Using Hammocks for Childbirth

Recent years have seen a revival in natural birthing methods. Soon-to-be parents are increasingly opting for home births, guidance from midwives and doulas, and more unique options such as water births or hypnosis. One method that is beginning to grow in popularity is the use of hammocks as a prop during delivery. Long used by Mayan communities in southern Mexico, the hammock is a practical tool to assist any natural birth.page 1LS copy

Origins
Yucatec Mayan communities, centered around the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico, have been using hammocks to aid expecting mothers throughout pregnancy and childbirth for centuries. During checkups, midwives would massage the mother’s back, abdomen, and legs, and then direct her to rest in her hammock. During birth itself, the taut but flexible hammocks—widely used for sleeping and relaxation—seemed the obvious setting for delivery as well.

Revival
The revival of natural birthing methods, including the use of the hammock, hit the United States in the 1960s. The couple in this video describes the appeal of Mayan birthing methods and their experience traveling to the Yucatán to use a traditional hammock for their baby’s birth.

Method
In the beginning stages of labor, the hammock is used as a snug place for the mother to lie down, begin breathing exercises, and feel as comfortable as possible as contractions and labor pains begin.

When the labor intensifies, the mother usually lies across the width of the hammock, legs bent and moderately spread. Her feet may rest in the hammock or on the legs of the midwife sitting in front of her, which provides extra leverage. Behind her, the partner or another midwife can sit or stand and offer physical support throughout by reaching under the mother’s shoulders to raise her body to a sitting position at the height of each contraction. Meanwhile, the mother can reach up and behind to hold onto the helper’s neck as she pushes.

Do Your Thing
Today, many expecting mothers have taken inspiration from these traditional birthing methods and adapted them to fit their own needs and comfort. For example, she might choose to lie lengthwise or crosswise, or prop her feet on the hammock or on the floor. Rather than using a helper for support from behind, she might choose to cling to the sides of the hammock to pull herself upwards during contractions and pushing. Some mothers have even opted to squat, while simply hanging onto the hammock above for balance and support.

If you’re considering or just curious about hammock birthing, we recommend trying a family hammock — specifically, a Mayan net hammock handmade in the Yucatán, the motherland of this delivery technique.

For Your Baby
Besides practicality and physical ease, a hammock offers a setting that your body is accustomed to and your mind associates with peace and relaxation. These feelings not only apply to the mother, but also her baby after birth. Mothers across the world, from Latin America to Southeast Asia, have been using hammocks for their children—newborns included—for centuries. The hanging nature of a hammock allows for smooth, tender rocking, as if in a cradle or a parent’s arms. This swaying motion improves the baby’s development by gently encouraging an awareness of balance. What makes a hammock unique, however, is that its contours hug the baby’s body in a way that feels reassuring and familiar, not unlike being curled up against its mother’s soft, warm body. Additionally, the families who have incorporated hammocks into their baby’s sleep routine rave about its ability to sooth even on the crankiest days. Children’s hammocks continue to cradle kids through their childhood — and they might even grow up to be full-time hammock sleepers.

For more on the origins and methods of hammock childbirth, check out these resources:

Indigenous Customs in Childbirth and Child Care

Easing Labor Pain: The Complete Guide to a More Comfortable and Rewarding Birth

Birth in Four Cultures: A Crosscultural Investigation of Childbirth in Yucatan, Holland, Sweden, and the United States

 

By Tess Wolterstorff

Illustration by David Merkley 

There are many ways to sit in a hammock. How many of them do you know?

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