Preparing for birth and beyond

So many articles start about how we prepare for a marathon but we don’t prepare for birth. It’s not really comparable, you run in a marathon so you can prepare by running. There’s no real comparison to going through labour and welcoming a new baby into the world is there? That’s part of the reason it is such a magical time. But, there are definitely things you can do to help you prepare your mind and body not just for the labour and birth but to help with the transition of becoming a mother and the major changes that will happen to your life and your body. That’s where the real challenge lies in my belief but having a great birth is a great start.

 

Give yourself permission to have an amazing birth

Just as a woman’s heart knows how and when to pump, her lungs to inhale, and her hand to pull back from fire, so she knows when and how to give birth. ~ Virginia Di Orio

Well into labour here, comforted by one of my amazing midwives Hannah from My Midwives and my husband

Well into labour here, comforted by one of my amazing midwives Hannah from My Midwives and my husband

Birth is not a means to an end – it’s an amazing empowering experience that is equally important for you and for your baby. The transition from maiden to mother for you as well the transition from womb to world for your baby is not something to be taken lightly in my belief. Lots of women when discussing birth are like “Yeah, I’ll just see how I go. Go with the flow, you know?” Not wanting to “jinx themselves” or put anything out there lest it doesn’t happen and they’ll feel like a failure or embarrassed. Finding the flow is so important, being in your body and allowing sensations and feelings to happen is going to help you tremendously during birth. But being in your flow is different to being indifferent.  You don’t have to share with others (that won’t be attending your birth) what your true birthing intentions are but it’s important that you know for yourself.

 

You are not selfish for wanting the birth that you want, whether that be a natural birth or maybe a caesarian birth.

You are not high maintenance and you are not setting yourself up for failure if you plan for your ultimate birth.

A birth plan is a great tool for helping you work out what is important to you during your labour and birth and of course the moments post birth. It’s important that you feel comfortable and comforted, dignified and respected. And that your baby’s entry to the world is also dignified and they are respected too. There are some amazing blogs already out there for helping you write birth plans (I recommend looking at Australian websites rather than American for better comparisons)

If you are planning for a homebirth or for a natural, non-medicated birth make sure you are prepared with alternative forms of pain relief. It’s called labour for a reason. Some alternative ideas for pain relief include TENS machine, visualisations, breathing and relaxation techniques, knowing some basic acupressure points and massage, using hot and cold, having an active labour and moving rather than laying on your back. This is not exhaustive. You may use all or none of these techniques but it’s good to be prepared. You can read about my first birthing experience on the blog below.

 

Think about and research all your birthing options…

If I don’t know my options, I don’t have any. ~ Diana Korte

Back in the day having a home visit, they have a beautiful clinic now!

Back in the day having a home visit, they have a beautiful clinic now!

There is no right or wrong and no option better than the other. But it’s important that you know all your options, are informed and have a choice about how and where you give birth. I had homebirths for both of my children, which were both different but amazing experiences. I had private midwives (and I now work with them at My Midwives clinic!) and they were so supportive and knowledgeable and I couldn’t have asked for anything more. I felt empowered and ecstatic after both of my births, yes a little tender and tired but on a natural high. Homebirth doesn’t only need to be for your second and subsequent births. Another option is using private midwives and being admitted for birth into the Northern Hospital, which can provide the best of both worlds – continuity of care and having your wonderful birth team the whole way through but being in a hospital if you wanted the security. 

There are the more traditional options of going through the public hospital system and maybe doing shared care with your GP or having an obstetrician and giving birth at a private hospital. If you were going down a more traditional path of going to either a public hospital or having an obstetrician at a private hospital, you might also consider having a doula at the birth. You might think that you would like the privacy of just you and your partner at the birth but lots of women feel very comforted by the presence of other women and having someone who understands the birthing process and is going to be an advocate for your wellbeing. And the best ones will really blend into the background after baby is born and just allow the bonding to happen with you, baby and your partner. Or, you might have a best friend or sister who would be honoured to share and support you on your pregnancy and birthing journey.

Physical preparation for birth

Mermaid stretch; is this the best stretch ever during pregnancy?

Mermaid stretch; is this the best stretch ever during pregnancy?

 Classes at Buddha Babes are specifically designed to make pregnant women feel strong, empowered and supported. I try and do this by helping women feel comfortable in their growing bodies through mindful movement, body awareness and relaxation.  There is a strong emphasis on core awareness and pelvic floor. The physical benefits of exercise are well documented now, but there are many other benefits of joining a specific prenatal exercise class. My classes have seen some beautiful friendships blossom. Lots of women are first time mums and find it comforting to be around other pregnant women, able to chat freely about the highs and lows of pregnancy, comfortably bare their bellies if they’re in a stretch and not worry about going to the toilet during class, everyone else will certainly know what they’re going through. There are other great specific prenatal classes such as Aqua Mums, a water aerobics class, prenatal Yoga or even a more cardio focused class such as Preggi Bellies. If you didn't have the means or the time to join a class other great exercise options during pregnancy are walking; swimming, water walking or Youtube always has lots of great stuff.

Growing a baby can be hard on the body and we know there are so many physiological changes in the mother’s body. So while exercise and movement is a fantastic way to feel good in your changing body you might need to see a medical professional or someone who is involved in alternative medicine. You could look at acupuncture, kinesiology, a Womens’ health physiotherapist If you are suffering from Pelvic girdle pain (PGP) or incontinence, they can assist you with supportive garments and maybe some gentle adjustments or corrective exercises. An osteopath is also a great person to see during pregnancy, ensuring it’s someone who specializes in womens’ health and pregnancy. Don't forget your midwife or doctor are the best places to start if you're unsure.

Mental preparation

 My class certainly offers a beautiful balance of resistance work and flexibility with relaxation but you might want more. Yoga is great for breathing and relaxation. There are lots of prenatal Yoga classes, you could also buy a DVD or online option as well to do at home. There are also courses like Calmbirth, Hypnobirthing, Clarity Fearless birth, which will also give you information and tools to help with self-confidence. Attending a workshop like this might be really beneficial if you have feelings of anxiety about the impending birth or becoming a mother. There are some great free options like just setting 10 minutes aside in the morning to breathe and meditate, Mind the Bump is a free app, a collaboration between Beyond Blue and Smiling Mind with some wonderful short meditations is well worthwhile looking into. Another great idea is using positive affirmations, there are some excellent blogs, google is a very simple place to start if you wanted to find out more or get some examples of affirmations. You could also consider meditation, contemplation/quiet or spending time in nature.

Celebrate this transformation and creation of new life

To be pregnant is to be vitally alive, thoroughly woman, and distressingly inhabited. Soul and spirit are stretched – along with body – making pregnancy a time of transition, growth, and profound beginnings – Anne Christian Buchanan

One of my special maternity shots taken by Alison of Alison Mann Photography http://www.alisonmanns.com.au

One of my special maternity shots taken by Alison of Alison Mann Photography http://www.alisonmanns.com.au

The wisdom of a woman’s body is amazing and astounding. Your body has the innate wisdom to create and grow new life, which never gets boring or any less magical for me, no matter how many pregnant women I see. Even as I look at my children sometimes, I can’t believe that my body was the vessel for these people. There are lots of ways to celebrate this transformation from maiden to mother. While it is truly special, it’s important to know that you are walking the same path that millions of women have gone before you. The transformation is so contradictory as from one perspective (yours) it is something so new and so unbelievably special but at the same time one of the most common things that we can do as women.Some of the bigger things you can do might be to have a maternal photo shoot (you can see my pictures throughout this blog) or a baby shower or Mother blessing ceremony. If you're not sure about what a Mother blessing is, see more about this below. Some of the smaller things you might do are create a special “altar’ with maybe some photos of your grandmother/women you admire or something that you find inspiring; if you were going to give birth in a hospital you might bring along these special images or things. You might also have some beautiful fresh flowers or candles . You could do some meditation or contemplation with these special objects around you.

 Consider a Mother Blessing (blessingway ceremony) rather than a traditional baby shower

A baby shower is a bit of a rite of passage for women having their first baby but many times it focuses on the baby and although a wonderful sentiment can have an emphasis on receiving gifts. If the idea of a baby shower doesn’t sit entirely well with you but you want to celebrate this special time, you might consider a Mother blessing. A Mother blessing is inspired by the traditional blessingway ceremony of the Navajo people of Native America and is a beautiful way to celebrate this transition from woman to mother. Using the idea of ritual to nurture the mother-to-be, celebrate motherhood and the power of the feminine, all women forming part of the sacred circle will leave the gathering feeling empowered, inspired and full of love. I will be offering planning and leading Mother Blessing gatherings. They will be completely tailored to you and your beliefs and can include things like henna tattooing for your belly, creating a special keepsake with contributions from all your guests and Yoga or meditation. I feel that we (well me, maybe you feel the same) are missing the notion of rituals in not only day to day life but also larger, more important rituals such as this.

NB It is important to think about 'cultural appropriation' when using rituals, as many of them are based upon indigenous cultures and beliefs. Many indigenous populations have suffered oppression, in the case of indigenous Australians much worse so we must tread carefully and respectfully and acknowledge any traditions or rituals of any indigenous people before taking them as our own.

Body Image

and i said to my body softly. ‘i want to be your friend.’ it took a long breath and replied ‘i have been waiting my whole life for this' ~ Nayyirah Waheed

Still celebrating here; rejoicing our bodies; in all their glorious shapes and sizes.  The creation, growth, birth, breastfeeding ~ this all happens within our amazing bodies! Of course there are going to be some changes to the shape (obviously during) but certainly after pregnancy. It’s not just bellies; it could be feet, nose, extra fat, droopy skin, scars and the list goes on. We sometimes overlook how much this might impact us and the way we feel about ourselves, especially in a modern culture largely driven by image and particular beauty ideals, that are largely unrealistic, unattainable and mostly “who gives a crap”. We need to know and understand that what our bodies are doing and how they are changing shape are examples of them just doing their thing. I came across a beautiful poem, only yesterday that really resonated with me.

In all my naked glory; tattoo is looking a little different these days

In all my naked glory; tattoo is looking a little different these days

My worth does not come from having a flat belly.Thank goodness because my belly is more like the surface of the ocean; sometimes still and flat but more often pitching and rolling, reveling in its frothy curves.

My worth does not come from my breasts that sit up high like a dog waiting for a treat, tight and perky and obedient.Thank goodness, because my breasts are more like a sleepy child, warm and soft, snuggling into the path of least resistance.

My worth does not come from my body’s perfection or ability to conform to standards of beauty or sex or femininity. Thank goodness because my body is more like me; wild and open, except for when it’s a steel trap. A container for love and light but also a vessel for holy darkness and fear.

My worth comes from something else entirely. Something you cannot see or taste or touch, something I didn’t earn and I cannot lose.

My worth arrived with the warranty stamped on me at birth that said, “She has everything she needs.”

Jessi Kneeland (you can find out more about her at www.jessikneeland.com)

New mums are particularly vulnerable being targeted by products and services with statements promising things like “get your pre-baby body back”,  “bouncing back after birth.”  I think these days, there’s lots of awareness about these kinds of sentiments being misleading and unfair. In saying this, I’m certainly not saying don’t move your body or exercise after having your baby. Bodies are designed to move (not necessarily exercise but that’s a different post altogether) and that’s why I designed the Restore program. You can bring your baby along and there are different exercises every week that focus on breathing, core and pelvic floor, glutes and alignment tips. Movement and exercise has been proven to lift people’s moods, we just have to make sure we’re doing the right kind of exercise by responding to our body’s needs. 

Planning for the fourth trimester

The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new ~ Osho

There are lots of unknowns, too many to mention. First of all, don't buy too many things. Babies need very little and you can buy as the need arises. Saves time researching best prams, best cloth nappies, best breast pump (know this from personal experience.) I would rather have spent my time researching about things far more interesting. My baby rarely went in her pram and refused to drink expressed milk so they were a waste of time. What I wish I'd done during my first pregnancy was watch "Paleo Parenting" a lecture given by Katy Bowman from Nutritious Movement. This really changed the way I parented my second child and my eyes were open to a lot of things that I hadn't even considered. A book I wish I'd read in my first pregnancy, The Continuum Concept a book written in 1975 by Jean Liedloff about her experience spending time with traditional tribes in Africa. The basic premise of the idea is that humans have an set of innate expectations that evolution as humans has designed us to meet in order to achieve optimal development. The Continuum Concept is closely related to attachment parenting, it's an interesting read especially if you haven't heard of either concepts. 

Belly wrapping or wearing supportive garments is a tradition that has been around for many years across many cultures, I don't  see it as a scare tactic to make women purchase products. I wore SRC Recovery shorts after both of my births and I am happy I did. They felt supportive and comfortable and I believe helped me with a speedy recovery. They are expensive so can either be resold afterwards or purchased second hand to reduce the $$ impact. Otherwise, maybe you can continue to wear (or purchase) the inexpensive tubi-grip. It's a good idea to pack your support wear in your hospital bag (if going) but make sure you check with your health care provider before putting it on. It's also important to have a session with a womens health physiotherapist, maybe 6 - 8 weeks post birth to get an accurate picture of your pelvic health, maybe sooner if you are having sensations of heaviness or suffering incontinence. You could look into WHP in your area or come and ask me for a recommendation.

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So, preparation for body, mind and soul. You will be amazing as millions of women before you have been too and when things are feeling overwhelming, my favourite saying during the early days was "This too shall pass," and it will as I write this on my daughter's sixth birthday. The memories of pregnancy and babies is but a distant memory; hazy, joyful, pure love, tiring. Lucky I have the pictures to prove it all happened... 

 

 

Toilet habits count

I was going to start this with a really corny dad-like joke but I just somehow found a thread regarding prolapse for women and realised how serious an issue this is and how much it affects women. So many women have babies and then that's it and that's fantastic! And I don't want to scare people into thinking well it's so common, I must have something too. If you are feeling great, that's great! We have our bodies for our whole life and we go to the toilet a lot, it makes sense that we create healthy habits. I think today there is much better awareness about pelvic floor issues and the importance of pelvic floor exercises during and after pregnancy than in the past, even recent past. At my mothers group, the maternal child health nurse told us to do squeezes while waiting at a red traffic light and that's all I really heard about anything. I give all my pregnant clients now the Pregnancy Guide (and some of my post-natal ones too), which is wonderful and has heaps of useful information. Doing  your pelvic floor exercises might not be enough, have a read below about how to make your toilet habits count. 

Lots of the info here comes from a wonderful book called Pelvic Floor Essentials, written by womens’ health physiotherapist Sue Croft. This is some of the information from this book that I feel compelled to share as well as my own experiences. 

In 2011, a report commissioned by the continence foundation showed that the prevalence of incontinence in Australia was 4.8 million people (over the age of 15), 79% of these being women. Research also says that up to 50% of women who have children will suffer from prolapse in their lifetime – this is huge!! Conservative measures including pelvic floor muscle training and good toilet habits are important for life

Today in Restore I said I am the queen of haemorrhoids! Actually it was a stupid thing to say, but it is an uncomfortable topic and it just came out. But I have had lots of issues with hemmorhoids and honestly it is painful and a bit depressing at times. Here's my very brief toileting history. For a long time I had issues with constipation and hemorrhoids. I used to be a long haul flight attendant (you have limited time to use the toilet; sometimes you simply cannot go when the urge arises, weird waking hours, lots of packaged and unhealthy foods and spending lots of time in a pressurised cabin so many cabin crew also have issues with having regular bowel movements). I also went through a stage where I used diet shakes to help control my weight and then developed a reliance on laxatives and suppositories to go to the toilet – all these things really placed havoc on my system. Following on from that ~ two pregnancies, two births and babies so I have certainly had my fair share of issues with digestion, constipation and hemmorhoids. I am now in a good place, developing good toilet habits has been essential in helping me become more regular. As well as the good toilet habits I have a pretty good diet, a healthy relationship with food and body image and I move my body regularly walking, swimming, doing Pilates and Yoga. 

Do you strain to go the toilet? (Even for a wee) If you are a new mum, the answer is probably yes because you want to go to the toilet as quickly as possible. You don’t have time to be sitting on the toilet while your baby is crying for you! Or a toddler is watching you and probably pulling all the toilet paper off the roll! But, it is important to relax your pelvic floor and tummy muscles and allow your bladder to do the emptying rather than pushing and bearing down to get it out quickly. Sitting in the right position to do a wee is also important. Here is a pic from Sue Croft’s book, Pelvic Floor Essentials. Notice the neutral spine – that’s important. Hands can rest on the knees and feet flat on the floor. Do this is public toilets too, just put some toilet paper on the seat if you need to rather than doing the hover (well maybe not the gross ones.)

Now to the main part of the story; poo. Straining (especially while holding your breath) to go is kind of like having a mini baby! 

It’s important to go to the toilet when the first urge arises. For most people that tends to be in the morning. For me, some hip circles and a big warm glass of lemon water can help to get things moving. Otherwise, a bit later in the morning coffee can be good too to help the bowels relax.

 

Me on my potty squatty, I do usually take my pants off to go to the toilet but that may have been a bit awkward for a photo

Me on my potty squatty, I do usually take my pants off to go to the toilet but that may have been a bit awkward for a photo

First things first, get into correct position, a bit different from the wee position as you have your feet raised so your knees are slightly higher than your hips, this resembles a natural squat which improves how efficiently we can eliminate waste. You keep the spine neutral, lean forward slightly, once again hands on knees. You can see in my photo, that I have a squatty potty – my daughter uses this as well. You don't want kids legs dangling down from the big toilet. You can go onto their website if you’re interested to find out more info and they have nice bamboo ones too. https://www.squattypottyaustralia.com                  Otherwise yoga blocks work well too, $5 from Kmart. Or apparently there is a folding stool from Kmart for $10.

Sue Croft recommends rather than pushing into your bottom think about gently bulging your lower tummy out or making a hissing sound like a snake, the hissing is especially useful for kids - but good for adults too. For me, I like to focus on my breathing; when you inhale ribs and belly expand and imagine breath moving down to your perineum and you will feel a gentle pressure on the pelvic floor (yes this is part one of the core breath!) then as you breathe out think about the gentle tummy bulge rather than pushing into your bottom so you can essentially "breathe your poo out" lol but true

For those suffering, aside from good toilet habits what else can you do? Well first of all, this information is not in place of medical advice. Your health professional is always your first point of call.

Moving and keeping active is important.  Walking, swimming, Post natal Pilates and Yoga as well as dynamic stretching are all good ways to move in the post-natal period. Change the post to pre and they're all good options during pregnancy too. Try and include pelvic floor exercises or ensure your workout is pelvic floor safe. And of course listen to your body, stop exercising if you feel heavy or sore down there or things just don't feel right.

We all know a balanced diet with adequate fibre is important. Foods that are particularly helpful in making you (well me) go are apples, pears, beetroot, dried fruit - especially prunes, wild rice and there are plenty of others but these are my go-tos. Of course drinking lots of water is so important; good hydration is key.

A natural laxative is psyllium husk; you need to drink a lot of water with it to help “flush” the system out, rather than ‘clog’ the system.

 

Anyway, I hope this has been helpful. Please feel free to ask me any questions regarding this or discuss anything. This needs to be an area that is open for discussion and remember to see your doctor if you are worried. And if you're up for a laugh and a bit of grossing out, check out the video for potty squatty! It's weird but informative

For more information you can buy Sue Croft's book, Pelvic Floor Essentials from her website www.suecroftphysiotherapist.com.au or for specialised advice please see your doctor or find a womens health or continence physiotherapist