Rethinking Your Birth Space- A Gate Theory guide to packing your labor bags

What is gate theory?IMG_3569

When you get a mosquito bite and it itches like crazy, what do you do? You scratch it.

When you stub your toe, you immediately put pressure on it.

You are interrupting the signal to your brain and overriding it by sending a stronger signal than the itch (mosquito) or pain (stubbed toe) signal. That is basic Gate Theory, and we can apply it using the five senses to contractions during labor. When we use our five senses, we can override what the brain may interpret as painful labor contractions, and as a result, the mother may perceive the labor as less painful, and let’s be real… who doesn’t want labor to be more comfortable?



If you have ever had a pregnant cat or dog, you know that when the time comes for babies they tend to go to a smaller dark space, and they like privacy. If interrupted, labor will often stop. If you attempt to move them to where you want them, they will leave and go to where they feel safe to deliver their babies. All mammals will try to find privacy, safety, and optimally darkness.
Why does this matter?

It matters because we are mammals.

We give birth like mammals when we are undisturbed in labor.

We have forgotten this for the most part because we have access to Western medicine and technology and some of the best doctors in the world (and thank goodness for that), but when left to their own devices, most mothers will not deliver on their back and will find somewhere that is smaller, darker, and private to birth their baby.

At the end of the day, we still have the same mammalian instincts. The issue is that we often can’t hear those instincts over all the noise of technology of people being helpful.

What I have noticed as a birth doula —whether home, birth center, or hospital—when undisturbed , most women will act as mammals do in labor. I have doula’d more moms through pushing in the smallest bathroom in a home. We are VERY rarely in the large open area of a home. When a mom feels overwhelmed during a hospital birth, the bathroom is where she will go. It is small and we can dim the lights. It sends a message of privacy, and people naturally stay out. Moms will retreat to where they feels safest.

I first noticed this trend during Kingston’s birth. I had seen the Pinterest photos, and so I set the birth pool up in the open living room, and it was beautiful. I had splurged on the top of the line professional birth pool. It was way too open, and I hated being in the middle of that huge room with so much space. I kept retreating to the tiny guest bathroom that fits one non-pregnant person. I normally hate that bathroom. I dislike the paint color. I dislike how small it is. My mammal laboring self needed a super small dark space to be left alone, and it was perfect for birth. I locked everyone out (much to my husband’s dismay), and only came out when I was ready to push. His labor was a total of three hours from first contractions to nursing, and I think I spent about 2.5 hours in that time bathroom. In case anyone is wondering, the paint color has seriously grown on me and I am now attached to it.


What to pack in your labor bags:

What To Pack For Labor is a common thread post in facebook groups and mommy due date threads, but I have a slightly different take, and it is based on Gate Theory.

It is helpful to use your five senses to help override the contraction input—sight, smell, taste, hearing, touch, so pack your bag or stage your birth area based on what will involve those senses.  It also helps to think about what has worked for painful or intense situations in the past. In your own home, you will have your own things there, but for changing locations, you will need to bring things to incorporate or override the hospital/adrenaline senses.

Here are some of my favorite ideas…

Sight- Cover clocks and machines, bring a visual focal point, affirmation cards that can be hung, LED candles, or stay in your own home where you are comfortable. What you wear sends a powerful message. You are a mother in labor – you are not a sick hospital patient. Consider wearing you own clothes if you won’t be delivering at home. 
Smell- Aromatherapy, be outdoors, be in your own home, or bring your own pillows from home to snuggle with. This is also why I highly encourage snuggly with your partner to get contractions going in early labor. Not only will it relax you, but the snuggling and smelling your partner will increase your oxytocin and help get those contractions going again.
Touch– Counter pressure, acupressure, massage, grounding, hand holding, and pushing/pulling as things ramp up.
Taste– Gatorade, good chocolate, smoothies, favorite food, or xxx vitamin water.
Hearing – Music, the sound of rain or water, or white noise to drown out hospital machines or noise. Some moms prefer the sounds of their own home or the sounds of their kids in the room. Even if you don’t think you want a certain playlist, the sound of goings on in the hospital may be enough to keep your adrenaline up and slow the progress of labor. Keeping low volume music going in the background can help to cover that noise to that you don’t notice it as much, as your body can keep progressing along.

How a doula helps utilize Gate Theory

Doulas help with figuring out your birth preferences and what may help you to stay relaxed during labor. We figure out what role you want us to fill and also help birthing partners feel comfortable, so that they don’t feel pressured to know what to do ahead of time. We will be there to give them ideas if they want them, and to give breaks as needed.

In early labor, we encourage resting and relaxing as much as possible. For more information on this, you can read my blog post on Rethinnking Early Labor.

Hip press mandy

We tend to rock at hip squeezes

As labor intensity picks up, a laboring mother may find that utilizing all five senses requires more than one support person. She may need a doula to apply counter pressure to her hips while her support person helps to support her weight and lets her lean on him. She may need the partner to offer her a drink of water between contractions while the doula reminds him to also offer encouragement and affirmation. The doula may also set the positive tone and help mom keep her rhythm if swaying through the contractions is what is working for her.  To do all these things at once, it will require a team. A team that knows one another before the birth, and one that has prepared and knows what roles they plan to fill to support the mother. This is why a birth doula is an awesome complement to the medically based birth team you already have assembled.




Kim and I chest bump


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Coming Soon-

Questioning your induction?

The two questions you  need to ask before your medical provider schedules an induction.



About me-

Birth doula, childbirth and lactation educator. Owner IMG_0377of Badass Birthing.

Crazy rock climber, marathon jogger and mother to four wild boys.

To stay involved with what I am doing in the local community, you can follow me on Facebook as well.