Knitting and birth: it’s a great combination!

When I’m packing my bag, getting ready to be someone’s doula, I always pack my knitting. I chose something simple – something that I can put down at once if I need to, but something that keeps my hands busy and allows my mind to freewheel just enough.

And every time I’m at a birth, the midwives comment on me and my knitting. How they used to knit, how lovely it is, what I’m making. And how in the old days a midwife would always have her knitting in her bag, along with all the bits and pieces she needed for a birth.

It’s a pity it doesn’t happen more often these days, though. Because knitting is the perfect companion to a straightforward birth. I was a doula for a lady last year. Her husband was there too. They were cuddled up together; the oxytocin was flowing, as was the gas and air. She wanted him to support her and at that point I was on standby, really – not really needed other than simply my presence. So out came my knitting – I was doing a pair of pink socks at the time. I asked her whether she minded my knitting – I was slightly concerned that she was paying me to be her birth partner, and instead of ‘earning my money’ by doing something, I was bouncing gently on a giant birthing ball, knitting and purling and cabling, and watching my sock grow. I was pleased by her answer: ‘carry on, I like watching you. It’s comforting.’

That seems to be a common theme, and I found this quote on the Nomadic Midwife’s blog that sums it up:

“after a contraction, opening my eyes, and looking to see her knitting in the corner. That let me know everything was fine, I was fine, and I could do it. In fact, it was when she got up to do medical checks, I began to wonder a little bit if something could be wrong — so long as she was knitting, I knew nature and I were still on course.”

The late great Tricia Anderson talked about one of the cornerstones of midwifery being ‘intelligent tea drinking’. There is a phrase within medicine (which overlaps with midwifery, but is not a subset of it!) of ‘watchful waiting’ – and it strikes me that the knitting childbirth professional (be it doula or midwife or even grandmother of the baby) is of the same ilk: she portrays a peaceful calm suggesting that all is right, that everything is unfolding normally. There is an inference that nature knows what she’s doing here and that we don’t need to interfere.

This is just what Liz Nightingale, Independent Midwife and accomplished knitter of baby hats, says, too: ‘If the labour is nice and leisurely, I like to knit between midwifery tasks. When your midwife is knitting you know everything is going well and so you can relax and release all tension and let your baby slide down.’

But there’s more to it than that. Anyone who does anything with their hands (at all, ever), be it knitting or painting or gardening or whittling or carpentry or mechanics will understand that when the hands are engaged, the mind freewheels in a beautifully non-linear fashion. Thoughts, ideas, theories can emerge in a most satisfying fashion, conclusions are effortlessly reached about troubling or confusing issues, and there’s also the sense that time is being constructively used, not wasted. Liz Nightingale again: ‘I like to knit – it’s a satisfying activity in its own right. It also calms me and allows me to let my thoughts organise themselves inside my head. This is especially useful during birth when emerging circumstances make regular re-evaluation of plans sensible.’

I wish the midwives who had attended my second birth – one warm August night, at home – had knitted. My abiding memory of the birth is looking up from a contraction to see three of them, leaning in a row against my kitchen work surface, watching me. I felt as if I had an audience, and it inhibited me. Not so badly I didn’t push out a beautiful little girl just before dawn, but it is not a pleasant memory. Liz says: ‘I offer to knit a baby hat for each baby I look after. I sometimes do sibling hats too. Parents choose what style and colours of hat they would like.’ To watch my midwives produce love in stitches for my coming baby would have warmed my heart rather than irritated me!

I wonder if I should get down the local university that trains midwives, and offer them the Hooties pattern below – or show them how to knock out a quick baby hat. Hey, I could even teach the obstetricians to knit – now there’s a plan!


~ by Kedi Simpson on April 6, 2011.

5 Responses to “Knitting and birth: it’s a great combination!”

  1. Totally agree! I always have my knitting. I do find that if I “don’t” knit and am more “involved”, dads sometimes are less involved. Me, being busy, knitting, calming the room, empowers the dads too to feel they can be the one the mum needs for massage etc, thus increasing the oxytocin.

  2. Beautifully said – without my knitting my life would be very, very different.

  3. When I first started looking for a midwife I wanted one who knitted, so she could sit in the loungeroom knitting instead of looking for something to do!

  4. Oh Kedi I love this, thank you for sharing x

  5. Thanks for this post. Knitting is a great way for midwives to get into a ‘right brain’ intuitive state – essential for being with birth. Unfortunately institutions require midwives to constantly use their ‘left brain’ to measure, document etc. and to be with institution.

    By the way I have a knitting in silence (while listening to birth sounds) session in the midwifery intensive course for new midwifery students. An evidence based approach to midwifery care during birth. Maybe you should take your pattern to your local uni 🙂

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