Birthing Babies and Running Races: Pushing Past Your Breaking Point with Positive Feedback

Guest: Mary Ila Ward Coaching, Communication, HR (& Life!) Advice, Race

I’m in labor.

One nurse is holding one foot; another is holding the other. There’s a doctor in-between my legs, and my husband is at my side. (He was instructed under no uncertain circumstances to go below my knees.)

It’s time to push.  I, of course, am drugged with an epidural. They have to tell me when to push because I luckily can’t feel a thing.  I don’t know the results of my efforts, whether I’m doing it right or wrong because:

1) I can’t feel it, and
2) I can’t see far enough down to know if a baby is coming out as I push.

I’m getting no internal feedback from my body.

The nurse to the right starts to give instructions as I push. It goes something like this:

“Don’t push with your legs.” “Don’t breath like that.” “You’re leaning too far forward.” Real positive and motivating. Thanks, lady. Did I mention I can’t feel a thing? By her feedback, I was never going to get this child out.

The nurse on the left gives instructions as she watches the progress, or lack thereof, of the baby crowning, “You’re doing great, now push with your bottom.” (Sorry—this may be too graphic, but that is apparently the way you’re supposed to do it and there is no other way to put it.)

“That’s it, that’s it! Good!”  she says.

A contraction finishes. She says, “Great, now rest.  You’re doing such a good job. When the next one comes, take a deep breath and do it again. I’ll count to eight while you push, and then you take another deep breath and push again.”

I tuned out nurse to the right and focused on nurse to my left.  The instructions laced with “Don’t” weren’t helping me get the 7 lb. 2 oz. bundle of perfection out, but the positive feedback and specific instructions about how to do it were going to help me have this baby. And it worked.

The same principle applies to performing other physical feats—It’s not just for baby mamas. In fact, in a recent study How Your Thoughts Affect Your Running Efficiency, posted on Runner’s World, researchers sought to see if “enhancing expectancies” through positive feedback improved running performance.   Feedback given was something like this:

“You’re doing great. Your oxygen consumption is in the top 10th percentile for your age and gender.”

Nurse-to-my-left type feedback was given, leading to increased running efficiency as indicated by their VO2 Max.

Want to increase performance that leads to results?  Then my personal labor experience and running research suggests the following to enhance performance:

  1. Give feedback
  2. Give positive feedback (i.e., “You’re doing great!”)
  3. Give instructional feedback that helps direct efforts (i.e., “I’ll count to eight while you push, and then you take another deep breath and push again.”)

Hopefully, no one is going into labor at the office, but coaching people to optimal results necessitates continuous feedback. And positive feedback is all the better, or least that was the case for me.  My body and our baby girl thank the nurse for the positive feedback and the results it achieved.