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Road test: Calm Birth

Laura Peppas

Not long after announcing you’re pregnant, it’s likely that you’ll be bombarded with stories.

Some are interesting, others helpful but the ones that tend to be the loudest, or stay with you the longest, are of the other variety.

You’ll hear every gory detail of those horror births, the nightmare labours or the non-stop vomiting in the first trimester.

Then there’s Hollywood – any labour scene from a movie or TV show might as well be from Saw; it’s all fluoro lights, a crowd of sweating, masked medical staff and beneath them a woman clamping down on a bed sheet, every now and then letting out a blood curdling scream.

Funnily enough, watching those scenes and listening to those stories didn’t do much to calm my nerves about our impending labour.

I’ve always been an anxious person, but since being pregnant I’ve found that’s heightened: I’m going into something I know I can’t control, and as a control freak, that’s a pretty scary thought.

I’d previously heard friends rave about Calm Birth classes but was never sure what they were about exactly (and after all those horror stories, the name alone seemed like an oxymoron.) Nevertheless, I decided to sign my husband and I up with the frame of mind that it couldn’t hurt.

Developed in 2006 by Peter Jackson, an Australian Midwife of 30 years with extensive experience in Mind-Body Medicine, Calm Birth is a private childbirth education program that aims to teach couples that birth is a natural process which can be experienced fearlessly, calmly and with confidence. Not to be confused with hypno-birth classes, the courses focus on approaching birth with openness and a calm mind, rather than with anxiety.


Classes are held around Australia, usually on weekends over two days.

Canberra’s Calm Birth Facilitator Tracey Anderson Askew has a background in childbirth education, psychology and birth support, and has been running the Canberra programs full time for over ten years.

Tracey is one of those people that exudes a sense of calm as soon as you meet her: when we nervously walked in on a Saturday to a room full of other mothers and fathers-to-be, she instantly made us feel at ease.

It was a pleasant and relaxing environment, with everyone seated in their own comfortable leather chairs, and mats, pillows and rugs (as well as food and drinks) at the ready.

Tracey told the group that day one of the course would focus on “relearning” our pre-conceived ideas about labour, understanding the mind-body connection and how it can work for or against the physiology of birth, and learning breathing techniques to assist with the birth.

It might sound simple but the mind-body connection was one I’d never really thought about when it came to labour. The same went for how powerful breathing, and relaxing, can be to assist the process. (Tracey told us that women who are in comas can give birth, and actually do it quite well, because they aren’t worrying about the labour.)

Tracey Anderson Askew

Tracey Anderson Askew

Tracey explained that the fear women often have during labour leads to an enormous amount of tension, which causes us to stop breathing properly and our blood to divert away from the uterus, causing more pain. Our body stops producing the natural pain-relievers we need like oxytocin and endorphins, and starts producing adrenalin which sends all the good stuff to our limbs (to flee or fight) instead of our uterus. This means we end up fighting against the body’s natural ability to bring the baby down. The result is pain, and lots of it.

The aim? To let go of the fear surrounding child birth and completely trust that our bodies know what do to, and are made to do, through the breathing and relaxation techniques we’d be learning.

As well as being shown breathing and relaxation techniques, we were taken through ways to change our thought process during the labour. For example, rather than dreading every contraction, focusing on the positive: that every contraction is bringing baby closer.

Near the end of the day, we were shown footage of a woman in labour who had practiced Calm Birth and it was the exact opposite of everything I’d ever seen on TV – dim lights, music and a focused, in-the-moment woman breathing through her contractions, talking herself gently through the process. I was honestly amazed at seeing the “other side” of how labour could be.

Day two of our course was more practical, with Tracey discussing in an open and honest way the various stages of labour, drug options, breastfeeding advice and tools for both the mum and dad-to-be to take into the labour and after baby is born. We also got a clear understanding of how to use these tools if we need help in labour and in the case of caesarean and other potential scenarios. This helped me to feel like I could manage any type of birth. There were so many “aha!” moments as well as new insights: for instance, I had no idea babies have the ability to find the milk in their mother’s breast by themselves within the hour, just by instinct.

Calm birth 321

Partners also have an important job to do, and were given a checklist of everything they can do to assist mums-to-be throughout the labour and after birth. Tracey told partners never to underestimate how important they were in the birthing process: when a woman feels loved and supported during the labour, it’s one of the most powerful tools.

At the end of the course, we were given audio files, books and other tools to take home for practice in the lead-up to the big day.

I think what I loved most about this course was that there was no judgement with what birthing option you go with, or how you do it. Rather, the message was to go into the labour with a sense of openness instead of expectation. All those birth plans and focus on the pain can cause you to lose sight of the main task at hand: to get that baby out safely.

Having all the tools at hand for what is ahead was such a powerful thing – I left feeling confident and calm, rather than overwhelmed.

I won’t lie, originally my husband wasn’t jumping for joy at the thought of spending a whole weekend in a birthing class, but by the end of the first class he surprised me by saying he couldn’t wait to go back to the next one. In fact I think his exact words were “I’m pumped about the labour now!” (Trust me, it’s a massive jump given he fainted in the dating scan, poor thing!) That’s in part credit to the open and honest nature of the course, and Tracey’s ability as a facilitator to draw you in.

As for me, I’m now feeling confident, capable and incredibly, excited about the labour – because rather than focus on the pain, I’m now focusing on meeting our baby.


the essentials

What: Calm Birth Canberra Courses
Where: Tuggeranong Business Centre, Kambah
When: Various dates
How much: $495 for two days, includes food and book/audio files
Web: calmbirthcanberra.com.au/

The author received this course free of charge, but all opinions are their own. For more information on our sponsored post policy, click here.  


Laura Peppas

Laura Peppas is HerCanberra's senior journalist and communications manager and is the Editor of Unveiled, HerCanberra's wedding magazine. She is enjoying uncovering all that Canberra has to offer, meeting some intriguing locals and working with a pretty awesome bunch of women. Laura has lived in Canberra for most of her life and when she's not writing fervently she enjoys pursuing her passion for travel, reading, online shopping and chai tea. More about the Author

  • Eleonor Pritchard

    My husband found that the Calm Birth class gave him something to be responsible for, and be able to control, during the birth – and it was true. He was key to supporting me during the birth, didn’t even check any sports scores!! 😉