V Is For Visualization

Visualization As A Tool For Labor

Visualization is a useful tool that can be used during labor while you are working hard to meet your baby. The act of visualization means holding an image of something in your mind that is used to bring you feelings of peace and contentment.

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This week, we’ve connected with Kathryn Tipton, licensed counselor at Houston Center For Valued Living and guest blog author today. We were excited when she reached out to us to let us know about her services. We’re especially excited about her virtual postpartum support group. 

 

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Feeding My Baby Is So Boring

Feeding Your Baby Sucks Sometimes

Sometimes, feeding your baby sucks.

What? Can I really say that aloud? Yes, I can. And you can, too. I won’t judge you if you feel this way.

Common Infant Feeding Methods

When your baby is a newborn, you are usually feeding them one of four ways:

  1. Breastfeeding with direct breast to baby transfer.
  2. Pumped milk that is fed to your baby in a bottle.
  3. With formula in a bottle.
  4. A combination of some or all of the above.

The First Latch When Breastfeeding

I’m totally fine with you deciding before your baby is born to never breastfeed at all. Your body, your baby, your choice! However, what I commonly see is that women choose to try breastfeeding for at least the first few days.

No lie, the first time you try to breastfeed your baby, it’s weird. Other mammals squeeze out their young and the babies latch by themselves. But with you and your baby, getting a great latch is like a dance where you don’t feel like you have enough hands.

Sometimes you feel like either you or your baby is broken. I promise neither of you are broken. Sometimes babies have lip or tongue ties, or sometimes your breasts are doing things you never realized. For example, it’s normal for some women to have flat or inverted nipples. There are tips and tricks to navigate every type of breast and baby. If you have questions about that, call me or let’s do a “boob whispering” session!

Pumping Breastmilk

I want to detour into pumping or a quick second. Pumping is when feeding your baby literally sucks. Like a vacuum cleaner.  I can’t recommend enough a pump that is double electric and hands free like a freemie cup. You feel less like an octopus if you can use your hands. And none of us want to be an octopus.

Feeding My Baby Was Great, But Now It’s Not

So you finally figure out the baby feeding situation like the awesome mom you are. It’s day 3, and your milk finally looks like milk, or you’ve finally settled on a formula brand.

The first few days that you’re feeding your baby, it’s magical. Baby is here! Baby is snuggled up with you! They are cute! They smell good! You don’t mind feeding them because you are so present in that moment with them.

But then time ticks by and you have to either return to work, or get back into your daily routine. And you feel trapped. Trapped by this tiny human you would do anything for. You feel tied down. You start to realize it may take 45-60 minutes for a baby to eat. And by the time you do that, and shower, and eat, and take a quick nap, it’s time to do it all again. At first, if you try to extend the time by even an hour, your breasts feel like swollen watermelons, or your baby is pissed.

Small Tips To Make Feeding Your Baby More About You

I want to share some tips with you that help turn feeding your baby into something that resembles your self-care.

It’s normal for women to get so focused on the task of feeding their baby that they forget they can do anything else.

Bring baby to you, don’t bring yourself to baby. Get comfortable. Prop yourself on pillows. Get a foot stool. Even with formula feeding. Don’t crouch over baby. Bring yourself a cold glass of water and a snack.

Guess what? You can turn on the TV. Binge watch all the shows you’re behind on in Netflix.

Listen to podcasts, or music. You’re allowed to relax.

You can call a friend or a family member you don’t get to talk to very often.

Breastfeed or formula feed with the baby in a sling so you have one or both hands free to eat, hold a book, or scroll through Facebook.

When you realize that you’re important and part of the feeding equation, it becomes a little bit more bearable to ease into it feeding your baby while enjoying it.

It’s easy and normal to think of feeding your baby is a chore. If you can, try to think of it as a way to unwind. I know there’s so many things on your mind. You want to get to those things. You don’t want to sit for an hour. Allow your mind and body to unwind and relax for this time. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to feed a certain way, get a certain amount, or any other factor. You’re doing the best you can.

But I Didn’t Plan A Labor Induction

Induction Wasn’t In The Birth Plan

You’re expecting your first baby. You took a birth class that prepared you for a routine labor where your body begins labor on its own. Your notes were meticulous on how to tell when you are in labor and when to head to the hospital or birth center. In your opinion,  labor and birth are a completely normal experience. You trust your body and you trust that labor happens a certain way. In your opinion, birth is not a medical event, but you feel safest having a baby in the hospital just in case.

And so you wait patiently for baby. By 39 weeks, you are so ready for baby to come. Because all you want to do is sleep on your stomach again. You’ve got a bit of pregnancy insomnia, so you stay up late. You are propped up against the headboard with an awesome birth book in your hands and a steaming cup of hot chocolate on the night stand. You’re so excited that baby can be here literally at any moment.

 

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When Two Become Three, Or More

We all know that things change when you enter into a long-term romantic partnership. You went from eating ice cream for dinner to having a conversation with your partner about what you both want to eat for dinner. Parenting is a lot like that.

As individuals, we all have different expectations on what pregnancy, birth, and parenting is really going to look like. It’s almost like we have a fairy tale image in our heads of what it’s supposed to be. Even if you and your partner have the same vibe when it comes to your expectations, your expectations are different.

The person who is carrying the baby obviously feels different than her partner, but you both have a lot of feelings. You both have different roles. Both roles are important.

Expectations For Pregnancy, Birth, And Parenting

In pregnancy, a woman may have the expectation that her life is going to go on the same while she is growing a baby. She expects to be glowing and progressively growing a bump seamlessly while her partner expects the same. But what happens if the partner is under a lot of pressure at work, while their partner needs to be put on bed rest due to a sudden medical development? Or what happens when the person you love is suddenly crying and you can’t figure out why? What if your relationship becomes strained by the change of having a baby? What if your physical needs or abilities change, or emotions are flying everywhere?

What if during labor the laboring woman has an idea of how her partner can support her in labor, but she never talked about it? What if her partner wants to support her, but doesn’t know how?

What if the mother doesn’t want to breastfeed, but her partner firmly believes she should?  Does her partner know where their opinion comes from? Does the partner know how to support the breastfeeding relationship? Is the mother triggered by breastfeeding and it would really be better for the whole family for her to formula feed?

There are so many “what ifs” that can occur in pregnancy, labor, postpartum recovery, and parenting. And it’s honestly impossible to prepare for them all. But if the lines of communication are open, it becomes easier to understand your partner and yourself and to overcome any obstacles or choices that stand in your way.

Talk To Your Partner

Ask your partner if you can speak to them in a focused setting. Some people can only do one thing at a time. You may feel frustrated if you feel like  them washing dishes seems more important to them than listening to you in the moment.

Tell your partner what you need. Even if you can finish each other’s sentences, your partner isn’t a mind reader.

Schedule a date, a lunch, or a childbirth class, or laying around in bed to talk about your needs and expectations.

Compliment your partner constantly. There’s a lot of rough patches in your journey together. Mix some good in with the not so fun stuff. Tell her that she looks amazing. Play in her unbrushed hair. Tell your partner that you really appreciate their 2am trick to the gas station to get your snickers. Or that you love how hard the other one works.

Listen To Your Partner

Actively listen to your partner. Ask them how their day was, even if you think yours was way better or worse.

Sometimes an ear or a cuddle is all your partner needs to make problems go away.

Honor your partner if they need time alone to watch a show, read a book, or take a nap. (Pregnant people are tired, in case you haven’t figured that out yet.)

Support that each person has a role in not only their life, but also in your life, their work life, and in the role of being a parent to your baby.

 

 

TENs As A Natural And Drug-Free Alternative To Pain Medication During Labor

What Is A TENs Unit?

A TENs (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulator) unit is a handheld device that can assist you with pain relief. Is is a battery powered device with wires that connect to electrodes. The electrodes are placed directly on your skin. Most  units have two electrical pulse modes and a series of options to increase or decrease the strength of the electrical pulse.

TENs units have been used in medical care since the 1960s. They  have been used during labor since the 1990s. It is not yet very common for women to use the unit in labor in the United States. Most of this is simply not knowing that it is an option. It is very common for women in European countries to have access to the units during labor.

What Does A TENs Unit Feel Like When It Is Turned On?

I know that a TENs unit can sound a little bit scary because electrical pulses don’t sound good. You have complete control over your device and the settings when used in labor, so any discomforts the TENs could cause are easily changed. When you first turn the TENs on, it feels like your skin is buzzing. It doesn’t hurt. As you increase the intensity, the experience feels more intense. You keep the intensity up until you feel any kind of pain or discomfort, and you stop at the level just beneath that.

How Does A TENs Work?

TENs units work because they utilize Gate Control Theory. Your brain is super smart. When you are having contractions, your brain is responding to pain receptors. While contractions start off mildly and get more intense as you get closer to welcoming your baby, their pattern is sometimes unpredictable. The TENs is predictable because you’re consciously controlling it. If you turn on the unit before you have a contraction, your brain is going to pick up on the sensation of the TENs before it picks up your contraction. That makes your contraction feel less intense. Additionally, the unit helps to create endorphins in your bloodstream. Endorphins help us naturally work through pain.

The Benefits Of Using A TENs Unit

  • The unit  gives you more control
  • Helps with pain relief
  • It is natural and drug free
  • Can be stopped or removed at any time
  • Creates endorphins
  • Adds comfort
  • Helps to lessen anxiety caused by fear/pain/discomfort
  • The  unit is distracting in a good way

Does It Always Help?

When we use the unit on our clients, they have ALWAYS loved it and thanked me afterward for providing them with use for labor. However, surveys show that 1 in 10 women say that they didn’t think it helped them very much. It is common for women to think the device  is not helping them, until the electrodes are removed. That’s amazing to me because I like labor tools that are out of the way, don’t cause additional pain or discomfort, and can help quietly in the background.

 

 

Support Is Comforting

Nothing Feels Better Than Support

One of the best things we can do for another person is to support them in their choices.

True support involves active listening, considering all of the options, remaining fair and impartial, and not trying to coax someone into making a choice because it is the choice that we would personally make.

You Are A Trusted Confidant

The thing that a family most wants when they are pregnant, in labor, or learning about their need baby is support. They want to hear your stories and experiences. Your friend trusts you to give them feedback and advice. They trust that you aren’t going to tell them terrifying stories. And they trust that you are going to make them feel better, alleviate their fears, and assure them that their experiences are normal and valid.

Different People Need Different Types of Support

Every single person on this planet is unique. Each person believes in a different way of doing things. Everyone gets to make a choice that is right for them in the moment.  Can you remember a time when someone was pressuring you to make a choice, but they weren’t actively listening to all of the elements of the decision because they were too hung up on their own experience or emotions? Being able to actively listen is a huge asset.

Honest Support Is Real. It Does Not Create Fear Or Unrealistic Expectations

When your best friend is expecting her first baby and is sitting with you at brunch and asking you questions, you are in a place of extreme honor. You are her confidant. You are the one who gets to hear about how she’s pretty sure she peed herself last night. If you are the friend that can assure your friend with both the beautiful and ugly side of pregnancy, birth, and parenting, you are one of the most beautiful people ever. If you can tell her how it felt to have your vag stitched back together but that it really was worth it to see your baby for the first time, you are a true friend.

Be A Cheerleader

New parents don’t need other people to question their choices. They don’t need to be overwhelmed with the “wrong” way to do literally everything. They need one (or more) people to be cheering encouragingly from the sidelines.  And sometimes that looks like this:

YOU ARE NORMAL.

PARENTHOOD LOOKS GOOD ON YOU.

I’M SO PROUD OF YOU.

YOU AREN’T GOING TO FAIL.

YOU’RE DOING EVERYTHING RIGHT FOR YOUR FAMILY, AND THAT IS ALL THAT MATTERS.

LET ME FEED YOU.

LET ME WASH YOUR DISHES.

I’LL SIT WITH YOUR BABY WHILE YOU SHOWER AND NAP.

YOUR FEELINGS ARE VALID.

YOUR BABY, YOUR RULES.

 

Rebozo: Using Fabric To Aid In Rhythm And Comfort In Labor

What Is A Rebozo?

A rebozo is traditionally a shawl that has origins in Mexico. It is a very long garment that is used in their culture for a variety of tasks such as head coverings and to carry little children. In recent years, more and more families are choosing to use a long piece of fabric to aid them in labor. When a family knows of this tool and wants to use it, it is common for it to just be called “Rebozo”. In 2014, I completed a course with Gena Kirby that instructed me on the use of the rebozo for labor. In 2018, I am more mindful of referring to it as  “comfort measures for labor involving fabric” in order to respect the culture it has origins in.

 

The Measurements

After years of experience with using this fabric with clients in labor, I feel that the nine foot measurement is the easiest for versatility in labor. In addition to length, the wider the fabric is, the better. For many families the traditional rebozo is what is utilized. Other options include folding a top sheet length wise, or using a stretchy woven wrap that will later be used for baby wearing. (If you’re unfamiliar with all of these, a Moby wrap is a stretchy long fabric that can easily be worn by a parent who attends to wear their baby. It comes with instructions so that you don’t feel like you are doing fabric origami.)

As A Form Of Intimacy

When your baby was conceived, chances are high that there were only two people involved. If more people were involved (surrogacy, embryo adoption, etc), then it was a conscious decision between you and your partner that you were ready to add to your family.

There’s a level of intimacy that exists between the two of you that should be honored and celebrated during the birth of your baby. It’s very common for their to be medical staff, family, and friends around on the big day of your baby’s birth. That can feel overwhelming at times.

Together, you can use a sheet or a long piece of fabric to make a tent over your heads. So that each of you is only looking at your partner. This activity creates the feeling of being in a tent or a cave, with just the two of you and baby. It sounds silly at first. I thought it was silly when Gena  asked us to try it. But there was something magical about the entire rest of the world falling away.

As a second form of intimacy, most women like the way it feels for their partner to bounce the fabric along their body, like a subtle and very gentle massage.

 

As A Form Of Support And Comfort

When a woman is in labor, it’s very common for her to move around. Moving around is an amazing asset during labor. She is very likely to do positions that could be better supported by her partner or birth team. Squats are an example. By wrapping the long fabric under her arm pits and holding the ends securely behind her, you are able to offer her support so that she’s less dependent on the strength of her body and feels more secure. In most positions for labor that involve the fabric, there is a support person that is holding the other end. Which, symbolically, it like the partner and the mother being tied together and working toward a common goal.

As A Tool For Pushing

A long piece of fabric can be woven through the bedposts if the woman is pushing in a bed. It will give her something to pull on, sort of like having a handle, as she pushes baby down. Some hospital beds also have a squatting bar. The fabric can be woven around that bar and then mother can reach forward and pull on the fabric in front of her. A support person can also hold one end while standing at the foot of the bed, and the mother can play “tug of war” with that person while she pushes.

It’s very difficult to try to describe in a blog a tool that involves position changes for labor. If you’re in Houston, and you’d like to learn more about these techniques, I’d love to do a birth consult with you.

 

 

 

Quiet Time: The Benefits Of Silence As A Woman Works To Birth Her Baby

Talking Is In My Job Description As A Doula

When a family hires me to be their birth doula for the birth of their new baby, they know I’m going to talk to them. In fact, they encourage it. “Words of affirmation and encouragement” is pretty high on the list of services I offer. It would be strange if I didn’t talk at all. But there are times during labor and the birth of the baby when it is best to be silent.

Silence During Contractions

When a woman is in the middle of a surge or contraction, she is hyper focused on the sensation she is feeling. She is mentally working through that contraction with her body and her baby. If she focuses on anything external to that process, it needs to be the knowledge that everyone in that room is there to support her. It’s impossible for a woman to even understand the full extent of a conversation that is happening around her during labor. She’ll remember later that someone made her laugh, and someone else craved pizza, but she won’t remember the order or the details. If a person is speaking directly to a woman in labor, during a contraction, it needs to be a moment of silence to let her work through that surge, or to offer moment by moment support that is focused on her goals in that moment – to get through the surge. In the breaks between contractions is the time to ask her, “Are you comfortable?” “Would you like some ice.” “Steve is in the waiting room, and he made every one Team Baby shirts.”

Silence During Pushing And The Birth

It sounds kind of woo-woo, but the moments leading up to the birth of her baby are the most connected a woman is ever going to be to her body. And it’s sort of like a rite of passage. Our bodies really know how to give birth. By the time the baby is being born, whether vaginally or cesarean, the woman has done all of the hard work to get to the point where baby is ready to be born. In that moment, allow her to feel the power of her body. Allow the silence to be heightened by the sounds of her baby crying for the first time. The second that her baby leaves her body, all women have one single thought. “Is my baby okay?” Let her have that moment of knowing that her baby is here.

Give The Family Space

When the baby has been born, I step back. I stay in the room, but on the perimeter of it. Maybe I was holding a leg or a hand. I was close. But when that baby is born, that is not my space anymore. That is the space for those parents and that baby to get to know each other. When prospective clients ask me, “How do you help the dad in labor?” What I always respond is, “When you think of this story in five years, I want you to remember that I was there and I helped you. But I don’t want you to have a lot of memories of looking eye to eye with me. I want you to have a lot of memories of getting through labor looking eye to eye with your partner. I want it to be a dance that you do together. You just know that you were enveloped in a bigger system that cared about making your birth experience feel secure, safe, and as comfortable as possible.”

 

My Recent Experience With A Midwife

Recently, I was the doula at a home birth with a midwife. That midwife was amazing. Just being around her, you could tell that she’s been a midwife for a long time. She understands not just the medical aspect of birth, but cares about the whole woman. She can look at a smile or a grimace and just know where in labor a woman is. I’ll be honest when I say that I think transition is a big deal. A natural and normal event, but a big deal in the laboring woman’s mind. That is the part of labor when women feel like they cannot have their baby. And they stop wanting to. They want to shut labor down and go home. And that’s the point where I feel, as a doula, where I’ve got a woman most. That’s the time for, “Baby is coming. I know you don’t believe me. You don’t have much longer.” So, there I was, sitting on the floor next to the birth tub, holding the mother’s head in my hands and wiping stray hairs from her face. And I was encouraging her and telling her that she was doing great. And the midwife looked at me and said, “Talking adds time to labor. Silence shortens them.” I’m obviously an advocate for silence. So I stayed silent, and held that mother, and learned an even further lesson in letting that woman have an extra moment in her own mind. Still present with her, still supporting her, but letting her bask in the power of her own mind and body.

Sacral Pressure As A Tool For Comfort And Pain Relief In Labor

Sacral Pressure Doing Labor Is The Best Labor Support Trick Out There

There is a lot that a woman is going to remember about her overall birth experience. There’s the emotional component of finally getting to meet her baby and all of the emotions she had in getting to that moment where she hears her/your/their baby cry for the first time. There’s the physical aspects of trying to get comfortable while experiencing the surges (contractions) and the pressure (pain) that goes along with that. And there’s the mental aspects of knowing how hard she has worked to get to a point where she trusts her body, her baby, herself as a parent, and you as a coparent and/or support person.

 

One of the factors in her memory is going to be how her support people helped her get through labor through being present, feeling safe to her, encouraging her with words, and doing physical tricks to help alleviate some of her pain.

Sacral pressure and good hip squeezes are worth remembering.

 

What The Heck Is A Sacrum?

The sacrum is a triangular bone of fused vertebrae that sits exactly in the middle of a person’s pelvic structure. It is situated between the hips. On most people, you can physically see the sacrum. It is right in the middle of the low back, and right above their crack. (I’d love to use technical terms here, but you’d still be like, “What….?”)

Why The Sacrum Comes Into Play During Labor

When a woman is pregnant, the baby grows above her pelvis inside of her uterus. In order to be born, a baby utilizes the muscular system of it’s mother’s body, as well as the physical bone structure of her body.

Her cervix is the Gandolf “You Shall Not Pass!” that keeps her uterus and her vagina separate. During labor, the cervix moves (I feel like this is a separate blog), the cervix dilates, and the length of the vagina shortens. As the contractions in labor apply pressure to the uterus that push the baby down into the pelvis, the sacrum moves to allow baby’s head through the pelvis.

Essentially, the back of the pelvis moves, as if it is hinged. In many cases, the part of the baby’s head that hits the sacrum is the back of it’s head. The back of the baby’s head is made out of bones. So, bone against bone. Does that make you flinch? As the baby comes in contact with the sacrum, it creates an intense feeling of pressure from the inside of the woman. And that pressure feels like pain. By applying pressure to the sacrum, you are providing “counterpressure”.  And she loves it.

How To Apply Sacral Pressure

When you think of sacral pressure, it’s common to think she just needs her low back rubbed. Especially if you’ve never done this before. And there are some women that do like that. But with sacral pressure, you’re giving her sacrum the full extent of the strength you have. There’s multiple ways to accomplish this. You can put the palm of one of your hands into her sacrum, and put your other hand on top of that one and push. Or use a closed fist to apply pressure. You can also use a tennis ball and push the tennis ball into her sacrum. The way to find out if it is working or not is to ask her when the next contraction is over. “Is this helping? Do you want me to do it lighter, or harder?”