Positive Birth News

birth stories, news and articles to encourage and inspire


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Pregnancy – a time to be celebrated, honoured, adored and adorned!

Pregnancy – a time to be celebrated, honoured, adored and adorned!

I was privileged to attend a ‘baby shower’ for an Indian couple a few years ago and I was deeply moved by the incredible reverence and honour bestowed upon both the father and mother-to-be at this ceremony and celebration. The mother-to-be was joyfully decorated with henna and brought special foods to eat and drink. There was dancing and singing, laughter, music, plenty of prayer, chanting and moments of silence and reflection. It was a momentous occasion, lasting an entire day. This special event matched the enormity of birth and becoming a family.

In our mainstream western culture we do not give our mothers and fathers-to-be this beautiful and powerful preparation for birth and parenthood. Typical baby showers can be quite surface level with the greatest care given to matching invitations, party decor, fabulous cupcakes, a beautifully presented table of food and amazing gifts – all beautiful and joyful things! We tend to show our love through these kinds of details. There’s nothing wrong with a baby shower and they make women feel really special and pampered. But what if you wish for something different to this? What if you wish for a gathering that will help you to feel strong, beautiful and ready for birth and parenthood?

Alternatives
You may choose to give yourself or a pregnant friend a celebration like a “Mother and Baby Blessing” or a “Blessingway”. It may be a baby shower with one extra element of ceremony or bonding. It may be for both you and your partner – dads need honouring and support too!

One alternative or addition to a baby shower or a blessing is to invite a circle of friends to make beautiful birth art together. Enjoy an afternoon of creativity and fun making a positive, empowering and joyful memory together. If you have a doula you may wish to invite her too and she will help to establish a positive, welcoming and accepting mood. If you have a friend who understands you and your wishes for birth you may like them to help you organise this gathering and set the mood for the day.

Gerri's Belly

Some ideas:
• Sculpt mothers, babies, pregnant bellies with clay. Air hardening clay is available in craft stores.
• Create prayer flags for your birth with words and images. Squares of calico cloth and paint, fabric markers, scraps of material and embroidery thread are all you need.
• Make collages with positive affirmations, pretty papers, paint, drawings or magazine pictures,
• Paint mini canvases or a large positive affirmation banner
• Let them paint your belly
• Paint a belly cast together
• Make a keepsake book for mother and baby with positive wishes for both
• String a necklace from beads chosen for you by your friends
• Make a jar full of positive thoughts and quotes that you can turn to when you need a boost before and after birth
• Collect rocks and paint them with words, patterns and images of love, birth and life
• Allow your friends to pamper and adorn you with flowers, hair brushing, massage, and dress you with beautiful beads. Everyone could be pampered and adorned. (make sure any essential oils or herbs used are safe!)

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Give your friends a candle to light when they hear that you are in labour. You may like to choose one person to let everyone know by text message. There is an incredible power in the shared lighting of a candle and shared awareness that a close friend is labouring. The candle seems to focus attention and allow us to “send” love, strength and well wishes to this mother and her baby in labour.

Making pregnancy and birth art is all about harnessing your creative spirit, unleashing your intuitive knowledge and tapping into collective memories to make a tangible record that we can turn to for strength, reassurance and inspiration. Just as our birth stories collect and share the memories of many so that the mother to be can take these into her mind and her memory as though they are her own; so does the sharing of art. These symbolic and deeply personal creations can feel as though they capture a little piece of each woman and her strengths, her love, her support and her conscious desire for this birth to be peaceful, welcoming, safe and beautiful. This is a powerful and wonderful gift.

If this all feels too extraordinary for your circle (and I do understand! It felt a little too extraordinary when I was pregnant but I would do it now without hesitation!) then why not invite friends for a cookup instead to help make meals for your freezer. Ask everyone to bring ingredients and a recipe. Shared cooking creates a positive and connected feeling amongst you and you will benefit from this practical as well as emotional expression of support after the birth of your baby. And you never know, after a shared cookup your friends may well feel ready to embrace something more!

Why does it matter?

“A New Birth Culture
Imagine if our culture told us that birth was one of the greatest things a woman might ever do. Imagine if the stories and images we were exposed to taught us that labour (and all birth) is an incredible and transformational experience, a rite of passage into motherhood. Our family and friends would celebrate and honour us. We would be surrounded by supportive and caring women as we embarked on this new experience.

Naturally, we might feel nervous and anxious about the momentous task ahead of us, but we would be well prepared. We would believe and trust that we could do this and have the reassurance of medical assistance to help us if we needed it. With a different perspective on birth right from the start, we would enter labour ready to work with our bodies to birth our babies. We would feel excited, curious and eager for birth and all of its unknowns.” ~ from the introduction to Birth Journeys – positive birth stories to encourage and inspire.

Holding a rich and meaningful blessingway or baby shower may be a wonderful and empowering step towards creating this vision of positive birth for yourself or a dear friend or sister.

Imagine

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A Positive Caesarean Birth

If you wish to emerge from your baby’s caesarean birth feeling positive then it is wise to take ownership over your baby’s birth. This means speaking up for what you want and do not want and placing yourself in the hands of people you trust and feel safe with.

Consider what your wishes would be for a caesarean birth when you are doing your birth preparation and planning. Then you will have the opportunity to communicate your most important desires for a caesarean birth with your place of birth and carers ahead of time. This doesn’t mean dwelling on the possibility of a caesarean, it just means considering and documenting what would make this type of birth as positive as possible for you, your partner and your baby.

Most of us like to avoid conflict. We are used to being told what we should or shouldn’t do by health professionals and we are in the habit of giving over our power and ownership to others in medical situations. Although it may be very challenging for you (it is for me!), your baby’s birth is an opportunity to begin advocating for yourself and for your unborn child. Through your experience of birth you can set the scene for future interactions with doctors, dentists, health nurses and teachers where you are a strong advocate and an expert in your needs and the needs of your children.

There are options for a caesarean birth that may not be offered to you as they are not standard care in most hospitals. Although a caesarean is surgery, it is also the birth of a baby, a mother and a father. Even in an emergency, this surgery can be performed with gentle and respectful intentions, with consciousness that this is a birth and it is a special day.

Based on many women’s stories and the work of retired US obstetrician, Robert Oliver, MD, board of directors of APPPAH, the Association for Pre and Perinatal Psychology and Health, these are my suggestions for turning a necessary caesarean into a positive and beautiful birth.

Not all of these are going to be possible for a mid-labour emergency caesarean or in every individual situation, but they are possible and achievable. Reading positive caesarean stories and asking questions of other women will help you to discover that the smallest things can make all the difference to your baby’s birth.

Robert Oliver MD writes about his experience with positive caesarean births: “It is our intention to maintain the mother’s control of the events. She must at all times feel she is important to and guiding the birthing, regardless of the emergency and the operative procedure.This also goes for the baby in a spiritual and metaphysical sense. Ideally the obstetrician and labor room personnel will honor these two people most strongly.”

Preparing for Caesarean Birth
It is OK to feel disappointed, sad, or angry before and after your baby’s birth. Seek an empathetic listener (eg, your doula or midwife) who will not dismiss your feelings, ‘jolly’ you along, or diagnose you with depression before you even have time to grieve the birth and meeting with your baby that you had hoped to experience.

If you feel ready and you have time to prepare for your caesarean birth, read positive caesarean birth stories so that you are familiar with what will happen and what the birth may feel like. These stories will also give you confidence to ask for what you want. Talking to other women will also help you to find out what products there are that may make your recovery easier. (There are three positive caesarean stories in the Birth Journeys book.)

Meet the surgeon and anaesthetist beforehand with your midwife and/or doula to discuss your birth plans and hopes.

Ask that your baby be placed on your chest before weighing, cleaning and paediatric assessment, unless absolutely necessary. Weighing and cleaning are not emergency procedures that have to happen the moment your baby is born – they can wait – but we tend to accept that they take place immediately after birth. There are many possibilities like this that are not widely discussed or offered.

Ask for delayed cord clamping so that your baby receives all the cord blood and oxygen from the placenta while they adapt to life outside the womb. A recent review of studies showed that delayed cord clamping provides longer term health benefits for your baby as well as supporting them as they begin to breathe. A lotus birth is possible with a caesarean birth and it ensures that your baby is not taken away (although baby may be held rather than placed on your chest) before the placenta is birthed.

Ask for the lights to be dimmed and the surgery to be a little warmer than usual for your baby’s birth. This is achievable and it will make your baby’s first moments in the world easier and the birth environment more pleasant for you too.

Ask for talking to be quiet and gentle with attention focused on you, your baby, your partner and this birth. One common complaint couples have after experiencing a caesarean birth is that medical staff carried on with their own conversations ignoring the presence and the feelings of the key people in this important event. Perhaps some surgeons and theatre staff have this habit because other ‘patients’ would not be listening in and they may not be aware of how it makes many couples feel.

Discuss your intentions for breastfeeding and how you will be supported after the caesarean birth. Identify how will you be helped to breastfeed, especially if there is a reason why you are unable to breastfeed your baby for the first few hours. Remember that skin to skin contact and allowing your baby to explore and find your nipple by themselves is a wonderful way to initiate breastfeeding and reconnect with your baby after a separation.

Caesarean births are sometimes linked to difficulties in establishing breastfeeding so consider finding the supportive friends and professionals now before your baby is born. It is easier to reach for support if you have already made contact before the birth.

You may wish to discover your baby’s sex for yourselves. You may like the doctors to welcome your baby by name. Ensure you make your wishes clear so that this special moment meets your wishes.

Use honey not vinegar to get what you want. If you are worried about dealing with potential conflict, try words like these: “It is important to us that… How can we work together to…” Eg, if you are concerned about your baby being taken away immediately after birth you could try words similar to “It is important to us that our baby is not separated from us. How can we do things so we have our baby in our arms straight after the birth?”

This may seem to be giving the power to find a solution to the doctors, but you are actually telling them what your concern is and what outcome you want. I’ve not had to use this method in maternity care, but I have used it in the operating theatre and recovery ward with my children to get what I knew they needed and it really works! Honest and respectful communication with the right person goes a long way.

On The Day
Have your partner place their hands on your belly or speak to your baby in the time before the caesarean birth begins. Your baby knows their daddy’s voice and this can help your partner to feel involved and connected with your baby and the birth.

Before the birth begins, ask to take a moment to welcome your baby and give thanks for their life and the wonderful care and the gentle hands of everyone in the room that will receive your baby into the world. If you would normally pray or say a few words before something momentous takes place then surely the caesarean birth of a baby fits this category. I believe your wish will be respected if you frame it as a need to give thanks, say a prayer or a blessing before your baby’s birth.

If saying something aloud is all too much, then ask for a everyone to share a moment’s silence to give thanks. Taking this small but very personal action will send a very clear message about the way you want this birth to be – respectful, gentle and calm. I have not read of this in any birth stories so you may be pioneers if you try this – be sure to let me know what happens!

Focus on your baby and visualise sending them reassurance and love. Let your baby know that it is safe for them to be born this way and that you are in control of what is happening. Talk or sing to your baby in your head or quietly – keep focused on them and their wellbeing and imagine them coming out into the light and the air. This will help you to feel involved and in control of the birth of your baby. By keeping calm, you support the wellbeing of both yourself and your baby. If this is not for you, use other methods such as counting backwards to help you keep calm.

Have a doula or familiar midwife in the theatre focused on your care and wellbeing. You’ll benefit from having someone there for you and your partner.

If you prepared for birth with hypnosis or meditation methods you may find these are still very useful during the birth. If you have prepared using breathing techniques or counting methods these amy also be helpful for you. (See the links below for hypnobirthing specifically for caesarean birth.)

If you are unable to hold your baby post-birth, your partner can hold your baby against his bare chest with a blanket over them both, or even inside his shirt. Your baby will be kept warm and will love this close contact with daddy.

Remember it is your birth and your baby’s birth not just an operation. Every aspect of this birth may be performed with an intention to help, to care and to show respect for you, your baby and your partner. You deserve this.

Some links you may find helpful before and after a caesarean birth:
Caesarean birth plan: http://www.birthtalk.org/PlanaPosCS.hhtml
Hypnobirthing for caesarean birth: http://www.hypnobirthingaustralia.com.au/preparation-for-caesarean-birth-cesarean-c-section/
What a caesarean is like: http://www.birthingfromwithin.com/cesarean
Birth Rites on positive caesareans: http://www.birthrites.org/caesarean.html
Love letter to mothers who have birthed by caesarean: http://thestir.cafemom.com/baby/131563/a_love_letter_to_csection
Words that heal – why language matters: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brandy-ferner/words-that-heal-cesarean-birth_b_3722185.html

20130826-213350.jpg No matter how you birth or how your baby needs to be born, you deserve this treatment.


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Breastfeeding in Pregnancy, Labour and Beyond

This is an information piece in published in Birth Journeys,  by Leonie MacDonald

Often mothers who become pregnant wonder whether they can continue to breastfeed their baby or toddler throughout pregnancy. In most cases, it is perfectly safe and even beneficial.

During pregnancy, your milk supply may remain unchanged, diminish, or change to colostrum, especially towards the end of pregnancy. Colostrum is the first milk a newborn baby drinks. It is a clear yellowish liquid, very rich in vitamins and antibodies. It will do no harm to your breastfeeding child, although it may have a laxative effect and they may dislike the saltier flavour. Your supply of colostrum will not be used up by breastfeeding during pregnancy.

Your baby or toddler may wish to continue breastfeeding for comfort regardless of your milk supply. There are also immunological benefits of breastfeeding that continue even if your breastfeeder is not feeding very often or receiving much milk.

You may, however, experience sore nipples ranging from tolerable to very painful. Limiting the length of feeds or spacing feeds out can make this pain more manageable for some mothers. Heat or cool packs held to the breast before feeding can reduce the discomfort. Heat packs can also encourage the flow of milk. Sometimes the pain is only present at the start of the feed and then disappears.

Breastfeeding during labour is also possible and safe. Stimulating the nipples (through breastfeeding or through manual stimulation) can increase oxytocin and strengthen your contractions. It can be used to move your labour along in a natural way.

Some mothers will decide to tandem feed after birth. This means breastfeeding a baby and their sibling. The two do not have to be at the breast at the same time – any combination can work.


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Preparing for Breastfeeding – setting yourself up for a positive experience

This is an information page published in Birth Journeys, written by Leonie MacDonald

breastfeeding Trey

breastfeeding Trey (Photo credit: sdminor81)

Many women wish to breastfeed their baby. After birth, 92% of Australian babies are breastfed[1] but by 6 months the figure dwindles to just 14% and continues to decline. Beyond 6 months, very few babies are fully breastfed. Clearly there is something amiss when so many Australian mothers have been unable to keep on breastfeeding when it was their intention and their desire to breastfeed at birth.

Breastfeeding is a skill that often needs to be worked out by mother and baby together. The majority of women are able to breastfeed their baby, and the majority of babies are able to breastfeed (no, not all, but most). However, breastfeeding requires support and encouragement as well as patience and time. Personal and societal factors often make it very hard for new mothers to keep breastfeeding. Women may experience grief, guilt, or anger if they are unable to continue.

Just as with birth, a good understanding of how breastfeeding works, surrounding yourself with positive breastfeeding stories, and finding women and health care professionals who are supportive of breastfeeding is important. Attending a breastfeeding education class run by your local Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) or a qualified lactation consultant will provide you with the most recent evidence-based information on breastfeeding. This will help you prepare for breastfeeding and put you in contact with a community of supportive women and health professionals.

Your chosen place of birth should be breastfeeding-friendly. Your carers should be up-to-date with the latest breastfeeding information and provide consistent advice. Even so, if you are in a maternity ward, you may come into contact with many staff and a variety of approaches to supporting early breastfeeding. Many women find this experience confusing and discouraging. Your preparation for breastfeeding may include researching and choosing the carer or carers you will trust and call on for breastfeeding and post birth support.

Far from excluding your partner, breastfeeding is an area where your partner can do a great deal to help: looking after you with a glass of water and a nutritious snack while you feed, helping you relax with a shoulder and back rub, setting you up with a feeding pillow and supportive cushions, burping baby and keeping them upright after a feed, dealing with unwanted interruptions, fielding unwanted advice from well-intentioned observers, and making supportive, encouraging comments about breastfeeding to you and those around you. A supportive partner (and family) makes an enormous difference to your breastfeeding journey.

You may find that there are people who do not understand or value breastfeeding and those who hold outdated and unhelpful beliefs. As with birth, what was common practice in the past is not always the best choice for you and your baby today.

You may be encouraged to feed to a clock-based routine or limit the time your new baby feeds. However, reducing your baby’s time at the breast by spacing or limiting feeds will diminish your milk supply (unless carefully managed).

Concerned family or friends may suggest you offer a bottle of artificial baby milk to help your baby sleep through the night or give you a break. There is actually research to suggest that young babies are supposed to wake throughout the night to breastfeed and regulate their breathing and body temperature*. The misconception that all babies ‘should’ sleep through the night before a certain age often undermines breastfeeding (and a mother’s confidence).

You may be told that you do not have enough milk for your baby because they are unsettled or feeding often. If you breastfeed to your baby’s cues then this is unlikely to be the case. Babies do feed frequently as they have tiny tummies. They may also breastfeed more often when they are getting sick, teething or having a growth spurt.

It is sensible to seek reliable, up-to-date advice from the health professional you have chosen and trust, a breastfeeding counsellor, or lactation consultant before you act on the advice of well-meaning bystanders.

As we know from birth, when we are surrounded by negativity, misinformation and discouragement, it is much more challenging to keep focused on the positive outcome we want and to find the help we need to achieve it. To feel confident in your ability and your right to breastfeed your baby or toddler, it is very helpful to have support, encouragement, and access to advice you can trust.

The Australian Breastfeeding Association is a community organisation that meets this need around Australia through local groups in the community, a free government-funded counselling hotline, an informative website and an online forum. Visit www.breastfeeding.asn.au for more information.


[1] Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA), the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) and the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

* Sleeping with Your Baby, Dr James McKenna (2007).


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Guess what? You’re a Mammal!

Are you ready to admit you’re an animal? A mammal like a chimpanzee, a dolphin, a giraffe, an elephant or a cat?

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We have become so civilised and socialised that we go through the day forgetting we are mammals. Birth is a great leveller, because labour asks us to let go of self-consciousness and tap into our inner mammal.

I was confronted, horrified and mortified by the birth video shown in the antenatal classes at our local hospital. I don’t know why this video was considered appropriate to show a group of nervous and inexperienced adults who had never seen a real birth before – only dramas on TV. The only birth that looked like something I could handle was the one where the woman had an epidural and I had already decided I didn’t want to have a needle in my spine or risk the effects of an epidural on my labour.

Even the birth described as a ‘nice, gentle water birth’ was way too much for me. Labouring women looked sweaty and messy, their bodies were heaving, their sounds were animalistic and almost sexual. I felt like I was prying on some very private moment that I wasn’t meant to see. I certainly didn’t like the idea of behaving like this myself! It was terrifying to think of losing control like that in front of other people (this should have been a clue that I needed privacy!).

No matter how much I prepared for my first birth with reading and learning, I was still uncomfortable with the raw, animalistic nature of birth and I couldn’t imagine myself in this state. I needed to feel completely safe and unembarrassed before I could really immerse myself in labour.

During my second birth I was able to trust, relax and let go completely. The experience was powerful and pain free for me and a straightforward, safe and much faster birth for my son. I didn’t need to rehearse or learn how to give birth. It was instinctive. This is how it is for other mammals – most of the time. And this is how it may be for humans – most – but sadly not all of the time.

If you want your baby’s birth to be natural, normal and safe, then it is wise to understand and accept the nature of birth. Birth is raw, physical, animalistic and instinctive. Your mammalian body does know what to do but it needs the right conditions. You need to make sure your human self-consciousness doesn’t get in the way. To birth your baby, you need to feel safe enough and comfortable enough to let yourself move instinctively, to feel able to tear off your clothes, to moan and groan, to be loud, or to be inward, withdrawn and private, and to do whatever feels right for you. The hormones that drive labour have evolved to work when you feel safe, unobserved and willing to give yourself over to birth. The bottom line is you need to feel comfortable with being a mammal!

If you are uncomfortable watching a DVD of a woman in labour then don’t avoid them. Watch a whole lot more, but do choose your viewing wisely. Gentle natural births that show women moving around, making labour sounds, or entering into deep states of relaxation, and being supported and nurtured by carers and partners can give you a positive and realistic image of what labour can be like. Water births are probably the least confronting to begin with. Animal births may be a good way to ease yourself into watching births too.

In contrast, viewing frightening, stressful births and emergency scenarios do more harm to you than good. Don’t imagine that reality birth shows will help you prepare for an emergency, just in case one happens. The only thing that will help you in an emergency is knowing that you can trust your carers and that you will be treated with love and respect as well as medical expertise. Focus on ensuring you have that relationship of trust, respect and nurturing with your carers and supporters instead. This will serve you well, no matter how your baby is born.