Every woman's pregnancy is a unique experience and a rite of passage, and a birth is the ultimate celebration. And a new day has come where many hospitals are now welcoming a fleet of skilled and well-trained birth professionals called doulas. "Doula" is a Greek term meaning "woman who serves," and it was appropriated to describe the women who lend themselves to serve birthing mothers. A once-marginalized profession, it is increasing in numbers and popularity.
When I was pregnant with my son, Fulano, nearly 12 years ago, I didn't know what a doula was, but today my services are in great demand in New York City, and I serve clientele from the fashion, entertainment, beauty, and sports industries through my maternity lifestyle company, Mama Glow. Because I've been around the (hospital) block a few times, I've learned a few essential things through the years about pregnant women, and one is that all women want to feel that someone is holding their hand through the birthing process. Here, I offer my must-know tips for a having a fabulous pregnancy and birth experience.
A birth or labor doula is an enriching part of your birth team. She offers continuous support for the laboring mother and has deep wisdom, comfort, and encouragement to offer. Plus, a doula has some nifty tricks that come in handy to make a mom's birth experience smoother, like giving nipple stimulation to help uterine contractions increase (I always have a breast pump on hand), applying counter acupressure (to alleviate muscle tension along the back and outer hips during labor contractions), and using medicinal herbs (like black and blue cohosh, powerful plant-based tinctures) that help induce labor once the cervix is ready.
Doulas also help liaise between doctors, nurses, and your partner during the birth process, helping to translate medical terminology, communicate the mother's needs to the staff, and make sure that your partner isn't freaking out. Having a doula present can help facilitate an easier birth, according to Mothering the Mother, by Marshall Klaus, M.D., John Kennell, M.D., and Phyllis Klaus. The book cites studies showing that the physiological effects of continual support during labor reduces the need for a C-section by 51 percent, the length of labor by 25 percent, the use of analgesia by 35 percent, Pitocin augmentation by 40 percent, and epidural anesthesia by 60 percent. Postpartum doulas are also a great investment if you have a longer recovery and don't have a sister circle of support.
One of the most informative exercises during pregnancy is making the birth plan and listing birth preferences. This allows you and your partner to clarify what you both want the birth experience to be like by envisioning an ideal scenario and communicating that to your doctor and doula. Once you've made the plan, though, you also have to let it go. It's nice to have a map of where you are going, but birth is unpredictable, so anticipate detours and remind yourself to go with the flow when necessary.
This is exactly what you think. Spice up your bedroom magic with a trip to the "toy store." I've sent numerous clients to New York City shops such as Toys in Babeland and Kiki de Montparnasse to purchase adult toys such as pocket vibrators. Believe it or not, vibrators are safe and a great to use – even during childbirth. The pleasurable sensation shuts off the pain receptors. During contractions a woman can use a vibrator for relief, to take the edge off the contractions and experience a more pleasurable birth. (This is just another interesting thing to pack in your birth bag!) But use it only externally for stimulation and do not insert it into the vaginal canal once your water has broken.
Don't be afraid to make time for self-care during your pregnancy. This is mandatory. When you take time to relax, get a massage, have your hair blown out, take a warm bath by candlelight, or read a good book, it's like hitting control-alt-delete to reboot a computer! Recharging your batteries is so important, especially when you are most likely still taking care of everything and everyone else. So remember: Mother yourself first!
One of the biggest challenges that new moms face is asking for help. Identify the women in your life who can serve as your main support team after birth, the reliable ones who can help wash dishes, cook meals, help you change dirty diapers, watch over the baby while you take a shower, and so on. Your partner will also appreciate the support from your girlfriends because both of you will be so overwhelmed that every little bit of help and guidance can go a long way
This is a simple reminder but it must be said: Maximize your oxygen and keep cells thriving by breathing deeply so air floods your body. Close your eyes and take 10 long, full deep breaths to increase blood flow to your pelvis and growing baby. Deep-breathing exercises will also help the parasympathetic nervous system (which stimulates certain body functions, such as digestion, when it's at rest) and reverse the effects of stress hormones on your body by calming brain waves and relaxing the mind. As a result, the brain releases dopamine and serotonin, neurotransmitters associated with feelings of pleasure and well-being. Herbert Benson, M.D., a professor at Harvard Medical School and president of Mind/Body Medical Institute, calls this the relaxation response. This sense of ease will come in handy during labor because the more relaxed you are, the smoother your birth will be!
Here, three doulas share their best eating tips for a healthy baby.
Trust Your Gut: Probiotics help you stay healthy before, during, and after the pregnancy. “A healthy gut helps your body —and baby—absorb nutrients better,” says Melissa Gonzalez, of North Dallas Doula Associates, in Fort Worth, Texas. “Try live-culture supplements. The higher the live-culture count, the better!”
Taste the Rainbow: Eating unprocessed foods (think fruits and veggies) in a variety of colors will help your baby thrive. “Each color has different minerals, vitamins, and nutrients,” says Puri Carvajal, of Columbia University Early Head Start, in New York City.
Drink More. Increase your water intake gradually until you reach 128 ounces daily, says Lexi Meleski, D.C., a chiropractor and founder of Our Birthing Home Wellness Community, in Dallas. “Water creates amniotic fluid, which keeps the baby comfortable, mobile, and buoyant.”
Go Fishing. Boost your baby’s IQ with two to three servings of low-mercury fish a week. “DHA fish oil helps a baby’s brain develop,” Dr. Meleski says. “Three to 4 ounces of wild-caught salmon is best.”