Birth Zen

I have three children, all born at home in a waterbirth, and I am a proponent of calm pregnancy, peaceful birth, breastfeeding, connected parenting, and informed choice in all things. I have contributed to several birth-related initiatives in Ottawa, including Mothers of Change, Consumers Supporting Midwifery Care, CHOICE! Birth and Baby film festival, and Holistic Birth Directory – a growing repository of holistic birth practitioners. Below are my notes on natural approach to pregnancy, childbirth, midwifery, breastfeeding, and childcare.

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Zen Transition to Motherhood – Is there life after birth?

The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.
— William Ross Wallace

Zen Transition to MotherhoodFor over three years, I have attempted to consolidate the bits of knowledge pertaining to the first year of the baby’s life: the challenges faced by the mama after birth, the baby care tips, the profound shift in perception of reality, coming into the new identity, and rebuilding daily routines around the new family structure. This year I have finally decided to put it into the form of an e-book, in hopes to help other mamas transition into this new phase of their life in a peaceful, loving way.

You might pick up this book while you are pregnant or shortly after you give birth. At its core there are gentle parenting principles and a common sense approach to reality. The key to productive zen is being present and enjoying the journey, and the book covers a variety of strategies for a smooth, peaceful babymoon and fourth trimester.

Stress has been shown to impact our health and ability to enjoy life. Stress is bombarding us every day in the form of external demands and internal pressures, and unless we learn to control the way we respond to stress, it can seriously affect our mental, emotional, and physical health. With the changing hormones and powerful emotions around the time of birth, we are so very vulnerable as new mamas — we need to find a way to get centered, to be present in each moment for ourselves, our babies, and our families.

In the book, I look in detail into the early postpartum weeks and discuss resources to let mama rest and recover after the birth, how to set up a meal train, address mama’s and baby’s health challenges, good supplies to have on hand, and ways to relax and find your center. The second part of the book goes into practical matters of harnessing the new routine, getting chores under control, mastering errands with the baby, and handling commitments. I also suggest many gentle ideas for entertainment and rest, so that we do not only feed our body, but feed our creative selves as well.

I hope that this book serves as a grounding, centering companion for new mamas. The book Zen Transition to Motherhood – Is there life after birth? is available for free at ProductiveZenMama.com.

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Lessons learned by the 6 month mark

I have not written much on procreation since my one-month postpartum post. The primary reason for it is that I am, naturally, very busy taking care of the baby and trying to keep all my projects going while at the same time working part-time. However, it is also very hard to decide what deserves to be a subject of a post without being a reiteration of the information widely available in baby books. And so, I decided to write now, as I’m nearing 6 months postpartum, about my experiences and how they might differ from what I would have expected if I fully trusted the baby books.

Alaric in stroller on River Walk, closeup, 5 months and 28 days oldMany books talk about “baby” as a creature that behaves in a certain way from birth to a year. Very few are making a distinction based on the age of the baby measured in months. When they talk about breastfeeding, the advice and descriptions of it are usually generic for any infant. Yet I found that the way my baby fed in the first (approximately) three months is quite different from the way he feeds now. Same goes for interactions, reactions to the outside world, and so on. Without knowing this difference based on the age, the changes observed in the infant’s behaviour would leave one uncertain in their approach to baby care.

Breastfeeding and distractions

During the first three months of his life, my baby could breastfeed for 20-30 minutes on end, snoozing satisfied against my breast. We started breastfeeding lying down within the first month and both found it the most comfortable. Later on, right around the three-month mark, he became more distracted by other things: play of light on the curtains, the cat passing by, sounds outside; and would not be content suckling for a long time. Now he also pulls away from the breast to smile at me and babble. He still seems to find breastfeeding the most comforting way to fall asleep, but it appears to be harder for him to fall asleep in general, since the big bright world around him is waiting to be explored.

Patience and meeting needs

In the first two months, the baby was crying loudly when he needed attention. We were very responsive: when his cries were demanding (as opposed to him lying in his crib upon awakening, cooing to himself) we attended to his needs right away, be that hunger, sleepiness, need for change or comfort. He would stop crying once his needs were met. He also started smiling socially early on, especially when we would talk or sing to him. Now, he has more patience when his needs are about to be attended to: he quiets down. He seems to understand when we acknowledge his distress and he stops complaining as he waits for what steps might be taken to rectify the discomfort. It seems, he connects certain places in the house with comfort: he stops crying when being carried to the change table (or if I bring a diaper to where he is) if he needs a change; when being put down on the bed with me lying down next to him if he is hungry; when being carried around and sung to if he is sleepy.

The baby also does not cry as much. He cries when scared or in pain, but if all he needs is a change or if he is bored, he complains instead by making sad noises, as if saying: I need some attention here, something is not right. Only if you repeatedly ignored his request, would he turn it into a demand made with shrilling noises or crying.

Interactions and entertainment

Alaric with socks off, looking at camera, 5 months and 27 days oldThe baby’s array of interactions is growing: he smiles when sung to and played with, laughs when tickled or talked to in a silly voice, gets scared of loud noises and sometimes from what appears to be a bad dream. He is excited when photos are being taken and sometimes smiles at the camera being pointed at him or at the sound of the shutter clicks. He likes the sound of a phone dialing a number and listens attentively to the one-sided conversation, sometimes attempting to participate. He is experimenting with a range of motion, trying to roll from his tummy to his back and vice versa, and trying to crawl (although not very successfully at this point).

For a few weeks, he appeared to be very concentrated on observing his hands and what they can do: grasping things, swatting at moving objects, banging on surfaces, pinching people, looking at his fingers and palms in wonder. Now, for about two weeks, he is exploring what his feet can do. The socks come off as soon as they are put on, he grabs his feet, moves them around, and tries to stick one into his mouth. He is behaving much more like a little human than like a scared blind puppy.

The baby loves being entertained in the past three-four months. He is listening attentively and looking at a book being read aloud to him, listening to the songs we sing, recognizing certain songs by the first line or by the melody and smiling in recognition. I have been also listening to some lectures, and he quiets down and listens attentively along with me.

Tummy time and toys

Alaric eating sobaka, smiling, 4 months and 19 days oldHe loves his tummy time: he is able to stay on his tummy without getting tired a lot longer than in the first couple of months, and usually expresses discomfort only when something else is uncomfortable: like when he is wet. Otherwise he can be on his tummy for long stretches of time, rolling over, wriggling around, and exploring toys and hands for much longer periods of time.

At first he looked at toys in passing, and did not play with them for long. Now he actively reaches for toys, can explore them for a long time, and greets his favourites with rapid leg movements and grasping hand gestures in excitement to grab the toy. He also does get bored with toys or activities and expresses it by throwing the toy away or complaining.

Plane flights and social occasions

We have taken his first airplane flight from Ottawa to Winnipeg to attend a family wedding when the baby was 5 months old. He took the flight quite well. I breastfed on take-off and landing, and my husband walked with him up and down the isle when the baby got uncomfortable, sleepy, or bored. The plane had a changing table (we flew by WestJet) in the bathroom at the back, which was quite tiny, but served its purpose. The baby seemed to be scared of the engine noise upon take-off the first time, so that he clung to me and looked at me with wide-open eyes. The breast and my reassuring tone seemed to have worked to calm him down, and he soon settled to sleep.

The wedding itself ended up being more stressful for the baby and myself than the airplane flight. The baby was bored and overwhelmed by so many people, so all he wanted to do was to be carried. We had a bouncy chair for him with toys, but he barely looked at them and demanded to be picked up. The loud music prevented him from sleeping which caused him to grow more and more upset. Sitting still was boring. Clapping after a slide show came unexpected and scared him. Even feeding would not get him more comfortable. My husband and I have carried him in the sling for the entire wedding, and came out of it quite drained.

A few times we hosted a get-together at our place and invited a few guests (from 1 to 17 people on different occasions). Those gatherings that occurred in the first three month were a trial on us. The baby would not settle down (unless people were quiet enough to let him sleep, which rarely happened) and we ended up taking turns attending to his needs instead of enjoying the company.

Alaric asleep on Kent at Connor's pub, face, 5 months and 28 days oldA few recent parties have turned out better: he was more involved in the proceedings, interacting with people, listening to conversations and music, and, when he was tired, being able to sleep in his own crib (noise levels allowing). So, in our case, it would have been better to limit the socializing in the early months to one or two people at a time, doing it later in the evening when the baby was mostly asleep, and with the people trying not to make too much noise. Living far away from family, however, limited our options, as we had to adjust to the times and numbers in which people could visit.

Starting in the early months and up until now, the best way to socialize with other adults has been going out for lunch. The baby is generally in a better mood earlier in the day, willing to take in new surroundings and interact with people, and does not mind sitting on our lap or lying next to us on the table and listening to the conversation. Sometimes we have to eat in turn, but that is not too hard to do during lunch as the portions are not huge and the lunch does not last for hours. And sometimes he just falls asleep on his papa and peacefully snoozes through a large portion of the outing.

Overall, the baby is now more comfortable in this new body of his, the respiratory and digestive systems are adjusted to the world outside the womb, and he knows that his needs will be attended to. Thus he is more willing to venture from his comfortable place at my side to explore the outside world, knowing that he can always retreat if the universe springs something too overwhelming on him.

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Belly cast

Belly castIn August (about a month before my due date, and a bit more before Alaric was actually born), I travelled to Julie Keon’s studio in Cobden for a belly casting session. The result of this session was a white body cast from shoulders to top of the legs including the arms and hands, made with hospital grade plaster-gauze strips. The cast remained with Julie for a few weeks to be completed, strengthened and painted the shade of blue I have picked leaving the centre of the belly white for further decoration.

Belly cast decorationJulie had dropped the cast off about three weeks after Alaric’s birthday, and I had it set up in the basement. After collecting the required paints and beads, I’ve been working on the cast in 10-minute increments when the opportunity presented itself. Finally, I have completed decorating my belly cast last week and Julie has stopped by to finish it with a matte varnish.

The decoration includes a Celtic knot circle with four Celtic signs, encircling the tree in fall colours to symbolize my autumn-born son.

The signs denote the following:

Celtic triquetraTriquetra: there are many interpretations of this symbol,
the one chosen here is mother, father, child.

Celtic arwenArwen: the first ray stands for male energy,
the third one for female energy, and the middle one for balance,
this is a Celtic version of Yin-Yang.

Celtic triple spiralTriple spiral: symbolizes female power,
a combination of powers of maiden, mother, crone.

Celtic spiralSingle spiral: birth and growth, evolution,
surrender, release,
awareness of the one within the context of the whole.

The cast will serve as Alaric’s birth token and as a reminder of the ever-changing form of female body in childbirth – the memory of those changes already fading.

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Breastfeeding

Early on in my pregnancy, when my doula asked me whether I was planning to breastfeed, I was baffled by this question. Being raised in Russia, I did not understand what was being asked. I am having a baby, the baby needs to be nourished, that’s what the breasts are for, hence – yes, of course I would be breastfeeding.

After reading more literature regarding postpartum, I realized that in North America formula is for some reason considered a viable alternative to breastfeeding (and not just an emergency measure), and breast- versus formula-feeding is a hot political topic. Leaving out serious medical conditions (of which there are very few) that would prevent a woman from breastfeeding, most alleged benefits of formula-feeding presented in literature were “being able to tell how much your baby consumes” and “convenience for the woman”. The first sounds like an argument from the same way of reasoning as that encouraging incessant weighing of the woman during pregnancy, as if weight is the main gauge of the baby’s or the mother’s health. This information can be obtained from the number of wet and poopy diapers put forth by the baby. The second one never made sense to me: how can you weigh your baby’s health and optimal nutrition which are extremely important to the baby’s well-being against such a petty thing as convenience? Pregnancy is not exactly a convenient affair, yet we understand and bear the limitations placed on the woman to ensure the health of the offspring. Labour is not a very pleasant or convenient experience either, yet we go through it and endure needed interventions for the sake of a healthy baby. Now that the baby is born, suddenly our convenience takes precedence and their nutrition is a secondary consideration?

I will leave out the discussion of the benefits of breast milk, the inferiority of the formula, and the unethical practices of formula-producing corporations such as Nestle – enough information sources exhaustively cover these facts. I will also omit detailed descriptions of common issues such as engorgement, blocked ducts, mastitis, and tongue-tie, as they are described in detail in “Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding” which I highly recommend to have on hand to look up this information if and when it becomes necessary. I will cover a few tips to which I arrived through my experience and found helpful.

Tongue tie is a condition that can interfere with breastfeeding. A baby with a tongue tie has a hard time latching on and effectively getting milk. It is easily fixable with a simple procedure, but getting a doctor to perform it might prove a challenge. I cover it in Tongue Tie and Breastfeeding. There are many opinions regarding alcohol consumption while breastfeeding – my research and references to many sources are covered in Alcohol and Breastfeeding.

Correct latch is extremely important in breastfeeding, to ensure that mother’s nipples do not get sore, and that the baby can effectively draw milk from the breast. A number of educational videos are available at the Dr. Jack Newman’s site, showing babies from several hours old to several days old latching on. They also illustrate finger feeding, cup feeding, using a lactation aid, and a tongue tie release.

If you find yourself having a plugged milk duct or mastitis, look into echinacea as soon as possible: used in the first 24 hours it might prevent the infection (see “Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding” for detailed instructions). After that, if infection is developing, antibiotics might be necessary. Dr. Jack Newman recommends taking soy lecithin as a preventative measure against plugged ducts: “It may do this by decreasing the viscosity (stickiness) of the milk, by increasing the percentage of polyunsaturated fatty acids in the milk.  It is safe, inexpensive, and seems to work in some cases.  The dose is 1200 mg four times a day.”

Useful aids for breastfeeding include:

  1. Nursing bras (I am quite happy with Bravado ones) of which you will need several, since at least one of them is going to be in the wash at any given time.
  2. Breastfeeding pads – I have tried the organic cotton ones, and although they are environmentally friendly and all, they turned out to be extremely ineffective as they (a) tend to shift around, and (b) are soaked with milk in a very short period of time. I found that disposables work much better – they absorb the milk effectively, last longer, and are held in place better. I have settled on the Lansinoh pads. My doula also mentioned Johnson and Johnson as her pads of choice.
  3. Lanolin ointment for nipples, which can be applied after a feeding and does not have to be removed before the next feeding as it is safe for the baby (such as Lansinoh lanolin recommended by La Leche League). In the case of cracked or sore nipples, expressing some breastmilk, applying it to the nipples, letting them air-dry and then applying lanolin can help them heal.
  4. Breastfeeding cushion (such as Boppy) makes it much easier to breastfeed when sitting. Without it, you might need several normal pillows to achieve a comfortable position that does not put a strain on your back and arms. Considering that a baby breastfeeds every two to three hours on average, being comfortable during that time is crucial if you are to be able to perform any other tasks.

Learning to breastfeed lying down is one of the most useful things I have learned. It is easier on the back and arms, and allows the baby to easily drift to sleep after a feeding. During night-time feedings, neither the mother nor the baby has to fully wake up to feed. Combined with co-sleeping, some people find it the most comfortable way to breastfeed.

Breastfeeding in public

When breastfeeding in public, you have rights which include the right to breastfeed in any place where you are allowed to be with your baby, and not being required to cover up. These rights are protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. There is a card you can carry with you to show to those people not educated on the subject that try to infringe on your rights.

Some people say that covering up is a matter of manners. Those people do not understand the issues that might be encountered by large-breasted women for whom it might be hard to fully cover up, by babies that will refuse to breastfeed with a “breastfeeding burka” covering them and separating them from their mother’s face, by babies that have trouble latching on and women not being able to guide them in a latch due to lack of visibility, by babies that pull away if the there is too much milk, and other possible breastfeeding issues. Let these people try eating their dinner under a blanket and see how they enjoy it. Same goes for those suggesting that you feed your baby in a bathroom – let them take their food there.

There are those who say that a woman should pump and bring a bottle to a public place instead of breastfeeding in public. However, a baby being in an unfamiliar place might want the comfort of the mother as well as food, and the bottle will not provide that. Would you rather endure a crying baby than a small amount of boob mostly covered by the baby’s head anyway? There are those who think that a breastfeeding woman should stay home or go out only without the baby. This implies having a second person at home watching the baby (which is rarely possible for those of us who do not have relatives living in the same city), the baby being fed on schedule (as opposed to on-demand), or the woman only being able to go out in no more than 2 hour increments, between feedings. These people can place themselves under a house arrest. Breastfeeding women need to be able to go out and share the world with their children, not be confined to four walls.

Magazine covers and scantily-clad women walking around show a lot more breast and thigh than breastfeeding women ever do, yet no one seems to object much. If the society finds that acceptable, it can survive an occasional reminder of humans being mammals.

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Alcohol and breastfeeding

The issue of alcohol consumption while breastfeeding is one of the most debatable ones and it is hard to find reliable information on it. However, I was able to dig out the following:

There is a rough calculator of the length of time that alcohol will be present in breast milk, depending on the number of drinks and the mother’s body weight. As a general guideline, it takes as long for alcohol to clear the milk as it does for the blood alcohol level to subside. Alcohol taken with food takes longer to clear out of the system. Motherisk provides a reference table that can be used for the calculation as well.

Motherisk also has a good article on drinking alcohol while breastfeeding, including references to several studies on the subject. They state that “Because alcohol elimination follows zero-order kinetics, drinking water, resting, or ‘pumping and dumping’ breast milk will not accelerate elimination. Unlike urine, which stores substances in the bladder, alcohol is not trapped in breast milk, but is constantly removed as it diffuses back into the bloodstream.” It takes longer to process high-alcohol drinks as opposed to beer or wine. The amount of alcohol passed to the baby through breast milk is around 2% of the entire alcohol content consumed by the mother, much less than the amount passed through the placenta in a pregnant woman.

The statement that alcohol increases milk production and stimulates let-down due to relaxing the mother appears to be a myth. Beer might increase prolactin levels and milk production, however this appears to not be due to ethanol, but possibly to barley. Thus non-alcoholic beer should do the trick as well. One study suggested that there was a 23% reduction in breast milk production due to alcohol consumption.

American Academy of Pediatrics provides a listing of drugs and their effect on breast milk.

La Leche League states that consumption of one drink or less per day has not been shown to have a negative effect on the baby. Excessive alcohol consumption is harmful to the baby and should be avoided.

Dr. Jack Newman says: “Reasonable alcohol intake should not be discouraged at all.  As is the case with most drugs, very little alcohol comes out in the milk.  The mother can take some alcohol and continue breastfeeding as she normally does.  Prohibiting alcohol is another way we make life unnecessarily restrictive for breastfeeding mothers.”

So, it appears that drinking one drink or less per day shortly after a feeding and waiting the appropriate amount of time (depending on the mother’s body weight) before the next feeding is the best approach if the mother does not want to avoid alcohol altogether.

If you are dealing with substance addiction, the Desert Hope resource page provides many studies and resources designed to help understand the basics of addiction and to offer guidance to help women safely stop drug and alcohol use.

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Tongue-tie and breastfeeding

The first issue I had to face was that my baby was born with a tongue-tie. This is a (often genetic) condition where the frenulum (the little piece of skin attaching the tongue to the bottom of the mouth) is too short and does not allow the baby to fully stick the tongue out. In severe cases, the tongue looks upside-down-heart-shaped and can prevent the person from being able to perform motions many of us take for granted, such as licking an ice-cream cone. In moderate and severe cases, the tongue-tie can interfere with breastfeeding by impeding the latch, and can lead to speech impediments later in life. In our case, the tongue-tie was moderate, but it did prevent the baby latching on correctly which lead to significant nipple soreness.

Tongue-tie can be fixed with a simple procedure: all that a doctor has to do is to clip the frenulum to allow for the tongue to extend further. The procedure is not painful as the part that needs to be clipped does not contain capillaries, and it takes less than a minute. Unfortunately, in Ontario, midwives do not have a right to perform this procedure (even though they can perform perineum stitching after labour which is much more involved), and doctors refuse to do it. Yes, you read that correctly. They can, the majority just chooses not to. One of the orthodontic surgeons, to whom we were referred as a specialist on the issue, told us that we should not do anything about the issue for a year! Add to this a virtual impossibility of finding a GP or a pediatrician for the baby (as most Ottawa doctors are not taking new patients), and you are stuck with a tongue-tied hungry baby who cannot effectively breastfeed.

I will spare you the detailed description of a range of emotions I went through while dealing with this frustrating artificial problem that could so easily be solved if people were reasonable. I had to pump first colostrum and then milk, and finger-feed the baby with a suringe. We got lucky: after a letter written by my midwife to a pediatrician at one of the hospitals, the hospital nurse called us (after we have called every place we could, had a lactation consultant visit, and went to a breastfeeding drop-in with a three-day old baby). She was very understanding since, as it happens, her baby had had a tongue-tie as well and she knew what we were going through, so she was able to get us an appointment the next day to see the pediatrician. The procedure did take less than a minute and the baby didn’t even cry – he was more uncomfortable with being held still than with the clipping itself. We were able to start breastfeeding effectively the same day. A video of a tongue tie release is available at Dr. Jack Newman’s site.

A tongue-tie can only be fixed by clipping. It is not painful and the baby can breastfeed right after the procedure. Without fixing the issue, the baby might not ever be able to latch correctly. Many doctors who are not educated about breastfeeding dismiss it as a minor issue easily fixable with bottle-feeding. Let them pump every two to three hours or feed their baby inferior food in the form of formula, and then maybe they will come to understand the issues involved. Alas, many are still ignorant of the issues surrounding the so-perceived feeding “choices”. If you find yourself in this frustrating situation, persevere to try finding a doctor to perform the procedure. Enlist the help of a lactation consultant if possible. I was told that some women drive to Toronto from Ottawa (5-6 hour drive) shortly after giving birth with a tiny infant, so they can get a tongue-tie clipped at the Jack Newman’s clinic, as that is easier than trying to find a doctor in Ottawa who would be able to do it without booking the appointment months in the future. Clearly, there is an issue here that needs resolution.

There is a comprehensive site at http://www.tonguetie.net/ that has loads of information on tongue-tie and its implications. Dispelling Breastfeeding Myths blog has another wonderful blog post on the politics of tongue tie.

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First month baby care – lessons learned

He turned the stiff pages in horrified fascination. They opened into another world, a world of quite stupefying problems… It was amazing, he decided after reading a few pages, that a swamp dragon ever survived to see a second sunrise. Even walking across a room must be reckoned a biological triumph… They lived on a chemical knife-edge the whole time. One misplaced hiccup and they were geography… Omnivores or not, what they must really live on was their nerves, flapping apologetically through the world in mortal fear of their own digestive system. [Terry Pratchett, “Guards! Guards!”]

Below are a few tips at which I have arrived via research and experimentation. These strategies have helped me, although there is no guarantee all of them will work with your baby. Do check with your doctor or midwife if you have any concerns.


Addressing the baby’s needs

As long as you can meet the baby’s needs before his signals escalate to an ear-piercing cry, you can keep your baby happy and yourself sane. The key to address the baby’s crying is to try a change of state. If he is unhappy about something within his current environment, we have to change it to get him comfortable again. Checking whether he needs to be changed, burped, fed, held, rocked, or be in a different position is relatively simple, as long as you remember that the fact that you just changed him 2 minutes ago does not mean you should skip the possibility of him needing a change again.

If none of these work, there are some other tricky possibilities: for instance, the baby might have painful gas and not be able to get rid of it (burping sometimes helps, but might not). The gas problem stems from the digestive system being immature during the so-called fourth trimester (the first 3 months of the baby’s life), and just like a swamp dragon from the Discworld, the baby is bound to have all kinds of digestive issues often with explosive results. Trying to burp the baby, change his position, or rock him might resolve the immediate discomfort. Another thing that seems to work at times is a belly massage going in clockwise circles (to follow the direction of the intestines). If you have a bouncer seat, the vibration mode might also help dislodge those painful gas bubbles.

If the baby is overstimulted or exhausted (which can happen when he is in an unfamiliar environment, surrounded by new/loud/unexpected sounds or voices, too wound up after a bath, a play session, or any other energy-releasing activity), he wants to rest, but might not be able to get to sleep on his own. At this point, you can try holding and rocking him, or feeding him (as this provides comfort and allows him to fall asleep next to mom’s body with its familiar breathing and heart-beating sounds). Anything can interrupt the fragile state of being almost asleep, such as an inopportune phone call or a bout of hiccups. The baby is suddenly wide awake again, tired, and angry at not being able to rest. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to get him back to the sleepy state besides retrying rocking or feeding again. This can keep going in cycles as there are many unexpected distractions, external (such as a door bell) and internal (such as a painful gas bubble), that can jerk the baby awake again. It might be possible to stop hiccups by breastfeeding the baby. To get him back to sleep, you can try rocking him, singing to him, or going for a walk (fresh air sometimes helps) if the weather allows.

Getting things done

They say that when you are taking care of a baby, you can try planning one not baby-related thing  to accomplish in a day, and if by the end of the day you are half way through it, you should consider it a success. This is especially true with high needs babies that require constant attention and are not happy when you put them down for even a moment, day or night.

In our case, some days I’m able to do more than others, but that depends directly on the baby being happy and cooperating, something over which I only have a limited amount of control. Here are a few productivity tips I have learned so far:

  1. Break up the activities into pieces that can be done in 10 or 15 minute increments, and can safely be interrupted and left half-done. Return to them when you have another 10 minutes.
  2. Involve the baby in the activity you are doing: for instance, you can sing a song while sorting laundry or put the baby close to you when doing yoga, so he can observe your movements. This will prevent him from getting bored.
  3. Have several projects set up and ready to be worked on: for instance, I have a belly cast set up in the basement that needs decorating, together with paints for it so I can paint a piece of the decoration whenever I have a few minutes; I have several books started which are strategically placed around the house to allow me to grab one when I’m feeding the baby or having a snack; I have a puzzle opened and set up on the table so I can put a few pieces in; the laundry bin is handy and all the dirty things are consistently put into it, so I can throw it into the washer at any time of day or night, etc.
  4. Have a to-do list with your projects broken down in small sub-tasks. A glance at the list will allow you to quickly pick a sub-task that can be done within the time you have available with the noise level you can allow for (in case the baby is asleep you might have to avoid the extremely noisy activities). This list will also serve as a reminder of the tasks that need doing, since it is too easy to forget things when you are existing in a constantly-interrupted state.
  5. Keep running shopping lists (by store) so you can quickly grab those and go whenever an opportunity arises to get to a particular store.
  6. Combine tasks that can be performed in close proximity to each other (such as in the basement, or in the kitchen) – it will save you time.
  7. Put things that need recurring attention to wherever they are easiest to remember. For instance, I have the infant vitamin D drops by the bed, so that when I feed the baby there I remember to give him his vitamin. If I had it stashed away in a medicine cabinet, I would rarely remember the vitamin or have a chance to retrieve it before a feeding.
  8. Don’t pick up the baby at the first peep – when a baby wakes up he often is content babbling to himself for a few minutes, which might allow you to get whatever you are doing to an acceptable state before attending to the baby’s needs.
  9. When you have a few minutes, do what is important to you first. If you cannot comfortably exist without a daily shower and your teeth being brushed, do it first so that you feel on top of things. If you are annoyed by clutter in your home, put things away, wash dishes, clean up – do whatever makes you feel more comfortable. If you would rather rest, exercise, read, watch a movie (be prepared to pause at any moment), do that, and do it guilt-free. The main goal is a happy parent and a happy baby (the latter is greatly affected by the former), so you should do whatever gets you there.
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Ways to make pregnancy more comfortable

During pregnancy, one of the things you learn is to listen to and appreciate demands of your body. When a pregnant woman is hungry – she is starving, when she needs to sleep – she can fall into an exhausted sleep in most unlikely times and places, even if that is usually very uncharacteristic of her. Such basic urges become extreme, and if you ignore them they can wreck havoc with your body. So, try to sleep as much as your body demands and eat whenever you need to, don’t postpone your meals or rest.

Swimming or immersing yourself in water – helps against water retention, numbness, takes weight off the pelvis, can help the baby move into the head-down position, and just feels wonderful for all the lightness and buoyancy the water provides.

Walking helps with digestion and blood circulation. If your legs retain water (which occurs frequently in the third trimester) walking can help. I found walking to the beach (about 25 minutes), swimming (25 minutes to an hour), and walking back (another 25 minutes) to be a winning combination, but that was possible due to my close proximity to one of the Ottawa beaches and the later part of my pregnancy taking place during the summer. This routine can be modified to walk to a pool and back, assuming there is one near you.

Sleep – the first trimester is usually when the woman is the most tired. I used to collapse on the couch after work and sleep, although I normally can rarely nap during the day. The last trimester sometimes brings insomnia or restless sleep, due to all the discomforts of the pregnancy and worrying dreams that unfortunately replace all the sexually-charged dreams that are often present in the first and second trimesters. Babies also love to wait until you are lying down to start kicking, since you are not lulling them to sleep with motion. Sleep when you can where you can – you need all the energy to grow this new life.

Drink water – lots and lots of it. Drink before getting thirsty – thirst is a late sign of dehydration. Dehydration brings with it all kinds of nasty consequences: exhaustion, indigestion, and even contractions that can lead to premature labour. So drink lots of water.

Ginger candy – some people swear by them in that they help with morning sickness. I was not able to thoroughly test that since I managed to avoid this pregnancy bonus feature for the most part, but I found ginger candy generally helpful against nausea caused by motion sickness.

Bananas – wonderful fruit in general, containing fiber that helps with digestion and vitamin B6 that helps alleviate insomnia and fatigue. But one of the best things about bananas during pregnancy is that they also contain lots of potassium, which might help prevent leg cramps. During pregnancy leg cramps are a regular occurrence in many women, and short of “don’t cross your legs” and “don’t point your toes”, plus the usual suggestions of not sitting for a long period of time (great if you work at a desk), walking and taking a bath, no useful tips are offered to help with those. Another thing that helps with cramps is a calf stretch – sitting on the floor or lying down with your legs straight, flex your feet and push into the heels.

Update 2014: Later research shows that bananas have only half of potassium found in green vegetables (broccoli, avocados, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, and pumpkin), making the latter a better option, since bananas also have lots of sugar.

Cranberry juice – pure, 100% cranberry juice helps prevent urinary tract infections, which can spring up during pregnancy. It is hard to find pure cranberry juice in grocery stores in Ottawa – most of them sell cocktails or juice blends, both of which are full of sugar and the latter normally contains more apple juice than any other. The best pure cranberry juice I found is Just Juice – it needs to be diluted with water. It contains no added sugar and tends to be quite refreshing in summer.

Probiotics – good quality probiotics help digestion tremendously. Those sold in the drug stores, however, tend to be somewhat inferior to “professional-quality” probiotics (that include multiple species of microorganisms) which you can only get through health professionals or specialty health stores. I was recommended the Ther-Biotic Complete from Klaire Labs. Check with your health professional on their recommendation.

Papaya, pineapple, unbleached almonds, and not drinking water when eating are all good ways to help prevent heartburn. Papaya is also a good source of potassium. With the growing uterus pushing all the organs out of the way, which leaves little room for stomach, heartburn is a common issue during pregnancy. Eating smaller meals and sleeping with your head elevated also sometimes help.

The modified yoga Cat pose (the back has to be kept straight when not arched up) works wonders: it takes the weight of the uterus off the pelvis and the back. Used during pregnancy it can act as a way to relax and give yourself a chance to rest from the baby’s weight. This pose is also helpful in labour as pain relief as well as to allow the baby to shift out of the pelvis and using gravity acquire a different position that can be easier on the woman’s back.

Prenatal massage – helps with sore and tired muscles, leg cramps, back pain, and just feels wonderful. You would have to find a place that offers prenatal massage – they have special training in what is safe in pregnancy, as well as table inserts that allow you to lie on your belly during the massage. I have had several sessions throughout my pregnancy, including the one to fix my back when I managed to take a fall down the stairs in my first trimester, and I found them very helpful in alleviating various discomforts and aches.

Living in Canada, most of us don’t get enough vitamin D due to lack of sunlight. During pregnancy, the recommendation is 40 minutes of sunlight a day. A vitamin D supplement might also be helpful – consult with your health care provider.

Prenatal vitamins are highly recommended by every health practitioner and every book I have come across. In addition to taking folate (NOT folic acid) prior to pregnancy and during it to prevent neural tube defects in the developing fetus, some of the most crucial elements are included in prenatal vitamins, such as calcium (you are building the baby’s bones and if you don’t take in enough calcium it will be taken from your own bones) and iron (used in hemoglobin production and the formation of placenta). Many women exhibit iron deficiency during pregnancy, which can have serious consequences such as anemia.

Kegel exercises have been claimed to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, which would have many beneficial effects: preparing your muscles for labour, postpartum return of pelvic tone, prevention of incontinence, and so on. Later investigation is showing that kegels are not effective for this purpose and are working the pelvic floor muscles in ways that tighten them, making them inflexible. Katy Bowman elaborates on biomechanics of the pelvic floor muscles and effective ways to work them. Deep regular squatting is a better way.

Eat lots of fruit – in addition to all the wonderful vitamins and minerals that you get from fruit, they also contain fiber which helps your digestive system.

Yogurt – helps prevent thrush (yeast infections) which sometimes spring up in pregnancy due to the sugar spike in vaginal flora. It can also be aggravated by synthetic or tight clothing, as well as by antibiotics (which you might be taking at some point during the pregnancy to treat some other condition). Wearing skirts (as opposed to pants) and cotton underwear (as opposed to nylon) help air circulation and can aid in keeping thrush under control.

Belly breathing is a technique where you breathe into your belly (not your chest) by flexing the diaphragm (not the rib cage). It helps to oxygenate and relax the body, which aids in relieving anxiety and stress.

In the last trimester some health practitioners recommend taking raspberry tea or a raspberry-leaf derived supplement (such as Rubus Idaeus) to tone the uterus and prepare it for labour. Do make sure you consult with your health practitioner before using this: some women find that their Braxton-Hicks contractions increase in frequency and intensity which might lead to preterm labour.

Witch hazel can help with perineum soreness or hemorrhoids. It can be used as part of a sitz bath (1/4 cup dissolved in warm water) or by soaking a sanitary pad. Before labour it is also recommended to soak a few maxi pads in witch hazel and freeze them, to use for postpartum perineal healing.

Calamine lotion can help with skin rashes that some women experience during pregnancy, due to uncomfortable clothing, heat, and carrying extra weight around.

Get a doula. A good doula is a source of all kinds of wonderful tips and tricks to make your pregnancy more comfortable. A doula also prepares you for labour by teaching you about pain relief techniques, labour progression, possible complications, and so on. A doula does not enforce any particular philosophy – you can have natural or medicated labour, at home or at a hospital, and the doula will be there to support you in whatever decisions you make. A labour doula is someone you get to know during your pregnancy and who would stay with you throughout your entire labour (as opposed to the doctor that would show up for 10 minutes only to deliver the baby, or a nurse that will stay only until the shift change and whose philosophy can significantly affect the progress of your labour). Postpartum doulas come to your place and can help solve breastfeeding problems, assist with baby care, and much more. To learn more about the roles and responsibilities of doulas, check out DONA International. I found my doula through Mothercraft – an organization in Ottawa that matches you with a doula and charges you on a sliding scale according to your income level, which makes it affordable for anyone, including low income families, to benefit from doula care.

Seriously look into midwifery care – it is much more personal, your appointments are longer, the care is based on informed choice (read: you have a say in what happens to you and your baby), and in Ontario you get 6 weeks of postpartum care, first week of which midwives can come to your home. Midwifery care is covered by provincial health insurance. Midwives in general have much better outcomes when it comes to labour induction and augmentation, Caesarean rates, and many other factors. Birth at home or a birth centre is ideal if you have no complications during pregnancy, but even in a hospital, midwives are a better choice for an uncomplicated delivery. If you are in Ontario and need more information on midwifery care, visit Consumers Supporting Midwifery Care.

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Fun things to do in pregnancy

Below are some activities that I found to be fun throughout my pregnancy.


Belly cast – this is a fun activity that will allow you to preserve a three-dimensional representation of the body changes through which you went during pregnancy. The best time to do this is in your last month of pregnancy – the closer to the due date the better, but be careful postponing it too much as babies tend to arrive on their own schedule. The belly cast is best done by a professional using plaster-gauze strips and can then be painted and/or decorated. The process is best described on the site of Julie Keon – the Ottawa area belly cast artist. All I can add is that my session with her has been a lot of fun and I’m currently awaiting the completed cast to decorate it. Update: here is my decorated and painted belly cast.

Swimming – it is fun and it helps tremendously with water retention, leg cramps and pressure on the back. By immersing your body into the water, you allow the weight to be lifted off of your pelvis and aid the blood flow to the legs. The buoyancy of the water also allows the baby move more freely which might help them get into the good position for the birth. I was fortunate enough to have the later part of my pregnancy during the summer, so I could swim in the Ottawa river. If you are pregnant during colder months, you can use a pool. Hot tubs are not recommended as they can raise your body temperature to the level that is harmful to the baby’s development.

Belly dancing – if you can, find a prenatal belly dancing class. I was only able to find a regular belly dancing class which started before I was aware of my pregnancy. Belly dancing makes it fun to stay active during your pregnancy, and the hip moves can be used in pregnancy and labour to move the baby down.

Yoga – breathing and stretching exercises are great in pregnancy. Find a prenatal yoga class even if you have done yoga before. Certain positions are not recommended during pregnancy, whereas certain others are helpful to prepare for labour. Once you have taken one class, you can replicate the same positions at home (with care). Cat pose can be used to take pressure off the pelvis. Leg stretches can help prevent leg cramps. Breathing exercises are great for reducing stress.

Belly photo session – if you are up to it and feel sexy and powerful during your pregnancy, it is a good idea to get some photos done. First of all, it will satisfy relatives who live far away and keep demanding “the baby bump” photo updates. Secondly, it will give you an occasion, hopefully with your partner, to focus on your belly and have fun with the photo shoot. Bring a few props that have special meaning to you – a toy that you like, a wrap or two, favourite jewelry, etc. Be prepared for the photographer to have their usual bag of tricks ready consisting of “It’s a insert gender here!” tags, cubes with the word “baby” spelled out, heart made around the navel with hands, etc. And if it is not your thing (as it was not mine) be ready with a few suggestions (your own props help) and hope that the photographer is open to experimentation. The best time to have this session is during the last month of pregnancy, when your belly has done most of its growth.

Attend outdoor shows if you are pregnant during the warm weather. For instance, we have been to the Opera under the Stars concert and the Mosaika show, both of which have been fun and not terribly tiring. I would suggest staying away from the rock concerts with two opening bands in a venue that does not have a single chair. Those tend to be exhausting, and by the time the main band makes it to the stage you will want to be home.

Massage – find a good massage therapist that specializes in prenatal massage. Your tired muscles will love you. Leg cramps, back pain, and general stiffness can all be alleviated by a good massage. You can have a massage right up to the day of delivery. In fact, massage is one of the pain relieving techniques that can be used during labour as well.

Manicure/pedicure – find a good spa and treat yourself once in a while to at least a pedicure (it will be tough to reach your toes as your belly grows) with a massage. A foot bath and a massage feel heavenly when your feet are tired, numb, or swollen with carrying all the extra weight around. One thing I found helpful is to pick a spa that does not smell too strongly of nail polish (a hard thing to do) as you might be quite sensitive to the smell.

Baby shower – throw a party to celebrate your growing family. No need to make it “girls-only-milk-and-cookies-plus-silly-games” unless that’s what you are into. Invite friends, cook up a storm (or find a kind soul to help you out with the cooking), let people bring their own drinks if they wish, put together a playlist, decorate the place if you like, and enjoy.

Cook up meals to freeze, if you like cooking and have enough freezer space: you’ll be thankful postpartum for not having to cook as often, since you’ll be busy taking care of the baby and trying to get some rest. Invite a friend or two and make it into a small party where you can cook up various foods, have some of them and freeze the rest.

Get together with friends for snacks and movies – once the baby is born you will be too preoccupied and tired for a while to have people over.

Take a prenatal course or a course on child care – the tips will come in handy during your labour and postpartum.

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Pregnancy and labour resources

I have read through quite a few books and articles on pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, co-sleeping, babywearing, and so on. Not all of them I found helpful. Below is the list of those resources that provided me with the most useful information in the most usable form.


Books

Ina May's Guide to ChildbirthIna May’s Guide to Childbirth, by Ina May Gaskin – the first part of the book is a collection of birth stories of women that have given birth on The Farm in Tennessee. The Farm is a community founded by Ina May, her husband, and several others in 1971, where one of the founding principles was giving women freedom to organize their own system of birth care. The midwives at The Farm have been consistently having lower intervention and Caesarean rates than the national average, and they have conducted single deliveries, twin deliveries, and various types of breech deliveries. The second part of the book covers the essentials of pregnancy and birth.

Spiritual MidwiferySpiritual Midwifery, by Ina May Gaskin – this is an earlier book written by Ina May in 1975. It also starts with birth stories. The second part of the book covers female anatomy and physiology as it pertains to childbirth and has more in-depth notes on psychology, energy levels, birth complications, multiple deliveries, and required supplies.

Birthing from WithinBirthing from Within, by Pam England and Rob Horowitz – this book explores attitudes towards labour, their expression in art, dealing with pain in labour, and covers tips for fathers and birth companions.

Ina May's Guide to BreastfeedingIna May’s Guide to Breastfeeding, by Ina May Gaskin – Ina May shares her experience on breastfeeding initiation, common issues and their correction, sleeping arrangements, breastfeeding multiples, shared nursing, and the need to recover the nursing culture in the Western society.

Baby LoveBaby Love: A Tradition of Calm Parenting, by Maud Bryt – a wonderfully calm and logical book by a Holland author, that makes common baby-caring tasks seem easy and stress-free. Here you can find tips on breastfeeding, diaper change, dressing the baby for a particular weather, introducing solids, sleeping and bathing routines, and swaddling the baby.


Films

Relaxation, Rhythm, RitualRelaxation, Rhythm, & Ritual: The 3 Rs of Childbirth, by Penny Simkin – this film consists of scenes of contractions from 10 separate women, each illustrating a way of creating their relaxation, rhythm, and ritual in labour.

Business of Being BornThe Business of Being Born, by Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein – this film takes a look at the sorry state of the obstetrical care in USA, specifically as it relates to childbirth. It covers the demonization of the midwives in the early 20th century, the move of the birth into the hospital, the big business approach to birth care, the currently-present domino effect of interventions and drugs administered at the hospitals, and the alternative – birth with the midwives, and specifically the home birth.

Comfort Measures for ChildbirthComfort Measures for Childbirth, by Penny Simkin – this DVD illustrates many labour pain relief measures, as well as techniques to change a position of a baby when the progress of labour has slowed down. Each technique is explained in detail and illustrated by expectant couples. Penny Simkin also explains what happens to the pelvic bones when a particular position is used, showing how it would help the baby shift or turn.

Birth as We Know ItBirth as We Know It, by Elena Tonetti-Vladimirova – the author was one of the creators of a Black Sea birth camp in Russia in 1980s, where women came a few months before pregnancy and learned relaxation techniques. The film includes footage of women giving birth in the Black Sea, as well as having water birth at home. It provides an insight into the power of the female body and conscious childbirth. In addition to the breech, twin, home birth, and water birth, the film includes a self-assisted birth by a midwife Tanya Sargunas.

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Hospital birth essentials

Below is a list for the hospital birth that I have compiled from books (see Pregnancy and labour resources), as well as from the information provided by my midwife, my doula, and the prenatal classes. This list will differ depending on your location. For instance, in Canada you will not be allowed to take the baby home from the hospital if you do not have a safe infant car seat (even if you live across the road from the hospital and are walking home). Check with your hospital for any specific requirements they have. If you find the list somewhat overwhelming, there are places from which you can order hospital birth kits – it might actually be cheaper than trying to track down each item on its own. In Canada, Mama Goddess Birth Shop carries a good selection of birth kits and related supplies.


Hospital birth essentials

  1. Car seat which you know how to use. The seat should be left in the car until you are ready to leave the hospital.
  2. Your health card.
  3. Parking money and change for cafeteria.
  4. Extra clothing and blankets for the baby, depending on the season.
  5. Car with a full gas tank (if you are driving).
  6. Directions to the hospital (preferably several variations to avoid construction or traffic jams).
  7. Comfortable clothes for the hospital stay and for the way home (remember that you might still need clothing you wore when you were about 6 months pregnant).
  8. Knee-high comfortable socks – feet do get cold in labour. Bring more socks as they might get stained during labour.
  9. Slippers or slip-on shoes – you do not want to walk on the hospital floors barefoot.
  10. Lip balm – your lips will get very dry in labour.
  11. Lots of underwear (you’ll probably go through 1 or 2 during labour and will probably need 1 or 2 after that).
  12. Night dress or t-shirt to serve as one.
  13. Nursing bra – you most likely will not need nursing pads yet.
  14. Sanitary pads (maxi pads), large size, to soak up postpartum bleeding.
  15. Toiletries and shampoo for the shower.
  16. Phone numbers for those people you wish to notify of the birth.
  17. Vitamins/supplements/medication you need.
  18. Hair ties/clips and a hair brush.
  19. Bottle of water for the ride to the hospital.
  20. Energizing drinks: fruit juices, Gatorade, Emergen-C, etc.
  21. Fresh fruit, light snacks for the mother.
  22. Extra cutlery (hospitals sometimes run out).
  23. Food for the partner (sandwiches, crackers, cheese).
  24. Pen (there will be documents to sign and it’s convenient not to be searching for one for ages).
  25. Lots of pillows (hospital pillows are notorious for being too small, too hard, and too few). Put them into non-white pillow cases to distinguish them from the hospital ones.
  26. Receiving blankets for the baby (you’ll probably need 2) and 1 outfit for the baby (undershirt and sleeper).
  27. Warm baby blanket, hat, diapers.
  28. Camera with a spare battery.
  29. Music player with headphones or mini-speakers if allowed and desired.
  30. Any birth art you might want to focus on during labour.
  31. Bathing shorts for the partner (if he joins you in water comfort measures).
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Home birth essentials

Below is a list for the home birth that I have compiled from books (see Pregnancy and labour resources), as well as from the information provided by my midwife, my doula, and the prenatal classes. This list will differ depending on your location and any specific requirements of your midwife (check with them for what their list is). If you find the list somewhat overwhelming, there are places from which you can order home birth kits – it might actually be cheaper than trying to track down each item on its own. In Canada, Mama Goddess Birth Shop carries a good selection of birth kits and related supplies.


Home birth essentials

  1. Old linens that you do not mind staining. Bed sheets – 2, towels – 4-6, washcloths to be used as perineum compresses – 10 small ones (10x10cm is good). For the washcloths, you can buy a towel and cut it up into smaller pieces. No need to get new sheets and towels – ask your friends to donate some old ones or pick some up at a second-hand store.
  2. You can get a few inexpensive yoga mats to provide for extra cushioning on the floor. Cover the yoga mats with a plastic sheet and a bed sheet.
  3. Plastic sheet or two to protect your bed and/or floor.
  4. Lip balm – your lips will get very dry in labour.
  5. Hot water bottle or heating pad.
  6. Container for the placenta (a large ice cream or yogurt container is good). Placenta makes for a good fertilizer, hence the tradition of planting a tree and burying the placenta under it.
  7. Large garbage bags (1 for garbage and 1 for laundry).
  8. Cotton underpads, so the bed is kept clean.
  9. Sanitary pads (maxi pads), large size, to soak up postpartum bleeding. To help with perineum healing, soak a few of the pads in witch hazel and freeze them before labour. They will help reduce perineal swelling postpartum.
  10. Flashlight for the midwife if the lighting is dim.
  11. Small hand mirror for the midwife if you are in a position making it difficult for them to see the baby’s head.
  12. Bowl that will contain water for compresses.
  13. Kleenex, toilet paper, or paper towels.
  14. Thermometer.
  15. Squirt bottle (also known as perineum/peri bottle) for rinsing the perineum after the labour.
  16. Knee-high comfortable socks – feet do get cold in labour.
  17. Sitz bath and perineal herbs to aid in perineal healing postpartum.
  18. Lots of pillows.
  19. Receiving blankets for the baby (warmed up in the dryer before delivery if possible).
  20. Outfit for the baby – a sleeper and an undershirt.
  21. Warm baby blanket, hat, diapers. Even if you are set on using cloth diapers, get 1 pack of disposables for the first few days. Meconium is dark and hard to get out of cloth.
  22. Energizing drinks: fruit juices, Gatorade, Emergen-C, etc.
  23. Bendable straws.
  24. Fresh fruit, light snacks for the mother.
  25. Food for the birthing group (bagels + cream cheese, soup, coffee).
  26. Oil for massage.
  27. Camera with a spare battery.
  28. Music, candles, aromatherapy if desired.
  29. Any birth art you might want to focus on during labour.
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Pregnancy nutrition tips

Below there are a few suggestions that I found particularly helpful and a few things to avoid. This is by no means an exhaustive diet plan that spells out every meal in carbohydrates, fats, and sugars – just common sense tips and favourites.

General suggestions

  1. Eat 5-6 smaller meals instead of 2-3 larger ones. This will help in case of morning sickness or heartburn and will aid digestion.
  2. Eat sufficient fiber (such as fruits and vegetables) to aid digestion. Eat prunes, figs, or dried apricots if constipation is an issue.
  3. Eat some pineapple, papaya, or a few unbleached almonds right after a meal to prevent heartburn.
  4. Drink plenty of water.
  5. Avoid alcohol. There is research showing that large quantities of alcohol cause premature delivery and low birth weight. There is no research that determines a “safe” dose during pregnancy. So even if having one drink once in a while is not proven to cause issues, we do not yet know when it becomes one drink too many.
  6. Avoid uncooked meat (such as deli meats) and undercooked meat.
  7. Avoid soft cheeses.
  8. Avoid raw/undercooked eggs.
  9. Avoid raw fish (unfortunately that means sushi).
  10. Avoid seafood that is high in mercury and PCBs.  See the Toronto Public Health’s “Guide to Eating Fish for Women, Children and Families”. Take purified/distilled (free from PCBs) Omega3 supplement.
  11. If you are a vegetarian, make sure you are getting enough vitamin B12. See more dietary guidelines for vegetarians.

My personal favourite pregnancy foods:

  • Watermelon
  • Papaya
  • Pineapple
  • Bananas
  • Plain yogurt with raisins or fresh berries
  • Strawberries
  • Cherries
  • Mango
  • Buckwheat
  • Bagels
  • Peaches
  • Baby greens
  • Spicy Thai dishes
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Grapes
  • Fresh corn
  • Various nuts
  • Carrots and hummus
  • Gouda cheese and crackers
  • Bean borsch
  • Steamed green beans
  • Fresh vegetables

Pregnancy drink ideas

  • Perrier
  • Iced teas made at home – I steep 2 different teas with aromas that complement each other, mix them, add cold water and a few slices of lemon and cool
  • Pure cranberry juice
  • Fruit juices

No real substitute for alcohol

  • I have not found a substitute for wine better than grape juice
  • Non-alcoholic sparkling wines tend to be way too sweet for my taste, although mulled apple cider is not bad
  • Non-alcoholic beer is ok if what you actually want is the bitter taste
  • At parties virgin piña coladas work well: coconut cream, pineapple juice and ice mixed in desired proportions, can be garnished with maraschino cherries or pineapple slices
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Natural labour tips

All the tips below are meant for a pregnancy without complications and for a natural birth (i.e., birth without drugs or interventions) that would take place either at home or at the hospital. By no means should these tips replace the advice of your midwife or doctor. These tips have been gathered from the books on labour and delivery (see Pregnancy and labour resources), as well as from the prenatal classes and the information given to me by my midwife and my doula. Use at your own risk.


Stages of labour

Early labour (may last 12 hours or more, dilation 0-3cm, contractions lasting 30-60 seconds being 5-20 minutes apart, possibly water breaking, possibly loss of the mucus plug) is best ignored. Go about your day as much as you can. Work on a labour project (do something that keeps you moving, in touch with your everyday life and mentally engaged: bake a cake, write letters or postcards, wash/fold clothes, clean, etc.) If the labour starts in the evening, it is best to halt it. Getting into a warm bath (if your water have not broken) and having a glass of wine can help stop contractions. This might give you a chance to sleep and gather up the strength for the inevitable resumption of labour that is to follow. It also gives your birthing group a chance to rest up before the labour marathon. Many hospitals will send you home if you arrive there in early labour.

Active labour (may last 6 hours or more, dilation 3-7cm, stronger contractions lasting 45-60 seconds being 2-5 minutes apart, possible increase in bloody show, possible increase in pressure in the back) is when it starts to get real. Various pain relief measures can be used: massage, putting pressure on the tail bone in case of back labour, using the physio ball to lean on, slow-dancing or hanging from a partner, finding a rhythm that works for the woman. The warm bath or shower is better not to be used before the dilation reaches 6cm. Many women are ready for an epidural at this point, and water might help them get over the need for it and allow to continue drug-free. It is said that it is about as hard to get to 6cm dilation as it is to get to 10cm, so once the woman gets to 6cm it will not get progressively more painful, but will stay approximately at the same level.

Transition phase (may last from a few minutes to a few hours, dilation 7-10cm, much stronger contractions lasting 60-90 seconds being 2-3 minutes apart, possible increase in bloody show, possible strong pressure on back and rectum, possible vomiting, possible urge to bear down) is the intense part of labour before delivery. Very intense contractions, keeping a rhythm it seems is the only help here.

Pushing stage (may last a few minutes to more than 1 hour, dilation 10cm, slightly less painful contractions lasting 45-90 seconds being 3-5 minutes apart) might bring with it an overwhelming urge to push. This is when the baby’s head is crowning and the baby is eventually born.

Tips for active labour, transition, and pushing stages:

  1. Labour in private or be comfortable with those in attendance. Women have been known to not only stop dilating and completely halting labour, but also reversing the dilation, if they feel uncomfortable with the atmosphere in the room. This stems from the adrenaline-producing response to a frightening stimulus in nature, where a female of the species must flee or fight before the labour can continue.
  2. Laugh and relax your facial muscles, mouth, and jaw. If your jaw muscles are tight, chances are your cervix is not opening up either.
  3. Use nipple stimulation to produce oxytocin – the hormone that helps the uterus contract.
  4. Try hydrotherapy: take a warm bath (unless your water broke) or shower, preferably after dilating to 6 centimetres.
  5. Walk, dance, change positions – move around during labour: the movements help your baby move down. Move your hips, it helps the labour progress.
  6. Concentrate on an opening mantra (you can make one up) or a piece of birth art – it will help you open up.
  7. Relax pelvic muscles – the baby is coming out one way or another. Relax your bottom to help the process along.
  8. Breathe slowly and deeply – this is the basis of many yoga teachings: deep breathing helps relax the muscles.
  9. Speak loving words – Ina May categorically states that she has never seen anyone’s cervix remain tight when they spoke words of love to those around them.
  10. Use the “horse lips” technique – relax your lips, blow a good amount of air through them while flapping them like a horse would. This relaxes the throat and jaw muscles and with them the cervix and the perineum. If it makes you laugh – so much the better, since laughing aids in muscle relaxation.
  11. Sit on a toilet, a birth stool, edge of a bed, squat. Move in ways that feel natural to you – the hip movements help the baby move down.
  12. Let gravity do the work – use upright positions. The “classical” Western childbirth position with a woman on her back with her legs up is possibly the most illogical one: not only does the pelvis get narrower in this position, but the baby has to be moving horizontally and then upwards. The only reason for this position is to allow doctors easier access to the patient, not to make birth easier for the woman.
  13. Drink a lot to stay hydrated (take a sip after every contraction – make your partner bring the straw to your lips), urinate every hour (this will ensure that at least once an hour your pelvic muscles relax which will help the progress of labour).
  14. Explore touch and massage: pressure on the tail bone or on the lower back, hand and foot massage, thigh and leg massage.
  15. Invoke goose bumps on the mother – this manoeuvre causes a release of endorphins.
  16. Explore being shaken by others to speed up a prolonged labour – this can be the rhythmic shaking of the woman’s thighs or a Chinese approach called chung when two or three people vigorously shake the mother all over.
  17. Pant when pushing to reduce probability of tears, push only when you have an urge to push.
  18. Stimulate clitoris as baby emerges – this increases vaginal engorgement and might help prevent lacerations.
  19. Make low register noises, such as moans, – the vibration will be reflected in the lower part of your body.
  20. Use the relaxation, rhythm, and ritual technique described by Penny Simkin: she found that women that cope well in labour exhibit the same three basic traits: they are able to relax between or during contractions, they use rhythm to get through the contractions, and they create their own ritual by following the rhythm they have chosen.

And remember, labour is hard, it is painful, and you can do it.

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Pregnancy questions and comments from people

A pregnant woman does not need your pity. All she needs is a little understanding: let her sit down, open a door for her, help her carry heavy things, – the normal level of courtesy is all that is needed. Do not treat her as if she is sick or disabled, unless she actually is. Below are a few questions and comments that people made during my pregnancy that do not make a lot of sense to the logical being in me. They tend to illustrate a lack of understanding, looking at pregnancy from the point of view of a society trying to carry on in the usual rhythm while a woman stops to have a baby.

 

Don’t you feel self-conscious walking around with a big belly?

Do I realize I have a big belly? Indeed. I happen to exist in this body and notice its changes. Being self-conscious in the “I care about what others will think of me” way implies that others (presumably the society as a whole) consider it inappropriate for a pregnant woman to have a big belly. As one of my friends put it, “what do they think you are supposed to look like while growing a new life inside of you – a ballerina, perhaps?” So, my answer to this one is – I’m having a baby. If something does not add up for you, check your biology textbook on the changes that occur in females of the species during gestation.

A bigger issue raised by this question is that the North American society considers the pregnant body not aesthetically pleasing. The view seems to be that pregnancy and all the changes it brings are something to endure and live through, not embrace. Add to that the ultra-thin body image constantly promoted by the media, and you end up with women that feel embarrassed for “having a big belly” in pregnancy (not to mention other parts that tend to become larger in order to support the fetal development). Somehow no one seems to ask whether you are feeling self-conscious about walking around with larger breasts which happens to be a normal part of pregnancy as well.

One of the pregnancy-related sites had a cartoon with a caption to the effect of “Things you absolutely don’t do when pregnant…” showing two friends at a jean store, the non-pregnant one asking “Do I look fat in these?” and the caption concluded: “… go shopping with a skinny friend”. First of all, and I might be a black sheep on this one, I hate shopping. So unless I needed something specific, why would I waste my time scouting clothing stores? But even that aside, when you are pregnant you don’t have to worry about your waist not being the size you’d like it to be or not “fitting into your skinny jeans” which for some reason is cited as a common concern. Relax and enjoy the freedom of wearing things that are less restrictive, instead of trying to conform to some stereotype that is not even applicable to your current state. That cartoon and quite a few books and articles I’ve come across make it seem like Western women got their priorities screwed up to the extent that a piece of cloth they are wearing carries more value and meaning than anything else in their lives.

I won’t speak here about other women – but for me the pregnancy has been a most interesting and rewarding experience in itself. It made me ask new questions, listen to my body in different ways, discover the hidden endurance reserves I did not know I possessed. I have felt incredibly sexy, happy, and fulfilled. The new life stirring in my body (and sometimes kicking me in the ribs) brings with it a strong sense of power, of ability to do anything, of having a universe growing inside me, and me being part of that universe at the same time.

I am not saying my experience was free from discomfort, pain, or worry. But my overall psychological state of joy has been overwhelming. Perhaps I am lucky in how the hormones and circumstances have combined to give me this incredible trip. So when I hear someone bringing up issues of body image I laugh, so insignificant and far those concerns seem to me.

 

Once the baby is born, nothing will be about you anymore – everyone will only care about the baby.

Well, this one shows how that particular person will act around you once the baby is born. “Everyone” tends to consist of separate people. I have only heard this from two people throughout my entire pregnancy. Presumably in their life once the baby is born the woman takes a second place. To me it sounds like complete nonsense. Naturally the grandparents and the rest of the family will give lots of attention to the baby (and so will the mother), but that does not mean your partner or your friends will suddenly stop being interested in you. Otherwise, was there any friendship at all? It’s like expecting that when someone gets a pet, suddenly everyone’s attention will be on the pet and no one will care about the owner anymore. Sounds ridiculous to me.

 

Are you huge yet? Do you still fit into the driver’s seat?

Usually this question is asked if the person is not in visual contact with you, such as relatives living far away.
Hm, define “huge”. I haven’t weighed myself since the beginning of pregnancy, so weight won’t tell me much. Volume-wise, I definitely have a bigger belly, but after watching multiple videos and hearing women who have been pregnant comment how small I am for my term, I’m not sure that “huge” would apply. The wonderfully positive connotation of the word “huge” doesn’t make the question very pleasant either.

The driver’s seat part puzzles me. I cannot foresee me getting so large that I would not be able to fit into a car seat. Granted I drive a Jeep, but unless we are talking about Zaporozhets here or perhaps a Smart Car, into which I’m not sure I’d comfortably fit in any case, I really cannot imagine this possibility. It brings to mind a cartoon from childhood with a giraffe sitting in a tiny car, with its knees being on the same level as its head.

 

Was this a planned pregnancy?

None of your business. If the answer is “no”, a conclusion somehow immediately follows that the couple “screwed up”, didn’t think things through, and is irresponsibly bringing the child into this world, without being able to adequately care for it. If the answer is “yes”, the judgment often is that parents-to-be “plan everything”, “cannot be spontaneous”, and have a sex life running on a schedule. Don’t you love it when people make conclusions based on an answer to a single question?

Whether the pregnancy was planned or not, it is clearly progressing towards the baby being born. The mother presumably “made peace” with it if it was not planned and is putting all her energy into growing this baby. So, get off your high horse and accept this as a happy occasion.

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