By the time Sara Litster reached the pushing stage, she had already been in labour for three days and her energy stores were depleted. Her midwife asked if she wanted to try watching herself push with a birth mirror to speed up the process. “I was pushing for more than an hour, but it felt like I was pushing for 10 minutes,” says the Toronto mom. “You know how people talk about pushing like ‘I pushed and pushed and it felt like it was forever’ because they can’t see if they are making progress? I could see that I was making progress. With every push, it felt like I was achieving something.”
Six months later, Litster still raves about the experience. “It was absolutely, completely wild,” she says. “Usually, your spouse and midwife or OB sees your baby first, but I was right there in it. I saw him being born.”
Are you wondering if a mirror should be part of your birth plan? Here’s what you need to know.
What is a birth mirror?
“A labour mirror isn’t anything fancy,” says Jenn Bindon, a registered midwife at Prairie Midwives in Red Deer, Alta. In a home setting, it’s any mirror that a family member, doula or other support person can hold and tilt at the correct angle to offer visual feedback to the woman in labour. In a hospital, your midwife or nurse may have access to a free-standing, adjustable mirror mounted on wheels that can be pushed into position.
Lyanne Quirt, a registered midwife at Arbutus Midwives in Victoria, BC, says there are eight birthing rooms at the hospital where she works and five mirrors that are specifically designed for this purpose. “They’re a bit large and unwieldy, but they’re very nice to have,” she says.
Why would I use a birth mirror while pushing?
With a birth mirror, a woman in labour can see the bulging of the perineum and, eventually, the top of her baby’s head. While some expectant moms may first hear about labour mirrors during prenatal classes and check-ups, others might be offered one only during the pushing phase—and sometimes not even then. They’re almost exclusively used during typical low-risk labour, and it may be on you to ask if the idea interests you. Here are three circumstances where a healthcare provider might recommend using a mirror.
- If a woman is having a water birth and wants to see what’s going on underwater
“That’s more for the convenience of the healthcare provider than the woman in labour,” says Quirt.
- If a woman struggles with pushing and needs inspiration
“People are very tired at the pushing stage, so seeing their progress can give them more energy and drive to keep going,” says Quirt.
- If a woman wants a precious visual memory
“For some people, it’s a beautiful and powerful thing to see a baby emerge from the birth canal,” she says. If you want the experience, you may have to ask your practitioner ahead of time to ensure that there’s an appropriate mirror on hand, especially if you’re delivering at home (some midwives travel with their own mirrors, while others don’t).
Can I use a birth mirror if I’ve had an epidural?
Yes! In fact, it’s a very useful tool for women who lack sensation in their lower region and can’t tell if they’re making progress. “Often with epidurals, women don’t have the same reflex to push the baby down,” says Bindon. “When they push with a mirror, they can see progress when they push a certain way. It gives them a lot more confidence and reassurance that they’re pushing in the right way and getting to the end of their delivery.”
Won’t it be super gross?
For many women, the thought of watching their baby emerge from the birth canal is a little bit icky. “That’s what stopped me,” says Litster of the first time her midwife told her to use a mirror during a prenatal check-up. “I was like ‘You usually poop during labour, and I don’t want to see that!’” But when she finally accepted the mirror as a tool that could help her, she realized that her reservations were unfounded. “There was definitely what my midwife refers to as ‘residual poop.’” But the backup midwife discreetly cleaned it up before Litster ever really saw it. “I was worried before pushing, but once I started, we laughed about it,” she says.
Quirt notes that she uses a cloth or surgical sponge to support the perineum during pushing, which hides the anus from view. She finds that “some people apologize a lot when they poop in labour, but, honestly, it’s the least of our concerns.”
What will the baby’s head look like?
One thing you might want to prepare for is that your baby’s head will be compressed and their skin may look wrinkled. “People worry that their baby won’t have a skull and they’re seeing the brains, especially if a baby doesn’t have a lot of hair,” says Quirt. “I try to warn them that the baby’s head will be squished, but it’s normal.”
Why doesn’t everyone use a birth mirror in labour?
Aside from the ick factor, some women worry that watching the birth of their child or letting their partner watch will change how they feel about sex. “Some people think that seeing babies come out of their vaginas will reduce the sexual aspect of their genitals,” says Quirt. Whatever the reason, Quirt says that only one in 10 clients will take her up on the offer to use a birth mirror, even though most people love it and find it incredibly helpful. But many women squeeze their eyes shut while pushing, and using a mirror can be one too many things to think about in the moment.
It may sound a little weird at first, but using a birth mirror during the pushing phase of labour can be an effective tool, so try not to rule it out. “Be open to suggestions,” says Bindon. “You never really know what labour’s going to be like until you’re in the middle of it, so try to keep an open mind.”