A Doula’s Reading List

Doulas are natural information-seekers (and information-sharers!), and perhaps the primary way we educate ourselves is by reading books. Lots and lots of books. Though I’m still early in my doula-ing journey, I’ve already discovered a number of favorites which I recommend as bedside-table standards to my clients and friends. Here they are, in no particular order:

The Pregnancy Book by Dr. & Martha Sears
I’m Pregnant! Now What Do I Eat? by Hope Ricciotti (This was my go-to resource for balanced recipes and meal suggestions in my own pregnancy. I still make the Roasted Provencal Vegetables on a regular basis. They are fabulous on homemade pizza.)

Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin
The Doula Guide to Birth by Ananda Lowe
Birthing from Within by Pam England
The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin

Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding by Ina May Gaskin
Breastfeeding with Comfort and Joy by Laura Keegan (I adore this book; the photography is absolutely stunning!)

The Baby Book by Dr. William and Martha Sears
The No-Cry Nap Solution by Elizabeth Pantley

I’d love to hear your favorites. Happy reading!

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My Mom’s Birth Experience

This is the story of my birth, as recorded by my mother in a  journal that she kept while she was pregnant with me. I was born in a hospital in 1978 in western Massachusetts. My mother’s ob/gyn was one of the few female doctors practicing in the field at the time, and was a pioneering advocate for natural childbirth. My mother experienced natural, vaginal births with both me and my sister. She says she does not recall ever being offered pain medications, never mind feeling any pressure from hospital staff to use anything for pain or for labor augmentation. Amazing the difference between her hospital birth experiences in 1978 and 1981 and what women today experience. I love that her opening line is “It all happened so fast.” I don’t think that her labor would be considered a fast one by today’s standards!

It all happened so fast. My shower on Friday. By then I had a weird low backache that lasted all Monday.

I saw the doctor on Monday and she said, “Anytime.” Two hours later while visiting the people at work I had a “bloody show.” Debbie and Matthew were with me and we all were excited and nervous. The blood continued through the night and at 6:30 AM on Tuesday, 1-31-78 I had started contractions.

By 1:30 that afternoon I was sure this was it and called Eddie around 2:00. We saw the doctor soon after, was sent back home to wait and then things went so fast. We left for the hospital by 7:00, got there at 7:40, water broke at 8:20, I started pushing by 9:00 and Nicole was born at 9:34 PM. A GIRL!

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Birth-y Tweets Worth Twittering About

There were quite a few beautiful birthy tweets flying about the Twitter-verse this past weekend. Here are a few of my favorites. Enjoy!

From@Thinkbirth: Babies know how to be born: Excellent mechanism of breech: bit.ly/gw6rfI via @purpleanvil #midwives #doula

From @KathyAMorelli: #Depression After Miscarriage Common, Even Years Later | Psych Central News: http://bit.ly/gNayrL #pregnancy #doula #PPD

From @wombservice: Why a Doula is Better Than Your Best Friend http://t.co/QwqdRG9 #doula

From @PushForMidwives: Thanks the @whitehouse for noting the rising cesarean section rate with concern http://1.usa.gov/eoWtdl. Midwives are part of the solution

From @YI_Mag: Yoga for New Baby Mama’s — Guided 50 min #Postpartum practice http://ow.ly/48vQE

From @MomsQuest: Find out about this great #breastfeeding campaign and download songs about breastfeeding. http://bit.ly/eGtcaN #breastfeeding #bfing #bfcafe

From @HolisticMomsNet: PLS RT Awesome #breastfeeding video supporting #moms #nursing in public! http://www.youtube.com/HMNNational #NIP #bf #bfing

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How to Afford a Doula

Do you and your partner want a doula for the birth of your baby, but think you won’t be able to afford her services? Don’t worry! Your perfect doula is out there; you just need to know how and where to find her!

  • Consider a new doula (sometimes called a “doula in training”).
    New doulas often offer their services for a lesser fee than more experienced doulas in the area. Yes, you will be working with someone who may or may not have attended other births, but any legitimate doula training program offers participants hands-on experience with non-medical comfort techniques, demonstrates positions for labor and birth, and provides in-depth information about the physiology of labor and birth. Remember, the personal connection you feel with your doula is paramount, so you may find that the number of births she has (or hasn’t) attended is not your top concern. *Please see below for a list of ways to find low-fee doulas in your area.
  • Ask any doulas you speak with if they, or anyone they know, accept pro-bono clients.
    (You may be asked to provide proof that you cannot afford to pay any or part of her fee.)
  • Check to see if your heath insurance provider will reimburse you for the cost of hiring a doula.
    This isn’t common in the United States, but it’s worth looking into. You might be surprised! Most doulas can give you paperwork to aid in your request for reimbursement from your insurance provider.
  • Check to see if your hospital offers an in-house doula program.
  • Ask a trusted complimentary health-care provider (ie. massage therapist, acupuncturist, reiki practitioner, yoga instructor, etc.) whom you see regularly, to support you during labor and birth.
  • Consider taking out a personal loan.
    Okay, you might be thinking, “What?!?! She’s crazy! Why would I ever take out a loan for the birth of my baby? Having a baby is expensive enough!” You’re right; having a baby in today’s economic climate can be expensive. But think about it: plenty of people justify the time and money they spend planning a wedding by saying they want it to be the best day of their lives. Why shouldn’t the birth of your baby be just as wonderful? If you think a doula would help your birth be the best it can be, perhaps taking out a personal loan will be the right choice for your family. It certainly isn’t right for everyone, but it’s worth considering.
  • Finally, if you really can’t afford a doula, but feel strongly that you want the loving support of a non-family member for your labor and birth, consider asking a trusted friend.
    Remember, this friend must be willing and able to be there when you need her, stay as long as you need her, and be comfortable with the sights, sounds, smells, and potential stresses of labor and birth. If you think your friend has what it takes, I can guarantee she’ll be more than honored (and most likely, over the moon) that you ask for her support on such an important day! Who knows, perhaps you’ll inspire a future doula?

*How to find a low-fee doula:

  • Look for a “Find a Doula” (or similar) section on one of the many doula-training organization websites. I trained with toLabor, and you can find their provider directory here. Google “doula traning” for a comprehensive list of training organizations.
  • Contact a local doula or midwife in your area and ask her if she knows of any low-fee doulas accepting clients.
  • In many areas, doulas run location-specific online groups as a means to share information with the birthworker community at large. Ask a doula with access to one of these groups to post your request for a low-fee doula and I guarantee you’ll get plenty of responses!
  • Contact your local Planned Parenthood or community health center to see if they have a list of low-fee care providers for their patients.
  • Visit www.doulamatch.net to view profiles of doulas in your area. Doulas offering low-fee services often mention this in their profile.
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Finding the Support You Need After Baby Comes

This post is inspired by a hot topic of conversation in the online forum I participate in: finding “mom” friends. Remember those Johnson & Johnson commercials that said, “Having a baby changes everything”? Well, nothing could be further from the truth! As a parent we no longer have the time to do what we want, when we want, with whomever we want, with the same flexibility we once did. New responsibilities may put a strain on existing relationships with friends who don’t have children, or with those who’s children are much older than your own.

Many people find that in the early weeks after their baby is born, they have plenty of visitors, and lots of interaction with other adults. Your spouse may have taken a significant amount of time off from work. I hope that you did, or will, feel supported, surrounded by love, and well-rested, thanks to the extra sets of hands willing and able to do the laundry, cook a meal, tidy the house.

Time passes, however, and the visitors aren’t as plentiful. Your partner returns to work. And for many women in today’s culture, the sudden transition to just mama and baby all day, every day, can be a challenging one. I always say that I have my “good mama” days, and my “coulda, shoulda, woulda” mama days. Some days I feel like I’ve got things all figured out, under control, and things are going great! Other days, I feel frustrated, guilty that I haven’t come up with a really fun activity to do with my son, or just lazy, not wanting to get out of the house.

One thing that always makes me feel better, is to reach out to, or meet up with, the wonderful women whom I’ve met through various real-world and online support groups, Meetup.com, and local family support services in my town. I believe it is so important to find your tribe, so to speak. Whether you are a working mom or a stay at home parent, having a supportive group of like-minded mama friends can be a life- and sanity-saver!

Here are a few suggestions for places to get started with finding your tribe!

For Greater Boston area residents:
Check out this excellent list of Greater Boston-area support groups on BostonMamas.com.

La Leche League meetings
Check with doulas, childbirth educators, natural health practitioners and pediatricians in your area.
A Google search for “new parent support groups” plus your location should yield impressive results in most urban and metro areas.

altdotlife.com’s alt.mama forums
Babycenter.com forums

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Is Babble.com Biased Against Breastfeeding?

A little while back, there was some controversy surrounding online parenting resource Babble.com, and its relationship with formula companies, specifically Similac. Babble, which calls itself  “the revolutionary online magazine for a new generation of parents” has become a pop-culture parenting resource of some influence.

In my old life, I worked with Babble’s editors to secure publicity for some of the wonderful public television shows that are produced by my former employer. I enjoyed my working relationship with Babble, and appreciated their site’s content. When I became pregnant, and a mom, I started looking to Babble for information, support, and entertainment. Unfortunately, however, I began to notice a shift in the site’s balance of information on infant feeding. This shift seemed to coincide with a very obvious advertising campaign by Similac. There were more articles (being very strongly promoted on both the site’s home and dedicated topic pages ) that called into question the benefits of breastfeeding, and the entire “Breasfeeding” page was wrapped in Similac advertising. It was then that I started to question whether or not Babble was as worthwhile of a resource I once thought it to be.

Yes, I breastfed my son. Guess what? He also received formula for a few months, because he self-weaned much earlier than I’d anticipated, and I was unable — despite concerted efforts! — to pump sufficient milk to carry him through to the 12 month transition to cow’s milk. Sure, I was disappointed; I was concerned that he wasn’t getting as good of nutrition as he’d gotten while nursing. But the fact is, formula is there for a reason. It filled a legitimate and immediate need we had to feed our baby.

I think breastfeeding is a wonderful choice, and that mother’s milk provides optimal food for babies. But I also understand that it’s not the best choice for all mamas and all babies, and that there are a number of reasons why a mother may not be able to nurse her baby. It’s certainly not my place or my desire to question another mother’s feeding choice. As mothers it is imperative that we offer one another with support, compassion and understanding. We are all trying to do what’s best for our families.

That being said, though, when I saw the following update from Babble come through on my Facebook newsfeed, I felt compelled, along with plenty of other women, to speak out against Babble’s obvious influence by its Similac sponsorship:

Lots of people offered up thoughtful responses, and if you already “like” Babble on Facebook, I urge you to take a moment to read them. But since I only feel comfortable sharing my own here, this is what I had to say:

I feel that it’s important important to strike a balance between standing up for the things we believe in and remembering that not everyone feels or thinks the same way we do. Assuming so risks alienating, rather than empowering, a generation of women and mothers. And I want no part of that.

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What Will My Husband (or, Wife, or Partner) Do if I Have a Doula?

Perhaps the most common question I hear from potential clients and people who find out that I am a doula is this:

“Why do I need a doula if I have the support of my husband (or, wife, partner, or parent)?”

It’s a very common misconception that having a doula at your birth means that someone on your birthing support team will be replaced. And while this is a very understandable misconception, it couldn’t be farther from the truth. Doulas are just one member of your support team!

One of my very favorite books, The Doula Guide to Birth: Secrets Every Pregnant Woman Should Know, by Ananda Lowe and Rachel Zimmerman, offers a wonderful chapter written especially for fathers, partners, and other loved ones, that helps to explain how a doula enhances, rather than diminishes, the very important role loved ones play during labor and birth. Below are a few of my favorite quotes from that chapter. I also highly recommend reading the article, Myths About Dads and Doulas, written by legendary doula, childbirth educator, childbirth counselor, and author, Penny Simkin.  It is my hope that you may find this information helpful in your conversations about hiring a doula.

“Fathers should know that a doula is a professional labor assistant who offers comfort measures and emotional support to both of you throughout labor. She will not replace you, nor will she provide medical advice or clinical care in the hospital.”

“Having a doula can free you up to connect with your wife or partner and share one of life’s most important transformative experiences.”

“As fathers and partners, your touch, supportive words, and expressions of love help birth along, triggering the release of the hormone oxytocin, which stimulates contractions. Finding the space to make this connection — in a highly charged environment, where your lover is on full display and at her most vulnerable — is a central challenge of birth.”

“Research shows when fathers connect with their partners and newborns through labor and birth, healthier parental bonds develop.”

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How to Choose Your Doula

Finding the right doula for my son’s birth was a lot easier than I thought it would be. In fact, my husband and I knew right away when we met our doula, that we’d be working with her. She was the first doula we interviewed, and after we got in the car following the interview, my husband asked, “Do we have to interview anyone else? I love Erin, and I just know she’s the one.” Well, I felt exactly the same way, but we did our due diligence by interviewing three other doulas. We called Erin less than a week later to let her know we wanted her to be our support.

There are plenty of places on the Internet that will provide you with a list of interview questions to ask a potential doula, there are a number of certifying organizations who lay out criteria their doulas need to meet in order to be “official” in the organization’s eyes, and there are lots of ways (referrals, online forums, and personal recommendations) to find a doula.

For some people, experience will be the most important thing to consider when hiring a doula. How many births has the doula attended? How many years has she been a doula? Is she familiar with a particular health or medical issue you may have? What auxiliary skills does she offer, such as massage, reiki, yoga, etc.?

For others, the most important thing will be the personal connection you feel with a doula. This was the case for me and my husband. We weren’t overly concerned with the number of births a potential doula had attended. We weren’t necessarily looking for someone with 10 years of doula-ing under her belt. What we did want was to feel a connection with our doula, to know that we’d be comfortable having her with us for the duration of labor and the birth, that I’d feel comfortable having her hands on my body, and to know that she had the confidence in herself to offer herself up to support me physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

We found all that, and more, in our doula. I knew she was the right one for us because when the interview was over, I wanted to give her a hug. So I did.

And she gave me one right back.

How did you choose your doula?

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Free Online Breastfeeding Class from TheNewBornBaby.com!

I know there’s been a lot of boob-talk on this blog over the past few days, but there’s been a lot of interesting information going around that I felt I should share.

Last night I followed a blog link from a tweet in #bfcafe, and it led me to a wonderful website, TheNewBornBaby.com, which is the online home of a group of lactation consultants and counselors who are based in Sterling, Massachusetts. They offer fee-based in-person breastfeeding support, which is great for those of us who can afford it and have a way to get there, but they also offer free online classes! Their next class is on January 19, 2011 at 8 pm. Enjoy an introduction to breastfeeding and a question and answer session from the comfort of your home while you cozy up on the couch in your pj’s!

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Trust me, breastfeeding is still the best!

I knew, even before I became pregnant, that I would breastfeed any babies I was blessed with.

It was not even something I thought otherwise about. My mother had nursed both me and my sister, my aunts nursed their babies. Breastfeeding was just something that my family did, and I intended to continue the tradition.

And while I knew that I was going to nurse my babies, what I didn’t–and couldn’t have–known, were the struggles I would face in the first three and a half months of my son’s life. Yes, I was one of those women for whom nursing is challenging, but I stuck with it, thanks to the wonderful support I received from husband, family, friends, and (amazingly!) the internet. Trust me, I absolutely had my moments, when I couldn’t get my son to open his mouth wide enough and my nipple was flattened, and the blanching of my nipple and the burning sensation that radiated throughout my breasts and into my back  almost sent me over the edge. I wondered if I was going to experience the discomfort of what was finally diagnosed as Reynaud’s Syndrome for the entirety of our nursing relationship. And I wondered how I would ever get to my goal of nursing my son for at least one year, if I did.

Lucky for me, one day nursing didn’t hurt. It felt… good! I was amazed. I still don’t know what happened. Some people have speculated that my son just started to really figure out how to open his mouth wide enough, and some have suggested that I might have had extremely sensitive nipples that had a tough time adjusting to their new role. Whatever it was, I was beyond relieved, and from that day on, nursing my son was a complete and utter joy. I no longer questioned if we’d make it to one year, and I decided that if all was well with both of us, that I’d nurse as long as felt right for me and him.

So, imagine my surprise when my son weaned at 10.5 months! He very gradually eliminated feedings all on his own, and even nightweaned himself. At first I thought he was on a nursing strike, but after a week it became very clear that he no longer felt the desire to nurse. I was sad at first, but then I felt grateful that weaning was his choice, and not something that had to be forced or negotiated.

In our Western culture, nursing  moms face plenty of challenges. Women’s breasts are highly sexualized, so a nursing mom somehow seems… indecent to some. We have doctor’s offices signing us up with infant formula companies without us even knowing (mine did, anyway) and hospitals sending us home with formula company-sponsored “goody” bags. We have our own hang-ups to get past.

The very last thing we need is a study (and the inevitable media storm that follows) suggesting that exclusive breastfeeding past six months could be potentially harmful to our babies. I’m no expert, but everything in me tells me that such a finding makes absolutely no sense. Science and research are wonderful things, but when something like this surfaces, it’s important to be critical of it, to question its validity, to find out who funded the study, and, most importantly, to do what you know is right in your heart and mind. Thankfully, the World Health Organization is already on top of this, and has issued a thoughtful response to the study.

So, mamas, nurse your babies if it works for you. Nurse them as long as you both like it. And revel in the specialness of a relationship that is over all too quickly, and that only you and your baby can share.

(For face to face breastfeeding help, seek out a board certified lactation consultant, breastfeeding counselor, doula, La Leche League meeting, or supportive pediatrician.

For online advice, my favorite places to visit are kellymom.com, the forums on llli.org (La Leche League Int’l), the forums on mothering.com, and askmoxie.org.)

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