Interview with Mama and Baby Love

Note from Katie: Today, I’m excited to introduce Stephanie Brandt Cornais, from MamaandBabyLove.com. I met Stephanie at a blogging conference, and since we blog about some of the same topics, I wanted to introduce her to you. Stephanie  is the founder of Mama and Baby Love, a natural lifestyle and parenting blog and the author of an amazing eBook about real food slow-cooker freezer meals. She’s also a real food devotee and mother to a beautiful daughter named Penelope. Enter Stephanie…

How did you get into blogging? And what’s your favorite part?

I started blogging when I was pregnant. I worked at the United Way and helped run an in house initiative called Whole Child Leon. I blogged on a local mommy blog that was owned by our local newspaper as a way to drive traffic and create awareness about WCL.

Then when Penelope was a baby, and I was stuck exclusively pumping for her because nursing didn’t work out for us. I was so bored sitting there pumping. I needed something to do. So I started a family scrapbook blog and then very quickly it turned into something more. It was the perfect outlet for me to share information. I used to teach yoga and childbirth classes, but since I wasn’t doing that anymore, I wanted a way to still be able to connect with and mentor other mothers.

What would you consider your nutritional philosophy and how did you arrive at it?

Real Food for sure. I have a friend who is a local Weston A. Price foundation chapter leader and she introduced me to Nourishing Traditions and all the concepts. As soon as I read the book, I knew I had come home. I knew deep in my belly that it was right and everything I had ever heard before was baloney.

What is your favorite part of being a mom and why?

Oh gosh, that is a tough one, there are so many amazing things about being a mother. Clearly, I just love my daughter and feel blessed to have created her, that she picked me as her mother and that I get to stand witness to her unfolding. But I also love the personal transformation that happens when you become a mother. The personal growth that motherhood demands of us, is brutal, but I love it. I love that my daughter is inspires me to fiercely and tirelessly work on my self and my “stuff”.

What is the toughest part of parenting/real food eating?

Finding time to do make everything from scratch. My slow cooker freezer meals I have come up with have opened up lots of time for me, but as a working mother, it is still very hard. I would SO pay someone to make me yogurt and broth each week, so I don’t have to!

Please talk a lot about your freezer meal cooking! That is such a tremendous time-saver! How did you start doing that and come up with all the great recipes?

Yes! It is such a time saver. I guess like all inventions, it came out of my hour of need. After my daughter was born I was bound and determined to figure out a way to put healthy, real food meals on the table every night. I am not a good cook, so I need to find something that was very easy for me. I have always enjoyed using my slow cooker and one day the light bulb went off about assembling the meals into plastic bags and then freezing them. Then the day I want to cook my meal, I just dump the contents of the bag into my slow cooker and dinner is done. It takes me about two hours to chop and assemble 6 meals.

If it isn’t too personal, can you talk a little about your parenting philosophy and how you decided on some of the attachment parenting techniques and why you feel they are important?

It’s been a evolution for me. I was lucky to have come in contact with some very strong and attached Mama’s early in college. I remember meeting the older sister of one of my hippy college boyfriends and watched her nurse her baby in a sling as she went about talking to someone at a party. I was in total amazement. She was happy. The baby was happy and she didn’t have stop living her life just because she had a baby. She just brought the baby with her, wherever she went. I also read lots of Dr. Sears and The Continuum Concept in my early twenties as I started building my yoga, doula and childbirth education business. So again I was lucky, in that I educated myself way before I became a mom.

I have quite a few readers and clients who are pregnant right now. What is your best parenting tip for new moms?

I think the best advice I can give is to do whatever you can to cultivate a good relationship and connection with your heart. Spend time in quiet contemplation/reflection/prayer/meditation so that you can figure out what is important to you, what your intuition and your heart is telling you. Then do whatever you can to find the courage to actually listen to your intuition and follow your heart so that make decisions about parenting from that place and not from a place of fear.

7 Natural Baby Care Recipes

I love using natural products for all of my personal care, cleaning and household needs, but if you’re not ready to jump on the DIY deodorant and toothpaste bandwagon just yet, at least consider using all natural products on your kids!

Most kids are exposed to a scary number of chemicals on a daily basis, and even babies are born with chemicals in their umbilical blood. Most baby products and shampoos contain chemicals and many are not actually safe for baby. For example, many baby shampoos (including J&J) have some of the worst chemical ratings and baby oil is just liquid petroleum oil with some added (artificial) fragrances.

A baby or child’s perfectly soft skin absorbs almost anything put on it, so natural options are really important! There are a few companies who make natural baby care options, but the cheapest, easiest and most natural way is just to make your own. Actually, you can just use pure coconut oil for everything from cleaning to moisturizing to treating diaper rash, but if you’d prefer a little variation, check out these recipes!

These are the recipes I use on my own kids and give to friends when they have babies.

Natural Diaper Cream-Cloth Diaper Safe!

UPDATE: I’ve created an updated version of this diaper cream that is even more effective and you can find the recipe here.

We started cloth diapering with our third child and I will never go back! Not only is it much cheaper, but it is more natural and much easier than I expected after hearing horror stories from my mother-in-law about the old-school cloth diapers. Thanks to cloth diapers and better nutrition my babies very rarely get diaper rash, but for the occasional time when a baby poops during the night and doesn’t wake up until morning or gets a rash while in the car seat on a trip, it can be a little tougher with cloth diapers.

Commercial diaper cream should never be used with cloth diapers since the fish oil in it will leave a fishy smell no matter how much you wash the diapers. It will also void any warranty on the cloth diapers. After much research and some trial and error, I finally created a diaper cream that is cloth diaper safe and that works as well as the medicated versions.

It can be used directly with cloth diapers if you don’t mind stripping the diapers after using them, but I prefer just to line the diaper with a piece of an old t-shirt when I’m using diaper cream to avoid the extra laundry hassle.

Diaper Cream Ingredients

1/2 cup coconut oil
1 tablespoon calendula flowers
1 tablespoon chamomile flowers
1/4 cup shea butter (I get mine from Mountain Rose Herbs because it is raw and unrefined so it has anti-fungal properties)
Optional: 1 tsp arrowroot or zinc oxide powder or more to thicken if needed- these will add additional drying power for really bad rashes
How to Make Natural Diaper Cream

Heat a couple inches of water over medium high heat in a double boiler or small sauce pan. Melt the coconut oil in a glass bowl or double boiler top above the boiling water. Add the calendula and chamomile flowers and keep the heat going on low/medium for at least an hour or until coconut oil has started to turn yellow and smells of chamomile and calendula. Make sure to check the water level often and make sure it hasn’t gotten too hot or evaporated off.

Carefully strain the flowers out, reserving as much of the coconut oil as possible. A fine mesh metal strainer is best for this, or a cheesecloth will work, though you’ll lose more of the coconut oil. Make sure all visible pieces of the flower have been removed.

Using a small immersion blender or even a fork to mash, mix the infused coconut oil with the shea butter and arrowroot or zinc oxide if using until it forms a thick paste. I actually have a small food processor I use for this mixture (and not for food) and when mixed in a food processor it makes an airy, velvety cream.

Store in a small glass jar and apply as needed. Use a liner with cloth diapers. This is much more concentrated and effective than store-bought versions and a little goes a really long way! It can also be used for adult yeast infections or for  healing of the perineum postpartum.

Why These Ingredients?

I chose each of these ingredients for a specific purpose. Coconut oil is very effective on its own for treating rash, as it is anti-fungal and very soothing to skin.

Calendula has antibacterial properties and speeds skin healing while Chamomile has anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory and anti-parasitic properties and is especially helpful for diaper rashes.

Shea Butter, besides making the skin incredibly soft, has anti-fungal and yeast-killing properties when raw. It is high in Vitamins A and E and helps promote collagen production in the skin. It is naturally anti-inflammatory and has an SPF of 6. It also helps prevent and get rid of stretch marks.

Vitamin Rich Baby Oil

Regular baby oil is petroleum based and packed with artificial fragrances! You can always use plain coconut oil, but making an infused oil adds some vitamins and speeds skin healing. This is my favorite:

Baby Oil Ingredients

1 cup of organic olive or apricot kernel oil (softer scent and great for sensitive skin)
2 tablespoons calendula flowers
2 tablespoons chamomile flowers
Baby Oil Instructions

There are two ways to make this recipe.

Fast way: You can infuse over heat like in the recipe above: “Heat a couple inches of water over medium high heat in a double boiler or small sauce pan. Melt the oil in a glass bowl or double boiler top above the boiling water. Add the calendula and chamomile flowers and keep the heat going on low/medium for at least an hour or until oil has started to turn yellow and smells of chamomile and calendula. Make sure to check the water level often and make sure it hasn’t gotten too hot or evaporated off.” and then just strain the flowers out and use as regular baby oil.

Slower but more concentrated way: Put the calendula and chamomile in a glass jar and pour the oil over it. Put a tight-fitting lid on. Keep in a cool, dark place and shake daily for 6-8 weeks to make a gorgeous light-orange oil that is great for baby or adult skin. It is soothing on eczema or skin irritation and calming to baby.

Soothing Baby Powder

Some regular baby powder contain talc, which is closely related to asbestos and has been linked to various cancers. Please don’t put it on your baby’s tender tushie! There are natural alternatives that are incredibly easy to make and work better without the  side of cancer.

Here’s the recipe.

Homemade Baby Wipes

We make our own baby wipes and I use the same natural formula for cloth wipes or to make disposable wipes. They are not only more natural and environmentally friendly… they are cheaper too!

Here’s the recipe.

Super Smooth Baby Lotion and Lotion Bars

I’ve used my basic homemade lotion recipe on all of our kids and it is gentle enough for baby skin. Here’s the basic recipe.

I also recently discovered that homemade lotion bars are an even better option and are very protective on baby’s skin but still allow it to breathe. You can add chamomile or calendula to the oils if you want, but the basic lotion bars work excellent, especially on babies with sensitive skin or eczema. They are even easier to make, last longer and are fun for kids to use too. They have a natural SPF of about 7.

You can also just use plain coconut oil… tired of me saying that yet?

Baby Shampoo or Wash

Babies don’t actually need soaps or shampoos for the most part. They have naturally protective oils in their skin that are better not washed off.

If you do need a lathery soap to feel like baby is clean, I’d suggest Dr. Bronner’s sensitive skin liquid castille soap for both soap and shampoo. On my daughter (11 months) I just use natural microfiber cloths to clean off the food, dirt, etc. without stripping all of her natural oils. I also use them to wash her hair. Then, I just use coconut oil or baby oil (above) when needed, which isn’t often.

Natural Teething/Pain Relief

I don’t use Children’s Tylenol, Children’s Motrin or any other children’s version of a pharmaceutical on my kids. The poor things must navigate the waters of teething without the help of medicine, but I do use natural means to help ease the pain when I can.

Chamomile tincture is by far my most used tincture with babies and kids. I use it mostly externally on babies to sooth colic or teething and internally for older kids who have trouble sleeping or who have a head or stomach ache. Here’s the tincture recipe. I dilute or let the alcohol evaporate when using on babies or children.

How to Avoid Morning Sickness

This pregnancy (my fifth) has been my absolute easiest by far! My pregnancies had been getting easier as I’ve learned more about health and real food, but this one held a surprising difference! So much so, in fact, that I was really glad to hear a heart beat to make sure I was indeed pregnant.

To help understand what a change this had been for me, I should explain: I never had morning sickness to the level that several of my friends have had. I never came close to being hospitalized, though I didn’t usually eat much the first few months.

With my first especially, the smell of food would sometimes leave me running for the nearest bathroom or bushes. The worst part, for me, was the fatigue. Especially after the first one, I didn’t have time to be tired, but the first few months, I’d play with my kids or read to them while laying on their bedroom floor, and I’d fall asleep any chance I got.

This time, I was a little more tired but didn’t notice it at all if I got to bed by 10 p.m. There were mornings that I didn’t feel like eating right away, but I wasn’t repulsed by food. One time, I chugged a huge glass of water and took Fermented Cod Liver Oil on an empty stomach and had a little nausea for about 10 minutes, but that was pretty much the extent of it. (For the record I don’t recommend that…)

What Changed?

How to Avoid Pregnancy Induced Morning Sickness

Being the health nut that I am, I have food and supplement journals from at least parts of all of my pregnancies. I’d also been working on improving certain nutrient levels over the last year, so I knew what things I had specifically been focusing on that could have made a difference.

The things that had changed since my last pregnancy with respect to diet/supplements:

Started actually remembering to take fermented cod liver oil daily
Daily magnesium intake as I worked to intensively boost magnesium levels (this post explains what I used)
Added daily bone broth while son is on GAPS program
Upped protein intake BEFORE I got pregnant this time (not intentionally, but we bought part of a cow and my daily protein intake increased)
Was eating very little/no processed foods, sugars, etc (didn’t change, but notable)
Looking back, I’d rank the factors that changed in this order of importance:

Using Magnesium Oil on my skin!
Taking 1-2 teaspoons per day of Fermented Cod Liver Oil
Drinking Bone broth daily
Eating protein/avoiding processed foods
Why Magnesium?

I started researching to see if there was any actual evidence backing my theory that magnesium made the difference. I found some articles by naturally minded doctors and midwives that seemed to support the idea (or at least promote it as not harmful) and this post from Mommypotamus that talked about her experience with Magnesium. (I always love finding other actual pregnant women who had the same experience!)

I’ve also been randomly asking pregnant friends about their intake of magnesium containing foods and there does seem to be a correlation. (Asking friends how much seaweed and unrefined sea salt they consume daily is totally normal, right?) In fact, one person I know was doing the same protocol I was and had virtually no morning sickness either!

What Kind of Magnesium?

Here is what I did (from a previous post):

The best way to supplement with magnesium, in my opinion, is by using it on the skin. This is not only the safest way, since the body will only use what is needed, but the most effective.

Unlike internal doses of magnesium, topical magnesium does not have to pass through the digestive system and kidneys and can more quickly enter the blood and tissues of the body.

I have experimented with a variety of magnesium supplements over the years and now stick exclusively to topical magnesium spray because I found it to be the most effective (and cost effective!).

In fact, I was suffering from low Vitamin D for years despite spending regular time in the sun and taking supplemental D3 at the suggestion of my doctor. Magnesium is needed for proper Vitamin D absorption and it wasn’t until I increased my use of magnesium on my skin that my Vitamin D levels finally went up. (This is the one I used)

If you’d like to learn more about the importance of magnesium and its various actions in the body, I’d suggest the book The Magnesium Miracle by Carolyn Dean.

Since digestion changes during pregnancy, it can be difficult to absorb magnesium correctly, especially once you are pregnant. I found the magnesium oil seemed to be the easiest for me to absorb, and even before pregnancy, I noticed the biggest difference in my regularity (ahem) from the skin oil.

Magnesium is also an important mineral during pregnancy, so even if you are already pregnant, it would be worth a try to lessen morning sickness.

Why Fermented Cod Liver Oil?

Fermented Cod Liver Oil is a great source of Vitamins D & A and Omega-3s. Vitamin D is essential for proper absorption and use of magnesium in the body, so this likely also helped the magnesium be more effective. Many women find they do better from consuming enough healthy fats and proteins in early pregnancy (magnesium aside) and Fermented Cod Liver Oil is a great source of healthy fats.

The Weston A. Price Foundation recommends Fermented Cod Liver Oil as a superfood during pregnancy for proper development of baby’s brain, bone structure, and more. At the least, I think the Fermented Cod Liver Oil was good for the baby, but I suspect that it also contributed to my lack of morning sickness.

Protein + Fats

I think the other factor that made a difference was that in very early pregnancy (before I found out and before morning sickness would have hit anyway) I was already eating a lot of healthy fats and proteins daily. My intake was already up and supportive of the pregnancy and healthy blood sugar levels before they started becoming a problem. My daily protein intake these days typically includes:

3-4 eggs
Some form of healthy meat at every meal
2 cups (average) of homemade bone broth daily
2-4 Tablespoons of Coconut Oil
2+ tablespoons grass fed butter
Coconut based snacks like coconut cream
Various other forms of protein and fat like tallow used in cooking, bison for snack, etc.
I also try to consume 3-4 cups+ of vegetables each day, usually in soups or with meats. I’ve found that I usually prefer cooked vegetables in early pregnancy anyway so steamed veggies with butter are on the daily menu.

Not only do I feel better this time, but I’m confident that I’m giving my baby a good start too. (I’m also taking probiotics and optimizing gut bacteria to give baby the best start after birth, but more info in another post on that soon…)

Healthy Options for Pregnancy & Prenatal Care

I’ve gotten several questions lately about the various tests and procedures that come with pregnancy and birth and what I choose. These are topics that I researched extensively when I was expecting my first and have continued to research throughout my pregnancies, so I have shared my opinions and research below. I’ve also written in depth about my own pregnancy and birth experiences and how I’ve come to my opinions. I am not a doctor or midwife and you should always consult with yours before making any decisions during pregnancy.

Personally, while I often feel that some tests and procedures are not needed, I still consent to some of them to make my doctor/midwife more comfortable and more willing to agree to my non-intervention approach to birth and after care. I think that each option should be carefully researched and weighed by an individual couple after taking in to account their specific circumstances.

Prenatal Vitamins Or Not?

Typically, prenatal vitamins are recommended during pregnancy. While these are certainly beneficial for many people, especially those who aren’t getting adequate nutrition from diet, but I don’t usually take them for several reasons:

Most contain synthetic forms of Vitamin A and other vitamins that are not only not beneficial during pregnancy but can also be harmful
As I’ve mentioned before, you can’t out supplement a bad diet, and while some high quality vitamins can fill in the gaps from a poor diet, they won’t take the place of it and can give a false sense of health
I personally notice that I feel better when I take certain isolated nutrients instead and concentrate on an extremely nutrient rich diet
As I said, this is something that is very individualized, but during pregnancy, I take:

1-2 teaspoons of fermented cod liver oil daily for the vital fat soluble vitamins
Consistant daily magnesium intake before and during pregnancy (this post explains what I used) This is also supposed to help with labor- I’ll let you know!
Daily bone broth for the minerals and gelatin
800 micrograms of folate (not folic acid!!! it is synthetic) daily before and during the first trimester (this is the one I take)
Lots of probiotics, fermented food, and fermented drinks daily since baby inherits my gut bacteria. This is vital!
A very high nutrient diet that I consider non-optional. I mostly follow the Weston A. Price pregnancy diet except that I eat sweet potatoes and squash in place of sprouted grains.
First Visit Blood Tests/ Pap Smear

Though I don’t find much of a need for these personally, I agree to them anyway. I monitor my blood levels and check my Vitamin D levels regularly, so I already know that I am not anemic and after four pregnancies with the same person (my husband), I am also relatively confident that I do not have an STD.

The reason I consent is because I refuse some of the routine after-birth options like antibiotic eye drops and then have proof that I don’t have an STD that could be passed on to baby. (more on that later)

These tests are often unnecessary, but can also reveal important information (like rH problems) and have no downside so I don’t mind them.

Ultrasounds/Dopplers for Heartbeat

There is some controversy about the safety and necessity of ultrasounds and regular checks for baby’s heartbeat with a doppler. This article outlines some of the potential dangers in ultrasounds especially multiple or unnecessary ones. While I opt out of routine ultrasounds or those to check the size of the baby (which are not accurate anyway), I do consent to one 20-week ultrasound in my specific case.

My reason for agreeing is that I had placenta previa with my third that was not caught, despite an ultrasound and I hemorrhaged and could have died at 35 weeks gestation (we are both fine now). Since the risk of placenta previa is slightly higher if you’ve already had it, the risks of one ultrasound are less to me than another potential undiagnosed placenta previa. I would not consent to other ultrasounds to diagnose size, gender, etc.

In non-high risk cases, no ultrasounds may be needed and a mother should carefully research and weigh the options for her pregnancy. Most experienced midwives and doctors are able to feel size, position and movement of the baby without the need for ultrasounds unless there is a specific risk.

Dopplers (the instrument used to hear the baby’s heartbeat) come with their own set of concerns and some doctors prefer not to use them because they do pass on some radiation. As this articleexplains:

“According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, fetal Dopplers are not intended for over-the-counter use. The radiation used during a Doppler session has the potential to cause harm to the baby. You should only use a Doppler in your doctor’s office or under your doctor’s supervision. If you chose to use one at home, get a prescription from your doctor first. A Doppler should not be used when the number or lengths of sessions are not specified and should only be used when it is medically useful.”

I’ve had midwives with differing opinions on this and I prefer to avoid dopplers for the most part. I will sometimes consent to one very quick check for a heartbeat to satisfy the midwives at a first appointment, but then once it is possible (3rd-4th appointment usually) I ask them to use a fetoscope instead. Most doctors and midwives have a fetoscope and are able to do this if asked.

In labor, I will consent to doppler checks to monitor baby occasionally if it removes the need for constant monitoring and being tethered to my bed (oh the joys of v-bacs!)

Urine Tests

I consent to urine tests when indicated my my midwife/doc because they are non-invasive and test for sugars or ketones in the urine which can both be signs of problems, especially when paired with other symptoms like blood pressure changes, rapid weight gain, headache, etc.

If a urine test revealed a problem, I would seek additional testing (blood or otherwise) to confirm before consenting to any treatment.

Blood Pressure Checks

Another non-invasive test that I agree to as high blood pressure in pregnancy can be very dangerous and it would be better to find an elevated blood pressure as soon as possible and attempt to treat naturally if possible, or to get medical treatment to avoid a pre-term delivery if needed. High blood pressure, especially paired with other symptoms, can signal preeclamsia, a very dangerous condition.

Internal Exams

I completely refuse internal exams (cervix checks) and only consent during labor when I feel the urge to push (mainly to pacify the midwife, not for me). There is really no information that an internal exam can reveal that is useful or relevant in prenatal care before labor. It is a chance for external bacteria to enter the vaginal area and baby’s size, position, etc. can be determined with an external exam.

Many women like to know how far dilated they are at the end of pregnancy in hopes of knowing when they will go in to labor. Unfortunately, this is a notoriously inaccurate test for when labor will begin. I personally know women who were not dilated and effaced at all and delivered less than 24 hours later, as well as women who walked around at 3-4 cm for weeks.

Without a specific need, I always refuse internal exams… plus, it makes prenatal appointments easier and faster to not have to disrobe at every appointment. Here is an article detailing the risks and why one might refuse these.

Glucose Test

I do not consent to the normal glucose screening test that involves drinking 50 grams of a glucose solution for several reasons. First, there is no situation during pregnancy in which I would ever consume that much sugar/carbohydrates in one sitting, so the test is not accurate for me. There is a risk of false positive, which leads to another, longer test.

That being said, I do think it is important to make sure I don’t have blood sugar issues or gestational diabetes, as they can both cause complications. Instead, I monitor my blood sugar over a period of a week at two separate times during pregnancy and record it for my doc/midwife to check. I take my blood glucose levels four times a day and record. This article explains more on what the normal levels should be, but basically:

Fasting blood glucose (first thing in the morning) of 86 or lower
1 hour after eating= 140 or lower
2 hours after eating= 120 or lower
3 hours after eating= back to fasting level
There can be some variation in this, but the majority of my readings should be in these ranges. I do this at 28 weeks and 33 weeks (my preference) to make sure my levels are good. Another reason I prefer this is that it is a more comprehensive view of glucose tolerance and I even get to see what foods cause higher spikes for me personally and which don’t affect it as much at all. I’ve also found through this testing that adding 1 tablespoon of coconut oil before each meal helps my glucose reactions improve and get back to baseline more quickly, so I would use this if I ever needed to control my levels.

Many doctors may not be familiar with this and I have had to suggest it to a doctor before and let him research it before he agreed to it. With anything I do that goes against the norm, I make sure to present it in a friendly and firm way and show that I’ve done my research and explain why I feel it is a better option. This is one thing I’d encourage you to research for yourself if you consider it, and talk to your doc/midwife about the best option for you.

Personally, I use this monitor and these strips because they are inexpensive and readily available, but any reliable monitor would work.

Optional Screening During Pregnancy

There are various optional screenings that can be done during pregnancy. This article explains the usual ones:

“Chorionic villus sampling (CVS). Tests the tissue around the baby to see if he has a genetic condition, like Down syndrome. The test usually is done between 10 and 12 weeks of pregnancy. Your provider may want you to have CVS if you’re older than 35, if genetic problems run in your family, or if your first-trimester screening shows that your baby is at increased risk for birth defects.
Cystic fibrosis (CF) carrier screening. Tests to see if you have the gene that causes CF. CF is a disease that affects breathing and digestion. If you and your partner have the gene, you can pass CF to your baby. You and your partner can have this test any time during pregnancy.
First-trimester screening. Tests your blood to see if your baby is at risk for some birth defects, like Down syndrome and heart defects. You get an ultrasound as part of this test. The test usually is done at 11 to 13 weeks of pregnancy.
Maternal blood screening. Tests your blood to see if your baby is at risk for some birth defects, like Down syndrome and heart defects. The test is done at 15 to 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Amniocentesis. Also called amnio. Tests the amniotic fluid from around your baby to see if he has a genetic condition, like Down syndrome. The test usually is done at 15 to20 weeks of pregnancy. Your provider may want you to have an amnio for the same reasons as for CVS.”
I refuse all of these tests. They all have some risk of a false positive, which can cause needless worry for the parents and they provide information which is really irrelevant to me. As one reader put it, one must consider “what you would do with the information.”

Finding out that my baby had any of these problems would not affect my decisions about my pregnancy and I would certainly never consider not continuing the pregnancy, so this is simply not information I need to know and since it could cause needless worry… I skip it.

Group B Strep

Pregnant women are generally screened for Group B Strep or GBS at 25-37 weeks gestation. It can be a life threatening infection if a baby contracts it from a mother during birth, so it is certainly best to avoid GBS, and the usual method is a GBS test and antibiotics during labor if necessary. There is some controversy over if GBS testing actually improves outcomes in GBS cases, and even more controversy over if routine use of antibiotics for all those with GBS is necessary.

The bacteria is naturally present in some women and it can come and go in the gut/vaginal bacteria. In my opinion, the best bet is to optimize good bacteria and work to avoid GBS and a positive GBS test as this makes labor much easier (IV antibiotics = stuck in bed on an IV). I highly encourage all women to do research on this topic before the appointment that tests for GBS. This article gives some advice for preventing GBS and making sure you test negative on the screening.

If you do test positive for GBS, I highly encourage researching the options in depth. Antibiotics are the usual treatment, but as more information emerges on the importance of gut bacteria and how baby inherits it from mom, antibiotics can have a much longer impact than just during the birth and days after. There is even information linking antibiotic use in labor and in baby’s early days to higher rates of allergies and asthma, which makes sense under the gut bacteria theory.

This article explains ways to avoid GBS and treat it naturally should this be an issue. I proactively consume a lot of probiotics and use them vaginally during pregnancy to optimize my gut bacteria that I am passing on, even if GBS is not a concern.

Kick Counts

Many thanks to a brave reader for stressing the importance of checking kick counts, especially if baby is moving less or if there is concern! Especially in the third trimester of pregnancy,  this is an easy and non-invasive way to double check the baby is doing well.

Basically, you just want to ensure that you feel some type of fetal movement within a 2-hour stretch. This doesn’t mean that you have to be constantly kicking, but just that at some point during the day you check to make sure you are feeling movement. A decline in fetal movement can indicate fetal distress or a cord wrapped around the neck and this information can be life saving for baby if found early enough.

This article explains how to do kick counts.

The bottom line…

Whatever a couple decided on pregnancy and prenatal care options, I think it is very important to research individually and not agree to or refuse any test without researching both sides first. While it can be hard to go against the norm, especially under pressure from a doctor, we (as mothers) must remember that ultimately we have the responsibility for our pregnancies, our health and our babies. We have the right to refuse or consent to any procedures and we certainly have the right to make an informed decision! In future posts I’ll be covering specific conditions of pregnancy and my preference on birth options/interventions.

Interested in a more natural pregnancy?

Sign up for the world’s first pregnancy week-to-week series from a *natural* perspective! Created by my friend Genevieve from Mama Natural, the series shows you what’s up with baby, mama, and more each week. You’ll discover natural remedies for various pregnancy symptoms and prepare for your best and most natural birth!

Top 10 Pregnancy Books

Natural birth is an amazing, life-changing experience that is hard to put into words, but it takes preparation and knowledge. From experience, I know that fear and tension can make natural birth a scary and painful experience, rather than a challenging but empowering accomplishment it is meant to be.

The following are some (of the many) pregnancy and natural birth books that I read that were instrumental to me in making my 26-hour natural labor an experience I look back on fondly. If you are considering natural birth, I highly encourage these books.

Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin- Highly recommended, an excellent blend of birth stories and practical advice from the most well-known midwife in the country. It does contain graphic images of birth.

Your Best Birth: Know all Your Options, Discover the Natural Choices and Take Back the Birth Experience by Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein- Highly Recommended. This book came as an addition to the documentary, The Business of Being Born, which I also highly recommend. It is an in depth look at all the common procedures of labor and birth in society today and encourages you to evaluate all your options.

Active Birth: The New Approach to Giving Birth Naturally by Janet Balaskas- Some good information, it addresses the importance of movement and involvement during birth. I like that it gives concrete suggestions for minimizing the discomfort of labor and making delivery either with movement, massage, visualization and distraction.

Pushed: The Painful Truth about Childbirth and Modern Maternity Care by Jennifer Block- Highly Recommended. Great information on modern maternity care. This is probably the top book I recommend to expecting moms and doula clients. It explains in depth the reason (or lack thereof) of many of the common interventions and procedures during pregnancy and birth and empowers moms to make the best choices for them in these situations. This was the book that gave me the knowledge to be able to stand up to pushy doctors and nurses, even while in the pain of transition. If you want natural birth, read this book!

Childbirth Without Fear by Dr. Grantly Dick Read-The book that started it all for me and changed the way I viewed birth. Highly recommended, though the language takes a few pages to adjust to as it was written several decades ago. This books helps women feel confident that their bodies are capable and excellent at birthing naturally in most cases.

Gentle Birth Choices by Barbara Harper- Some information slightly outdated, but good information on empowering yourself to make informed decision.

Baby Catcher: Chronicles of a Modern Midwife by Peggy Vincent- A memoir of a midwife who has delivered hundreds of babies. Some very touching birth stories and some great info mixed in.

The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin- A great resource for moms, dads, labor coaches, doulas, etc. Make your husband and birth team read this book (so they won’t say things like “ssshhhh… it’s ok, don’t yell,” in transition.

Birthing from Within by Pan England and Rob Horowitz- A pretty good book. I didn’t really connect with her writing style, but she does offer some good advice on the emotional preparation needed for birth.

Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way – Many women do really well with the Bradley method of natural childbirth and I like that this system also involves the husband as an integral part of the birth.

Natural childbirth is incredible, but the proper preparation can make a tremendous difference!

Interested in a more natural pregnancy?

Sign up for the world’s first pregnancy week-to-week series from a *natural* perspective! Created by my friend Genevieve from Mama Natural, the series shows you what’s up with baby, mama, and more each week. You’ll discover natural remedies for various pregnancy symptoms and prepare for your best and most natural birth!

Natural Birth Options and Tips

As I prepare to assist at the births of several of my doula clients, I thought it was fitting to write a post about tips and strategies for a natural labor. (I already wrote about things I will and won’t consent to during pregnancy here). I’ve gotten several questions about this lately as well, so I’m covering what I choose and some tricks I’ve found helpful in my own natural labors.

Unfortunately for me, my labors tend to be long (like 24+ hours long), but this has been great for me as a doula since I have so much time to test various labor techniques. (Though I admit, I’m a teeny bit jealous when I attend a birth and the mom pushes once after laboring for two hours… c’est la vie I guess).

Why Natural Birth?

(I’d like to preface by saying that these are the options I chose after extensive research, but I do not necessarily think that they are right for every woman. My hope is that women are actually provided the information (or can find it easily) to feel empowered and make the best decisions for their own labors/births, and unfortunately, this does not always seem to be the case.)

I have some friends who look at me like I’ve grown a second head when I mention that I prefer to labor naturally, and others who experience rather pain free births and can’t even understand why coping techniques are necessary. For me personally, labor is long, hard, and a true test of both will power and surrender. I decided to labor and birth naturally (medical issues aside) after researching all of the options and deciding that this was best for baby and me.

From personal experience, I can say that the endorphin high and fast recovery of a natural birth are absolutely amazing, while my c-section was exhausting (emotionally and physically) and tough to recover from.

Labor augmentation and medical intervention can absolutely be necessary and life saving, but the majority of the time intervention isn’t necessary. As mothers, we should carefully consider any intervention, especially elective ones, as all intervention comes with some level of risk to mom or baby (or both).

Going Into Labor Naturally

The most recent statistic I’ve seen shows that almost 1/4 of all women (in the US) are induced and do not go in to labor naturally. While medical induction can be necessary, many of these cases are simply elective and induction alters the important and delicate hormones that occur during labor and birth.

Labor is often induced because a doctor may think that the baby is too big (tests determining this are often wrong), mom is tired of being pregnant, there are scheduling issues for doctor or mom, or for a genuine medical reason. Often, women are induced at 41 weeks or not allowed to go past 42 weeks based on studies that risk of maternal and infant death are higher after this time (this article explains why this research is not necessarily accurate).

This article presents some important biological happenings in the final weeks of pregnancy:

“In the last weeks of pregnancy, maternal antibodies are passed to the baby—antibodies that will help fight infections in the first days and weeks of life. The baby gains weight and strength, stores iron, and develops more coordinated sucking and swallowing abilities. His lungs mature, and he stores brown fat that will help him maintain body temperature in the first days and weeks following birth. The maturing baby and the aging placenta trigger a prostaglandin increase that softens the cervix in readiness for effacement and dilatation. A rise in estrogen and a decrease in progesterone increase the uterine sensitivity to oxytocin. The baby moves down into the pelvis. Contractions in the last weeks may start the effacement and dilation of the cervix. A burst of energy helps pregnant women make final preparations, and insomnia prepares them for the start of round-the-clock parenting.”

This article explains some of the risks of induction (especially elective induction):

“The induction process is a fairly invasive procedure which usually involves some or all of the following (you can read more about the process of induction here). There are a number of minor side effects associated with these medications/procedures (eg. nausea, discomfort etc.) There are also some major risks:

Prostaglandins (prostin E2 or cervidil) to ripen the cervix: hyperstimulation resulting in fetal distress and c-section.
Rupturing the membranes: fetal distress and c-section (see previous post)
IV syntocinon / pitocin: Mother – rupture of uterus; post partum hemorrhage; water intoxication leading to convulsions, coma and/or death. Baby – hypoxic brain damage; neonatal jaundice; neonatal retinal hemorrhage; death. There is also research suggesting that there may be a link between the use of syntocinon/pitocin for induction and ADHD (Kurth & Haussmann 2011)
The most extreme of these risks are rare but fetal distress and c-section are fairly common.”

My personal choice is simply to refuse any labor induction, augmentation, or intervention without a clear medical reason (as there was with complete placenta previa with my third, when natural birth would have been impossible).

Pain Relief In Labor

This is one area where I will definitely never judge a woman for deciding to get pain relief of some kind. In labor, I cry like a baby and sometimes even curse like a sailor… I understand the pain.

That being said, there are inherent risks with any medical pain relief options, and corresponding reasons to avoid them if possible.

Epidurals are the most common form of pain relief during labor. Over 3/4 of all women report getting an epidural during labor, and like I said, I can understand why! This article explains how an epidural works:

“In an epidural, a local anesthetic – still derived from cocaine – is injected into the epidural space (the space around the tough coverings that protect the spinal cord). Epidurals block nerve signals from both the sensory and motor nerves, which provides effective pain relief but immobilizes the lower part of the recipient’s body.”

No intervention exists in a vacuum, and even epidurals carry their share of risks. This article has the most in depth discussion of risks I’ve seen:

“They lengthen labor.
They triple the risk of severe perineal tear.
They may increase the risk of cesarean section by 2.5 times.
They triple the occurrence of induction with synthetic oxytocin (Pitocin).
They quadruple the chances a baby will be persistently posterior (POP, face up) in the final stages of labor, which in turn decreases the chances of spontaneous vaginal birth (see below).
They decrease the chances of spontaneous vaginal delivery. In 6 of 9 studies reviewed in one analysis, less than half of women who received an epidural had a spontaneous vaginal delivery.
They increase the chances of complications from instrumental delivery. When women with an epidural had a forceps delivery, the amount of force used by the clinician was almost double that used when an epidural was not in place. This is significant because instrumental deliveries can increase the short-term risks of bruising, facial injuries, displacement of skull bones and blood clots in the scalp for babies, and of episiotomy and tears to the vagina and perineum in mothers.
They increase the risk of pelvic floor problems (urinary, anal and sexual disorders) in mothers after birth, which rarely resolve spontaneously.”
I have only seen this mentioned by some sources, but from my own experience, my spinal with my c-section led to horrible itching all over my body for several days after, and I didn’t dare take Benadryl since it can affect milk supply. Personally, I’d rather have pain for a day than horrible itching for three if given the choice!

Epidurals pose their fair share of risks to baby too, including:

Similar levels of epidural drugs are found in baby’s blood stream, but baby takes longer to eliminate the drugs because immune system is still developing
Epidurals can affect fetal blood and oxygen supply, leading to the need for more intervention
Some studies show a decrease in APGAR scores in babies whose mothers received epidurals.
Higher risk of fever in babies whose mothers received an epidural
Some evidence shows that mothers may have more difficulty bonding immediately when they receive an epidural
Evidence shows an increase in difficulty breastfeeding when a mother receives an epidural
Opiate based medications are another common pain relief option in labor (though these are becoming less popular). While these allow movement, unlike an epidural, they affect the baby as well as the mother, and personally, I wouldn’t even consider using opiate medication during labor. This article from American Pregnancy explains the common risks of opiate drugs in labor.

Natural Pain Relief Options

Deciding against medical pain relief options doesn’t mean suffering though labor without any relief. There are a variety of natural pain relief options that work with a woman’s body and can also help labor progress.

These options will not provide the relief that an epidural will, but they also don’t carry the risks.

From personal experience and from working with laboring women, I’ve found that preparation and knowledge are absolutely key to having a smooth natural birth. I’m yet to meet anyone who goes in to labor with the “I’ll try and see if I can do it without drugs” mental attitude who actually goes drug free.

Labor is hard work and it is painful at times, but knowing and expecting the different stages so the fear of the unknown isn’t there can make a tremendous difference. As a personal example, with my first, I didn’t expect the vomiting/severe shaking in transition and this scared me and intensified the pain. Just fear of labor itself is often enough to intensify the pain and make contractions more difficult.

My Top Ten Pregnancy Books provide knowledge of what to expect in labor, along with detailed suggestions for natural pain relief. I’ve also benefitted from and personally recommend taking some form of natural labor classes if you plan to go natural. Some options include:

Lamaze classes
Bradley (husband coached childbirth) Classes
Hypnobirthing (I haven’t tried this one)
From my own experience, I wouldn’t recommend the general classes offered by some hospitals as the only childbirth preparation classes  as they are often very general and cater to the majority of women who don’t plan on natural labor. (The ones I attended gave detailed practice on using a smiley face chart to rate pain… I laugh in hindsight since by the time real labor hits, I’d be more likely to throw the chart across the room!)

This article provides a list of other things that reduce pain in labor including (I starred the ones that work for me):

Methods of Natural Pain Relief

Walking around*
Sitting/rocking on a birthing (exercise) ball*
Taking a hot shower (aimed at your low back)*
Sitting up and rocking
Massaging your back (well, have someone else do it)*
Counter-pressure on the back (especially for back labor). Try tennis balls.*
Massage oils for all-over massage*
Chiropractic adjustment (some will make house calls)
Prayer/meditation*
Focusing on the baby and “opening”
Changing positions*
Soothing music*
Foot massage (pressure points; can take your mind off the pain)*
Getting in a pool of water
Staying hydrated*
Eating small snacks, if you want to”
As a doula, the things I most often use to help women get through labor as easily as possible are:

Temperature changes- I bring both a microwaveable heating pad and a personal fan to help mom cope with the temp changes
Food and drink- this is sometimes discouraged in hospitals, but I encourage mom to keep her energy up by staying nourished and hydrated (here is my recipe for a natural sports drink)
An old soccer sock with three tennis balls tied in to it is great for counter pressure for back labor
Natural massage oils and massage help mom relax
Calming music
Birthing ball for bouncing if it feels good to mom
Guided relaxation- I often try to keep the room as quiet and dark as possible as this seems to be the most natural for  woman in labor. During contractions, I will provide whatever relief mom needs, but will also touch a specific area (often the jaw) that seems to be especially tensing during the contractions and remind mom to relax here. Relaxation makes a HUGE difference during labor, so just helping a woman gently relax her jaw, arm, etc. will take her focus away from the contraction and help her return to a relaxed state
Stress balls and focal points
Getting mom to change position or helping her get in to water (if possible)
Birth Plan

Labor is not a time to be unprepared! Having a plan and a birth team can make a big difference. Personally, I recommend having a good birth team, including a doula, and a simple but detailed birth plan to help hospital staff support mom. Statistically, doulas can make a tremendous difference in labor outcomes including:

50% reduction in the cesarean rate
25% shorter labor
60% reduction in epidural requests
40% reduction in oxytocin use
30% reduction in analgesia use
40% reduction in forceps delivery
Most doctors and midwives I’ve talked to prefer a one-page birth plan. Even mine (I refuse a lot of stuff!) can fit on one page, so I’d encourage you to try this if possible.

(Here is a copy of my birth plan if you want an idea of a template- click to download).

A simple bulleted list is usually enough, and I also recommend using kind language. My birth plan with my first was very long and very forceful, and while it accomplished its purpose, I don’t think it made me many friends, and friends who are nurses are a good thing to have in labor! I’d also suggest printing it on a piece of colored paper so it stands out… I always add a thank you post it note to the nurses and staff as this improves the chances they read it. As a doula, I sometimes bring snacks for the nurses (they work hard!) as a thank you for their support… bonus points if you do this when you are in labor!

For moms planning to go without medication, a support system can be critical. For many women, there are times when they feel like they can’t do it, and the encouragement of a supportive team can make the difference between the ability to avoid drugs or not.

Avoid the Fear

I also learned the hard way with my first labor that it is not something that I can just “tough out.” I thought that I would just grit my teeth and get through it… the problem: one must relax to progress through labor! Ever heard stories of women who get an epidural and go from 4-10 in an hour? It is because they relax! So if you’re hoping to avoid the medication, this is what I would suggest:

Research pregnancy, labor and birth so you know what to expect. Fear makes labor tougher, so try to work through any fear that you have and use the times that you feel fear as a chance to practice relaxation.
Understand that birth is often painful, but that your body is made to get through it and that the pain will go away when the baby is born!
Have a plan and make sure your birth team knows it too.
Practice relaxation measures often during pregnancy.
Unless it isn’t possible for medical reasons, stay at home as long as possible! This will help relaxation and make labor move along more smoothly.
During contractions, focus on relaxing your jaw or on a focal point and try to avoid tensing your body. Think of contractions like a wave and accept them rather than fight them.
Focus on the fact that the pain is temporary and a beautiful baby is at the end!

Teaching Christmas Joy to Children

As my kids get older, I’ve wanted to find some creative ways to help teach them Christmas joy, rather than just the idea of receiving gifts on Christmas Day.

In our family, we focus Christmas Day itself on the birth of Jesus and not the visit of St. Nick, but Advent offers such a wonderful time to make preparation for this joyful celebration, and this year I wanted to find ways to help my kids celebrate it on their own levels.

Many of our friends do the “Elf on the Shelf” and I think it is a fun idea for the kids to find the elf each day, but since we don’t really focus on Santa, it wasn’t a good fit for us. I mentioned on facebook that I wanted to find a way to do an act of service or random act of kindness each day with the kids, and you guys gave me some wonderful ideas!

Several of you also told me about the Christmas Angel, which we decided to try as well. At first, I was just using a small angel figurine from my own childhood, but the Christmas Angel (who we’ve named Gloria) has been a fun addition.

Our Advent Plan:

Each day of Advent (we started a couple days late…) the Christmas Angel does a random act of kindness herself (picks up a toy that was left out overnight, gives the kids a piece of homemade chocolate, etc) and holds a note with a suggestion for our kind act for the day. (The doll actually comes with glitter to write the message in, which is a great idea, but I learned long ago that glitter and my children are a very messy combination!)

So far, some of our fun Advent kind acts have been:

Making gifts for the UPS man, postman, etc
Making “I love you” cards for grandparents
Donating savings to different charities
Bringing the man ringing the bell at the grocery store a cup of coffee
Sending gifts to new moms and babies
Making a gift basket for the midwives helping in this pregnancy
Paid for the groceries of an older lady checking out in front of us who only had a couple of items
Left coupons and dollar bills on the (healthy) isles of the grocery store
Given gifts secretly to families in need in the community
Given homemade lotion bars or teas to elderly or hospital bound
We are still hoping to do things like visit a nursing home, take small gifts to emergency workers, volunteer at local charities, etc.

I found the picture above with ideas for each day, and it has been fun to think of our own too. This blog also has some great ideas each day for random acts of kindness with the angel!

I know several of you mentioned doing something similar, and I’d love to hear how it is going for you!

My Healing Birth

As I sit here with a precious baby sleeping on my chest and smell that wonderful new baby smell, I am so grateful for her arrival and for the circumstances of her birth for so many reasons.

I feel like I’ve been through the gamut of birth experiences (here are my past ones if you are interested) which I’ve always been grateful for as a doula, since I felt like I could really understand what clients were going through (even in c-section, v-bac, interventions, etc). I was hoping that this time I could have a “normal” delivery but our little one had other plans…

Early Pregnancy…

We found out we were expecting our fifth in the summer, and while it was a surprise, it was a welcome one. Since I’d had a successful v-bac with my last pregnancy, I was hopeful for another easy and complication free delivery.

I decided to use the same group of nurse midwives who had delivered our last baby as they delivered in the hospital and were very v-bac friendly.

Overall, it was by far my easiest pregnancy! I avoided morning sickness entirely, which was a first for me and never really even had the first trimester fatigue I’d had in the past. Things were so easy in early pregnancy that I was glad to have my first appointment and hear the heartbeat to confirm that I was indeed pregnant!

All early appointments showed that baby was healthy, growing well and that I was also doing well. With four other little ones running around and a busy schedule, the pregnancy flew by and before I knew it, I was 34 weeks!

Uh-Oh…

At my 34ish week appointment, the midwife commented that she thought the baby was breech but that there was still time for her to turn. I had suspected this since about 32 weeks.

When I got home, I started the spinning babies protocol, found a Chiropractor to do the Webster technique, did handstands in water, swam, put ice on my belly and played music at the bottom of my belly, etc…

I literally did all of the suggested methods for turning a breech baby every single day from 34 weeks.

A 35 week ultrasound confirmed that baby was still breech but that there was no obvious reason that they could see like cord around the neck, short cord, etc.

I was still hopeful that she would turn, but I started to get a little worried by this point since the nurse midwives couldn’t deliver breech babies and the only option in that hospital was to attempt an External Cephalic Version (ECV) or do a c-section. An ECV would have to be done in the OR with an epidural since I was “once a v-bac, always a v-bac” and it carried risks like uterine rupture, placental abruption, fetal distress and other problems.

What to do?

I started researching options and statistics to see what my choices were. I realized that no option was without risk and that any choice I made carried a higher risk than a vertex delivery. I found that in many other countries, vaginal breech birth still occurs and that when factors like fetal abnormality, uterine abnormality, etc are removed, vaginal breech birth carried about the same risk as breech birth by cesarean.

I also took in to account that since I’d already had one c-section for placenta previa, a repeat c-section would carry a higher risk for me while not statistically reducing her risk.

After discussing it, my husband and I weren’t comfortable with an ECV or a repeat c-section unless it was necessary (which we didn’t feel that it was at this point).

Since vaginal breech birth wasn’t allowed in the hospital (thanks to insurance and legal policy, not the doctors and midwives) we decided to see if any other options were available. I had helped a friend find a home birth midwife earlier in my pregnancy and had gotten to meet her as well.

After researching and talking to other moms she had worked with, I found that she was trained in breech birth and had a history of successful outcomes. I felt that we at least needed to look in to this option, but also felt a twinge of fear. Logically, I knew that home birth can be statistically as safe as hospital birth in most cases and that statistically, it would be a good option for us, but after having undetected placenta previa with a previous pregnancy, I always held on to a fear that something might be wrong that we didn’t know about or that my body was somehow broken or inadequate.

It is amazing what an emergency c-section and 8 days of having a baby in NICU can do to diminish the natural trust I’d once had in birth. Even my previous delivery as a v-bac, while wonderful, reinforced the subconscious idea that I couldn’t birth without help since hospital policy dictated that I needed to be hooked up to a monitor, in a bed, with an IV, etc

Even so, I decided to meet with the midwife again and after meeting with her and talking to my husband, I had peace about pursuing that option. I continued to try to get baby to flip and kept meeting with the hospital midwives to have a backup plan in case a c-section did become necessary.

The several weeks leading up to my birth were mentally tough as I am not used to (or good at) not knowing how things will turn out or being able to direct things in some way.

After much prayer and letting go, I came to terms with the fact that I wouldn’t necessarily know where or how this birth would happen until it did and just started trusting God and my body.

We had a primary plan (vaginal delivery) and backup plans in place in case something went wrong (planned c-section or emergency transfer).

Birth Approaches…

The two weeks leading up to birth, I had a LOT of false labor. In hindsight, I think labor started several times and that I stopped it because I got nervous or overly analyzed the situation (did I mention I’m not good at the “letting go” thing…)

Finally, at just over 39 weeks, I had on and off contractions all day that got my attention. They weren’t painful per se, but were intense enough that I wanted to move around through them. They came every 10 minutes or so all day that day.

Realizing that this might be our last chance for a while, my hubby and I decided to go out to dinner that night. (I had a plan that if my water broke I would purposefully spill my glass of water in my lap to cover it up so we could leave…)

Through dinner my contractions were about 6 minutes apart and they started picking up as we drove home. We watched a movie and I noticed I was starting to get nauseous and that they were getting much less comfortable.

Around 11, we decided to try to get some sleep, and I texted the midwife a heads up that tonight or tomorrow might be the time…

Oh Labor…

As tends to happen, as soon as I attempted to sleep, the contractions picked up even more and were about five minutes apart and definitely uncomfortable. My contractions never get completely regular, even during transition (which really frustrates me…) but I knew at this point that it was the real thing.

Based on previous labors, I expected another 20+ hours of labor, so I tried to just ignore the contractions and sleep. It didn’t work and I called the midwife around 2 am and told her that things were moving.

I wasn’t sure how this labor would progress as baby was still breech and still high, so it felt different than my other labors.

The midwife and nurse arrived around 5:30 am and set up the birth tub. Around this time, I felt a pop and knew my water and broken…

The midwife checked me and I was only 4 cm… That was mildly discouraging, but I knew that once my labors picked up they progressed quickly, so I got in to the tub and tried squatting and hands and knees positions to help baby move down. There was also some meconium that came out with the fluid, but ironically, this is not as much of a concern with a breech delivery since the bottom was pointed down and the meconium was being pushed out and not in to the fluid with the baby.

After an hour or so I got bored with the tub. I’d always wanted a water birth and never expected to not want the water when I finally had a chance to try it but I also felt like I needed gravity and wanted to move around more than the tub would allow.

I got out and walked, swayed and sat on the birth ball for a couple of hours to help get through contractions (which were still every 4-6 minutes at this point).

Frustration…

At around 11 am, the midwife checked me again and I was still only 4-5 cm dilated, though she said it was because the baby was high and that I could easily stretch to a 6-7 if she were on my cervix. Due to the baby’s position, the midwife suggested that I try laying on my back with my hips elevated over a pool noodle to help open the pelvis and help her move down.

I tried and contractions got much more intense immediately. I spent about 45 minutes in that position and on my side and contractions were getting really tough to cope with.

She checked me and I was 7-8 cm and had reached the point where I start getting really focused and not wanting to talk or move, even between contractions.

The midwife suggested I get back in to the tub or in the shower to see if that helped things. The tub still sounded horrible, so I opted for a shower and the hot water really did make the contractions more bearable.

I started having the contractions that require deep moaning (at least for me… I always wish I was one of those moms who labor quietly, but c’est la vie). I moaned and swayed in the shower for close to an hour. The logical side of my brain was telling me that I was in transition, the low sounds meant she was descending, and that there was an end in sight, but my emotional side was reaching the “I can’t do this” point.

I was also having an internal struggle about if I could actually do this or not and if it would be better to just transfer to a hospital (where there would be pain relief). I was having back labor, which I hadn’t experienced before, and was feeling the contractions down my legs and in my hips as well.

At this point in labor, my husband is truly my rock. In early labor he is great at keeping the mood light and distracting me, but at this point, he coaches me though each contraction and really gets in my face when I start to lose control. He reminds me to breathe through each contraction and to relax in between.

Intensity…

The midwife asked me to get out of the shower so she could check me since the sounds I was making indicated that delivery might be approaching. I don’t know how they managed to get me out of the shower at that point, but that made things even more intense and being checked HURT!

I was really hoping to hear that I was at 10 cm, especially since I knew I might need to stay there without pushing for a while since she was breech and we had to make sure there was no lip on my cervix.

She checked me and I was….

still…

8 cm.

At this point, I almost gave up. Things were tough and had been for hours. The contractions were on top of each other and enough to make me nauseous and I hadn’t progressed AT ALL.

I considered giving up but realized that (a) this wasn’t really logical at this point (b) it would take a long time to transfer, get pain relief, etc and (c) I would end up with a c-section if I did that.

The midwife suggested sitting on the toilet for a few contractions. Oh, the “dilation station” as we call it in doula-speak. I didn’t want to because I’d encouraged clients to do this and knew that it worked but that it increased the intensity a lot (the theory is that since we are used to relaxing those muscles on the toilet, sitting there helps us do this even during labor).

With the help of husband and midwife, I somehow made it to the toilet and sat down. I had a mental pep talk with myself and told myself that this was it. For baby’s sake I had to relax and let her come down and that yes, it would hurt and that it would be over faster if I could just get over being uptight.

Then, in one VERY LOUD contraction, I felt myself fully dilate and felt her bottom move down. I also felt her poop and meconium drip down my leg, which was gross.

The midwife checked me and sure enough, I had gone from 8-10 cm in one contraction. Finally!

She checked and there was no lip left so I was cleared for pushing. They constantly monitored baby’s heart rate and she was doing great at this point. (I remember thinking that I hoped this process was a lot more comfortable for her than it was for me…).

I’d always wanted to push in a semi-squatting position but the midwife wanted me either on hands and knees or with my bottom hanging off the bed so that the angle would be safest for baby.

I didn’t think I could do either of these and thankfully my husband told me to get on my hands and knees and helped me do so in such a quick motion that I didn’t have a choice.

The urge to push lightened up for a second in this position and then intensified again.

In my head, I was having the debate I always have between “I don’t want to push… it will hurt” and “I want this baby out now.” Eventually “baby out now” won and I pushed. I instantly felt the ring of fire (cue Johnny Cash) and felt her head (er… bottom) emerge. I pushed again and felt what I thought was the rest of her body as I felt the slippery feeling that I usually feel when the body slides out after the head.

Since she was breech, she was only out to the head. I remember thinking “Crap, I have to push again.” The midwife told me she needed me to push NOW and I did….

Bliss…

Instantly, she slid out and that wonderful moment of sweet relief came. Almost immediately, I heard her cry and just broke down, fell on the bed and said “Oh, Praise God” over and over.

She was pink, breathing and perfectly healthy with 1 and 5 minute APGARS of 9 and 10. For all of my mental complaining about it, I only pushed three times and she was out in minutes!

Little Ella weighed 6 lbs 8 ounces and had a head of dark hair!

All of my fear, doubt and feelings of inadequacy from previous birth experiences melted away as I looked at my perfect, healthy baby and she stared back at me.

The time immediately postpartum was the most different from my previous birth experiences. I held her for an hour after she was born. The cord was allowed to stop pulsing before it was cut and I actually got to cut it! Since she wasn’t in distress, there was no rush to take her away and weigh her, clean her or put drops in her eyes. She latched on to nurse on her own at 16 minutes old and has been nursing well ever since.

I got to shower, get dressed in my own clothes, nurse her in my own bed and eat my own food while she happily slept on my chest. This recovery has been by far my easiest and she has been my calmest baby. It was also my shortest natural labor (previous ones were 26 and 25 hours) at only about 15 hours of painful contractions (I think this is largely because I was more relaxed and felt more supported this time).

I certainly value and respect the need for medical intervention when needed (it saved my life and my son’s when I was pregnant with him) but I also don’t think that every birth requires the interventions that are often routine.

I would definitely choose home birth again, but I also hope that eventually the medical mindset will change to allow for breech birth in hospitals, as I know many women who have had multiple c-sections because a first baby was breech and v-bac is not encouraged where they live. I don’t think that home birth is for everyone or every situation, but I am so glad that I pursued it for this birth!

I’ll be forever grateful to the wonderful midwife who caught her and to my amazing husband for getting me through transition and helping me trust that I could do it. This birth was such a healing experience for me

Healing Herbal Bath Fizzies for Postpartum Recovery

It’s a fact … after giving birth we mommas can use all the help we can get! Similar to my regular bath fizzies, these after-birth bath fizzies use soothing salts and finely ground herbs for an extra boost of healing power.

Herbal Bath Fizzies Make It Better

The period of recovery after giving birth is full of fun details no one tells us beforehand (and for good reason, who would want to hear it!). Many a first-time mom has surely felt unprepared. It’s my hope this easy DIY recipe will help out.

I know I find these pretty little bath fizzies a welcome alternative to the hospital’s more clinical (although useful) take-home pack of Tucks pads and numbing spray. They are similar to the pricey bath bombs sold at places like Lush or Bed, Bath, and Beyond … but without the harsh artificial fragrances and colors aren’t good for us and could irritate tender postpartum areas.

If you are expecting (or have friends who are), make sure to make up a batch of these bath fizzies to have on hand when the time comes. I promise they make for a wonderful post-delivery bath!

How to Make After-Birth Bath Fizzies

Ingredients

1 cup baking soda
1/2 cup citric acid
1/2 cup salt or epsom salt
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 teaspoons witch hazel (or slightly more) – can also substitute water if you don’t have witch hazel
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or water)
1/2 cup finely ground after-birth dried herbs (recipe here) or other dried herbs of choice – grind in a food processor or blender
Instructions

Combine baking soda, salt, and citric acid and mix well until combined.
In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, witch hazel, and vanilla extract and stir well. Mix in essential oils if using.
Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and very quickly mix well (hands work well for this, wear gloves if you have sensitive skin). Mix in finely ground herbs.
Mixture should hold together when squeezed without crumbling. You may need to add slightly more witch hazel if it hasn’t achieved this consistency yet.
Quickly push mixture into silicone molds, greased muffin tins, or any other greased container. Press in firmly and leave at least 24 hours (48 is better) or until hardened. It will expand some and this is normal. You can push it down into the mold several times while it is drying to keep it from expanding too much.
When dry, remove and store in airtight container. To use, add 1 fizzie to a warm bath and watch the bubbles turn the bath into a soothing after-birth spa!
Note: Use within 2 months or they may start to lose their fizziness.

Other after-birth remedies I recommend:

After-Birth Tincture – Reduces unpleasant cramping post-birth … be sure to prepare well in advance!
Homemade Healing Salve – Like homemade Neosporin, I used this for my C-section recovery.
Postpartum Soothing Spray – My friend Shaye gifted me with this awesome soothing spray for the postpartum bottom. Keep it in the refrigerator for extra cooling relief.
Herbal Nursing Tea – Red raspberry leaf, nettle, alfalfa, dandelion and other postpartum superstar herbs give mom a healthy boost when she needs it most. Or skip the DIY recipe and buy it here.
Sleep, bone broth, and magnesium – This post talks about what helped my tough C-section recovery, but a lot of it applies to natural birth recovery too.
This isn’t a “remedy” exactly but it’s too important not to be mentioned! If birth didn’t go the way you planned, I know how you feel. There may be another kind of healing to do after birth.

Anatomy of a Natural Mama’s Purse

A reader recently emailed and asked:

“Katie, I have loved your blog for months now! In a lot of your posts, you mention that you always keep something-or-other in your purse. Your purse is starting to remind me of Mary Poppins… And I would love to see a post: “what is in Katie’s purse?”

Thanks

Which gave me a great excuse to go through my purse (*ahem* clean it out) and make a list of everything in there. As I was doing this, I realized that it really is starting to resemble Mary Poppins’ famous bag and I probably have everything but a lamp in there…

On the positive, it weighs so much that I get a workout from carrying it!

My purse doubles (er.. triples) as a diaper bag and on-the-go survival kit so it has a very random assortment of items at any given time. I’ve included the basics in this list, though there are often other items as well. I was aiming for a post that looked like one of those “What’s in her bag?” profiles in a magazine, but I’m definitely not a throw-a-lipgloss-in-a-clutch-purse kind of girl… If you didn’t already think I was a little strange with the whole making my own deodorant and toothpaste thing, you might now…

(Note: Many of the links below are affiliate links to things I obviously buy and believe in… if you decide to purchase anything through these links you have my sincere thanks for supporting my blog. This public service announcement brought to you by the new FCC guidelines.)

The Purse:

1. My purse, a Saddleback Leather Tote,  is by far the most expensive accessory I’ve ever bought. I saved for it for years but consider it an investment because it comes with a 100 year (yep… you read that right) warranty that can be transferred to your heirs. It is literally the last purse I’ll ever have to buy and I wrote it into my will…

It is extremely well made, comes in three colors, has a removable liner that makes it easy to clean, and a handy inside pouch that is perfect if you ever need to conceal anything It can be carried cross-body or over the shoulder and has an inside pouch that is perfect for wallet/checkbook and a metal hook that I attach my keys to so I don’t lose them the kids can’t take them.

I also love that this purse holds its shape, doesn’t fall over and has enough room to actually organize things within smaller bags inside. Why would one need bags inside of bags? Read on….

The Basics

2. Two things I always keep with me are my phone (in an Otterbox case since I have kids) and a Moleskine notebook which I use all the time for making lists (because I’m mildly OCD and feel more productive when I do) and for outlining random blog posts as they come to me.

The Bottles

3. Long hours as a doula are the reason I carry these items. I always keep magnesium oil, rescue remedy, and herbal hand sanitizer and herbal breath spray from Tropical Traditions. I’m not one to use hand sanitizer all the time but it does come in handy when the kids decide to feed ducks at the park or we have to use a port-a-potty. (Note to self: should probably start carrying TP too…)

The Survival Gear

4. I married a man with many brothers and they all love anything outdoorsy. If I’ve learned anything from them, it is that you can never be too prepared. I have a small bag (see #9) inside my bag with the following items:

A fire steel for starting fires– works great for campfires, not so effective on candles.
A para cord bracelet– you know, in case I ever need to repel or tie a Christmas Tree to the roof of the car or whatever… I also carry regular hot pink paracord so I don’t actually have to mess up the bracelet if I ever need paracord (logical, I know).
A knife- I have a folding pocket knife which has been excellent for cutting fruit or cheese at picnics and taking those little plastic tag-holders off of new shoes. I’m guessing it would also be useful in a defense situation… I also carry a Swiss Army Knife which I’ve used much more than I ever expected to, especially the phillips head screwdriver.
Pepper Spray (not pictured)- because you just never know.
A whistle/compass (not pictured)
A LED Flashlight (not pictured)
The Essentials

5. With kids, someone is always hungry or thirsty. I keep a klean kanteen full of water and a leak-proof Lunchbot with snacks (like nuts, coconut, dried fruit, etc) in my purse at all times because a hungry two year old in a crowded store is not something to mess with!

The Herbs and Oils

6. I keep another small bag with first aid and health essentials. I have a glass jar full of coconut oil and some little bottles of essential oils and tinctures with me at all times. I use small glass amber bottles filled with whatever I need. I usually carry:

1/24th ounce glass bottles with essential oils of peppermint, lavender, eucalyptus, oregano and lemon.
1 ounce tincture bottles with chamomile tincture (calming), digestive tincture, plantain tincture and sleepytime tincture. All of these have come in handy, especially on road trips.
4 ounce jar of coconut oil for everything – bug bites, natural sunscreen, lotion, lip chap, diaper cream, and we could eat it if we were hungry…
The Diapers

7. I’ve always thought cloth diapering was easier, but especially with two kids still in diapers, it saves time and space. I can keep a couple one-size diapers in a wet bag in my purse and they can be adjusted to whichever child needs them at the time. Then, I just throw in the wash and grab a couple more when I get home.

The Just-In-Case

8. Mainly in case of emergencies or food poisoning, I keep a pill container with capsules of cayenne, activated charcoal, and probiotics in my purse at all times too.

The Bag in a Bag

9. Why does one need a bag-in-a-bag? For organization… My hubby found these Eagle Creek Quarter Cube Pack It Bags and they fit perfectly in the Saddleback purse. I could probably fit up to four of them in the purse if I needed to, but they hold a lot and most of the loose items above fit well in one of these.

The Miscellaneous

The random items in my purse vary daily, but often I carry:

Superglue (again, you never know)
A tape measure (you’d be surprised how much this gets used)
A toothbrush, or five…
Business cards
A ring sling for baby
Extra baby blanket – I love these that a friend just told me about and they double as a burp cloth or swaddler
safety pins and a sewing kit
lip chap
extra rubber bands for hair
travel scissors
Vitamin C
a lighter or matches
bandaids
extra cash
kleenex or handkerchief
pens and pencil
books