This past year of 2018 I’ve been blessed to see several births – both human and puppy deliveries. In the spring, I shadowed several deliveries in the hospital I volunteered in to gain experience towards my childbirth educator license. And a month later I saw my boyfriend’s dad’s dog give birth to a wonderful litter of puppies.
But while there is a large species gap, I did see some similarities and common links that both dog and human births shared. Lamaze International has a guideline for labor based off the best evidence-based facts that involves 6 steps for a healthy baby and birth.
I do want to make clear – a dog giving birth and a human giving birth are completely different labors and experiences. The essence of new life entering the world is the same, and there are some lessons I think can be taught from the puppies’ birth story.
1. Let Labor Begin on It’s Own. This is kind of a given for Kyra, the mommy dog. Kyra was bigger every day with her womb full of little puppies, but she was still happy and moving around before her labor began.
2. Movement in labor. To begin, Kyra had been pacing and having gentle contractions the day before her puppies were born. My boyfriend, his dad, and I gave Kyra free range to sit and walk around as she pleased. We were anticipating her to give birth any hour- this was her second litter and we had everything ready for the puppies to arrive. Later on during the birth in between delivering her litter, we had Kyra get up and walk around outside, use the bathroom, and get movement. By moving around, the pelvis is able to move into different positions, the womb is able to shift around, and all of this helps progress the babies to be born. If there was no movement, it would be a longer, more painful process. Can you imagine a dog, or human for that matter, spending the entire labor lasting 8-12 or more hours laying down?
3. Have Continuous Support. Kyra could not communicate verbally to us what she needed, but we did our best to provider a warm, safe, cozy place that was as non-threatening and least stressful environment as possible. Someone was always within 5 feet of her through the 10 hour labor. We’d pet her and say “good girl” to give her the encouragement she needed as she grew more and more tired with every puppy born.
4. Avoid Unnecessary Interventions. This was the scariest moment of the birth. After the first puppy was born around 7 AM, we waited anxiously for the next puppy. Based off the Internet and Kyra’s last delivery, it should be about 20 minutes until the next birth. Half an hour goes by, then an hour. At this point we are all growing concerned. It’s Sunday morning and our usual vet was closed, so we called the emergency vet hospital and asked what was the best option.
Kyra was having contractions and pushing – but no puppies were coming out. The vet assistant offered that after another 30 to 45 minutes, if nothing had happened, to bring Kyra in for intervention, perhaps a C-section. Nothing happened, so we had no choice but to wrap up Kyra and the little lonely puppy into an old Ford pickup truck. I sat in the back bench with the two dogs as we drove across the country-fields to the hospital. Not paying attention I looked ahead of where we were driving – it was a very bumpy route and the truck’s lack of suspension did not help.
Next thing I knew – there was a second puppy being born on the road! We immediately pulled over and assessed Kyra and her now two pups. Kyra was still having contractions so turned around to head back to the home. We’re pretty sure that puppies #2 and #3 had been stuck in the birth canal, lodging the canal blocked and the bumpy trip had forced the puppies to move.
Transferring Kyra to the truck and heading towards the vet hospital was the only intervention we performed until the end of her birth.
The second intervention was helping two puppies learn to take the teet. We let Kyra bite open the amniotic sac, lick the puppies clean, and eat the placentas after each delivery. There were 10 puppies born in total. Two unfortunately were born stillborn. And two puppies were extremely tiny – runts. The two runts would not take to the teet, they wouldn’t even open their mouths. My boyfriend and I left after all the puppies were delivered to go to the pet store and buy newborn puppy milk and a bottle to try to convince the two puppies to drink. When we returned and the puppies tasted the “milk,” they both were able to transfer to their mom’s teat and continued to eat and grow with their siblings.
5. Get Upright and Follow Urges to Push. This step of birth falls towards the end of human labor – the end of 2nd stage and the beginnings of 3rd stage. By being in an upright position, the help of gravity and the opening of the pelvis help bring baby closer to delivery. (To note – sometimes a labor is too tiring for mom’s to get into an upright position, or they are on an epidural and cannot go upright for their safety, which is why in today’s media you rarely see a mother giving birth in any other position besides on her back). Kyra as a dog only gave birth laying on her side – standing and giving birth would let the babies fall to the ground… not how nature intended dogs to be born. But she did follow her instinct to push. And they were amazing pushes! She was quiet and focused, only taking breaks to help lick and clean the puppies already born.
6. Keep Your Baby Close After Birth. Bonding and holding your baby skin to skin in the first hour, the “Golden Hour,” is extremely beneficial for baby’s temperature regulation, less stress, hormones and bonding. Rooming with your newborn baby while in the hospital can also make breastfeeding easier.
Follow this link for short, in-depth videos from Lamaze describing these steps in more detail!