“Birth is not only about making babies. Birth is about making mothers ~ strong, competent, capable mothers who trust themselves and know their inner strength.” - Barbara Katz Rothman
I believe that for women to feel good about our pregnancies and birth experiences, we should be prepared, well-informed, supported and surrounded with positivity. Although there is a lot about the labor and birthing process that we cannot predict or control, we can empower ourselves by choosing baby and mother-friendly care providers, support teams, and hospitals, birth centers or home birth services; knowing our options, being involved and supported in the decision-making process, and trusting in our ability to birth, which will enable us to become confident and nurturing mothers.
Whether it is an obstetrician or midwife that practices in a hospital, birth center or home, it is imperative that mama-to-be feels safe and trusts her care provider. This is one of the most important decisions During labor and birth, the care provider will ultimately make all final decisions about both mother and baby’s health and safety. Routine visits should not be rushed and there should be plenty of time to ask questions, discuss options and communicate preferences. Mother-to-be should be treated with care, kindness and respect and encouraged in her ability to birth and mother.
Birth doulas are experienced and trained professionals who understand the physiology of birth and the emotional and physical needs of a woman in labor. A birth doula provides continuous physical, emotional, and informational support before, during and just after birth. She perceives her role as nurturing and recognizes birth as a key experience the mother will remember throughout her life. A doula’s role changes, depending on the needs of the woman and her partner. Doulas can encourage the partner to become involved in the birth to the extent he or she feels comfortable by demonstrating effective techniques that can be used by the partner during each stage of labor, offering reassurance about the normal progress of labor, and/or allowing the partner the freedom to simply be present with the mother and love her. When making decisions about the course of labor, the doula can hold space for the couple and instill clarity and confidence by drawing upon information shared at a prenatal visit regarding their birth wishes. She can offer an objective viewpoint and facilitate communication between the laboring woman, her partner, and care providers as needed to help get information that will allow the woman and her partner to make consented decisions. Studies have shown that by hiring a doula, unnecessary medical interventions are decreased, thereby improving birth satisfaction.
Place of Birth
The location and environment of the birth will greatly impact how a woman feels in labor. The most common options are at a hospital, birth center or at home. Hospitals and birth centers vary in policies and protocols so it is important to take a tour, meet the staff and bring a list of questions. For hospital births, questions might be about the labor and birthing environment, routine newborn care, if the hospital is part of the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative, what their intervention rates are, who is allowed in the operating room if a surgical birth becomes necessary, etc. For home births, there are specific questions that are important when interviewing midwives, such as how many clients they take a month, who the back-up care provider is, what the transfer rate is, and how it is handled if two people are in labor at the same time. Remember, one option is not necessarily better than the other. Women birth best where they feel safest and most at ease.
Childbirth & Breastfeeding Classes
There is a tremendous amount of information available about birth. While it is important to do research, read books and hire a good birth team, it does not replace a good childbirth education class. My husband and I really looked forward to our weekly class and viewed it as a fun, interactive and social experience. We fully utilized that time that was set aside to ask questions, discuss our concerns and reflect. We learned a lot about ourselves and each other and bonded with other expecting mothers and partners. Although childbirth classes cover breastfeeding basics, attending a prenatal breastfeeding class can help you better prepare for and understand how breastfeeding works which will get you off to a good start.
Nourishment is important not only physically but also spiritually and emotionally. Pregnant women need to enjoy this sacred time in their lives and surround themselves with goodness, calm and beauty. I loved taking outdoor walks during my pregnancy, listening to soothing music, immersing in the mikveh or ocean, preparing wholesome and nutritious meals, getting non-toxic pedicures, prenatal massages and chiropractic care, and spending time with uplifting friends and family. Some women enjoy prenatal yoga, dance and other activities. One thing worth mentioning is that people love to share tips and advice with a pregnant woman and although some information may be useful, expecting mamas should try to avoid negative stories and disengage from negative thoughts, conversations and behaviors in general.
Confidence in Birthing
Women have been birthing babies for thousands of years. Physically, we can do it. The majority of childbirth lies in our mental space. Our minds tell our bodies what to do and they need to work together. In order to relax during labor and childbirth we need to put our busy minds to rest, trust in ourselves, trust the process, tap into our body’s ancient wisdom, and let go. Finding some quiet time to breathe, being present and focusing on your inner strength are great ways to prepare. You can also try this little experiment and get a glimpse into what our minds can do!
Protecting the Birth
My husband and I wanted to create an atmosphere of reverence for everything happening in the first moments after the birth of our child. It was important to us that the time of his birth and the following hour (known as the Golden Hour) were protected by keeping things warm, calm, quiet and private. Even if there are medical things to attend to, the energy and mood can be kept calm with gentle voices and low lighting.
Breastfeeding & Lactation Support
Although the breastfeeding process is instinctive, it can be challenging and seeking help early is important. La Leche League International is a wonderful place for mother-to-mother support groups. Support group leaders are volunteers who have breastfed their own babies and have been trained in basic breastfeeding management. Leaders do not generally do home visits, though they volunteer to answer phone calls. If you cannot get to a La Leche League meeting, private home or office visits with a Lactation Counselor or Consultant can be essential and may be covered by your health insurance. I was able to overcome breastfeeding challenges with the continued help and support of lactation professionals, which inspired me to become a certified Lactation Educator and Counselor. I am passionate about helping other women to achieve their breastfeeding goals.
Postpartum Support & the Fourth Trimester
New mothers need sleep and rest which is hard to come by with a newborn. They also need guidance, help, company and support from family and friends, especially in the first weeks after birth. It is important to make sure that people know their job is to help take care of the new mama and the house so she can tend to herr baby and not the other way around. Postpartum doulas can be of tremendous help offering education, companionship and non-judgmental support during the postpartum fourth trimester. She assists with newborn care, eases the transition that comes with the addition of a baby to a family, meal preparation and light household tidying. She also offers information and support with infant feeding, helps with emotional and physical recovery from birth, infant soothing, and coping skills for new parents.
The Baby Blues & Postpartum Depression
A woman’s body undergoes significant changes during pregnancy and childbirth. Hormonal changes, the physical and emotional experience of birth, lack of sleep, and the new responsibility of parenting can be overwhelming. It is very common for new mothers to be more sensitive and emotional for days or weeks and some mothers don’t experience it until months later. The “baby blues” is a common occurrence and there are varying degrees of intensity. More extreme cases could be postpartum depression and should be followed by a health care provider. It is important to know that there is help and support to recover and come back into balance.
A heightened sensitivity and feeling of being overwhelmed is also common and can be related to The Baby Blues and PPD, but not necessarily. I came across this personal thought in the weeks after the birth of my son which I found to be very insightful.
Something occurred to me in the first days after the birth of my first child. I had an extreme sensitivity to thoughts and words: I felt intense gratitude, but I also had a heightened awareness of everything and everyone surrounding the baby, of people’s words and moods, of sounds and light, temperature and textures, and I was feeling so very vulnerable, teary and raw. Then, looking at my little newborn, it dawned on me that I was in an emotional state that somewhat resembled her physical and emotional reality. She was entirely a sense organ of touch, taste, smell, hearing and sight, and was completely defenseless against the sensory onslaught of the outer world. It suddenly seemed to me as though the emotional space I found myself in was giving me a natural insight into the baby’s reality and sensitivities, if I could turn my attention to it. It made me smile, that yet another thing we often consider inconvenient, or as something we just have to go through, in the whole birth process may really have an undiscovered purpose that nature intended.
These are simple ways to help create a positive and fulfilling birth experience. Each woman, birth experience and baby is completely unique so it is good to be open and embrace the unknown with preparation, confidence, certainty, safety and support.
If you are in the Los Angeles or surrounding areas and are interested in Childbirth Classes, Birth Doula Services, Breastfeeding Classes or Counseling you may contact me here.