the opening of the Royal Victoria Infirmary's (RVI) Birthing Centre.

In the 20 months since it opened its doors, more than 2,600 babies have been born at the unit which offers 12 spacious en-suite rooms equipped with a plethora of birthing aids.

From its decor, bouncing balls and birthing seat to the absence of traditional hospital beds and option for epidural pain relief, everything at the centre is geared towards reaping the benefits of an active birth.

Elaine Blair is head of midwifery at the RVI. She said: "Currently there is a huge NHS drive to get as many women as possible to have 'normal' births and to increase these rates because of the health benefits to both mother and baby.

"If a woman's first birth is normal with no complications then this increases the chances of her having subsequent normal Continued 16 births and active birth is something we encourage. It is up to each woman to decide what anti-natal preparation they want to do, some are very active in seeking out as much information as possible while others are not so. "There are three key factors in having a normal birth. Ante-natal preparation, good support from those attending the birth and one-to-one care. "There is research linked to active birth that suggests the more a mother is mentally prepared and understands how to cope with labour and natural pain strategies such as breathing and water the better she will cope with labour.

"Some women unfortunately due to reasons beyond their control are unable to have 'normal' births but preparation is so important. Active birth is about movement and being mentally prepared for labour." Nationally among maternity wards a 'normal' birth is deemed to be one that commences, continues and then completes without any intervention such as the use of forceps or administration of an epidural. Research used by the NHS shows the benefits achieving a normal birth can have on both mother and baby. Straightforward births can result in shorter or no hospital stays and fewer admissions to neonatal units,andis also associated with higher rates of successful breast-feeding.

During the past six years there has From 15 been concern nationally about the rising rate of interventions during labour with the belief that maternity units applying 'best practice' during labour and delivery - free from the need for epidurals - can greatly lower this rate. Amy Ritchie, 27, swears by the pain-relieving power of water after giving birth to her first baby Amelia Rose, weighing 6lb 13ounces, on her birthday February 28 at the Newcastle Birthing Centre. Speaking to The Journal hours after giving birth, she said: "I knew as soon as I found out I was pregnant I knew that I wanted a water birth and I read up as much as I could about staying active. "I came into the centre at 6.30am and gave birth at 8.30am with no pain relief." Going into labour at 8pm the previous evening, Amy, from Wallsend, managed to handle the pain of her contractions by staying mobile while at home.

She added: "Before labour I never said there were drugs I would or wouldn't have I just said I'd see how I go with the pain but was able to managed it by staying active and when I came to the centre I was already fully dilated. "Getting into the birthing pool really helped and I just let my body do what it wanted to do. The atmosphere in the centre is very relaxed and helps keep you calm during labour." Something as subjective as the feel of a BIRTH RATE Elaine Blair Some women unfortunately due to reasons beyond their control are unable to have 'normal' births room and lighting can affect a woman's progress through labour, experts say, and Newcastle's birthing Centre is designed to create just the right environment. Elaine added: "Overwhelmingly the women that have used the birthing Centre have loved it. The rooms are very spacious and the birthing environment has a big factor in a woman's labour and how they cope, so things such as not having a very bright room, having quiet and privacy can all affect a delivery.

"The birthing environment downstairs is something we want to replicate in the delivery unit. A refurbishment is already planned and is getting under way shortly." Helping pregnant women plan for their labour is Lynn Campbell who holds active birth sessions at the birthing Centre's training room as well as Dance City in Newcastle and the Sage, Gateshead. Having started the classes 12 years ago she moved to the RVI in 2004. Lynn said: "When I started, active birth was a very new concept to the North East and there were not many classes. At first women came to me as they wanted to focus on movement and we do yoga as part of the class.

at the moment active birth and interest in it is strong and certainly my classes are always full and there's a waiting list. "I thinkwomenare more awarenowof the importance of doing something for their own well-being during pregnancy and preparing mentally for the birth. As well as yoga, we use lots of visual aids to give women and their partners a greater understanding of how their body will change during labour and what will happen. "Active birth is good practice in lots of hospitals, yet all you ever see on TV are women laying on their backs, not moving. It is a false image of how labour is for a lot of women.

"It is key to stay active during labour, using movement and your breath to help manage pain." Preparation for labour and birth classes are offered to would-be parents on the NHS. Newcastle Birthing Centre at the RVI: ? Opened in June 2011, midwifery-led and free to use ? Available to pregnant women deemed 'low risk' between 37 and 42 weeks pregnant ? Promotes the use of relaxation, breathing techniques, being active and water to manage pain ? Also provides women with gas and air or Diamorphine and Pethidine for pain ? No epidurals are administered at the centre. Women wanting one will be transferred upstairs to the RVI's delivery unit ? The centre is also available free to women living outside of the Newcastle area ? Unlike stand-alone centres Newcastle's is co-located which means there are additional health professionals upstairs ? For more information about the centre, visit www.newcastlebirthing Centre.co.uk FACTFILE:

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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Mar 4, 2013
Words:1171
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