Updated: Aug 29, 2019
When my gal Lindsey Elmore hit me up to participate in her Vagina Week, I was like, "girlfriend... I live and breathe Vagina Week... let's do this!"
Vagina, Vagina, Vagina!
Sometimes just the word Vagina makes people uncomfortable. I can image my 95 year old grandma sitting across from me at the dinner table horrified that I ever even spoke such a word! Well, Gram... Vagina, Vagina, Vagina! If we want to have more open conversations about taking our power back for our health care, we must start by talking about our actual physical body parts and the magnificent things they do.
While I could go on and on just about vaginas, Lindsey specifically wanted me to talk about my top 10 tips that every expecting mom should know. So... without further ado.
My Top 10 Tips For Every Expecting Mom
1. Learn and know your body!
You are your own guru. No one, not one single person knows your body better than YOU, not even your healthcare practitioner. If I am catching you pre-conception, I would advise you to learn your cycles, chart what your body does on a daily basis, track your moods, and chart how your breasts feel. Know your vagina (yep, I said it again!), actually sit down, take a makeup compact mirror and look at it. If you are reading this while pregnant, how does your body feel throughout the day? How do you feel with certain foods? How does your body navigate through certain emotions? Do a breast exam and see how your breasts feel while pregnant, because I promise you they will change at the end, and then again with nursing. Look up how to map your belly and see what position your baby is in. All of these things do one thing... empower you!
2. Get to know your baby, now.
Did you know that your baby experiences every single emotion that you do while pregnant? You are one unit! If you are working 60+ hours a week and in a constant state of stress, your baby bathes in the stress hormone, cortisol. However, if you spend your pregnancy grounding and taking care of your self, your baby takes an extra special bubble bath in the love hormone oxytocin. Now trust me, I get it... no one can control stress all of the time, but even when unpredictable, stressful situations arise you can control how your baby reacts to it. A friend of mine Dr. Fredrick Wirth, in his book Prenatal Parenting talks about Fetal Love Breaks. This is stopping throughout your day, and intentionally connecting with your baby. If by chance a traumatic event happens, connecting with your baby immediately, checking in, and saying something along the lines, "wow, you must have felt Mommy react to that, maybe that was scary for you, but you are safe, and this was my experience not yours, I love you." I promise this make a difference, I see it first hand all of the time. My clients that reside in high levels of stress, have fussy colicky baby's and my clients who make an attempt to do Fetal Love Breaks have baby's that are easy to soothe and for the most part happy. One of my favorite organizations that I so gratefully stumbled upon at the beginning of my career and I continue to hold at the center of my practice is The Association of Pre and Perinatal Psychology, they have spearheaded laying the foundation for the research that shows why it is important to develop your relationship with your baby now.
3. Take Care of yourself.
There is nothing more frustrating to me than seeing pictures of high profile celebrities with their pendulous pregnant bellies gorging themselves with junk food, just because they can. If there is a time to be the most healthy in your whole life, this is it. Purge all of the junk, eat organic foods, consume healthy fats, hydrate often and throughout the day. Exercise. My favorite forms of movement in pregnancy are walking, swimming and yoga. Throw out all of the chemicals in your house. Use essential oils. See a Chiropractor, specifically a Webster Certified Chiropractor. Hire a Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist. If something doesn't feel right to eat, don't eat it. If an essential oil doesn't smell good, don't use it... Well, maybe look at the emotion associated with the oil first, and then see if you need to clear that, but that's a whole other topic. Bottom line, do what feels right and take damn good care of yourself.
4. Mindset, Mindset, Mindset!
One of my favorite things to do is watch champion sport event games but not for the actual game, but to watch the end when the MVP's get interviewed. 9 out of 10 times they talk about their mindset that helped them win the game. In preparing for a healthy pregnancy, birth and postpartum period one of the most important things you can do is come from a place of a gratitude, with a positive mindset. If you were going to run a marathon, you wouldn't fill your head with horror stories about everyone who set out to run a marathon and failed, so why would you do that for birth? Now look, I know that there is a lot of unsolicited advice and opinions, so my plea to you is to go into your 'bubble of peace" when that comes your way and consciously fill your head with positive stories of healthy pregnancies and births. Go watch beautiful birth videos on YouTube. Make affirmations, chant your mantras daily, believe in your body and it's capability to bring your baby into the world. I mean for goodness sakes, you are growing an actual human being right now! Like right now in this instance, you might be growing eyelashes or fingernails without even thinking about it. What on earth would make you think that you were anything less than magnificent while giving birth?! You got this! Now go write a list and tell me why you think so too!
5. Clear out the Skeletons in your closet.
This is a big scary one, that most providers aren't talking about yet . What's that you say... trauma will come up in birth if it isn't released before? A BIG heck-to-the-yes on this one! When you create a family, you are growing a beautiful garden that you will cultivate, water and nourish, so I promise you, it is worth all of the work before to pull those damn weeds and till the soil. I can wholeheartedly say, that I feel one of the most important parts of the prenatal care that I give, maybe even more so than checking urine and drawing bloodwork, is asking these hard questions and providing a safe place to open up and process any trauma from previously life situations. I have the expectation that my clients will do this hard, but ever so purposeful work. They say that 1 in 3 people are sexually abused.... 1 in 3.... unless something like this is identified and worked on, 9 out of 10 times it will present itself in birth. I have experienced first hand the difficulty not dealing with these traumas prenatally and what they can look like in a birth. It is not easy to process grief and trauma while also managing your heart, mind, and breath, during contractions. Now, with this all being said, not all care providers will provide the space to open and heal, so do your research and find someone you feel comfortable with in your area. With authentic heavy hitters like Brene Brown and "The Holistic Psychologist" now so readily available on the internet, you can find affiliates in your area that align with their philosophies. There are also wonderful healing modalities like emotional release using essential oils, Hypnotherapy, EMDR, EFT, Craniosacral, etc that will help open up the pathways of healing as well. Do the work.... YOU are worth it!
6. Find a Healthcare Practitioner that aligns with you.
If you are low risk, hire a midwife... no really, there are midwives for all different women. Be it a home birth, birth center or a birth center in the hospital. Hands down, midwives handle low risk women the best, and we have a much lower rate of intervention, Cesarean rates and usually very high rate of satisfaction from the birth. We have an innate understanding of the normal physiological process of birth. Low risk women hiring an OBGYN, is like hiring a Pediatrician to babysit your kids. OB's are trained surgeons coming from a medical model of care (and let me tell you... I am SOOO grateful for their training and expertise, for when things change to no longer be low risk). Midwives, well most of us anyway, are using a Wise Woman Model which puts women at the center of their care and sees you as a whole person, whole body, whole mind, whole spirit and family. We see pregnancy as a normal, healthy, physiological life event instead of a disaster waiting to happen. Really it's simple, if you want to avoid a Cesarean and you are with a practitioner that has 60% cesarean rate, the odds are not in your favor. So do your research and remember that this day is more important than your wedding day, so even if you come out of pocket to find the care that is right for you, it is worth every penny.
7. Make Informed Choices
The decisions you make throughout your pregnancy, birth, and parenthood are NOT one size fits all. Each and every decision you make is a choice. Yes... let me say that again... a choice! No one can do anything to your body or your baby without your consent. There are risks, benefits and alternatives to EVERY single decision you will make. Making autonomous decisions about your care will be one of the most important things you can do not only throughout your pregnancy and birth, but for the rest of your life. These skills will lay the ground work for every decision you make with parenting and well into your old age. Take classes. My favorite educational model that I recommend to expectant parents are Bradley Method and Hypnobirthing childbirth classes. Ask questions, do your research, and stand strong in what is important to you and remember that you are the ultimate decision maker.
8. Hire an Advocate
Everything I mentioned above is really hard to convey and fight for in the middle of labor, hence why having someone there that is just there for you is so important. Regardless of where you birth, hire a doula. A doula is a patient advocate who provides physical and emotional support for the birthing mother and her family. Some hospitals may have free doula programs, but a good place to search for a doula is through DONA.org. These doulas have specific training and support methods. I work with doulas frequently and they are worth their weight in gold.
-a 39% decrease in the risk of Cesarean -15% increase in the likelihood of a spontaneous vaginal birth
-10% decrease in the use of any medications for pain relief
-Shorter labors by 41 minutes on average
-38% decrease in the baby’s risk of a low five minute Apgar score
-31% decrease in the risk of being dissatisfied with the birth experience
*Bohren, M.A., Hofmeyr, G., Sakala, C., et al. (2017). “Continuous support for women during childbirth.” Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2017, Issue 7. Art. No.: CD003766.
9. Make a Plan
A birth plan that is. You wouldn't go through your wedding without a general flow of how the day would go. You wouldn't buy a car without a contract. Why is it any different for giving birth? Open up the lines of communication with your care providers before the birth. Have your doctor or midwife go over your preferences with you before the big day. If you are birthing in the hospital, have your provider sign off on your wishes and then bring this with you to your nurses to discuss your plans. Somethings that you will want to consider are important things like optimal cord closure, skin to skin, refusing episiotomies and who is in the birth room. Remember that birth is not a spectator sport, and just like other mammals, we do best unobserved.
10. Find the Sacred in the Science
So regardless of whether you do all of the above mentioned recommendations, sometimes shit happens. You can take every prenatal vitamin, attend every yoga class, hire a midwife, and attempt to birth in the woods next to a tree and sometimes birth just does not unfold the way we expected, hoped, or dreamed for... You are not an appliance and there isn't a magical button that we can push to make everything work perfect. Even in my own midwifery practice, I see an average of a 4-6% cesarean rate each year, and for this I am SO grateful for science. When things aren't lining up and going your way, you can still find ways to feel empowered within your experience and make it sacred. With this being said, I know there is birth trauma even within the sacredness. You and only you, and only when you are ready, have the opportunity to make your birth a healing moment. Turn to therapists, support groups, exercise, whatever helps you and do the deep inner healing. You are not alone mama!
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