Birth Health Life


Monday, 25 July 2016

What do your cells believe about life?

My firstborn son became the only person in both our families to be educated at university level, when he gained his degree in Ecology with first class honours four years ago.

 My very clever dad had wanted to go to university himself, but as a working class eldest son of an immigrant family, he had to leave school at 14 and go to work. He never realised his dream. I did everything in my power to turn my back on my educational opportunities, because education to me meant school,and school meant powerlessness, struggle, failure and misery. To top this off, I had a core belief in my innate unworthiness of any reward, which originated from my reaction to some of my earliest experiences.

  In the classroom, I struggled with auditory processing disorder and other factors which created feelings of confusion and isolation, and there was simply no room in my head to deal with what I perceived as overwhelming, pointless and disjointed information and activity.

In my final year of primary school, we went on a school trip.  In typical school fashion, any joy the trip bought was mitigated by the requirement to write up a project about it upon our return. Even at the age of 11, I had no working concept of a 'project' and what it should look like and what I could possibly do to produce one.  Bless my dad, for he decided that this project was going to be extracted from me, word by agonising word, and I can remember his silent frustration as he coaxed the sentences from me and waited whilst my inept fingers scratched them onto the A4 pad with my ink pen. Dad made beautiful drawings for me to trace, and the result was a masterpiece which won dad, or rather, me, a school prize.

The prizes were to be presented at the end of term, on my last day at that school, up on the stage in the school hall in front of everyone...pupils, parents, teaching staff and governors. The night before prize-giving, the projects were displayed in the hall for the children and their parents to see, and mine caused a buzz of interest which overshadowed even the usual top-achievers' work.  This in itself was a revolutionary act by a serial non-achiever and class nuisance, and I can only regret that it failed to ignite in me any sense of the power hard work has to change a life.  I did connect that project with my hard, hard work, but not with my creative originality, which remained hidden from me for a long time. Maybe the grudging recognition by my usually exasperated and hostile teachers up on the stage might have awoken something in me, but the day of prize-giving was spent travelling north with my family for my cousin's wedding, and if there was an actual prize, I didn't receive it. 

This stencil repeated itself when I was a young woman. I trained for three years to qualify as an RGN (registered general nurse) which involved moving away and working physically and mentally harder than I thought possible, whilst loving every minute of it.  I passed my drugs assessments and ward management assessments, but had to extend my training by three months as I had contracted pneumonia that year and thus pushed my sick leave 5 days over the allowed 5 days per year. (A brilliant ruse for retaining competent staff whilst paying them a student wage) With monumental irony I spent the day I was due to sit my finals returning home from hospital dazed from a traumatic instrumental birth and overwhelmed with love for my new little son.  It was his achievement 24 years later, that marked the beginning of the breaking of a spell.

These two occasions are remembered as defining moments, but are just two of many times, little insignificant times, when this pattern showed itself, weaving subtly through the fabric of my life.  Of course these things will happen in a life, but it's how we interpret them which matters. Deep down in my cells I knew that I wasn't  supposed to be here, and that I was incompetent, and a disappointment, and that I shouldn't take up any more space or time than it took to breathe in and out.  I can only give thanks that such core-deep certainties can be changed at cellular level.  This belief did not stand up to my questioning of it, because the truth of the matter is that I am here, and therefore I am supposed to be here, and I know that I am loved and wanted and needed.  And worthy.

Tonight, goddess willing, I will collect my diploma. Even studying for that was something I ended up doing twice, as the blueprint showed itself again, but that's another story!  Questioning my core beliefs about myself, and bringing models of behaviour and thought to consciousness has enabled me to heal and release them with love.

 I am free to accept the rewards of my work, the best of which will be the ability to work with people, specialising in my chosen field, earning a living wage doing what I love. At long last!

Some of the resources that have helped me along the way:
Heal your Birth  Sharon King
You can heal your life  Louise Hay
Byron Katie  The Work
Love and laughter with my friends and family, walks with my dog and talks with the Goddess

Friday, 15 July 2016

Common breastfeeding challenges: Artificial Feeds and Low Milk Supply

Still smiling from the aptly-named Positive Birth Movement meeting last night, I went to the hospital this morning to begin training to deliver the '11 o'clock stop' information to mums on the postnatal ward.

As I've mentioned before,this is something I've been super-keen to get involved in for the last 3 years.  You know when you've hoped for something for a long time and it finally happens?  And you're slap bang in the middle of the action, right where you want to be?  That's exactly how I felt as I sat in on the delivery of this information to a small collection of mums and dads in the day room.

The information was not new to me, as it's the kind of knowledge that I pass on to mums in community and hospital drop-ins every week.  Passing it on in these very early stages can make all the difference to the early days of breastfeeding, where simple lack of information and knowledge is enough to derail the whole thing before it's even had a chance to get going.  As always, but especially with women who have birthed in the last 24-48 hours, the volume of information is kept to exactly what is needed, because when you've just birthed a baby, the instinctive part of your brain is working and the part which takes in information is easily overloaded.

We spoke about frequency of feeding, sore nipples, night feeding and tiredness, as these are the things most likely to result in parents offering an artificial feed or two to reassure themselves that their baby is getting enough milk.

Artificial Feeds and Low Milk Supply

This is one of the commonest ways that breastfeeding gets sabotaged early on, and that is because breastfeeding it is a hormonally-driven demand and supply set up.  Therefore it follows that if your baby is busy sucking on a bottle, he or she is not draining milk from your breast and therefore not putting in an order to the body to manufacture milk for the following feed.  During the artificial fed, if you don't pump or express, your breasts will remain full of milk.  If they stay that way for longer than a few hours, the pressure of the milk in them, and other mechanisms, produce a protein called Feedback Inhibitor of Lactation or FIL for short.  FIL does as it says on the tin and feeds back to the brain to stop milk production for now.

So the following feed when your baby goes to the breast, she may well appear unsatisfied for real because the milk isn't there.  So another artificial feed is given...and you can see how it plays out.  Artificial feeds quickly go up, breastfeeds become less, resulting very quickly in loss of milk supply.

This is a damaging scenario for establishing a full lactation, especially if it happens in the first two weeks after birth.  During these first 14 days, the stimulation of regular suckling ensures that prolactin receptors (prolactin is one of the main hormones of breastfeeding) are laid down in the breast.  This happens for each pregnancy and lactation a woman has.  If her breasts aren't sufficiently stimulated during the first two weeks of her baby's life, a woman may not reach a full lactation.

I've often heard of women, and heard women say, that they couldn't breastfeed their baby because they 'didn't have enough milk'.  The number of women who can't produce enough milk as a primary situation is very low.  Your body has been able to assemble and grow an actual new human, producing milk to feed that human is what naturally comes next!  Nature's design is not going to waste that nine months of effort and growth when it comes to feeding the baby.  The small number of women who can't produce milk, have one of a number of specific medical (usually hormonal or mechanical...due to injury or surgery) reasons why.  The reason for 'not enough  milk' is usually the scenario described above.

I see this very often in clinic.  It can be devastating to discover that the reason you aren't lactating fully is because you doubted your body in the first place when all was probably happening as it should.   This is the reason I'm so keen to get on to the wards and get the right information where it's needed, before doubt and artificial feeds creep in unnecessarily.


If you're caught in the downward spiral of artificial feeds and low milk supply, get along to a drop-in clinic or see an IBCLC or breastfeeding counsellor as soon as you can.  You can telephone the postnatal ward of your hospital and ask for a visit for breastfeeding support if you're still in the early days.

The advice may well be to use a hospital grade electric double pump (you can hire these) and pump between feeds, so that your breasts are being stimulated at least 10-12 times in 24 hours, at least once at night.  There may well be other things your healthcare professional will advise you to do.

These helplines are available if you need to speak to a breastfeeding counsellor in the UK:

ABM 0300 330 5453
NBFH 0300 100 0212 
NCT  0300 3300 771
LLL 0845 120 2918


Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Positive Birth meeting and a busy one tomorrow

Despite the most torrential rainstorm outside, nine of us gathered in Proper Cycling and Coffee for our July Positive Birth Movement meeting.

If you haven't heard of the Positive Birth Movement, check them out here   Its really exciting to be part of a global movement of local gatherings of women to share birth stories and discuss topics around birth in a positive way.

We welcome pregnant mums, new mums, old mums (!) birth workers, families, midwives, obstetricians, anyone who has an interest in encouraging the positive around birth.

We want women to be where they want to be, empowered and enriched, with memories that are warm and proud.  We want their choices to be informed by reality and not fear.
Talking of which, 'fear' was our subject of the month, and it provided plenty of talking points for us all.  I'll be writing a blog post on the Mid Sussex PBM page which I will link in here, which will have a bit more detail.

I won't be doing that tonight though, I'm going straight to bed after my bath, maybe do a bit of crochet, but aiming to get an early night as tomorrow I start training to do the 11 o'clock stop breastfeeding support on the post natal ward of my local hospital.  This is something I've wanted to do right from the beginning of my breastfeeding peer support days three years ago, but the opportunity has only just presented itself, and I will admit to be very excited at the prospect of this!

Of course I will report back and let you know how it goes!  Better go and get my nail polish off now!!

My New Baby!

 So this is what I've been working on for the last year, and it is finally about to be born! Very soon my level 3 Diploma will be in my hands, to match the Maternity and Fertility reflexology Diplomas I already have.  I will be moving from Fertility case studies to clients, and I am so excited to be doing this work.

It never fails to amaze me how much treating people makes me feel great, even when I'm tired after a long day.

 I'm overhauling the treatment room that I've been using for my case studies and clients, with a nice lick of paint for the summer...if we ever get one!  In the winter my clients love the open fireplace in my clinic, which crackles softly and keeps us warm with that special heat and energy that only an open fire can give.

If you didn't know, I've been working as a reflexologist for some while now, but my qualification didn't allow me to go on and undertake further studies.  I have wanted to specialise in Maternity and fertility reflexology for years, and with my Level 3 diploma under way, I could finally qualify to get onto the course.

 The amount of anatomy and physiology study  that I've had to re-do, and case studies and treatments has been phenomenal, especially with the added specialties on top, but it has been so, so worth it. Having done it all twice before, once with the first reflexology qualification and once in my training as a Registered General Nurse, I wasn't daunted by the prospect of studying in depth anatomy and physiology.  I think I must have forgotten how detailed and difficult it can be!  My winter weekends  were spent at college and the evenings spent with my head buried in my books and studies.  How I longed for this summer and now its here!

  I am able to be mobile too, so my work doesn't stop now I'm about to paint my room. It's usually nicer to see pregnant mums and post natal mums in their own homes anyway, so that they can just relax at home and consolidate the treatment.  This also holds true for my other reflexology clients who like a treatment in their own home.


Thursday, 7 July 2016

What's in my Breastfeeding Peer Support bag?

Doing the photos for this blog post made me realise that my bag has put in three years of hard work, being slung into my car and chucked onto clinic needed a bit of a wash.  I gave it a nice hot soapy wash and it now doesn't look very well at all.  Ah well, I'm sure it will stretch back out in its own time!

When we graduated from peer support class, all of us were given these bags to put our folders in, along with these sweet and very useful knitted breasts.
We were also given a copy of the La Leche League book 'The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding'  which was a lovely gift to receive, and really useful in clinic to refer to.  I love it because although packed with useful information and facts, it doesn't come across like a text book, it's more like talking to a knowledgeable mum who is a friend, who understands the kind of pressures and life that an mum leads.

It has sections pertaining to the age of the baby, also a Tech support section, where you can look up various challenges mums come across.  There will be a 'back story' describing what scenarios surround various hitches in breastfeeding, and how they can be resolved. If I'm ever asked for a book recommendation for troubleshooting or simply accompanying the breastfeeding journey, this one is it!

So over the years I've gathered other bits and bobs in the bag.  There are leaflets from our local 'Milk' clinics, with venues, days and times for each drop-in, as well as updates that we receive regularly to make sure that our knowledge is current.

I carry 'My Child Won't Eat' by Carlos Gonzalez, because complementary feeding also comes up in questions in the clinic.  Carlos' approach is scientific; he is a paediatrician, but he's also a father of three who has a responsive, attachment parenting style approach, which I think is so important when supporting issues around food in the early days.  The most common worry mothers seem to have is that their children aren't eating enough, or enough of the 'right' foods.  Carlos highlights how children are very good at regulating exactly the amount they need to eat, like all animals in the world...they know exactly what they need.

These helplines are available if you need to speak to a breastfeeding counsellor in the UK:

ABM 0300 330 5453
NBFH 0300 100 0212 
NCT  0300 3300 771
LLL 0845 120 2918

Sunday, 3 July 2016

What's in my doula bag?

 Here's my lovely doula bag, about to go away in the cupboard whilst I have a few weeks off for the summer.  I bought it second hand, and it is a can find them here.

I love this bag, it's exactly the right size for the job, because it's not too big, and that's important for a doula's bag.  Arriving at a birth with excess baggage doesn't send a positive message to your client...there could be a subtle indication that you believe that she, or you, can't do this birth without an enormous amount of stuff.

My Sherpani has wheels, which is another reason to love her...she looks after my back!  There are also sturdy carrying handles that you can see, and a detachable shoulder strap, which I have detached.

So let's get inside and see what I bring to births with me.  My rebozo shawl comes along; I know several techniques for using the rebozo for extra comfort during labour, and its great for wrapping myself or my client up in if we are dialling down and having a little nap.

I bring whatever I'm currently knitting, and I've recently learned to crochet, which will be even easier to do at births.  I enjoy working a few rows here and there during the day or at night in bed, and it really is the perfect activity for a birth companion, for a couple of very good reasons.

 The French obstetrician and pioneer of home-like birthing rooms and birthing pools in maternity hospitals, Michel Odent has written about the maternity unit in Pithiviers state hospital in France that he was in charge of from 1962 to 1985, in his book 'Birth Reborn'.  He speaks about the midwives there,who would sit in the birthing room or a room close by, reading or knitting. One of the things that will hinder the pulses of oxytocin (the hormone which causes the surges or contractions of the womb during labour) from the posterior pituitary gland, is the feeling of being observed.  Privacy is important during labour, and oxytocin has been called the 'shy' hormone for this reason.

Having the presence of a calm, experienced woman nearby, who is not directly observing, can be helpful to a woman in labour, especially in unfamiliar surroundings, and especially if she knows, likes and has chosen the woman to be there as her doula. Knitting or reading are enjoyable ways of being with a woman in labour when there is no need for anything other than the reassurance of your subtle presence.

The other reason that knitting in the labour room is so good, is that it produces an Alpha wave output in the brain that is as high as that produced by yoga or meditation.  Alpha waves are associated with a relaxed mental state, and birthing women are extremely sensitive to any hint of tension in the room, which in turn makes her system produce adrenaline, which is an antagonist to oxytocin.

Back to my doula bag! My original course manual from my trainers at Nurturing Birth which is a Doula UK recognised training course, is something I like to carry with me.  It helps me to know that all the wisdom it contains is there at my fingertips should something unforeseen arise during the labour.  It makes great reading too, as does my Juno magazine, and I find the photography in Juno really soothing and beautiful too.

The other things that I bring for my own comfort are snacks, painkillers, lip balm, hand cream, change of clothes, toothpaste, face wipes and spare contact lenses and glasses. I have eye drops sometimes, and lavender oil, which I find comforting.  Phone, purse, make up and keys get chucked in last minute.

For my client, I bring straws, which make sipping fluids much easier whilst you're labouring.  A flannel for keeping her forehead cool, and a Thai foot massage stick can be great for her or for me, for pressure points and reflexology.

I swap things out depending on my mood and circumstances, and none of it is absolutely necessary anyway.  The two most important things a doula brings to a birth is her hands and her heart.  If she brings a bag, you now have an idea of what might be in it!

Friday, 1 July 2016


It's the first of July, although someone needs to remind the weather of that!  I don't begin a new daily planner and work planner page in my Midori Travellers Notebook at the beginning of every month though, this is just a happy coincidence.  My  Midori, (her name is Coco) is my wallet, calendar and bullet journal, my daily carry. It usually happens that I need to renew these pages around once or twice a season.  I renew them when they're full, or when I'm feeling like starting afresh.

I like the feeling I get when I see lines through lists of stuff I thought I'd never get to the end of, it gives me the feeling of achievement, but more importantly, of the potential and possibility of getting the things I want in life by setting a little intention to do it...which is to me, what a list is.

Of course this isn't everything; there are other lists on other pages!  Anything I need to buy goes on my shopping list (duh) because keeping it all visible, food as well as other bits, makes me aware of my spending and having it all in one place is helpful when I find myself at the shops thinking 'now what else did i need? and that could be food, household stuff, or anything that I might not usually put on a food shopping list, but the point is it's there in front of me, less likely to be forgotten.

I have been putting a 'menu' page opposite my shopping page this year because it seemed to me that they might go together, but it turns out they don't really.  Or I just don't plan our meals anymore in the way that I used to when there were seven of us living at home and the evening meal was an event in itself, and on a tight budget, planning the week's meals in advance prevented wasteful shopping. 

Other lists in this journal are: (My gaaad but I love a list!)

  • Books to look out for
  • Brain dump
  • To do list (not immediate stuff which goes on the daily planner, but longer term goals)
So this morning was just about taking a little time out of my work day ( I'm not procrastinating, honest!) to reconnect with myself, organise my thoughts and enjoy a little play.  And now, with all those cut out templates of leather awaiting holes to be punched and corners to be rounded, I must get back to the business of the day.
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