You may have already read about skin to skin and how many benefits it has for babies when they are first born. If you’re pregnant now read up on those benefits and think about if you want to add skin to skin to be kept in your birth plan whatever else happens.
But if you’re looking back on what happened when your baby was born and skin to skin didn’t happen as you hoped for whatever reason don’t despair it’s not too late. Equally, if you’re looking back thinking how lovely that skin to skin time was now is a great time to get back skin to skin with your baby.
If you had a birth that didn’t go to plan or if you and baby are struggling to get breastfeeding going well or if you’re finding it difficult to feel that overwhelming bonding and falling in instant love that you’ve been led to expect will happen as soon as baby arrives skin to skin can help. Skin to skin can happen as much as you like, any time you’re in the house you can snuggle skin to skin under a blanket or pop baby skin to skin in a stretchy sling. Skin to skin raises oxytocin (the feel good loving hormone) levels so don’t worry you can not overdo it. Babies and mothers (and dads, siblings, grandmas etc) benefit in many ways by spending as much time as possible skin to skin.
One way of being skin to skin that many people find really positive is to have a bath with your baby. Sometimes this is called re-birthing but it’s nothing spiritual or just for hippies just an opportunity for mum and baby to get the skin to skin and cuddles they might have missed out on at birth or just to get some more. Here’s a quick how-to guide if you think you might benefit from this.
Have someone help you, run a nice deep bath, get in and relax.
Have your helper pass you your baby.
Hold baby between your legs (in the warm water) as you sit in the bath make eye contact and talk to your baby about how long you’ve been waiting to meet them, how important they are, how beautiful they are and how much you’re going to love them.
Then bring your baby up on to your tummy/chest so you are tummy to tummy just as you would have been had birth gone to your original plan. Relax like that as long as you and baby are happy.
Have your helper put a towel over your baby to keep them warm if necessary and be prepared to hold your hand or stroke your arm if the tears start to fall. If the tears fall do not be surprised, let them come and let the emotions out. Make sure you’ve picked a helper who is prepared to be with you through the emotion and offer loving sympathy not try to cheer you up or fix the problem. The talk and the helping may come later but this is the time for just feeling and letting the feelings out.
It’s quite likely that in this position tummy down, head between your boobs baby will start to root. As long as baby isn’t getting upset try to leave them to it to find the nipple and latch on themselves.
Your helper can take your baby and then offer a support if needed for you to climb out of the bath when you’re ready.
Your birth or postnatal doula will be more than happy to be your support person or helper through this process. If you don’t have anyone who’s right for the job yet check the Doula UK directory.
Active labour positions: Your body’s first job with your contractions is to move your baby into the best position for coming out. Sometimes early labour with contractions that stop and start and often feel strongest in your back can be frustrating especially if they are very intense but don’t seem to be having a measurable effect on your cervix. This is very normal and doesn’t mean anything is wrong. Moving about and changing position can not only help the potentially overwhelming sensations of your contractions to be easier to cope with but can also help to create space in your pelvis to allow baby to move round and tuck their chin in to be in the best position to move easily through your pelvis.
Deep relaxing breathing: Planning to ‘just’ breathe through your contractions might sound hippy-dippy or too simple to be of actual use. It’s good solid science though. Controlling and relaxing our breathing allows us to relax our other muscles which allow our body to get to work birthing. Tensing our muscles feeds into a fear response which encourages our bodies to produce adrenaline which is the natural enemy of oxytocin the most important hormone for labour and birth. Switching off our thinking brains and doing everything we can to raise our oxytocin levels gives our bodies the best chance they can have to get on with the job. Breathing doesn’t have to be done any one specific way as long as you breathe in a relaxing way and find a rhythm that feels relaxing to you it will have a relaxing effect. It can help you to feel relaxed and ready with ways to remind yourself to breathe deeply if you practice in pregnancy, you can do this at pregnancy yoga or Daisy Foundation classes.
Birth affirmations: Having something to repeat to yourself in your head is another effective way of keeping your thinking brain relaxed and allow your body to get on with the job of labour and birth. There’s another blog post with more details on how they work to get your head in a good place approaching birth and can be used to keep your brain busy thinking positively during labour and birth.
Water: Water can help you in two ways, labour is really hard physical work and like with other physical activities your body needs to stay hydrated. Having something that’s easy to sip and easy to drop when you need to focus on a contraction is a handy tool. Water can also help to relax you when you get into it. A shower or a bath can be a useful tool for early labour and in later labour, a birth pool is brilliant for providing a lovely safe space and wonderful support to allow you to relax and to find comfortable and effective positions for birthing.
Connection: The sensations of labour and birth can be really overwhelming, finding something that keeps you grounded can help you to focus on the things that keep you relaxed. This is where a good connection with your birth partner is vital. Not only can your birth partner help you keep calm by helping you feel that you’re not alone but the way they make you feel loved and cared for actually raises your oxytocin levels. The physical connection your birth partner provides also raises your oxytocin levels and increases your relaxation.
In a previous post, we established what a positive birth is as far as the Hampshire Doulas are concerned. Now it’s time to get practical with some tips for enjoying your birth.
(Please note the book links in this post are affiliate links if you click through and choose to buy these wonderful books I will receive a small amount of commission but even if I didn’t I’d still recommend them).
I asked the Hampshire doulas for their top tips for planning and having a positive birth. They came up with some varied ideas but when it comes down to it we’re all saying the same thing, surround yourself with positive people, people who know about birth and how good it can be. Choose people you can trust to be honest with you not sugar coat things but focus on what’s under your control. How can you do that?
Here are our top 5 ideas.
Join a local birth support group. Peer support groups are available all over the world. Informed Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond’s support groups are based locally to Hampshire UK and everyone is welcome to join but if you don’t live in this area you may want to find a group local to you for more local information and people to meet. They may share information in your local Facebook parents groups or you might find one by asking a local doula or antenatal teacher.
Read and watch positive birth stories. There are lots of places to read positive birth stories online. The Birth Without Fear Blog is a very good place to start. There are lots of positive birth stories on YouTube too. On the flip side avoid watching popular TV programs that feature birth, they’re edited for drama not education. If you prefer to read on paper this book is a good start. Home Births: Stories to inspire and inform -edited by Abigail Cairns
Get the negativity off your chest before the big day. If you have fears and worries about labour or birth and how you will cope talk them through with someone who knows about birth. If you had a previous negative birth experience consider having a birth debrief (ask your midwife to refer you to this service at your local hospital) or finding a counsellor who can help you move forward and work through any trauma you’re still carrying. You might also find this book helpful. How to Heal a Bad Birth: Making sense, making peace and moving on -by Melissa Bruijn and Debby Gould
Learn about birth. Most doulas will have a few good books they can lend you to read. These will help you start learning how our bodies work when it comes to birth and what the range of possibilities might be for working with your body and cope with your contractions. A good antenatal course such as a hypnobirth course will help with this too and of course your antenatal sessions with your doula. Here are some of the books we recommend and lend out. Your no guilt pregnancy plan -by Rebecca Schiller, Bump: How To Make, Grow and Birth A Baby and The Food of Love -both by Kate Evans
Make a really good birth plan. Writing a birth plan has a value of itself regardless of who reads it on the day. The most important thing about birth planning is the process of thinking through what might happen and working out what choices you would like to make in many different situations. Writing a birth plan together is a great opportunity to have a really good talk with your partner about your expectations and what they can do to best support you through all the stages of labour. Having a doula or a well-trained birth partner with you who knows your birth plan in their head (and has an easy to read short and sweet copy to refer to in their back pocket) might be the absolute top thing you can do for yourself. But it’s important they and you know what plan B and plan C are as well as being able to focus on plan A and all the things that will give you the best chance of plan A being the only one you need on the day.
Put it all in one sentence: how do I plan a positive birth? Learn about birth and surround yourself with loving supportive people.
Here’s a recipe for our Nourishing the New Mother series that can be made meaty veggie or vegan whatever your preferences. It’s great comfort food and really nourishing. Perfect for your doula to make for you or to make and freeze in small batches ready for when you need it.
Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie
Notes: apparently strictly speaking it’s only a shepherd’s pie if you use lamb mince, with other kinds of mince it’s a cottage pie. Original inspiration for this recipe from Alexandra – BBB doula.
Ingredients. Quantities for two people.
225g mince of your choice (lamb, beef, quorn, or substitute lentils or cannellini or pinto beans)
400g tin chopped tomatoes
200ml stock of your choice
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons mixed herbs
200g sweet potatoes peeled and chopped into squares
Peel and chop onion and carrot slice mushrooms. Cook sweet potatoes in boiling water for around 10-15 minutes, until soft and well done.
Saute onion in olive oil in a large/deep frying pan or wok (if you like you can add some garlic too). When it starts to look transparent add carrot mushrooms and mince (you can change these for other vegetables if you prefer or have different veggies in the fridge). Stir-fry for a couple of minutes then add stock, tomatoes and herbs, some people like to add a teaspoon of sugar too. Season to taste.
Cook for about 20-30 minutes stirring regularly until the sauce has reduced. Place in casserole dish. Drain and mash sweet potato (sweet potato is so soft it usually doesn’t need any liquid to mash easily if you feel it does use a little of the sauce from the mince mix.) Top the mince with the sweet potato and a little grated cheese (or vegan cheese substitute) and when ready to eat pop in a medium oven until hot and bubbly around the edges.
Establishing and maintaining a good supply of milk is one of the top worries that many mums have about breastfeeding. Our society and the prevalence of formula advertising have made us think that this is a very common problem but it’s really quite unusual to not be able to make enough milk with the right supportive atmosphere. There are some people who have conditions which mean they don’t make any or enough milk and if that’s you this blog post may not be of much use to you but you might need support from a qualified breastfeeding counsellor or an IBCLC.
Your doula is more than happy to provide you with practical support and confidence in your normal breastfeeding journey and will be glad to refer you to expert support if you need some.
Should you even be worried about how much milk you’re making?
Probably not if your baby is putting on weight, producing wet and dirty nappies, not making you sore and feeding frequently.
Making sure you have enough milk and get enough milk into your baby is as easy (and as hard) as following your baby’s lead. Here are our top tips.
Make sure your baby has a good latch and can easily transfer milk from your breast. Being well attached to the breast makes it easy for baby to get all the milk they need and the more milk they take the more milk you will make. The easiest way to help your baby get a great latch is to use a breastfeeding position that will encourage all your baby’s natural instincts. Laid back breastfeeding positions are perfect for this. If you find it difficult to get a comfortable latch even in this position please get in contact with a breastfeeding counsellor or an IBCLC there are sometimes physical reasons for that pain (such as tongue tie) that need extra support and care. If you want to focus on relaxing and feeding baby, don’t forget your postnatal doula is there to bring you water and snacks and hang out your washing while you do this very important job. Check out Nancy Mohrbacher on YouTube for some helpful videos on this.
Get skin to skin. When babies are born they are ready and good to go with breastfeeding and the easiest start to that feeding journey and to having loads of milk is to hang out skin to skin as long as you can. If you miss out on this initial skin to skin don’t panic it’s never too late to get skin to skin with your baby and once is never enough. Hang out with your baby skin to skin anytime you like as much as possible for as long as possible. Not only is it great for your milk supply but it’s a great way for dads and babies to bond too.
Feed feed feed. In the first few days, every moment your baby spends suckling is a moment that’s switching on more of the milk-producing cells in your breast. And in those first few weeks, there are many growths spurts where you baby (who will always feed frequently) will seem to feed constantly. That constant feeding suddenly happening again often makes women worry they haven’t got enough milk but it’s actually nature’s way of putting in the order for more milk in the next couple of days. Even if you think baby can’t possibly be hungry again allowing them to keep swapping sides and feeding more will allow them to build up your supply, never forget you can’t overfeed a breastfed baby.
Look after yourself. Making all the food another human needs to survive and double their weight in six months is hard physical work. Make sure that you keep hydrated and well nourished and find ways to fit in any extra sleep you can get. Even malnourished women can make enough milk for their baby but a mother’s body will prioritise milk over its own well being and keeping your head in the game without feeling completely run down and overwhelmed is important too.
If you plan to mix feed in the long term manage it carefully. Mix feeding is prefered by some women for many different reasons. It can be done and it can suit some families really well. But making sure that breastfeeding and especially your milk supply is established first is important too. Maximising your baby’s time at the breast in the first six weeks will mean your supply is well established and much more flexible after this time. If you do any bottle feeding before six weeks try to use your own expressed milk if possible and if you find baby is still hungry after a bottle feed offer a top-up from the breast, not the bottle. Also, remember the purpose baby is increasing feeds during growth spurts and add in extra breastfeeds not extra bottles.
What about galactagogues and lactation cookies?
You might like lactation cookies, lots of them are really yummy and there’s no harm in munching them if you do. But ultimately you don’t need them to make plenty of milk for your baby. Some women find them helpful especially during growth spurts and your doula will be happy to make you some but eating them is no magic pill and will only help if you’re also frequently feeding your well-latched baby. Sometimes complex feeding issues may be helped by the use of galactagogues but if you’re in that situation you need the expert help of a breastfeeding counsellor or IBCLC who will help you find the right solution for you.
Macaroni and Cheese is such a simple staple we often forget how yummy and comforting it is. This is another great recipe for making in advance and freezing in portion size pieces for when you need something filling to pop in the microwave and enjoy. It’s also something your postnatal doula could easily make for you while you enjoy a rest and a chat or go and have a bath.
Broccoli, Cauliflower, or your prefered vegetable
Bread Crumbs mixed with grated cheese
Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet and cook the vegetables al-dente (mostly cooked but still a little crunchy). Drain and mix with the cheese sauce in a rectangular caserole dish. Top with bread crumbs and cheese and grill top to brown.
Making a cheese sauce is much easier than some people think. Basic cheese sauce is just made by melting a tablespoon of flour in a pan over a low heat, adding a tablespoon of plain four and mixing then gradually adding milk a splash at a time and mixing till smooth with a plastic whisk each time until you have a smooth sauce of a consistency you like (probably between half a pint and one pint of milk total). Add grated cheddar cheese to your taste (about 100-200g) and mix it in until it’s all melted.
There are lots of assumptions about what hypnobirthing is and people can feel quite confused about whether or not it’s for them. Can you explain to us what hypnobirthing really involves, please?
To understand hypnobirthing it’s good to come from a place of understanding how the body and brain work together during labour and birth. As you will know as a doula and if you’ve had a birth doula, birth is something the body does and anything that stimulates our neocortex (thinking brain) can cause us to produce adrenaline which is the natural enemy of the hormone oxytocin. Our body needs oxytocin to produce the contractions which allow birth to happen. Adrenalin also stops us producing our own natural pain-relieving endorphins. So we need to switch off our thinking brains to give birth the best opportunity to unfold without any assistance. This will help us to feel safe and let our bodies get on with the job.
Hypnobirth provides practical tools to really deeply relax and allow our bodies to let birth happen. It’s not just ‘woo’ and it’s not just putting on some relaxing music and hoping for the best. For hypnobirthing to work as it should the relaxation exercises need to be practised consistently through the pregnancy until your body relaxes without you having to think about it when you use the prompts. It needs to become second nature.
Some people are concerned because they have an idea about stage hypnosis appearing to show people being controlled by the hypnotist but not only is hypnobirth nothing like that neither is stage hypnosis. When ‘hypnotised’ no one is completely out of their own control. People may be open to suggestion (like eat an onion or cluck like a chicken) but they still have the ability to say no, I’m not doing that. No one can make you do something you’ve already decided is dangerous or not for you by hypnotising you. Likewise, when you use self-hypnosis as a relaxation tool for birth you are able to take yourself to a relaxing place in your head and feel separate from what’s going on around you but you’re equally able to switch back on to what’s happening around you and interact with other people if you need or decide to do so.
Some people compare the relaxation they experience in hypnobirthing to that feeling you get when you are between waking and sleeping. They say it’s like when you’re aware that your alarm is going off but you choose to keep on drowsing through. Others describe it as being like when you drive somewhere that’s very familiar and your body takes over and gets you there on auto-pilot and when you arrive you can’t really remember the journey but you’ve made it to the destination.
So if we practise the hypnobirthing relaxation we’re definitely going to have a zen floaty birth and be completely serene and pain-free?
Maybe you will maybe you won’t. Hypnobirthing cannot promise you how your birth will go or how you will feel but what I can say is that by doing hypnobirthing you will maximise your chances for a straightforward birth if you acknowledge the conditions for enhancing your birth hormones. Hypnobirthing will reduce fear and stress and you will have the tools that will enable you to be calmer and therefore more comfortable no matter what path your birth takes.
Some people find they don’t experience labour as painful and some people labour silently. But not necessarily. Using hypnobirth tools won’t change who you are as a unique person and your birth journey will be unique to you. If you don’t feel zen or stay silent it doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong and it doesn’t mean you’re not relaxing. Sometimes and for some people, the best way to relax and allow your body to work hard at contractions is to let all the feelings go in a vocal way. Sometimes, despite everything we do, things don’t go according to our plan for our birth but the relaxation tools you learn in a hypnobirth class can be incredibly useful even in these situations to help you keep calm and focused when your plans need to change. There is evidence to show that the more relaxed you are during surgery, the better your healing time is afterwards.
I always loved the mantra ‘failing to plan, is planning to fail’, although we can’t make any guarantees that things will go according to our plans for birth this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do what’s in our power to increase our chances.
What practically speaking can people expect from your classes?
The classes are a complete antenatal preparation so you can expect to cover all the birth basics, what happens when things don’t go to plan, how dads can support the mums complemented by how hypnobirthing works, what tools and visualisations to use, breathing, positions and techniques for dads to physically support mums. I try to make the classes as interesting as possible so we mix things up and get everyone involved and try to avoid a typical death by powerpoint scenario.
There are 4 sessions that last 2.5 hours long and they can go away and practice something after each session and come back for more support at the next session setting them up to practice little and often up until the birth so that everything becomes second nature.
For the dad’s, I prepare a cheat sheet to help them prioritise the most important things on the day as on the day, mum needs to be able to relax and dad is charged with sorting things out which can be a lot of pressure.
Dad’s are my biggest cynics but funnily enough, they are often the biggest converts too. During the classes, the parents get the opportunity to bond with each other and with their baby in a way that our busy lives often limit. They have the chance to really focus on each other, on their hopes and choices around the birth and on their feelings about becoming parents.
I am also a trained doula and have attended many births supporting mums and dads navigate the minefield of birth choices that are out there. I feel this helps me deliver my classes in a very informative manner always keeping the parent’s right to choice at the forefront of my teachings.
The relaxation tools can become tools for life not just for labour and birth. The principles can be useful in the early days, for example, if they want, there’s a script you can use for breastfeeding and the principles are relevant for later for any stressful and challenging situations we come across in life, both for mums and the dads.
The relaxation has positive health benefits for mum and also for baby. There’s some evidence that mum being stressed during pregnancy can affect baby’s brain development so that they will be more sensitive to stress. We can’t control if stressful life events happen when we are pregnant so having a tool to use to keep our bodies calm can not only benefit us but can even have positive effects on baby’s development.
As someone who has experienced hypnobirth for their own birth what was it like for you on the day?
I’ve watched the video of my third child’s birth and it does look like it was a wonderful zen calm birth. In some ways it was but inside my head, it still felt really intense and fast and I had to really focus on relaxing my body. I’ve always been a mind over matter sort of person so for me the hypnobirth tools were great because they allowed me to get quickly into that relaxed state.
When it came to the birth itself I felt really present in my body, really aware of all the different sensations and what my body was doing as it pushed out my baby. The breathing techniques were key in helping me to consciously work with my body slowly allowing my body time to stretch and not tear. I found being so relaxed through my labour had allowed my body to build up such a great amount of oxytocin that the high of holding my baby for the first time was amazing. The same oxytocin resulted in no blood loss at all, my midwife was amazed and said she would have to write 100ml in my notes as no one would believe her if she said none at all.
That said, I am very aware that every birth is different and we all have our own challenges to overcome and I try to be sensitive to that at all times and encourage a couple to find what works for them to empower them as they begin one of life’s greatest adventures.
When your postnatal doula arrives at your door there are a few things she might have with her. One might be cake another is a sling to help her as she cares for you and your baby. So what’s so great about slings?
Lots of babies sleep really well in a sling. Babies come into the world with expectations based on their experience to date which is of being in a lovely snuggly womb. Being in a sling, especially on the move. Is very soothing and cosy and can help babies to sleep. One of the most popular jobs postnatal doulas do is allow mums to get some time (often to sleep) to themselves which they can be easily relaxed enough to do when the baby is sleeping snug in the sling with their doula. This is also a brilliant advantage for dads and partners and grandmas and uncles. Slings help everyone help baby sleep.
Babies who are colicy or refluxy are often more comfortable upright and well supported in a sling. Doulas often find themselves supporting families when baby is struggling with feeding or with being comfortable after a feed. Babies who cry a lot can be really draining to care for and doulas can do a great job of taking some of the stress away by caring for the family and helping them to care for themselves. Being able to calm a baby is an important skill for doulas and using a sling is a great tip we often pass on to families as an added tool for their toolbox
Slings leave your hands free to do housework. While housework isn’t the main reason your doula is there she’s more than happy to do a few chores that help you feel relaxed in your home and allow you to focus on resting and recovering from birth and sleepless nights. Using a sling allows your doula (and you if you give it a try) to load the dishwasher, fold the laundry or make you a sandwich with two hands.
Slings also leave hands free for caring for mum and older children. Your doula can keep on looking after you (give you a foot massage for example) or entertain your older children (make a wooden railway over the playroom floor for example) while you look after yourself. Using a sling will allow you to keep on doing things for yourself, go for a country walk, get a manicure, have coffee with a friend and look after your older children, take them to the park and push them on the swings or stay home and read a book.
Last but very much not least, sling cuddles are some of the best kind. Doulas are not shy to admit we love a cuddle, we’re great at giving them and we’re oxytocin junkies so we rarely turn one down. Some people (who are wrong) will tell you that cuddling your baby all the time will make a rod for your own back. The evidence of the many happy healthy independent children who were carried in slings shows that’s simply not true. All the cuddles are great for mums and dads and babies too.
If you’re thinking “this sounds great I want in” talk to your doula she can help you get going with a sling. Or find a local babywearing consultant to help you find the best sling for you. Click through and read our quick guide to the different types.
Here’s the second post in our new category: Nourishing the new mum.
This is just one example of a yummy nourishing soup great for making ahead and brilliantly easy to eat when you’re recovering from birth and learning how to survive on a broken night’s sleep. If you’re looking for the meaty version click here.
This is just an example, use things you like from your cupboard. Make it high in protein and high in vitamins and minerals. Enjoying eating it is the most important criteria.
-2 tablespoons coconut oil
-2 sweet potatoes
-2 teaspoons vegan stock powder
-2 teaspoons turmeric
-1 teaspoon paprika
-1 teaspoon cumin
-2-3 pints water
-1 teaspoon molasses
-2 teaspoons almond butter
-1 teaspoon super green powder
-1 teaspoon yeast flakes
-salt and pepper to taste
1. Peel and chop onion saute in a large saucepan with coconut oil.
2. Peel and chop the carrot and sweet potatoes. Add to pan with stock powder and the spices. Add water and bring to the boil. Simmer on a low heat for 1/2 hour to 1 hour until all the vegetables are soft.
3. Blend to a smooth soup.
4. Add the rest of the ingredients and warm through before serving.
Benefits of doula support. Satisfied with labour and birth experience.
The best kind of evidence for doula support are all the families who feel good about the support they were given by their doula and who value and recommend doulas.
But in a society where a very high value is put on being able to show in scientific research that there are measurable benefits to things. And being people who like to be able to see the research on the measurable benefits of any interventions before deciding whether or not it is one we want to choose for ourselves. We think it’s really great that whenever the Cochrane Library reviews the evidence on continuous support through labour and birth the conclusion is that the kind of support we provide results in many potential benefits for the mother and baby.
The most recent review which came out earlier this month concluded:
“Continuous support during labour may improve outcomes for women and infants, including increased spontaneous vaginal birth, shorter duration of labour, and decreased caesarean birth, instrumental vaginal birth, use of any analgesia, use of regional analgesia, low- five-minute Apgar score and negative feelings about childbirth experiences. We found no evidence of harms of continuous labour support.”
There are more details if you want to read them in the full report via the link. The Cochrane Library is a great place to go and read up on anything related to pregnancy labour and birth especially because they provide a plain English version of their conclusions of their research reviews which is really helpful for those of us with no medical degree but who want to have all the information before making decisions.