Welcome, new parent!
You may be expecting your first baby, have kids eagerly awaiting the arrival of their new sibling, or already have a bundle of swaddled-up limbs in your arms. In any case, navigating pregnancy as well as parenting a new baby can be overwhelming. To help you on your journey, I have collected information and tips from a few San Francisco Bay Area professionals that I hope you will find useful.
P.S.: Remember to always listen to your body, and consult with your doctor or health professionals before starting any new exercise program.
HOW TO WRITE A FANTASTIC BIRTH PLAN
A birth plan is an essential tool in your birth-day toolkit. It helps make both nurses and doctors/midwives aware of your goals and desires. I like to call it your “birth preferences” rather than a “birth plan.” These are the things you would prefer to happen, but of course sometimes what we desire or need during birth can change. Using the word “preferences” is a subtle difference, but it lets providers know that you understand the changeable nature of birth.
I tell my clients that there are two very important reasons to write a Birth Preferences document.
Reason #1: To give you the chance to research and discover what you do and don’t want for your birth. This is important because you will need to be able to stand by whatever goes into your Birth Preferences. It’s also important that you know what is coming; this way, there are fewer surprises.
Reason #2: To determine whether you and your care provider are on the same page. If you show your provider your preferences and they shake their head, say no, or make lines through items with a pen, you know that they aren’t comfortable with your wishes. At that point you have the option to compromise or negotiate with your provider now, rather than having those important conversations during birth. Or perhaps when you see that your provider doesn’t align with your values for birth, that raises a red flag, and you can switch providers.
Now on to the “how” of writing your Birth Preferences!
Step 1: Review Your Options and Then Get Researching
Step 2: Write Your Preferences Using the ABCs
The most effective Birth Preferences follow the ABCs; they are assertive, brief, and clear.
Assertive: It’s best to be polite but clear. Try phrases like, “I am planning to…” and “I would like…” rather than, “If it’s ok…”
Brief: Keep it short. A good Birth Preferences should be one page max!
Clear: Be specific. Avoid words and phrases like “not unless necessary” or “keep to a minimum.” What one person thinks is “necessary” may be different than what you consider necessary. What one person defines as a “minimum” may not match your definition of minimum. Instead, use numbers and specifics, for instance: “I would like to have 20 minutes of electronic monitoring, and if all is well then intermittent monitoring every hour for five minutes after that” or “I would like to have a vaginal examination upon admission and none after that.”
Step 3: Leave Out the Fluff
Any requests such as “I would like the lights dimmed” or “I want to play music” are best left out. If you want dim lights and music then just go ahead and dim the lights and play your music! The goal is to keep your Birth Preferences short and sweet.
Step 4: Review Your Birth Preferences with Your Care Provider
If your provider is on board with your preferences, ask them to sign the document and place a copy in your records.
Step 5: Print three copies of your Birth Preferences and pack them in your hospital bag.
Step 6: When you arrive at the hospital, be sure to give your nurse a copy of your Birth Preferences and discuss them with her.
Step 7: Have a wonderful, empowering birth where you make the decisions!
Alicia Fishbein is a Bay Area based birth doula serving the South Bay and San Francisco peninsula. Her favorite part of her work is witnessing women experience just how powerful they are. She also loves helping parents discover that their birth belongs to them, and exercise their autonomy to get the birth they want.
WHY DO THEY CALL IT “MORNING” SICKNESS?
When I first started specializing in pregnancy and Chinese medicine, I learned that nausea is an indication that things are developing as planned, which means we should take it as a good sign. Who would have thought that this piece of information would be my only ray of light on a daily basis, from dusk till dawn and then some, throughout my entire pregnancy?
They say that with twins the nausea can be much worse, and the stories I had heard of horrible experiences with nausea were true for me. I was hoping to reach a point where I actually felt good, but it did not happen for me.
Tips That Other Moms Swore by (But Didn’t Help Me)
1. Vitamin B6 supplement
2. Acupressure band (as an acupuncturist I was sad to see that my beloved tools can’t fix morning sickness for everyone)
3. Puking! Some mamas swore to me that the nausea gets worse as the hours go by, but once they puked they felt great until the next day.
Tips That Helped Me
1. Daily walks in cold air offered some relief, but at about 32 weeks it started becoming too painful. I had gained so much weight that every step hurt my knees and my poor swollen feet.
2. Water with lemon: for a few seconds, I would actually feel happiness! It felt so good drinking that, and I’m guessing that is why I was super healthy even though I was eating any junk my body craved.
3. Small snacks: I would walk around with a bag of almonds and tiny carrots and munch on them all the time.
4. Burping! Nothing better than a good burp to give relief not only for a few seconds, but for a few whole minutes! Drinking soda would help me with that.
5. Counting weeks: I reminded myself that the pregnancy would end eventually and out would come those twins. Every week I would read about what was going on in my belly, what size fruit my babies were comparable to, and what would happen in the following week.
I can promise every mom suffering from “morning sickness”—whether it is in the morning or all day, whether it’s until week 12, week 16, or until delivery—it does not last forever, so hang in there!
Neta Shani L. Ac. is an acupuncturist specializing in Women’s Health and Pediatrics. She practices in an Integrative Medicine Center in Sunnyvale.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BODY ALIGNMENT
A woman’s body is an extraordinary thing. The changes that take place during and after pregnancy are extremely important and awe-inspiring to witness, and it is important to plan and make sure your body is at an optimal place to be able to handle these changes.
The amount of time we sit has a significant effect on the pelvis—as a species we are meant to move! These prolonged postures create misalignments not only in the pelvis, but throughout the entire body, in the spine and cranial system. This can interfere with the signals from your nervous system and cause pain as well as a decrease in function. We don’t want any decrease in function during pregnancy because the goal is to grow a healthy fetus, have less pain, and have an easier pregnancy and birth with less intervention.
During pregnancy, the ligaments that hold the joints together, specifically in the pelvis, start to loosen in preparation for birth. Certain muscles tighten to protect these areas, while other ligaments lengthen and stretch as the baby grows. Your weight isn’t distributed evenly because of these changes, which makes the entire body start to compensate. This is when pain can occur, for example in the lower back or the pubic bone. These changes affect the shape of what is called the pelvic inlet. If the pelvic inlet isn’t symmetrical, then there is less room for the baby, and oftentimes improper positioning of the baby can occur as a result.
The fetus must have optimal space for proper development and growth. When a baby isn’t in the right position, and turning techniques haven’t worked, it may be because there isn’t enough space in the pelvic inlet. That’s why keeping the pelvis open, knowing the right positions and stretches, and making sure the bones are in the right position is so important. Additionally, chiropractic and natural remedies can ease a lot of pregnancy symptoms, making for a happier and healthier mom and baby. Even just sitting properly can help!
Here are some tips that are very important for maintaining good alignment in the pelvis during pregnancy and creating a safer, easier birth:
Pelvic balance throughout pregnancy affects the baby’s position at birth. Easy chairs, couches, car seats, and straight-backed chairs force us into a slouch position. Slouching misaligns the pelvis in such a way that it makes it more comfortable for the baby to turn posterior or breech. Instead, sit with your pelvis tilted forward and your lower spine curved forward. This opens your pelvis and encourages the baby to choose the most ideal position. Your knees should also be lower than your hips. Swedish kneeling chairs (picture on the right) are great for this, or a well-inflated exercise ball.
2. Take breaks often and move your body if you sit at work
3. Figure eights
Spend time throughout the day moving your hips in a figure-eight motion. Use a chair or something to lean on so you don’t lose your balance. This keeps the joints in the pelvis flexible and able to maintain a balanced position more easily.
4. Pelvic rocks
Get on all fours and arch your spine. This strengthens and tones your lower back muscles. Then allow your spine to arch forward. This opens up the pelvis, relaxes the uterus, and gives room for baby.
5. While you are pregnant and right after pregnancy, try to avoid doing activities that increase abdominal pressure (for example, crunches or planks).
Dr. Rachel Hamel is a holistic cranial family chiropractor located in San Jose, CA. Having dealt with a chronic disease in her youth, her goal is to get to the root causes for her patients and believes that everyone has the potential to heal. She is certified in Webster technique, and has taken extensive courses in Craniopathy, pediatrics, stress techniques and nutrition. She is a member of the international chiropractic pediatric association and Bay Area Birth Information.
BEING PRESENT WITH YOUR GROWING FAMILY
Jenna Christina, documentary newborn and family photographer
There is something so scary about where the world is going with social media: we are constantly with our heads down, not making eye contact or small talk with actual people because there’s a wealth of possibly “more interesting” things right in our hands. Then there’s the added pressure of doing everything “right,” and stressing about how we are going about our day-to-day makes us forget to be in the moment. Here are some tips on how to stay present with your family.
Let Go of Being the Perfect Parent
The more time you spend stressing out about whether you are doing things perfectly or how you’re “supposed” to do them, the less time you will spend being present and observing—and figuring out!—what works for you and your baby. (Hanging out on baby forums may drive you nuts!)
Let Go of Expectations of the Perfect Baby
If you get too focused on what your baby should be doing at x weeks old, you spend your time worrying about the future instead of enjoying the present. The most important gift you can give your baby is to be there for them and see what clues they are giving you to what they need—they will grow at their own pace.
Bond with your baby by singing to them, looking them in the eyes while feeding them, massaging them, and just talking about things that are happening around them. If there are older siblings in the family as well, incorporate them into baby activities in ways that are safe for them and baby.
Have Phone-Free Time
We all know we should have time away from screens because they distract us from the people that we are with in that very moment. Set aside chunks of time when you don’t look at your phone. If someone calls you while you are spending quality time with your family, you can choose to call them back later. Emails, Instagram notifications, texts—they can all wait.
Hold Space for Feelings
A while ago, one of my very best friends had a miscarriage, and she told me and another friend a couple weeks after it happened. Our reactions were fairly typical: “Don’t worry; it’s common with first babies” and “Just get back in the saddle!” But it wasn’t until I told some friends about difficulties I was going through that I realized I didn’t want them to react in similar, although well-meaning, very generic ways. I just wanted a space to share my feelings. So I got in touch with my best friend, apologized for reacting in an unhelpful way, and promised to be there for her emotionally. If you or your partner are having a hard time, hold that space for each other without trying to fix it right away or rationalize what happened. Once you feel heard, it is easier to figure out if there is anything that can be done to fix the situation.
Saying “No” Gives You More Room for “Yes”
Whether you have been invited to a social gathering or are being pressured to host guests who want to see the baby, if you don’t want to do it, learn to say no. A simple yet firm “We can’t make it work” is enough. People have a tendency to be able to tear down any excuses we make up. “We’d have to find a babysitter” will lead to “You can bring your baby!” or “My niece can babysit!” and you’ll end up attending an event you didn’t want to go to in the first place. Once you can say no to things you don’t want to do, you’ll have room to say yes to yourself, your partner, your baby, and whatever it is that you want to be doing instead.
Model the Behavior You Want to Cultivate in Your Family
Say hi, goodbye, thank you, please, and I love you. Tiny little babies can already sense what goes on in a room, and your partner and any older children will also feel important and valued when you pay them even this tiniest bit of attention that costs you nothing.
Take Care of Yourself
If you are not taking care of yourself, it will be difficult for you to be who you need to be for a tiny human being.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask for help!
Jenna Christina is a documentary newborn and family photographer, serving San Francisco Bay Area and beyond. She make pictures of real moments that happen naturally in a family’s day. She believes in prints and photo books, and worries that the kids of today won’t have tangible memories of their childhood to pass on to their kids and grandkids. If you’re looking for tips on dealing with everything your new born will throw at you over the next couple of years, head on over to sites that offer motherly advice and tips, such as this article on how to deal with growth spurts.
DO YOU FEEL NOURISHED AS A MOTHER?
So often, I see mothers barely getting by. I walk into their house or talk with them and learn they have hardly eaten, have hardly slept, haven’t showered, are emotionally and physically exhausted, and probably haven’t had a break in…that’s a good question, actually: when was the last time you got a break?
Yes, motherhood is full on and you are taking care of a little being that is so dependent on you that it is hard to take time for yourself. You are not to blame if you struggle to nourish yourself. Society does not give us good role models, tools, or even health benefits to get the support we need to get out of this harsh cycle. Yet, it is also a choice.
I am committed to supporting moms to feel nourished as they parent. This goes for moms not just in the first couple weeks after the baby is born but the first couple years, because motherhood demands don’t stop once your baby turns six weeks. The demands change constantly and you give and give and give. When do you get to receive? I have talked with women who say that not until 17 years after giving birth did they go out on a date! For some women, it’s even longer.
One simple way you can integrate putting yourself first is asking yourself, What would it look like if I were taken care of? How would I feel?
Take 5 minutes to write down “I feel most relaxed when….”, “If I had an hour to myself I would…”, “If I had more time I would…”
Give yourself permission to dream.
The next step is to take 15 minutes in the morning or a time you know you can commit to and give yourself nourishment. That could be sitting outside drinking tea, going for a run, practicing yoga, giving yourself a massage, and so on. Nourishment looks different for each person.
We need to start to shift our perspective on motherhood and parenting. We are teaching our children that it’s okay to give from a place of depletion, to parent from a place of zero romance or affection to one another, and to put other people before our own needs.
I invite you to ask yourself this question: Do I feel nourished as a mother?
Amber Pearson is a doula who supports families navigate this intimate, vulnerable, and challenging time into parenthood. Over the years she has worked with hundreds of mothers and families with the intention of giving them resources and tools to navigate pregnancy, birth, and after birth with as much ease and connection as possible. She specializes in working with women who want a natural birth in the hospital, birth center, or home. She supports women in healing faster and stronger with the help of Ayurveda.
HEAL YOUR BODY WITH THESE POST-NATAL MOVES SO YOU CAN LOOK AFTER YOUR BABY
There is no doubt that babies require a lot of attention. Whether you’re a first-time mother or have older children, sometimes keeping up with the baby’s feed-change-play-sleep cycle is all that you can manage given your sleep deprivation. However, postpartum is also a period when your body needs extra care. Your body has been through a lot to carry and deliver a baby, and it continues to change and work hard to nourish your growing baby.
As you bond with your new baby, this is also the time to reconnect the pelvic floor and deep abdominal muscles to heal your body and rebuild strength from the inside out. You can do just that by practicing these three simple moves at home.
Deep Breathing and Pelvic Tilt
This exercise helps reconnect your pelvic floor and deep abdominal muscles. The pelvic floor and deep abdominal muscles work together to stabilize the lower back and pelvis before the body moves. This exercise can be done starting around 1–2 weeks after giving birth if you’re healing well and able to move around. Breathing deeply and mindfully can also provide much-needed relaxation during the early weeks with a new baby.
1. Starting position: Lie down on a mat or carpeted floor. Keep legs hip distance apart with knees bent. Keep pelvis in neutral (think long tailbone). Arms are by your sides, palms facing down.
2. Inhale deeply.
3. Exhale and use the abdominal muscles to gently tilt your hips toward your ribs. Imagine your hipbones moving toward your middle. Do not use your butt muscles (glutes).
4. Inhale deeply. Return pelvis back to neutral.
5. Repeat steps 3–4.
You can also do this when you’re holding your baby while standing. It’s a wonderful way to build core strength in preparation for that little bundle in your arms getting heavier. When standing, hold the baby’s weight in the center of your body. Draw your shoulder blades down and pull your belly away from the baby as you exhale and imagine lengthening your spine from the tailbone all the way through the top of your head. Postpartum is also a time when suboptimal postural habits develop with baby in tow. Practicing holding your baby in this position will help minimize muscle imbalance from carrying your baby only on one side (or one hip) as most parents tend to do.
The following two exercises should only be done after your doctor has cleared you to return to regular exercise.
Strengthen your core by engaging your glutes while you continue to build posture awareness and abdominal strength. Use the same breathing technique as in the Deep Breathing exercise.
1. Starting position: Same as in the Deep Breathing exercise.
2. Inhale deeply to prepare.
3. Exhale and use your glutes to extend your hips and lift the pelvis off the mat. Engage your abdominal muscles to avoid arching your back (think of your torso as a solid plank, one long line from shoulder to knee).
4. Inhale and engage your inner thighs as you press your feet firmly down on the mat/floor. This will activate your hamstrings and keep your glutes active to support your body in this position.
5. Exhale and lower the pelvis back down by flexing your hips. Inhale deeply and release your tailbone.
6. Repeat steps 3–5.
This exercise will help strengthen your back, which is part of your core.
1. Starting position: Start with hands and knees on the mat/carpeted floor with your spine in neutral (long S-curve from head to tail). Make sure your wrists are shoulder-distance apart and below your shoulders, and knees are hip-distance apart and directly below your hips.
2. Inhale to prepare.
3. Exhale and reach the right arm forward and the left leg back. Think ofof creating a long line: Engage your abdominal muscles to keep your back from arching and your belly from sinking.
4. Inhale as you bring your right arm and left leg back to the mat/floor.
5. Repeat steps 3–4 with left arm and right leg.
6. Repeat 2–3 more times each side, alternating sides as you go.
Once your baby is strong enough to hold their head up, you can incorporate them into your exercises. Simply sit your baby on your belly facing you, and place your hands under their armpits for a secure hold when you’re on your back. If you’re on your hands and knees, place the baby on the mat/carpeted floor between your hands. Engage and bond with your baby—think funny voices, silly faces, songs.
You can do these exercises often and combine them with gentle stretching. Start with 3–5 repetitions of each exercise at the beginning and build up to 10 as you get stronger.
Remember to be patient. It took many weeks and months for your body to expand and make space while growing a baby inside. Allow your body time to heal and get back its strength and flexibility so you can stay active and keep up with your growing baby.
For more exercises, check out Amie’s Movement Bits videos here: http://bit.ly/2e9XDqY
Amie is a certified Pilates instructor and has practiced Pilates for over 15 years. She specializes in women (including pre-/post-natal Pilates), families and kids. Amie also runs Pilates After School program, a movement program for kids ages 6-12, in elementary schools. Amie is always learning and deepening her understanding of the human body and movement. She is currently geeking out with biomechanics – anatomy + physics!
LOVE AFTER BABY
Congratulations on your new baby! Soon those ultrasounds will turn into the pitter-patter of little feet running toward you as you embrace your new role of parenthood.
Having a baby is profoundly impacting for a couple, and profoundly uniting. Parenthood brings with it a marital bond that will last for the rest of your lives as you share the joy of raising this child. Sometimes, it also brings new hiccups to your marital bliss. A baby is a new addition to your family unit, and with new family dynamics comes added stress. There are so many factors that come into play: family relationships, work, daycare, lack of sleep, anxiety, finances, and sex, to name a few.
Therapists and care providers are starting to take notice that couples need support during these precious first years of their child’s life. According to a study that John and Julie Gottman conducted with their relationship center and presented in their book And Baby Makes Three, “In the first three years after babies were born, a whopping two-thirds of parents experienced a significant drop in their relationship quality.”
Luckily, there are simple steps that couples can take to increase marital satisfaction postpartum.
Think of your marriage like owning a boat. You can’t just buy a boat and dock it somewhere. Yes, that’s a start, but just paying the monthly rent won’t keep that boat in good shape. Rather, a boat needs constant upkeep, cleaning, grooming, attention, and detail. You have to spend time on making sure your boat is healthy and able to sail when you want it to. The same is true for marriages. Getting married and putting a ring on your spouse’s finger is a start—but it can’t end there. Marriages need constant upkeep. They need attention, love, communication, caring, and compassion.
When we have a baby and that baby grows, our lives become filled with deep joy and high stress. It’s easy to lose sight of simple acts of kindness in our marriage. But it’s these simple acts that will pull you through the hard times and strengthen your love. Here is a list of acts of kindness that you can use every day to keep a harmonious house:
1. Be kind, soft, and gentle with your partner.
2. Respond to bids for attention and show interest in your partner’s daily life.
3. Fight fair: learn how to apply communication techniques to express your feelings, and to hear those of your partner.
4. Express gratitude. Strive for 20 positive interactions with your spouse for every negative one.
5. Get help when you notice a change. If you are not satisfied with your relationship, then it’s time to talk about it. Find a professional that does couples counseling to help you get started.
These are only tip-of-the-iceberg ideas. Most importantly, know that you are not alone. Many couples report having a hard time in their marital union after a baby is born. In applying some simple skills and gaining support from a kind and compassionate therapist, you can make your relationship stronger than you would ever dream possible.
Angela Jensen-Ramirez, LCSW, is a private practicing psychotherapist in the Bay Area that specializes in postpartum maternal mental health and relationships. She has a special interest in helping couples to thrive in the postpartum years and beyond.