Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Doula's Basic Guide To Nourishing Your Pregnancy

Technically, it takes very little to have a decent birth experience. Most women can squat in a forest and have a baby without any instructions, never mind interventions. Of course, things happen beyond our control, but MOST of the time, the process works fine. I have heard midwife Karen Strange say, "Birth is meant to work when noone else is there," and I believe that is true for the vast majority of birthings.

As a doula, I know for a fact that many outcomes that have been less than favourable have actually been caused by too much meddling with the process...too much doubt, too many attempts to control all contingencies. And I have also sadly seen not wonderful outcomes when there have been no interventions and there should have been. So, knowing as a reality there truly isn't much control over what direction a birth decides to take, there are ways you can increase your chance of a nice, happy birth. No guarantees, but a fighting chance doesn't hurt.

I've outlined a few steps on how to nourish yourself during pregnancy and beyond. Nourishment is a concept that goes far beyond just what you put in your mouth. It refers to anything you "digest" physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

1) Eat well.
Eating well is a very important aspect of prenatal care. It cannot be emphasized enough that good nutrition is essential to creating the best chances for the best outcome. I have seen women heal symptoms from the annoying to the dangerous by adjusting her diet. Your baby's optimal growth is dependent upon the food you take in. Yes, I know, even ladies in very poor circumstances can have reasonably healthy babies, but we're talking about optimal health. It's not hard to eat well....eating organically as much as possible is preferable, but if that is not possible, many find that simple, healthy food is actually a lot cheaper than processed food. Why not give it a go?

2)Exercise gently
Walking, yoga, swimming, bellydancing...these are all ways not just to nourish and tone your body and make you strong and supple for birth, but to help you connect more deeply to your centre. These exercises put you in a more meditative state, perhaps helping you discover areas you hold tension, and help you work through that tension.

3)Receive loving touch.
Massage, osteopathy, shiatsu, chiropractic...all of these things help you relax, aid in balancing and aligning your body, and work out aches and pains. They can also help you with somatic/emotional integration, as what often happens with receiving bodywork is a greater awareness of where unprocessed emotions tend to live in your body.

4)Gravitate towards those you have the best relationships with.
Loving, nurturing relationships are crucial to the wellbeing of the pregnant woman. Laughing with good friends, chlling with your mom, having great sex with your partner, consciously tending to and being tended help you grow your baby in an environment of love. If you're having challenges in your primary relationships, it's important to have a safe space to talk about these issues. If there were ever a time to get on top of challenges in your love relationship, now would be it for you and your partner to actively work on problems, either together intentionally, or with the help of a good counsellor. Things won't get easier after the birth of the baby. Being on the same page and figuring out each other's values surrounding parenting is something that should be worked out.

5)Work with your emotions.
Take inventory of some of the things in your life you'd like to explore, like fears around your changing identity from regular old you into a mother, fears about childbirth, or patterns you've outgrown but haven't found ways to change. Preparing for birth and motherhood is about creating space. When you can let go of some of the emotional energy you may be hanging onto, you have greater access to the resources you need to give birth and mother in a more grounded way. There are many tools you can use to process your emotions, from journaling, creating art, talking to loved ones, or talking to a trusted teacher/guide/therapist.

6)Surround yourself with beauty.
When your surroundings are clean and comfortable, you tend to feel like you have more space within as well as without. The nesting energy of later pregnancy tends to help us with this task. Taking walks outside in Nature and watching movies or things on TV that are uplifting, funny, or inspirational are probably healthier than subjecting yourself and your baby to the chemical reactions that inevitably occur when viewing something violent. Let the smells that suffuse your home be gentle, natural, and yummy, not harsh and chemically.

7)Breathe.
Learning to breathe deeply into all parts of your body to receive life giving energy, then breathing out tension is essential to help you achieve deep relaxation. Learning to focus your breath will help you cope with labour and moments of stress in parenting. Having something for your mind to chew on during labour can be really helpful, and breathing is a great tool. Practice it every day. If you are interested in breathing techniques for labour, you can find many resources to learn them. But practice. I find the most useful breath work is deep abdominal breathing, "ocean breath" of yoga, and vocalization to help release the intense sensations of labour. A great prenatal yoga teacher can be a gem to your pregnancy.

7)Educate yourself properly.
Reading a bunch of things about the birth process that are scary or alarmist doesn't really help you. Instead, focusing on positive stories of birth and breastfeeding will keep you less stressed, keeping in mind that stress affects your hormones, thus affects birthing and milk let down. You already know the unexpected can happen, but delving into all the possibilities just "to know" isn't as healthy as perhaps focusing on the couple of things that really stand out to you as frightening. If this is the case, focus on those and figure out what's bugging you and why. Do some emotional work around it to discover what energy is bound up with these fears. Don't let people tell you their horror stories about birth. Your hearing them will not help you "prepare".

Learning your birthing options is crucial to your education. As it's been said, "if you don't know your options, you don't have any." Your doula or midwife should be able to help you with this, and guide you towards the best resources to give you the most practical prenatal preparation education for birth and mothering. If you are being followed medically, talking to your doctor about your options is important to figure out the birthing terrain. Do a tour of your hospital to find out what sort of resources they have to support your desires. The last thing you want to be is vulnerable to medical interventions you don't want by not knowing your rights as a consumer of medical care. Private prenatal education tends to be more nuturing and helpful than hospital sponsored classes, though great teachers can be found here too if you don't have any other resources.

8)Gather support.
If you are going to give birth in a hospital, quite simply, you need a doula, especially if you are hoping for a low to no intervention birth experience and good start to breastfeeding. Hire a postpartum doula to help you build your confidence and make sure you are nurtured afterwards. Ask friends to bring you food if they want to visit. If you've ever thought about hiring help around the house, now would be a good time. Make sure your doctor or midwife are on board with your desires as much as possible. If your doctor or midwife make you feel small for asking questions, even LOTS of them, or don't honour you with straight answers, you probably don't have the appropriate caregiver for you. So CHANGE caregivers. I help people do this all the time. You are entitled to ask questions, and deserve their time of day. Remember, even if your doctor or midwife are truly too busy to give you the time you need (not because they're mean, but because there is a terrible shortage and they need to serve as many people as possible), a doula or good childbirth educator can help you fill in the blanks.

9)Slow down.
Growing a baby is a full time job, and often women work in worlds that look down upon pregnancy, or are not fully supportive of the physiological and emotional shifts that go on. Working right up 'til your due date is not something I normally recommend, unless your job is something that really nourishes you or you simply cannot afford to take the time off (in which case, make space where you can, at lunchtime or breaks). I know that my pregnancies were a very rich time of creative energy, and I needed time to bring forth those creations. Stopping to communicate with your baby inside, taking time to envision your birth, making space for emotional checking in...these are all important aspects of preparing for birth. Imagine working in a stressful environment right 'til the day you go into labour, your head full of "to do" lists and worries about "abandoning" your work? This could make labour...interesting.

10)Let go.
Now that you've done all your work, let it go. Your birth and breastfeeding experience will unfold as it will. The tools you have used to nourish yourself as fully as you can will serve you well to weather your experience. Knowing you did all you could to prepare yourself body, mind, and soul, you own your birth. You have taken responsibility. You have the resources to cope with all the richness and complexity that is your own unique birth and mothering experience.

Blessed birthing!