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Aromatherapy in the Maternal Space

Aromatherapy is rapidly growing in popularity in our society today; as more people practice this therapy (especially correctly) the greater the awareness is growing around the profound benefits of it. In case you’re unsure on what aromatherapy is; it is an integrative, therapy that uses botanical extracts and essences in the form of massage, inhalation or topical application to promote health and wellness of the body, mind and emotions; this is caused by a direct chemical effect on the body’s physiological processes and systems.

Aromatherapy can help to support many different aspects of a person’s life, but I personally love witnessing its benefits within the maternal space. The beauty of this therapy is this: although it can be incredibly effective, it can also be equally beneficial. With the guidance and advice of a qualified Aromatherapist, you can use aromatherapy throughout your entire maternal journey: to support and assist in areas such as infertility; conception; miscarriage; pregnancy; labour and birth; postnatal maternal support; and even lactation and newborn support.

Infertility

This area of a woman’s maternal journey can be very challenging; physically, mentally, hormonally and emotionally. Although many women come to find an excitement and hope through this time, quite often, this journey can be rather invasive regarding some of the treatments and it can often create a sense of pain, heartache and even feelings of loneliness and helplessness. While there are essential oils that can support the changing hormonal cycles from infertility drugs, there are also other oils that can help to provide more emotional care and comfort through this journey by soothing the nervous system and restoring balance to the body.

Oils such as cypress, coriander, Roman chamomile, clary sage, fennel, geranium, lavender, lemon balm, rose, thyme and ylang ylang (depending on their dosage, mode of administration, and the type of fertility treatment) can help ease the physiological symptoms of infertility treatments while bringing a sense of comfort and optimism through the emotional and psychological discomforts of the process too.

Conception

The process of trying to conceive is an area of a woman’s maternal journey that can be quite bittersweet. While there is the excitement and optimistic hope of falling pregnant, there are some conception journeys that extend beyond months which can cause discouragement, heartache, and even fear. The importance of aromatherapy support through this time is focused mostly on hormonal, emotional and sexual support.

Through consistent “trying”, many couples may begin to feel like their sexual relationship is losing its passion and may even feel like sex is becoming a chore – and in some cases – a disappointing chore; this can make conception exceedingly more difficult: physically, psychologically and emotionally. The use of aphrodisiac, stimulant and comfort oils can be extremely beneficial in helping to keep the atmosphere of passion and romance alive between the couple, as well as in the bedroom. Since a couple’s sexual relationship is the foundation of conception, it is important to nurture and support this area of a couple’s life through which they may be struggling.

Oils such as frankincense, rose, sandalwood, vanilla, clary sage, geranium, ylang ylang, neroli, lavender, Roman chamomile, jasmine, grapefruit, gardenia, vetiver, violet and mandarin (depending on their dosage, blend and mode of administration) can help to support the woman’s physiological and hormonal reproductive cycle; stimulate each partner’s sexual desire; create a euphoric and relaxed atmosphere for sexual activity; and bring a sense of comfort and healing to the heart when disappointment or discouragement arises.

Miscarriage

This is an area in a woman’s life that can be deeply discouraging and painful to go through, especially when there have been multiple miscarriages in a relationship. The depth of the emotional and psychological struggle is greatly magnified when miscarriage has occurred through infertility or through extended conception journeys. While there are oils that work to support and strengthen the female reproductive system, the main focus of aromatherapy within the field of miscarriage is to soothe and comfort the heart, emotions, and nervous system; and to encourage a sense of comfort and peace through the grief process.

Oils such as Roman chamomile, frankincense, geranium, petitgrain, grapefruit, lavender, neroli, palmarosa, rose, violet, vetiver and rosewood (depending on their dosage, blend, and mode of administration) can help to ground and calm intense emotions; balance the adrenal responses of the body and mind; soothe the heart; and create a sense of security, peace and comfort, to support a couple through their grief and encourage emotional healing in order to proceed with conception again with a gentle and relaxed approach.

In cases where the grief of miscarriage is too difficult that it begins to create emotional distance between the couple and difficulty with resuming physical intimacy in the relationship, then the use of aphrodisiac, stimulating and comfort oils such as frankincense, benzoin, rose, sandalwood, vanilla, clary sage, geranium, rose geranium, ylang ylang, neroli, lavender, patchouli, Roman chamomile, jasmine, vetiver, violet, gardenia and mandarin (depending on their dosage, blend, and mode of administration) can help to promote emotional stability and sexual desire by creating a euphoric, relaxed and safe atmosphere for sexual activity and emotional intimacy to resume.

Pregnancy

Pregnancy can be both an exciting and challenging time in a woman’s life; while there is the gorgeous miracle of a new life forming within and the anticipation of growing a family with lifelong memories, there are often plenty of physical, emotional and mental discomforts that are also involved. Pregnancy has different stages with different discomforts and safety considerations, which is why aromatherapy practice has to be handled with extreme caution during this time.

First Trimester

In early pregnancy, discomforts such as nausea/vomiting, fatigue, cravings and a newly suppressed immune system, can make getting through each day quite difficult or uncomfortable sometimes. While there are some women who experience little to no pregnancy symptoms, there are many who do and it’s all due to a massive change in hormones and physiological bodily functions. Most, if not almost all, essential oils are considered unsafe and are not recommended for use during pregnancy, specifically the first trimester. There are, however, very few oils that are considered to be relatively safe when used under the strict and correct guidance of an Aromatherapist and medical birth professional; oils such as lemon, mandarin, lavender, Roman chamomile, neroli, spearmint and peppermint (in acute doses with the correct mode of administration) can help bring relief to many common, early pregnancy symptoms.

Second Trimester

As the second trimester approaches, a woman may experience a renewed energy and most of the first trimester symptoms normally begin to disappear at around this time. Most women don’t require any form of aromatherapy treatment during this time but there are some women who still experience the discomfort of early pregnancy symptoms; also, each woman comes from a different walk of life and may require additional therapeutic support for emotional, mental or even psychological concerns.

There are also other pregnancy-related concerns during this time that may arise such as blood pressure fluctuations, headaches, colds and flu, insomnia, haemorrhoids and sciatica (to mention a few). When dosed and administered correctly, oils such as benzoin, Roman chamomile, cardamom, petitgrain, eucalyptus, geranium, ginger, grapefruit, lavender, lemon, mandarin, sweet orange, palmarosa, patchouli, pine, rose, rosewood, ylang ylang, neroli, peppermint, spearmint and lime, when dosed and administered correctly, can bring a profound relief to many pregnancy related discomforts during this time.

Third Trimester

While the third trimester can bring general complaints of physical discomfort, it raises more attention towards skincare; as the belly grows more rapidly and hormones do what they do best, the skin can become dry, discoloured and sensitive leading to stretchmarks, redness, itchiness, inflammation and discolouration (also known as melasma or chloasma). Deeply nourishing carrier oils and butters such as sweet almond, wheatgerm, avocado, rosehip, jojoba, cocoa or shea butter are absolute treasures during this time and can be mixed with skin-healing and nourishing essential oils such as neroli, lavender, Roman chamomile, carrot root, calendula, mandarin, palmarosa, rosewood and rose, depending on the specific problem that requires attention.

During the last 6 weeks of pregnancy, as the due date approaches, often feelings of anxiety can kick in or even unsettled emotions such as sadness, fear, insecurity, irritability, frustration and even aggression. Episodes of intense emotional displays are normal around the end stages of pregnancy and require gentle, unbiased support. Oils such as lavender, neroli, mandarin, Roman chamomile, benzoin, petitgrain, geranium, rose geranium and rose can help to bring balance and comfort to unsettled emotions during this time (when dosed, blended and administered correctly).

During the last 2 weeks of pregnancy, a woman can begin toning and preparing her uterus and body for birth with gentle, muscular stretching and regular massages or baths using oils such as clary sage, rose, jasmine, lavender and geranium under the guidance of a qualified Aromatherapist and medical birth professional.

Labour and Birth

This is an area where I have personally come to witness the benefits and beauty of aromatherapy in a gentle and intimate way. Labour comes with many discomforts which are totally normal throughout the process such as: nausea, vomiting, back pain, exhaustion, dizziness, weakness, anxiety, panic, insecurity, fear, intense emotional displays, difficulty breathing, contractions, fatigue, etc. While most of these symptoms are normal they can be equally uncomfortable and this can cause labour to feel longer, more difficult and exhausting; however, a lot of the symptoms can be greatly reduced with practical measures (such as the 12 Rules for Labour) and aromatherapy support. Oils such as clary sage, jasmine and cinnamon leaf (when used and dosed correctly) can help with strengthening contractions and progressing or encouraging a stalled labour. For unsettled emotions or mental states; oils such as lavender, neroli, Roman chamomile and rose (when used and dosed correctly) can be effective for inducing a calm state and atmosphere and slowing down/easing heightened emotional responses. If breathing deeply and correctly is a concern, frankincense is a winner; it’s also useful for calming unsettled emotions or mental states and creating an atmosphere of intimacy/euphoria and security. The use of frankincense during an oxytocin rush (through transitional labour and pushing) can greatly increase the woman’s natural ‘morphine’ like state (caused by a harmonic balance of natural labour hormones) which helps to numb her perception of pain and create a naturally-induced dream-like state to intensify the intimacy of the moment for her to birth her child gently and effectively, according to her individual autonomy.

When general pain (especially lower back pain) is present and is causing great discomfort, oils such as clary sage, lavender and Roman chamomile, if used correctly with effective position changes for comfort, rebozo techniques and even targeted massage, can help to reduce the intensity of a woman’s pain. For other discomforts such as nausea or vomiting, which is a normal symptom of a woman’s body coping through intense sensations and physical/mental stress (most common in transitional labour); oils such as lemon, ginger, spearmint or peppermint (if used and dosed correctly, depending on each woman’s sensitivity to smell during the labour process, specifically during transitional stage) can help to ease this physiological response, and in some cases, even totally eliminate it.

While there are ‘safe’ oils that can be used during labour and birth, the correct mode of administration and dosage is imperative and needs to be handled carefully with close supervision by a professional who is qualified in the field of aromatherapy and birth. Safety considerations apply more during this time as labour is a very delicate, sensitive and unpredictable process that can change at any moment, even due to the smallest disruptions. There is also the consideration of other members who may be present in the birth room, specifically the baby being born, whose physiological and metabolic systems are still immature and therefore may have a contra-indicated reaction to essential oil exposure; modes of administration need to be practiced as non-invasively as possible, to minimise as much exposure to the newborn as possible. The practice of aromatherapy during this stage of a woman’s life must be handled with extreme caution and care by a professional who has a comprehensive knowledge on the physiological effects of the birth process and essential oils.

Postpartum Maternal Support

The greatest struggle in this area is mostly hormonal and emotional, tied in with extreme physical demands such as healing after the birth; breastfeeding; lack of sleep; minimal time for self-care; and in some cases, a fussy baby. Most new mothers struggle during this time, more so during the first 3-4 weeks when newborn demands are the highest, breastfeeding is new and painful, and they are undergoing a new transition into motherhood; this time can feel greatly overwhelming and women need as much support as possible.

When low moods or depressive episodes strike; calming and uplifting oils such as lavender, neroli, mandarin, jasmine, rose, bergamot, petitgrain, frankincense, vetiver,  rose geranium, and geranium can bring comfort, emotional lightness and a sense of gentle optimism while soothing the nerves and encouraging a calmer state to assist with insomnia, anxiety, frustration and sadness.

Afterbirth pains can be quite mild for some women while others may suffer with them; oils such as German chamomile, clary sage, lavender, geranium, frankincense and jasmine can assist with pain relief while helping the uterus contract down to its original size faster.

Some women may also experience tearing or episiotomies during the birth which may require gentle and speedy healing; oils such as lavender, tea tree, calendula, myrrh, geranium, jasmine and German or Roman chamomile can help ease the pain, swelling and inflammation of the injury site, and accelerate the bodies healing processes while keeping the area clean and free from infection. Note though, that douching is not recommended in general, more so during the postnatal period, and essential oils should never be administered internally (this includes the vagina); sitz bathing or gentle rinsing with salt (sodium chloride or magnesium phosphate) is a non-invasive option that is effective enough for healing and cleansing of the intimate, genital area.

Lactation Support

There are so many benefits to breastfeeding for both a mother and her baby relating to the infant microbiome, intimate bonding, nourishment, involution of the uterus, infant immunity, maternal health and the emotional security of the newborn. During the first 3 days after birth, a mother’s breasts will secrete only colostrum; a rich substance that’s loaded with antibodies to protect the infant from potential disease and infection from the outside world. This colostrum is vital to the building and maturing of the infant’s microbiome as it is rich in special HMO’s (human milk oligosaccharides); a special sugar that helps to keep an infant’s blood sugar levels stable and ‘feeds’ the good bacteria within the infant’s gut (thus strengthening the infant’s microbiome). Colostrum is much thicker than breast milk which requires a baby to suck hard at the breast (super beneficial for preventing SIDS) and this can cause the nipples to feel painful and sensitive; applying colostrum to the nipples can help, while others find that pure lanolin helps as well. Another option, in terms of aromatherapy, can be to apply skin-healing oils that are non-toxic, such as calendula or German chamomile, immediately after each feed. While these oils can be quite soothing and are non-toxic, one must always be sure to wipe the nipple area clean, with a damp cloth, before each feed. Although some natural remedies seem to include comfrey in their ingredients, it is important to take note that this oil is toxic when ingested and is therefore not recommended for topical use on the nipples during lactation.

After the first three days, a woman’s prolactin and oxytocin levels begin to surge and her milk will begin to ‘set in’ and ‘let down’ as it rapidly increases in volume with a more watery consistency; this is what we refer to as ‘breast milk’. During this time, a woman may need to feed her baby more regularly and in some cases, the excess milk may need to be expressed to prevent breast engorgement. A woman’s breasts may feel swollen and hard; painful and sensitive when touched; and somewhat ‘lumpy’ in some areas where the milk ducts are clogged or inflamed. While it is important to effectively empty each breast at each feed to prevent engorgement and possible mastitis, pain and inflammation may still be present leading to sensitivity and discomfort. Oils such as frankincense, lavender, grapefruit and German Chamomile (dosed and blended correctly) can be gently massaged into to the breast area to assist with pain, swelling, congestion, inflammation and discomfort, while protecting the skin from potential damage caused from the rapid stretching due to engorgement. These oils should be diluted with carrier oils such as hemp seed, marula, avocado, coconut or apricot kernel which are rich in anti-inflammatory, skin nourishing, and immune boosting properties to help prevent infection and skin damage.

The first 3-4 weeks of breastfeeding can sometimes be emotionally and mentally challenging for multiple reasons including: pain and discomfort, engorgement, frequent feeding, etc. This time can bring a wide range of feelings from discouragement, self-doubt, frustration, anger and even sadness. Aromatherapy during this time can be used for stimulating a sense of optimism and comfort to help a woman journey through this time with less mental and emotional strain. Oils such as lavender, frankincense, jasmine, rose, geranium, vetiver, patchouli, violet, Roman chamomile, bergamot, cypress, mandarin, neroli, grapefruit, petitgrain, sweet orange, marjoram, spearmint, vanilla, and benzoin (when dosed, blended and administered correctly) can be helpful in relieving emotional, mental and even physical strain through this time.

Between 3 and 6 weeks, a mother may notice her supply ‘dropping’ to lower levels than what she had before and while this can be comforting regarding the physical discomfort of engorgement, it can also be quite frightening and concerning for others. This stage of breastfeeding is completely normal and it does not mean that a woman is ‘running out’ of milk; it is simply her natural supply-and-demand system that is in the process of learning balance. It is important to feed frequently during this time, preferably on demand, while the body finds a balance in its milk supply. In rare cases, where low milk supply becomes an issue of no longer being able to properly nourish a baby, it is important to seek the advice and guidance of a lactation specialist and medical professional. Should this be the case, basil, hops, dill, lavender and geranium oil (when dosed correctly) can be used to stimulate the milk producing glands and hormones when massaged into the breasts and used in conjunction with a healthy diet (rich in protein, water, vitamins and minerals, and milk-producing foods); plenty of skin-to-skin; and as much suckling at the breast as possible (even for infant comfort) to stimulate oxytocin and prolactin, thus assisting with milk production and let-down. While fennel oil is another great alternative, one must be careful when using it; only small doses are needed; it should not be used for longer than a week; and it should always be used during lactation under the guidance of a qualified professional.

So often, a woman’s diet can greatly affect the gut of an infant, especially during the first 6 weeks, and a diet that is rich in gas-producing, spicy, lactose, sugar or caffeinated foods/drinks can cause immense discomfort for an infant, which can present in symptoms such as cramps, reflux, excessive gas build-up and flatulence, inflammation of the colon, bright red stools, and even colic (in severe cases). While a healthy and balanced diet (preferably void of the above mentioned foods) is vital when breastfeeding, there are also some essential oils such as dill, fennel, German chamomile and myrrh that a woman can use on herself (when dosed and administered correctly) to bring comfort to the infant for these types of digestive complaints. As these oils absorb into the bloodstream of the nursing mother, a small amount is passed through the breast milk, bringing relief to the baby. When these same oils are diffused correctly (method and dosage) for the baby, these small molecules get inhaled and can bring relief to the infant’s digestive system as well. Other oils such as lavender, frankincense and German/Roman  chamomile can also be diffused or applied with gentle, circular massage to the infant’s abdomen or under the feet (under the strict guidance of a qualified Aromatherapist and medical professional) to help bring further relief.

Lactation is an area that is influenced by a delicate hormonal balance and one must always be careful when using essential oils during this time. Each essential oil has its own recommended dosage, administration and course duration for use, which is why it is important to seek advice from a qualified Aromatherapist first, to equip you with the safe method and dosage for use.

Newborn Support

The newborn stage, specifically the first 4 weeks, is an incredible and exciting time full of bonding, discovery and falling in love, but it can also be a very challenging time for some mothers and even some newborns. While this time can feel rather easy for some women, it may not be the case for others: Sleepless nights; abrupt bodily changes; intense hormonal fluctuations and sharing her body around-the-clock, on demand, with a little human she’s still getting to know, can often feel incredibly overwhelming. Some women may not feel that motherhood comes instinctively or naturally and some may even experience constant anxiety and fear over the safety, health and general state of their newborn baby. Some women may struggle to bond with their baby and some can even feel like a failure as a mother when they have a newborn that cries a lot or when they feel lost in their abilities and emotions towards themselves, their babies, and even their spouses. All of these factors can lead to a low self-esteem; insecurity; poor habits; neglect in self-care and basic hygiene; anxiety; unstable moods; depression; anger and frustration; uncontrollable emotional outbursts/displays; and even a sense of hopelessness.

It is important for a new mother to get as much bed rest as possible (even if she is not sleeping); hydration; balanced nutrition; and physical and emotional support. Aromatherapy for a new mother during this stage is focused mostly on emotional care and promoting physical and mental relaxation. Oils such as frankincense, lavender, rose, Roman chamomile, jasmine, clary sage, benzoin, mandarin, geranium, gardenia, rose geranium, neroli, palmarosa, sweet orange, grapefruit, petitgrain, bergamot, vetiver, violet  and cypress (when dosed, blended and administered correctly, under the appropriate circumstances) can help to calm the nervous system; balance unstable emotions and fluctuating hormones; promote physical rest and relaxation; stimulate a sense of security and gentle optimism; encourage deeper sleep cycles; and calm troubled or anxious thoughts.

Some newborns can adjust to the outside world with greater ease than others and those that do not, may cry excessively; show signs of restlessness, frustration and discomfort; struggle with feeding and sleeping; may be unresponsive to affection; and express signs of anxiety, insecurity and stress. This can cause many negative physiological, psychological and neurological effects on a baby if left unchecked. While aromatherapy can be quite helpful, it is extremely important to note that a newborn baby’s physiological and metabolic systems are still immature and incredibly sensitive; they are unable to properly metabolize the chemical molecules of essential oils and this can lead to toxicity, organ damage (even failure), and severe adverse reactions such as seizures, convulsions, fluctuating blood pressure, difficulty breathing, inflammation or burning of the internal mucous membranes, etc.; therefore, a newborn needs to be introduced to essential oils as gently, slowly and non-invasively as possible. Any baby under the age of 8-12 weeks should preferably not be exposed to essential oils at all, but in extreme cases, when a newborn may benefit from aromatherapy, only lavender, dill and German/Roman chamomile may be used in extremely low doses and under the appropriate circumstances; these oils should preferably not be applied topically and should always be used under the guidance of a qualified Aromatherapist and medical professional.

As a baby passes the age of 8-12 weeks old, additional oils and topical administration can slowly be introduced into their routine. The Bryan Lütge Naturals Baby Bath Drops and Massage Oil are great options when introducing a baby to the world of aromatherapy, especially for the introduction of topical application, in a gentle and non-invasive way.

Safety Considerations within Aromatherapy

Now that you have run through how aromatherapy can benefit the maternal journey, it is also incredibly important to note that this therapy can be intensely effective and can cause profound physiological, hormonal, psychological and emotional responses from the body due to the individual chemical composition of the oils and how these chemicals affect each individual. Therefore, it is imperative that you practice responsible use of essential oils during the maternal period, preferably with the advice and guidance of a qualified Aromatherapist who specializes in maternal care; even more so if:

  • Your pregnancy is classed as high risk
  • You’ve had fertility or hormone treatments
  • You’re attempting a vaginal birth for the first time after a cesarean
  • You’re on any medication or herbal supplements
  • You have any serious medical, neurological, hormonal or psychological conditions
  • You’re attempting a home birth
  • You’ve never used essential oils before

The practice of aromatherapy is a complimentary/supportive/integrative therapy that works alongside standard, allopathic healthcare – it does not replace it – it is important to be sure to practice open communication with all your care providers regarding which therapies/treatments you are currently undergoing, to ensure that all treatments, when combined, serve your maternal journey in a safe, effective and balanced way.

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Hormones During Pregnancy, Labour and Lactation

During the different stages of a women’s maternal journey, there are a wide range of hormones that come together to work in such perfect harmony; each one with its own unique function. These hormones, working together, help with a variety of factors such as:
• Sustaining a pregnancy
• Estimating the number of embryos present
• Lactation
• Bonding
• Breast, fetal and physiological development
• Preparing one for parenthood
• Progressing labour
• Relieving labour pain

Below is a detailed break down of the 10 most important maternal hormones, how they function and what their roles are during the maternal period (from pregnancy through to lactation).

1. Human Chorionic Gonadotropin

The Pregnancy Hormone

hCG (Human Chorionic Gonadotropin) is a very special hormone that is secreted by the developing placenta of the embryo in the very early stages of pregnancy. This is the hormone that is responsible for disclosing the news of a new life on your pregnancy test: a positive result!

hCG has a very special function during these first few weeks of pregnancy, a function so vital that without it, the embryo would have no way of maturing. hCG stimulates the corpus luteum on the ovaries, causing them to release higher doses of progesterone into the body, which is vital for the maintenance of the endometrium (uterine lining) which accommodates and nourishes the embryo. Without this lining, the embryo would have no where to adequately implant in order to grow.

By measuring the levels of hCG in a woman’s blood, a doctor can get an idea of a woman’s gestation; how many weeks pregnant she is. Higher levels of hCG may also be able to indicate the possibility of multiple embryos due to the extra number of placentas producing this hormone, whereas lower levels of hCG may indicate the possibility of a miscarriage.

When you see those two little lines smiling back at you on a pregnancy test, you know who is to blame (apart from you and your partner of course).

2. Oxytocin

The Love and Bonding Hormone

Oxytocin is a social hormone, released during social interactions that create a “bonding” type of experience, hence it being nicknamed the ‘love’ or ‘bonding’ and even the ‘cuddle’ hormone.
Oxytocin can be released during various types of interactions, but there are three specific social interactions that produce the highest levels of this hormone in a person’s life: sex, childbirth and breastfeeding.

Oxytocin holds many functions in social interactions (such as a person’s decision to accept/reject another; influencing a persons level of attraction and even their choice of fidelity) but this hormone, in maternal women, has two main functions: contracting the uterus and stimulating the let-down reflex during lactation.

During labour, oxytocin levels gradually increase as the labour progresses to promote stronger contractions; it also stimulates the production of prostaglandins to assist with the softening of the cervix allowing it to thin and open.
Oxytocin, in it’s naturally produced form (not artificially, through inductions) acts as a pain reliever during contractions by stimulating the production of endorphins in the body. Natural oxytocin is also responsible for keeping a foetus calm in utero during the physical demands of labour, especially during contractions, minimizing foetal distress.

During the pushing stage of labour, the mother receives a massive oxytocin rush, probably the highest she will experience in her life. This ‘rush’ allows her the ability to birth her baby with ease, due to the intense contractions and the blocking of pain. It prepares the body for the expulsion of the placenta and the immediate shrinking of the uterus postpartum to prevent the mother hemorrhaging. This oxytocin ‘rush’ also prepares the setting of euphoria that the mother and baby will feel in the first hour after birth (also known as the golden hour) so that mother and child can effectively bond, rewiring both brains into a state of maternal instinct (mother) and emotional dependency (infant).

Skin-to-skin between mother and baby promotes the production of oxytocin, increasing the success of breastfeeding, which in itself also promotes oxytocin production. During breastfeeding, the infant’s suckling at the nipple stimulates nerves which cause the brain to release oxytocin; this release of hormone stimulates the mother’s let-down reflex, which brings the milk down the milk ducts and forward to the nipple. It also increases the bonding of mother and child during the breastfeeding stage, increasing the mother’s maternal state while bringing a sense of security to the newborn.

From sex, to breastfeeding, and the childbirth process in between, it’s oxytocin that plays the biggest role as it bonds, comforts and empowers! What a truly magnificent hormone!

3. Endorphins

The Relief Chemicals

Endorphins, also known as the body’s natural morphine, are specialised chemicals that are produced by the brain and the nervous system during times of stress, pain and over exertion; these are the body’s ‘coping’ chemicals as they bring relief and help one cope.

Endorphins, once released, stimulate and trigger the brains opiate receptors, giving a person an ‘opium’ like high. This ‘high’ is a non-psychedelic experience, that blocks pain (more effectively than opiate drugs), alters one’s perception of time and place, and creates a general state of calm and well being.

During labour, these specialised chemicals are part of a beautifully balanced cycle that is vital to the birth process. Endorphins further encourage the release of oxytocin (necessary for labour progress, pain relief, protecting the foetus in utero and establishing a strong emotional foundation for mother and child after birth while ensuring successful breastfeeding) and the release of oxytocin further encourages the release of more endorphins, and so this harmonious cycle continues. Endorphins, working together with oxytocin, sets the stage for a successful, manageable and beneficial birthing experience.

The use of opiate drugs during labour (such as pethidine) does not alter the body’s endorphin production, however, epidurals do; epidurals not only block the production of endorphins, but remove endorphins from the body entirely; this interferes with the body’s ability to naturally release oxytocin during the birth process, increasing a woman’s risk of needing an induction to progress her labour.

By allowing your body to experience the pain and stress of labour, you encourage your body to respond with a natural coping mechanism in the form of endorphins, which also assists in the progression of labour. You simply must surrender to labour’s demands in order to tap into the super powers of these coping chemicals.

4. Prolactin

The Lactation Hormone

Prolactin is an astounding hormone found in both males and females, in relatively low doses, which plays a role in lactation, behavior, immunization, metabolism, reproduction and fertility. However, prolactin levels are much higher in women who are pregnant and even higher during breastfeeding.

Prolactin is a hormone that is produced by the pituitary gland; during pregnancy to stimulate the production of colostrum, and after birth to stimulate the production of breast milk. The higher the prolactin levels, the more milk a lactating woman will produce.

Another incredible function of prolactin is it’s ability to block the production of the hormones estrogen (in women) and testosterone (in men).

In woman, lowered estrogen production results in either irregular periods, or even no periods at all (this is the main reason why a breastfeeding woman generally doesn’t menstruate). It also lowers her sex drive and is responsible for vaginal dryness. These reasons are normally why breastfeeding is seen as a contraceptive. However, breastfeeding is not 100% effective in preventing pregnancy due to many other factors of breastfeeding.

Many other hormones are responsible for the release of prolactin into the bloodstream, but in breastfeeding, it is the stimulation of the nipple, caused from the infant’s suckling at the breast, along with hormonal changes after pregnancy (particularly lowered estrogen levels) that encourages the release of prolactin to produce breast milk.

5. Adrenaline

The Survival Hormone

Adrenaline is a remarkable and fascinating hormone responsible for our survival!

Secreted by the adrenal glands and nervous system in moments of fear, stress or extreme pain, this hormone rushes through the body, creating a fight-or-flight response. This response is designed in such a unique way that it’s purpose is to keep one safe from that which is unfavorable.

Now, labour means pain, and the pain of labour is a very different kind of pain with a different level of intensity. However, this is a pain that one can not from; this is a pain that demands one’s full attention to face it, head on, with all you’ve got! Which is why we can only be so incredibly grateful for adrenaline!

During the early stages of labour, when contractions are still fairly mild (compared to transitional labour) it is important that a woman remains calm. Stress during this time causes stress hormones to be released, such as adrenaline, and this tells the brain and body that it is “not favorable” or “not safe” for birth to proceed and so labour may slow down or even stop entirely. The body and mind desire a safe space to labour and birth and this sense of safety that you communicate to your body and mind is in the form of being calm and relaxed. This is nature’s beautiful way of ensuring the safety of the newborn infant and the vulnerable state of the mother directly after birth.

So, how then does adrenaline help with labour?

Adrenaline’s prime purpose reveals itself in the very last stages of labour, like a riveting grand finale! Once a woman has relaxed sufficiently in the early stages that she has effectively dilated to the transitional stage of labour, the body now knows that it’s “too late” to turn back. The intense pain of transitional labour and the pressure of the baby’s head against specific nerves in the birth canal kick starts the adrenaline response through the woman’s body; adrenaline starts to rise (assisting with the increase of the woman’s pain threshold) and when it peaks, it gives her this incredible second wind of energy, alertness, strength and will power – her FIGHT response – to face the next stage.

Her pain begins to dull and her sense of time and place leave her while her focus shifts directly towards this “urge” to push; this is the power of adrenaline in it’s prime: it allows a woman this super power ability to simply, instinctively birth her baby. Truly phenomenal!

The balance of this hormone during the birthing process is so delicate yet at the same time so powerful!

6. Prolactin

The Mothering Hormone

This hormone has many functions behind it’s name; it’s involved in metabolism, immunity, fertility, lactation and even behavior; prolactin has the power of influencing a persons behavior.

Men and women have basic sex hormones which are the foundational hormones of that specific sex… and their main function is their involvement in… sex! Men have testosterone and women have estrogen.

One of our main responsibilities as human beings is reproduction/procreation and almost all that we do revolves around being more sexually attractive in order to attract an ideal mate. But what happens if the ideal mate has already been chosen and reproduction has already taken place and a baby has now been born?

Parental instinct (maternal/paternal) is influenced by the increased levels of prolactin in a persons body after birth. Prolactin blocks the main sex hormones (estrogen and testosterone), rewiring the new parents’ brains from the purpose of sexual reproduction to that of parental responsibility by increasing alertness, willing submission and anxiety.

Lowered levels of sex hormones can also cause a decrease in one’s sex drive by causing vaginal dryness and weaker erections; sex now takes a back seat and the front seat is replaced with the instinctive call to meet the new baby’s needs. The symptoms of lowered sex hormones are stronger on the maternal side and this could likely be caused from much higher levels of prolactin, normally attributed to lactation. High levels of either estrogen or testosterone during breastfeeding can hinder the production of prolactin hormone, which can have a negative effect on milk supply and breastfeeding. This is another one of the main reasons that these sex hormones are naturally suppressed in a mother’s body during the first few months after birth; it facilitates her ability to lactate and feed her baby.

Certain contraceptives and hormone replacing drugs (drugs high in estrogen, progesterone or testosterone) can greatly suppress prolactin production, negatively affecting a woman’s ability to lactate. Such drugs should be considered wisely and cautiously if the goal is to breastfeed easily, long term and without complication. You may even want to consider alternative contraceptive options.

With the increase of prolactin and decrease in sex hormones, another symptom a mother may notice is her delayed menstrual cycle. This can be delayed for up to year after birth if a mother continues to breastfeed as much as possible, as breastfeeding continues to stimulate the production of prolactin by stimulating the release of oxytocin, which in turn suppresses the sex hormones responsible for menstruation.

So, if you ever wonder why a new parent is focused more on their baby and less on sexual desire, prolactin is the guilty culprit. However, we can also be grateful because it’s just as responsible for making sure that a baby gets the best care possible, which is vital for their safety, development, comfort and health, creating a lasting impact on the well being of the child’s life (long term).

7. Progesterone

The Female Fertility Hormone

Progesterone is a hormone that is naturally produced by a woman’s ovaries during her monthly cycle. After a woman’s menstrual cycle, the levels of progesterone will increase to start preparing the uterus for a little guest. It will begin to build and thicken the endometrium (uterine lining) making it an ideal haven for implantation; filling out a woman’s breasts in preparation for pregnancy; and puts the menstrual cycle on hold while the body eagerly anticipates the arrival of a fertilized egg.

Once a woman falls pregnant, at around roughly 9 weeks after conception, the developing placenta will begin to take over the production of progesterone with the prime purpose of maintaining an ideal environment to sustain the pregnancy.

Progesterone also helps with breast development during pregnancy, preparing them for the task of milk production and breastfeeding. The increase in progesterone levels can cause breasts to feel bigger, fuller and rather tender due to the rapid development of the breast tissues.

This hormone really is the hormone of female fertility because without it, the body would not be able to accommodate a pregnancy adequately which means there would be no element of procreation.

8. Relaxin

The Softening Hormone

Relaxin is a hormone that is released by the ovaries before pregnancy to inhibit uterine contractions which promotes the development of the endometrium so that it may properly inhabit a fertilized egg.

During pregnancy, the placenta will begin to release this hormone as well. It assists with effective implantation of the egg; development of the placenta; relaxation of the ligaments and joints to accommodate a growing uterus and rapid weight gain; inhibiting contractions to prevent miscarriage and premature birth; and assisting the blood vessels in the cardiovascular and renal systems to adequately accommodate the increase in blood volume, oxygen and waste products.

During labour and childbirth, relaxin assists with the dilation and effacement of the cervix, the rupture of the amniotic membranes, and the relaxing of the vagina and perineum allowing a smooth passage for the baby to pass through.

Without this incredible hormone, pregnancy would not exist and childbirth would be so physically traumatic it probably wouldn’t even be possible. This hormone is not only vital but truly remarkable too.

9. Testosterone

The Masculine Hormone

Testosterone is the male sex hormone produced by the adrenal glands and sexual organs of both men and women; although, the levels of testosterone are much higher in men than in women.

This hormone is responsible for the masculine properties found in men. Study’s show that the levels of testosterone in men begin to gradually decrease from early pregnancy but levels increase in women.

It is believed that the reason for the decrease in men is to slowly prepare a man for fatherhood. These lowered levels suppress aggression and sexual desire, rewiring a man’s brain from the purpose of competition and procreation to nurturing and caring for his newborn.

In woman, a study showed that increased testosterone during pregnancy influences the growth of the foetus. The higher the levels of testosterone, the smaller the baby was presumed to be, perhaps testosterone keeps the growth of the baby balanced? These increased levels would also explain the increased body hair that many woman experience through their pregnancy.

10. Estrogen

The Fertility and Pregnancy Hormone

Estrogen is a very busy hormone that plays an active role throughout a woman’s life, and during pregnancy, a woman’s estrogen levels are the highest they’ll ever be in her entire life. In fact, it’s said that a single pregnancy will produce more estrogen than what is produced in the full life span of a non-pregnant woman.

It is produced by the ovaries before conception to build the breast tissue, assist with the growth of the uterine lining (endometrium) and regulate the menstrual cycle.

However, after conception, it takes on more responsibilities. Still produced by the ovaries during early pregnancy and later by the placenta, it develops the milk ducts in the breasts, promotes uterine growth while helping to maintain the pregnancy. It increases blood flow, regulates the production of other important hormones and assists with foetal development (specifically the organs and bone density).

It’s elevated levels lead to nausea and vomiting (morning sickness), increased sensitivity of the skin, darkened discoloration of the skin (chloasma, linea nigra, areolas), while also softening and swelling the mucous membranes leading to a blocked nose, random nose bleeds, the pregnancy ‘glow’, post nasal drip, and excessive vaginal discharge.

Estrogen really is one of the key players in female reproduction and fertility and without it, women just simply wouldn’t be, well, women.

♥   ♥   ♥

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Bond With Your Belly

The third trimester is both an exciting and challenging time in a pregnancy; there’s knowing that the time to meet your baby is getting closer and the prospect of finally implementing your wishes for your long anticipated birth story is feeling so much more real now that you can’t wait for it to begin.
And then there’s also all the niggles, cramps, pressure, and insomnia; there’s exhaustion, swelling, kicks that mean real business, and oh, just the general discomfort of carrying the enormous weight around…

“Would this baby just come already!?” Be honest, have you said something similar yet?

It’s completely normal to feel fed up, exhausted, uncomfortable, irritated or “so-over this pregnancy” as you go through the last few weeks, but there’s some good news too: you can still make the last stretch beautiful and enjoyable despite the niggles.

When my client’s are struggling with motivation and enjoyment through the last few weeks of pregnancy, I like to encourage them to try and change their perspective; while it’s so easy to focus on all the negative aspects of the last stretch (especially the discomfort), it can also be a distraction from the opportunity to find a sense of peace, love and bonding with your soon-to-be-gone baby bump.

It may sound like nonsense right now but there will come a time, after your birth, when you will look back and miss your belly. You’ll miss the funny, little, protruding belly button; you’ll miss feeling your baby move inside and seeing their little bumps and wondering what part of their tiny body it is; and you’ll miss being able to rub your hands over the roundness of your belly as you wonder what your baby looks like. It’s the little things that you overlook during the last few weeks, that will come back to memory one day and you’ll kind of miss them in some weird, personal way.

When lack of motivation and discouragement begins to show its face, I like to recommend what I call “intimate time” with your belly; think of it as a kind of a date with just you, your baby and your belly. This is a vital time for helping to shift the mind from the ‘negative’ while focusing on the beauty of the miracle that is pregnancy and encouraging a special early bond with your body and baby before the birth. This time promotes relaxation, deeper self-discovery and self-confidence, and it helps you to get more “in-tune” with your body which enables a better ability to listen to your body during the labour process and the postpartum period.

So, what is “intimate time” and how is it done?

Intimate time is a special time of privacy, intimacy and bonding with your body and your baby for about an hour or so to enhance the flow of oxytocin and other bonding/calming hormones.
Here’s how it’s done:

1) Be Alone

Go into a room where you can be alone and undisturbed; a room where you feel safe and comfortable (so maybe not your office or kitchen). Being alone helps to keep you focused in the present and encourages the flow of oxytocin by allowing you to feel safe in your own space to be yourself without distraction.

2) Create Darkness

Close the curtains, turn down the lights, and light some candles if you want. Oxytocin THRIVES in the dark and it helps you to feel less vulnerable and exposed.

3) Encourage Relaxation and Comfort

Play some music you find calming and relaxing; get into a comfortable position on your birth ball or your bed; take your clothes off; and perhaps diffuse some Lavender into the air. You can even start the process off with a candle lit bubble bath or shower if you want.
Whichever comfort and relaxation measures work best for you, use them now to your full advantage.

4) Bond

Get some baby/body oil/butter and gently massage your body, breasts, belly and thighs, soaking up every detail with love and affection; yes, even the stretchmarks and cellulite, this time is about self-discovery and self–appreciation.

Here are some examples that you could try:

  • Follow the patterns of your stretchmarks with your finger like they’re little roads leading you to your baby.
  • Bounce your fingers gently over your thigh dimples like little valleys of evidence of the nourishment your baby has received.
  • Rub slow circles across your round belly visualizing your baby’s hair, fingernails, lips and toes.
  • Tickle your belly button while you appreciate how your own baby’s belly button is connected to you.
  • Cup and stroke your breasts while you envision your cervix as a flower that’s slowly coming to bloom; soon to open and bring fourth the beauty that it’s hiding beneath it’s closed petals – your precious baby.
    Appreciate them for the life-giving nourishment they’ll soon provide.
  • Sway your hips to the gentle motion of the music while you feel your pelvis rock your baby the way you would in your arms.
  • Relax your muscles and be completely present in the moment, allowing yourself to savor every touch, every sound, every scent, every motion and emotion.
    Get lost in your own safe space like a private, gentle, romantic adventure.
  • Close your eyes, breathe deeply and totally immerse and enchant yourself into the quiet moment of gentle intimacy with just you, your body and your baby.

This time not only encourages the flow of oxytocin to establish a strong early bond with your baby and encourage the uterus to prepare for labour, but it also helps to establish a personal sense of respect, love and awe for your body (something most women struggle with) which will help you to appreciate yourself more (especially postpartum), and find a sense of peace and comfort in your last stretch as well. Most women find this useful for getting “in-tune” with their personal self which they find helps with listening to their bodies during labour; it can also bring a sense of self-confidence which can enable you to get through labour more easily.

The plus side; being heavily pregnant means that you have the liberty to take advantage of the ability to request being alone to relax during the last stages of your third trimester; you have every excuse under the sun to sneak away and have some “intimate time” to unwind, relax and bond.
I encourage you try it. You’ll be amazed at the beautiful difference it makes to your last stretch of pregnancy.
It may feel awkward and unfamiliar at first (especially if you’re conservative), but the more you practice this, the easier and more enjoyable it becomes.

Note: This is perfect to practice during early labour to help you relax and mentally prepare for the more vigorous labour ahead, and to progress the labour process while using it as a method of gently and intimately welcoming the soon arrival of your baby.

♥   ♥   ♥

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Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC)

From an age where having a cesarean once meant that you were forever destined to future cesareans, to this age where we are now blessed to have more information and evidence on this topic, we can be confident in knowing that choosing to have a vaginal birth after a cesarean is (thankfully) a viable option.

But just because we know that having a vaginal birth after a cesarean is possible, doesn’t exactly make it easy to achieve; with hospital policies, continuous fetal monitoring, being classed as a ‘high risk’ case, being misinformed, given cut-off times and dates, and care provider preferences, achieving your vaginal birth after a cesarean may prove to be quite challenging. This is why is it important to educate yourself.

Why do women choose to have VBACs?

Well, some women feel that their cesarean was either forced, unnecessary, or traumatic in some cases and some women just want to experience a natural birth and reap its benefits. Some women hope to achieve a faster recovery with a natural birth while some seek to avoid the short and long term risks associated with a repeat cesarean.

Each woman has her own reason for choosing a VBAC and although there is so much research and evidence on the topic, there is also still so much misinformation going around, making the decision to have a VBAC confusing and stressful. In fact, research shows that there is a 60% – 80% success rate for VBACs and women should be given this as a primary birth option.

Evidence On VBACs

Let’s have a look at the concern around uterine rupture as this is one of the biggest worries around VBACs:
Although uterine rupture is a valid concern and it does happen in some cases, statistics show that uterine rupture is actually very rare and occurs in less than 1% of VBAC births. A UK study in 2012 concluded that the rates of uterine rupture were as low as 0.2% and that the need for a repeat cesarean was more likely due to medical complications such hemorrhage or prolapse.
It also showed that the rates and risk of uterine rupture are lower for women who have a low, transverse, uterine incision scar (the classic cesarean scar) as opposed to a vertical incision scar. So always double check what incision scar you have to understand your risk.

What about having a VBAC after 2 or more cesareans? Does that increase your risk?
Well, according to a US study done in 2006, the conclusion was that having had more than one cesarean did not greatly increase the risk of uterine rupture; the results of risk were very similar (0.7% vs 0.9%); and that a trial of labour and vaginal birth should be an option for women with repeat cesareans, given that they are a low risk pregnancy with no medical complications.

Then there’s also the concern with twin and breech births. Are VBACs an option for these types of births?
Regarding twin births, US studies concluded that twin births posed no greater risk than singleton births for VBACs and the ACOG (American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists) issued new guidelines for VBACs stating that women should be offered the option of a VBAC, given that their incision scar is low transverse and there were no medical risks to their pregnancy.
However, in terms of a breach VBAC, there is not sufficient evidence on this due to breach births often being classed as high risk, as well as VBACs, so allowing a women to combine these two is not even a topic of consideration for care providers at all.

Home births for VBACs are often highly discouraged by care providers and with good reason; the outcome of a VBAC birth is unpredictable, especially if it is your first VBAC birth. Most care providers (especially midwives) will feel comfortable allowing a woman to attempt a “home” birth at a private home birthing centre if it is a woman’s first VBAC attempt and she is hoping to avoid a hospital birth. Often, most midwives feel a lot more comfortable allowing a home birth for a VBAC if the woman has already achieved at least one successful VBAC birth before.

The last concern around VBACs is care providers not allowing women to attempt a VBAC at all, and this often strips them of their own right of choice and proper evidence based information from their own care providers. Most women feel dis-empowered due to the assumption that just because their care provider won’t allow them to attempt a VBAC; they think they can’t have one. And this is simply not true. Each care provider has different experience and attitudes towards VBACs and finding a care provider that will honestly support you with integrity and a high standard of care can be very difficult. The best thing you can do is educate yourself on VBACs and ask your care provider for their reasons of refusal in writing and to provide you with evidence based information that supports their refusal… the next step would be to find a second (or even third) opinion, repeating the same process with the first (reasons of refusal in writing with evidence to back them).
Keep in mind though, as I stated above, that VBACs have a 60-80% success rate. That means that they also have a 20-40% failure rate which could be caused from a number of factors such as foetal distress, uterine rupture, etc. That is 1-2 failed VBACs in every 5 births. It’s no wonder that doctors are hesitant to support it.

If you are choosing a VBAC, which you do have a right to, you also have the prime responsibility to research the topic and fully educate yourself on it as well.

I have provided some links below for further reading but I also highly encourage you to seek even further resources to grow your knowledge on this topic. And while speaking to women who have had successful VBACs is great, it would also be wise to listen to those with failed VBACs too.

♥   ♥   ♥

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What Is A Birth Doula?

There is often quite a bit of confusion between the care of a doula and the care of a midwife. The doula profession is not the same as midwifery and the responsibilities, services and care between the two are very different.

Doulas are support members who may be further trained in additional natural/holistic therapies that offer alternative options from standard allopathic healthcare for relief and comfort during labour (such as hypnobirthing, rebozo technique, acupressure, meditation, yoga, aromatherapy, herbalism, reiki, massage, sound therapy, etc.)

A doula supports and “coaches” a woman through labouring comfortably, effectively and safely while assisting the birth partner by encouraging their active participation and relieving them of mundane duties (cleaning, organizing music, setting the environment, fetching food/drink, running a bath, etc.), and providing information.

Doulas may also care for and facilitate young siblings attending the birth so that the birth partner can be more involved in the birth process with less distraction. A doula serves the labouring mother to help meet her personal, emotional, mental and physiological needs. As a whole, a doula guides and facilitates the birth process and birth environment to assist the couple in having a calm, relaxed and empowered birth experience with minimal stress, distraction and discomfort.

Doulas are not medically trained and do not deliver babies or conduct any form of medical duties like a midwife, GP or gynea. However, unlike medical care providers, a doula’s support is more ‘personal’ (focusing also on emotional, mental, intimate, and sometimes even spiritual support). Doulas work alongside a woman’s care provider as part of the birth team unit but they work exclusively for the birthing mother according to her needs, preferences and expectations.

Doulas generally have personal experience in childbirth (vaginal or cesarean) and are further trained in the knowledge of the physiological, emotional ( and in some cases, spiritual) aspects of pregnancy, labour, birth, and postpartum. Some doulas may be further trained in bereavement and trauma situations to emotionally support and facilitate a mother and/or couple through high risk births, emergencies or traumatic birth outcomes (such as still born births, etc.)

Doulas cost a lot less than care providers and often walk a more personal/intimate road with a mother/couple prenatally (regardless of her risk factor), during labour and birth (regardless of the type of birth), and postnatally.

“If a doula were a drug, it would be unethical not to use it.”  –  Dr. John Kennell

What Does A Doula Do?

A doula provides information and guidance on medical procedures; labour & birth options; alternative solutions; stages of labour; and answering any questions the labouring woman, birth partner or family may have.

A doula provides physical support by assisting with position changes; running general errands during the birth process; creating comfort measures; helping with massage & breathing; and assisting with pain relief options.

A doula provides emotional and mental support by creating an atmosphere of privacy and calmness; motivating and encouraging; reassuring and affirming; holding space; actively listening, and allowing the labouring woman to be exactly who and how she needs to be.

A doula utilizes specialised techniques for labour such as rebozo; massage; acupressure; aromatherapy; hynobirthing; and meditation, etc. Each doula has experience in different skills.

A doula acts as a facilitator by working with the woman’s birth partner during labour and birth; promoting an effective labour, early bonding, skin to skin and breastfeeding; highlighting any possible changes to the birth plan; and accommodating any family members.

But most of all, the main role of a doula is to make a positive impact to the birth experience of each family she serves.

A doula makes a positive difference; that’s what a doula does.

What About Birth Partners?

A doula does not replace the woman’s birthing partner. In fact, a doula understands the importance of the woman’s partner because she knows that no one else knows the woman better. While a doula may have a deeper knowledge of labour and birth, the partner understands the woman in a deeper, more intimate way; a way that the doula does not.

A doula assists the birth partner to be more actively involved and encourages them to have a more hands on approach to the birth process. In areas where the birth partner may not know how to effectively care for or assist the labouring woman, the doula provides them with options and guidelines for effective labour support.

In some cases, a doula who is experienced in specific specialised therapeutic techniques for labour can teach/show some of these techniques to the birth partner, enabling a more active participation. A doula works with the birth partner, and together they make up the ideal support team to help the mother (and birth partner) have a more relaxed, positive, empowered and memorable birthing experience.

♥   ♥   ♥

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Packing A Hospital Bag

Whether you’re birthing at a government hospital or a luxury, private, home birthing centre, the question can sometimes still remain; “What do I pack in my hospital bag?”

Packing your hospital bag can be confusing, frustrating and even exhausting. Some women pack their bags overnight with little effort and much excitement, while other women can pack their hospital bags for days or weeks on end. Regardless of how you pack your hospital bag, the point is that so often, after the birth, women find that they have either packed too little, forgotten something, or packed too much.

Having had 2 births of my own and attending births as a doula, I find that the below items are the most necessary/needed/used items for your hospital bag. I’ve compiled a simple list to help:

For Baby:

  • 1x Delivery blanket/towel (to cover baby immediately after birth).
  • Baby outfits – 1x per 24 hour stay (including hat and socks for each). If you plan on doing exclusive skin-to-skin and breastfeeding on demand, then you may only need an outfit for the travel home, dependent on your preferences.
  • 1-2x Post delivery blankets (thin)
  • 1x Post delivery blanket (thick)
  • 1x Pack of diapers, wipes, bum cream/petroleum jelly/castor oil, umbilical agent, cotton wool (you can exclude this for private centres which may provide a gift bag with all the necessities; it is advised that you ask your birthing facility about these benefits).
  • Baby towel, wash and cream/natural oil like grapeseed (may be excluded for facilities or families that do not practice bathing of baby/wiping of vernix, or if you plan to avoid bathing your baby until you get home).
  • Car chair

For Mom:

  • Maternity panties – 1x per 12-24 hour stay (you may pack extra to guard against soiling).
  • 1-2x Packets of maternity pads or maternity diapers (may be excluded for private centres which may provide a gift bag with all the necessities; it is advised that you ask your birthing facility about these benefits).
  • Loose, comfy sleepwear – 1x per 24 hour stay. You may want to consider a button-up top for breastfeeding. You can also pack only one outfit for the travel home if you plan on remaining naked/topless for exclusive skin-to-skin, co-sleeping and breastfeeding.
  • Socks – 1x per 24 hour stay.
  • Maternity bras – 1x per 24 hour stay (if necessary or preferred).
  • 5x Pairs of breast pads (in case of extended stay due to cesarean or complication).
  • Pair of slippers
  • Robe (if necessary). This is perfect if you’re keeping baby naked in a diaper for exclusive skin-to-skin and breastfeeding as you can use it to wrap your baby against you and keep both of you warm while you’re topless underneath.
  • Departure/discharge outfit & shoes
  • Hair band and/or hair clip and/or head band (useful to keep your hair out of the way during labour and breastfeeding).
  • Hair brush
  • Toiletries
  • Towel (may be excluded for private centres that provide this).
  • Comfort/familiar item for labour (if necessary).

For Dad / Birth Partner:

Dads and birth partners are quite simple and their bags are generally the smallest and therefore they end up carrying all the additional items as well.

Birth partners may want to consider using a back pack for themselves if each person plans on having their own bag; this way, their bag can be carried on their back effortlessly while holding mom’s and baby’s bags in one/each of his hands (depending on the mother’s ability to walk herself into the birthing facility if in labour).

The below list is mostly for those who are able to stay over (such as home birthing centres).

  • Clothes and/or sleepwear – 1x per 24 hour stay (incl. shoes, socks, underwear).
  • Toiletries
  • Towel (may be excluded for private centres that provide this).
  • Pair of slippers
  • Robe (if necessary)

Extras:

  • Any/all important documents (if necessary).
  • Snacks (including electrolyte/sports drinks, bottled water, low G.I. health snacks, dates or date balls/treats for quick energy boosts during transitional labour, and any specifics that the facility may not provide; these are all best for during labour and in between served meals).
  • Mobile and electronic devices, and chargers
  • Multi-plug connection
  • Cash/money (just in case)
  • Any additional comfort items you feel may be necessary (e.g. pillows, blankets, hot/cold compresses, candles, music, pictures, flowers/petals, etc.)

Some government facilities may require you to include the following:

  • Linen Savers
  • Adult body cleansing wipes
  • Natural mosquito repellent (baby safe)
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Cup, spoon, bowl, etc.
  • Linen (blanket, pillow, sheet)
  • Toilet paper
  • Towels

♥   ♥   ♥

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Avoid Perineal Tearing

One of the biggest fears that majority of women express about birth (apart from the pain) is the prospect of tearing, and although it’s a valid concern, it can also be easily prevented.

Where Can You Tear?

Tearing during birth can occur anywhere; the perineum or labia minora (most common tears) and even the clitoris, anus and rectum.

Degrees of Tearing

1ST DEGREE TEAR: Normally a superficial laceration; the surface of the skin splits slightly which may cause some bleeding. No muscle or deep tissue is damaged with a 1st degree tear and is often too small to stitch (sometimes requires minimal stitching). These normally heal in a week with minimal discomfort.

2ND DEGREE TEARS: A deeper tear that proceeds into the vaginal lining and submucosal tissues. Always requires stitching. Takes 1-2 weeks to heal with mild discomfort for about a month.

3RD DEGREE TEARS: These tears proceed past submucosal tissues and into muscle tissues that support the anal sphincter. Each layer needs to be stitched individually. These tears take 2-4 weeks to heal and discomfort can proceed for a few months.

4TH DEGREE TEARS: This tear proceeds past muscle, directly into the rectal lining/rectum. This is the least common tear and is most common with vacuum/forceps assisted deliveries and infant shoulder dystocia. Multiple layers will need to be stitched individually. These tears take the longest to heal, are the most traumatic to endure and can even lead to prolapse or pelvic floor dysfunction.

Tearing vs Episiotomy

Studies have shown that natural tearing is preferred over episiotomies for many factors:
• Lowered risk of 3rd and 4th degree tears
• Lowered risk of infection
• Faster/more effective healing
• Less invasive
• Lowered risk of excess blood loss
• Less risk of long term perineal pain, trauma and incontinence

How To Prevent Tearing During Birth

BREATHING: This is imperative to the birth process for so many reasons, including the prevention of tearing. This relaxation technique has a direct effect on the perineal area; less force and tension is exerted on the perineum during crowning and the skin around the vagina gets a rush of oxygen-rich blood which causes the perineal area to relax, allowing it to stretch with ease, at a more relaxed pace to accommodate your baby better with less trauma.

PERINEAL MOISTURE: As labour progresses, the vagina naturally produces more mucous to prepare the birth canal and perineum for a smooth birth; a moist perineum stretches more effectively than a perineum that is dry. Options include a water birth or applying water based lubricant or a warmed wet compress (like a facecloth) to the perineum during crowning to help support the delicate skin.

UPRIGHT POSITIONS: Birthing in a more upright position (especially forward leaning positions) helps to minimize tension from hard pushing as gravity helps to draw the baby down, which allows you to relax more during the pushing stage of labour. It also takes the weight of the baby’s head and body off the perineum during crowning and birth, reducing stress on the perineal tissues during this stage.

RELAX FOR THE RING OF FIRE: As the baby crowns and the perineal skin stretches it creates a stinging sensation around the vaginal opening; this sensation is a reminder for you to slow down. Your care provider may be able to see the ring of fire and remind you to slow down, although some women find it difficult to slow down and relax, especially if the urge to push is apparent, but quick, short breaths (like blowing out candles) helps to control that urge and relax the birth canal. This pause allows the perineal skin to slowly adjust to it’s new stretched state before the next push. Simply waiting for a few short seconds for the ring of fire to slowly ease up before the next push can dramatically reduce tearing instead of pushing through the ring of fire, which forces the perineum to stretch too quickly and tear.

BODY-LED PUSHING: Body led pushing allows you to listen to your body, so you can push with contractions and with the foetal ejection reflex and also to slow down through the ring of fire. All of these factors help to reduce tearing.

These points can often become difficult to remember during the hormonal/mental “rush” and loss of focus you may experience during the transition and pushing stage. Hiring a doula who can help guide you through this process can be a huge help.

Effectively Caring For Your Tear

• Lean forward during urination (also known as “hugging your knees”) to prevent the urine coming into contact with the wound which can cause it to sting.

• Salt water: Spraying the area often with a water/spray bottle, dabbing gently with soaked cotton wool and/or shallow salt baths are ideal methods for cleaning the area.

• A high fibre diet and plenty of water to prevent constipation can ease the pressure exerted on the injury during bowel movements.

• Change your maternity pad often to keep the area as clean and dry as possible.

• A small, soft cushion to sit on can help ease pressure and discomfort on the injury.

• Sitting down, standing up, crouching, and walking up/down stairs slowly can help ease pressure.

• A good, safe painkiller can help with the discomfort and pain.

• Initiating sex slowly and with a generous amount of lubrication can help prevent irritation and further injury to the site. Remember to try and avoid intercourse during the first six weeks after the birth to avoid possible infection or injury. Exploring other forms of foreplay and intimacy is highly encouraged instead.

♥   ♥   ♥

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Birthing Big Babies

There is a popular argument, often used by care provider’s to schedule inductions and cesareans, yet there is also an increase of misinformation and lack of proper evidence-based education around it too; this argument is about birthing big babies, also known as macrosomia.

Some professionals consider babies to be “big” when weighing 4000g at birth while others consider the limit to be 4500g at birth.

Babies born between 4kg and 4.5kg occur in roughly 9.1% of babies born to mothers without diabetes (type 1, 2 or gestational), in 11.1% to mother’s with gestational diabetes (before 39 weeks), and in 13.9% to mothers with type 1 or 2 diabetes (before 39 weeks). Evidence shows that women with diabetes who manage their condition and weight with adequate exercise and diet can reduce their risk of a macrosomia birth. So, figures for big babies being born are relatively low despite the high number of macrosomia predictions. Evidence also shows that a care provider’s suspicion of a big baby is 3 to 4.25 times more harmful than a woman who actually has a big baby without any suspicion (regarding induction, cesarean and maternal complication).

Big babies are most common with:
• Mothers who have any form of diabetes
• A genetic family history of consecutive big babies
• Male babies
• High BMI or excessive pregnancy weight gain
• Having had a previous macrosomia birth

1. Ultrasound Predictions

Are ultrasound predictions correct? The short answer here is actually ‘no’. In fact, evidence has shown that an ultrasound weight prediction/measurement is incorrect up to almost 80% of the time and can be off by up to 500g either way (in some cases it has been more than 500g) and also shows no difference in accuracy between 2D and 3D ultrasounds and MRI scans. In fact, only about 50% of the time, ultrasounds are actually correct in predicting a “big” baby. However, because ultrasound measurements are an unreliable source of factual information, permanent medical decisions shouldn’t be made on the basis of ultrasound results alone; it is considered unethical and your care provider should always inform you that ultrasound results for weight predictions are mostly ineffective and unreliable. This helps you to have clear communication with them while enabling you to make an informed decision for your birth. A trial of labour should always be a first and viable option before an induction or cesarean when birthing a suspected big baby.

2. Small Body or Pelvis

Evidence shows that a woman’s height and weight actually have no correlation to the size and shape of her pelvis and should not be used as medical evidence for an induction or cesarean. In fact, a truly small pelvis (also known as CPD, cephalopelvic disproportion) is actually rare and occurs in less than 1% of women, and even then, a high of 65% of CPD women have managed to give natural birth successfully. The most accurate way to assess if a woman truly has a small pelvis is with a trial of labour or with a physical exam and ultrasound measurement of the babies head. However, slow dilation or slow labour progress is often used by care providers as a CPD diagnosis, even despite both mom and baby being healthy and happy; this is not evidence based and can lead to greater risk for mother and child. Studies show that labour should be allowed to progress at it’s own individual pace if both mother and baby are not distressed.

3. Induction

An induction, like any intervention, carries its own risks and can increase your risk of a cesarean. An induction is not entirely necessary for a suspected big baby although evidence shows that early induction may reduce the risk of shoulder dystocia from 7% to 4%

4. Scheduled Cesarean Section

Evidence shows that approximately 3700 unnecessary cesareans would be needed to prevent just one case of permanent injury caused from shoulder dystocia. Cesareans carry many risks for both mother and baby and a trial of labour is recommended first as a safer alternative before considering a cesarean.

5. Risks Of Birthing A Big Baby

SHOULDER DYSTOCIA: Evidence shows that only 7-15% of macrosomia babies actually struggle with this and most cases are handled safely with a trained care provider, generally an experienced midwife. Permanent nerve injuries due to shoulder dystocia only occurs in roughly 0.18% of babies and the biggest concern for care providers with this is legal litigation.
It’s imperative that you find a care provider who is well experienced in handling shoulder dystocia while also understanding the risks before deciding to sue, should complications result.

UNPLANNED CESAREAN: Approximately 19.3% to 27% of macrosomia births end in cesareans.

PERINEAL TEARING: Evidence shows that the risk of 3rd and 4th degree tears for macrosomia births was around 1.7% to 3% (vs 0.9% for non-macrosomia babies).

POSTPARTUM HEMORRHAGE: Evidence shows that the risk of PPH for macrosomia births was 4.7% to 6% (vs 2.3% for non-macrosomia babies) and these cases are inconclusive when proving if PPH was due to the big baby itself or from the inductions and cesareans recommended by care providers.

NEWBORN COMPLICATIONS AND STILL BIRTHS: Has varying evidence and can be viewed here.

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Below are some extra resources for your reading. I recommend you research your facts and options thoroughly and discuss the evidence with your care provider to make an informed decision for your birth.
https://www.google.com/url…
https://www.google.com/url…
https://americanpregnancy.org/…/cephalopelvic-disproportion/

♥   ♥   ♥

Visit my shop! I have an assortment of handwoven rebozos and unique, gentle aromatherapy products for your baby; all handmade with love and care.

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Choosing A Care Provider

Choosing the right care provider for your birth can often be a daunting and somewhat confusing process, especially if it’s your first pregnancy or birth.

“What is their role?”, “How do/can they help?”, “How are they different?”, “What about emergencies?”, “How much do they cost?”, “Who can I trust more?”, “Who will give me the birth I’m hoping for?”

There are so many questions you may have when choosing a care provider (midwife, GP or gynea) so let’s explore each one:

1. The Midwife

Choosing a midwife for your birth is the perfect option when considering the following:

• You have a low risk pregnancy.
• You want a vaginal or natural birth.
• You want an unmedicated birth (no epidural/opiates).
• You want minimal risky interventions.
• You want a body led birth.
• You want an active labour/birth.
• You want a doula.
• You want a less “clinical” and more “comfortable” experience.
• You’re considering lower costs.
• You want someone to walk a personal road with you to assist you prenatally and postnatally as well.
• You want someone with a specialised and extraordinary amount of experience with normal vaginal births.
• You want a home birth.
• You’re birthing at a private home birth centre.

Midwives generally have the highest amount of experience with natural/vaginal births. They do not diagnose patients and do not conduct specialised procedures such as ultrasound scans, surgeries, etc. They often work alongside a gynaecologist as a back up option for any emergencies that may arise.

2. The GP (Obstetric)

A GP (general practitioner) is a general doctor, rarely a specialist… The same doctor you visit if you’re ill? That’s the one. Some of them specialise slightly further into the obstetric field with extra training and some are currently specialising into the gynea/obstetric medical field.
Things to consider about a GP:

• They support low risk births and only a few “high risk” births, depending on the individual case.
• They conduct mostly vaginal births with a back up Gynea as a lot of them are not yet trained or qualified in major surgery.
• They are more medically specialised than a midwife and can diagnose cases and prescribe stronger drugs that carry higher risk.
• Some may/may not conduct ultrasound scans.
• Fewer GP’s work alongside doulas (due to preference and clinical facility policies).
• They conduct births in a more clinical environment.
• Can conduct more interventions than midwives due to their specialisation.
• May/may not allow more active labours/births (depending on preferences, facilities, policies and procedures).
• They can be slightly more expensive than a midwife but not quite as pricey as a specialist/ gynaecologist.
• They may assist less prenatally and less postnatally (normally only for a 6 week check-up or emergencies).
• May have less experience than a midwife with conducting births (in general) as their field often extends beyond just childbirth.
• Very rarely conduct home births, if at all.
• Very rarely conduct births at private home birthing centres, if at all.

3. The Obstetric Gynecologist

An obstetric gynaecologist is a specialised medical doctor, trained in major surgery and high risk emergencies. Their skills are specialised in the area of female reproduction, including labour and childbirth (obstetrics).
When considering a gyneacologist, keep the following in mind:

• They are specialists for high risk and emergency cases and this may be your only care provider option of you have a high risk pregnancy.
• They are predominantly surgeons and may conduct more cesareans than vaginal births due to their specialisation and field of expertise.
• They are specialised in more high risk procedures and interventions than midwives and GPs.
• They can conduct ultrasounds.
• Not all gyneacologists work alongside doulas (due to preferences, facilities, policies and procedures).
• Conduct births in highly clinical environments (due to emergencies and surgery).
• Can conduct more interventions (especially high risk interventions) due their specialisation.
• May/may not allow active labours/births (depending on preferences, facilities, policies and procedures).
• Because they are a specialist, they can cost a lot more than a midwife and/or GP.
• They may assist less prenatally and less postnatally than a midwife (normally only for a 6 week check-up or emergencies).
• May have less experience than a midwife with conducting births in general (especially vaginal/natural births) due to their specialisation and their field of expertise often extending beyond just childbirth.
• Very rarely conduct home births, if at all.
• Very rarely conduct births at private home birthing centres, if at all.

It is important to understand what type of pregnancy you have (high/low risk) and what type of journey and birth you desire to help yourself make an informed decision on which care provider best suits your situation, needs, budget and preferences.

What about Doulas?

Doulas are not medically trained and do not conduct any form of medical duties like a midwife, GP or gynea. But, unlike medical care providers, a doula’s support is more ‘personal’ (focusing also on emotional, mental, intimate, and sometimes even spiritual support).

Doulas are support members who may be further trained in additional natural/holistic therapies that offer alternative options from standard allopathic healthcare for relief and comfort (such as hypnobirthing, rebozo technique, acupressure, meditation, yoga, aromatherapy, herbalism, reiki, massage, etc.)

They basically support and “coach” a woman through labouring comfortably, effectively and safely while assisting the birth partner by encouraging their participation and relieving them of mundane duties (cleaning, music, environment, fetching food/drink, running a bath, etc.), and providing information. Doulas may also care for and facilitate young siblings attending the birth.
As a whole, a doula guides and facilitates the birth process and birth environment to assist the couple in having a calm, relaxed and empowered birth experience with minimal stress, distraction and discomfort.
Doulas work alongside a woman’s care provider as part of the birth team unit but works exclusively for the birthing mother according to her needs, preferences and expectations.

Doulas generally have personal experience in childbirth (vaginal or cesarean) and are further trained into the knowledge of the physiological aspects of pregnancy, labour, birth, and postpartum.
Some doulas may be further trained in bereavement and trauma situations to emotionally support and facilitate a mother and/or couple through high risk births, emergencies or even painful/traumatic birth outcomes.

Doulas cost a lot less than care providers and often walk a more personal/intimate road with a mother/couple prenatally (regardless of her risk factor), during labour and birth (regardless of the type of birth), and postnatally.

Read here for more information on doulas.

♥   ♥   ♥

Visit my shop! I have an assortment of handwoven rebozos and unique, gentle aromatherapy products for your baby; all handmade with love and care.

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The Infant Microbiome

What Is The Infant Microbiome?

The infant microbiome is often misunderstood and its importance is greatly underestimated.
The microbiome seeding event at birth, immediately after birth and the months following, is vital for a baby and establishes the foundation of the infant’s immune system which has a lifetime impact on that child, later influencing immune function, nutrient absorption, digestion, hormonal function, metabolism, neurocognitive function, and even general moods.

About 80% of the immune system resides in the gut, which is colonized with trillions of bacteria of different kinds, both good and bad.
In adults, this ecosystem of bacterial colonies is already matured and abundant, but in an infant, this ecosystem is only beginning to form and it can take up to 3 or 4 years for a child’s microbiome to be properly established.

In the first 4 to 6 months after birth, an infant lacks the protective covering of good bacteria (known as probiotics) in their gut that prevents toxin and harmful parasites from entering the body. This is also commonly known as “open gut” in infants, meaning that small open pockets in the gut are present which allow direct access to the infant’s blood stream, increasing their susceptibility to sickness, infection and disease. The function of the colonization of good bacteria (probiotics) in the gut, is to fill in these little pockets, creating less opportunity for undesirable microbes to enter the baby’s body which may cause illness or disease.

The effective colonization of good bacteria in the gut also helps to “crowd out” any bad bacteria which creates a balanced microbiota in the gut, preventing any overreaction or under-reaction to gut stimuli in the infant. This is crucial for optimal immune function.

Certain good bacteria are even capable of producing certain vitamins (such as vitamin B and K). Other good bacteria in the gut help with the absorption of nutrients which is vital for an infant’s overall health, growth and development.

Some of these good bacteria produce neurochemicals, which is vital for the neurocognitive development of the infant and the development of neurotransmitters (chemicals responsible for carrying electric impulse messages between neurons from the brain to the body). Some good bacteria also influence hormone function.

A gut that is insufficient in the correct combination and balance of microbes can result in an immune system that does not develop correctly which can lead to a myriad of long term health problems, including type 1 diabetes, asthma, celiac disease, chronic hormonal dysfunctions, mood disorders, IBS, and more.

Vaginal births, immediate skin-to-skin, and exclusive breastfeeding are the vital seeding events which establish, build, maintain, and strengthen the infant microbiome. In the next 3 days, I will be covering the importance of each of these seeding events and how they influence the healthy development of the infant microbiome.

The First Seeding Event: Vaginal Mode Of Delivery

During pregnancy, the microflora in the woman’s gut and vagina changes in preparation for the birth of the baby; colonies of good bacteria rapidly multiply and strengthen while the mother’s own DNA and epigenetics in each bacteria is getting ready to be passed from mother to infant.

During birth, the baby passes through the vagina and millions of vaginal microorganisms totally encompass the baby. These same microorganisms will enter the baby’s body through the baby’s mouth, eyes, nose and ears.
This is the foundational introduction to the establishment of the infant’s microbiome.

This vaginal flora is intricately designed to pass on important, maternal-generational, genetic information to help the infant’s developing immune system identify and respond to undesirable microorganisms, while creating the foundation upon which the baby’s immune system will be established and matured from. This moment, of the baby passing through the vagina, is incredibly vital for the establishment of the infant microbiome and the baby’s first introduction to the living, microscopic world.

Quite often, before or during the onset of labour, a woman will experience rapid bowel movements, even diarrhea. Apart from the physiological purpose of “emptying the bowels to make space for the baby”, there is another crucial element to this event – the microscopic world of fecal matter.

The ideal position of a baby during birth is a posterior position; this means that the baby is facing backwards. This is so important for the microbiome. As, the baby’s head crowns and passes out of the vagina, its face (which is facing the mother’s rectum) is introduced to a whole world of microscopic fecal bacteria. This exposes the baby to both good and bad bacteria, perfect for the first “battle” of the immune system and to help the body identify which bacteria is good and which bacteria is bad.

Although efforts are being made to mimic this introduction for cesarean born babies (through vaginal swabs) there are still so many more benefits to a natural birth for both mother and baby. However, the fact that efforts are being made is extraordinary as it is working to protect the passing down of generational, maternal microbiota and minimizing long term health complications for the generations to come by protecting the development of the infant microbiome. However, these efforts should not be used as an excuse to minimize natural deliveries while promoting unnecessary cesareans either.

The best way to introduce an infant to the microscopic world and establish their microbiome, naturally, with the lowest risk, is via a vaginal mode of delivery.

The Second Seeding Event: Skin To Skin

There are so many profound benefits of skin to skin during the immediate first hour after birth and the weeks following; it helps to regulate a baby’s body temperature, blood sugar levels and breathing, while stabilizing a baby’s neurological system and general emotional state, and further developing it’s microbiome.

During labour, a woman’s body temperature begins to rise; the release of hormones and extreme physical demands of labour cause this to happen. This rise in body temperature causes the woman to sweat, creating the perfect environment for bacterial colonies to rapidly multiply on the surface of her skin: warm and moist. Both good and bad bacteria multiply rapidly on the surface of her skin in preparation for the moment the baby is born and is placed directly on the mother’s naked skin.

Once the baby is placed skin to skin with the mother, the bacteria on the mother’s skin sticks to the vernix that is covering the new born baby. By delaying the baby’s first bath by between 24 hours and a week, you not only reap the benefits of the protective and moisturizing properties of the vernix for the baby’s skin and the hormonal, physiological properties for the mother, but it allows the newly acquired maternal bacteria to establish itself onto and into the infant’s skin creating a protective form of immunity for it, reducing the risk of skin rashes, inflammation, sensitivity and skin diseases.

This maternal bacteria is also transferred from mother to baby via the mouth, nose, ears and eyes when the baby begins to root for the breast during the first hour after birth. By nuzzling it’s face into the mother’s chest and licking and suckling at the breast site, the infant is acquiring vital bacteria that will enter it’s body and become an integral part of the gut’s microbiome, adding new forms of bacteria that are not found in the mother’s vagina or rectum which the infant acquired during the birth. By increasing the variety of bacterial colonies in the gut, the microbiome becomes more complex and established which is beneficial for the infant’s long term health.

The 3rd Seeding Event: Exclusive Breastfeeding

There are many benefits to breastfeeding for both mother and child, and one of these benefits is building, maintaining and strengthening the infant’s microbiome.
It provides a wide range of nutrition, immune components, hormones, anti-inflammatories, antibodies, and roughly 700 types of different microbes which are extremely vital to building the infant’s microbiome. Also, every time a baby breastfeeds, the added benefit of more skin to skin bacteria from the breast and nipple is transferred to the baby through the mouth, further building the microbiome.

Exclusive breastfeeding is vital for the first 6 months of an infant’s life, specifically because of their “open” gut. Good bacteria is needed in abundance to fill in the empty pockets in the gut that leave direct access for a bad bacteria to enter the infant’s bloodstream, and an infant will have this “open” gut for the first 4 to 6 months after birth.
Breast milk is intricately designed in a special way that one of it’s responsibilities is to coat the gut with protective enzymes which further helps to “cover” the empty pockets in the gut, preventing bad bacteria from entering into the baby’s bloodstream.
Supplementing with anything else but breast milk (water, formula, juice, solids) during this time causes severe damage to this gut lining formed by the breast milk, increasing the risk of bad bacteria entering the bloodstream and causing illness to the infant. This damage to the milk lining is caused from as early as the first supplementation.

Another incredible element to breast milk are the HMO’s (human milk oligosaccharides). These are special sugars that are found only in breast milk that the infant is completely unable to digest. So why are they there?
These HMO’s can only be digested by the good bacteria in the baby’s gut, acting as a type of “food” for the right kind of bacteria in the infant’s gut that was acquired from the mother during the birth process. By providing a source of sustenance for the beneficial microbes in the infant’s gut, these microbes are able to rapidly multiply and colonize the gut which helps to “crowd out” any bad bacteria while training and strengthening the baby’s developing immune system.

♥   ♥   ♥

Visit my shop! I have an assortment of handwoven rebozos and unique, gentle aromatherapy products for your baby; all handmade with love and care.

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