Autumn Newsletter Editorial: Mama Care

Autumn Newsletter Editorial: Mama Care

Mothering the Mother After Baby Arrives

By Stephanie Ondrack

Many of us spend our entire pregnancy anticipating the upcoming birth of our baby, but somehow our vision fades out there—right after the birth itself. Once we’ve come through this experience, we often find ourselves the shell-shocked guardians of a new baby, one who is with us all day and all night, utterly dependent, and ours to keep. Somehow, we never imagined what this would be like, or what an enormous life change it would be. We may have heard that babies sleep a lot. They do, but rarely for more than half an hour at a time, and almost exclusively in our arms. We may have envisioned the baby cooing peacefully in a basket while we ‘get stuff done’, only to discover that babies never like to be put down…ever. We may have pictured promenades and outings, beaches and restaurants, only to learn that it requires extreme juggling and dexterity to leave the house with a newborn, a feat at which few parents succeed during the first couple weeks. We may have thought this would be the time to paint the house, write a novel, or catch up on thank you cards, only to realize that somehow, these teeny tiny little people we call babies take up all of our time, all of our hands, and all of our energy, day and night, without breaks.

 

But somehow, we do this. We have babies. We look after them. We get through those early months of reeling. We learn to let go of our unrealistic expectations, and to surrender to the much more basic ebb and flow of a new baby’s needs. We stop aspiring to ‘get stuff done’, and aspire instead to enjoying these precious early months with our brand new progeny. Eventually, we may even embrace this ever-shifting new existence, and learn to appreciate this short and passing season in our lives, the “in-arms” phase of early parenthood.

 

 

In this issue, we consider some key postpartum issues, such as early breastfeeding challenges, postpartum doulas, and what to expect during this turbulent time. Becoming a parent is the steepest learning curve we will likely ever face, a maelstrom of a roller coaster with frayed emotions and little sleep. Like all new adventures, new jobs, and new situations, the curve will eventually level off, and the chaos will settle into familiarity and confidence. For now, we encourage you to ignore those dishes, turn off your phone, and surrender to the motion of your postpartum journey. We hope you enjoy the ride. Of course, if you’re right in the middle of this crazy, magical time, you won’t be reading newsletters anyway. You will hopefully be busy settling in and finding your groove with your new baby.

 

Milk Supply

Milk Supply

By Dr Stephanie Peltz, ND

 

Are you interested in breastfeeding? Did you know that learning to breastfeed is a joy for some, but an uphill climb for others? Did you know that it doesn’t come ‘naturally’ for the majority of women? I advise my patients that it can take up to six weeks for a woman and baby to feel confidant breastfeeding. In my personal experience, it took ten weeks. I’m not suggesting that supplementation is automatically necessary in these cases, what I am saying is that the learning curve can be steep. Creating reasonable expectations is one of the best ways to set women up for success. As a naturopathic physician working with pregnancy and paediatrics, I am all about setting families up for success!

 

 

One of the biggest concerns breastfeeding women have is their milk supply. This article will focus on not-enough-milk (the most common supply issue), but there can also be challenges with over-supply. Read on for more information on diagnosing a supply issue, and how to start addressing it from home.

 

 

 

 

 

The numbers:

In general, women produce 90 mL colostrum / 24 hrs for the first two – five days post partum. Milk typically comes in between day three – five, and it is estimated that 500 mL/day are produced. This increases to 750 mL/day for months three – five and then reaches an estimated 800 mL/day at six months and onwards. These are ballpark numbers because every body is unique.

 

Do you actually have a low supply?

A low supply is suspected when babies don’t grow at an expected rate (according to charts, care providers, or the parents themselves), when babies are fussy, feed frequently, fall asleep at the breast, or are unable to stitch together long enough stretches of sleep. Some women worry about their supply if they have small breasts, when pumping does not produce much milk, or their breasts do not feel full. However, there are lots of myths around assessing supply, and I’d like to debunk a few.

 

First, remember that growth rates are guidelines, and that most babies don’t grow on a perfect curve. Growth charts are only one piece of the puzzle on determining how a baby is doing. Did you know that a baby can be anywhere from 3rd-97th percentile and still be in the realm of normal? Breastmilk supply cannot by assessed by a baby’s weight alone.

 

As well, fussiness, feeding frequency, and sleep behaviour can be indications of several issues beyond supply. Breast size is not proportional to breast milk supply, and if your breasts don’t leak it doesn’t mean you have insufficient supply. If you don’t feel engorged, or if you don’t feel a let-down, again it doesn’t automatically indicate a problem. Did you know that some women produce a perfectly fine supply, but their pumped volume remains low? Take home message: be cautious what information you use to judge your supply.

 

So how do we know?

Combining weight, alongside milestones, and baby’s behaviour is wise. When assessing weight, it is important to take into account the size of the biological parents, and to watch how a baby follows the weight percentile curve they are on. As well, watching for typical developmental milestones like smiling, babbling, rolling over, sitting, etc. are important factors. Also look out for numbers of wet and dirty diapers for more clues. Unfortunately, there is not one way, and it is not a perfect science.

 

Why do women have low supply?

The reasons are multifaceted. Maternal health plays a big role (i.e. postpartum haemorrhage and maternal illness both decrease supply). A woman’s hydration level, caloric intake, and stress levels are also factors. Hormone balance influence supply (i.e. elevated oestrogen from birth control pills or deficient thyroid levels). A history of breast surgery / trauma may play a role. And remember: breastmilk production is based on demand, if the breast is not emptied, the supply will be lowered. Did you know that a great many cases of low supply are actually caused by insufficient or too-infrequent emptying of the breasts? If you are supplementing with bottles, distracting baby with a pacifier, trying to lengthen intervals between feedings, sleep training your baby, or doing anything that results in nursing baby less than baby might need/want, you are at risk of decreasing your own milk supply. A lot of mothers are delighted to learn that they’re capable of producing much more milk than they realized, they were just being led astray by faulty advice or information.

 

Solutions:

  1. Address technique (especially latch). An experienced care provider needs to watch a baby nurse to get a good reading on latch and milk transfer.
  2. Breastfeed on your baby’s demand. This is key to all supply issues.
  3. Consider breast compression, offering both sides per feed, and potentially pumping after/between feeds.
  4. Stay hydrated and well fed. I recommend drinking water every time you nurse. Women need 500 kcal extra /day than they required pre pregnancy. A nutrient dense diet with lots of protein and healthy fats will help. Specific foods to increase supply include oats, barley, peas, legumes, walnuts, and almonds, sunflower, sesame, flax seed, pumpkin, and hemp seed. Also, limiting caffeine, pineapple and sage is a good idea.
  5. Get rest and address stress. This is where partners, friends, families, and postpartum doulas come in. Women working on their supply should do little else beyond nurse, rest, and eat.
  6. Consider herbal medicine. There are several herbs out there that act as galactogogues to increase milk supply. They come in tea and tincture form. The list includes fenugreek, blessed thistle, goat’s rue, milk thistle, fennel, hops, and many more. These can be highly effective. I often recommend combining tinctures with teas to cover more bases. Every practitioner has their favourites, so speak with a licensed practitioner to get a specific prescription and dosing regimen.
  7. Consider prescription medication. Domperidone is the most commonly prescribed medication to increase milk supply. It can be highly effective and requires a prescription from an MD or ND.
  8. If you choose to supplement get informed on what you are giving, your delivery system, and how this will impact supply.

According to Dr. Jack Newman “the majority of women are perfectly capable of producing all the milk their babies need”. So if you are at home struggling, try some of the above tips. And please reach out to a friend, family member, lactation consultant, birth educator, postpartum doula, la leche league leader, or naturopathic physician well versed in breastfeeding support. There is no reason to suffer alone, and there are wonderful resources and support out there. And remember: with every steep learning curve comes a stretch of smooth sailing! Happy nursing!!

 

References

Dr. Jack Newman’s Guide to Breastfeeding

KellyMom.com

Diane Bengson’s How Weaning Happens

Kathleen Huggins’ The Nursing Mother’s Guide to Weaning

 

Dr. Stephanie Peltz is a naturopathic doctor practicing in the Yaletown area of Vancouver, BC.  Her area of expertise is working with women through conception, pregnancy, delivery, the postpartum period, breastfeeding, and treating children of all ages.  She uses low invasive natural therapies including lifestyle modification, nutritional advice, the prescription of herbs and nutrients, and more.  As a mother herself, she is passionate about supporting women through the joys and challenges throughout their journey.  She is currently accepting new patients.  Visit www.drpeltz.com for more information.

 

 

 

 

Post partum doulas: what do they do and who needs one?

Post partum doulas: what do they do and who needs one?

by Melina Auerbach

 

Post partum doula—what is that, you may ask? Or, as someone recently responded to my answer of “ What do you do for a living? A “do –what?”

 

Professional postpartum doulas (PPDs) are becoming increasingly recognized for their skill and ability to support new mothers and assist her smooth transition to motherhood. A post partum doula is a professionally trained, empathetic and non-judgmental woman, who can support and teach new mothers and their families about normal infant development, breastfeeding, practices that encourage healthy parent child bonding, soothing techniques and evidence based information that helps parents make their own decisions about parenting.   A post partum doula’s main role is to “mother the mother” and can give new mothers (and their partners) the time and space to bond with their newborn. Having a post partum doula and can be a wonderful way to ease the transition to parenthood.  Families who don’t have near-by family and/or who seek extra support, benefit enormously from having a post partum doula.

 

When I was pregnant with my first child my mother offered to come and stay with us for the first month. Luckily I get along with my mother and I decided I would indulge her. I assumed that because this was her first grandchild she wanted to get an early start in building up her relationship with “strawberry” (as my son was then called).   It never occurred to me that my partner or I would need her help. Of course before a baby is born the focus for most pregnant women is on the birth. Very little thought is given to what comes after baby has arrived. And I was no exception.   Little did I know at that time that my mother’s loving care would inspire me to change careers and provide a smooth and loving transition for families who are welcoming new babies into their lives.

 

In the early weeks after my son was born my time was consumed with trying to master breastfeeding, and my partner’s time was consumed with trying to support me. It didn’t take me long to realize that my ”indulgence” of allowing my mother to come stay for a month was in fact necessary to our survival. We were like 3 newborns that needed to be fed and cared for. My mother shopped for our food, cooked our meals (and froze extra ones for after she was gone), and did whatever needed doing that didn’t involve breastfeeding or sleeping. Her quiet and supportive presence allowed us to muddle through the first weeks and to start off our new life as a family in a loving and cocoon-like way.

 

This vital role that post partum doulas provide of “mothering the new mother” could benefit so many families.   In B.C. many people are not yet aware of the role of post partum doulas, or have trouble affording to pay, though many doulas work on a sliding scale. In the Netherlands, the government heavily subsidizes post partum doula care and all women who have given birth have access to a minimum of 40 hours of post partum care. The benefits of early support for new families is clearly worth the investment and perhaps policy makers in British Columbia will one day recognize the value of helping families get off to a healthy and positive start.

 

Traditionally in many non-Western cultures women and their babies are nurtured and attended to by their families. Cultural practices in many parts of Asia Africa and Latin America include special foods and a confinement period for the mother – where she is encouraged to rest and the female family members offer social support and take on the household responsibilities. [1]These customs allow new mothers a chance to recover from the birth and to gently transition into their new role as mothers. These practices are not an inherent part of Western culture. As a result new parents struggle by themselves to learn how to care for a new baby or integrate a new baby into the family. And mom has little time or space to recover gently from childbirth and gradually adjust to her new role as a parent.   In addition many of today’s families live far apart, or do not have the kind of supportive relationships that allow a new mother to feel supported and unjudged. This non-judgmental, skilled role is where the post partum doula comes in. In BC there is a professional society of birth and post partum doulas (www.bcdoulas.org) There are also international certifying bodies such as DONA International (www.dona.org).

[1] Kim-Godwin, Yeoun Soo. Postpartum Beliefs and Practices Among Non-Western Cultures. MCN, The American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing, March/April 2003 Volume 28 Number 2 Pages 74 – 78.

 

What are the benefits of having a doula

A post partum doula can be helpful for any new (or experienced) mother. Research has shown that mothers who are well supported at the beginning of their babies’ lives have many advantages including:

  • More successful at breastfeeding and breastfeed longer
  • bond more quickly with their babies,
  • less likely to experience post partum depression.
  • decreased maternal exhaustion frustration and apprehension
  • increased confidence in handing your newborn and recognizing newborn cues
  • greater understanding of newborn emotional and physical needs
  • ability to filter the overwhelming and differing advice from family, friends and others on newborn care

 

WHO NEEDS A POST PARTUM DOULA

Anyone who wants a smoother transition to parenting will benefit from having a post partum doula. Women who have had natural births, women who have had cesarean sections, women who are breastfeeding, women who are bottle feeding, women who are having their first child and women who are having their 4th child, women having one baby, women having twins—all will have different needs that can be met by a post partum doula. Some women need extra breastfeeding support, and others require emotional and physical supports. Those whose families live far away or who don’t have close relationships with their family can benefit from a post partum doula’s non-judging, listening skills and practical support. Anyone who wants advice on how to take care of a newborn, or who wants a trusted source to ask about what is normal and who can assist with filtering all of the unsolicited advice that everyone is so eager to dole out to new parents are other ways that doulas can support new families.

 

WHAT DOES A DOULA DO

A post partum doula offers families evidence-based information and support with:

  • breastfeeding/bottle feeding
  • emotional and physical recovery from childbirth,
  • infant soothing techniques
  • infant development and how to recognize baby cues for hunger, sleep, etc.
  • mother and partner-baby bonding,
  • coping skills for new parents.
  • practical tips around bathing, diapering, sleeping, etc.
  • Practical support with multiples
  • Support for integrating new baby into family with additional siblings
  • Meal preparation so that you can sleep or focus on your baby
  • Holding baby so that you can eat, sleep, shower and take care of yourself
  • “mothering the mother” so that the mother can nurture the baby
  • community resource referrals

 

If you are interested in hiring a post partum doula, you can visit the BC Doula Services Association website (www.bcdoulas.org) for a listing of doulas in BC. For more information about what questions to ask a potential post partum doula go to http://www.dona.org/mothers/how_to_hire_a_doula.php.
Melina Auerbach is a post partum doula, breastfeeding educator  and offers breastfeeding support to expecting and new moms.  She teaches with Childbearing Society as well as privately.  For more information you can visit her website at www.smoothbeginnings.com

 

Postpartum Lessons from a Cat

By Stephanie Ondrack

As many of you know, I foster cats for an animal shelter. Usually I get pregnant cats, whom I care for during pregnancy, birth, and kittenhood, until the whole family is ready to wean and become eligible for adoption.

But due to the current forest fires raging through BC, the shelter has been inundated with kitten refugees, whose mothers have been lost. Recently, they received two batches of three kittens each (for a total of six kittens), both around two weeks old or slightly younger. The odds of survival for motherless kittens that age are slim. So the shelter did their best to find a substitute mother.

 

The only contender available had recently weaned two ‘grown’ kittens, who had already been adopted, while the mother was still awaiting a prospective family. And so the six orphans from the forest fire were placed with this adult cat, and all seven of them were placed with me. I was given containers of powdered kitten formula, syringes, bottles, and everything that might increase the kittens’ chances of survival.

From the get-go, challenges abounded. The kittens were traumatized, starving, and full of anxiety. The mother was done with parenting—she had just graduated and had been looking forward to some quality ‘me time’. Even at the height of her lactating career, her body had been accustomed to producing enough milk for two kittens, and that amount had gradually decreased throughout their weaning process. The harrowing question was: would the mother cat accept these kittens? And even if she was willing, was she physically capable?

 

The first day we had them, the kittens were frantic. They seemed hungry. They seemed scared. They couldn’t seem to find the mother cat. They would spin in circles mewing piteously even though the mother was right beside them. They were too young to walk, but they would drag themselves around blindly, anxiously searching, desperately seeking a familiar maternal scent. My kids and I would place them beside the mother cat’s available nipples, but the corybantic kittens seemed too frenzied to latch on effectively. They would try, but jerk away after a few seconds even more frantic.

 

They didn’t seem to recognize her as a new mother, and nor did she seem to fully recognize them as her new offspring. She would often get up and walk away while they were trying to latch on. She would ignore their little cries of distress as they searched in vain for some maternal care. She would often try for a few minutes, but give up quickly, as if deciding that she wasn’t really up for all this effort, or that this sudden relapse into motherhood didn’t feel quite right. My children and I spent hours trying to redirect the kittens towards the mother, finally formula feeding them when it seemed there was no alternative.

The formula feeding was not entirely successful either. The kittens’ smell changed after receiving formula, and the mother was even less inclined to wash them, necessitating a new chore for us: wiping them off with a damp, warm cloths as needed. As well, they never settled into a normal, contented sleep after syringe-feeding like kittens do after nursing. They remained unsettled, out of sorts. And we remained tense, stressed, and very worried.

 

After two days and nights like this, with kittens who couldn’t settle, and a mother cat who seemed barely willing, and possibly unable, to appease them or meet their needs, something that should have been obvious finally twigged for me. We had been worrying about the kittens, trying to look after the kittens, moving them to beside the mother every time she relocated. We were feeding them whenever nursing clearly wasn’t working. At some point my youngest child asked if maybe the mother cat couldn’t produce enough milk for them, and I found myself embarking on a familiar explanation of how lactation works–on a supply/demand system, augmented by oxytocin and instincts—a lecture I perform frequently for human mothers. And all of a sudden it struck me with humbling clarity. We were approaching this challenge all wrong.

 

Like the missing piece of a puzzle, the problem suddenly presented itself to me like giant capital letters spelling the word “DUH!”. This was a directional issue, a question of hierarchical cascade. Somehow the feline factor had obscured the obvious: this stuff is doula 101. When a mother is struggling to look after her baby, we need to focus on meeting the mother’s needs. New mothers frequently feel overwhelmed by the extreme demands of early parenthood: the fatigue, the feedings, the baby’s constant need to be held, the crying… If the mother is depleted herself, she often has nothing left to give.

 

As soon as I recognized that this might be what was going on, my kids and I shifted our focus to the mother cat. Instead of pointedly looking after the kittens, we redirected all our energy to caring for the poor, overworked mother. We fed her canned food every hour (rather than just in the morning, as we usually would), and we kept her dry kibble (always available)well topped up and fresh. We cleaned her water dish many times a day. We scooped her litter box promptly every time she used it. We gave her treats frequently. And most importantly, we stayed with her, petted her, cuddled her, spoke lovingly to her, and looked after her as if she were a baby. To quote a timeless doula phrase, we ‘mothered the mother’.

 

The effects were instantaneous, and nothing short of miraculous. Every time we fed her soft food, she would get up and eat. Then she would drink, attend to her litter box needs, and enjoy a big long cuddle from us, while we praised and encouraged her. Then, satisfied, sated, and replete, she would go lie down beside the kittens. We would continue to pat her, and she would PURR as she invited them to nurse. This seemed to be the missing ingredient. The purring would attract their attention and activate their homing instincts. The kittens would squirm and drag their way towards the mother, latch on calmly, and begin their own motions of purring and kneading and nursing. We were seeing the classic mother/baby oxytocin loop; the small yet powerful feedback circle of the timeless love hormone.

 

It only took one day of this approach to completely shift this new cat family’s success. While we actively nurtured the mother cat, she was able to give all her energy and attention to her kittens, feeling safe and secure that her own needs were being met. As she fed them herself, she was now inspired to clean them too, since the scent of their output was now familiar to her. The more she licked them and fed them, the more they oriented to her scent. Within only one day the kittens were able to locate the mother, and could now head straight for her with purpose. And the biggest difference was the dreamy calm that finally emanated from the contented kittens. It was a heart warming sight when all six of their tiny bodies were kneading and purring with rapture at their mother’s belly. The mother, thoroughly relaxed and happy, and all six little kittens, would finally drift into an enchanted sleep, cuddled together and fully satisfied.

 

Witnessing the rapturous kittens in their purring heap as they kneaded and nursed, surrounded by the mother cat’s own, deeper purr, was a solid reminder of the bonding power of oxytocin. This potent hormone not only joins together parent & babies like glue, creating a profound sense of trust and contentment in each other’s company, but it also fosters milk-flow, boosting the mother’s supply to meet the voracious needs of so many more kittens than she had birthed. Oxytocin reaches beyond the nursing participants too, suffusing everyone present with a happy glow and feelings of affection. My kids and I were goofy smiley near the feline family, just as the dad or partner can become when proximal to a human nursing dyad.

 

This was a profound reminder for me. Babies needs are not separate from a mother’s needs: rather, one is dependent upon the other. Looking after a baby is a full-time endeavour, so it is up to the proverbial village to look after the mother, thus freeing her up to parent her baby. Mothers can tap into unlimited stores of energy to care for their little ones, but this is much more possible if they don’t need to worry about their own basic needs at the same time.

 

As we so often encounter important reminders or inspirations in unexpected places, this foster cat family brought home a familiar but often forgotten message. Mothers can’t do it alone, and nor should they have to try. We need to provide for new parents, so that they can provide for their little ones. A baby’s needs are best served when we focus on empowering and supporting the mother, so that she in turn can provide nurturance as needed.

 

This cat family highlighted what many societies already know: Look after the mother so that she can look after the babies. All too often we focus on a baby as a separate entity. We weigh babies, examine them, direct medical attention their way, assess their ability to thrive. But babies do not exist in isolation. Baby and mother (or primary parent) form a dyad, intrinsically linked in health and survival, with the baby in a position of utter dependence. This is a daunting, exhausting, and potentially overwhelming task for a new mother—one that she can do best with plenty of support. Just as we are all capable of generosity when we have plenty to share, mothers have unlimited love, energy, and nourishment for their babies only if they are getting enough themselves.

 

As individuals, we need to feed the mother, take her usual chores off her hands, bring her tea and other comfort items, help make her environment feel serene & safe, help her get rest, and help bolster her confidence. We need to shower her with encouragement, admiration, and support. As a society, we need to provide generous parental leave, look after new families’ economic concerns, health care, housing… The oxytocin high is almost unattainable for a new mother who has to worry about where her next meal is coming from, or finding a safe place to sleep. When expected to care for a baby, a mother should not be thus encumbered by financial stress. Further, we need to stop separating mother and baby as the first intervention when the pair is struggling. Postpartum depression is not necessarily best approached by wedging obstacles between mother and baby. Sometimes removing a baby from the mother’s bed or the mother’s breast, in the name of more rest or less responsibility, can push the mom over the very edge we were trying to avoid. Instead we might bathe her in support, love, and care. We might tend to all her practical needs. It is easier to feel nurturing when one is nurtured; to have plenty of love to give when one’s reserves are overflowing. She can’t do it alone: It really does take a village.

 

Three weeks later now, our foster cat family is thriving. The kittens continue to develop as happy, healthy kittens should, and we continue to mother the mother, as every village should. And if anyone is looking for truly amazing feline companions, Cider and all six of her miracle kittens (Peach, Plum, Apricot, Lemon, Whiskey, and Granny Smith) will be up for adoption soon, through Action 4 Animals in Distress.

Stephanie Ondrack is an instructor with The Childbearing Society, a mother of three, and provides a foster home to many mother and baby cats.

Ask Childbearing: What can I do to prepare?

Ask Childbearing: What can I do to prepare?

by Stephanie Ondrack

Q: What can I do to prepare for the first couple weeks after baby is born?

A: Even though we spend the majority of a year growing baby, and even though we spend lots of time planning, anticipating, or merely imagining, somehow baby’s arrival still often comes as an abrupt shock.

 

In one sense, there is nothing you can do to truly prepare for life with a newborn. This life change is so huge, and so consuming, that no amount of planning will really cover it. Becoming a parent is a massive transition, as very suddenly and irreversibly, all of your priorities must shift to realign themselves around your extremely new, and extremely dependent, baby. Our very sense of self can become temporarily unhinged as we struggle to tether ourselves in this new role. The constant, and often inscrutable needs of a newborn can deeply challenge our sense of competence. And almost every parent can recall moments of despairing that life will never be the same.

 

But nonetheless, there are some things you can do to better equip yourself for this chaotic stage of uphill learning and rapid change. Although none of these tips will guarantee a stress-free postpartum experience, they can all help ease the transition by removing some of the compounding challenges from this already fraught time. So here they are:

 

Eight Simple Steps to Surviving the Postpartum

 

  1. Get Food Off The Table

If possible, take meal preparation out of the picture entirely. You can order in, you can buy pre-made meals that only require heating, you can make meals ahead of time and freeze them, you can buy ready-to-eat food at most grocery stores (like roast chicken from the deli), or you can ask your wonderful friends to bring you meals. Consider a meal train as a shower gift.

Eating is something you will have to do despite having a new baby, but cooking does not have to be on the menu.

  1. Say NO to Housework

Similarly, there is no need to waste time cleaning your home after you have a baby. Let there be dust-bunnies. Let there be dishes. Let laundry go unfolded. You can hire a cleaning service if you feel the need, you can enlist the help of friends or family, or you can simply turn a blind eye. It won’t last forever, and while you might look back on the postpartum period wishing you had held your baby more, I guarantee you will not wish you had vacuumed more.

  1. You Are Not Entertaining

The postpartum is a period of imprinting: of parents and babies settling in together, getting to know each other, bonding, and forming the beginning of strong family attachments. Baby is learning who to trust, who to follow, who to love. While you might benefit from having occasional friends pop over to say hello, walk your dog, wash your towels, and bring you a lasagna, you probably want to avoid long visits where you end up making tea while other people hold your baby. No one should expect you to do any hosting during this special time. Besides, your baby’s social preferences start and end with only you.

  1. Lower Your Standards

Whether you normally have exacting or slack standards for things like punctuality, routine, tidiness, order, and hygiene, this is a good time to lower them. Your expectations are already low? Drop the bar down further! There is always a lower rung you can achieve. Remember, its just temporary.

  1. Cuddle, Sleep, Cuddle, Repeat

This is also a good time to narrow your to-do list down to the bare essentials. And what is truly essential? Other than eating and sleeping, it’s really just about settling in with your baby. Feel free to don pajamas all day. Feel free to forego bathing or brushing. And who really needs to check e-mails anyway? Relax and enjoy some laid-back cuddle time with baby. The rest can wait until later.

  1. Zoom in

Your postpartum world narrows down to the vary basics. Think of it as zooming in, and focusing on only the most important things, while letting everything else fade into the blurry background. If you thought you would paint your fence, write your novel, or learn the clarinet, you might want to defer these aspirations until you have all acclimatized to your new roles. Re-adjust your focus so that your basic needs and your new baby are at the centre, and allow everything else to be temporarily excluded from the frame.

  1. Sleep Like a Baby

Babies do not sleep for long stretches at a time. They can’t, because their little bodies and brains are wired to wake up every time they have a need that requires attention. Since we must meet all of our babies’ needs—day and night—some parents find it most restful to sleep close to their babies, able to attend to their night time needs with minimal fuss. Be open to whatever sleeping arrangements permit you to cuddle, feed, and warm baby throughout the night with the least arousal on your part.

  1. Sweet Surrender

The postpartum period is chaotic. It is a massive life change, of proportions too monumental for most of us to accurately anticipate. But while the magnitude of the adjustment can be stressful and challenging, it can also be magical, serene, and even blissful. Many new parents find that one of the keys to having a joyous postpartum is to surrender to it completely. New babies require all of our hands, all of our attention, and all of our time. If we are also trying to get other stuff done, this can be exhausting and frustrating. But if we make room for this transition, tuning in to baby at the exclusion of everything else, this can be a cherished time in our lives that we remember with great fondness: a holiday from daily reality in which we come together as a new family. A babymoon.

 

 

Summer Newsletter Editorial: The Highs & Lows of Labour Hormones

Summer Newsletter Editorial: The Highs & Lows of Labour Hormones

By Stephanie Ondrack, assistant editor

We have long known that the same hormone behind orgasms also causes uterine contractions in labour: oxytocin. But recent studies of this fascinating hormone reveal that it is responsible for far more than has ever been suspected. The Karolinska Institute’s work suggests that oxytocin may be a major player in infant survival. During labour, oxytocin fills the mother with pleasant, dreamy sensations that shift her into a trance-like state which causes her to exist in the moment, unaware of the passing of time. The high levels of oxytocin in the mother’s brain allow her to relax and ‘space-out’ despite labour’s extreme pain. They permit her to open her body and surrender to the rhythms of labour. When the baby is born, both mother and infant are overflowing with oxytocin, which has now been shown to foster instinctive interactions between mother and baby. The oxytocin guides that overwhelming rush of love that passes between new parents and baby, the gazing into each other’s eyes, the stroking and smiling, and the proclamations of love. It prompts breastfeeding behaviours in both mother and child, it promotes affection and loyalty, it helps gastrointestinal activity, it helps with sleep, it reduces stress, it helps the cardiovascular system, it harmonizes milk supply, and generally put, it allows infants to thrive. We now know that the more oxytocin mothers and baby share, the better for both of them; for their health, their relationship, their confidence, and their sense of trust in each other. It may come as no surprise, then, that the higher the oxytocin during birth, the easier the start for mother and baby alike.

So how do we boost oxytocin production during birth? By providing empathic, caring labour support, privacy so the mother feels uninhibited to express herself, comfort measures such as massage, freedom to eat, move, and make noise, by keeping medical interventions to a minimum, and by stepping back and refraining from dampening the potential for joy in labour. Joy during labour? Yes indeed. Read on for an inspiring birth story that radiates joy, a review of a film provocatively entitled “Orgasmic Birth,” and three fascinating articles on the nature of joy during birth. This issue explores the unique contradiction of extreme physical challenge and euphoric joy that can co-exist during birth, thanks to the hormone of love: oxytocin.

NEWS: New “Natural Birth” Seminar

It seems only appropriate to announce our new class on Natural Birth in this issue about labour hormones, since protecting the hormonal cascade is a key element of physiologic birth.

This new five-hour seminar, launching on Saturday August 12, will explore the conditions that are, and are not, conducive to physiologic birth—that is, vaginal birth with no medications, and no interventions (unless medically necessary). Participants will dissect the prevailing paradigm, and will delve deep into their own preconceptions, fears, and attitudes about birth. This seminar is an excellent complement to our regular prenatal Evening Series or Weekend Workshop. It is meant to be taken after prenatal classes, and not in lieu. You will leave equipped with research based knowledge of concrete steps to support the birth process, and with a new understanding of the subtle influences that can enhance or undermine your own birth experience.

Debra Woods
Course Instructor

register here

Ask Childbearing Q: I’ve heard that the hormone oxytocin is the secret to having an easier and more manageable labour….

Q: I’ve heard that the hormone oxytocin is the secret to having an easier and more manageable labour. Is there anything my partner can do to help boost my oxytocin levels when I’m giving birth?

  1. Absolutely!

The hormone oxytocin is essential to both effective labour contractions and to mom’s ability to tolerate them. While it causes the uterus to pulse, the cervix to yield, the baby to rotate and descend, it also infuses the mom’s brain with dreamy feelings of contentment and lethargy, so that she is unaware of time passing, and less aware of pain. Clearly, we want to encourage this magical hormone!

Although such a star player in labour, oxytocin is a shy hormone, slow to emerge, hesitant to shine. Oxytocin’s natural predator is stress (adrenaline), which sends oxytocin scurrying for cover. After a startle, oxytocin needs to be coaxed gently back out with assurances of safety and quiet.

Stress, fear, and ambient discomforts can stifle oxytocin, but so can the mom’s own logical brain. In labour, we have to let go of our ‘thinking’ brain, and let the instinctive part of the brain preside. Thinking can interfere with oxytocin production by flipping a toggle switch from the limbic system (where oxytocin is produced) over to the neo-cortex (where oxytocin is inhibited). The two don’t play well together.

 

Partners and support-people can endeavor to create an environment that promotes oxytocin, and to shield the mother from any conditions that are likely to scare the oxytocin away.

To encourage oxytocin:

  • Quiet room
  • Dim lighting
  • Well supported
  • Holding hands, touch
  • Massage
  • Loving words of encouragement, admiration, support
  • Hugging, kissing, slow-dancing
  • Undisturbed atmosphere, peaceful room
  • Respect

 

AVOID these things that scare oxytocin away:

  • Avoid loud noises, bright lights
  • Avoid talking during contractions
  • Avoid asking a labouring mom unnecessary questions
  • Avoid ambient discomforts
  • Avoid stress
  • Avoid strangers
  • Avoid unnecessary interventions, prodding, measuring, etc
  • Avoid timing, unnecessary restrictions, limitations

 

In short, we want to create an atmosphere in which the mom can be ‘undisturbed’. Where she has no worries, no concerns, no need to think about anything, and she can cope in whatever ways she chooses, uninhibited and unhindered. All of her immediate needs are met, and she can sink deep into the hormonal state of existing, moment to moment, allowing her body to ride the waves without resistance. No one can promise you an easy or painless birth, but I can say that the higher the oxytocin, the more enjoyable the process. So discuss with your partner in advance things that you both can do, during labour and in preparation, to gently encourage this hesitant hormone to come out and shine.

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