On the Transformative Power of Pain During Childbirth

Pre-Columbian collection, Dumbarton OaksDSCF7954" by Johnbod - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Pre-Columbian collection, Dumbarton OaksDSCF7954″ by Johnbod – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Pain is a part of human existence. We experience physical pain or discomfort and mental or emotional pain or discomfort on a fairly regular basis. How we choose to deal with that pain is entirely up to us.

Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. 

This is true of the pain of labor as well as pain we might experience in the rest of our lives.

But why then, is pain a necessary component of labor? Why does childbirth hurt for the vast majority of women?
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One choice affects your whole birth experience

There is one choice that affects your whole birth experience. It sets the tone for your prenatal visits and affects all further choices you have during pregnancy, labor and birth. Choosing your care provider is the most important choice you can make. Do you choose an Obstetrician, Family Practice physician, Maternal Fetal Medicine or a Midwife?

If you are unhappy with your care provider, remember, you can change providers at any point during your pregnancy.

Need a suggestion or a referral? Contact us and we can help you out. Choosing your care provider for Birth Infographic

From Lamaze International

What actually goes on during a Doula consultation?

This is a guest post by our Shining Light Doula, Amanda Guntrum.

Shining Light DoulasHere at Shining Light, we want to get to know our potential clients; and more importantly give you a chance to get to know us!  This is essential.  How can you sign on with a doula without feeling that you got a chance to “date around” before you commit?  That is why we offer everyone a 45-60 minute consultation with any doula duo absolutely free.

Consultations take place in our living room in the back of the studio where you and your partner can kick back on the couch and have a casual conversation with two doulas over coffee or tea.  Since a doula-client relationship is a partnership, it is important that we get to know you as much as it is that you get to know us.  We will ask you questions such as, “What kind of a birth do you want?” and “What made you decide to look into doulas?”  These questions are so that we can get an idea about what support you are looking for and if/how we can fill that role.  To have the most effective consultation, come prepared to talk about anything that you read and thought was cool, classes that you have taken, or even just things that you heard from your sister that scared you a bit.  These are all things that will give us some insight into what it will be like to work with you.

Consultations are also a great time to ask questions!  If you have any concerns that you didn’t want to talk about in front of a group at our Open House, this is a way to get those answers.  Ask us about our training, education, and experience!  Ask us about our passions.  Ask us about our role at a birth.  Ask us any question that you think would give you the information that you need to decide if we would be a good fit for your family.  I included a list of common questions below just in case you need some inspiration, but you are absolutely not limited to these!

After 45 minutes of chatting, if you are interested and think that we would be a good fit, then we can pull out the contract and go over any questions that you may have about it.  You can sign with us right then and there, or take all of the information home with you and think about it for a few days.  This is a big decision and we absolutely understand if you need to mull it over.  If you think that Shining Light is amazing, but the doulas that you are meeting with aren’t your cup of tea, no big deal!  Simply call Deena after the meeting and set up free consultation with another pair!

Questions to ask:

  • What is your philosophy about childbirth?
  • How do you support women and their partners during labor?
  • How do you support women before and after childbirth?
  • What experience do you have? Do you have experience related to my specific circumstances (as in a VBAC, twins, etc)?
  • Have you worked at the hospital/center that I am using before?
  • What coping techniques are you familiar with? Are you familiar with the method that I am using (Bradley, Hypnobirthing, etc)?
  • How do you handle it when things do not go to plan?
  • What kind of breastfeeding support can you provide?
  • Tell me about your best experience as a doula. Tell me about your worst experience as a doula.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Do I feel at ease around these doulas?
  • Are they knowledgeable?
  • Do I like their personalities?
  • Do they communicate well? Listen?  Support my choices?

More important than any training or experience is whether or not you like your doula.  If you can’t stand her when you aren’t in labor, then you definitely will not want to have her around when you are.  Conversely, a calm person that you find reassuring will be an asset even if she has never set foot in that particular hospital before.  When in doubt, go with your gut!  Our next Open House is on October 23rd at 6:30 PM and is a great time to meet and chat with all of the doulas.  This is a great way to pick the pair you would like to have a consultation with first!

Learn more about Shining Light Doulas

The Practice of Mindfulness During Labor

This is a guest post by our doula, Amanda Guntrum

If you have picked up a book on labor or attended a birth prep class, you probably have come across the term “mindfulness.” When I started studying for my doula certification I came across this term often, but having no background in meditation I merely gave them a passing nod as part of the jargon of birth work. As I have become more experienced, I have started really analyzing these concepts and why we doulas and childbirth educators bring them up so much.

Mindfulness: the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.

In this case, that something is your own body and your own mind. This means to focus your conscious mind on your own senses and connect with your body.

Mindfulness in Labor, Shining Light Prenatal Education, PittsburghHow are you feeling right now?

Do your limbs have the heavy dullness that is associated with being tired?

Or are you feeling a bubbling burst of energy that means your morning coffee is kicking in?

What do you see?

Can you feel a breeze?

In addition to connect physically to your body, connect to your mind.

What are you feeling right now? Are you worried about something? What does that feel like to you?

For me, worry feels like a tight squeeze in my chest. Joy is a lightening in my belly. Fear feels like prickly tingles in my arms and legs and a metallic taste in my mouth. Mindfulness is what it is to be you right now.

So why do we birth doulas care so much about “mindfulness?” We care because it can help you.

Everyone knows that contractions cause discomfort or pain. We can help you breathe through them. We can move or chant or grunt with you through your contractions. But short of an epidural – and sometimes in spite of an epidural – we cannot take the pain away from you.

What most women will find surprising, however, is that there are moments of pure relaxation between the contractions. The physiology of birth produces an amazing cocktail of hormones designed to enable you to get some peace and rest during your labor. Mindfulness allows you to find to these moments of relaxation. It allows you to be aware of what is happening just now, not what is coming, just what is in this moment. It also allows you to approach the pain or discomfort of contractions with curiosity instead of fear.

Where does the contraction physically happen? Are you able to still notice how your legs and arms feel? Does shifting your hips change the sensation? Did that make is more intense or subside a bit?
When I was still a new doula, I attended a long birth. The laboring mother had been in active labor for seven hours when she hit her limit. She was exhausted, but desperate to stay awake between contractions because she felt like they came one on top of the other if she slept. This is the reason why I practice mindful exercise with all of my clients now. No one should ever be fighting rest during labor. Laboring moms should try to accept all the rest that they can get.

So how do you practice mindfulness? There are a ton of mindfulness exercises out there. Breathing ones. Meditation ones. I, personally, am an active person, so my favorite one is “hands-on.” It is washing dishes.

Now hear me out, I really don’t care if your chores get done. Washing dishes is my favorite because it uses almost all of your senses and it is usually done after a meal, so if you are like me your mind will be mulling over the conversation you just had. Really pay attention to the tactile sensation of the water. Is it hot or just warm? Feel how it flows around your fingers. The sponge has a coarse texture. The bubbles are velvety. The soap smells clean and lemony. There is a window right over my sink, so I get to look at the breeze playing with the leaves on the tree. The silverware clinks on the plates. Listen to your body. Are you full or still hungry? Do your feet ache standing there? Emotionally, are you joyful? What does that feel like? Are you worried about something? Where do you hold your worry? It is a simple task, one that I have done dozens of times, but that is what makes it so good for this kind of awareness. So much is happening in these everyday moments.

Practicing mindfulness now will help you in labor. Try out several exercises – maybe doing dishes isn’t the one that works well for you. Regular prenatal yoga classes can teach you mindfulness both on and off your mat. Have your partner or doula practice mindfulness with you, so that they can help you out if you get stuck during labor.  Mindfulness is an ongoing practice, not just a one time deal. The more you practice, the easier it will be to call on it when you need it.

Want to learn more? Check out our classes and resources that will help you become more mindful for your birth.

Babywearing in the Great Outdoors

This is a guest post by our babywearing expert, Laura McCarthy, MSW, LSW. Laura teaches our Babywearing 101 and 102 classes. She also works one on one with families to help them wear their babies successfully and parent with greater ease.

Babywearing outdoors, hiking Pittsburgh, Shining Light Prenatal EducationI just returned from a 3 week road trip involving lots of camping and many national parks such as the Badlands, Yellowstone, Mesa Verde and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon just to name a few. My little ones are past babywearing age, but I observed several other families wearing babies and toddlers on hikes and tours. I even saw parents wearing young twins in Yellowstone in matching soft structured carriers with matching babywearing coats!

Taking a small baby or toddler on wilderness trip can be intimidating, and some may try to discourage parents from traveling with small children. Babywearing can be a huge help on such trips in a variety of ways. Here are just a few and I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments!

1. Security
Babies and toddlers sometimes feel nervous in unfamiliar situations or places. Babywearing, especially with a carrier babe enjoys and is familiar with, can take away some of that uncertainty. From their loving caregiver’s back or front, they can explore the world from a secure place. Encountering a large animal like the bison we saw in South Dakota could be frightening to a small child. Being snuggled up with a parent or loved one can make such an experience much more enjoyable for everybody.

2. Naptime
Scheduling outings around naptimes, especially the frequent naps of wee babies, can be stressful and limiting. Waiting in a hotel room or cabin for an hour (or many hours) for baby to fall asleep or finish napping is not most people’s idea of a fun vacation. If you’re tent camping, waiting in a hot, stuffy tent could be even worse. When baby or toddler is used to snoozing in the carrier, the adults in the party can go about their exploring business while baby rests. Some babies find the rhythm of walking or hiking to be very soothing and sleep quite well that way. All of the fresh air sometimes tires them out, too, contributing to rested babies and happy caregivers.

3. Freedom to explore
….. for the caregivers! Keeping baby safe and snug in a carrier allows for exploration of a wide variety of hiking trails and other situations. A few trails in national parks and other wilderness places are accessible to strollers, but the vast majorty must be traveled on foot. One of the trails we took in Yellowstone involved ½ mile of steps, impossible to navigate on wheels. We saw several babes on their father’s backs making their way up and down the steps. Bonus: the unpaved trails are often less crowded with other travelers, leaving you and your family to enjoy the wilderness in peace.

Laura McCarthy, Babywearing outdoors, hiking Pittsburgh, Shining Light Prenatal Education4. Baby’s vantage point
We often climb up high for a great view, so it makes sense that a ride on their caregiver’s back brings a great vantage point. In a back carry especially, baby practically has a front row seat of all of the wonderful scenery you traveled to see. Baby can be exposed to so many spectacular things that it would be very challenging for them to see from the car or stroller. At times your toddler may want to explore on foot, though it’s nice to have a carrier for backup, when your little one is too short to enjoy the view, or too wound up to be safe on a trail.

5. Hands free
This often comes up when discussing babywearing. On a moderate to strenuous hike, it is important to have one’s hands free. This allows you to steady yourself in case of unstable footing, needing to climb an extra-high step area, and even reach for your water bottle or a snack. Serious hikers may even use hiking sticks or poles to keep steady on the trail.

Many people say they want to travel and see amazing things “before we have kids. “ While I’m not knocking their ideas to travel, it seems a shame to give up a loved activity because small people enter your life. Travel is an extremely enriching experience, and with babywearing, it’s much easier to bring your little one along for the ride.