The holidays can be the most wonderful time of the year. But with a new baby in the post pandemic world, the holidays can be downright stressful. Between navigating your newborn and trying to decide what events to attend, you’re also worried about you or them getting sick.
As a Naturopathic Doctor and board certified lactation consultant, parents often come to me with concerns at this time of the year. Things like “can I have a drink or two at this holiday party?” or “how do I reduce the risk of my baby getting sick?” So, I’ve put together my top tips for navigating the holiday season with a newborn baby!
Attending parties and events.
First and foremost, don’t feel pressure to attend anything. You’ve just had a baby, your primary job is to rest and recover. Pairing down the expectations on yourself can make things a lot more manageable. It’s also totally okay to cancel last minute if you’ve had a rough day or if baby is having an especially hard time.
But, if you have something you’re looking forward to going to, it can be a refreshing change of pace! Just take it easy on yourself. Don’t expect to stay the whole time and be ready to bail quickly if you need to.
Expect that baby will get over stimulated, especially if they’re getting lots of attention. Busy environments can make feeding them less efficient. You may find that they are hungry more frequently or that they make up for it by cluster feeding after the event. If you’re visiting family or friends, it can be helpful to have a quiet room to feed and change your baby in- ask about this before you go!
Parents are often worried about people holding and kissing their newborns. And rightly so. I highly recommend wearing your baby. A soft wrap can be easy to get them in and out of and isn’t super bulky for you. It will take some practice before hand but there’s so much benefit to this.
Baby will feel safe and secure close to you, even in a crowded environment
People might come up to baby in a stroller or a bassinet, but they probably won’t get their face right up into your face to see your baby
It’s easier on your body than holding them in your arms the whole time
Be choosy about who can hold your baby and don’t feel bad saying no, you can always say that baby has been having a rough day and you’d rather no one hold them! If there are people that you’d like to see your baby, make sure they wash their hands first and that everyone knows not to kiss them.
If you are worried about a potential exposure, nursing is your best friend. Your body makes immune factors to help baby fight off anything in the environment. The trick is, this communication happens through your gut, you need to get those germs into your mouth (weird, I know). But, the easiest way to do this is by kissing your baby! That way, any germs that they have on their face get into your body and your milk can start making immune factors.
This is one of the most common questions I get postpartum- “Can I enjoy a drink now that baby is born?”. The answer is yes, you can!
Alcohol gets into human milk in the same amounts as it’s in your blood. That means that if you’re at the legal driving limit your blood contains about 0.05% alcohol. If you feed your baby, they will then metabolize that alcohol, so the amount that gets into their blood is very very small.
You don’t have to pump and dump either. As alcohol leaves your blood, it will also leave your milk. Pumping doesn’t make this happen any faster.
In general, when it comes to alcohol, if you can drive you can nurse. And, if you’re ever unsure, you can always wait an hour and then nurse.
One more tip- if you can get the timing right. The best time to nurse is while you’re having the drink. It takes about 20 minutes for your blood alcohol levels to start to rise, and then your baby will hopefully have a longer stretch while you’re digestive system does its work.
Are you preparing for your best possible birth?
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by Dr. Arlene Dubier, ND, Birth Doula and Lactation Expert
When we think “pain relief” and birth, our minds typically go straight to an epidural. After all, it’s one of the most commonly used pharmaceutical pain techniques. However, it isn’t the only option for pain-relieving techniques or comfort measures. We will review three techniques that you can use either yourself or with the help of an expert
This is referring to massage, acupressure or counter pressure that is done by a birth partner or doula. In the early stages of labour when surges are not as intense, light-touch massage can be a wonderful tool to stimulate superficial nerve endings on the skin. This touch releases tons of endorphins, otherwise known as “feel-good” hormones.
As labour intensifies, either acupressure, counterpressure or both can be used to apply a firm hold to certain body parts in order to take the pressure off the discomfort of the surge. These are tools which can be taught to you by your doula or knowledgeable healthcare provider. The key is to hold this firm pressure for the duration of the contraction so that the pregnant person feels relief and can focus on breathing through each surge.
Water can be such a wonderful tool during early and active labour. Water is used in a multitude of ways. For example, using the warm and running water from a removable shower head can relieve back pain from back labour. For our clients who have had a slow early labour, taking baths was one of the only tools that really helped to take the edge off the more uncomfortable surges. This should ideally be done with lukewarm water, and should not exceed an hour of being submerged. The reason for this is that being in the bath confers benefits up to a certain point of time. In practice, we have seen that feeling relaxed in the bath and having the water support the belly can help pregnant people progress a little more in active labour. However, after a certain point it may almost be too relaxing where labour does not progress. In this situation if water is helpful, we suggested staying in the bath for 50-60 minutes, getting out for some time to try different positions and then getting back into the water.
Another stage of labour in which water can be helpful is during the second stage of labour; the pushing stage. During this stage, there is a lot of natural stretching that happens to the tissues of the perineum (the area between the vagina and anus) as the baby rocks down and around the pubic bone. Having the warmth and movement from the water can again take the edge off this pressure from these stretching sensations. Yet another way water comes to the rescue!
Nitrous Oxide (Laughing Gas)
Here is a type of pain relief you may have never heard of. Nitrous oxide, or laughing gas is only used in certain environments such as certain hospitals or at the Toronto Birth Center. Nitrous oxide is a colourless, odourless gas, mixed with oxygen and is inhaled via a hand-held face mask. The benefits of this is that it can be useful to relieve anxiety as well as dull the pain sensation. Most people use nitrous during the transition phase of labour which can be to most intense (but shortest) part as the cervix is doing its last couple centimetres of dilation. Realistically you can use nitrous during any part of labour, including postpartum if you have a perineal injury which needs to be repaired. The benefits of this is that using nitrous allows for people to be mobile because it does not affect muscular strength. It can also be started and stopped at any time, as it works very quickly and leaves the body just as quickly. Some potential side effects of using nitrous is that people can notice dizziness, nausea or claustrophobia from having to breathe deeply and using the mask. Click here to learn more about the use of nitrous oxide in labour.
There are so many pain management alternatives, I couldn’t mention them all in this post. Speak with your OB or midwife about the alternatives that are available to you. If you are looking for even more support, specifically with hands-on techniques, you may consider including a doula in your birth experience. If this is the case, please reach out to our team and inquire about our offerings.
Wishing you all the best on your pregnancy and postpartum journey!
Sleep is one of the top struggles that parents have with their baby. This is mainly because the baby’s natural sleep patterns are biologically very different from our adult sleep patterns and needs and the clashing of the two results in exhaustion and frustration. Understanding why your baby sleeps the way they do may help temper unrealistic expectations and help parents find the appropriate strategies to deal with sleep challenges.
Your baby’s brain at birth is just one quarter the size of an adult brain. It’s not just a miniature version of the adult brain but really an underdeveloped human brain that is equipped with just the basics to ensure survival. Here is some information to help you understand the basics of newborn sleep:
They have no circadian rhythm for the first 3 months: “My baby has their days and nights mixed up!”
Initially the baby’s brain doesn’t differentiate between day and night because their needs for proper growth and development require them to eat frequently. The newborn needs to eat 8-12 times per day, which works out to every 2-3 hours (with cluster feeds here and there). This means that the baby needs to wake up just as frequently in order to get all their calorie and nutritional needs met.
For the breastfeeding parent, frequent feeding is required to help the body make more breast milk.
The newborn brain is not designed to go into long periods of deep sleep.
As much as we would love for our newborn to sleep the same hours we do, it is actually against their biology to do so. I already mentioned the need to feed frequently as a major reason. The other big reason your baby doesn’t sleep deeply for long periods is because frequent wakings increase blood circulation to the brain. This increase in circulation is needed to help the brain grow and develop.You could take some comfort in knowing that your baby is getting smarter with each waking!
Certainly there are devices and ways to make a newborn sleep for longer stretches, but long deep sleep is not something your newborn truly needs.
“There is no such thing as baby… it is a baby and someone” – D. Winnicott
I love this quote because its truth is multilayered. First, it is a great reminder that babies are 100% dependent on another human being. Without someone taking care of them, a baby cannot exist. Western parenting culture pushes babies towards independence in ways that are developmentally impossible and possibly detrimental for the child.
Did you know that your newborn doesn’t have a sense of self? They also don’t understand that something or someone still exists even if they can’t see it (this is called object permanence). Nor are they aware that they are a separate person from you. For 9 months the baby was literally attached to you, constantly held, rocked, nourished and comforted by you. After they are born, they still want these things from you, and thanks to the hormones of pregnancy, labour and childbirth, your new parent brain has been rewired to want to provide comfort to your baby.
By the time they are 7-9 months, the baby starts to realize they are their own person and that you exist even when out of sight. However, your baby will constantly seek physical and emotional attachment, not just as an infant, but throughout their lives. During the first 12 months of life, the baby specifically wants to be physically close to you and this is how they form their attachment to you.
Your baby is not capable of self-soothing. They need help with regulating from being stressed back to being calm.
The greatest myth of much sleep advice is the idea of teaching or leaving a baby to self-soothe. Remember that the newborn brain is only one quarter the size of the adult brain and is only capable of basic survival. The human brain reaches full maturation somewhere between 25 – 30 YEARS OLD. Your baby can experience basic emotions, one at a time, but the brain is not capable of dealing with them in any meaningful way. Your baby cannot reason, self-reflect, plan or learn consequences. They certainly can’t tell themselves that they will be OK and just need to calm down (The reality is many adults have trouble with this!).
When a baby gets upset (because they are hungry, uncomfortable, tired, lonely etc), the stress response has been triggered. Once triggered, the immature baby brain is not capable of settling itself or regulating itself back to calm. The baby is 100% dependent on another person to help regulate them back to calm (this is referred to as co-regulation).
You may know that sucking is a soothing activity for a baby and sucking on their thumb or a soother can provide some immediate comfort to an extent. But if your baby is very upset, sucking alone is not enough to comfort them.
How do I cope with newborn sleep?
From your baby’s point of view, they are fine to sleep the way they do. But for parents, this is very challenging, especially for those who don’t have additional childcare help.
Certainly in the beginning, parents are in their own survival mode, getting the baby to sleep in whatever way they can. You are figuring out how to get the baby to sleep. But sometimes the methods are unsustainable and parents may find themself in a place where the baby will only fall asleep in one specific way and that one way is becoming more and more difficult to keep up with.
First, there is no such thing as a bad habit. Breastfeeding, bouncing, holding, driving around in the car are all effective ways to get a baby to sleep and the baby doesn’t mind at all, but these patterns might become something you no longer want to keep doing and that is completely valid.
With a bit of forethought, it is possible for your family to set up good sleep patterns and routines for the future. Being proactive while your baby is a newborn may help with your baby’s ever changing sleep landscape, rather than wait until a sleep struggle becomes a desperate situation.
Here are my tips for coping with newborn sleep:
The more the merrier: Get your baby used to going to sleep in many different ways. If a baby can fall asleep in differents ways, then they don’t become dependent on only one way by one person (ie. falling asleep exclusively at the breast means only the breastfeeding parent can put the baby to sleep)
Being held in arms
Being put down
Being pushed in the stroller
Being held in a carrier
With motion (bouncing on a ball, walking, swaying)
Without motion (sitting on the couch, standing over the crib)
Patting a body part (back, tummy and bottom are popular)
Swaddle and unswaddled
Different people putting the baby to sleep (make sure to involve both parent and anyone else who might be helping with the baby)
Have the baby sleep in different places for naps
Bassinet in nursery
In a bright area
In a dark area
On a crib mattress on the floor in the middle of the room
Some parents tell me that they’ve been told that the baby should nap in the same place all the time or else they get confused. Let’s give babies a little more credit than that! They don’t get confused, but they can develop a preference towards where and how they sleep.
When a baby can fall asleep in different ways, it helps provide parents with options. For example, if a baby can sleep in the stroller, that allows parents flexibility with going out during nap time.
What about swings, baby loungers, carseat, baby bouncer chairs etc? Officially they are not designed for baby sleep and are not considered safe. The main reason is the baby is sleeping on an incline before they have good head and neck strength and control. On an incline the head can flop over or lean sideways and block the baby’s airway. The other reason is the material of the device may be too soft or there are other suffocation hazards for the baby. That said, these are very common places that babies end up sleeping in. It is very important to note that if a baby is sleeping in a place that is not specifically designed for baby sleep, then the baby should be supervised by an awake adult. If you think you are going to fall asleep, then the best action is to transfer the baby to a baby safe sleep location.
Use lots of sleep associations:
Generally speaking, babies and young children thrive on routine and predictability. Knowing what to expect helps with regulation, builds trust and attachment.
Sleep associations might include using additional devices, sounds and props that are used to signal to the baby that it is time to sleep. On their own, some sleep associations won’t make a baby sleepy per se, but these cues help the baby predict what to expect next.
Here are some common sleep associations:
Smells of parents
White noise machine
Audio of boring bedtime stories
Dimmed or dark room
Loveys and blankets
Bouncing, rocking, motion
Patting, rubbing, massaging
The bedtime routine should be consistent: While it is less important for naps to be super consistent, it is more important for bedtime routines to be pretty consistent.
Make sure the elements you include are calming. For example, many parents want to include a bath as part of the nighttime routine, but a bath can be very stressful or stimulating for a baby which might not be great right before bed. Pay attention to how your baby responds!)
Include elements that you want to continue with. You might be OK sitting and holding the baby until they fall asleep, but bouncing on a ball with your baby for 45 minutes might be beyond what you want to continue.
Evening fussiness is normal – you may notice that your baby is more fussy in the evenings. Also referred to as the “witching hour” (which can occur between 4 – 10 pm), the baby may be fussier because of accumulated tiredness from the day and breast milk production usually slows down towards the evening. This combination of factors may cause your baby to seek more comfort and increase the need to feed. In a way this can help with night time sleep because the extra comforting will help calm the baby and prepare them for the potential separation from you overnight. The increased feeding helps to fill them up to last longer stretches overnight.
Observe your newborn and get to know your baby’s own sleep cues and patterns. New parents worry alot about not knowing what to do to the point that they rely more on what an “expert” wrote about newborn sleep and don’t allow themselves to observe and learn from their baby. Get to know your baby’s sleep cues. Get to know how long they can stay awake between naps (hint: it’s not very long). Get to know what your baby finds stimulating and what your baby finds calming.
It can be a little tricky to catch sleep cues in a very young baby. The following are possible signs of tiredness:
Early signs of tiredness:
Glazed look in his eyes
Eyes appear smaller (versus his “wide eyed” curious look)
Looking away (no longer interested)
Late signs of tiredness:
Head leaning back – not able to hold his head up as well
Bopping their head on you
Mouth forms an ‘O’ shape
Face becomes red
Sucking on hand (this can be a hunger or tiredness sign as sucking is one of the very few ways a baby can soothe themself)
You are setting yourself up for failure if you don’t take a prenatal class.
(I know that sounds harsh, but this is too important of a topic to tiptoe around.)
I know what you’re thinking: “Well of course you would say that, you teach prenatal classes!” True! But, why do I teach them?
Because I truly believe that a GOOD prenatal class is the #1, (yes, NUMBER 1) factor that leads to improved satisfaction surrounding birth. And I’d argue satisfaction with your birth experience is pretty important.
Here’s why this really matters:
About 1 in 4 people who have given birth in the UK, and 1 in 3 in the US, describe their birth as traumatic. (Unfortunately, we don’t have stats in Canada). Not just hard, not just tiring, long or painful, but TRAUMATIC. The birth of your baby should not be a traumatic experience! Even if there are unexpected circumstances, you should not come away from your birth feeling traumatized. It has always been my goal to reduce this statistic.
Knowing this, It honestly shocked me to learn that only 50% of pregnant families in the GTA take prenatal classes. But, I understand why this happens.
You’ve been told childbirth is unpredictable and the doctor will “tell you what to do”.
Yes, birth is unpredictable. And yes, your doctor can tell you what to do, but is this how you want to experience birth? In an effective prenatal class you learn techniques that help you cope with the marathon that labour can be. Being prepared means you have the tools and skills to cope, even when unexpected things arise. Each birth is indeed a unique and individual experience, and yet, there is a benefit to knowing what to generally expect and what to do. Even explorers had a compass to navigate unknown lands.
Your OB is definitely an important resource but they don’t arrive until the baby is literally ready to be born. Unless there are complications. (I like to say a birth is going well when you barely see the OB). You will have some assistance from the nurse but their primary role is to perform regular medical checks of you and the baby. Your birth is likely to progress normally, which means you and your partner are largely on your own: first labouring at home, then making your way to the hospital, then waiting in triage to be assessed, and then continuing in the labour and delivery room.
It is very possible that some of the recommendations from your nurses and even your OB will not be evidence based. Many things are simply hospital policy or individual bias of the care provider. Did you know that on average it takes about 20 years (yup) for policy to catch up to current evidence. The unfortunate reality is that the onus is on you to come armed with knowledge, questions and the ability to advocate for yourself and your baby.
“I’m going to get an epidural, so I don’t need to prepare or learn coping skills”
In the movies: Water breaks. Rush to hospital. Get an epidural. Aaah, relief.
In reality: Early labour may last days. You get to the hospital triage and wait for a long time before getting assessed. Hopefully you didn’t arrive too early (or you’ll be waiting some more). Eventually you get to your labouring room and you request an epidural. If it’s a busy time (labour and delivery is the busiest place in the hospital), you may be waiting up to a couple hours more. Very occasionally, the epidural doesn’t work. Or, your labour is progressing so quickly that there is no time to get an epidural.
No one seems to tell you that you may be in labour for a long time before you get an epidural. So if getting an epidural is your only “coping” mechanism, you’ll be in for a rough ride.
Learning comfort measures and relaxation exercises for labour and birth is not just for those wanting a natural birth. Learning these things gives you tools you can use in any birth situation which increases your chance for a positive birth experience.
“I’ve heard that hospital classes are not very useful.”
“I can’t find one that works with my schedule”.
“I’d rather have just the information that applies to me and my birthing situation and preferences”
I get it, you have access to all the information you could ever dream of on the internet. However, it takes time to filter through all of it and do you even know what to look for? If you’ve never given birth before, how will you know what “method” to learn? What if someone who has supported many families in a range of birth situations was able to teach you the inside tips and tricks to help you feel calm and confident during labour and birth. Yes, being calm and confident during childbirth is entirely possible! In fact I believe that every pregnant person DESERVES to be calm and confident during this very important life changing event!
If group classes and their schedules don’t work for you – consider a private prenatal program. I’ve noticed that clients seem to get more out of private classes because I’m able to individualize information. Clients also love that the classes are scheduled around their convenience.
Birth has basically been a terrifying mystery your whole life.
I remember the initial joy I had when learning about birth in medical school. I finally understood what goes on, from implantation, pregnancy and birth. It resonated with me, my intuition, it was normal – I didn’t have to be afraid of it. My education empowered me. However, the joy was quickly followed by frustration. Why did it take a medical degree to learn this, why didn’t I know in my prime “child bearing age” anything about birth outside of the dramatized ER births on television.
Most people are very afraid of giving birth, and don’t really want to think about it. But knowledge truly is power. If you understand what you body is doing during labour, how the muscles work, how your baby is working with you then you can learn how to work with your body and not against it.
Ok, so prenatal classes are essential for a positive birth experience. But how do you figure out which class to take? Not all classes are equal – do your research. For your convenience I’ve created the following checklist:
Will your prenatal class include ALL of the following?
-Ends when you are 37 weeks pregnant or earlier
-Teaches and practices in-class practical relaxation exercises that you can use
during labour (helpful for after birth too!)
-Teaches your partner how to be a GREAT birthing partner
-Covers stages of labour and birth from a non-fear based approach
-Covers the birth plan in an evidence-based approach so you feel educated and empowered about what to expect and how to manage labour and childbirth
-Includes a workbook with exercises to help you prepare mentally and emotionally
-Includes additional resources such as audio recordings, videos and props
-Allows you to contact the instructor directly in case you have any questions or concerns
-Treats birth as a physical and emotional experience and not simply a textbook reading assignment.
-Celebrates the miracle and power of pregnancy and childbirth!
Yes, that’s right, I’d rather you take ANY prenatal class, even if it’s not mine.
However, I and another birth-loving ND’s and doula colleagues, have created our Confident Birth Prenatal Program specifically from our experiences as mothers who have given birth, and as doulas who have supported birthing families. From our many years working in this area, we observed and listened. The result? A prenatal program that meets all the criteria above. And as the name implies, you WILL feel more confident and prepared for childbirth.
I want families to feel empowered, calm and confident. Getting educated and having resources helps. I teach and work with families because I LOVE sharing all the wonderful, interesting, mind-blowing things that your body does in labour and how you can help it do its job easier.
We’re so passionate about helping families get a positive start to parenthood through positive birth we offer not just one but two different prenatal programs!
Given the MILLIONS of books out there on pregnancy and childbirth, it can be hard to decide where to invest your time as you prepare for this new adventure!
Here is a list of my top 3 favourite pregnancy reads that I recommend to my clients.
The list is short & sweet but packed with great information to help you feel prepared!
1) MAGICAL BEGINNINGS, ENCHANTED LIVES:A HOLISTIC GUIDE TO PREGNANCY AND CHILDBIRTH
By: Deepak Chopra M.D.
Available on Amazon for about $21
Why I love it: This book combines the latest in evidence based medicine and the ancient wisdom of Ayurvedic medicine in a way that only Deepak Chopra can. Providing a holistic and spiritual approach to pregnancy and childbirth, including simple exercises you can do in your home to help you feel more connected and aware during all stages of your pregnancy and 4th trimester.
2) INA MAY’S GUIDE TO CHILDBIRTH
By: Ina May Gaskin
Available on Amazon for about $20
Why I love it: Ina May Gaskin is single-handedly responsible for reviving the midwifery movement in North America, with more than 30 years of experience she is a veritable guru. This book starts with a fantastic collection of birth stories written by women from every walk of life that really help to normalize the whole process of birth and inspire incredible confidence in what a woman’s body can do. The second half of the book is full of information from Ina May on everything from inducing labour to pain management to orgasmic birth, all with an emphasis on restoring woman’s faith in their ability to navigate natural childbirth
3) THE NATURAL PREGNANCY BOOK:YOUR COMPLETE GUIDE TO A SAFE, ORGANIC PREGNANCYAND CHILDBIRTH WITH HERBS, NUTRITION AND OTHERHOLISITIC CHOICES
By: Aviva Romm M.D.
Available on Amazon for about $20
Why I love it: As an MD with many years of experience in alternative medicine, Aviva Romm is staple in the field of holistic women’s health. This book provides a knowledgeable introduction to the world of natural remedies during pregnancy.
BONUS: MY FAVOURITE BOOK FOR BIRTH PARTNERS
THE BIRTH PARTNER: A COMPLETE GUIDE TO CHILDBIRTHFOR DADS, DOULAS, AND ALL OTHER LABOR COMPANIONS
By: Penny Simkin
Available on Amazon for about $25
Why I love it: I consider this book to be an essential read for anyone who is attending your birth. It covers every topic from how to prepare for labour right up to newborn care, in a wonderfully inclusive way. It provides invaluable information on every possible birth path including medical interventions so that you and your partner are in the know before you need to make decisions. The also has pages marked for quick reference, so it’s great to have on hand during that birth itself.
Is my partner truly prepared to help me in childbirth?
Do a quick google or amazon search on “childbirth preparation” you will get a list of results that are overwhelmingly geared towards you, the pregnant person. You might notice that there are very few books written that would help prepare your partner for childbirth.
Why is this a problem for me?
How you are cared for and supported during childbirth affects how you give birth and how you feel about it. How you feel about your birth experience can also influence how you feel about your own ability in being a mother as well as affect your chance of developing postpartum depression and anxiety. Knowing this, it’s pretty clear that ongoing emotional and physical support during the very transformative experience of birth is of the utmost importance.
What about a doula?
A doula is a person who provides continuous and on-going emotional, physical and informational support for the labouring person. It has been shown that doulas help to reduce the rates of interventions, including epidural use and c-sections and help to increase reported satisfaction in birth experience. In other words, having a doula increases the chance of having HEALTHY AND HAPPY parent and baby.
But what if I can’t have a doula?
Not everyone can access a doula. Even though having doulas would actually reduce health costs, increase positive outcomes and would be a good basic addition to any healthcare system, hiring a doula is not possible for everyone.
At the time of this writing, COVID-19 virus (simply referred to as coronavirus) is emerging as a global and local public health concern that is resulting in changes in hospital policies. Hospitals are restricting the number of people who can attend births, in some cases reducing it to only one person, usually just your partner. As a doula, when I attend births, the more support the birther can receive, the better their experience. Sometimes, in addition to their partner and me (their doula), their own mother and/ or a friend will be there too. So this change in policy can greatly impact your birth experience and well-being.
How should my partner best prepare to support me?
Here are some tips to help your partner be your “doula”:
Communication! Be honest about your fears around childbirth and be honest about your partner’s strengths and weaknesses in handling high stress situations. Play up those strengths and how they can be best used to help you during labour and childbirth
Take a high quality prenatal class that focuses on teaching techniques and skills that your partner can use to help you during labour and childbirth. We at Your Downtown Doula offer theConfident Birth Prenatal Class for a comprehensive approach to help you feel relaxed and confident during childbirth and labour.
Labour at home for as long as possible. If the concerns around infection still exist at the time of your childbirth, then reducing your hospital stay is a good idea. Your partner can help you with relaxation, help distract you, do massage and attend to your basic needs. Doing most of your labouring at home can also reduce unnecessary interventions.
A great book for partners is Penny Simkin’s The Birth Partner. It is specific to doulas and partners and contains very comprehensive information.
Want to learn more about our Confident Birth Prenatal Program?
Labour is intense, to say the least. But does it have to be painful? It can be helpful to reframe the sensations you are feeling. In the words of Ina May Gaskin “labour is an interesting sensation that requires all of your attention”. Many people prefer to refer to surges or rushes as opposed to contraction, HypnoBirthing follows this tenant as well.
Labour is an interesting sensation that requires all of your attention.
Ina May Gaskin
The Pain-Tension-Fear Cycle
It’s very common to have fears surrounding birth. When we experience fear it releases adrenaline which in turn can cause ineffective muscle contractions around the uterus. As a result the production of oxytocin and endorphins decrease and the muscles in the uterus start working against each other. All of this restricts blood flow to your uterus and is a trigger for pain. It also lowers your pain threshold. In dangerous situations, this fear-pain-tension cycle allows for response and survival, in birth it can become a complication. Often, as the pain increases the fear increases and then the tension increases resulting in a repeating, and counter-productive, cycle. So, reducing pain really comes down to reducing tension in your body.
Breaking the Cycle
In her book “The Birth Partner” Patty Simkin discusses the 3 R’s of labour. These are Relaxation, Rhythm and Ritual. Engaging in all 3 of these brings you into the present moment and allows you to move through each contraction without being overwhelmed by them. Often rituals will arise spontaneously during the course or your labour and they can change as your labour progresses. The best rituals involve rhythm and repetition, which lead to relaxation. Things to incorporate in your rituals include: focusing on the breath, staring into someone’s eyes, “slow dancing” with your birth partner, dancing to music, or anything else that feels good to you in the moment.
Helpful hints for your birth partner
Penny Simkin’s book The Birth Partner also outlines a great tool for partners. It is called the Take-Charge routine and is outlined in detail in her book. It is great to use when the birthing person is having difficulty maintaining their ritual or is appearing to be overwhelmed or distressed.
1) Remain calm, others pick up on your energy
2) Stay close, bring your face close to theirs
3) Anchor them by calmly holding their shoulders or hands
4) Get them to look at you, eye contact itself can help to bring them back to the moment
5) Talk to them in between contractions, make suggestions of rituals to try, such as concentrating on the breath
6) Help them regain their rhythm, move your body with theirs
It may also help to remind birthing persons that they are about to meet their baby!
Tips to use in the moment
Any of the following can be helpful during labour, but remember that the right thing for you to do is whatever makes you fell calm, safe and relaxed:
Discuss any fears that you are experiencing with your doula, partner or care provider
Progressive relaxation, guided meditation or visualizations
Make noise and breath with sound
Change positions: hands and knees, on a birth ball, walking around, slow dancing
Use water such as a shower or birthing pool
Ask for assistance and allow your partner and doula to support you with hip squeezes, low back pressure, massage, etc
Hot or cold applications to your face, back or neck
There is a lot of wisdom in traditional herbal medicine, but with health food store selling more products than most people know what to do with, it’s hard to know what to take. This is why, if you are using herbal products, it’s important to have a practitioner, like a Naturopathic Doctor, who is knowledgeable and who is familiar with what is safe during pregnancy. Here, we’ve provided you with some good information and a place to start!
(This doesn’t replace individualized medical advice!)
Herbs that you may want to keep on hand during your pregnancy
Red Raspberry leaf
Why? Nutritive- nutrient dense, high in vitamins and minerals, including iron, calcium and magnesium; uterine tonic- helps prepare the uterus for labour
How? Drink as a tea, 2-3 cups/day
When? Last trimester of pregnancy to help get your body ready for labour
Research: Shortens labour and leads to fewer interventions
Traditional wisdom: Speeds childbirth
Stinging Nettle Leaf
Why? Nutritive tonic, also high in vitamins and minerals, including chlorophyll, vitamin A, C, D and K, and iron; contains protein, helps to bring in mother’s milk, anti-inflammatory
How? Combine with red raspberry leaf to drink as a tea
When? Can be consumed safely throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding
Research: No clinical trials, but experiential and observational evidence show benefit in anemia, preventing postpartum hemorrhage and preeclampsia
Why? Urinary antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, preventing and treating urinary tract infections by blocking the ability of E. coli to stick to the lining of the bladder
How? As an extract in capsules form or as juice (not cranberry cocktail), 1-2 cups/day for preventing UTI, consider capsules for an active UTI
When? Good to have on hand for the first signs of a UTI/bladder infection, combine with increased fluid intake to help flush the urinary tract. **If symptoms don’t resolve in 1-2 days, or if you develop severe symptoms (fever, low back ache, visible blood in urine) contact your health care provider immediately.
Research: Preventing and treating UTI, safe for use in pregnancy
Traditional wisdom: Preventing and treating UTI
Why? Antiemetic, helps with morning sickness, anti-inflammatory, carminative- soothes pain from gas/bloating
How? Fresh or dried root steeped in hot water, drink as a tea 1-2 cups/day
When? If you are experiencing nausea or vomiting in pregnancy. Caution with doses higher than 2 g/day as this is traditionally considered an emmenagogue (brings on your period).**If you are having very severe or frequent vomiting, contact your health care provider
Research: very strong evidence in favor of use in nausea and vomiting in pregnancy
Traditional wisdom: warming tonic, useful in nausea and vomiting in pregnancy
Why? Promotes relaxation, relaxes the nervous system, relaxes the smooth muscles of the digestive system, soothes pain from gas/bloating, anti-inflammator
How? Drink 1-2 cups as a tea, especially soothing in the evening
When? Can be consumed throughout pregnancy, at any time but especially if you are feeling nervous or anxious**Caution with this herb if you have a ragweed allergy, they belong to the same family of plants
Research: Sedating, sleep inducing, some evidence in treating mild anxiety, decreases gas and soothes digestive spasms
Traditional wisdom: nervousness, muscle spasms, gas and colic
What to Take & what to Avoid
Garlic (Allium sativum)
Senna (Cassia senna)
Turmeric (Curcuma longa)
Echinacea (Echinacea spp.)
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
Ginseng (Korean) (Panax ginseng)
Raspberry Leaf (Rubus ideaus)
Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon)
Bilberry Fruit (Vaccinium myrtillus)
Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
*Despite these herbs being listed as safe, it is important that you advise your medical practitioners regarding any supplements that you are taking. These herbs can have other adverse effects such as raising blood pressure that may be important in your individual case. This list may change based on ongoing research and safety studies.
Dong quai (Angelica sinesis)
Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)
Arnica (Arnica montana)
Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium)
Barberry (Berberis vulgaris)
Blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides)
Greater Celandine (Chelidonium majus)
Guggul (Commiphora mukul)
Goldenseal (Hydrastis Canadensis)
Chaparral (Larrea tridentate)
Gypsywort (Lycopus europaeus)
Bugleweed (Lycopus virginicus)
Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium)
Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium)
Boldo (Penmus boldus)
Poke root (phytolacca Americana or Phytolacca decandra)
Jamaica dogwood (Piscidia erythrina)
Pasque flower (Pulsatilla spp)
Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Pau d’arco (Tebebuia avellanedae)
Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare)
Thuja (Thuja accidentalis)
Tylophora (Tylophora indica or Tylophora asthmatica)
Cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa)
*Please do not take any of these herbs unless prescribed by a licensed practitioner that will carefully monitor your health and the health of your baby. This list may change based on ongoing research and safety studies.
This article is meant to provide information only, it does not substitute for personalized medical advice.
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Real talk, the pregnant body is a weird place to live. Your skin stretches in ways you have no control over. You leak, if you’re lucky it’s just increased vaginal discharge and colostrum. If you’re unlucky it’s peeing a bit when you sneeze. Sometimes you sleep, sometimes you don’t, and sometimes you wake up so stiff that you wonder if you’ve been in a brawl and just don’t remember. To say the least, it’s a lot to get used to. At 32 weeks pregnant, I’m right in the middle of the third trimester, and the pregnancy weirdness is in full swing.
It’s become obvious to me that self care is extremely important, now more than ever. The more I take care of myself, the more comfortable I am with my ever changing body, the more I feel connected to my baby, and the more excited I get about giving birth. So, I wanted to share with you my top 5 favourite self care practices for pregnancy.
1. Positive Self Talk
I’m putting this one first and foremost, because you can’t do any of these other practices without speaking to yourself in a loving voice. Remember that you’re growing a human being! I’ve found it helpful to reframe the changes I’m noticing. For example, instead of thinking that the veins I’ve noticed in my legs are ugly, I remind myself that I have about one and a half times more blood than I used to and my body is working to accommodate it. Plus, how cool is it that my body was able to make all that extra blood to nourish my baby.
2. Dry Brushing
Dry brushing is a simple technique used to increase circulation to your skin and promote lymphatic drainage. Using a coarse bristle brush, and light strokes, you brush from your extremities towards your heart. You can find a tutorial here. I love doing this right before hopping into the shower because my skin feels super soft afterwards and it gives me an opportunity to pay attention to every part of my body and notice how it’s changing. It’s also possible that it may help decrease your chances of getting stretch marks, so that’s a bonus.
Just remember, you’re body is doing a lot right now. You should be impressed!
Dr. Sarah Winward
3. Self Massage
I’ve added this as part of my shower routine as well, and it doesn’t have to be super complicated. I just take some extra time applying moisturizer, I use coconut oil, after I shower. I usually give my belly, thighs and hips a bit of extra love using a circular motion and light touch. Again, I love this because it gives me time to see how my body is changing. But it also means that I am touching myself with my own hands, getting comfortable with what feels different. This is another opportunity to be really loving to your body, and appreciate everything that it’s able to do to sustain a new life.
4. Spending Time Naked
I’ve done this 2 ways. The first is that my shower routine has gotten longer, so I am spending more time naked with myself then. I also take some time to do yoga in the mornings. The mornings work for me because I’m not sleeping well (surprise, surprise) so I’m usually up much earlier than the rest of my house. I can get in a 20 minute prenatal flow without being interrupted. And I have been choosing to do this naked. Yoga is amazing because it connects you with your breath. It brings you into the present moment and it reminds you to be in your body without judgement. I’ve been enjoying this one, but there are tons out there that are free to access. I love this practice because it is super gentle, it reminds you to put your hands on your belly and to connect with your baby. Being comfortable at least partially naked will become important, because after your baby is born the best place they can be is skin to skin with you, you can find out more about that here. The more comfortable you are, the more you’ll want to hang out skin to skin, and the better for both you and your baby.
I have been lifting weights for years. So, it was natural for me to want to continue into my pregnancy. Although, I did take a bit of a break during the most exhausting parts of the first trimester. As long as you’ve been given the ok by your care provider it is safe to continue most exercises through pregnancy. But, it is important to check in. How do you feel while your doing it? How do you feel after? I love lifting because it really shows you what your body is capable of, you can see your own strength. But, you can also see how things shift. I stopped doing pushups at around 25 weeks and started doing wall pushups because I didn’t feel like I could maintain good form. I’ve recently started feeling the same about deadlifts. And that’s ok, because my core is shifting to accommodate a tiny person.
In my second trimester, I also started attending prenatal exercise classes. I highly recommend this because it gives you a chance to connect with other pregnant people. And you get solid guidance from fitness professionals who specialize in pregnancy and postpartum, so they can help you modify appropriately when you need to.
Just remember, you’re body is doing a lot right now. You should be impressed! Take the time to thank your body and take care of it.
This article is meant to provide information only, it does not substitute for personalized medical care.
It is a colourless and nearly odourless gas that is a chemical compound and mixture of nitrogen and oxygen. It has both analgesic and anesthetic properties – meaning it can reduce or alter pain sensation and pain perception. You may know about nitrous oxide because of its wide use in dentistry. It is the same gas, but the concentration used during labour is much less.
I haven’t heard much about Nitrous Oxide. Is it common in labour?
You may be surprised to learn that N2O is the most commonly used form of analgesia in childbirth around the world.
Historically, N2O has been in use for more than a hundred years! It was widely used in US hospitals for childbirth in the 1930’s – 1950’s. By the 1960’s, epidural use sharply overtook as the primary choice for pain relief and N20 use would pretty much disappear from labour and delivery in the US. But more recently in Canada, its popularity has increased as a pain relief option. A survey in 2006 found that about 1 in 5, or 20%, of women who gave birth in Ontario used N2O for pain relief. In comparison, the rate of epidural use is about 50-60%.
Is it as good as using an epidural for pain relief?
The short answer is “no”.
It does not replace getting an epidural in terms of pain relief. An epidural is meant to completely take away pain to the point where you usually don’t even know when you are having a contraction or not. Because N2O doesn’t take away pain like an epidural, I have noticed that OB’s and nurses don’t mention it as an option to clients, even to clients that express that they want to labour without an epidural. They don’t consider the value it may offer and in fact, I’ve heard OB’s tell my clients that nitrous oxide “does nothing”. This thinking is a result of comparing N2O with an epidural, but it is a great disservice to completely dismiss it as a useful coping tool.
The more thoughtful answer is that nitrous oxide is a “good enough pain relief”. The following are quotes from my own clients who used nitrous oxide as their main pain relief:
“It helped take the edge off”
“It made me care less about the pain”
“Breathing through the tube helped distract me”
“It helped me relax more and focus”
“It helped me birth without an epidural”
“Without it, I would not have been able to have my homebirth”
“I think it made me a little giddy”**
In some cases, clients have used N2O while waiting to get an epidural or when they are receiving stitches on their perineum post birth.
What can I expect if I use N2O?
Where available, it is used in a hospital or birth centre setting, and occasionally some midwife groups have it available for home births (check with your midwife or birth location for availability). It is administered through a tube with a face mask attached. When you are in labour, you hold the mask to your face and deeply breathe in the N2O at the very beginning of or in anticipation of a contraction. The maximum concentration is reached within 60 seconds so you continue to breathe the N2O gas until the contraction ends. Once the contraction is over you take the mask off of your face. Repeat this for each contraction if you continue to use it. If you’ve learned breathing exercises for labour (which I highly recommend that you do, either through a comprehensive prenatal program, HypnoBirthing or through our own Confident Birth Prenatal program), the deep breathing that you’ve been practicing is perfect for using with N2O.
It is quick acting with the effects felt almost immediately. As described above, N2O does have the ability to alter the way you perceive and feel pain. It doesn’t take away pain like an epidural, but it can help increase your ability to cope with it.
At the biochemical level, N2O alters levels of certain brain chemicals. It reduces those neurochemicals that activate pain (N-methyl-D-aspartate, NMDA for short) and increases neurochemicals that increase endorphins and make us feel good (dopamine, norepinephrine, endogenous opioids). It has the ability to produce a sense of euphoria and occasionally psychedelic effects. (**Yes, I’ve observed a couple clients get a little “high” while using N2O, all to their benefit)
You are able to remain alert and have full control of your body (no numbing effects). You don’t need an IV or continuous fetal monitoring, you can move freely and use the washroom, and you can eat and drink as normal.
If you don’t think the N2O is helpful, or if you start to feel drowsy or dizzy, you simply stop using it and it leaves the body within 30 seconds. Being able to fully control how and when you use N2O is seen as a big benefit to using this option.
Studies of thousands of people who used N2O during labour (compared to placebo) report
Decrease in pain perception
Increased sense of control
That said, when compared to epidural use, women were much less likely to rate N2O as effective pain management compared to those who used an epidural. But when compared with no pain relief or placebo, there was better pain relief reported with N2O use. Reported levels of satisfaction were about the same among epidural users and N2O users. And most N2O users said they would have used it again. Again, highlighting that N2O doesn’t replace using an epidural, but it may still be a very useful measure for those who want to birth without an epidural.
Is it safe for my baby? What are the side effects?
Some nitrous oxide does cross the placenta, however, it is safe for both you and baby when used in labour in a full-term pregnancy. It is not recommended in preterm labour as there is increased risk of brain hemorrhage for the preemie baby. Care providers may recommend using N2O only when you are in active labour (cervix is dilated 6cm or more) to reduce excess exposure to the gas.
Otherwise, the use of N2O has not been found to affect APGAR scores in babies (the initial assessment of well-being for the newborn) and does not slow down labour or increase risks (such as interventions or c-sections) for the pregnant parent. That said, no long term studies of nitrous oxide on both the parent or baby have been conducted (in fact, no long term studies of many interventions in birth exist). From a biochemical point of view, N2O exposure can decrease levels of vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient for blood, nervous system and metabolic functions. It is found in animal-based foods such as meat, eggs and usually included in prenatal vitamins. If levels of vitamin B12 is a concern, this is something that can be addressed post birth with your naturopathic doctor.
Potential side effects (from most common):
Reduced sense of awareness
Reduce feelings of being present; Increases feeling detached from situation
“Mask phobia” from using the mask on their face
Nitrous oxide, if available, can be helpful during labour. It can be used as your main coping strategy (along with massage, relaxation exercises and breathing techniques) or be a helpful tool as you wait for an epidural or even be used immediately post birth if you need to receive stitches for your perineum.
We at Your Downtown Doula are fully supportive of your choices in birth. We act as your source of information so that you are fully aware of the options so that you can make good decisions for yourself and your baby in labour. We have attended births where parents chose N2O, epidurals or other means to cope and in the end, positive births can happen no matter how you decide to journey towards parenthood.