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Understanding Epidurals and the Benefits of a Natural Birth

 
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We’re discussing the pros and cons of epidurals! What is their place in the medical world and should they be as commonplace as they are?

Modern medicine today encourages epidurals like water. This doesn’t make epidurals inherently bad - they are simply being misused and overused. It is time we tell the truth about epidurals. Physician, neonatologist and researcher Dr. Michael Klein, points out in his three part Science and Sensibility blog analysis of the evidence

on epidurals, “Women need to be accurately and completely informed of their choices for pain relief in labour before they can provide their true consent. No matter how well intended, epidural analgesia increases the likelihood that women will have a variety of other interventions, especially if the epidural is given without specific medical indications….When used routinely as a first line agent, epidural analgesia can create problems that could have been avoided.”

Epidurals can be literally life-saving in a dire situation when a cesarean birth or medical induction of labor is needed, and there are times when they are indeed warranted, but there are serious concerns about their use in a childbirth process that is proceeding normally and healthily - when their risks outweigh their benefits.

I will hopefully give you an enlightening look at the different sides of epidurals, including the situations when they are very necessary. You making an informed decision for yourself, is what’s important here. But do your research.

Learn more about the intricate process of labor and delivery, as well as what your mind and body are doing during each stage, the purpose of its sensations and how to best cope with them. I go into this thoroughly in my online Love Your Birth course. The more you really understand what is going on, the less you will fear it, the more you will trust and lean into it. And know your strength and capabilities. You’d be surprised at what you’re able to withstand and overcome!

It is crucial to prepare for coping with natural labor, even if you think you will want or need an epidural, as you will still have to experience parts of labor, it is not always an option depending on your health history, the anesthesiologist does not often come right away, and the epidural does not always work adequately.

How do Epidurals Work?

An epidural is an injection of a large needle in the lower back that pierces the covering of the spinal cord. Medications are injected through a tiny catheter threaded through the needle, into space surrounding the spinal cord and then they infuse the nerves nearby. These medications consist of usually a regional anesthetic and an opiate.

The anesthetic drugs temporarily block the sensory nerves which usually create the numbing and this, in turn, inevitably blocks the motor nerves with some degree of paralysis. The opiates are included because they increase the effectiveness of the anesthetic, allow for less dose required, while working to decrease the blockage of motor nerves at the same time.

The Cons

The true downturns of using an epidural occur in a birth that is perfectly healthy and normal are many, according to the research. This will then lead to a cascade of other risky and dangerous interventions just by taking a drug in which there was no need in the first place. In fact, epidurals increase the risk of requiring a C-section, especially when given too early - but there are plenty of other reasons for this.

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According to Dr. Kelly Brogan’s research, there’s been a 60% rise of C-sections since 1996. A study has shown that a prolonged second stage of labor is the main reason for most C-sections. This prolongation can be directly linked to the use of epidurals, for many reasons, including a mom’s decreased ability to push effectively and her needing to be in supine positions that make birthing more difficult, as it goes against gravity and pelvic capacity is at its smaller dimensions.

Related: The Unnecesarean Birth Story - How It Might Have Been Prevented

What happens after this prolonged stage? A myriad of interventions to “help” induce the birth: “food and drink restriction, immobilization, IV fluids, bladder catheter, medications to augment labor, and continuous monitoring.” All of these will only encourage the need for even more intervention, like vacuums, forceps, episiotomy and increased probability of more severe perineal tearing into the anal sphincter and rectum, or major abdominal surgery. All medications, invasive interventions and operative deliveries risks birth trauma and injury to the baby as well as the mother.

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Epidurals prolong all stages of labor. They increase the incidence of fever for mom, which leads to IV antibiotics in case of infection that most likely is non-existent. Antibiotics disrupt the microbiome and lead to all the associated health risks of interfering with the healthy balance of bacteria within the body for both mom and baby. It can also lead to signs of fetal distress, which then lead to other interventions from needing oxygen to emergency surgical delivery.

This drug administration does upset the normal hormonal balance during labor. While the very nature of an epidural is to alleviate at least some of the pain and so easing a good chunk of stress, some stress during labor is actually quite good for both mother and baby.

Cortisol (the stress hormone), for example, lessens mom’s exhaustion; it gives the mother energy to push, and heightens her euphoria and sense of excitement—a big part of the natural birth experience which we’ll get into a bit later—and this euphoria actually increases bonding with the baby. For the baby, the healthy “stress” of being born turns many biological processes on during the whole birthing process, like the breathing instinct at birth, which eases transition to adjusting to life outside the womb. No surprise that babies may need more assistance to breathe.

There are so many effects that also take place in the aftermath of the birth since an epidural is a narcotic that’ll pass from mother’s circulation, through the placenta into the baby’s bloodstream.

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Evidence supports risks to the baby from epidurals, that include reduced muscle tone, poor feeding, jaundice, withdrawal, and sensorimotor impairment. Epidurals have been linked to failure to establish breastfeeding and this is not to be taken lightly, as breastfed babies have much healthier outcomes and less health risks than formula fed babies. Newborns also can get a fever and increased heart rate from the epidural, without having an infection, but separation from mom and extensive work-up in the neonatal intensive care unit ensues for evaluation, including blood tests, spinal tap, and precautionary IV antibiotics.  Renowned childbirth educator Penny Simkin highlights that “epidurals can result in short - term subtle neurobehavioral effects, such as irritability and inconsolability and decreased ability to track an object visually or to shut out noise, bright light. There are no data on potential long-term effects....Decreased infant responsiveness may lead to long-term consequences for the parent-infant relationship... (risking) labels of “difficult child” or “incompetent mother” (self imposed or by others).” 

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The mother can experience some annoying but distressing side effects - mostly from the medications entering her bloodstream and/or administration error, like itching, nausea, shivering, spinal headache, residual numbness, tingling and weakness, backache, as well as alarming side effects, like difficulty swallowing and breathing, rare permanent nerve damage, convulsions, respiratory paralysis, cardiac arrest, and even death. Evidence based care expert Henci Goer points out in her ongoing evaluation of risks and benefits of maternity care, that epidurals cause, “Somewhere between 1 in 1,400 and 1 in 4,400 women to experience a life-threatening complication.”

This is some very scary stuff! And yet, epidurals aren’t so much the problem as are our society’s tendencies to consider them such a benign and advised common practice for the majority of laboring women.

Epidurals necessitate hospital birth, and eliminate the home and birth center option, which are associated with better health outcomes physically and emotionally for mom and baby, when it comes to low risk healthy childbirth. Dr. Klein poignantly elaborates on the concerns that epidurals have medicalized birth so much so, that they increase the demand on the nurse to pay greater attention to the technology of all the resulting interventions, and consequently have less time, experience and skill to provide needed hands-on and emotional support for the laboring woman.

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Disruption of the normal hormones of labor with epidural use can cause the laboring mom to feel detached from her own childbirth process and to becomes more of an observer than a participant. Studies indicate that women who had an epidural may have had less pain, but were most dissatisfied with their experience even up to a year later. The provider and nurse can no longer assess labor progress by observing the mother and must rely on the monitor - which makes the experience more impersonal - and vaginal exams - which are invasive and increase risk of infection. Use of epidurals and the anesthesiologist alone raise the cost of care, and it increases exponentially with the cascade of hospital interventions that result.

So, when are epidurals medically appropriate? In an urgent or concerning health situation when there are serious complications, but not in a normal, healthy, natural birth. They can be also psychologically appropriate, in individual cases.

The Pros

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One of my founding philosophies in helping women to have a safe, healthy and transcending birth experience is that a birth (of any kind, in all settings!) isn’t a medical procedure—it’s a natural and miraculous process of life. It’s not in and of itself a dangerous crisis.

That being said, I’d like to affirm that an epidural has its place in childbirth.

When a labor isn’t proceeding normally, when there’s a prolonged or arrested labor or the mother is experiencing exhaustion, extreme pain and/or anxiety, the compassionate use of an epidural could be the answer, and can enable her to relax, rest and progress to vaginal delivery. There could be a real medical need for medications to help induce or augment labor, which make labor sensations much more painful.  As a last resort, an epidural can help relieve the pain and stress from an emergency situation.

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A woman suffering from preeclampsia, for example, who receives an epidural anesthetic, will likely not have a prolonged second stage of labor. Epidural tends to lower blood pressure, which is a benefit in cases of hypertension.

An epidural could also be an advantage during a major operation like a cesarean;  in most cases, it carries much less risk than general anesthesia and is a great alternative to being unconscious from the high doses of those medications.

Epidurals can provide relief or reduction of pain without impacting mother’s mental state. Since birth by C-section is still a birth, an epidural can help the mom stay fully alert and pain-free during this operation. She’ll be involved, fully capable of holding and bonding with her baby even after a C-section operation, as opposed to being put out from a general anesthetic.

Keep in mind that I’m speaking of C-sections that are necessary because of endangering complications and serious issues. This is not the same as C-sections that are caused by epidurals themselves like we spoke about before. Cesareans in and of themselves are supposed to be the last resort, and indicated for serious life threatening health problems —the fact that we have them more and more often in America and that they are treated as a normal procedure during a labor is a sore reflection of our society’s ideas of pregnancy and birth.

Related: How to Plan, Have, and Rock Your VBAC

How do You Prepare for an Epidural-Free Birth?

 Photo by @senhoritasfotografia

Photo by @senhoritasfotografia

Not only is a natural birth the healthiest way to go but science is more and more discovering ancient truths about birth.

The women who come to me want to have their pregnancy and labor in their own way and they don’t want to numb themselves to the healthy and normal sensations of giving birth. It is, in fact, your own birthright as a woman to have this right of passage into motherhood. The women I work with want to feel that empowerment and the high of successfully bringing their child into the world on their own.

Understanding what your body is capable of can begin to give you the confidence you need to begin planning your natural birth. My Love Your Birth course can help you prepare for the entire process from beginning to end. You’ll equally learn how to cope with and handle labor pains...so much so that you can love your experience no matter how challenging. The right preparation really begins with a shift in mindset, not just about labor but in what your body is capable of doing.

“In labor, such high-levels [of beta-endorphins] are released and help the laboring woman to transcend pain, as she enters the altered state of consciousness that characterizes an undisturbed birth. In the hours after birth, elevated beta-endorphin levels reward and reinforce mother-baby interactions, including physical contact and breastfeeding as well as contributing to intensely pleasurable, even ecstatic, feelings for both.” -Sarah Buckley, MD.

 Photo by @senhoritasfotografia

Photo by @senhoritasfotografia

My rate of successful women having natural births is 93%--the other 7% of cases had complications that required medical attention or surgical intervention. But, in over two decades practice as a homebirth midwife, I’ve never once had  transfer a mother to the hospital for an epidural or any other pain medication because she couldn’t cope with sensations of normal labor. Never once! It is not that women who come to me have different bodies. It has more to do with how well they prepare themselves in advance, their attitudes and mindset, and how they are cared for and supported during birth.

Women are able to do what comes naturally when they are prepared, supported and encouraged to follow their own desires for their birth. Women have been giving birth naturally around the world since the beginning of time. Today we interfere more with it, and sometimes we get in our own way. Have faith that your body and nature both have your back—they were designed to know what to do! We just need to step aside. That takes advance preparation in the modern world, as well as care providers and settings that will have the same philosophy and expertise.

The physicality that is required to give birth has been compared to the performance of an endurance athlete! There’s an inherent strength in every woman to go beyond what she knows herself to be capable of. And when she does that, she is darn proud of herself; she has discovered her strength and capacity she can draw on for the rest of her life.

Learn as much as you can about what that is, about yourself and your body. The pride and joy that a woman experiences after giving birth naturally is overwhelming. So many mommas are overcome with their own capability to bring their child into the world.

Don’t deprive yourself of the sensations and transcending experience. You are able and you are supported!

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I have a holistic approach to life, including healing after pregnancy and birthing. Nothing replaces abdominal toning and exercise for restoring muscle strength and tone - which I encourage for all mamas as soon as they feel up to it postpartum. Nothing replaces touch, slow deep abdominal breathing, and a 'love your postpartum body' perspective that I promote.  But I have found many mamas simply feel comforted by this support garment, especially early postpartum and temporarily as needed....to be used without forfeiting abdominal toning and strengthening exercise, breathing well and touch. I have found Bellefit supportive garments to help like they use belly binding around the world such as in Indonesia. They do aid in early postpartum healing and provide support many mamas feel comforted by. I deal with human beings and the reality is many postpartum mom's struggle with body image, feel frustrated that getting back to themselves takes longer than expected. Being into holistic health and healing includes being sensitive to real human struggles - the mind, body, heart and soul of each person and their unique situation. Having helped countless women with these issues after having a baby as a midwife, I have found many still love that binding and feel better with this support, and ability to fit into their pre-pregnancy clothes comfortably and sooner than they would if they went through a C-section or natural childbirth recovery without it - especially when they have to dress up and fit into a certain favorite outfit for a special occasion or wedding not long after having a baby. For more info on the Bellefit girdle, check out my blog about it hereHave a Great Postpartum Recovery (with a little help from Bellefit)! I am thrilled to announce that you get a $20 Off with code: ANNE20 at checkout - if you purchase here.

 
 
 

How to Prevent and Heal Birth Trauma in Babies

 

In part two of birth trauma in babies, we’ll be looking at how to prevent birth trauma in the first place for your little one. We’ll also look at how to help your baby heal from trauma, if it did already happen.

Your baby will learn about care, love, and healing; it’ll benefit him or her for life!

How to Prevent Birth Trauma in Babies

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In terms of prevention, a healthy pregnancy and beautiful natural birth are sure ways of encouraging healthy outcome and without birth trauma for you or your baby.

So, let’s quickly look at what you can do to promote a healthful and deeply fulfilling experience, while preventing any need for intervention that can lead to traumatic experiences.

Having a Natural Birth

So, what can you do to put in place the kind of birth that will support you and your baby to come into the world as nature intended?

Begin with preparation in pregnancy.

Attend my webinar on preventing birth trauma.

In it, I go over crucial tips that’ll help you develop a comprehensive plan and prepare for a natural birth. You must prepare well in advance, like you would for running the 26 mile marathon, or your own wedding.  If you want to succeed in getting what you want - rocking and loving your experience and have a healthy outcome physically and psychologically - you can not afford to just wing it. Not in today's world. 

Yes, your body knows how to give birth, when we get our modern minds out of the way and we are with people and in settings that support it and do not disturb it when everything is normal and healthy. 

Look for a midwife or doctor and birth setting setting with high rates of successful natural births, without routine unnecessary interventions, that completely allows you to have your voice, and respects and supports your decisions.

You may need to learn a complete mindset shift, especially if you do not know anything about natural birth, or have not been around it as women were throughout history; this is extremely important if you don't feel confident, have lots of fear and do not feel supported.  Although underestimated, preparing your mindset is also a powerful and a foundational place to begin when creating your birth plan and getting ready for your birth. When you set your intentions for your experience, you’re more likely to manifest what you want. 

The mindset plays a huge role in the success of famous athletes, performers, as well as business men and women - they all have coaches to help them with that so they become the rockstars they are. You do not need to be famous or perform. But you do need to take back your birth so you can have a healthy one that you love, and without trauma. Your ability to do this rests in your attitude and mindset, that needs to transform and be different than the herd mentality.

And do hire a doula - who can be your coach for your big day. It is another must.

Do any of the following situations apply to you?

  • It is your first baby,

  • It’s your first time planning a natural birth,

  • You want a vaginal birth after cesarean birth, or

  • You already had a traumatic birth and want to plan for a much better, and completely different, experience next time around.

If you answered yes to any of the above, then I recommend you take my online Love Your Birth  course as it goes over all of this in much greater depth. I literally teach you how to transform your mindset so that it serves you on this journey of a lifetime.

The lessons in the course come from my extensive experience guiding and and empowering women and their families in my practice. They’ve led to the awesome birth experiences that I have been honored to witness for over 20 years.

All mamas who have been through it benefited from it immensely. Take a look.

What to Do During and After the Birth

Babies are way more capable than we give them credit! Your unborn baby—when he or she is ready—is naturally inclined, with the help of your body's labor, to move through the birth canal of their own will and effort, when given the opportunity. 

 Photo by @senhoritasfotografia.

Photo by @senhoritasfotografia.

In part one of this birth trauma in babies blog series I discussed how babies are actually more alert, cognizant and sensitive than we realize. If we interrupt the birthing and postpartum process when all is well, with any kind of medical or surgical procedures, testing and interventions, the baby will feel terrified, unsafe, their own agency taken away, their space violated and threatened. Then the trauma reaction ensues! Interventions that can cause trauma can include drugs, internal electrodes on their head, forceps, vacuum, cesarean, immediate cord clamping, suctioning their airway, rough handling, or separation from mom. All the more so when there are complications and interventions are truly needed. 

We need to be sensitive to the baby’s psychological experience when giving care during and after the process of delivery. In the womb and certainly as a newborn, baby is fully aware and conscious and is even more vulnerable to trauma than an adult, as baby's nervous system is still developing.

In addition to the prevention mentioned above, we can help minimize risk of birth trauma by creating a homey and private atmosphere for both mom and baby - in all settings.

That includes dim, soft lighting, and a quiet, peaceful, slow paced environment.  Also, if a mom feels loved, honored, supported and cared for, if she feels calm, safe, intimate and sensual, she’ll not only labor real well, but also will have yummy hormones that pass over to baby, so baby is bathed in them and feels this as well.  Check out my birth trauma series about mothers for more on how we can prevent and heal trauma in moms.

When I talk about gentle care, I’m talking about gentle handling, soothing reassuring voice and touch, eye contact, being held, breastfeeding, and a lot of skin-to-skin contact with mom or partner —this should begin after birth.

 Photo by @sehorhitasfotografia.

Photo by @sehorhitasfotografia.

Don’t cut the cord immediately either. That is baby's life line to oxygen, blood volume and essential nutrients and immunity to help baby transition to life outside the womb. Clamp it only after the pulsing stops or the placenta is birthed. 

Babies also love relaxing music and bath water - and who wouldn't like flower petals floating around, the ambiance of real or electric candles, and a delicious light scent of lavender or citrus?  If you have a water birth, watch them open up, move their arms and legs, and look around when held in the birthing pool. 

This is a sacred time for meeting, connecting to and bonding with each other, so unplug from your phone and computer, and have someone else in charge of spreading the exciting news and taking pictures.

If a cesarean birth is needed, it can be gentle, to simulate a family-centered, natural birth as much as possible, so it feels like a huge personal celebration rather than an operation. These same concepts apply however baby comes into the world.

Furthermore, any procedures or exams that need to happen after the baby’s birthed can be done at mom’s bedside while she’s holding and soothing her baby, explaining what’s going on if something is being done to either of them. A healthy baby needs to stay with parents at all times and not be rolled away in an isolate crib, taken to the noisy and brightly lit nursery of strangers for any examination or intervention. 

How Can Babies Heal from Birth Trauma

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In today’s technological world, there are more stressful, scary, drug-induced labors and surgical births than ever before, especially here in the United States. Healthy birth has become an impersonal medical and/or surgical event, a potential crisis waiting to happen in an intensive care like setting in many hospitals; is not a normal, beautiful part of life, the humane, cozy, family-centered celebration it once was.

At least there are some improvements happening here and there, such as:

Needless to say, a lot of healing needs to take place in the last several generations, once birth was moved to hospitals in the early part of the 1900s!

Let’s take a look at some of the things we can do to help heal birth trauma in babies.

After the Traumatic Birth

In working with traumatized babies and infants, the most important thing in giving care is love. This may seem obvious but don’t take this parental superpower for granted!

As a parent, lead with your heart. It is full of wisdom and does not lie, but rather sends you in the right direction.

When interacting with your baby, always have tenderness, comfort and compassion in mind—for yourself and your baby! The more compassion you have for yourself, the easier you can extend it to others in abundance.

Practice Kangaroo Care - while in the hospital, if intensive care is needed, and definitely at home. This simply involves holding baby (clothed in a diaper only) against your skin and cover yourselves with a blanket. Its benefits are well documented and can be done safely despite baby's attachment to medical devices in the NICU, depending on baby's condition. Basic closeness, touch and attention improve their health and healing immensely.  

Your baby needs to know that even when life gets difficult—because it will—there’ll always be love. You can provide ongoing reassurance you are there for your baby. Talk to your baby in a soothing manner, and allow them to tell their story with their body and in the nonverbal way that they do. They have much to say without the ability to talk. 

Their excessive crying or “fussiness” is not simply difficult baby behavior—they’re trying to tell us something. Validate their scary experience and let them know that they’re safe now. Sing to them. Rock them. Calm them.

Take a look at renowned midwife Karen Strange’s resources on baby trauma healing. She is an expert and international educator in neonatal resuscitation and works fully from the baby’s perspective. You can begin using these incredible tools of connecting with baby in pregnancy. 

Working with a Therapist

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In treating traumatized babies, Dr. Graham Kennedy tells us that a therapist will be observing and interacting with the affected baby through movement as well as through “hands-on palpation using craniosacral therapy.”  Therapists skilled in somatic experience and cutting edge trauma healing modalities for babies are ideal. You can find a list of some wonderful ones here. 

Usually, the movements the baby begins to make are similar to those he or she made in the womb during labor, but this time giving us the story of what happened to them.

“Working with babies involves holding a space in which they feel supported enough to begin to tell us the story of what happened to them, what they experienced and where it became difficult or even traumatic.” (Graham Kennedy, November 2008)

This reenactment can have a profound change on the baby’s brain, rewiring them to experience what they would have experienced in labor were they to have had a stress-free and intervention-free experience.

There are many possible imprints and effects of birth trauma, but they can all be healed. This is well backed by much literature, science and research, especially as we are growing in our understanding of trauma, its impact and how to heal from it when we get stuck in trauma responses. 

For example, down the line, you may notice your infant or young child having trouble starting or completing tasks (or both!). This may be an effect of their birth having been interrupted—this may have caused your baby trauma, it is stored in their bodies, and now they’ve learned to carry with them a certain passivity.

Babies born by forceps, vacuum or cesarean may later on feel they have to be rescued, can't do it alone, support is painful, get angry with authority, being controlled or manipulated, or they may not want to be here at all - and that can impact every aspect of their lives.

Babies who were drugged from their moms getting pain medication, may suppress their aliveness, have issues with addiction, feel spacey, out of it and trouble being conscious in their own lives.

Babies who spent time in an incubator away from their parents, feel separate and alone, have deep longing for connection and touch, develop a psychic wall of protection, and are easily triggered by abandonment.

In later childhood through adult years, this can be completely resolved with Clarity Breathwork - I do sessions locally in my practice, and online for the global community. 

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The trauma response is an important part of our lives and it is our brain’s and body's way of protecting us at the time of perceived danger. It is a normal instinctual reaction in animals, including humans of all ages, and does not become a disorder unless it is interfered with and suppressed.

It does however, need to be treated with expertise for complete effective healing. If there is a traumatic response dysfunction, it is not a life sentence. You don’t have to hold on to those scripts anymore and neither does your baby. Full recovery is possible.

Healing birth trauma in babies is one of the most caring and giving things we can do for our children. 

Do you want to heal from trauma, inner stress and emotional pain that is negatively impacting your life? Let me help you! Attend my free webinar to learn how you can heal your own birth or other trauma, get yourself back and reclaim your inner calm and joy that is your birthright!

 

What Does Birth Trauma in Babies Look Like?

 
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Babies aren’t simply the adorable bundles of joy whose lives begin on the day they’re born. They are the thinking and feeling beings that have a big job to do in transitioning from momma’s womb to the outside world.

Keep reading to learn how this natural yet huge transformation that is birth, oftentimes, is a traumatic experience for them in modern times!

When thinking of trauma, we largely conjure up images of disastrous and catastrophic situations. There is a significant amount of research, however, that shows us that the any highly intense situation - especially where there is overwhelm, fear and helplessness - can have just as significantly a traumatic effect on our health.

And, we generally know that the traumas that have the deepest roots in our lives are the traumas that happen the earliest, all the way back to experiences of young childhood - including birth and womb time - when we were fully conscious but not yet verbal.

This may sound overly dramatic but it is now backed by science and solid research. Being born is a big and tender step in our life. We don’t pay enough attention of the psychological impact of childbirth on newborns—we assume that babies are not aware and won’t remember the pain of transition made even more difficult by maternity and newborn care given without this sensitivity.

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While it may not be written in our conscious memories, experiencing birth remains in our very cells, and is certainly within our subconscious - influencing much of our behavior, reactions and perspectives later on in life. How we relate, in our adult lives, to stress at home or work, pressure from loved ones, how we go about making our toughest decisions can very well be traced back to how we experienced birth, when our response to stresses within our nervous system were developing.

Let’s take a look at how a baby should experience birth and why he or she may have a traumatic experience instead. In looking at why a baby experiences trauma, we’ll delve a bit into the possible causes and symptoms that come with birth trauma in babies. This is the starting point for why we should begin to rethink who babies are and what they’re trying to tell us!

The Dynamics of a Normal and Healthy Birth

 Photo by @senhoritasfotografia

Photo by @senhoritasfotografia

“The birth process is more than just the means through which we come into this world. It is the first major period of transition in our lives. This transition from our experience of being intimately connected with our mother, whilst in the womb, to gradually separating and individuating, once we leave the womb, affects us not only physically but also emotionally and psychologically. The effects of this transition can range from mild to severe depending on the nature of the birth.” (Graham Kennedy, EnhancingTheFuture.co.uk)

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On the physical level, birth happens naturally by a complex series of biological events believed to be initiated by the baby.  When baby is ready, it is their biological priority and they navigate their way down the birth canal with the help from the contractions of mama’s uterus, her instinctive pushing, gravity and mobile positioning. An immediate connection to the mother and breastfeeding are crucial after birth to begin bonding and for the baby’s healthy development.

Basically, anything that interrupts this entire process can be experienced by the baby as invasive, overwhelming and really scary.

Related: Birth Trauma for Moms: What is it? Symptoms and Prevention.

Birth itself is tough enough without even considering interventions. Going down the birth canal includes twisting, turning in the body as well as with the head and neck, not to mention all of the compression and pressure the baby feels. But we as a species have handled it just fine, born into a calm community of love and support, soothed in the warmth and comfort of mama’s chest, quiet surroundings, soft lighting, demand breastfeeding and babywearing.

If the baby feels overwhelmed and frightened at any time, this feeling can be kept locked into their bodies as trauma until they work it out of their system after birth. But, it also can impact them for a long period of time, developing into behavioral and learning difficulties in the child’s later years.

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We know from decades of research in neurology, embryology, and psychology, that newborns are born fully aware and conscious. They are exquisitely sensitive – even more vulnerable to acute or chronic stress and trauma than adults. Consciousness actually begins in the womb. We have known for years, that drugs, alcohol, nicotine, poor nutrition, and certain infections in mom can drastically affect the unborn baby – altering DNA and genetic expression, as well as physical, mental  and emotional development. What mom eats, drinks, breathes, thinks, feels, and experiences goes right to the baby. So does her stress hormones.

We are learning that trauma from high impact experiences during childbirth is not only stored as nonverbal memories within newborns, it impacts their life at a critical time in their development, affecting short and long term physical and mental health – their entire neurological system, from their learning capacity to mental orientation, emotional stability and stress management. The fight or flight stress response creates a strong memory in babies and leads to  similar responses to similar cues until resolved in their nervous system. 80% of children with sensory processing disorder, ADHD, developmental delays and autism have a history of birth trauma. This is staggering.

“Babies are far more conscious and aware, even as newborns than we realize. They are also incredibly sensitive to what is going on in their environment. Unlike adults, babies do not have the option of fighting or fleeing as a response to threatening or overwhelming circumstances. As a result, the only option left available to them in these circumstances is to freeze. This makes them much more vulnerable to the effects of overwhelm and traumatization than adults, or even older children.” (Kennedy, 2008)

So, what are some of these threatening and overwhelming circumstances?

The Damage of Today’s “Technological” Birth

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The typical hospital birth today will include an array of drugs and procedures just to get started! These are administered to the mother for inciting stronger, more frequent contractions, sedation for sleep and anesthesia to numb the pain. But, a baby is, of course, susceptible to anything the mother has been given since its conception all the way through to the breastfeeding stage.

In additional to being flooded with stress hormones that mom feels from her own fear, the manner in which she is treated and interventions she doesn't really want, babies experience actual trauma from the aggressive way they are often ushered from the comfort of the dark cozy womb attached to their mother, to the world.

Just think for a newborn, what is like to for them to:

- get drugged to induce labor, to make contractions stronger and more intense for them,

- get drugged to numb the pain, sedate, or destroy their microbiome of essential healthy balance of bacteria within them

- feel a hook to break the water bag around them,

- have an internal probe screwed on their head to monitor continuous heart rate and contractions,

- be pulled out by forceps, vacuum, or cesarean,

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- have their umbilical cord  immediately clamped off, cutting off their lifeline of blood volume and oxygen, (other nutrients, antibodies and stem cells to boost their immunity) as they  transition to using their lungs instead, as independent human beings, then often they then have to be resuscitated

- be born into a world of bright lights, rough handling by strangers who disregard their experience

- get tubes stuck down their throats to suction them,

- have their ability to see blunted by abx ointment in their  eyes,

-  be  given vit k shot and hepatitis vaccine injections, poked for other blood tests,

-   get probes put on them for screening procedures

-   be taken to the nursery away from their  parents with strangers left alone for hours in hospital isolettes/cribs,

-  be given formula and pacifiers instead of their mother’s breastmilk and skin to skin comfort….and this is routine and standard  in most US hospitals and some other parts of the modern world. I am not even including the effects of NICU treatment and procedures (even if  necessary), or being strapped down for medical circumcision.

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“Additional medication is put in the baby’s eyes immediately after birth. For many years physicians used a caustic solution of silver nitrate. After much consumer pressure, they began to use a painless but vision-blurring antibiotic ointment. Babies are given antibiotics and other drugs during their hospital stay—perhaps even to counteract common hospital pathogens. Technology may mandate fetal scalp monitoring via an electrode screwed into the baby’s scalp while still in the birth canal, or delivery via vacuum extractor, an increasing practice now that the use of forceps is officially discouraged.” (David Chamberlain, Babies Remember Birth, PathwaysToFamilyWellness.org, Issue 44)

And, this doesn’t include the effects of the environment the baby’s born into. The light is too bright and too harsh in the delivery room and nurseries, and the noise level is also much too high. There are possibly needle injections to administer vitamins but also to draw a large blood sample for testing.

“Physical handling will be rushed and disorienting, while compulsive wiping, washing, weighing and measuring all irritate. If the baby is not already crying, a cry must be provoked (babies were often held upside down and slapped on their backs)” (Chamberlain, Babies Remember Birth, Issue 44)

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The standard birth today just doesn’t encourage a safe, quiet, intimate, and private environment for mother and baby to flow naturally within it. This type of maternity care definitely does not promote trust or give baby the message it is safe, kind or comfortable to be here. It certainly does not help to enable a tender bond to develop between mother and baby. It actually elicits their instinctual stress response of fight or flight. And when there is fear of harm, overwhelm, helplessness and inability to fight or flee, their nervous system gets stuck in trauma.  It’s no wonder that some babies are so “fussy” or won’t breastfeed with ease or are experiencing colic.

“While in the hospital, all mothers and babies are on professional turf where everything is regulated by hospital protocol designed not for patients but for staff. […] Even in the most lenient hospital environments, parents must expect to insist upon continuous contact with their baby, as well as privacy, or they will not get it. […] The mental and emotional damage done by birth technology to infants in the last century has followed our babies into childhood and right into adulthood, and has made necessary the development of reconstructive therapies for body and mind.” (Chamberlain, Babies Remember Birth, Issue 44)

Why do we need these reconstructive therapies? What kind of effects come with birth trauma in babies?

What Kind of Effects is the Standard Birth having on Our Babies?

When looking at birth from a baby’s perspective, it does indeed sound traumatic and unfathomable, but these practices are all too common and routine.

Common practices do not make common sense and contribute to poor outcomes  - the US ranks near the bottom as compared to other modernized countries in terms of maternal and newborn morbidity and mortality, despite high rates of medical and surgical interventions. In the United States, 23% of all births performed in a hospital are induced; this means the mother is given drugs and chemicals to induce more frequent and intense contractions. And, 65% of those women will also be given epidurals on top of that to cope with the unnaturally intense pain from the medications. Furthermore, 33% of births in America wind up in a C-section. These numbers no longer seem ordinary when compared to natural births in which 95% of them will deliver healthy babies without intervention.

Although babies can’t verbally explain their trauma to us, the symptoms they endure for their traumatic birth are the language with which we can begin to translate for them a solution. Think of an adult in a stressed or post traumatic state—perhaps poor appetite, trouble sleeping, expressions of angst, irritability, and irregular breathing come to mind. Well, a baby is not so different. Don’t mistake these symptoms as those of simply a “fussy” or “difficult” baby:

-increased heart and respiratory rate;

-increased startle response, reactivity, jerky movements;

-irritability, fussiness, being inconsolable, excessive crying (here, a baby is usually labeled as “fussy” or “difficult”) or no cry at all;

-poor sleep or excessive sleep;

-feeding difficulties;

-bonding issues, decreased eye contact, glossed divergent eyes.

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“‘Most parents and professionals consider it ordinary for infants to awaken during the night, cry for long periods, have gastrointestinal distress, or be irritable. Few parents or professionals have seen trauma-free babies, so few have experienced babies who are symptom-free.

In addition, few have glimpsed the human potential that is possible when babies are freed from the bonds of early trauma.’

The effects of early trauma do not have to be a life sentence. With appropriate therapeutic support, they can be fully healed. Nor is there an age limit beyond which these early traumas can be treated.” (Kennedy, 2008)

We’ve assumed, for a long time, that baby’s are little, cute and albeit empty and emotionally unfeeling creatures when they come into the world.

“Leading researchers now sing the praises of infants. Harvard’s Berry Brazelton calls them ‘talented’; Hanus Papousek, a German pioneer in infant studies, calls them ‘precocious’; famed pediatrician Marshall Klaus calls them ‘amazing.’ Professor T.G.R. Bower, one of the most innovative of all infant researchers, declares that newborns are ‘extremely competent’ in perception, learning, and communication.” (Chamberlain, Babies Remember Birth, Issue 44)

And, the research to fully understand who these amazing beings are is still unfolding and is only now gaining momentum.

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In the meantime, how do we help our babies heal from birth trauma or help them avoid it altogether? In part two of this series on birth trauma in babies, we’ll take a look at how we can prevent birth trauma and how to heal it if your baby is already dealing with it. Preventing birth trauma for moms -  Birth Trauma for Moms: Prevention and Healing - will go a long way in preventing it in babies.

If you’d like to know the secrets to a holistically healthy and joyful birth without any of the birth trauma, then sign up for my FREE ONLINE MASTERCLASS today! It matters how you and your baby experience birth. Birth Trauma is real and impacts your life more than you realize. Millions of moms and babies are silently suffering in a culture that often fails to recognize the psychological impact of birth and most routine modern day maternity care on babies and birthing mothers. You must do what you can to prevent it. Learn how! Come join my FREE ONLINE MASTERCLASS WEBINAR and learn all about birth trauma for moms and babies. Discover 5 simple but crucial things you can do right now to drastically reduce your risk! Register Here!

I have a holistic approach to life, including healing after pregnancy and birthing. Nothing replaces abdominal toning and exercise for restoring muscle strength and tone - which I encourage for all mamas as soon as they feel up to it postpartum. Nothing replaces touch, slow deep abdominal breathing, and a 'love your postpartum body' perspective that I promote.  But I have found many mamas simply feel comforted by this support garment, especially early postpartum and temporarily as needed....to be used without forfeiting abdominal toning and strengthening exercise, breathing well and touch. I have found Bellefit supportive garments to help like they use belly binding around the world such as in Indonesia. They do aid in early postpartum healing and provide support many mamas feel comforted by. I deal with human beings and the reality is many postpartum mom's struggle with body image, feel frustrated that getting back to themselves takes longer than expected. Being into holistic health and healing includes being sensitive to real human struggles - the mind, body, heart and soul of each person and their unique situation. Having helped countless women with these issues after having a baby as a midwife, I have found many still love that binding and feel better with this support, and ability to fit into their pre-pregnancy clothes comfortably and sooner than they would if they went through a C-section or natural childbirth recovery without it - especially when they have to dress up and fit into a certain favorite outfit for a special occasion or wedding not long after having a baby. For more info on the Bellefit girdle, check out my blog about it hereHave a Great Postpartum Recovery (with a little help from Bellefit)! I am thrilled to announce that you get a $20 Off with code: ANNE20 at checkout - if you purchase here.

 

Birth Trauma for Moms, Part 2: Prevention and Healing

 
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If you’ve confronted birth trauma or are dealing with it now, then you’re not alone. Learn more about how you can prevent it and about what you can do to begin healing.

I discuss birth trauma for moms and babies, so prevalent in the US and parts of the modern world, and how to prevent it, in greater depth on my free online masterclass. It is a must watch, as birth trauma is on the rise, effecting over 1/3 of women according to what has been reported - and many suffer silently - so how many go unreported? The numbers of people and lives this impacts are staggering. 

Prevention

Mindset Shift

Our Model of Conditioning

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The model of pregnancy and birth we’ve been conditioned to believe in these past 100 years or so has grossly skewed a modern woman’s natural ability to give birth in a natural way.

In part one of this Birth Trauma series, I briefly explained how birth around the world was, since the beginning of time, widely seen as a normal part of life, and a celebration rather than the medical event that it is today in the U.S. and parts of the modern world. But, in moving births from the home into hospitals, we’ve since lost our intuitive response to birth as a natural process.

Our bodies know how to birth a baby—it’s the same way we’ve been doing it for 1000s of years before medical procedures and technology.  So, a big part of preventing birth trauma would be a mindset shift—in fact, it’s a return to what we already know.

A first step in the gradual shift of your mind would be to forgive yourself the conditioning you’ve been taught to rely on—that you must hand over your body (and, essentially, your power) over to your doctor, hospital, modern medicine and technology.

We’ve been raised a certain way in this era of medical and technological advances. It’s not your fault! If there’s any trauma you’ve experienced or are experiencing now, it’s not your fault!

It might be worth asking your own parents, if you can, about the process of pregnancy and birth that they’d experienced in bringing you into the world. As you’ll inevitably learn with trauma, it is not simply forgotten.

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Traumatic experiences can begin in the womb. Babies are born fully conscious. A baby in the womb feels whatever its momma feels - keeping a file, so to speak, of cellular memory within the subconscious. Traumatic birthing experiences, like the use of drugs to induce labor and numb pain, internal electrode probes screwed onto baby's scalp, forceps, C-section, immediate cord clamping, suctioning, rough handling, bright lights, separation from mom and being left alone in a nursery incubator etc., can be hard-wired into a deep memory base that you, as a now functioning adult, can’t even remember, let alone access!

Psychology news  tells us that the more traumatic and hard-wired habits we’ve developed are because of experiences from before the age of 9. Imagine that: most of our decisions and personality today are based on our childhood and baby selves! 

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Therefore, the emotional component of pregnancy and birth needs to be honored even more so - as it impacts mom as well as baby. In the shift from home to hospital, birth became a medical and often, now a surgical event - sterile and almost emotionless, stripped of humanity. The huge psychological impact of childbirth on mom and baby is widely disregarded, and when care is given without this sensitivity, there is increased risk of birth trauma for them both.

A return to our emotions is essential in giving birth. Needless to say, this is supposed to be a time of love and honor and joy—when a birth is led with these feelings, the chances of it being successful, natural and healthy are that much higher.

A Return to Confidence

With this mindset shift comes a return to the confidence of knowing that we as healthy women, have a feminine capacity to grow, birth, and breastfeed our babies.

With confidence, you’ll feel more capable of taking on the responsibility of your pregnancy and outline what you want for your child’s birth—not what the medical system deems it should be or believes it is.

Confidence in pregnancy and birth comes from an understanding that women birth like they breathe - naturally. (You don’t have to teach your organs to function, your heart to pump blood, or your lungs to fill with air - they are brilliantly designed to do that without your involvement.)

But, this confidence is also best supported in a space where a woman can feel at peace and that she is being celebrated in a gentle and beautiful way.

If a woman is stressed, if she’s being monitored in a way that is invasive, where there’s poking and prodding—especially without consent—then, this woman is definitely not going to labor well and most definitely not as quickly or easily as she otherwise would. She’ll then need to be medicated  to “get things moving” which will cause a faster and more intense labor, and that results in the need for pain relief medications.

Our current maternity care system’s disconnected and medical treatment of birth is what’s causing the need for more medical and surgical intervention and emergency situations in the first place; it leads into a cascade of further interventions and more serious problems like the high rates of maternal and newborn morbidity and mortality that plague the United States.

This is why a woman’s physical and mental and emotional state and space are so important in avoiding birth trauma. In a space where a woman feels respected and heard, she will feel safe enough to birth in a way that is natural and healthy for her and her baby.

Planning

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This is why excellent childbirth education is a must, why planning for your birth is so important today, and is a major reason why I created my Love Your Birth course. It is a comprehensive online course that teaches women what they need to know about planning and carrying out the birth that they want in all settings - the hospital, birthing center or at home. It’s a course on how to have a holistic, healthy pregnancy for the body, mind, and soul - and is how I have guided thousands of women and their families in my midwifery practice for over 20 years. It contains a rolodex of my favorite resources with over 200 of the best books, movies and supplies I use personally and professionally with my clients, family & friends. Even diving into a fraction of this list will have you feeling empowered and prepared for conception, pregnancy, postpartum and parenting...It includes resources on improving and even ensuring ensuring healthier pregnancy and birth outcomes than the status quo, and preventing and healing from birth trauma so prevalent in the modern world!  Be prepared to do some research on your own, but knowledge restores your power. I also help you prepare your mindset for such a task, to debunk myths, and to reframe any current ideas or conditioning about pregnancy and birth that can use a change in perspective or that are simply incorrect and do serve you. After finishing the course, the idea is that you are now able to create and have the healthy, beautiful and empowering pregnancy and birth that you want. 

You can get a free nugget from my course - all about creating your ideal birth plan here. A huge part of preventing birth trauma is getting clear your birth preferences, knowing the pros and cons about all the tests and procedure, all the interventions your may be faced with, so you can make informed decisions - rather than simply give over your body, your choice and voice to your health care providers and institution you choose.

In looking for that supportive birthing space I talked about earlier, seek care providers and settings that have a low intervention rate (low rates of medical interventions like inductions and epidurals, low rates of cesareans, etc.)—their practices are more likely to be in line with your goals.

Hire a doula.  What’s a Doula and Why I Recommend One

Birth, for most healthy women, is a normal process that needs no intervention but sensitive support and enouragement when all is well —the medical system does have its place (which we’ll get into later) but normal birth requires no invasion and therefore need not be traumatic whatsoever!

In fact, as a midwife, I’ve had women tell me not only that they feel proud of their labor and birth, but also,  that they even feel in ecstasy with their experiences - even if intense and challenging.

 Photo by Senhoritas Fotografia

Photo by Senhoritas Fotografia

A birthing woman should feel private, safe, sensual, gentle and undisturbed. The same vibration it took to get the baby in (the intimate, sensual, vulnerable and safe feelings involved in making love), is the same vibration needed to get the baby out.

Read a mom in my practice blog of her experience giving birth in this way: Birth Story - Sacred, Sensual, & Laughing Baby Out.

HEALING:

Acknowledgment, Validation, Support

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Now that we have a sense of what it takes to put in place a birth free of trauma, how do we heal it if we’ve already experienced it?

Full healing is possible. I want you to feel that, imagine that for you, and know that it is true. I have not only felt it myself, but have witnessed it in countless others just like you, who have sought my guidance for their trauma healing in the last two decades.

The foundation of healing any sort of trauma is acknowledgment, validation, and support. If you need more personal guidance, let me know: Heal Your Birth Trauma

Acknowledgement and validation seem counterintuitive to our culture of suppression but don’t repress your feelings. Embrace every single one of them - joyful and mournful. Just as it is part of life to have light and dark, sun and rain, there is joy and pain. They are all sacred. Feeling all of your feelings makes way for the processing them, but also the allowance to trust them—yes, I said trust them! And healing is in the feeling and expressing emotions healthfully so they do not get stuck and cause physical and psychological health problems.

“Bad” feelings aren’t bad in and of themselves—and you certainly should not feel guilty for having them (that definitely doesn’t help create any path toward healing!). Bad feelings are actually guides toward helping you find what’s upsetting you, to find what’s imbalanced in your body. Your body is brilliant and does not lie. Our mind can make up all sorts of false stories, but your body tells the truth. It is wise to listen to its messages. In this way, holistic intervention looks a lot different than medical and surgical intervention.

As a midwife, holistic practices search through the painful feelings of birth trauma and look to see what are they telling us and what can be done to help relieve or remedy the root cause. 

What can we change in terms of lifestyle habits that can help you cope with any of the feelings you're worried about? We look at how can we help your body, your mind, your heart heal. What is truly the soothing for all of who you are?

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The idea is to listen to what’s really going on with you as a new momma. What are you eating and drinking? How are you sleeping? How can you get more quality sleep, eat foods and take supplements that support your well-being, and avoid what harms you?

Sometimes it simply goes back to needing that sense of support. We’ll look at perhaps you need extra help if feeling overwhelmed. Maybe you need more regular outings with a good friend and a cup of tea. It may help to join a support group of mothers who have experienced birth trauma and connect with those who have healed from it. One day you can be that mentor for another suffering momma.

Maybe you need a daily walk by yourself or to take a dance or yoga class. Maybe you simply need more time to yourself, to unplug and be outdoors in nature, and to ensure quiet moments where you’re simply breathing.

Maybe you need to feel and express certain emotions more deeply - can we do that through song and dance, listening to sad and/or angry songs, and then something uplifting and moving it through your body? I have been in many healing workshops of small groups to several thousands dancing the dark emotions as well as dancing the joy. You fully felt, expressed and moved through your emotions in childhood, so you can do it now, and music helps you remember how. I have over a thousand songs for this that I use myself and to help others. Here is a sample playlist to help you dance your 'dark' emotions.

My healing advice includes making sure you get a good laugh, a good cry, and a good hug every day!

Surgical/Medical Intervention

Medical and surgical interventions have their place as I always say, and when they are needed, they are something for which to cultivate immense gratitude. In cases of high risk where the mother and/or baby are in real danger, these interventions can absolutely make all of the life saving difference. But, please take note that these situations are emergency or high risk situations and when it comes to normal and healthy pregnancies and births,  pharmaceutical drugs and surgery should not be the norm. They usually cause more sproblems - especially when all is well; and even when there are issues, they do not result in true healing. What is needed is a more comprehensive holistic approach.

When there is severe postpartum depression and a mother’s feelings are so grave that she feels the need to harm herself or her baby, psychiatric care can be a complete necessity as part of larger healing regimen. When there is symptoms of depression, anxiety and other mental illness, I prefer to build the foundation and start with best selling author of A Mind of Your Own and integrative psychiatrist's Dr Kelly Brogan's natural and highly effective modalities  - which is now also available as an online course

Somatic Healing and Clarity Breathwork

According to decades of cutting edge research in trauma, we are learning that the best way to heal trauma is not necessarily through the traditional practice of cognitive and medical therapy but somatic therapy. You literally have to reset the nervous system wired to the trauma response, and to shake it off! This sounds trivial but the body, quite literally, physically stores its trauma and it can impact our health and well-being, and just about every aspect of our lives.

Related: Somatic Experiencing - How Trauma Can Be Overcome

If you’ve ever noticed an animal shake itself as they all do, or a bird flap its wings profusely (usually after after a particularly intense situation for them), that’s because they are alleviating themselves of the initial and sudden stress that the situation created within their bodies. A deer in the wild, after escaping from a tiger and reaching safety, shakes off the trauma energy and resumes being in a calm state without carrying emotional baggage. 

Babies, toddlers and young children authentically feel, express and move their emotions - joy, as well as sadness and anger in full blown temper tantrums, then get up and resume play. Cultural conditioning has caused many of us to shut down, tune out, repress, deny, escape from and numb our uncomfortable feelings.

When humans encounter the stress of an intense situation, the fight or flight response kicks in and we often hold our breath, or breathe more rapidly and shallow. Any emotion felt at the time is stored as trapped energy in the body. Think of a horror movie you’ve watched, when you’re suddenly surprised, scared or horrified,  the typical reaction is to take a quick and sudden gasp, not to breathe slowly and deeply into your lungs and focus on inner peace. 

We live in a society today that is in constant overdrive fight or flight mode without a means of release and reset; we are storing more and more stress energy in our bodies, and this one of the main causes of modern chronic physical and psychological illnesses. 

A great way to begin the somatic healing process is by Clarity breathwork and this process is what truly helped me move through and out of my own birth traumas, even the trauma of childhood abuse and major adult stresses. 

Clarity Breathwork is a powerful and effective modality that uses a specific type of breathing to release the trapped trauma energy and psychic pain that is stored in your body, without having to think or talk much about it. It allows your nervous system to reset to optimal original settings. It enables your body to more easily shake off whatever stress it’s been storing. It leaves you feeling an incredible and lasting relief.  You will notice more ease, flow and joy in your life and relationships. It's healing effects are so profound, I had to become a practitioner myself and share the gold.

Whatever trauma you’ve felt or are feeling, please know that your pain is real, it’s not your fault, you are not alone, there is support and healing for you.

Every woman has the right to the pregnancy and birth that they’ve envisioned for themselves and their baby. A woman who is treated with a sense of respect and dignity and whose choices are honored will not only labor well but will be far less likely to look back on her birthing experience with a sense of guilt, shame, failure and deep emotional pain.

It is possible to have a return to Self and allow your body to experience pregnancy, birth, and life afterward in a safe, peaceful, sensual and passionate way. It is possible to get back your inner calm and joy. This is your right!

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Was your birth upsetting or traumatic? Do you have more questions about processing your birth and need help healing? Arrange some time to chat with me. I’d love to answer your questions and help you heal and get yourself back - I have a program specifically got you, that can also include this revolutionary and last natural healing modality called Clarity Breathwork.  Helping women heal from birth trauma is one of my passions and areas of expertise. I have officially published and prelaunched my first two books on Amazon on prevention and healing from trauma...and they both became #1 Bestsellers! They will be released in March, but feel free to check them out. 

Natural Birth Secrets: An Insiders Guide How To Give Birth Holistically, Healthfully and Safely, and Love the Experience! Kindle Edition
by Anne Margolis CNM, MSN, Yoga Teacher, Clarity Breathwork Practitioner (Author)

Trauma Release Formula: The Revolutionary Step by Step Program for Eliminating Effects of Childhood Abuse, Trauma, Emotional Pain and Crippling Inner Stress, to Living in Joy without Drugs or Therapy Kindle Edition
by Anne Margolis CNM, MSN, Yoga Teacher, Clarity Breathwork Practitioner (Author)

If you are pregnant, learn to prevent birth trauma in the first place. Come join my FREE online masterclass, to learn all about Birth Trauma for moms and babies, so rampant in our country and parts of the modern world. Its called  "Secrets To Holistically Healthy Joyful Birth Without Birth Trauma" Discover 5 simple but crucial things you can do right now to drastically reduce your risk!  Sign up Here!

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I have a holistic approach to life, including healing after pregnancy and birthing. Nothing replaces abdominal toning and exercise for restoring muscle strength and tone - which I encourage for all mamas as soon as they feel up to it postpartum. Nothing replaces touch, slow deep abdominal breathing, and a 'love your postpartum body' perspective that I promote.  But I have found many mamas simply feel comforted by this support garment, especially early postpartum and temporarily as needed....to be used without forfeiting abdominal toning and strengthening exercise, breathing well and touch. I have found Bellefit supportive garments to help like they use belly binding around the world such as in Indonesia. They do aid in early postpartum healing and provide support many mamas feel comforted by. I deal with human beings and the reality is many postpartum mom's struggle with body image, feel frustrated that getting back to themselves takes longer than expected. Being into holistic health and healing includes being sensitive to real human struggles - the mind, body, heart and soul of each person and their unique situation. Having helped countless women with these issues after having a baby as a midwife, I have found many still love that binding and feel better with this support, and ability to fit into their pre-pregnancy clothes comfortably and sooner than they would if they went through a C-section or natural childbirth recovery without it - especially when they have to dress up and fit into a certain favorite outfit for a special occasion or wedding not long after having a baby. For more info on the Bellefit girdle, check out my blog about it here

Have a Great Postpartum Recovery (with a little help from Bellefit)! I am thrilled to announce that you get a $20 Off with code: ANNE20 at checkout - if you purchase here.

 

 

Birth Trauma for Moms Part 1: What is it, Symptoms & Prevention

 
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Women are good at hiding their pain. And, when it comes to birth trauma, they hide not physical pain but the deep emotional pain of disempowerment, humiliation, disregard, disrespect, loss of control and of dignity.

Did you know that over one third of women characterize their birth experience as traumatic? Every year in the U.S. alone, nearly 4 million women give birth, so that is a lot of women. It seems to me like much more, as I help countless women to heal from it. 

Where is all of this birth trauma coming from?

What is Birth Trauma and How Common Is It?

A trauma response is a normal set of reactions someone has after experiencing a life threatening or dangerous, scary, intensely horrible or overwhelming situation - the injured mind/body making sense of a traumatic experience. It is not a sign of weakness or inability to cope; it is not depression or anxiety, but it can lead to those feelings.

While most acknowledge that trauma is an expected occurrence after something like a war, serious accident, sudden death or grave assault, a mother’s (or even a baby’s) trauma following a birth is not widely discussed. Regardless of cause, trauma is trauma, and may lead to post traumatic stress disorder, known as PTSD -  which can cause real and long lasting symptoms of psychological distress. The reported prevalence of PTSD varies according to the study.... According to Women's Health Today "in at least one large study, the rates of full-criteria PTSD in the U.S. following childbirth are now higher than those following a major terrorist attack."

The high rate of birth trauma is not acceptable and we must do something about it, by raising awareness and empowering childbearing women and their families to make choices that would minimize the risk, and speak up to their own providers.  We can also get involved with organizations doing what they can to improve maternity and newborn care. In the US, there is the  Childbirth Connection, and there is the Coalition for Improving  Maternity Services (CIMS), who recommend more humane, evidence based care practices in the Mother-Friendly Childbirth Initiative , as well as certify hospitals as mother baby friendly based on adherence to these recommendations. In 2016,  CIMS joined forces with BirthNetwork National, a grassroots chapter organization and ImprovingBirth, the nation's largest maternity care consumer advocacy organization. Fortunately more and more hospitals are beginning the process and a number already have the designation, but it is not happening fast enough or on the large scale that is needed.

In countries like Holland and Sweden, where childbirth is treated as normal, with minimal medical and surgical interventions, rates of birth trauma are significantly less - as are the rates of maternal and newborn morbidly and mortality. The United States is among the lowest ranking countries when it comes to preventing fatality and sickness during birth. Despite being one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world, the USA loses more women and babies during childbirth than any other well-developed country. We’re also known for one of the countries that performs the most C-sections. The U.S. cesarean rate is about twice that of Europe - the majority are not medically justified according to maternal health experts - with significantly worse outcomes.

“For.....women, it is not always the sensational or dramatic events that trigger childbirth trauma but other factors such as loss of control, helplessness, loss of dignity, the hostile or difficult attitudes of the people around them, feelings of being invisible, not being heard or the absence of informed consent to medical procedures.” (BirthTraumaAssociation.org.uk) In a meta-analysis of multiple studies, women with PTSD from childbirth use words like inhumane, intrusive, horrific, and degrading to express how they were treated by health care professionals during the experience.

Characteristic symptoms of birth trauma can be mild to debilitating. They include persistent re-experiencing of the events with intrusive recurring memories or vivid flashbacks; nightmares; feeling triggered into extreme distress - pounding heart, faintness, nausea, shortness of breath, racing thoughts and other symptoms of anxiety or panic when exposed to reminders or triggers; avoidance of anything that brings back recollection of the events or the need to talk about it repeatedly; feeling emotionally numb; difficulty bonding with baby or connecting with others, isolation and loneliness; feeling hypersensitive and reactive, wound up, easily startled, hyper alert, vigilant and on guard, on the look out for signs of danger; trouble sleeping, concentrating or remembering usual things; irritability or anger outbursts; feeling depressed, sad and crying for no apparent reason; decreased motivation and interest in activities of daily life and absence of joy.  

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Sadly, the only goal of the medical world where birth is concerned is to have a breathing mother and baby with heart beats who appear physically healthy.

The psychological impact of giving birth is not really a concept a hospital or its staff can grasp on maternity wards. So, naturally, modern medicine does not necessarily take into account a woman’s fears, emotional pain or inner stress when managing their labor and birth, let alone the baby who is born fully conscious. In a culture that fails to recognize, understand or validate the significance of the psychology of childbirth for the mother or baby, care is given without that sensitivity, leaves a birthing woman and her newborn baby’s emotional wellness unchecked, can make labor, birth and postpartum all the more difficult, and increase the risk of her and her baby feeling traumatized.

With our quick and deep-rooted dependence on technology and modern medicine - the providers, institutions and products, women have let go of their power and the inner knowledge that their bodies already have for giving birth. Sadly, in giving up our power to them, we’ve also forfeited our voice and our choice. Now, it has become part of routine procedure to use machines, tools, and drugs to monitor, and “treat,” normal healthy birthing mothers when all is well; we are conditioned that they are actually needed and beneficial, despite mounting evidence of their harm. 

There are other causative factors - like the impersonal nature of busy, short staffed but costly hospitals care. Hospitals need large volume and use of their services and products to keep them in business. We live in a litigious society and health care providers and their institutions are under a great deal of pressure to do all that they can to prevent litigation that entails millions of dollars, risk of licensure penalties or loss, and long years of extreme duress for them; perfection is expected when it can never be guaranteed. 

Far too many women are experiencing some kind of trauma during or after their child’s birth, and many hospitals and their health care professionals are not paying attention. This type of care and trauma go hand-in-hand.

How Hospitals Typically View Birth

At the beginning of my career, I was a nurse working in a typical hospital. You’d think I’d have been prepared for the idea of labor and delivery when I found out that I was pregnant with my first child. In fact, working with mothers and their newborn babies as an OB nurse, is where I developed my strong fear of birth in the first place!

I wish I could say that my own birth trauma story is an exception but, unfortunately, it’s a common experience still today. I hear it from thousands of women. In most hospitals in the United States, labor is looked at as a very precarious and potentially problematic situation - a catastrophe or disaster could happen at any moment, resulting in a potential lawsuit. Labor, in the hospital in which I had worked, felt like an emergency or intensive care situation the majority of the time. I was actually in more operating rooms than delivery rooms, and I was assisting more cesarean births than I thought I would. I was then rescuing women and babies from complications caused by the routine medical interventions we claim are called “standard procedures.”

These highly volatile crisis situations scared me not just as a mother but even as a nurse. And, this is where birth trauma begins: chronic fear and inner stress are the enemies of healthy living without dis-ease, and, of giving birth. If a birthing mother is feeling stressed and afraid, she will not labor well, especially if her feelings go unheard or are completely disregarded. She will need interventions, that lead to more problems and the cascade of more interventions.

What Did my Labor Look Like?

When I was in labor with my first baby, the treatment I received from my own doctor was very detached and impersonal (despite this doctor being my colleague). Even though I often told my doctor that I felt worried and afraid, my feelings were dismissed and overlooked, making me feel as though they were unimportant and irrelevant. I started to think something was wrong with me. My stress only inclined from there.

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One of the first things to happen to me when I arrived at the hospital was having to take off my own clothes and put on a hospital gown. It seemed innocuous then. I look back on that now and know that this begins the disempowerment and depersonalization. A hospital gown creates a sense of increased vulnerability, a feeling of being sick and dependent, and of being an assembly line patient.  It simply felt wrong: I wasn’t a patient - I was a birthing mother; I wasn’t sick - I was in labor. But I did not know any different and that there were options.

The second thing to happen was to be placed in a bed lying down, even though I wanted to stand; my body needed to move around which was discouraged, because the nurse and doctor would be unable to read the monitors placed on me. When a mother is in labor, her body assumes a natural upright position. And, when you think about this, it only makes sense - in the feat to get your baby to come down and out through your birth canal, gravity is your friend! The pelvic diameter is also smaller when lying flat on your back. The baby is pressing on the cervix to dilate it during labor, needs to navigate through the pelvis, and so your body will want to be up and move around, mimicking your baby’s moves in order to facilitate the baby’s travel.

I was also attached to an IV and told not to eat food and drink. As any athlete knows without question, if you were about to embark on a long and arduous physical event like running the 26 mile marathon, for example, you do not go without oral fuel and hydration.

My doctor didn’t talk to me much or explain things. He just kept giving me frequent internal exams without asking, then telling the results to the nurse outside my room “she’s still 4”, and finally I heard, ‘hang Pit.” As a nurse I knew what that was. I was familiar with the procedures, I knew they were going to give me medication that would intensify my labor, causing contractions to come more frequently and be much longer and harder than they naturally would. When I said no, I did not want Pit, my nurse’s well meaning response was 'honey, you don't want a cesarean do you?' It was either take the medication or be faced with the possibility of a C-section, to instill fear rather than knowledge (I now know that these weren’t my only two options and that my body was capable.) Of course I did not want a cesarean, major abdominal surgery, so I agreed. I was feared into it. Then my coping went out the window. I couldn't deal with the agony brought on by the medication. The doctor came in and walked out again and said “She’s still at a 4. Give her an epidural”. It seemed like forever, but then they were giving me an epidural anesthetic via a big needle in my back, into the area around my spinal cord. I was so young and afraid.

Related post: The Unnecesarean Birth Story: How It Might Have Been Prevented

All of the things that come naturally are discouraged by most hospitals still today. I was uncomfortable, and I did not feel safe or secure. Not only were my feelings, worries, wants and needs were completely unheard and ignored, but also I was also made to stay put when my body was screaming to do what comes naturally...until it was numb. Then I did not know what was going on in me.  I had no sense of control over my own body and my birth. I was in unnecessary pain and discomfort from the Pitocin, that made me need an epidural. 

The epidural caused a prolonged and severe drop in my baby’s heart rate, there was a frenzied panic around me. I was rushed to an operating room for an emergency cesarean - my biggest fear. As a nurse, I knew that if you don’t operate within minutes of this happening you could have a damaged or dead baby. I waited prepped and tied to the operating table in the OR for about an hour, watching the clock, waiting for the assistant surgeon who never came!

I was left completely alone all that time - my husband wasn’t even allowed in the room. I ended up calling out for help because the drugs took over my body and I needed to push. The doctor came running in yelling for supplies. I wound up being cut from the vagina and perineum  almost to the anus and my baby was then vacuumed out. She was pink and vigorous. I was afraid to look at her. They said she was fine. I was not fine. I was traumatized.

Postpartum, I had what I now know to be birth trauma. PTSD – a normal response to such an intense situation. I had the symptoms, I just did not know what was wrong at the time. I was getting frequent intrusive memories and flashbacks of the experience, anything that reminded me of the birth triggered horrible feelings in my body. I had a fight or flight response whenever I saw a pregnant woman or newborn baby, whenever anyone would ask me about my birth or talk about their birth – I could not discuss any of it without feeling horrible inside. I felt I could not talk about it or be asked about it at all. I felt wound up, hypervigilant, overprotective and worried something terrible would happen to her – like danger could happen any time. I couldn’t sleep. Even though I loved her completely and wholly, it was hard to look at her and not be reminded of my birth, and because often times I was, I would cry or feel triggered into a panic. I could not even imagine going back to work and facing the scene. When I had to start thinking about going back to work, I began having nightmares. My adrenaline would pump up, and I would feel sick. I’d be hyperalert and on-guard all of the time, as I was also afraid of the sensations in my body.

'You’ll get over it' genuinely caring people would say;  or they would ask 'what is the big deal, as you had a healthy baby?' That made me feel worse, like something was really wrong with me, so I felt more ashamed, guilty, alone and isolated. I stopped telling anyone what I was feeling. 

What to do?

Throughout history, births were considered a miraculous family celebration (as well, they should be) and babies were born at home. Once births were moved into hospitals in the 1900s in parts of the modern world, birth slowly started to be considered and treated like a medical event. By simply looking at my own story, it’s clear that we’ve created a very intrusive and almost violent way of bringing life into the world. It’s no wonder birth trauma is more prevalent than ever.

The grass roots organization Improving Birth coined the term ‘obstetric violence’ - which is playing out in labor and delivery units in certain parts of the world; the World Health Organization called for increased scrutiny of these disrespectful childbirth care practices, as women treated in this way, feel assaulted and violated, and must be taken as seriously as rape. Women in vulnerable situations of childbirth, are being stripped of their power, voice, and dignity, and are coerced or feared into unwanted invasive procedures; there is loss of control and privacy, and the interventions involve their most intimate selves. If the staff is cold, insensitive, unsupportive and uncaring, or downright condescending and hostile, it only enhances the traumatic emotional pain felt by the laboring mom.

By no means am I condemning hospitals and doctors. I work with wonderful ones and I support women birthing in all settings with all types of trained providers. I am also not condemning modern medicine. I am eternally grateful for it when it is necessary and life saving. While I am a holistic practitioner who helps women planning natural births, part of holistic care is embracing medical and surgical interventions when occasionally needed when there are serious complications or emergency situations, as often they can save the lives of both mother and baby. There can still be trauma when a planned natural birth ends up in the operating room or outcome is devastating. But with awareness and sensitivity we can validate, mitigate the traumatic impact, and more effectively heal. Related post: Birth Story - When Things Did Not Go as Planned

But, what about the vast majority of normal and healthy pregnancies? What about getting back in touch with the part of yourself that already knows how to do this?

Related post: Three Ways to Improve Your Chances of a Healthy Childbirth

In part two of this article on birth trauma, coming next month, I want to teach you how to do just that, how you can prevent birth trauma in the first place, and how to heal from it if you have it.

For now, there are things you can do!! Check out the various podcasts I have been interviewed on about the subject of birth trauma - including The Wellness Mama.

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Was your birth upsetting or traumatic? Do you have more questions about processing your birth and need help healing? Arrange some time to chat with me. I’d love to answer your questions and help you heal and get yourself back - I have a program specifically got you, that can also include a revolutionary and last natural healing modality called Clarity Breathwork.  Helping women heal from birth trauma is one of my passions and areas of expertise. I have officially published and prelaunched my first two books on Amazon on prevention and healing from trauma...and they both became #1 Bestsellers! They will be released in March, but feel free to check them out. 

Natural Birth Secrets: An Insiders Guide How To Give Birth Holistically, Healthfully and Safely, and Love the Experience! Kindle Edition
by Anne Margolis CNM, MSN, Yoga Teacher, Clarity Breathwork Practitioner (Author)

Trauma Release Formula: The Revolutionary Step by Step Program for Eliminating Effects of Childhood Abuse, Trauma, Emotional Pain and Crippling Inner Stress, to Living in Joy without Drugs or Therapy Kindle Edition
by Anne Margolis CNM, MSN, Yoga Teacher, Clarity Breathwork Practitioner (Author)

But if you really want to PREVENT birth trauma, take my online course.  Come join my FREE webinar, to learn all about Birth Trauma for moms and babies, so rampant in our country and parts of the modern world. Its called  "Secrets To Holistically Healthy Joyful Birth Without Birth Trauma" Discover 5 simple but crucial things you can do right now to drastically reduce your risk!  Sign up below:

 Image by Megan Hancock Photography

Image by Megan Hancock Photography

Let Me Guide You To Create The Happiest Healthiest Birth Experience Of Your Life...

Whether you're a first time or experienced momma, planning a VBAC

Or a midwife, doula, or birth professional guiding mommas..

Regardless if you are intending to birth at home, a hospital, a birth center or need a cesarean section, or if you are taking another childbirth education class…

You Really Can Create The Delivery Of Your Dreams, ROCK your birth.

And have a blissful birth wherever you are. And avoid the common complications - including birth trauma, prevalent in today's modern world from the cascade of routine interventions. You have a choice and you have a voice. 

More Precious Than A Wedding...A Birth Should Be A Celebration!

Let me show you how to…

  • Understand the sensations of your body and connect your intuition with how your body is communicating and leading you towards what to do during labor

  • Tap into your inner calm to deeply relax yourself,letting go of busy, stressful and fearful thoughts on demand for the health of baby

  • Speak your truth from your heart in a way that deepens your relationships, sets clear boundaries, and has people listen to you and support you before, during and after pregnancy

  • Trust yourself, connect with your body wisdom andcommunicate with baby in belly

  • Connect with natural time and sync your body and mind up with your unique biological clock for ease from pregnancy to postpartum

  • Reprogram negative patterns, stories, and beliefs that undermine your confidence, strength and self trust so you can rock your birth

Physicians and midwives around the world recommend my teachings to their pregnant clients and many Doulas across the country learn the secrets of blissful birthing from me to supplement their Doula Training & Certification process!

To learn more, visit:  LOVE YOUR BIRTH Online Childbirth Course!

It is based on my years of experience, as a midwife and yoga teacher, helping thousands of women tap into their calm and live and birth from a place of grounded relaxation and joy.