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To imply that the best birth outcomes are a result of positive thinking—or lack of fear—may be true on some levels, but it’s also a gross oversimplification. This week, Mother’s Advocate guest Piper Lovemore discusses the important role of fear in birth.

While it would be somewhat gratifying to place the blame for our current fearful birth culture on reality television, it would also be a misnomer. Certainly popular media images of birth feed into our nation’s tokophobia (fear of childbirth or pregnancy), but they are not entirely to blame. Nor is blame entirely called for.

Fear has a physiological foundation in the body. On the most basic hormonal level, there are only two root emotions: love and fear. Love is associated with the hormone Oxytocin, known for its starring role in orgasm and uterine contractions. Fear releases the hormone Adrenaline, enhancing our speed and agility. These two hormones, followed closely by endorphins, are the most important players in physiological birth process, and their entitlement to that distinction predates even The Learning Channel and Discovery Health.

Yes, physiological fear can be traced back to a time before television, or hospitals, or even doctors for that matter. It stands to reason that a hormonal interplay so ancient is not for naught.

For our foremothers it was especially important. In times of danger, the natural hormonal response to fear impacts the body’s ability to suspend the birth process temporarily. Women of ancient civilizations faced birth in environments less stable than our own and the possibility of flight during labor necessitated a means for shutting things down in order to pick up and go.

What is concerning is that this very mechanism which served – and in some areas undoubtedly continues to serve – women has lead our culture toward ever-increasing amount of intervention, causing greater risk despite a more controlled environment.

What we may be overlooking is that the body’s built-in safety mechanisms are still functioning as effectively as ever. It’s our appreciation for these internal signals that has diminished. Women aren’t birthing less efficiently, we are losing the ability to understand the body’s signals..

Sure, there may be less perceived threat in a hospital environment. And many women who choose to birth at home do so because they feel safest there. But because labor loves surrender, because birth functions most smoothly when a woman is able to become powerfully open, any challenge to her vulnerability can trigger adrenaline release.

Sometimes its the orderly coming in to empty the trash, or an unfamiliar face in the birthing team. Often its far more subtle than that.

When we acknowledge the role that fear plays in birth without  judgment or shame – or the need to abolish it – we create a space in which we can recognize the gifts that it brings. Fear has the ability to direct our attention toward a particular issue, it can be our teacher; and in a miraculous synchronicity, just as these issues emerge labor may slow to allow us to address them.

Birth has its own magic. The intoxicating hormonal cocktail it creates in the body produces a profound emotional fluidity, which in turn facilitates a unique opportunity for clearing and healing. Fear may psychologically draw out issues needing attention and physiologically create an opportunity for us to address them.

From this perspective a birthing woman who chooses to have faith in—and commitment to—her process may actually be supported in growing through some of her emotional hang ups, rather than being synthetically sped through them.  In this way we create a more welcoming emotional environment for her new baby, often grounded in deeper emotional connection with her partner. It can be a truly remarkable transformation.

But you probably won’t see it on television. *

*Or maybe you can… Orgasmic Birth is currently airing on television in the Czech Republic! Could your country be next? Visit http://www.orgasmicbirth.com <http://www.orgasmicbirth.com>  for listings and a plethora of inspiration. Piper Lovemore is a mother, an activist, an educator, a doula, and an aspiring midwife.  Her first birth was featured in the award winning documentary film Orgasmic Birth. Her next two births took place at home, ‘unassisted’.
She lives in Hawaii with her partner in life, love and Lamaze, Chaz, and their three children, Che’, Plum and Rocket.

This week we are thrilled to feature an excerpt from What Your Pediatrician Doesn’t Know Can Hurt Your Child: A More Natural Approach to Parenting by Susan Markel, M.D with contributions from Linda F. Palmer.  Shared sleep has been a popular topic of conversation in the birth and parenting community – learn the benefits of this practice and enter to win one of two copies of the book here:

Probably nowhere do modern Western cultural expectations and the reality of babies’ needs conflict more than in the area of sleeping behavior.  Babies and their parents sleep together in approximately 90% of the world’s population.  Co-sleeping is simply the “norm” and has for thousands of years.  In the U.S., more and more parents are ignoring warnings of “spoiling” their infants and other dire condemnations of the family bed. Instead they are trusting their instincts and are keeping their baby warm and safe at night exactly where nature intended – right next to them.  In a poll conducted by Parenting magazine, 42% of parents responded that they share sleep with their infants at least part of the time.

We cannot “spoil” our babies by always responding to their needs.  Babies have an inborn need to be touched and held.  They enjoy having physical closeness day and night, and this kind of connection is essential for avoiding stress.  The previous chapter discussed how being carried in a carrier or sling during the day Meets a baby’s needs for warmth, comfort, and security.  This dependence does not diminish when the sun goes down.

Many well-meaning family members, friends, and physicians will suggest practices that foster separation between you and your baby in what are largely misguided attempts to force your child to become independent.  Practices such as sleep training, scheduled feeding and “crying it out” only add to your child’s distress.  Babies whose cries are soothed quickly, for example, tend to cry less, not more.

Bed Sharing Benefits

Mothers sleep with their children to monitor them and keep them safe, to facilitate breast-feeding, and simply to be near them.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh interviewed caregivers who believe that benefits of bed sharing outweigh concerns and warnings, including those of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).  Parents identified many benefits of bed sharing:

  • Allows both parent and child to sleep better.
  • Provides convenience of tending to baby’s needs without getting up.
  • Gives comfort to parents who enjoy following the tradition.
  • Promotes a strong sense of bonding between parents and their children.

Babies who sleep with their parents remain connected to them throughout the night.  When they awaken, they can feel the presence of their parent or hear their parent breathing in the dark.  Reassured, they go back to sleep.

Co-Sleeping is the infant and caregiver sleeping within sensory range of each other (within the same room).  Bed sharing means that the infant sleeps in the adult bed with at least one parent.  A 2005 policy statement by the AAP on sleep environment and the risk of SIDS condemned all bed sharing as unsafe.  However, bed sharing is common, and those parents who regularly do so find it to be natural and enjoyable.  It is never the bed sharing itself that is unsafe by the way in which it occurs – certain factors are considered to impair safety, such as when a parent’s reaction time is somehow weakened, as it would be by drugs or alcohol.  A baby co-sleeping with a smoking parent is also a factor associated with more deaths.  Soft mattresses, sofa-sleeping, and fluffy bedding must be avoided.

Independence

Despite our society’s reverence for independence and the belief that children will not become independent unless we force them, babies whose early dependency needs are met are more likely to become trusting, emotionally secure, and independent when they are ready.

Human infants need constant attention and contact with other human beings because they are unable to look after themselves.  For perhaps millions of years, infants as a matter of course slept next to at least one caregiver, usually the mother, in order to survive.  Unlike other mammals, they cannot keep themselves warm, move about, or feed themselves until a relatively long time after birth.

Breastfeeding

Co-sleeping encourages breast-feeding by making nighttime breast-feeding more convenient, and the combination helps babies fall asleep more easily, especially during their first few months when they wake up in the middle of the night.

The AAP counsels that breast-feeding is an important factor in SIDS prevention and acknowledges that bed sharing facilitates breast-feeding and mother-baby bonding.

The AAP admonition that a breast-feeding infant never sleep in the mothers’ bed appears to be an ironic contradiction that in practice is likely to have an adverse effect on breast-feeding and serve to increase the rate of SIDS.  When a baby is nursing frequently during the night, it is much easier for mothers to nurse for a while and then fall back to sleep with their babies.  Mothers who have to get out of bed to nurse can be expected to suffer significantly more fatigue getting fully awake to fetch the baby and then putting the baby back to bed after each feed.  Breast-feeding in these cases is more likely to be diminished or given up altogether.

Enter to Win A Copy of What Your Pediatrician Doesn’t Know Can Hurt Your Child: A More Natural Approach to Parenting

We realize that you are busy, which is why we have created the Mother’s Advocate e-newsletter. Becoming a newsletter subscriber is easy and is a great way to recieve bi-weekly birth information & articles from Mother’s Advocate.

Become a subscriber before September 5th and you will be entered to win a copy of Susan Markel, MD’s book What Your Pediatrician Doesn’t Know Can Hurt Your Child. In her book Dr. Markel discusses a natural approach to parenting in an age of modern medicine. To subscribe, simply log on to www.mothersadvocate.org and click ‘Sign up for our newsletter!’.

If you haven’t already, we also invite you to follow us on Twitter and Facebook!

Susan Markel, M.D., is an American Board Certified Pediatrician with extensive experience in newborn care and lactation, as well as all aspects of general pediatric care. As a consultant to parents of children of all ages, from newborn through adolescence, her ability to communicate and empathize has helped many families in times of emotional transition. She has appeared on many live television broadcasts, and she has been invited to speak at parenting conferences world-wide.

There are several cultures where childbirth is understood to be a rite of passage. Beliefs surrounding this transformation are important because they inform the way in which women give birth.

The first culture that jumps to mind would be the Kung of the Kalahari Desert, where young men and women practice rituals that bring them into adulthood.  The most significant right of passage for the Kung men is to hunt and kill their first large animal. For women, the right of passage is giving birth. The Kung is a very subtle tribe who don’t honor bragging.  For example if a young man comes back from a hunt and boasts about making the big kill they will be ignored.  Instead they will quietly start passing out meat, indicating that they accomplished this feat.  For women to gain the same kind of honor, they go off on their own to give birth in the bush without saying anything to anyone. Once the child is born, they very quietly come back and start nursing their baby under a tree.  At this point everyone notices and comes by to congratulate her.  She is then honored for her stoicism and her warrior like abilities in her right of passage.

Another great example is Japan.  Most births still take place in the hospital, however there are maternity homes with live-in midwives where women go for pre-natal care and birth.  The Japanese and the midwives who work in these maternity homes have a specific saying about labor pain; they call it “metamorphic”.  They say that going through labor is a metamorphosis because it changes the woman into a mother the way that crawling out of the cocoon changes the caterpillar into a butterfly.  They adhere to an old story that states if you help the caterpillar out of its cocoon it will die.  It has to emerge by itself in order to survive and to be strong.

Japanese midwives approach birth with great patience.  They believe that the struggle and pain of labor helps the mother to grow and transform herself. The mother must look deep down inside herself and find out who she is.  The baby also needs the struggle of being born; the work is what transforms both the mother and the baby into separate beings with the power and the strength to go on and to be the mother-baby pair that they need to be.

The babies muscles will get exercised during birth which will prepare the baby to be ready to breastfeed.  This will also enable the baby to be aware of the smells and hormones needed to latch on.  If it’s born by cesarean section for example or if there are drugs at birth the baby’s consciousness will be reduced as well as the flow of necessary hormones.

The mother’s metamorphosis releases massive doses of oxytocin while she’s in early labor. Late in labor a flush of adrenaline gets her on a high and gives her the power and strength to push the baby out. Right after this stage comes another flush – the biggest flush of oxytocin she’ll ever get in her entire life.  This will transform her and the moment of suffering, pain and pushing.  If you watch women’s faces at this moment there’s a suffusion of joy and ecstasy in their expression.  Then the milk lets down, the prolactin comes and the hormones all work together to make the caterpillar turn into the most beautiful butterfly.

This excerpt is part of a video interview with Robbie Davis-Floyd and is being re-published with permission from Mindful Mama.

 

Mother’s Advocate is delighted to announce this week’s blog post and Facebook contest by Dr. Gerald Newmark and Laurie Haessley. Dr. Newmark’s work regarding the Five Emotional Needs of Children is receiving accolades everywhere – from breastfeeding support groups and new father groups to school systems and corporate America.  He reminds families that when we treat one another with respect, acceptance and inclusion the world become a more peaceful and loving place. Laurie Haessley is a WIC Breastfeeding Coordinator in California. Read on to learn more about the connection between exclusive breastfeeding and emotionally happy children and how to enter to win a complimentary copy of Dr. Newmark’s book.

Laurie:  As the WIC Breastfeeding Coordinator of a very large county in California, Riverside County, I am responsible for developing and managing our breastfeeding education, support and assistance program.  The goal of everything we do is to increase the exclusive breastfeeding initiation and duration among mothers enrolled in the WIC program.  I am always searching for ways to better serve our WIC families and making ‘course corrections’ in our program so we can best meet the needs of our mothers and babies.  For many years WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselors have facilitated breastfeeding mothers groups where mothers come together to discuss breastfeeding issues.  Approximately 6 years ago our Peer Counselors realized that mothers stopped breastfeeding because of life issues NOT because of breastfeeding issues.  We determined we needed a social-emotional component for our breastfeeding program.  At about the same time I met Dr. Newmark speaking at a conference and decided then that we needed a course correction for our breastfeeding mothers groups.

Dr. Newmark: At the conference, I spoke about how babies, toddlers, children, teenagers, parents and grandparents ALL have the same emotional needs.  Meeting these needs in childhood provides the foundation for success in life. Being a relaxed, happy person who enjoys life is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give to a child and is one of the most important attributes a parent contributes to a child’s sense of security.  This is vital to a child’s sense of security all the time, but especially during the breastfeeding period.

Laurie: We incorporated the concepts from Dr. Newmark’s Book How to Raise Emotionally Healthy Children – Meeting the Five Critical  Needs of Children… and Parents Too!  into the mothers groups curriculum.   The five critical emotional needs he speaks about are:

  • Feeling Respected
  • Feeling Important
  • Feeling Accepted
  • Feeling Included
  • Feeling Secure

Our breastfeeding mothers groups are THE success for the high exclusive breastfeeding rates in Riverside County.  The groups are successful because mothers’ emotional needs are met.  Most women stop breastfeeding when they perceive life problems as insurmountable which leads to a lack of confidence as a mother.  Breastfeeding requires self-confidence and mothers who lack self-confidence are not successful breastfeeding.   Our mothers groups facilitated by our awesome peer counselors offer a safe place to discuss and resolve life problems.  The groups are a comfortable place to make friends, be with the same moms each month and practice exclusive breastfeeding.  Groups are safe places for mothers to open up and share their inner most feelings while respecting each others’ differences.

At each mothers group emotional needs are met through the concepts of How to Raise Emotionally Healthy Children.

Dr. Newmark: Parenting is not something one learns once and masters for all time.  Babies and children of different ages may have the five emotional needs to different degrees.  They may need to be satisfied in slightly different ways. Parents must learn to adjust their interactions accordingly.  The concepts and techniques taught in the book are easy to learn but the most important thing is that parents must be good learners and their children are their best teachers.  Parents must learn to LISTEN to their children to best meet their needs.

Laurie:  One critical emotional need of children and parents is explored during each mothers’ group meeting.

  • Feeling Respected – What does respect look like to you?  How do babies ‘talk’ to us?                 How can we show respect to our babies?
  • Feeling Important – How can we make our babies and children feel important?
  • Feeling Accepted – How can we make our babies and children feel accepted?
  • Feeling Included – How can we make our babies and children feel included?
  • Feeling Secure – How can we make our babies and children feel secure?

At the end of each mothers group session two questions are always asked:  ‘What was a challenge for you this month?’ and ‘What makes motherhood good for you this month?’  Mothers are encouraged to go home and practice what they have learned.  Each month confidence is gained by women in their new role as ‘mother’ leading to a successful breastfeeding experience.

Dr. Newmark:  Laurie and the Riverside County WIC Peer to Peer program have been the pioneers in this emotional health movement.  It is now incorporated in many WIC Peer to Peer programs throughout California and nationwide.

Enter our Facebook giveaway for a chance to win a copy of How to Raise Emotionally Healthy Children: Meeting the Five Critical Emotional Needs of Children.. And Parents Too! log onto www.facebook.com and “Like” our Mother’s Advocate Facebook page! All “Likes” from August 8, 2011 to August 22, 2011 will be entered to win one of 12 copies!

Dr. Gerald Newmark has had experience at every level of education from elementary school to university as a teacher, consultant and researcher.  He has lectured extensively on parent-child-teacher relations and on innovative methods of teaching and learning. He connects with diverse audiences using straight-forward language that is informative, interesting and entertaining. He has received a presidential citation for his pioneering work in education described in his book This School Belongs To You and Me.  His most recent book How To Raise Emotionally Healthy Children has sold 400,000 copies. Translations have been published in Mexico, Israel, Hungary, Russia, Austria, Braille in United States and soon will be released in India and China. Dr. Newmark is a member of the American Association of Humanistic Psychology, the Charles F. Menninger Society and the National Association for The Mentally Ill. (For more information about Dr. Newmark’s work visit www.emotionallyhealthychildren.org)

Laurie Haessly is the Program Director for Lactation Services or Riverside County and the Operations Director of Best Fed Babies. She has a Master’s degree in Nutrition and is a Registered Dietitian (RD) and an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). Laurie has been assisting breastfeeding mothers for more than twenty-five years. She has helped thousands of mothers to successfully breastfeed their babies. She sits on both the National WIC Association and California WIC Association Breastfeeding Committees. Laurie developed and oversees the popular Breastfeeding Cafes, Moms2Moms Groups and Sistah Connection Groups based on the Raising Emotionally Healthy Children concepts in Riverside County, California. Laurie has received numerous “best practices” awards for the work she has conducted at the national, state, and local levels. Recognitions have included the Economic Research Service’s “Innovative Breastfeeding Practices” award; the Princeton Mathematica Institute’s “Best Breastfeeding Practices” award; and the Loma Linda University Perinatal Services Network’s “Most Innovative Breastfeeding Promotion” award.

This successful Breastfeeding Peer to Peer Program is not exclusive to WIC and can be adapted to other breastfeeding organizations.  If you are interested in learning more please contact us at info@emotionallyhealthychildren.org 

How to Raise Emotionally Healthy Children, now in its second edition and 5th printing, has sold 400,000 books to date, and is often distributed free of charge to parents by many cities, educational systems, hospitals and other institutions.  Individual copies of the book in English and Spanish can be purchased on amazon.com and is also available on Kindle.  For special low pricing on large quantities, contact The Children’s Project: http://www.emotionallyhealthychildren.org

There are a lot of scary myths surrounding childbirth, which can cause women to become afraid. Fear triggers the “fight or flight” response and can shutdown the birthing process. Laura Shanley discusses the importance of overcoming fear and provides insightful tips for mothers who are preparing for birth.

Fear, Stress and the Birthing Process

Did you know that your face turns white when you’re afraid because the body thinks the blood and oxygen are needed in your arms and legs to fight a perceived danger? This is part of the “flight or flight” response. If we feel that we are in danger, blood is drained from the face and other internal organs; digestion shuts down. This is why you can have stomach problems if you’re in a constant state of stress and fear.

There’s a book called “Why Zebra’s Don’t Get Ulcers” – that really explains how well our bodies would function if we didn’t keep triggering fight-flight.  Because of fear and stress, we keep sending blood and oxygen away from our digestive organs, our sex organs, etc. If we were not on high alert all of the time, then our bodies could function at a much higher level. This is true every day of our lives, but is especially important during pregnancy and birth.

Our natural, physiologic response to stress and fear can actually make birth traumatic, causing a host of problems. This begins building long before a woman conceives. Our society focuses way too much on the different things that could go wrong in birth. We should spend more time focusing on how well our bodies really will function when we are in a relaxed state.

Overcoming Fear

For me, overcoming fear was a spiritual process.  I know there are women that have given birth to healthy babies without having spiritual beliefs, but I found strength and courage through the realization that there is a larger consciousness. I also believe that the human body was created intentionally; That we aren’t just a mass of chemicals that accidentally came together – that there is great intelligence to creation and we can somehow feel that within ourselves.

My advice to other moms?

1.    Ask for direction and inner help. Look within yourself for guidance and direction – trusting that it’s there.

2.    Simply believing that courage is available actually makes a big difference in your birth outcome.  Affirmations can be very powerful in this way.

3.    Pay close attention to how you’re feeling throughout the day.  For example if you start feeling anxious during the pregnancy ask yourself “what was I just thinking about?”

4.    Surround yourself with positive thinking people.  If you go see a friend or family member who is continually telling you about the danger and possible complications of birth, I would say that you have the right to not be around that person.  Often times, these people are trying to convince themselves and others around them of their decision, and their remarks have nothing to do with you or your birth experience.

5.    Research. Read positive birth stories. This will help to remind you that other women have stood in your shoes, and they’ve succeeded.

6.    Pay attention to your dreams. I had a dream about how I should give birth to my son standing up, which I had never thought of because I was on my hands and knees for my first birth.  He ended up being born breech (vaginally). This opened my eyes to the idea that dreams are just another resource.  Do not discount your dreams, intuition, impulses, emotions, etc.

LAURA KAPLAN SHANLEY is an author, freelance writer, speaker and childbirth consultant widely recognized as one of the leading voices in the natural-birth movement. Her expertise is frequently sought out by television and movie production companies, as well as media outlets around the globe. She has been featured in media outlets such as ABC News, “20/20,” “The Doctors,” BBC, Discovery Channel, Disney, The New York Times, Reuters, and The Washington Post, among many others. In addition, she works with women on a one-on-one basis, providing them with childbirth education and emotional support before and during pregnancy. She is a frequent speaker at childbirth conferences, providing her unique perspective and inspiring insight. Laura maintains a website dedicated to natural childbirth, www.unassistedchildbirth.com, and has published articles for an array of news outlets. During her free time, Laura enjoys hiking, writing poetry and spending time with her four adult children and one grandchild.  

Ani DiFranco has written hundreds of songs, played thousands of shows and is no doubt an icon for strong and fearless women. This is why we are thrilled to share her thoughts on birth, motherhood and strength in this interview:

MA: Tell us about your decision to have a home birth.

Ani: Birthing is a very unique and profound event, and my choice to have a home birth was not because I’m independent (or something), it’s because essentially I’m an animal and I’m very affected by my environment. I’ve always got my feelers out and I know that the animal in me is very easily intimidated – I know this from making twenty records in awkward situations where I don’t feel comfortable, and then you have to sing and then there’s that moment when you’re not really in your own skin.  I didn’t want to give birth to my baby like I had given birth to some of my records thinking “help I’m alone among strangers in this alien environment”. The hospital environment would have been really counter-productive to me.

In retrospect I think that my midwife actually had a perception of me that I was very independent and knew how I wanted to birth because that’s my M.O., but having babies was something I had never done before and I had no idea how I wanted to do any of it.  I’m really happy that I did it at home, even though it was long and extremely challenging for me. In retrospect I think I would want more guidance.  No matter who you are, giving birth is going to kick your ass – in one way or another.

MA: So how did you get through it?

Ani: You know I think that I went into it with a lot of expectations about the power and the beauty and the transformation, and then when the labor really picked up, I was just scared and in pain. Then of course it was powerful and beautiful and transformative.

I think that one of the things that hurt the most afterwards was not my broken tailbone but my ego. I thought birth would be easy for me somehow and the fact that birth was (really) hard made me feel like “maybe I’m not as strong as I thought. Maybe I’m weak”. So, I had to go through an ego recovery process and address those feelings and my misconception of my role as a woman and myself as a part of nature.

MA: What’s it like to be a mama?  

Ani: It’s really something the way the babies teach us to nurture – to be nurturing and to transfer that sort of love and respect and caring to everybody’s babies. We’re all somebody’s baby and I think that everything we need to know about being mindful mamas our babies will teach us eventually, whether we want it or not.

Ani DiFranco has written hundreds of songs, played thousands of shows, captured the imaginations of legions of followers, and jammed with folkies, orchestras, rappers, rock and roll hall-of-famers, jazz musicians, poets, pop superstars, storytellers and a martial arts legend. Ani started her own music label Righteous Babe Records and because of this decision she’s been called “fiercely independent” (Rolling Stone), “inspirational” (All Music Guide), and “the ultimate do-it-yourself songwriter” (The New York Times).

This interview has been republished with permission from Mindful Mama

Do you wonder how comfortable your husband will be with your doula? Good news: this week we brought back Micky Jones, an LLL Leader, doula, lactation trainer, conference speaker, IBCLC, Hypnobabies instructor, and author to guide you through her doula “cheat sheet” for Dads. 

“I’m just not sure if he’s going to be able to handle it. That’s one of the reasons we wanted to hire a doula.” If I had a nickel for every mom who said this during an interview for doula services, well, I would have a lot of nickels. Moms often wonder if their birth partner will truly be able to fulfill the role set before them in childbirth classes or birthing books. So much to remember. So much pressure for someone who is also deeply invested in the well-being of this special baby and mother.

The presence of a doula can free a father (or other close emotional support people) to experience and enjoy the birth without needing to be a perfect “birth partner”. I suggest that the partner also must be free to be present, vulnerable and primal.  One dad might get in the birth tub with his partner and catch the baby while another might sit in a chair in the other side of the room and just try not to loose his lunch. Both can benefit from the encouragement of a doula’s support.  It is the right of the couple to determine the level and type of involvement he should give. Insisting that all fathers participate in a certain way is just as judgmental as assuming all women should birth in a particular way.

Obstetrician, Michel Odent has suggested that the influence of the father’s participation during the birth is far more complex than we have considered. In a Midwifery Today article from 1999 entitled, Is the Participation of the Father at Birth Dangerous, Odent raises questions including’ “Does the participation of the father aid or hinder the birth?” and, “Can all men cope with the strong emotional reactions they may have while participating in the birth?”.  Most of us would say, “Of course!”

But after witnessing the interactions between many couples during birth and postpartum, I believe we have put fathers in a position they were never meant to be in.

Make no mistake, I believe in women AND men attending childbirth classes. The father/birth partner needs to gain information, understand how the mother plans to labor and discuss options during pregnancy in order to be very connected and in agreement concerning plans for the birthing. Information given ranges from anatomy to the stages of labor to the smorgasbord of interventions and choices available today. That’s a lot of information to tuck into one’s brain cells. Not to mention that this is a pretty big day for dad too as he rides his own roller coaster of birth.

So, how can a doula help dad? Here are just five of the ways the support of a doula can free dad to offer support in a way that is comfortable and effective.

  1. Doulas live, breathe, eat and sleep all that stuff from childbirth class you (dads) can’t remember. Doulas who have been through training and certification have a basis of information about pregnancy, birth and newborns that is more than most men know or want to know about birth. While a really smart doula knows her main job is to just “hold the space”  (provide emotional and physical support to mom) and assist her in gathering information from her care providers. A doula has a knowledge base of “birthy stuff” that takes the pressure off dad (and mom) to remember it all.
  2. Doulas give dads a teammate. Birth is often compared to a marathon. It is important to keep the birthing mother hydrated, fueled and even rested periodically during her birthing event. Same goes for dad. Dads need to eat, drink, stretch, take naps and refresh themselves during labors that last more than a few hours. A doula gives dad someone to tag to come in the ring when he needs to bow out for a break. Dads often feel tremendous relief leaving mom with the support of someone who he knows will not leave her side and will support her choices.
  3. Doulas allow dads to perform super-human feats they could never achieve on their own. Okay, perhaps I’m overstating a bit but have you ever tried to be there for a mom to lean on while simultaneously providing counter pressure to her hips? It’s pretty much impossible. With a doula, one person can be there for mom to lean on while another person can provide massage, counter pressure, hold warmth or cool on her back while she sways. A doula/dad team are able to put into practice a lot more of the techniques and tips learned in childbirth classes.
  4. Doulas help dad know what she really means when she asks, “Do you think it might be time to go to the hospital?” Babies often like to get things started in the middle of the night. When mom rolls over for the 5th time to nudge you and whisper, “Honey, I think my contractions are getting closer together!”, you will want a doula to call so you can gauge whether or not to get up or attempt to close your eyes and pray there won’t be a 6th nudge. While a doula can’t tell a mom that she is definitely in her birthing time, she can offer her professional opinion as to what mom’s current signs might indicate. A doula can help get past those, “Holy macaroni, this is it!” feelings and relax knowing that someone experienced with birth is supporting them as a couple.
  5. Doulas let dads relax and enjoy the birth of their baby.  In Hypnobabies, the childbirth class I teach, birth partners are given a special CD that helps them feel relaxed and confident during the birth. Occasionally, dads are resistant to listening to this. It’s as if they don’t feel as if they have the right to be relaxed and confident during the birth. Having the continuous support of someone who knows and understands birth, can help dad relax and let the process unfold. Dad is free to get in sync with his partner, be there for her without worrying and experience his emotions.

It’s important that mom AND dad have the support they need during labor and birth. And trust me, with the help of a doula you will both be able to handle it!

Resources

Odent, Michel, (1999). Is the Participation of the Father at Birth Dangerous?  Midwifery Today, Issue 51, Autumn.

Micky, a team member with 9 Months & Beyond, LLC  http://ninemonthsandbeyond.com/ (hyperlink) in Nashville, Tennessee,  has experience as a breastfeeding mother, LLL Leader, lactation trainer, conference speaker, and IBCLC. Her mother-baby experience includes a degree in child development and family studies, teaching as a Hypnobabies Childbirth Hypnosis Instructor, being a certified birth doula with two organizations and DONA Approved Birth Doula Trainer. She also trains for the COPE Program with Commonsense Childbirth based on the JJ Way developed by  Jennie Joseph, LM.

Author of, Keep the Fires Burning: Conquering Stress and Burnout as a Mother-Baby Professional (available at www.ibreastfeeding.com ), Micky is passionate about encouraging other professionals to understand that who they are is more important than the work they do. Learning to value themselves is a vital part of being able to serve women and babies for years to come.
Micky is also the wife of 14 years to her amazing hubby KC and the mother of three energetic school-age kiddos. She wanted to become a doula as soon as she found out what the word meant and had a doula for two of her three births.

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