Colouring book unlocks pregnant women's birth potential

Jenny Lee speaks to Irish midwife Bridget Sheeran, who has published a mindfulness pregnancy colouring book to help women turn their fears into strengths as they prepare for childbirth

Irish midwife Bridget Sheeran encourages mothers to prepare early for a stress-free childbirth experience. Pictured is a mother resting with her newborn baby in bed immediately after a natural water birth labour.

BIRTH should be celebrated, not feared. That is the message from Irish midwife Bridget Sheeran, who is the author of a unique book, which uses colouring to help expectant mothers relax and discover their intimate feelings and needs in preparation for childbirth.

As a community midwife with over three decades’ experience, the founder of the Community Midwives Association in Ireland, a trainer of doulas and a mother of four children – three of them born at home and one in waterbirth – Bridget bases the book on a lifetime of experience.

Mindfulness colouring books have become renowned for their stress busting benefits, but Preparing for Birth – Colouring Your Pregnancy Journey – offers much more than relaxation.

The book features 28 detailed, double-page line drawings for colouring-in, all related to the theme of childbirth, to help expectant mothers to pause in their hectic routine so as to be able to listen to their personal needs and to decide the best path and most appropriate choices for them during their pregnancy.

"I came up with the idea for the book because I’m near the end of my life as a midwife and what I’ve realised is women need time to prepare for birth – not a few antinatal classes towards the end of their first pregnancy.

An image from Preparing for Birth: colouring your pregnancy journey by Bridget Sheeran which encourages mothers-to-be to take their time and enjoy a slow and steady birth journey

"Some images can be used as a mind map or to support your to do list; some emphasise the skills you may need for labour and afterwards; others act as pointers for you to mobilise your support," says Bridget, who encourages women to dip into it early in pregnancy to help them build up a positive birth image – especially if they had a previous difficult labour experience.

While the media portray birth as a fast process, which mainly involves lying on your back, Bridget wants women to explore what nature says about birth.

"Birth isn’t scary nor need it be medicalised. Nature is incredibly clever and I want to bring women back to the social model of how we have given birth for generations. Women, over millennia, looked for birth support for good reason.

"Thanks to advances in medicine, medical intervention is now available if needed, but giving birth should be a natural, family and community event."

Preparing for Birth: colouring your pregnancy journey by Cork-based community midwife and teacher Bridget Sheeran

No two births are the same, and there are always going to be challenges, twists and turns, but Bridget says that preparation is key to recognise "your ability to cope and to trust both your body and the people who are supporting you".

Many of the images within Preparing for birth signpost women into exploring their inner strength and spirituality, as well as offering practical suggestions for the labour process such as music and dance, rocking, using gravity and exploring the possibility of water birth.

"Music is a universal language and can motivate you to adapt to your circumstances for your benefit. Women should choose sounds and rhythms that will help you with birth," says Cork-based Bridget, who has been supporting women through childbirth since 1986.

One of the most significant drawings is of the tortoise and hare, which emphasises the fact that each birth has its own rhythm and tempo.

"This image rekindles the childhood story about speed and distractedness versus slowly and steadily finding your way on your birth journey, taking the time it takes," says Bridget, whose other favourite image is of the tiger, which fuses the natural aspect of birth with psychology and science.

"Pregnancy is a time for gathering your strength and learning how to give birth. Unless you tame your tiger (your fears), you may experience fear suddenly in labour, leading to a cascade of negative events trigged by the release of adrenaline. MRI scans tell us that an imagined event can have as powerful an effect as a real one and trigger a hormonal response and other changed in the body.

"You need adrenalin at the end of labour for pushing, but if you are mindful and know how to relax your body you can keep balanced during labour and so contractions do not slow down due to an unnecessary rise in adrenalin and reduction in the oxytocin hormone, which is what keeps birth going."

:: Preparing for Birth: colouring your pregnancy journey by Bridget Sheeran is published by Hammersmith Health Books and is available now.

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