How to Induce Labor Naturally, and Why You (Probably) Shouldn’t

by Alexandra Puppelo, M.A.

One of the biggest concerns students of mine have is how to avoid a medical induction.

expectant lady holding pen marking calendar

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Those who understand the normalcy of birth and the benefits of limiting interventions know that induction can disrupt even the best of birth plans.

In general, the safest approach for mom and baby is to wait for labor to happen spontaneously. But what if you and your provider agree that a medical induction is what is best for you and your baby(ies)? If induction is already on the table, you may want to try getting things started on your own to avoid the unpleasant medications and side effects of medically induced and managed labor. If you are at term and facing a medical induction, here are some things to try first (with your provider’s all-clear).

  • Eat dates (the fruit). If you know that you are likely to be induced, or if you just want to potentially speed your labor, a popular study demonstrated that eating 6 dates a day starting at 35 weeks increased the likelihood of spontaneous labor and sped first stage labor. (1) A more recent study suggested that dates may reduce the need for augmentation but not necessarily induction (2), but since there isn’t any harm to eating dates unless you have dietary restrictions, it’s worth a try.
  • Have sex. Having sex 3 times a day, once you are at term, has been shown to improve the likelihood of spontaneous labor (3). Semen contains prostaglandins. Prostaglandins soften the cervix naturally, and synthetic prostaglandins are used in the common medications to start an induction. A softened cervix can make dilation and effacement easier and faster. In addition, female orgasm can create “tightenings”, or Braxton-Hicks contractions, and late in pregnancy this can sometimes stimulate real contractions to get going! (4)
  • Try pumping. Nipple stimulation that mimics a baby suckling triggers the hormone oxytocin. This hormone release allows you to “let down” your milk to your baby, and it also triggers uterine contractions.This can get contractions going and can help pick up the speed of contractions while in labor (5).  
  • Acupressure or acupuncture. In Eastern medicine, certain points on the body are thought to be tied to our body organs and life energy. In these traditions, putting pressure or small needles in certain areas is thought to be able to, among other things, stimulate the hormones you need to get labor going. Although you would need a trained provider who is skilled in working with pregnant women to provide acupuncture, acupressure can be done relatively simply with some guidance online. Popular points for labor include pressing your thumb on the roof of your mouth, pressing the side of your foot just under your ankle, and pressing your thumb in the middle of your hand (6).
  • Give yourself permission to relax and welcome this baby. Sound silly? It shouldn’t. We evolved to give birth to our young when we were in a safe place. For example, it is a common occurrence for women who head to their birthplace too soon to have labor stall on the drive. This is adrenaline working against you–adrenaline is telling your body that it might not be safe to have your baby yet, and it will wait until things are calmer (7). So, if early labor seems to start and stop without getting anywhere, do something relaxing. Walking is excellent for clearing your mind and can also help speed labor by putting pressure on the cervix (8). You can also quite literally tell your baby that it is safe to come out! Your baby can hear you and can sense your emotions. We know now more than we ever have before that babies can perceive a great deal in the womb (9). Let your baby know that they are in good hands and that you are ready to bring them into this safe, loving family “on the outside.”

Interested in learning more about induction and the ins and outs of natural childbirth? Consider a Bradley Method(™) class. We teach evidence- and experience-based ways to labor and give birth naturally, while giving you lifelong coping skills and strengthening your bond with your partner and your new baby. Our next 12-week class series at Om Baby begins Wednesday, April 10th, at 7pm.

 

1 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21280989
2 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28286995
3 https://evidencebasedbirth.com/evidence-using-sex-for-natural-labor-induction/
4 https://www.aafp.org/afp/2003/0515/p2123.html
5 https://www.healthline.com/health/breast-pump-to-induce-labor#Is-it-safe?
6 https://www.healthline.com/health/pregnancy/acupressure-points-inducing-labor#acupressure
7 http://www.childbirthconnection.org/maternity-care/role-of-hormones/
8 https://www.livestrong.com/article/525410-does-walking-speed-up-labor/
9 https://news.psu.edu/story/141254/2009/02/23/research/probing-question-can-babies-learn-utero


Alexandra puppelo

Alexandra Puppelo, M.A.
When Alexandra became pregnant with her first child,
she knew that she wanted a natural birth, and she knew
she would need some guidance to learn how! The closest
natural childbirth teacher to her home was a Bradley(TM)
teacher 45 minutes away. Through the 12 week series, she
realized what an impact natural birth with a loving partner
as a coach truly has on the start of a new family. When
their son was a few months old, she and her husband decided to
study to become Bradley Method of Natural Childbirth(R)
teachers to spread the joy and power of natural birth
to as many people as possible. We believe parents have the
right to be well-educated and empowered to make choices
for their new families, regardless of their eventual birth locations
and plans. Adding a child to a family changes that family forever,
and we want to help others to lovingly embrace this exciting time.
Alexandra loves helping others to understand all aspects of childbirth
and helping women to bring their babies into this world in the
safest, most joyful way possible.
Alexandra is a full-time technical writer who loves taking
technical content and making it easy for others to use and
understand. She is also available as a Bradley(TM) doula. You
can find her reading nonfiction for fun, working in her garden,
 and cooking delicious vegan food. She spends her spare time

with her bunny, puppy, young son, and husband.

 

Find Alexandra at Om Baby_»
Learn More about Bradley Method_»

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There’s No Place Like Om

by Holly Keich

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Om: /ōm/ (noun)  the term that I thought everyone understood when I named my business.  I get a wide range of confused calls, letters or bills from people looking for O.M. Baby, Ohm (think learning about electricity in 6th grade science class) Baby, Om (pronounced ah-m) Baby and the list goes on.  So apparently I was wrong.  How could that be?  *insert sarcasm*  Not everyone knows about Om.

For those of you that have taken a yoga class, there’s a chance that you may have more knowledge of the term, but that’s not guaranteed in our westernized yoga fitness culture.  Om as I describe it in my classes (to keep it short and to the point) means One.  It’s the sound of the universe, the sound that was created before time and can still be heard today if you listen closely enough.**  It unites us all and brings the realization that we have all come from the same place.  We are all one.

We often chant Om at the end of classes as a reminder of that connection before we traverse out into the world that seems so disconnected and fragmented.  Traditionally it is chanted 3 times.  If you break down the sound of Om itself, it is made up of 3 distinctly different sounds that when unified will rhyme with the word “home”;  A “aaah”, U “oooh”, M “mmm.”  The trinity of the sound can be represented by a variety of things, but most often in yogic terms it is translated into the alignment of mind, body, & spirit.  But, the chanting of Om is deeper than seeking the oneness within ourselves alone. It’s about connecting with the oneness in all of us, aligning in union with the universe. The trinity represents past, present and future combining all things in a world that is timeless.  The waking, dreaming and dreamless states of consciousness are united. Om represents all of consciousness.

The vibration of Om is felt in the body and is very calming to the nervous system.  This is true for those chanting as well as those listening.  You may even remember the viral video earlier this year of Daniel Eisenman chanting “om” to his newborn with astounding results. This is something I’ve seen repeated in person during the close of our baby yoga classes. I even suggest to parents that it’s a wonderful parenting tool and mantra that can be very soothing for you and baby in times of stress.

The long, low soothing sound rolls off the tongue, starting at the back of the throat and moves forward ending with the tingle of the humming of the “mmm” sound on the lips. The Om is a culmination of all sound in one tone.  After the sound comes the silence.

In fact, the silence was there before the sound, during and after.  Silence is unchanging, even while sound changes tone or vibration. Silence is ever-present and unchanging.  How many times do we crave for silence?  For the sound, the clutter jingling in our heads, around our homes, and in our world to stop, when in fact the silence is already present.  We just need to learn to tap into it, to understand the duplicity and paradox of the two existing together, as one.  All is One.  Om.

 
**Apparently, according to NASA, there is no sound in space. But through an experiment started in 2010 they took plasma wave data from the sun and translated it into sound.  You can find more info at: https://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2013/01nov_ismsounds  and note that not all of the sounds in space sound like Om, but apparently some do:  http://www.hoaxorfact.com/science/nasa-recorded-om-sound-from-sun-facts.html.


Head Shot

In 2007, when Holly became pregnant with her first child she began teaching prenatal yoga classes that impart not only the wisdom of poses for the childbearing year, but also knowledge of the spiritual and emotional process of becoming a parent. She continued to develop her support of mother, child & family connections through the opening of Om Baby Pregnancy & Parenting Center in 2008.

Folate vs Folic Acid in Pregnancy

Pregnancy often makes us take a closer look at our nutrition. Even if we weren’t taking vitamins in the past, we’re likely to start. At the first appointment with our prenatal care provider, likely we discuss some of the recommended requirements or possibly for those of us that are Type A personalities, we’ve already thoroughly researched the topic because we want to be on top of everything by the time we meet our provider.  I recall hearing from a variety of sources that Folic Acid was one of the key important nutrients and to be sure to make sure you were getting enough.  But what is enough and is a multi-vitamin the best source of this important nutrient?  We’ll take a look at recent research to find out how much is enough, is there such a thing as too much of a good thing, and what are the best sources of folic acid or it’s more natural form, folate.

Folic acid and folate are members of the B vitamin family.  Their names come from folium, the Latin word for leaf. (1) It is not a surprise that leafy vegetables are by far the best sources of folate. This nutrient is found naturally in various leafy vegetables such as spinach, cabbage, turnip greens, collard greens, and romaine lettuce. (18) Often the terms folic acid and folate are used interchangeably as in this excerpt from the Baby Center, “If you’re pregnant or might become pregnant, it’s critically important to get enough folic acid, the synthetic form of vitamin B9, also known as folate.” (3)  But in fact, folate refers to various tetrahydrofolate derivatives naturally occurring in foods. (6) Folic acid, on the other hand, is the fully oxidized synthetic compound (pteroylmonoglutamic acid) used in dietary supplements and in food fortification. (6)

Human exposure to folic acid was non-existent until its chemical synthesis in 1943. (4) In January 1998, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began requiring manufacturers to add folic acid to enriched breads, cereals, flours, cornmeals, pastas, rice, and other grain products. (13) The overwhelming evidence that folic acid supplementation before conception and during early pregnancy prevents neural tube defects (NTD) in newborns is what led to the FDA requirement. Food fortification rather than supplementation was deemed necessary because NTD’s could occur during early pregnancy, before a women knows she is pregnant.

The neural tube is the part of the embryo from which your baby’s spine and brain develop. If something goes wrong in their development, the result is called a neural tube defect. These are birth defects of the spinal cord (such as spina bifida) and the brain (such as anencephaly). (3) A baby’s neural tube is formed and closed in the first four to six weeks of pregnancy. (10) By the time most women know or suspect they are pregnant, the time for the developing fetus to benefit from extra folate has passed. NTDs affect about 3,000 pregnancies a year in the United States. (3) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that women who take the recommended daily dose of folic acid starting at least one month before conception and during the first trimester of pregnancy reduce their baby’s risk of neural tube defects by up to 70 percent. (3)

Beyond protecting against NTD, folate is a key player in essential cell functions. It helps make, protect, and repair DNA (15), aids the complete development of red blood cells that carry oxygen from your lungs to all parts of your body (and to your baby) (14), and helps convert some amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) into others (15). During pregnancy, women’s requirements increase as baby grows in the womb.  The rapid cell growth that takes place in the placenta and as your baby grows makes getting additional amounts of folate important. Some research suggests that folate can also reduce your baby’s risk of cleft lip, cleft palate, congenital heart defects, reduces low infant birth weight, preterm delivery and fetal growth retardation. (3, 13) Not only can this  important nutrient protect your baby, there can be benefits for the mother also.  It may also reduce your risk of preeclampsia, a serious blood pressure disorder that affects about 5 percent of pregnant women. (3)

Folate is found naturally in a wide variety of foods, including vegetables, fruits and fruit juices, nuts, beans, peas , dairy products, poultry and meat, eggs, seafood and grains. (13) Spinach, liver, yeast, asparagus, and Brussel sprouts are among the foods with the highest levels of folate. (13) For a more detailed list, check out the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Nutrient Database Web site which lists the nutrient content of many foods and provides a comprehensive list of foods containing folate arranged by nutrient content and by food name.

The federal government’s 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans notes that “Nutritional needs should be met primarily from foods (13) and folate is no different. Folic acid was once thought to absorb better in the body than natural folate, but studies have found that a whole foods, folate-rich diet is just as effective. (18) Based on a 2007 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the aggregate bioavailability (the degree to which a substance becomes available to the target tissue) of folates from fruit, vegetables, and liver is approximately 80% of that of folic acid. (16) Therefore, it was decided that the consumption of a diet rich in folate from foods can actually improve the folate status of the population more efficiently that was assumed just a few years ago. In part, this may be because although the body may absorb folic acid faster than it absorbs folate, it must then convert it into folate before it can get to work. (15)

Another consideration is that when getting your folate intake through unfortified food, it comes with a whole host of other vitamins, minerals and as-yet undiscovered phytonutrients that work synergistically in the body.  In fortified foods and single supplements, it may be working alone.  Therefore, it’s best to get your nutrients from food. (15)

During pregnancy though, due to the increased demands of the fetus, it is difficult to obtain a therapeutic dose strictly through diet and may be best to supplement to ensure that you are getting appropriate amounts.   Fortified foods can help correct deficiencies, but they can overdo one nutrient. This may prove to be more detrimental that beneficial.  For example, some fortified breakfast cereals contain 100 percent of the recommended daily amount. (3) And some breakfast cereals, nutrition bars, and other fortified foods deliver up to 800 micrograms of folic acid, and that’s about double the recommended daily dose. Studies have more recently emerged which raise concern about the safety of chronic intake of high levels of folic acid from fortified foods, beverages and dietary supplements. It has been shown that many ready-to-eat foods are actually over-fortified with folic acid and that the projected daily folic acid intake from fortified food has been greatly exceeded. (2) In fact, the fortification program was projected to increase folic acid intakes by approximately 100 mcg/day, but the program actually increased mean folic acid intakes in the United States by about 190 mcg/day.(13) Considering this may be in conjunction with a daily prenatal vitamin in pregnancy which typically provides 400 mcg or more, we see how this may exceed the Recommended Daily Allowance.

Let’s take a look at what the recommendations actually are for folic acid.  The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) is the average daily level of intake sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of nearly all (97%–98%) healthy individuals. (13)  The intake recommendations for folate and other nutrients are provided in the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) developed by the Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) at the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academies.(13). It states that women of childbearing age should get 400 mcg of natural folate daily. It is recommended that women get 600 mcg during pregnancy, and lactating women get 500 mcg of folate each day. (18)  In table 1 below taken from the National Institute of Health, you’ll see that folate is listed as micrograms (mcg) of dietary folate equivalents (DFE’s). This term was developed to reflect the higher bioavailability (the amount of a nutrient that reaches the body’s tissues after it is eaten or the amount that your body absorbs)  of folic acid than that of food folate. This chart assumes that at least 85% of folic acid is estimated to be bioavailable when taken with food and that only about 50% of folate naturally present in food is bioavailable.

Table 1: Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for Folate*

Age Male Female Pregnant Lactating
Birth to 6 months* 65 mcg DFE* 65 mcg DFE*    
7–12 months* 80 mcg DFE* 80 mcg DFE*    
1–3 years 150 mcg DFE 150 mcg DFE    
4–8 years 200 mcg DFE 200 mcg DFE    
9–13 years 300 mcg DFE 300 mcg DFE    
14–18 years 400 mcg DFE 400 mcg DFE 600 mcg DFE 500 mcg DFE
19+ years 400 mcg DFE 400 mcg DFE 600 mcg DFE 500 mcg DFE

*chart from National Institutes of Health (13)

As discussed previously, while there is no agreement on the extent of difference between folic acid and folate bioavailability, folate bioavailability is more efficient than this chart assumes. So, the concern might be that you are consuming too much folate, but rest assured, you can’t get too much from foods that naturally contain folate. (12) It comes naturally packaged in balance with other micronutrients, and the body regulates its absorption. It is possible, however; to get too much folic acid from man-made products such as multivitamins and fortified foods, such as breakfast cereals.

While low levels of folate present many health concerns, new research is showing that excess levels may be a concern as well.  The Institute of Medicine advises not to take more than 1,000 mcg per day of folic acid unless advised by your healthcare provider. (15)  Certain situations that may require a higher dosage are:  (3)

  • Women who are obese appear to be more likely to have a baby with a nueral tube defect.
  • Previously pregnant with a baby with a neural tube defect (have a 3-5% chance of having another pregnancy complicated by an NTD.
  • Carrying twins
  • Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) mutation – that makes it more difficult to process folate and folic acid (about 50% of women in the U.S. are unable to methylate or fully convert folic acid to folate because of one of more defects in their MTHFR gene (19) )
  • Diabetic or taking certain antiseizure medications

Studies show that the body can’t properly process a high intake of folic acid into folate. It is possible that unconverted folic acid circulating in the bloodstream could elbow aside folate for spots inside binding enzymes, carrier proteins, and binding proteins. (16) In theory, this could decrease the amount of folate carried into brain and other tissues—like dying of starvation in a land of plenty. In practice, though, whether this is a real problem is not clear yet. (16)

Looking more specifically at MTHFR issues, this mutation makes it more difficult for the body to detoxify. During pregnancy this is especially concerning because the build up of unusable folic acid (from fortified food and certain prenatal vitamins) can cause toxicity and folate deficiency because it blocks absorption of naturally occurring folate. (20)

Multiple studies have been released in the past few years expressing health concerns about excess folic acid consumption. One of those studies presented preliminary findings in 2016 and suggests that excessive amounts of folate (vitamin B9) and vitamin B12 in a mother’s body might increase a baby’s risk of developing an autism spectrum disorder. (9) The researchers found that if a new mother has a very high level of folate right after giving birth – more than four times what is considered adequate – the risk that her child will develop an autism spectrum disorder doubles. (9)  Very high vitamin B12 levels in new moms are also potentially harmful, tripling the risk that her offspring will develop an autism spectrum disorder. If both levels are extremely high, the risk that a child develops the disorder increases 17.6 times. (9)

While this may spark concern in new mothers, it’s important to view the new findings with perspective.  M. Daniele Fallen, PhD, director of the Bloomberg School’s Wendy Klag Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities and the study’s senior author urges us to remember that “Adequate supplementation is protective: That’s still the story with folic acid.” (9)  She feels that this study tells us “that excessive amounts (of folic acid) may also cause harm. We must aim for optimal levels of this important nutrient.” (9)  In other words, more research needs to be done.  It still needs determined just how much folic acid a woman should consume during pregnancy to provide optimal blood folate levels for the best outcome for her baby.

Additional studies point to other concerns of excess folic acid during pregnancy.  A 2015 Portugese study published in the Journal of Edocrinology expresses a concern that excessive amounts of folic acid during pregnancy may predispose their daughters to diabetes and obesity later in life. (11)  This study also calls for a need to establish a safe upper limit of folic acid intake for pregnant women.

A few studies have also suggested that excess folic acid may be associated with increased risk for colorectal, breast, and prostate cancers. (15)  While these studies are limited, they sound an additional warning about getting too much folic acid and confirms that this topic certainly deserves further investigation.

Despite mounting studies about the concerns of excess folic acid and statistics from the CDC that indicate on the other end of the spectrum that one in four women of reproductive age in the U.S. have insufficient folate levels (8), it’s surprising that levels are not routinely monitored during pregnancy. Likely testing was previously thought not to be needed once food fortification requirements were put into place to raise levels of folic acid in women of childbearing age. Since conventional belief is that B vitamins are water soluble it was thought that any excess would be flushed out. Until recently, there wasn’t a concern about high levels in the body.

As discussed previously, most folic acid cannot be converted into the active folate 5-MTHF, and instead it is converted in the liver, or other tissues in the body. (18) While both folate and folic acid need to be converted into the bioactive MTHF for the body to use, it’s easier to convert when it comes from food. (19)  The process of converting folic acid is very slow and has been shown to be even worse when fortified foods and folic acid supplements are consumed together. (18) When this happens, it can lead to unmetabolized folic acid in the bloodstream. (18) Possibly as more studies are done to find a safe upper limit of folic acid regular testing will be included in a future prenatal panel checklist to ensure optimum levels.  Keep in mind though that by the time you know you are pregnant, it may be too late, so it may be better to be proactive and get testing beforehand if you want to know for sure.

It’s clear that the science is not settled on this issue, so what’s an expecting mama to do regarding folate intake?  T.H. Chan of the Harvard School of Public Health recommends to continue taking your standard (prenatal) multivitamin, but to stay away from heavily fortified foods that deliver a full day’s dose – or sometimes more – of folic acid. (15) If eating fortified foods, Chan recommends avoiding foods fortified with more than 100-200 micrograms of folic acid (25% to 50% of the % Daily Value). (15) While no supplement can replace the synergistic effects of whole foods, it’s a great insurance policy, especially when trying to conceive, during pregnancy and lactation.  There are now high quality prenatals that contain folate – the natural methylated form, 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF) on the market.

Seeking Health, Optimal Prenatal

MTHFR-Seeking-Health-Optimal-Prenatal

Thorne Research

Thorne-Research-prenatal-supplement-facts

Zahler Prenatal + DHA

Zahler-Prenatal-DHA-prenatal-supplement-facts

You can get more info about nutrient profiles of prenatals in this blog post by Mama Natural.

Prenatal vitamins containing l-methylfolate have been compared with ones containing folic acid during pregnancy and the results are mixed.  Some experts say that new research will eventually change the guidelines for women, while others say there’s not a compelling case to do so. The choice is yours until more clear information is provided, but as always, be sure to check with your doctor or midwife before making any changes.  Let us know what you decide in the comments.

References/Sources

  1. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/folic-acid/
  2. http://blog.designsforhealth.com/blog/bid/115121/Folic-Acid-vs-Folate-Part-I
  3. https://www.babycenter.com/0_folic-acid-why-you-need-it-before-and-during-pregnancy_476.bc
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18038944
  5. https://chriskresser.com/folate-vs-folic-acid/
  6. http://blog.designsforhealth.com/blog/bid/115121/Folic-Acid-vs-Folate-Part-I
  7. http://healthybabycode.com/5-myths-about-pregnancy-nutrition-5-folic-acid-supplements-are-safe
  8. https://consumer.healthday.com/cognitive-health-information-26/autism-news-51/too-much-folic-acid-in-pregnancy-tied-to-raised-autism-risk-in-study-710859.html
  9. http://www.jhsph.edu/news/news-releases/2016/too-much-folate-in-pregnant-women-increases-risk-for-autism-study-suggests.html
  10. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/folate-for-pregnant-women
  11. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/02/150210083651.htm
  12. https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/folic-acid
  13. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Folate-HealthProfessional/
  14. http://www.marchofdimes.org/pregnancy/folic-acid.aspx#
  15. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/folic-acid/
  16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17284745
  17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20608755
  18. http://www.doctorshealthpress.com/general-health-articles/folate-vs-folic-acid
  19. http://www.foxnews.com/health/2014/07/27/should-skip-prenatal-vitamins-with-folic-acid.html
  20. https://www.mamanatural.com/best-prenatal-vitamins/

Holly Keich, LSW is the owner of Om Baby Pregnancy & Parenting Center in Camp Hill, PA.  When she became pregnant with her first child she began teaching prenatal yoga classes that impart not only the wisdom of poses for the childbearing year, but also knowledge of the spiritual and emotional process of becoming a parent. Holly has attended pre and postnatal yoga teacher trainings with Stephanie Keach and Mindful Mamas. She has also attended Baby Om Yoga training in NYC and is a Certified ChildLight Yoga Instructor, including Baby & Toddler Yoga as well as a Certified Infant Massage Instructor. She supports mother, child & family connections through the opening of Om Baby in 2008.

The Science of Love

by Holly Keich

Standing in line at the local craft shop, Valentine’s items strewn about the aisle, I choose to make an impulse purchase of a heart chalkboard. Two, one for each of my children.  Not for decoration, but in hopes of instilling kindness and love into their days by hanging them on their door and writing a daily message of gratitude for having them in my life.

love-2

As I move towards bringing more love into my family’s life and the world around me, what better time to delve deeper to answer the question, “What inspires love?” than February, the month of LOVE.  Perhaps you’ve already heard of the “love hormone,” oxytocin.  It is said to be responsible for social bonding. When we hug or kiss a loved one our oxytocin levels increase. (1) Positive comments and positive conversations also spur the production of oxytocin. (2) But as with anything we give a quick glance on the surface, as I delve deeper there is much more to learn about this hormone.

Oxytocin was first recognized for it’s role in the birth process and breastfeeding and it’s particular importance in women. (3) The hormone, when released during labor, promotes contractions and also helps the uterus shrink back to shape after birth. It also increases the production of prostaglandins, which move labor along and increases the contractions even more. (4) The life-altering event of childbirth is a stressful experience, but with the release of oxytocin, not only is the labor moved along, but many women are able to experience the event with love and joy rather than a fight or flight response. (5) Additionally, this hormone has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that may help modulate pain perception. (6)  Certainly a bonus when giving birth.

The true excitement about this hormone began in the 1990’s though when researchers discovered that breastfeeding women are calmer in the face of exercise and psychosocial stress than bottle-feeding mothers. (7) The reason for this is because when an infant suckles at the mother’s breast it stimulates a release of oxytocin which creates the “let down reflex” moving the milk to the breast for baby to consume. At the same time, oxytocin is released into the mother’s brain to stimulate further oxytocin production to enhance bonding with baby. Once the baby stops feeding, the production of the hormone stops until the next feeding. (8) A lack of sufficient oxytocin can prevent the milk letdown reflex and may be one of the reasons that make breastfeeding difficult for some women.

Further studies show that It’s even been found that the higher the levels of oxytocin in the first trimester, the more bonding behaviors we see after birth, such as singing or bathing baby. (9)  Interactions such as these (and many others) builds bonds between babies and the parent or caregiver as well and studies show that their oxytocin levels also increase. (10) This comes from the evolutionary process that has shown that pro-social behaviors are beneficial to survival.  According to Loretta Graziano Breuning of the Inner Mammal Institute, mammals have learned through the years that “leaving the herd can mean instant death in the jaws of a predator, so the brain rewards you with oxytocin when you have safety in numbers. The nice safe feeling is triggered by trust and touch: they go together in the state of nature because a critter close enough to touch you is close enough to hurt you. The brain makes careful decisions about when to trust instead of releasing oxytocin all the time.” (11)

While oxytocin is typically known for it’s purpose in birth and breastfeeding, there are many other triggers of this hormone such as warm temperature and touch, smells, sounds and other social cues. (12) Even more fascinating is that the release of oxytocin is not limited to just the pituitary gland, a pea-shaped structure at the base of the brain; it can be released from the uterus, ovaries, testes, blood vessels, and the heart. (13)  But what I find most fascinating is the oxytocin is released as part of the stress response.

Typically when we think of a stress response, we think of the hormone cortisol coursing through our bodies promoting a “fight or flight” response.  Cortisol is the body’s emergency response system.  It’s triggered when we face criticism, rejection or fear, when we feel marginalized or minimized and when we feel pain and the anticipation of pain. When present in birth it can slow down labor so you can take care of the actual or perceived threat.  In all these situations, it shuts down the thinking center of our brains and activates protective behaviors.

The release of oxytocin instead creates a “tend and befriend” response.  When oxytocin comes on board during times of high social stress or pain, it may “lead people to seek out more and better social contacts,” says social psychologist Shelley E. Taylor, PhD, who directs the University of California, Los Angeles, Social Neuroscience Lab. (14)  This hormonal response actually encourages people to seek out contact with others in times of stress.

As with all things, balance is key; too little adversity and too much adversity disrupts oxytocin balance, while experiencing just enough stress helps to maintain oxytocin balance. Often we think that our hormones rule us, but there are strategies that we can use to help re-wire the brain and maintain balance. Kelly McGonigal, PhD tells us in her book The Upside of Stress that “viewing a stressful situation as an opportunity to improve your skills, knowledge, or strengths makes it more likely that you will have a challenge response instead of a fight-or-flight response.  This, in turn, increases the chance that you will learn from the experience.” (15) In fact, it was her TED Talk the spurred my interest in the topic. If you haven’t already seen it, it’s worth 15 minutes of your time to watch it here.

Now we know we have the opportunity to grow just by our perception of stressful events.  What are some other ways that we can encourage hormonal balance and love in our life?

  1. Volunteering – especially if you are experiencing the same stress or subjected to the emotional trauma or disaster event.
  2. Journaling – even just 10 minutes where you reflect on your core values and motivation can change how you face stressful events.
  3. Assigning Meaning – giving your life events greater meaning through aspirational goals, reflection on core values that keep you connected to the greater purpose of life – realizing we’re all ONE.
  4. Self Care – Exercising, spiritual practice, reading, listening to music, spending time with family or friends, get a massage, walking, yoga, creative hobbies
  5. Strengthen Mindfulness – Being in the present moment protects you from anxiety and depression. Daily meditation for just 5 minutes a day can make an impact for a lifetime.
  6. Avoid Continuous Negative News – Watching or reading the news about stressful events is one of the largest triggers of stress. We also often watch the news alone which can exacerbate our stress response and deplete willpower.
  7. Avoid Dopamine Releasing Activities – Gambling, shopping, smoking, drinking, eating, playing video games, surfing the internet or binging on TV or movies for more than 2 hours.

Practicing these activities you can build new neural circuits through repetition.  For the most effect, perform the new behaviors or thought patterns for 45 days consistently. (16)  The more you practice these activities the more balanced and stress-free you will feel, the more in balance your oxytocin will be, and the more love you will feel in your life and be able to share those around you.

  1. https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/oxytocin
  2. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/conversational-intelligence/201612/chemistry-lessons
  3. http://www.livescience.com/42198-what-is-oxytocin.html
  4. http://www.hormone.org/hormones-and-health/what-do-hormones-do/oxytocin
  5. http://www.apa.org/monitor/feb08/oxytocin.aspx
  6. http://dralexrinehart.com/stress-benefits/how-to-increase-oxytocin/
  7. http://www.apa.org/monitor/feb08/oxytocin.aspx
  8. http://www.hormone.org/hormones-and-health/what-do-hormones-do/oxytocin
  9. http://www.livescience.com/42198-what-is-oxytocin.html
  10. http://www.livescience.com/42198-what-is-oxytocin.html
  11. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/your-neurochemical-self/201610/you-have-power-over-your-brain-chemistry
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15834840
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18655874
  14. http://www.apa.org/monitor/feb08/oxytocin.aspx
  15. http://dralexrinehart.com/stress-benefits/how-to-increase-oxytocin/
  16. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/your-neurochemical-self/201610/you-have-power-over-your-brain-chemistry

Holly Keich is a Licensed Social Worker and Owner of Om Baby Pregnancy & Parenting Center in Camp Hill, PA.  For more info about her work, visit www.ombabycenter.com.

Yoga for Gestational Diabetes

by Holly Keich

What is Gestational Diabetes?

Normally, insulin, secreted continuously by the pancreas, acts like a key to open the door to cells in our muscles, liver and fat tissue so glucose can enter. When pregnant though, generally between the second and third trimester, the mother’s insulin requirement increases by 2 to 3 times above normal levels. (1) Also during pregnancy, the placenta produces hormones that help the baby grow and develop. These hormones however make cells less responsive to insulin. Consequently, during pregnancy, the mother’s body needs to produce higher amounts of insulin to keep her blood glucose levels within the normal range. Typically this would not be a problem and the pancreas would secrete more insulin to lower the blood glucose levels. It’s when the pancreas cannot produce enough insulin to control blood glucose levels that glucose intolerance develops. When this happens during pregnancy it is called Gestational Diabetes Mellitus (GDM). After the baby is born, the mother’s blood glucose levels usually return to normal.

It is estimated that Gestational Diabetes affects 18% of pregnancies (2) based on new diagnostic criteria developed in 2015 by the International Association of Diabetes in Pregnancy Study Group and the American Diabetes Association, with it’s prevalence increasing worldwide. GDM usually has no obvious symptoms, therefore diagnosis is typically made through an oral glucose challenge screening between 24 to 28 weeks of pregnancy.(3) If a woman tests positive during this screening test, a second test, called the Glucose Tolerance Test (or the 3-hour challenge), may be performed. This test will diagnose whether diabetes exists or not by indicating whether or not the body is using glucose effectively. (4) This screening recommendation has been upheld by the US Preventative Service Task Force as of January 2014.  Some sources question testing procedures, from the ingredients in Glucola, the sugary drink you consume when tested, to controversy about screening and the effectiveness of treatment.

Elevated blood sugar in pregnancy creates oxidative stress and can lead to high blood pressure, preeclampsia, premature labor and possibility of delivery by cesarean section due to macrosomia (large baby). (5,6) Women who develop GDM also have at least a 50% chance of becoming diabetic later in life and a 60% chance of developing type 2 diabetes within 4 years. (5,7) Also babies born to diabetic moms have an increased risk of being born with low blood sugar and having prolonged jaundice. (8) They also have a much higher lifetime likelihood of developing chronic health problems associated with obesity and diabetes. (9)

 

Risk Factors

Certain women are more prone to experiencing gestational diabetes. Risk factors include (10):

  • Ethnicity – higher incidence in African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics and Orientals and non-white Hispanic women
  • Greater Maternal Age (35 years plus)
  • Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
  • Family History of Diabetes Mellitus
  • Experienced GDM in a Previous Pregnancy – 30%-60% greater risk
  • Pregnancy Induced Hypertension
  • Hypertension – twice the risk as women without hypertension*
  • Poor Nutrition and Diet*
  • Overweight and Obesity*
  • Sedentary Behavior – two fold increase risk*

Those noted with an asterisk (*) are lifestyle related risk factors that are modifiable. When risks are combined there is a greater chance of developing GDM.

 

Prevention and Treatment

The management of GDM aims to mediate the effects of hyperglycemia by controlling blood glucose levels to improve pregnancy outcomes. Likely your doctor will begin by asking you to modify your diet and begin an exercise regime. Exercise has a powerful potential to assist with blood glucose control. In fact, exercise has been shown effective in preventing, reducing or even delaying the need for insulin management. If adequate glucose levels are not achieved with diet and exercise alone, a woman will generally be directed to anti-diabetic medications to reduce blood glucose levels for mother and baby.

Records as early as the 17th and 18th Centuries have shown encouragement of exercise during pregnancy as it was thought to ensure good health and prevent miscarriage (11). Modern research shows that this is not far from the truth. Despite a trend in the last century which encouraged women not to exercise during pregnancy, current trends show that it is increasingly recognized as safe in low-risk pregnancies and is encouraged as part of routine prenatal care. Physical activity during pregnancy may prevent both GDM and possibly later-onset Type 2 Diabetes. (12) Studies even show that regular physical activity prior to becoming pregnant has shown a reduced risk of developing GDM. (13) In fact, women with a higher risk for GDM may even be able to prevent it by managing those four modifiable lifestyle risk factors noted above with an asterisk. Diet and regular physical activity are frequently sufficient to manage hyperglycemia.

Exercise during pregnancy is helpful for a whole host of associated conditions or symptoms accompanying pregnancy beyond gestational diabetes, such as edema, gestational hypertension, mood instability, musculoskeletal discomfort, aches, and weight gain. (14) Engaging in 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity most days of the week has been adopted as the most recent recommendation for all pregnant women, unless otherwise directed by your doctor. (15)

 

Yoga, Pregnancy & Gestational Diabetes

The general recommendation if beginning a new yoga practice during pregnancy is to wait until the 2nd trimester to begin. This may be especially appropriate for women who were previously sedentary, waiting until after the initial discomforts of morning sickness, nausea and fatigue have settled down. Since exercise in early pregnancy can reduce the risk of GDM, the sooner you feel up to exercising comfortably, the better. If you have a regular practice, continuing through the first trimester is fine as long as you are listening to your body. You’re growing a whole new human being which can deplete your energy and vitality, so rest when you’re tired. Yoga has always been about being in the moment and you may find that pregnancy pulls you deeper into the here and now as you move along with the daily changes happening in your body.

Numerous studies have already proven the remarkable effects yoga has on reducing stress. This is important when talking about gestational diabetes, because there is a direct correlation between stress and elevated blood sugar levels. (16) Yoga moderates the impact of diabetes through the lowering of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. (17) When these stress hormones are elevated, blood glucose levels are raised. When we are able to lower their impact, we are able to modify the potential for GDM.  Yoga’s known ability to lower both the oxidative stress level and the perceived stress levels help to control this condition. (18)

While no one yoga pose will help to prevent or alleviate gestational diabetes, practicing this flow of beneficial poses* on a regular basis as a recommended portion of a regular exercise routine may help to lower stress and regulate blood sugar levels.

Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodana)
Sun Salutations (modified) – feet hip distance apart
Mountain (Tadasana) – arms stretched upward
Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana)
Lunge
dsc05456
Cow
Child’s Pose
dsc05446
Lunge
Standing Forward Bend (Uttasana)
Round to Mountain (Tadasana)
Cat/Cow
Triangle Pose (Trikonasana)
1110_keich_30_lores
Extended Side Angle
dsc05457

Warrior 1
dsc05449
Warrior 2
Standing Twist

Tree Pose (Vrksasana)
Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottansana)
Bharadvaja’s Twist
dsc05470
Bridge (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
dsc05472
Reclining Twist
Mindfulness Meditation or Yoga Nidra
dsc05473

*Adapted from Yoga as Medicine: the Yogic Prescription for Health and Healing
By Timothy McCall, MD

Contraindications: If any of the following warning signs occur, it is advised that exercise should be terminated: vaginal bleeding, dizziness, headache, chest pain, muscle weakness, preterm labour, decreased foetal movement, amniotic fluid leakage, calf pain or swelling and dyspnoea without exertion. (19) Additional contraindications are listed here.  Hot yoga should also be avoided during pregnancy.

 

Be sure to check out Om Baby’s Prenatal Yoga schedule and join us for a class to help reap the many benefits of yoga during pregnancy.  Modifications and adjustments available for all stages of pregnancy.


 

References:

(1) http://www.healthandyoga.com/html/news/yoga_diabetes.aspx

(2) http://www.diabetesincontrol.com/exercise-benefits-for-gestational-diabetes/

(3) http://www.diabetesincontrol.com/exercise-benefits-for-gestational-diabetes/

(4) http://americanpregnancy.org/prenatal-testing/glucose-tolerence-test/

(5) http://avivaromm.com/dont-drink-glucola-gestational-diabetes/

(6) http://www.eufic.org/article/en/artid/The_rising_concern_of_gestational_diabetes/

(7) http://www.fitpregnancy.com/exercise/prenatal-workouts/prenatal-exercise-diabetes-pregnancy

(8) http://www.healthandyoga.com/html/news/yoga_diabetes.aspx

(9) http://avivaromm.com/dont-drink-glucola-gestational-diabetes/

(10) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4515443/

(11) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4515443/

(12) http://www.diabetesincontrol.com/exercise-benefits-for-gestational-diabetes/

(13) http://www.diabetesincontrol.com/exercise-benefits-for-gestational-diabetes/

(14) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3424788/

(15) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3424788/

(16) McCall, MD, Timothy. Yoga as Medicine: the Yogic Prescription for Health and Healing, p. 283.

(17) McCall, MD, Timothy. Yoga as Medicine: the Yogic Prescription for Health and Healing, p. 283.

(18) http://prenatalyogacenter.com/blog/high-risk-pregnancy-and-yoga/

(19)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4515443/

 

all images copyright Om Baby Pregnancy & Parenting Center


Holly Keich is the owner of Om Baby Pregnancy & Parenting Center in Camp Hill, PA. She began her yoga journey at Be Fit Yoga Studio with Bobbi Misiti in 2002.  She began teaching Ashtanga at Be Fit in fall of 2004. In 2007, when Holly became pregnant with her first child she began teaching prenatal yoga classes that impart not only the wisdom of poses for the childbearing year, but also knowledge of the spiritual and emotional process of becoming a parent. Holly has attended pre and postnatal yoga teacher trainings with Stephanie Keach  and Mindful Mamas. She has also attended Baby Om Yoga training in NYC and is a Certified ChildLight Yoga Instructor, including Baby & Toddler Yoga as well as a Certified Infant Massage Instructor. More recently she has become a Certified Sacred Pregnancy Instructor.  She continues to develop her support of mother, child & family connections through the opening of Om Baby Pregnancy & Parenting Center in 2008.

 

 

Blessing the Way to Baby

Alison Cranford BlessingwayCompiled by Holly Keich

You may be asking yourself, what is a Blessingway? A simple definition is that it is an alternative baby shower for mothers. But Blessingways are so much more than that. A Blessingway is celebration given to a woman who is soon to give birth to honor her passage into motherhood, whether her first child or her last. It is centered on the mother and is intended to weave and strengthen a support network for the woman, reaffirming her inner strength, skill and intuition to be a role model and caretaker for this child.

While baby showers can be commercial in focus, a showering of gifts for the baby, a Blessingway is about honoring the woman, our friend, sister, daughter, mother-to-be. This is a sacred time in the mother’s life and deserves more than gifts of car seats, baby wipes and a sea of pink or blue gifts. A Blessingway acknowledges that the birth of a child, the becoming of a mother is a rite of passage that the woman is about to go through. It is a wonderful way to honor motherhood and provide the mother with a true show of support from her loved ones. The memories of this experience will last much longer than those newborn sleepers received at a shower.

Blessingways are steeped in a much more solid tradition than baby showers too. The Blessingway is reputed to derive from a Navajo people. The story of the creation of the Navajo people and their emergence onto their sacred homeland is recounted in a ceremony known as the Blessingway, which is the foundation of the Navajo way of life. The Blessingway is an important aspect of the Navajo religion and is not specific to pregnancy. It can be used for anyone expecting a baby, adopting a baby, or just in need of a celebration of life in general. Any life transition or celebration will work: divorce, move, career change, remarriage – the ceremony can be creatively adjusted for other life events. And it needn’t include only women. Yes, there are co-ed parent or family blessings. The father is included and treated to the same blessings at the mother.

The Navajo have a saying, “whatever happens here on Earth must first be dreamed”, and that’s exactly what a Blessingway does. When traditionally performed in it’s entirety, the Blessingway is a two-day ceremony whose purpose is to obtain peace, harmony, protection and to help realize the goal of a long, happy life.

 

The Basics of a Blessingway

Pre-Planning – Involve the mother-to-be in the planning process. By doing so, you empower her to make the ceremony her own and she can pick and choose what activities appeal to her. Some of the more traditional rituals may not be comfortable for everyone, so think of some modern alternatives like a day at the spa or “paint-your-own” pottery.

Invitations – Invitations are similar to any other invitation, but should have a positive woman centered theme. You may want to explain the purpose of a Blessingway – to bless the woman’s way into childbirth, so she can remember all women who have gone before her in childbearing and allow you to pledge your support as she enters into her birthing experience. Here is where you will want to indicate if you require the guest to bring something for an activity. You may also want to mention that gifts are not requested.

Attendees – Keep it small. 6-15 guests. Don’t invite anyone out of courtesy, but rather invite guests that really mean something to the mother and will positively contribute to her birthing or parenting experience and is supportive of her philosophies.

Location – Somewhere that has a calm, peaceful and relaxed feel about it. At your home or one of the other guest’s. If this isn’t an option, a park or an alternate serene setting can work.

Atmosphere – The atmosphere should be akin to a candlelight dinner. Relaxing music playing in the background, candles or incense burning, all things helping to trigger a wonderful response by the guests and leave them with a sensory memory of the occasion. Turn off the phones and pagers. This is a sacred moment that shouldn’t be interrupted.

Food – Typically food at a blessingway has meaning behind it. Everyone could bring a dish that reminds them of their mother or a comfort food. Or everyone could bring a dish that represents the mother’s favorite food. For example, have everyone bring a chocolate treat if mama is a chocoholic. The point is that it is something from the heart.

 

Blessingway Rituals

Whatever you do at a Blessingway, it should serve to strengthen and uplift the mother-to-be. Be open to customizing activities to suit the mother’s definition of being uplifted.

Foot Washing – symbolizes readiness for a journey or new beginning, and handwashing will clean away fears. The feet or hands should be dried and can be smoothed and massaged with cornmeal, or anointed with oils. The midwife or mother is usually the one to honor the mother with these aspects, but it can provide a wonderful time for guests to bestow quiet words of love and encouragement.

Hair Brushing and Braiding – is another way to nurture and pamper the mother. If there is a brush that is, for example an heirloom this can act as a way to connect the mother to her female ancestors. Adorning her hair with flowers can also help connect her to Mother Earth.

Necklace– Each guest brings a special bead to string on a necklace for the mother to wear until and through labor. A nice way to approach this ritual is by sitting in a circle and passing the cord, each guest adding a bead, or beads for each number of children they have, then the mother can add a final bead after the birth to represent her own child. The necklace or bracelet symbolizes the strength of our shared experiences as mothers and women.

Bracelet – Similarly, a ball of beautiful string is used to connect each woman’s wrist to one another’s in the circle – a web of womanhood. When the cord connects all of you, explain that this unites you all as sisters and represents the circle of sisters and the circle of life. Then you cut the cord, leaving enough length to tie the ends into a bracelet. Explain that thought it appears we were then separate, the bracelet reminded us as women, we were all gut from the same ball of yarn, You may suggest that the woman wear the bracelet until the birth as a reminder of the same strength a group of women can hold for a birthing mother.

Candles – Either making them as a group or giving them as a party favor. The reason being is that all the guests will be asked to light the candle when they are notified that the mother is in labor and will leave it lit until the baby arrives.

Smudging – Taken from the Navajo origins of the Blessingway, if the Blessingway is taking place in the Honoree’s home, a bundle of dried sage is often lit, then the flame burned out and the sage is allowed to slowly burn down. This is to symbolize a cleansing of the woman’s home, either for a homebirth or for the arrival home from the birthplace, purifying of her soul and blessing for the birth and baby.

Belly Casting – is another ritual that can be very fun. Either to have the guests cast the mothers belly and chest, or to have the cast already done and ready for the guests to paint or decorate.

Painting the Mother’s Belly with Henna or Paint

Song – Such a wonderful way to invite a loving spirit. Many women like to have each guest sing a lullaby their mother used to sing or one they have used with their own children. If all the guests are familiar with one particular son, say a lullaby , spiritual hymn, this can also be sung together as a group.

Sending away your trouble or fears – by having guests voice them, write them on paper, and then burn them from a bowl and sending them away.

Storytelling – Each woman’s personal birth stories (but beware if you think horror stories will be passed around. Remember you are strengthening and uplifting the mother!), or stories of how each guest knows the mother or inspirations stories of each guests relationship to the mother – how they met her, what drew them to her, why she was important to them. This can be done during the hair brushing or foot washing or during candle lighting. This can also take the form of poetry reading or reciting an inspirational story or fable, and either have just one read or invite the guests to bring a poem or story of their own to read.

Quilting – Probably one of the oldest forms of female rituals. It’s very meaningful to ask in the invitation for each guest to bring a customized quilt square that tells of a certain quality the mother possesses. Either assemble the quilt at the Blessingway or assign a friend to complete the quilt and present it to the mother and baby after the birth. This will become an heirloom that tells a story about the mother.

Keepsake Journal – This can be passed around during the foot washing or hair brushing for the guests to write down inspirational thoughts and poems. After the birth, the mother can write of the baby’s birth story.

Nurture Basket – In the invitation, instead of baby gifts, instruct the guests to bring a gift that would uplift, inspire, or nurture the mother. This can be gift certificates for a massage or restaurant, bath goodies, books or journals, framed quotes, drawings or photos, luxurious robes or pajamas, teas or chocolates, etc.

Prayer Flags – Inspired by Tibetan prayer flags, these are strips of cloth that are cut about 3”x18”. They are handed to each guest to write a birth blessing or positive message on it. When the guests are through the mother is given the flags to read and take with her to her place of birth. Messages can be anything. Some examples include: “You are a strong woman.” “Your baby will be born at the right time.”

 

Make sure to take pictures of the event!

For more ideas about Blessingways, be sure to look in Jennifer Louden’s, Pregnant Woman’s Comfort Book. Another great resource is Blessingways: A Guide to Mother-Centered Baby Showers – Celebrating Pregnancy, Birth and Motherhood by Shari Maser.

No matter how you choose to celebrate the birth of a new baby, it is a special occasion. For women, a Blessingway can be an opportunity to show our spirit and support for another woman we love. She can garner our collective experiences and power and use it to solidify her own strength to follow her new path. It is a time to celebrate and rejoice in new life.

 

An Ode to Faith

-by Patrick Overter

When you have come to the edge

Of all the light you know,

And are about to step off

Into the darkness of the unknown,

Faith is knowing that

One of two things will happen,

There will be something solid to stand on,

Or you will be taught how to fly.

 

Resources:

http://www.feministmormonhousewives.org/?p=667

http://thebirthsource.homestead.com/blessingway.html

http://www.mothering.com/beads-and-blessings

http://pregnancy.about.com/cs/blessingway/a/aa102202a.htm


Holly supports mother, child & family connections through the opening of Om Baby Pregnancy & Parenting Center in 2009.  Om Baby is located in Camp Hill, PA and is available for Blessingway rentals.

The Power of Sound in Labor

holly's birth 155 optimized

Photo:  Lexi Abeln

by Holly Keich

Our voice is one of the most powerful ways that we express ourselves. Whether it be joy, pain, sorrow, fear or one of our many other emotions, sound is integral to letting others know our inner experience of the world. This is still true in labor. Women commonly express themselves through a variety of ways in labor. Let’s take a look at why and how sound can be used to your advantage in labor.

What is Toning?
Sounds may come naturally to you in labor, anything from moaning to singing. When you expel your breath freely in labor while making a low, vibratory sound, you are toning. The sound that is made can be anything from an Oh, Ha, Ow, Om, Roaring, Howling, Swearing, or whatever comes naturally to you. These lower tones help to resonate the lower half of the body as labor progresses.

When the intensity of labor increases a low, deep moaning sound can turn into a guttural growling as your primal self takes over. These changes in sounds can be a cue to your partner not only about what stage of labor you are in, but also provides information about your experience of labor, if you are relaxed or if you are holding tension somewhere in the body. If sounds move to a higher pitch, your support team may know it’s time to provide additional coping, comfort measures or position changes to provide relief and redirect the sounds to a lower tone, if possible.

Vocal toning can also be used during a cesarean birth. It will help to keep you calm and focused, reassure your baby and increase your intake of oxygen and the output of carbon dioxide ensuring a safe and easy journey for your baby into this world.

What are the Benefits of Toning in Labor?
Decrease Sensation of Pain. Toning can help to decrease the sensation of pain in labor. By allowing a free expression of sound you are more able to release and let go of pain. It allows you to find your voice, sing your song.

Mind/Body Connection. Creating sound while expelling the breath allows your mind to connect with your body and stay on top of the contractions, riding them like a surfer on the waves.

Mindful Breathing. Toning is a powerful breathing exercise that helps to increase the length and depth of exhalations. This pattern of breathing releases anxiety and creates a familiar and reassuring continuity for you and baby. Fully expelling the breath also leaves a vacuum that is filled with a fresh breath bringing oxygen to you and baby. While there is no right or wrong way to breathe during labor, it is important not to hold the breath as this creates more tension in the body and increases the sensation of pain.

Labor Progression. While there are no studies that say toning enhances labor by making contractions more efficient, it is the relaxation that sound brings which allows the body to open and the baby to descend. Relaxation is a key component in the progression of labor, so why not relax through sound?

Relaxation. Vocal toning releases sound vibrations throughout the body. Sound Therapy is commonly used as an alternative healing process which effects the body on a cellular level. It is touted to relax the muscles by carrying tension from the body, improving circulation and maximizing energy flow within the body.

What is the Science Behind Sound in Labor?
To better understand the benefits, we must understand that there is a nuero-muscular connection between the throat and pelvis. When our throat is choked from fear, pain or unexpressed emotion, it effects our pelvic region and in the example of birth, the dilation of the cervix, potentially slowing labor. We can use toning to tap into and enhance this connection allowing us to achieve focus and relaxation during labor.

When we have a voice in our labor process, we are empowered. Toning in labor leaves no room for doubt, fear or self-pity as we focus on the sounds and move more deeply within ourselves. Physiologically, we are opening that link between the throat and pelvis, the connection between the vocal cords, diaphragm and perineum when we tone. Giving sound to our feelings, we open not only our mouths, but also our bodies as the cervix is able to relax and open as well.

While vocalizations are common during childbirth, only one study on sounds in labor was found by Pierce in 1998. Of participants who were taught toning in pregnancy, 86% used it in labor. 61% found it helpful in dealing with pain, 42% indicated it promoted relaxation, and 50% said it helped them stay focused.

Moving Beyond Inhibitions
It is important not to try to contain your feelings of pain, but to be fully uninhibited about letting them out. It is a time to let go to your instincts, to let your body take over and to be completely free. If you feel inhibited, your throat will close up and labor could be slowed. It may be that you are feeling more conscious of your surroundings in a hospital setting. But know that you aren’t the first person they’ve heard roar in labor and likely won’t be the last.

When a mother wants to keep the pain to a level she can manage without making noise, the mind sends the body an urgent message, “Wait, Slow Down!” Fear of pain, of loosing control, or being unladylike will stimulate the release of adrenalin, which slows down labor. Labor pain may remain “manageable”, but the labor process will take longer.

In yogic tradition, the chakras, the seven energy centers that are arranged vertically up the spine, can help you to shed inhibitions and release tension during pregnancy. Toning relates to the to Vishuddhi chakra at the throat center. This is the center of creativity and communication. There is a strong link, as demonstrated in science as well, between the throat chakra and the root chakra (at the base of the body and includes the cervix). Making sound in pregnancy and labor helps to stimulate this chakra and one’s sense of survival. Neck looseners, Lion pose, Ujjayi breathing and Om all activate this chakra, as well as the practices described below.

Practice
Our typical reaction to intense feelings is often to tense up and to express our discomfort. These are habitual reactions to painful or fearful situations. What our mind believes our body follows. These negative thoughts and expressions can be counter-intuitive to the progress of labor. Let’s learn to use our voice in a way that doesn’t trigger the fight or flight response.

When we change the habit through toning, we are actually triggering our brain’s relaxation response. In turn, we are telling our body to release more oxytocin (the love hormone that stimulates and advances labor). This hormone when created by you and not in it’s synthetic form, helps labor seem less painful and can aid in mother/infant bonding.

Many women feel inhibited making the low earthy sounds of toning in front of others. Overcome these inhibition by practicing at home during your pregnancy.

Start experimenting with different sounds. Humming or “Ah” are easy ones to start with. Practice with all the vowel sounds and notice how they feel in your body, especially your throat. You can even bring two fingers to the notch at the bottom of your throat, right above the breastbone, and feel the quality of vibrations and how it changes with each sound. Note the change in the opening of the lower part of the throat. Remember to practice with a loose and relaxed jaw which correlates to a loose and relaxed perineum.

Feel free to practice by combining sounds or even using a word.

Practice with your birth partner so that they know what to expect during labor. Have them join in. Their voice can add powerful support for your momentum during labor. Don’t have a birth partner, practice with music as your backdrop. Practice with your dog, they just might love to howl along with you.

Practice in the shower, in the car, while doing dishes, before falling off to sleep… Wherever you don’t feel concerned about the reactions of others.

Be Empowered by Your Song and know that your voice can be spoken in labor.

 

Feel free to leave a comment and let us know if you’ve used toning in labor and how it helped you.