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Posts Tagged ‘labor’

This week, Mother’s Advocate welcomes doula and artist Amy Swagman. She began making mandalas to prepare for the birth of her third daughter. Creating these pieces helped her to envision (and ultimately create) her ideal birth as well as meditate to prepare for labor.  Since her daughter’s arrival the mandala project has broadened to draw from other women’s experiences of their births. Through her art she hopes to change the climate of birth from fear to empowerment and convey feminine energy. 

I like to say that my first daughter Haven, made me a mother which was as earth-shattering as any experience could be.  My second daughter Lyric made me a doula and birth activist, and my third daughter Seren made me an artist.  Each pregnancy and birth, all different in their own ways, gave me immeasurable gifts.

When I became pregnant with Seren, I was surprised to find that even though we had planned for her I was feeling overwhelmed and unprepared.  I did not expect that to happen with my third!  I felt very trapped, helpless, and disconnected to my little babe.  I took it out on my husband, who is so wonderful and patient. It was a very stressful few months.

We were planning a much-wanted home birth but I felt like my emotions, fears, and anxiety were getting in the way.  Counseling didn’t help.  Talking to friends about it didn’t help.  I needed something else to center me.

I remembered going to a talk called “OPENING to the Art of Birth” presented by friend and fellow doula Alahna Roach.  In it she described the functions of the right and left brain.  They are as follows:

Left Brain Right Brain
logical / rational intuitive
sequential random
analytical holistic
objective subjective
structured fluid (especially with time)

Alahna said that the state of mind you’re in when you’re doing something creative (right brain) is the same state you’re in when laboring and birthing.  Time flies by without you sensing it as acutely.  You are very porous and intuitive.  You aren’t as easily able to answer questions or communicate logically.

To illustrate this she had us do a blind contour drawing.  Without looking at the paper we had to draw all the lines, cracks, details in our opposite hand.  After a few minutes of this Alahna came up to me and said, “Amy, what year is it?”  I had absolutely no idea.  The only thing running through my head was “Uhhhh, I should know the answer to this question!”  Anyone who has given birth or attends a lot of births has seen this written all over a laboring mama’s face.

So I decided to create a small mandala (image within a circle) every day during the last few months of my pregnancy to help me center, process, and prepare for my home birth.  Each one would take anywhere from an hour to four hours, though I hardly noticed.

I loved it.  I craved it.  There was so much solace in taking time for myself, doing something creative, getting lost in symmetry, turning off any worrisome thoughts.  I created images based on what was going on in my head that day.

For example, this one was created to help me connect and envision my baby:

This one was done to help me embrace my “mommy body”:

  As you can see, this image played out almost exactly in Seren’s birth!

Creating artwork, getting into that free, meditative mindset, helped me have the beautiful, peaceful, gentle home birth I had wanted for so long.  To read Seren’s birth story please visit my doula website here.

How to create your own birth art:

Quieting the “Inner Critic” –

Oftentimes I hear people say, “Oh I’m not an artist” or “I don’t know how to straight line.”   Well that’s ok, that’s what rulers are for!  The most important thing is to get involved in the creative process, not have a perfect-looking finished product.  Birth art can be a powerful and surprising tool.  You may discover aspects of your creativity that you haven’t tapped into or even realized yet!

Getting into the Groove –

Sometimes starting out with a right-brained exercise (like the contour line exercise I mentioned before) can be a great way to start.  Another one that I’ve found helpful is to start inside a pre-existing shape or pattern.  Coloring books are great for this, and starting inside a shape like a circle or triangle can make things flow.  You can divide up the shape into pie segments or concentric circles (like a bulls eye) and repeat your design around the circle keeping things symmetrical.  You’d be surprised at how easily the image takes shape!

For an example of this technique and symmetry you can visit my album here.

Creating Birth Art –

Some materials to get you started:

•  Pastels – These are great because they are very tactile and can easily be smeared

•  Watercolors – A great way to explore wet medium, covers areas well.  You can draw with a pen or pencil and use the watercolors to fill in areas

•  Polymer Clay (like Sculpey) – a great 3D medium as you don’t need a kiln to harden it, just your oven.

A valuable resource is Pam England’s amazing book Birthing From Within and the accompanying workbook.  In their pages you’ll find many prompts to help you process what kind of birth experience you want or work through any past birth trauma or preconceptions.

Examples from Birthing From Within:

•  Create a birth “power figure”.  What symbolizes strength for you?  What are the attributes that this figure possesses?

•  What do you know about birth already?  What have people told you?  What was the first birth story you ever heard?  What images come to mind?

•  How do you see your baby inside your womb?  What do they see, taste, hear?  Draw your reactions.

Whether pre-conception, pregnancy, birth, or beyond, art is a powerful tool for any woman in the childbearing year.  Tap into that creativity, you may be surprised what you learn about yourself!

I would love to see what you create and add it to my birth art gallery!  If you wish to be a part of it please email me at amy@birthingbody.org with the following:

•  Photos of your piece

•  A brief description about it (optional)

•  A photo of you (optional)

•  A short bio of you (optional)

Author, Amy Swagman

Amy Swagman resides in Denver, CO,  with her husband Kyle and three beautiful girls.  She is a birth doula and  graduated with a BFA in Illustration in 2005.

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This week we are thrilled to feature Diana Lynn Barnes, Psy. D, with an excerpt from her book The Journey to Parenthood: Myths, Reality and What Really Matters where she discusses the importance of recognizing the psychological experience mothers go through during pregnancy and birth.

Most women would not dream of going through nine months of pregnancy without the requisite prenatal care – regular doctors’ appointments, special vitamins, a well-balanced diet, and diagnostic tests to check on the health of the baby. Yet they do not devote nearly the same amount of time or attention, if any, to the psychological aspects of impending motherhood. They fail to recognize how this profound role they are about to assume will alter their lives forever.

Typically, when a woman plans for life after pregnancy, she considers only her work and childcare arrangements. By the last trimester, she has probably already lined up a nanny or selected a day-care center, or at least thought about it. She also may have arranged for a more flexible work schedule in order to meet the demands of her new family life, which is just around the corner. But women generally do not take the time to reflect on the journey to motherhood, although they seem to have plenty of time to attend prenatal Pilates classes and register for the latest baby paraphernalia. They do not stop to ask themselves, “Am I ready to become a mother? What are my biggest fears regarding motherhood? What might it be like to stay at home alone with a newborn all day during those first few months? How can I begin to integrate and prioritize my different roles? And what does my relationship with my own mother have to do with any of this?

Today much has been made of the “supermom” phenomenon, the pressure for a woman to achieve perfection in each of her roles – mother, wife and professional. As a result, many women approach motherhood n overdrive, believing they must “accomplish” something at every point along the path to parenthood. The ideal pregnancy is one in which a woman exercises such control over her body that she does not need to wear maternity clothes until her eighth month. The gold standard for labor and delivery is a quick, easy, epidural-free birth. And the model for new motherhood is a woman who immediately bonds with her newborn, has no difficulties breastfeeding and knows exactly how to interpret every one of her baby’s coos and cries. During the first few months postpartum, the perfect new mom nurtures her child in such a way that he is the first kid on the block to roll over, walk, talk and hum along with Bach’s Prelude in D Minor. This accomplishment-focused mother is so busy trying to achieve what she considers to be the essential goals of motherhood, that it is no wonder she is left with no time to contemplate what being a mother means in the context of her own personal universe. And that self-analysis can be crucial as a woman attempts to navigate the postpartum period and life with an infant.

Throughout the transition to motherhood, a woman may ponder the question, “Who am I?” as she tries to incorporate the unfamiliar role of mother into her identity. An expectant mother’s changing view of herself is just one of the many things that can affect her adjustment during this transition. Others include the degree to which she desires to become a mom, her earliest childhood experiences with her own mother, her general reflections of family life, and her relationship with her husband or partner. The extent to which she buys into societal expectations regarding motherhood also influences how she will experience the shift to her colossal new role.

Mothers and daughters

Pregnancy and birth can trigger a flood of memories for an expectant mother about her own upbringing and, in the process, reveal a wealth of information about her relationship with her own mother. All of a sudden, a woman may recall how supportive her own mother was, what her mother sacrificed for her, or how her mother attended every one of her sporting events. A new or expectant mother may also face painful or sad memories, instances when her on mom somehow failed her, constantly criticized her or disappointed her. A woman uses these experiences, both positive and negative, to start to define what type of mother she would like to be. She determines how she wants to be like her own mother and how she would like to be different. This evaluation becomes part of the foundation for her ideas about motherhood.

Excerpted from The Journey to Parenthood: Myths, Reality and What Really Matters (2007). Oxford: Radcliffe Publishing pgs. 27-29

Author, Diana Lynn Barnes, Psy.D

Diana Lynn Barnes, is an internationally recognized expert on the assessment and treatment of women’s mental health, particularly around concerns pertaining to the reproductive years. She is the past president of Postpartum Support International and currently sits on the President’s Advisory Council for that organization. She is also a member of the Los Angeles County Mental Health Task Force.

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Dr. Linda F. Palmer is an author and speaker specializing in nutrition of pregnancy, lactation, and childhood, and in infant health and bonding.  She joins the Mother’s Advocate blog this week to discuss the many benefits of natural labor.  

Natural labor is not simply something for mothers to endure; the process provides key mental and physical benefits for mother and baby. When not interfered with, natural labor helps to protect the fetal brain, prepare his lungs, and build his immune system. When uninterrupted, hormonal interplays provide imprinting and attachment between mother and baby, protect mother’s mood, and initiate instinctual parenting behaviors.

Oxytocin and the Mother

Oxytocin is a feel-good, bonding hormone that acts throughout our lives in response to togetherness and especially to skin-to-skin contact. Oxytocin’s strongest employ by far is during and immediately after birth. Its release during labor provides the contractions needed to expel the baby. As mother’s body feels the vaginal passage of the child, further oxytocin surges are stimulated and much higher levels now remain in the brain.[1]

This exceptionally high brain oxytocin just after birth provides for a powerful imprinting between mother and newborn as they smell each other and gaze into each others eyes. Remaining quite high in the brain for an hour or more after birth, oxytocin provides mother and baby with feelings of trust, calm, and well being, while also causing a little impairment in memory so they forget some of the discomfort experienced. When not impaired, this hormonal high also sets the stage for successful initiation of breastfeeding. The first nursing attempts then lead to continued oxytocin release. When occurring shortly after birth, this serves to help shrink the uterus, preventing hemorrhage.

This entire oxytocin experience acts in mother’s brain to initiate affectionate maternal behaviors,[2,3] helping first attempts at nursing to feel quite natural and teaching mom to want nothing more than to hold her baby and respond to his cries. While brain changes occur during pregnancy and in response to later physical contact, especially nursing, this post-birth window created by natural labor leads to some valuable reorganizing of receptors in mother’s oxytocin and stress responding portions of her brain.

High oxytocin in the female brain has also been shown to promote preference for whatever male is present during its surges,[4] (one good reason for dad to hang around after the birth).

Interrupting the Body’s Plan  

Pitocin is an imitation oxytocin used to induce or enhance labor. This synthetic agent does not cross mother’s blood-brain-barrier and hence artificially induced mothers miss out on a large part of oxytocin’s bonding, calming, mood elevating and amnesic benefits. If anesthesia is used during labor, there is no maternal oxytocin response to the vaginal passage, hence the mother misses the rest of her opportunity for the beneficial brain effects, and her maternal behaviors are not naturally switched on.[5] Cesarean section without labor fails to produce any of this extraordinary oxytocin experience, while labor before C-section provides a portion.

When a baby is born highly drugged, he is less able to partake from the oxytocin-provided benefits of calming, bonding, and drive to breastfeed.

Preventing mothers from these potent oxytocin surges in their brains can lead to increased risks of postpartum depression and poor bonding.[6-9] It has been found that the oxytocin levels secreted during nursing remain low for at least two days following a C-section, with a notable increase in mother’s anxiety level and decrease in her breastfeeding success.[10,11]

Many other hormonal interplays occur during labor, and most are affected by interventions in the natural process. Endorphins, the body’s own natural pain reducers, increase steadily throughout natural labor, however, use of Pitocin prevents their increase.[12] Maternal stress during labor, generally caused by a lack of continual, compassionate maternal support, causes heightened release of stress hormones. This alters mother’s stress handling for some time and raises inflammatory factors associated with the development of postpartum depression.[13]

Protecting the Baby

Mother’s oxytocin crosses the placenta into the fetal brain during labor, silencing the brain so the child is less stressed by the birth process. In addition, the brain is made to be less vulnerable to damage from periods of reduced oxygen or blood sugar. Even if Pitocin can enter the fetal brain as well, any natural regulation of appropriate levels would be absent. It is known that excess uterine stimulation typically seen with Pitocin use creates dangerous episodes of oxygen depletion in the fetal brain. Maternal protection of the fetal brain is not bestowed by Cesarean delivery without labor.[14,15] Mother’s body also supplies very important sugar to baby’s brain during labor. This provision is often impaired, however, when mothers are restricted from food and liquid intake during the birth process.

Baby receives certain antibodies from mother during the last term weeks in the womb but the majority of this transfer occurs during labor.[16] The lack of antibody transfer may be one factor in the reality that infants born via low-risk elective cesareans have a tripled death rate in the first month of life, versus vaginal births,[17] though the lower success in breastfeeding after Cesarean is likely a larger factor.

The hormonal changes of natural labor help to quickly clear fluids from the fetal lungs through a process of absorbing fluids out of the lungs, along with some mechanical clearing from the contractions themselves. When labor is artificially induced, infants suffer from breathing distress more than twice as often as with spontaneous labor.[18] In Cesarean section without labor, an infant is 4 times as likely to suffer respiratory distress.[19-20] This impact on the lungs is evidently long lasting as babies born via C-section are shown to suffer from allergies twice as often as those delivered vaginally.[21]

Striving for the Healthiest Outcome

All is not lost if the birth process does not go entirely as planned, yet birth choices affect a momentous first chance for attachment and breastfeeding success. Natural delivery determines a major cornerstone in preventing infant illness, while boosting mother’s parenting satisfaction. A child is born seeded with specific potential (nature), yet parenting choices (nurture) will greatly influence whether these latent abilities will come to fruition.

1. K.M. Kendrick et al., “Cerebrospinal fluid and plasma concentrations of oxytocin and vasopressin during parturition and vaginocervical stimulation in the sheep,” Brain Res Bull 26, no. 5 (May 1991): 803-7.
2. G. González –Mariscal et al., “Importance of mother/young contact at parturition and across lactation for the expression of maternal behavior in rabbits,” Dev Psychobiol 32, no. 2 (Mar 1998): 101-11.
3. J.A. Russell et al., “Brain preparations for maternity–adaptive changes in behavioral and neuroendocrine systems during pregnancy and lactation, an overview,” Prog Brain Res (2001): 133-38.
4. T.R. Insel and T.J. Hulihan, “A gender-specific mechanism for pair bonding: oxytocin and partner preference formation in monogamous voles,” Behav Neurosci 109, no. 4 (Aug 1995): 782–9.
5. F. Lévy et al., “Intracerebral oxytocin is important for the onset of maternal behavior in inexperienced ewes delivered under peridural anesthesia,” Behav Neurosci 106, no. 2 (Apr 1992): 427-32.
6. J.E. Swain et al., “Maternal brain response to own baby-cry is affected by cesarean section delivery,” J Child Psychol Psychiatry 49, no. 10 (Oct 2008): 1042-52.
7. H.J. Rowe-Murray and J.R. Fisher, “Operative intervention in delivery is associated with compromised early mother-infant interaction,” BJOG 108, no. 10 (Oct 2001): 1068-75.
8. K.D. Scott et al., “The obstetrical and postpartum benefits of continuous support during childbirth,” J Womens Health Gend Based Med 8, no. 10 (Dec 1999): 1257-64.
9. I.D. Neumann, “Stimuli and consequences of dendritic release of oxytocin within the brain,” Biochem Soc Trans 35, Pt. 5 (Nov 2007): 1252-7.
10. E. Nissen et al., “Different patterns of oxytocin, prolactin but not cortisol release during breastfeeding in women delivered by caesarean section or by the vaginal route,” Early Hum Dev (Sweden) 45, nos. 1–2 (Jul 1996): 103–18.
11. E. Nissen et al., “Oxytocin, prolactin, milk production and their relationship with personality traits in women after vaginal delivery or Cesarean section,” J Psychosom Obstet Gynaecol (Sweden) 19, no. 1 (Mar 1998): 49–58.
12. A.R. Genazzani et al., “Lack of beta-endorphin plasma level rise in oxytocin-induced labor,” Gynecol Obstet Invest 19, no. 3 (1985):130-4.
13. K. Kendall-Tackett, “A new paradigm for depression in new mothers: the central role of inflammation and how breastfeeding and anti-inflammatory treatments protect maternal mental health,” Int Breastfeed J 2 (Mar 30, 2007): 6.
14. R. Tyzio et al., “Maternal oxytocin triggers a transient inhibitory switch in GABA signaling in the fetal brain during delivery,” Science 314, no. 5806 (Dec 2006): 1788-92.
15. R. Khazipov et al., “Effects of oxytocin on GABA signalling in the foetal brain during delivery,” Prog Brain Res 170 (2008): 243-57.
16. S. Agrawal et al., “Comparative study of immunoglobulin G and immunoglobulin M among neonates in caesarean section and vaginal delivery,” J Indian Med Assoc 94, no. 2 (Feb 1996): 43–4.
17. M.F. MacDorman, “Infant and neonatal mortality for primary cesarean and vaginal births to women with ‘no indicated risk,’ United States, 1998-2001 birth cohorts,” Birth 33, no. 3 (Sep 2006): 175-82.
18. J. Lee et al., “Evidence to support that spontaneous preterm labor is adaptive in nature: neonatal RDS is more common in “indicated” than in “spontaneous” preterm birth,” J Perinat Med 37, no. 1 (2009): 53-8.
19. A. Ramachandrappa and L. Jain, “Elective cesarean section: its impact on neonatal respiratory outcome,” Clin Perinatol 35, no. 2 (Jun 2008)::373-93, vii.
20. S. Farchi et al., “Neonatal respiratory morbidity and mode of delivery in a population-based study of low-risk pregnancies,” Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand 88, no. 6 (2009): 729-32.
21. M. Pistiner et al., “Birth by cesarean section, allergic rhinitis, and allergic sensitization among children with a parental history of atopy,” J Allergy Clin Immunol 122, no. 2 (Aug 2008): 274-9.

Dr. Linda Folden Palmer is an author and speaker specializing in nutrition of pregnancy, lactation, and childhood, and in infant health and bonding. She is dedicated to raising awareness about how powerfully early parenting and healthcare choices can influence a child’s mental and physical outcomes.

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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.

 

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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

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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.

How did you build your support team?

 

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This week, Elizabeth Davis  – midwife, women’s health care specialist, educator, consultant and co-author of Orgasmic Birth: Your Guide to a Safe, Satisfying, and Pleasurable Birth Experience answers your questions on sex during pregnancy.

The number one priority in preparing for birth is to understand the physiology of birth and to know in advance that wherever you will be the most physically and emotionally comfortable is where you should labor.

There is a powerful player in birth called oxytocin, otherwise known as the “love hormone” because it is the hormone that we release with sexual activity. Even more, this is the hormone we release at the mere thought of sexual activity. Just thinking about a lover and becoming aroused, that’s oxytocin.  New mothers, just hearing a baby cry – even if it’s not their own – will let down their milk, and that’s oxytocin.

Never in a woman’s life is oxytocin higher than in pregnancy and during labor, as well as the moments immediately after birth (when it’s at it’s all-time peak).  Therefore if you think of birth as a sexual event, then you begin to understand how important the setting and the set of people around you really are.  It’s not too far afield to say “imagine yourself having sex with a room full of strangers parading in and out of your room.” Could you change positions spontaneously? Could you move and groan and moan and do the things that are natural in birth if you’re being observed?

In fact, we have plenty of research that makes clear that if women feel observed by relative strangers in the room, even by the fetal monitor and not least of all themselves (“Am I doing all-right? Am I doing it right?”), her labor will be affected. Think of what that does to sexuality – all it takes is a few minutes of “Oh my god am I doing it right?” and the orgasm is shot.

Birth is very similar, women become frightened or over-analytical or anxious about their progress.  They start releasing adrenaline and high levels of adrenaline stop oxytocin production and that turns the experience into a whole different event where there can be quite a lot of pain and anxiety, not a lot of oxygen to the baby, and we see a cascade of interventions that is leading all too often to cesarean births.

A renowned expert on women’s issues, Elizabeth Davis has been a midwife, women’s health care specialist, educator and consultant for over 30 years. She is internationally active in promoting motherbaby-centered birth and is widely sought after for her expertise in midwifery education and organizational development.

She served as a representative to the Midwives Alliance of North America for five years and as President of the Midwifery Education Accreditation Council for the United States. She holds a degree in Holistic Maternity Care from Antioch University, and is certified by the North American Registry of Midwives.

Her mission is to help women embrace an integrated view of birth, sexuality, family and ecology. She travels widely, lecturing and presenting workshops on women’s health, sexuality, intuition, and midwifery. She can design a workshop or keynote to meet your group’s needs–references on request.

This interview was originally filmed for Mindful Mama Magazine and has been transcribed with permission from Mindful Mama Magazine.

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