Pregnancy & Birth Advice

Congratulations! You’re pregnant! Are you excited? Nervous? Now what?

Well, since there obviously isn’t any one way to experience pregnancy and birth, let me just share my own personal advice through my experiences. Take it or leave it, this is my shot at positive pregnancy and natural birth advice for the first-time mama-to-be!

Pregnancy Tips

Most important tips:

  • Follow your intuition and prepare yourself. Research everything. And be fierce. It is never too early or too late to turn into a protective lioness. (So cheesy, I know, but that’s how I feel sometimes, when I don’t feel like a mobile milk truck. But breastfeeding is also wonderful, don’t let my little joke deter you!)
  • Know that birth is beautiful. Be confident. You are strong.
  • It is critically important that you find the best support system you can. One that will surround you and your unborn baby with love, calmness, and respect. One that will help you birth naturally.

Due Date

Some people don’t want to nail down a specific date because it puts some pressure on them at the end, like OBs pressuring them to have an elected induction (generally a big no-no, do your research). But for me, I liked having a good 4-week range in mind at the end.

You can calculate your due date based on your estimated date of conception or last menstrual period. If you’re anything like me, you’ll put it on your calendar, along with the weeks or months because you’re so excited and want to know what week you’re at at all times. Until you’re pregnant with #2 and then the time just flies by and you barely remember what month you’re in, much less the number of the week. You can also sign up for weekly updates.

Learn about how your body is changing and read about your baby’s growth during the

Read this hilarious week-by-week calendar by AlphaMom. Buy Dr. Sear’s Pregnancy Book. And while you’re at it, get the Baby Book and the Breastfeeding Book. And don’t forget that you will have a lot of emotional & hormonal changes going on. It is OK to feel like you’re going bonkers because of your mood swings, crying fits, random bouts of anger, fear, frustration. You might start stressing out about every little thing. That is normal. Just breathe, take things in stride and try to relax.

Most importantly, don’t stress about your due date. You could give birth any time two weeks before or after the date (or even later!) and still be 100% normal. I know that we tend to focus on the date and the weeks ticking by but try not to think of yourself as an egg timer. Only the baby knows when he or she is ready!

Inductions are a slippery slope to having an intervention heavy birth. Some are for medical reasons but many are because the provider or mother are worried about the baby being “past due.” Don’t let anyone tell you that your baby is late. 43+ week pregnancies happen!!! But if you need to have one, check out this good read on inductions by Mama Birth: Induction Without Pain Medications- Can It Be Done?

Birth Prep

Prepare yourself for the birth itself. What kind of birth are you looking to have? What do you want to remember for the rest of your life?

Book list:

Read empowering birth stories online too. Another good website for birth stories – Birth Without Fear. This is my personal birth story, a lovely vbac, or hbac to be specific. Unassisted birth stories will help you embrace your inner strength, even if you’re not planning to have one yourself. This is my freebirth story. Ignore any and all books that treat birth like a medical condition to be monitored, like What to Expect When You’re Expecting.

Mental prep is very important. Build your confidence. Read this Pregnancy & Birth Affirmation by Mama Birth. Listen to Indie Birth podcasts.

Video list:

And read about and watch what your less-than-ideal birth might look like. For me, that was a hospital birth, with interventions like IV fluids, epidural, episiotomy, forceps or vacuum, and possibly a c-section. The sight of a woman in a hospital bed, tied down (by her IV and fetal monitoring) and drugged makes me shudder. Watching a cesarean makes me tremble with anger and want to puke at the same time. How can this be what is normal in our country? That being said, you might feel more comfortable with a hospital birth or a planned c-section and that’s okay. I am not here to shame women into following my version of birth. We must follow our own journeys to have the birth we are called to have.

Study labor and birth positions. Watch videos of positions. More. I found hands & knees rocking to be helpful for me. Stay off your back, unless that feels best for you. Research how to “open” yourself through letting go, kissing, dancing, etc.

Think about pain management techniques. Research breathing techniques. Natural oxytocin. More breathing. Visualization. Warm water. Herbs. Laughter. Pleasure bonding with your significant other (Ina May video). Kissing. Massage. Touch. Hypnosis or HypnoBirth. Practice them. Use your partner. Man-made drugs are not necessary but highly touted and over used. If you have not considered an unmedicated birth because you think it’s only for women who want to suffer, you might want to think again. Our bodies are made to handle childbirth and the contractions and crowning are certainly manageable or else our species would have stopped procreating a long time ago! An unmedicated, physiological birth is the absolute best thing for you and your baby. You will not be able to feel what you need to feel to guide your baby into this world if you are numbed and strapped to a bed. Childbirth is nothing you can run and hide from, even though I know I felt like I wanted to during my last birth. The pain that you might be afraid of is something to learn from, not to be afraid of. It passes with the birth. Own your birth. Face your fears. You can do it! Birth is beautiful!

How can you achieve an unmedicated birth? Listen to Michelle Collins, CNM, talk about drug-free birth tips. Find friends and family members who have had empowering natural births and talk to them. Join support groups online during pregnancy. Prepare yourself mentally, take classes, and practice your pain management techniques.

Think about writing a few different versions of your birth plan to help you research what is out there, your options, everything that might happen, and mentally prepare yourself. Some people think birth plans are bunk. I think my plans were important part of researching my options, the latest studies on what is available, and helped me gather all my thoughts on paper in one place.

Research complications during pregnancy and childbirth. A big worry is pre-eclampsia. Read how to control it with Brewer Diet. Have gestational diabetes? What do you do if you’re Rh Negative? GBS positiveRead these commonly held myths or lies in obstetrics for more thoughts on pregnancy as a disease, unnecessary vaginal exams, having low fluids, being high-risk, water breaking for more than 24 hours and the “failure to progress” label that gets ladies a c-section.

During labor, avoid interventions that can complicate things and make a c-section more likely for you and your baby, like induction and pitocin.

Make sure your care provider can tackle all of the potential labor & birth complications without making the situation worse than it could already be. They need to be aware of a complication at the first signs of it, able to explain to you exactly what the pros and cons of a particular situation are and what your options are, and be trained to do what is in your best interest and in the best interest of the unborn child. What would they do if the baby has shoulder dystocia? Is in breech presentation? You are past your due date? You are showing signs of low amniotic fluid? Cord prolapse during birth?

If you’re really looking for a natural birth, a c-section is usually your last option. But they happen to over thirty percent of mothers. The risk of having one increases significantly in the hospital so if you want the lowest possibility of having one, plan a home birth or at least hire a doula for your hospital or birth center birth. Just to be prepared, read up on what giving birth by cesarean section could be like. Having a c-section is no walk in the park, can be mentally and emotionally traumatizing, and the recovery was worse for me over my vaginal birth, that’s for sure. Others say they found their c/s recovery to be better than they were expecting.

Attend a birth class or two. Or a whole series of them, like Bradley. No matter how much you prepare, your labor and birth may be different that you are expecting. Each birth is different. And that is OK. But you can never over prepare yourself. At some glorious point during your birth, your mind will shut off and your body will take over. It knows what to do.

Think about what you want done to your baby after the birth.

There will be a whole slew of things that you will want to research and protect your child from as soon as their born, depending on your attendant or birth location’s standard practices. Here is the short list of things to research.

My opinion? Assuming everything is OK at birth, opt for minimal, if any interventions. Interventions can interfere with bonding and anything you’re not sure about can just wait. Nothing needs to be done to the baby immediately after birth.

For my last birth, my wishes were that the cord clamping should be delayed (no medical reason to rush this!), my husband was to cut it, my baby was to be examined GENTLY while on my chest, not whisked away to a cold table and scale, with no eye ointment or needles. If I had a boy, I would want him to have genital integrity and would not have requested circumcision.

You will want to make up your own mind about immunizations / vaccines. Do the research. Staggering is the very best option, in my opinion, if you’re pro-vaccinations. Dr. Sears has a good book on that. What do I do for my children? We are currently non-vax and reevaluate our stance regularly. Things may change later but they are what they are now. What you decide is your business.

Pick Your Birth Place & Provider

Once you’ve read a few birth stories and thought long and hard about what type of birth you’re looking for, decide where and who you want to help you with your journey.

For my first birth, I didn’t think about “alternative” options. I just went the hospital route because that was what my insurance covered and that is what I thought people did, had babies in the hospital, lined up on beds with other ladies. I picked a provider that didn’t fit my personality or my needs, was unhappy with her care, but I didn’t bother to stand up for myself or my baby and change my plans. She pushed a scheduled c-section on me from the minute my baby showed up breech on an early ultrasound. I refused but still ended up with a medically unnecessary c-section for breech presentation at 39 weeks, when I was told in labor during a second version attempt and they told me a c-section was my only option. They lied to me and because I believed them, I didn’t fight them. But I should have. A breech baby can be born vaginally! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! For my second birth, I knew the high-medicalized route was not my thing. I wanted a vbac, even if the baby was breech. I wanted the bring my baby into the world naturally, surrounded by love, in the safety and comfort of my own home. Breech or not, she was going to be born at home. My second baby was breech for a while but turned head down after 36 weeks. I had a wonderfully healing, medication-free, beautiful hbac in my own bed with my husband, midwife, and midwife assist. 

Birth Options:

Provider Options:

Whatever you decide, it is entirely up to you and your partner. If you’re planning a homebirth, find the right midwife for you. There are a few different kinds of midwives too – CNM, LM, DEM, CM. (Full list here.) Read up on the best questions to ask. Make sure you are confident in your choice and your midwife’s experience. Remember that they usually follow all the protocols the state requires and if you want to deviate from that, you need to be very clear on your desires. Personally, I never once regretted my choice of midwife, her holistic care throughout my prenatal, postpartum and baby’s care, and our one or two hour long appointments that took place in the comfort of my own home. I appreciated having the comfort of a “medical professional” in my home after a hospital birth but just know that birth is actually not a medical event.

If you’re opting for a hospital birth, you can also have a CNM, or certified nurse midwife, as your primary. He or she can deliver your baby. Many hospitals offer internal midwives. Many hospitals also allow out of hospital midwives to help with delivery your baby. If you decide to go the OB route, just know that your chosen OB often is not the doctor that will deliver your child. If this is the case, you will want to find a midwife or doula or both that can be with you during your entire prenatal care and assist you during your hospital stay to help you navigate the system and birth as naturally as possible. They are worth their weight in gold. Your insurance company should pay for them. Call and ask. If they don’t, they really are not that much out of pocket.

Videos to watch:

 

Research Pregnancy Routines

How do you feel about all of the routine testing during pregnancy? Bloodwork? Amniocentesis? Chorionic villus sampling (CVS)? Ultrasounds? Electric fetal monitoring (EFM)? Vaginal exams? Being weighed at every prenatal visit? Peeing in a cup at every visit as well? Glucose screening and glucose tolerance tests? Group B streptococcus screening? (Full list here.) What about vaccines during pregnancy? Flu shot? What is safe for you and your unborn child? There are many vaccines that are not safe during pregnancy, any with a live-virus, and some that they claim are safe. Do your research.

You can pick and choose what you feel comfortable with and what you don’t feel is necessary. Do not let the blanket approach apply to you. Pregnancy is not a sickness that needs this much monitoring.

I personally allowed minimal testing, some extra blood work due to being Rh negative, only peed in a cup a few times, had one ultrasound at 14 weeks to determine the sex and another at 36 weeks to check to make sure the baby was head down and everything looked great for a homebirth. I did the GBS swab myself but would skip it if I had to do it again. There was no electronic fetal monitoring. Ever. I refused the gestational diabetes testing. I only allowed one vaginal exam before I went into labor to check to see if my cervix was ripening and I was dilating yet, but this was after my due date, and twice during labor, only by my request. I wanted to know how far along I was after 15 hours of labor and then again when I felt the urge to push, I wanted to know if I was 100% ready down there. Next time though, I will not asked to be checked. I trust my body. I did not have any vaccinations. I wanted to feel confident that I knew exactly what was going inside of my body and my baby and I couldn’t be sure with vaccines and in my mind, a little skepticism is healthy. Next birth, I will cut down on interventions even more, assuming I am still in a very low risk group, healthy, and my baby is healthy too.

You decide. Period.

Gather Birth Supplies

If you’re having a homebirth, your chosen midwife will provide you with a supply list. It is mainly just pads, towels, sheets, ice, trash bags, bowl for the placenta, rubbing alcohol, birth pool and hose if you want a water birth, etc. The midwife brings her own bag of birth stuff, like oxygen, birth stool, etc.

Unassisted birth supply list.

If you’re having a birthcenter or hospital birth, you’ll need to pack a bag because they generally keep you over night for a vaginal birth or two days for a c/s. Keep in mind that they’re working for you and if you’d like to go home, you can always discharge early if you really don’t want to be there. Don’t forget your birth plan and be sure your partner is in 100% agreement and can inform anyone of your wishes if you are not able.

Boundaries

This is also a good time to start setting up boundaries with your friends, family, or in-laws if you need to. Just remember that while you might appreciate advice, it is up to you to listen to what you want to or not. Same goes for help during your pregnancy, birth, and after the baby is born. Do not be afraid to stand up for yourself. Do not be afraid to tell anyone that your body, birth, and baby is none of their business. That includes any random belly patting, especially by strangers.

After the baby is born, keep in mind that most visitors are often more hassle than help. It’s not that they’re meaning to, it’s just that the immediate postpartum period can be a very sensitive time for you and it’s hard for people to know how to help exactly or when they’re over stepped their welcome if you don’t vocalize it. If anyone stresses you out or doesn’t clean up after themselves, have your sweet partner show them the door. The baby is the perfect excuse.

Breastfeeding

Speaking of boundaries, how do you feel about breastfeeding? Is it normal for your family or no? If you are feeling a little hesitant about breastfeeding because of how seemingly embarrassing and possibly painful it might be, think about all the benefits there are for your baby. And you will see soon enough that breastfeeding is nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to hide, and shouldn’t be painful. Be proud of yourself and nurse with your head high. You are doing everyone, including yourself and your baby, a favor by breastfeeding casually. You can try a cover or a blanket if you wish, but really, they are hot and suffocating for the child. (All of this is mainly a personal pep-talk. I only just recently stopped feeling quite so embarrassed and stopped using a blanket to cover.)

How do you start breastfeeding? Well, your baby will let you know soon after he or she is born. Your little one will start rooting and doing the most adorable little thing with their tongue that you ever thought possible. Your breasts are about to be used for their main purpose! Be excited! You may have to help your baby with their latch. It shouldn’t hurt. They will have colostrum for a couple of days until your milk comes in. Engorgement does hurt but it passes within a day or two and then you’re off to a beautiful nursing relationship! Read about the Learning Curve and Get Your Best Game on Girlfriend. And Before You Breastfeed: 10 Tips for New Breastfeeding Moms.

Things sometimes get off to a rough start. Avoid the pitfalls, or Booby Traps. Do not accept free formula samples from hospitals. Do not supplement with formula. If any ped tells you this, fire them immediately and find a breastfeeding friendly one. Best sites for breastfeeding advice: Kellymom & Best for Babes. Facebook also has many support groups. Books to read if you feel like devouring breastfeeding info before the baby is born: The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by Diane Wiessinger & the one I mentioned before, The Breastfeeding Book by William Sears M.D.

Also, don’t bother buying nursing bras before the baby comes. In fact, I’m not really a fan of nursing bras at all. Check out my post on the topic. You may want to pick up some nursing pads. Because your boobs will leak. Not a joke. But it’s OK. It’s just a little milk. They make disposable and reusable ones. Best trick for reducing leaking? Compress your nipple and breast firmly with one hand while you nurse the baby on the other side.

Nutrition

If there was ever a time to have a diet overhaul, this is it. Think healthy, well-balanced meals. Lots of iron rich foods, organic fruits, vegetables, proteins. You are baking your baby from scratch. Use the best ingredients.

How do you know you’re eating right and drinking enough water? Your bowel movements will be dark and smooth and your pee will be clear. And you will feel good! Easy enough! Eat whole, real foods, as much homemade as possible, and toss the processed foods. I recommend having daily whole fruit and veggie smoothies and/or fresh juice with your juicer. My favorite juice was kale, apple, carrot. Some people love cucumbers, celery and spinach in theirs. I prefer mostly fruit in my smoothies, like bananas, strawberries, apples, blueberries, kiwis, grapes, with some carrot, kale, and spinach in there as well. Pumpkin based smoothies are good for the holiday season.

Expect to gain a healthy amount for your body type and BMI. For me, that was 40 pounds for each baby. That may be too much for some people. Your perfect weight gain may only be 15-25 pounds or it might be more than 40 pounds. Ask your care provider if you feel anxious about it. If you are concerned about your weight gain, don’t weigh yourself if you don’t want to. Tell your provider you prefer not to be weighed. Expect to gain some inches outside of the belly area though. Pregnancy curves are beautiful!

Take a good, plant based prenatal vitamin, unless you’re totally against those and you just want to adjust your diet. Watch this video by Mama Natural on other vitamins and supplements she takes during her pregnancy, like cod liver oil and probiotics.

Cut back on the vices. That means quit going through the drive-thru, snacking on Cheetos, and chowing down Ben & Jerry’s at midnight (I am talking about myself here.) Studies on alcohol vary, some say beer or wine is OK in moderation, and the same with caffeine. But better safe than sorry, I suppose. And, a no brainer, no smoking or being around smoke. Here is good list of the do’s & don’t.

Along with nutrition, you should also think about how to limit your exposure to unnecessary chemicals and toxins in your every day life. A big step is just leaving your shoes at the door because your shoes actually do track in many toxins. You’re probably going to want to cut out any use of bleach and the like, going more natural with soaps and cleansers, make-up, etc. Look up your city’s water rating and opt for filtered water if it’s not great, buy BPA-free, glass, or metal containers, fluoride-free toothpaste, and check all labels. If there are too many ingredients in your products, things you cannot identify, either look them up or just don’t buy them anymore. I use Dr. Bronners for my hand and dish soap in the kitchen. I found plain coconut oil was my best hand, body, and face moisturizer and even saving cream. I wore less make-up and found a sulfate and paraben free shampoo.

Exercise

Get some sunshine. Do whatever it is you love doing. Drink plenty of water. I was out in the garden pulling weeds, mowing, and shoveling most of my pregnancy. I wasn’t a big fan of walking or running but I did some walking, biking, and hiking anyway. Pregnancy yoga is also wonderful. You can nurture your body and mind while you exercise, bond with your baby during this quiet time, and bond with other pregnant ladies. Swimming is also wonderful for easing weight pains and stretching. With baby #2, I was just generally more active since I was on my feet more, running after the toddler, going to parks, picking her up and toys in the house, and still gardening. Keeping healthy, limber and fit is one of the best things you can for yourself to prepare for birth. It also makes postpartum recovery easier. Tips from the American Pregnancy Association & Mayo Clinic.

Maternity Clothing

I am not a fan of “real” maternity clothing because it is over priced and sometimes pretty yucky feeling and looking. But things are improving and some brands don’t look too bad. You will need a pair of jeans or two and work slacks if you’re still working. My fav maternity jeans were Loved by Heidi Klum because they didn’t that boob-high belly elastic stuff. As for the rest, I just used what I already had in my closet and found a few classy, larger sized items for the deep-end, aka the last month. Best for the belly fashions: Empire waist dresses and tops, skirts with stretchy waists that can sit under your belly, and longer stretch tops from the non-maternity section. Leggings and tights are wonderful. BCBG makes marvelous dresses that double as maternity wear due the great stretchy material they use. Maxi-dresses are also fabulous at hiding expanding thighs. Sheknows Pregnancy Fashion. More spring maternity fashion at LilSugar on Pintrest. And read Cup of Jo’s Pregnancy Survival Guide for more fashion tips.

Do not buy maternity bras.

Naming your child

Picking out the perfect name is tough. Don’t worry if you can’t find the right fit before the birth though. You have a couple weeks AFTER the birth to pick one! There are hundreds of online search options – I liked clicking through Babyname Genie, top names in the US for whatever year, and international top names on Nameberry. Don’t forget to look up the meaning of your chosen name!

Getting a birth certificate & social security card for your new baby doesn’t require any pre-birth prep. You will have to take care of this yourself if you have a homebirth. It is not a big deal. Your midwife can help you. Hospital staff help take care of it for you during your stay if you have a hospital birth. I’m not sure about birthcenter births.

Bonding

Don’t forget to talk to your baby, record his or her movements, hold your belly, and send all the love you have inward. Involve your husband. Feel how the baby moves with his voice. You should start feeling movement around 16 – 20 weeks, I believe, and it will be wonderful! Until they start playing soccer in there.

Baby Registry

People want to get your baby presents. They will be beside themselves if you do not register. So, do them and yourself a favor, and just register. What should you put on there? Think about the items that are important for a newborn up through the first 6 months. Babies R Us & Amazon are where I’ve registered before – both are easy to use. Amazon is nice because you can register for all sorts of things that Babies R Us doesn’t have. People have also registered at Target, Pottery Barn Kids, Macy’s, etc.

There is also such a thing as meal registry for new parents too. Any help with meals after the baby comes is a life-saver. Check out Meal-Baby or just ask for food when people offer their help when want to come over and see your new bundle.

Top Baby Items:

  • Diapers & wipes – Disposable vs. cloth debate explained here. Good video too. Disposable brands I recommend: Nature Babycare for the most biodegradable, compostable option (Earth Baby in the SF Bay Area provides composting service), or Seventh Generation. Get 1 pack of NB, 4 of 1, 4 of 2. A few boxes of wipes or commit to washable wipes. Cloth that I’ve tried: Gdiapers. Get a few small covers and a lot of inserts. Watch a video about how to use them. Also offer a disposable insert.
  • Onesies – plain short or long sleeve, depending on the time of year. A full body outfit for cold weather babies. Hats & socks, if you like those too. Pants are generally good to have too.
  • Co-sleepermini or full sized. You have many months until the baby outgrows a co-sleeper to decide if you want to buy a crib or continue to bedshare, so I would not recommend registering for a crib before the baby is born. You can also just put a little mattress next to your bed if you’re anti-container. Get a few fitted sheets for whatever you pick.
  • Waterproof pads for the bed. There will be milk, pee, and poop on a daily basis. But you’ll love the kiddo so you won’t care. Get pads so you don’t have to strip and wash your sheets every single day.
  • Changing pad & covers. At least 3 covers. You will also want something, a dresser or something, at waist height to put a changing pad on so you don’t have to bed your back to change diapers. (Though lots of people don’t even use a changing pad. You can change a baby on anything and everything, a car seat, your lap, the floor, the bed, bathroom rug, etc etc. so a pad isn’t really 100% necessary either.)
  • Carseat - Think about if you want a bucket / infant seat or a convertible. Read reviews. Compare seats. Don’t buy a second hand car seat.
  • Everything else is just extra. See my list below for “extras.”

My thoughts on baby “extras”:

  • Carriers: Baby wearing is beyond wonderful. I recommend the Ergo (pricing, review). Slings are OK but hurt my back. Baby Bjorn…meh. Go with Ergo.
  • Strollers: These can be a back saver. To start off, I recommend one that a bucket carseat clicks into or one that does all three – clicks in a car seat, has a bassinet feature, and fits an older baby. Right now I have a Peg Perego Switch for just that. But it is not great for pushing around on uneven surfaces. When the baby outgrows it, I am selling it on Craigslist, stat. I also love my lightweight, slim, umbrella stroller – my wonderful Maclaren – but that is for the older baby only since a car seat or floppy baby cannot go in there. We also have a BOB because that is best for running, trails, or sidewalks, and it holds a car seat (after you buy an accessory) and the baby can sit in the seat once the carseat is no longer necessary.
  • Fancy soaps: Reduce your baby’s exposure to harmful chemicals. Get some organic baby soap (California Baby is my fav due to the nice handpump on the large size) and additive free laundry soap. Oh and diaper rash cream. It is not really needed but you can get some just in case. Same for Calendula Cream, which I used for cradle cap but also doubles as diaper cream.
  • First Aid Kit – If you don’t already have a quick thermometer, you might want one. And Safety First also has the best baby nail clippers. Don’t bother with “grooming kits” – they are worthless.
  • Baby blankets – Don’t go crazy! 10 or less is fiiine. There are swaddling blankets (Aden + Anais are the best), receiving blankets, quilts or sturdier ones for tummy time on the floor.
  • Cute little outfits for photos
  • Baby book
  • Hand or footprint kit
  • Diaper genie or the like: They are a waste of money, don’t really keep the smell in, and you have to buy special bags for them. You can put a little trash can that you empty daily into the kitchen trash or a composting bag for diaper pick up. If you cloth, you can just dump them in the washer.
  • Toys, playmats, bouncers, vibrating chairs, swings - Never buy these new. Complete waste of money. The kid doesn’t need any of it anyway and your friends and relatives will supply more than enough toys without you registering for them. Though some people swear by a swing or vibrating chair to calm their newborn. You can borrow one from a friend for a couple of months or find one on Craigslist.
  • After the first 6 months, you’ll start looking into high chairs and all that solid food stuff. You’ll probably want something different than what you registered for a year before so don’t bother registering for this stuff now.

A Mother Blessing or Blessingway

But what is more important that the STUFF your baby gets after it is born? YOU and nurturing yourself (and thus your baby) during your pregnancy.

So rather than have the traditional baby shower where there are silly games and a mound of presents for the baby-to-be, I recommend a Mother Blessing, also known as a Blessingway. It is a mother-centric ritual honoring, well, the mother. Your hostess can plan it around your desires. It can be all hippified or just like a regular party but with some special moments. I wanted food. Homey food. So we threw a potluck. And I wanted to invite women who would tell me positive stories about labor, birth, breastfeeding. You are about to enter motherhood and you can never turn back. You need to feel supported, loved, and relaxed.

Support

Speaking of support, you should start thinking about postpartum support. Do you have dependable family around that you would trust your child with? Or at least to help with meals, laundry, and picking up groceries for a couple weeks? Do you have friends with kids? Who can you talk to if you need emotional support? Breastfeeding support? Helping you decide if you’re going back to work or not? If you are like me and have little family to speak of in your surrounding area, there are many online support groups to think about joining, La Leche League groups, homebirth groups, postpartum depression, and breastfeeding advice pages – like Kellymom. And if you have a traumatic birth experience, there are groups out there to help you too. Or have body issues after the birth and need support, check out The Shape of a Mother.

Photography & Capturing Moments

I cannot say this enough: Take photos of your belly!!

Recording this precious time is priceless. Write your unborn child letters or notes in their baby book.

During labor & Birth: You will never regret having photos and videos of this special, once-in-a-lifetime event. Set up a camera on a tripod or on a dresser or table and let it roll so your support people can be there to help you, not hold a camera. You can put the video and photos in a private place and never watch them or want to see everything one week after the birth, like I did.

And finally….THE BIRTH!

How do you know that you’re really in labor and you’re not just having Braxton Hicks?

You.

Will.

Know.

Review this list for the other signs, like losing your mucous plug, water breaking, etc.

Best thing to do? After you KNOW you’re in labor and you’re over that super excited phase, just calm down and relax. Things are about to get real.

Expect to forget everything you learned during labor at this point. Make sure you’ve clearly portrayed your wishes for labor and birth to your significant other, just in case.

Keep hydrated. Eat if you want to. Keep moving if that feels right or relax and surround yourself in pillows or dip in a birthing pool. Stay positive, even though it may feel like you’re in more pain than you can handle. You can handle it. Have a positive mantra, like telling yourself that your baby will be here soon, you WILL make it through. You are strong. You CAN do it. You ARE doing it.

You may want to be 100% naked, swear, yell, cry, poop, get hemorrhoids, whatever. Shit happens during birth. Do not worry about it.

My notes on the urge to push: You should feel the urge to push after a nice little break right after transition. My baby seemed to move down by herself for a contraction or two without pain, for once, and then I felt the urge to push. For me, it just hit me that pushing felt better than not pushing. Push gently, aiming your pushing towards guiding your baby out, not towards a bowel movement. This was hard for me. When you feel the head coming, you may feel a “ring of fire” as it crowns. It only hurt for a half second for me. You must PAUSE! Pause to let yourself stretch without tearing. My midwife put a warm compression on that area to help. Then, you can continue to push, if you feel like it. I’ve also heard that some babies are born without pushing.

And finally, after many hours of build up or just a few, your baby is finally born. You have climbed that mountain of labor and come out on the other side as a fierce mother. You can lay down, hold your baby, put your baby directly on your skin (because skin to skin contact is very important), and look him or her in the eyes for the very first time. It will be magical. You will cry.

Or maybe you’ll need a few minutes to recover because you’re exhausted or you’re in shock. That is OK too. Your husband will be more than happy to hold the baby and bond for a few minutes. Then, after you’ve caught your breath, you can fully appreciate this special moment. This would be a good time to start your breastfeeding relationship, if your baby is already rooting for milk.

Look into your significant other’s eyes, hold their hand, feel the love in the room.

Almost done. Seriously.

Don’t forget about the birth of the placenta! It may take some time and a few more contractions but it will birth by itself with another couple of soft pushes. No one is to pull on it, ever. Watch Michelle Collins, CNM, talk about the placenta.

And what are you going to do with it after it checks out ok? Placent prints? Freeze it? Bury it? Eat it? Encapsulate it? We froze my last one after it had been too long to make fresh prints. Then we threw it away. But I wish we would have buried it in a potted plant so we could bring it with us when we moved. It really isn’t crazy. Don’t hate!

And you will probably have afterpains. Yes. And bleed (lochia) for a week or two or more after the birth. It is just a part of birth! I took Arnica for pain and for perineal healing, I was a huge fan of lots of warm sitz baths, alternating between herbal & sea salt. And get yourself a Peri Bottle. Do it. More good afterbirth tips.

Don’t forget to write your birth story and share it. Sharing the joy of real, natural birth is very important. I’m not saying it is all sunshine and rainbows but it can be transformative, empowering, and amazing. You can come out of your birth feeling like a warrior mother, strong and fierce, capable of anything, brimming with pride and love.

OK, enough for now. I’m sure I’ve missed a ton but hey, this is a decent starting point.

 

May you have a wonderful pregnancy, followed by a beautiful birth!

 

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Amelie’s Birth Story – My lovely HBAC

First, let me say that my birth story is very long and incredibly detailed, mostly for my own sake. If you’re not used to reading birth stories, you may want to brace yourself or don’t read it! It was featured on my favorite birth story site Mama Birth, here: A Home Birth VBAC! A Must Read.

Amelie was born at our home in Northern California in our bed at 5:46pm on Tuesday, August 30th after nearly 19 hours of labor. Getting to that point was a long journey, starting with the traumatic unplanned cesarean birth of her sister, my first child, 21 months earlier.

The short version of my first birth was that my daughter was breech the entire pregnancy and during our second external cephalic version attempt at our hospital, they informed me that they couldn’t touch my belly to try to flip her because I was in labor, had been having regular contractions for a couple of hours and was 1 to 2 cm dilated. This was a complete surprise to me. I didn’t feel anything. I was then informed that my options were to have a cesarean right then or come back later that day and have an emergency cesarean. After talking it over with husband, we decided to just have the cesarean right then. Little did we know those were NOT our only options, just the hospital’s options on that Friday afternoon in November of 2009.

They had a no vaginal breech policy and rather than tell us that we could have tried a few other things, like going to another breech friendly hospital, or seeing if the baby would flip before birth naturally because I might have a couple days to go, or any number of other options, we were told a cesarean was our only option. I was very quickly separated from my husband, strapped down to a cold table in a bright room chock full of strange doctors in blue with face masks, given an epidural headache that made my head feel like it was going to explode before they adjusted it, and finally, as I was about to start crying, my husband was allowed to enter the room. He held my hand and stroked my face as I smelled my own burning flesh, felt rough pushing and pulling in my abdomen, and felt her taken from me.

I stared into his steady, loving green eyes, mine wide with fear. His eyes were the only thing that helped me through it. I couldn’t see the birth. I don’t remember hearing her first cry. I wanted to see her face but couldn’t. My daughter was brought over to me after they had done their initial review and wipe down, all red and awake. I felt like I was in a bad dream. I wanted to nurse my child immediately but the bonding experience had to wait until they finished closing me up. I had to wait at least half an hour to begin breastfeeding.

The constant parade of nurses in the middle of the night during our two night stay was uncalled for, unnecessary, and just plain rude. None of the nurses showed love or warmth towards this new person in the world. They handled her like a piece of meat. I wasn’t allowed to eat any real food for a whole day after the birth. I got a UTI from the catheter. Nothing about my hospital stay was welcoming, warm, or friendly for myself or my daughter. How could that be “normal” when everything seemed so wrong?

After my unplanned cesarean birth, I was left with regret that I had not made myself more informed about breech birth and explored every single option to get her to flip or had just tried a vaginal birth anyway. I secretly felt shame, like I was not a real mother because I gave up and let someone else tell me how cesarean was necessary for breech babies, even though breech babies have been born naturally since the beginning. I felt like I had let myself and my child down. I couldn’t talk about how terrible my experience was with family or friends because I felt like the trauma of my experience did not matter to them. As far as anyone else was concerned, my baby was healthy and thriving so I should not complain. At mommy gatherings I wished I could talk about my birth story like my friends who were proud of theirs. I could only feel sadness for those that had unplanned cesareans as well and felt jealous of those who had vaginal births, drug free or not.

When we decided to have our second child, I knew that I wanted a completely different birth experience. While we were trying, I began looking into having a vbac and then looking into a hbac, a home birth after cesarean. A hbac seemed like the most natural way to go, where I would be surrounded by those that I loved and chose to be there, where myself and my newborn would be treated with love and respect and given individual, undivided attention, which was exactly what I wanted. I found out I was pregnant with my second child on my mother’s birthday, December 12th, of 2010. The day was special because I think she gave me a gift on her birthday, even though my mother is no longer with me, having died suddenly and unexpectedly less than 6 months prior. Anyway, I knew that I wanted a home birth and my husband agreed. We decided not to tell our family, in case they did not agree and would be negative about our plans. I began my search for our midwife in January and interviewed our perfect midwife in February. We clicked over the phone and things seemed even more perfect in person. I was confident in her experience, low hospital transfer rate, hbac rates and I knew that her calm, soothing personality would be exactly what I needed to help me move past my anger and hurt from my first birth and allow me to be as relaxed as possible during my prenatal care and the birth with my second child.

Over the following months, I began to feel more confident and secure in myself, my ability to birth naturally, and my birth team. I re-read all the books from my first time around and gathered new ones on home birthing and natural childbirth. I read natural birth stories blogs daily and watched homebirth videos. My midwife visited me at home for all of our appointments, gently touched my belly, and spoke to my unborn child with sweetness and respect, and we talked for a couple of hours each visit. I didn’t have any unnecessary tests done on myself or my baby, monthly vaginal exams, weight checks, or anything I didn’t research and consent to. I valued the holistic care she provided.

My due date was August 21st and by my 41 week appointment on the 29th, I started to worry. Were my dates wrong? Would everyone start freaking out at 42 weeks and then I’d need to have a hospital birth? My midwife and I carefully reviewed my dates and decided to change my due date to the 24th. Perhaps just that little due date nudge allowed me relax about letting things start when they were ready and I started feeling contractions that night. Boy, was I excited! The day was finally here that I would get to meet my new little girl and experience my first “real” birth and join the ranks of mothers who knew what it felt like to push their baby out the way nature intended and to hold their baby in their arms after climbing that mountain of labor. On August 29th around 11pm after puking up pizza I shouldn’t have eaten, which also cleared out my bowels, contractions started coming every 5 to 6 minutes apart and lasting a minute to 90 seconds long. These were real, I knew it, because I’d never felt them before. I felt a little warning when one was coming, a quick build up, then intense twisting and knotting in my abdomen. Then the sensations died down and everything relaxed until the next wave. I didn’t want to tell my husband right away in case it was a false alarm, but I started drawing out my labor chart to help me visualize how every stage was going to happen, how I would get through it. Then he realized something was up when I got in the shower. My 21 month old daughter woke up at 1am with the noise and excitement and refused to go back to sleep. We filled up the pool in the dining room while Gone with the Wind was playing on Netflix.

During that time, I was losing some of my mucus plug. I eventually got out of the pool and crawled into bed because I was starting to feel pretty exhausted, having only gotten a couple hours of sleep before contractions started. I texted my midwife about the contractions around 5am, rather than call and wake her since I was still not sure they were serious yet since they had slowed down to 10 to 15 apart. My daughter had not been able to go back to sleep by that point so by 7am I decided to nurse her to sleep and the intensity of the contractions immediately became overwhelming and I freaked out. My body did not seem to be ready to handle that level of pain yet so I panicked and I ran down the hall, like I could run away from my pain. Things then began to slow down so I tried to sleep while my daughter was napping but was not able to pass out for longer than a couple minutes at a time because I was still having contractions that woke me up.

I called my midwife to check in around 9:30am that morning to let her know how I was doing. By 11am I felt the contractions becoming much more intense and I couldn’t figure out how to cope with all that pain in my uterus in any other way than to flop down on my elbows and knees, rocking, and moaning or screaming. I couldn’t believe I’d turned into one of those screaming laboring women when I was hoping to have a blissful birth. I kept telling myself that I should not say they are “painful” because every book I’d read said I should be able to think of them as waves or intense sensations or something. They were “not painful”, the books claimed.

I got in the hot shower and bath to get some relief but it didn’t seem to help much, as I kept having to flop down on my hands and knees and the water level was too low for my belly. I started feeling worried that the baby was coming soon when my husband went to take a final at school around 1:30. I was at the house alone with my toddler. I tried to eat some pasta and vegetables to keep my energy up. I called my midwife at 1:41 and said I needed help and she said she would be there in an hour. Are you kidding me? An hour?! I thought she would come too late and I’d have to have the baby by myself in the bath. Thankfully, my husband came home around 2:00, skipping his test when he realized I was farther along than he thought and we waited for my midwife. I continued screaming through contractions while in the bath tub. My daughter kept popping her head in the bathroom, looking concerned, and then leaving to play.

My midwife arrived while I was still in the bath, just before 3pm. I welcomed her by puking up most of my lunch in a bucket. She brought a sense of calm and soothing that made me feel like everything was going to be okay. She listened the Amelie’s heartbeat, checked my blood pressure and heartbeat. All was just as it should be. I felt like I was done with the shower and moved to the bed. I asked that she check to see how far along I was. She checked and said I was at around 6-7 cm dilated. This was discouraging because I felt like I was very far along and now being told I was only 6 to 7 cm dilated made me think I still had many hours to go. My husband called his brother to come pick up our daughter sometime around 3:30. She was doing well with my laboring still but was distracting me by climbing on the bed and climbing on my husband’s back while I was leaning into him during contractions.

I was having a really hard time and I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore. I wanted all the pain to go away. I wanted to give up and go to the hospital for drugs but I didn’t say this out-loud. I just kept saying, “No, no, no” and “I can’t do this anymore.” My midwife and my husband kept telling me I could do it, that I was doing it. I kept my eyes closed most of the time, trying to tell myself to relax and float above all of this. It did not work. I was present in the pain. The only thing that helped me get through it was my husbands strong shoulders, which I threw myself against while a contraction would come on and rock myself on with his back taking the brunt of my weight. My brother in law arrived at 5 to pick my daughter up, having not realized we wanted him to come quickly when we called, not a couple hours later. (I found out later that he was in the middle of a long run and had to run several miles back and then come over.) The assist midwife arrived at the same time. I puked up the rest of my lunch and all the coconut water I had been drinking.

Then I started feeling like pushing while having a contraction felt better than not pushing, and I knew Amelie was starting to come out, lowering herself. I felt a great pressure in the vaginal area, which felt very different than contractions. My midwife checked me again at my request and said I was fully dilated and good to push! I was so relieved to hear this but her check brought on another contraction so I couldn’t enjoy that thought for longer than a second. I went from 6-7 cm dilated to fully dilated very quickly, less than an hour. I felt like my butt was going to explode and I knew I was giving myself hemorrhoids but I couldn’t figure out how to push without pushing that area too.

The midwives made warm herbal compresses and pressed them in the right places. My middle to lower back was starting to send signals of intense, sharp pain and I felt like my back was going to snap. I cried out and felt hands massage my back and I would instruct them to massage lower or higher or “get away!” I was feeling hot then cold, hot then cold, instructing that the AC be turned on then off and back on again. I spoke in single words, demanding water. At some point around here I remember telling my husband that I didn’t want any more kids. I was dead serious. I was not joking.

This bearing down went on for a what seemed like an eternity, but really was less than an hour, and then I felt a pop and a gush. My water had broken! I knew it was almost time. It kept gushing at each contraction and I felt them intensify. Everyone kept telling me that my body was doing exactly what it needed to do. I was doing perfectly. It sure didn’t feel perfect. I wondered if everyone’s labor was this terrible or if I was just that lucky. I was wet from my water and the bed was gross and covered in pads that kept sticking to my knees and feet.

Finally, I had a couple contractions that seemed to move her along at his point without much pain or help from me. Those few felt so wonderful. Then I felt like I had to push during contractions again and I felt an intense burning and bulging and I knew she was right there. They positioned a mirror so I could see her head coming through for the first time. Her scalp and hair was mushed and wrinkled, covered in brown hair! That wasn’t much of a surprise, since I imagined her with dark hair before her birth but it was nice to see. Little did I know but less than 10 minutes from then, I would be holding my daughter in my arms!

After another contraction, I looked down again and could see her head almost out, just waiting, my vagina bulging with her head. My midwife put more olive oil on my perineum. The push to get her head out was me moaning and screaming her out, and I felt myself stretch even more and I felt a sharp pain (from a small tear, I later found out) during crowning and with one more little push at the same time, the rest of her just slipped right out. My midwife caught her and handed her to my husband through my legs. I was almost in shock. I couldn’t believe it was over. I had done it. And she was beautiful. Time of birth was 5:46pm.

I laid down with the help of my midwives and husband and I closed my eyes to rest for a moment and they placed Amelie on my belly. Then I began checking out my baby while they listed to her heartbeat and checked the little things they needed to. She was very wide eyed and alert and starting to pink up. She started rooting and with a little nudge in the right direction from me, began nursing right away. Her latch was perfect and she continued for quite some time. I didn’t have to move to push out the placenta.

My midwife instructed me to give little pushes to help it along and asked that I “cough” and then the birth was complete. I just rested with my new baby on my breast, head propped up on pillows, and my husband sitting right next to me admiring our daughter together. Contractions continued to come even after the placenta was out, and the nursing made them stronger, but the pain was not nearly as intense as before the birth. These lessened over the next few days and seemed to completely disappear by day 4 postpartum.

My husband, shortly after her birth and our initial breastfeeding experience, put her sweet newborn body on his chest for some father-daughter bonding. Here she is all wrapped up and warm, making eye-to-eye contact. She was very alert! 

A couple hours later after the sun had gone down and Amelie was sleeping, my husband brought me dinner in bed. And what a fine meal it was! Chicken, beans, and mashed potatoes with a tall glass of milk. The midwives cleaned my house and washed my sheets. They gently checked me, assessed my small tear and looked me straight in my eyes when talking to me. This meant so much to me. And with regard to how my lovely midwife treated Amelie, I will cherish that memory forever. She held Amelie gently and with the utmost of care, as if she were the most special and precious baby on earth, giving her tiny kisses on her head and speaking softly to her.
Amelie was finally weighed and measured after pooping twice and peeing on my midwife, coming in at 7lbs 3oz and measuring 21 inches. I peed, showered, and returned to bed feeling so much better.What a sweet experience, so radically different that my first time around. Everything turned out just as I wished it would, besides labor being more intense than I imagined. I am now 5 days postpartum and my daughter and I have not had to leave our own front yard. This whole experience was transformative. I feel like an empowered mother, proud of myself, my birth story, and my family.

 

Did you have a home birth? Share your story!

 

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