You’d Prepare for the Marathon: Why Not Your Birth! 

Fall always makes me excited for the New York City Marathon. What’s not to love? Cheering for thousands of people who have chosen to participate in an awe-inspiring test of endurance. I leave the sidewalk full of endorphins, adrenaline pumping! You may be surprised to find out how often I reference the marathon in childbirth preparation classes. Here are the eight ways I think running a marathon is analogous to having a baby: 

1. You can prepare, mostly.

First time competitors never run 26.2 miles before race-day. They do, however, spend at least 16-20 weeks preparing physically and mentally for the main event. By running regularly and practicing complimentary strength training and stretching they move their body towards optimal conditioning. Pregnant people can work towards optimal conditioning by staying active throughout their pregnancies and receiving massage, chiropractic care, physical therapy, or acupuncture. And, like distance runners, hydrate and nourish their bodies well. Taking a comprehensive childbirth education course to understand what lies ahead, learning about pelvic floor muscles to understand pre and postnatal physiology, and exploring mindfulness practices to reduce anxiety and decrease pain are all essential preparation tools. 

2. Breathing is essential

Muscles need oxygen! That is probably more obvious for runners than for those in labor. The uterus is a broad muscle, contracting regularly in labor, pushing the baby down while helping the cervix dilate. Deep breathing also reduces anxiety!

3. The pain is temporary 

The vast majority of pain in labor is caused by uterine contractions, not the baby passing through the birth canal. Labor contractions last about 60 seconds and are followed by minutes of rest and relaxation. It can be helpful to know that both individual contractions and the process as a whole will not go on forever!

4. Find your rhythm, stay steady. 

Don’t start out too fast! When running a marathon, the excitement and adrenaline can lead you to do too much too soon. Similarly, in childbirth you are in it for the long haul, and early on your focus should be on conserving energy. Contractions should become ritualistic and having coping strategies is essential. Some people need music, others mantras. You can practice many different coping strategies ahead of time so you’re comfortable on game day. 

5. Stress can slow you down 

Oxytocin is the our love and trust and bonding hormone. It is released when we feel safe and relaxed. Oxytocin causes the uterine contractions of labor. Fear and stress diminish the amount of oxytocin produced in the body in turn slowing down or stalling your labor. 

6. There will be moments of self-doubt 

Because it ain’t easy. And endorphin production is on a slight delay. But, you can do it! 

7. Support can make a huge difference 

It’s always a good idea to have people cheering you on. No one can “run this race” for you, but people by your side can make it more possible. 

8. It’s worth it

This is what I do

I have been serving new families as a postpartum doula for the last five years but it dawned on me that many of friends, family, and colleagues don’t exactly know what that means. This is what I do:

I work with families immediately after they have a baby. I take care of mom (and the things mom used to take care of) so that she can take care of her baby. I attend to women after vaginal birth or cesarean surgery; while they are still bleeding and aching and leaking. I validate the common discomforts that come from being pregnant and then bringing a small human earthside. I offer remedies, (i.e., cabbage leaves for sore breasts, sitz baths for hemorrhoids) and referrals (i.e., physical therapy for diastasis recti, acupuncture for anxiety). I assist mom in achieving her daily goals: a shower, a meal, fresh air. I cook to provide her with macro and micro nutrients that will replenish her system, balance her hormones, and aid in milk production. I act as a companion; listen to her birth story and make space for the trials and tribulations of her transition into motherhood. I help moms troubleshoot during the early days of breastfeeding until baby has a successful latch and mom is pain-free. We work together on pumping strategies, introducing a bottle, and building a freezer stash. If a baby is being bottle fed, I prepare and wash a lot of bottles!

It is amazing how chaotic life with a newborn is. If you haven’t had children yet, there is almost no way to imagine it. If you have long since had children, it probably seems like a blur. Exhaustion and anxiety are running high. Finding your phone can be a challenge, finding your mind can be impossible. I provide evidenced-based information on newborn care so that parents can find and follow their instincts and make their own decisions. I cover the range of normal for newborn behavior. We discuss all of the things that can be scary and variable: breathing patterns, sleeping arrangements, eating habits, bowel movements. I model all those classic newborn care practices: diaper changes, nail cutting, bath, swaddling, soothing. We practice baby wearing so parents can move around while keeping baby close and using their hands at the same time.

I generally work in three-hour blocks, sometimes one time, sometimes multiple times, sometimes multiple times a week. I do this rather seamlessly, without being an intruder or making it about me. I include mom’s partner and other children whenever they are present.

It is hard to fully understand why this work is so important without understanding the nature of the time after birth. Even when things are going “well” (mom and baby are healthy) surviving the immediate newborn period is the hardest thing everyone will ever do. During pregnancy, a woman is often on the receiving end of excitement and encouragement. Once her baby is born folks tend to disappear. A newborn mother’s needs are incredibly similar to those of a newborn baby. Mom is overrun with hormones, learning a completely new set of skills, easily over stimulated, and needs constant care, nourishment, and warmth. Ancient customs exist around the world to support a new mother emotionally, physically, and spiritually. This period can be cherished. In the Dominican Republic a woman does not leave the house for 40 days; in India 22 days; and China 30 days. Her community takes over the cooking, cleaning, sibling care, and treats mom with herbs and body work so she and her baby are allowed to bond. The United States has no such traditions and as seen with a six-week unpaid maternity leave undermines the importance of this time on a woman’s life and a family’s future. I work to bridge the gap in an unsupportive society.

Postpartum doulas are only one piece of a larger effort to support pre and post natal women. Childbirth educators, birth doulas, lactation consultants, yoga teachers, physical therapists, acupuncturist, massage therapists, chiropractors, nutritionists, and psychologists are hard at work. As a village we need to make sure women 1) know about these resources 2) are encouraged to take advantage of them 3) receive assistance making appointments. Newborn mother’s do not often reach out for help on their own. Please be in touch if you would like referrals for friends or family members. We all play a part in a woman’s physical and emotional healing after birth! (and it starts by just accepting that as truth).

Ashley Brichter is the founder of Managing Overwhelming Moments, LLC. She is a certified postpartum doula, lactation counselor, birth doula, and childbirth educator. She is based in NYC.

Don't Hold The Baby

and other guidelines for visiting new parents

Your [relative, friend, coworker] just had a baby and you're going to visit. Here are some things to keep in mind. 

1. Don't hold the baby because then your hands are full and you can't do things like get mom water, do her dishes, change her sheets, or walk her dog. Those are all more important and selfless gestures. Don't hold the baby because mom is still learning baby's hunger cues and, if you are rocking baby across the room mom could miss a feeding. Don't hold the baby, because mom or dad might actually want to. Mom (and her partner) have worked really f-ing hard to get that baby into this world and they deserve to hold baby any and all the time. Of course, if mom asks you to hold the baby so that she can do something for her self, like go to the bathroom, or take a nap, hold the baby!  But know, that her offering the baby to you while she is socializing is likely the result of social pressure, and is different than her specifically asking for help. 

2. Feed the beasts. Mom is working crazy hard to feed her little boo. Least you can do is throw her a bone during your visit. By now, almost everyone knows to bring food to new parents, but remember there can be no prep work (cooking, chopping, or supplementing). When my daughter was born, the greatest food gift I received was a container of ready-to-eat blueberries and strawberries. The strawberries had the top cut off and were cut in half! It may not seem like a big deal to you, but that container of fruit was eaten in two days, while a container of whole strawberries from the grocery store sadly sat rotting in my refrigerator. Bring paper plates and utensils while you're at it, or at least wash and dry and put away the dishes before you leave. Here are some other great foods to bring a new mom and obviously, make sure there is enough for  the whole family! 

3. Bring a little something. I was raised to believe you never show up empty handed. I think food is the best and only present you need to bring new parents but, if you're interested in a little something else here are something things you can consider. Seasonally appropriate, machine washable, 3-6 month or 6-12 month clothing will be more appreciated than newborn pieces. They will be worn more than once and won't be covered in spit up!  You're Doing Great Baby! is a new book for mom + baby, and would make a lovely gift, as would something like SoapWalla's incredibly affective deodorant cream that is safe for mom to use while breastfeeding. You can also text on your way and see if you can grab anything from the pharmacy that they may need. Here are more gift ideas! 

4. Keep it short and sweet. Never stay more than 45 - 60 minutes and remember the age ol' "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."  New mama's can be vulnerable and sensitive after delivery, so steer clear of giving advice unless you are asked, and definitely don't share scary or disheartening stories about birth or breastfeeding from your friend's, cousin's mom or whoever else. 

 

 

after the baby is born

Do you want family or friends to know you're in labor, or do you want to tell them once the baby is born? If they'll know when you go into labor, do you want you want folks to stay far away or hang in the waiting room? This is different for everyone but is definitely something to think about ahead of time. Here's the email my husband and I sent to my parents, in-laws, and siblings before the birth of my first baby. It was very specific to our own desires but may be helpful as you work out your own plans post-birth. 

Hi Family, 

We are officially ready to expect Shorty on any given day! We finished our childbirth education class a few weeks ago, planned some things for “labor-day,” purchased the necessary birth supplies, and (I think) are finished with house preparations. We also put a lot of thought into what we want the first few days will look like after s/he shows up.

As of now, here is our plan…

M will text all of you when A goes into labor to give you a heads up, but we ask that you don’t text back because I want to have my phone for timing contractions and taking pictures and don’t want to be reading texts. We’ll text you again when baby is born to give you some semblance of a time-frame on heading in to visit. Remember that labor could last a long time, so please feel free to go about your business after you get the first text.

Once Shorty pops out, we want to have some time to initiate breastfeeding and then will be open to visits and photos. Please don’t plan on staying more than an hour. 

Gma W, Gp D: Assuming it’s between 11:30am and 10:00pm, on your way to us, can you stop at Zitto’s Sandwich Shoppe and pick up TWO Sub #8 The Autogrill, and ONE Sub #4 The Pork Braciole. You can call ahead if you want to order over the phone (718) 857–1950, they usually need about 15 minutes notice.

After that first visit ends, we’re going to take as much time as we need to figure things out as a new family unit and will call you as soon when we’re needing helping hands / ready for visitors. We know a lot of people are going to be pretty anxious to meet Shorty but if you can help hold off other family until we’re ready, we would appreciate it.

We love you all a lot and are very excited to have you in our lives as we get ready to welcome a new person into our families.

A&M

The Secret to Gift Giving on Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day! 

Moms are forces of nature that deserve gifts of love and matter at all times, but especially today. Here are my two cents on how to treat Mother’s Day as a sincere recognition of what mother's do. Instead of asking “What do you want for Mother’s Day?” ask“How Can I Help?” This question, for many moms will be a gift in and of itself. She may need some initial help thinking of an answer but give her some time and follow up! Here are some creative ways you can support a mama at any stage of parenting: 

  • cooking (can you cook / buy food to put in the freezer for the upcoming days and weeks? can you hire a personal chef for a day? can you pack school lunches on mondays? can you make her breakfast next wednesday?)
  • cleaning? (can you clean? can you get your kiddos to give gift certificates for their labor, that you will enforce? can you hire a cleaner?)
  • bedtime (can you send mom out one night *a week* and put the little ones to bed? can you be home and present while she is doing bedtime and appreciate her afterwards?) 
  • body work? (can you help alleviate some of the physical pain that comes from wrangling children and gear with a massage, acupuncture, fitness classes or personal training) 
  • pampering? (can you help her find time to relax with spa gift certificates? bonus points if another mom friend gets the same gift certificate so they can go together) 
  • logistics (can you schedule her doctors and dentists appointments and provide childcare while she is away?)
  • connecting (can you plan a date night?) 

Thinking of gift giving from a place of helping can generate hundreds of ideas and practical gifts tend to keep on giving! The key with “helping” is to make less work for mom so remember to think it through. Please reach out if you have questions or ideas, I would love to hear from you.