We have a secret in our culture, and it’s not that birth is painful. It’s that women are strong. -Laura Stavoe Harm
Last night I supported one of my doula clients through a natural birth and I’m still buzzing with post-birth energy. This Mama took an evening prenatal yoga class from 6:30 – 8:00, and was apparently in labor the whole time without fully realizing it. Four hours and fifteen minutes after rolling out of Savasana, she gave birth to her first baby. During her pregnancy, she was a regular at her yoga class and took the right supplements. During her labor, she sipped on coconut water and used hydrotherapy, multiple positions, and focused breathing to manage her pain. All of these holistic practices played a role in her healthy transition into motherhood. In an effort to share the tips and resources I give my doula clients with even more holistic mamas-to-be, I’m teaching a Truly Holistic Pregnancy and Childbirth Series at the New York Open Center in January. When I learned that Girlie Girl Army’s Chloe Jo is sporting her own beautiful baby bump, I wanted to give her and the rest of Girlie Girl’s hot mamas a sneak peek at some of my best and perhaps less well known tips for a holistic pregnancy and birth. Because everyone already knows to lay off the bad habits, get enough sleep, and take prenatal vitamins with folic acid, right? Onward!
CHOOSE YOUR TEAM WISELY
Find a provider who shares your philosophy about health, wellness, pregnancy, and birth. In New York City, it is typical to choose a homebirth midwife, a midwife practicing in a hospital, or an obstetrician (Ob/Gyn) to provide your prenatal care and attend your birth. My perspective from working with hundreds of laboring women is that your choice for Team Birth is far and away the most important factor in having an experience you feel good about. You also need to know that if your midwife or obstetrician is part of a group practice, it may be one of her/his partners who is actually on call when you deliver. So make sure you research, meet, and feel good about everyone in your chosen provider’s practice.
GET A DOULA
And I’m not just saying that because I am one. When I was a labor and delivery nurse I was awfully doula-ish, but with all of my responsibilities-other patients, charting, sometimes setting up the OR-it was impossible for me to offer the continuous emotional, physical, and informational support a doula does. Also, as a doula I meet women and their partners in their homes for weeks before the birth. I help them pack their labor bags (or prepare for home birth), make sure the ice pack is chilling in the freezer, and may even fire up the blender and teach them how to make a glow-getting green smoothie. This kind of relationship is totally different than one with someone you meet in the midst of transition and hee-hee-who breathing. Studies show that women who have the continuous support of a labor doula have significant reduction in the rates of cesarean deliveries, epidurals, and failed inductions, and a significant increase in feelings of satisfaction with their births.
SUPPLEMENT WITH C
Vitamin C plays a critical role in the formation of collagen, the building block of tissue. Therefore, optimum levels of vitamin C may help support the skin of your growing breasts and belly. Vitamin C is good for what’s going on inside your belly too. Some studies indicate that there is a relationship between low levels of vitamin C and premature rupture of the membranes (PROM), which is medical-speak for having your water break too soon-meaning increased risk of infection and prematurity. These studies show that the amount of Vitamin C in most prenatal vitamins is sufficient to protect yourself, though it’s safe to go up to 1000 mg daily.
VITAMIN D: CHECK IT AND TREAT IT
The latest research on Vitamin D tells us that this essential nutrient is protective of just about everything. Seriously. Everything. Unfortunately, we’re almost all deficient in this wonder vitamin, a deficiency that may begin in utero. Prenatal vitamin D deficiency may play a role in increased rates of cesarean delivery, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and bacterial vaginitis. Risks to the child long-term relate to brain and immune system function. I talked to Dr. Zina Kroner, Medical Director of New York City’s Advanced Medicine, about vitamin D in pregnancy. She referenced a study at the University of Pittsburg that analyzed 400 pregnant women and found 63% of them to have vitamin D levels below 30 ng/mL (levels should be between 50 – 80 ng/mL) including 44% of black women with levels below 15 ng/mL. Based on this widespread deficiency and its potential harm to mother and child, Dr. Kroner told me “checking a prenatal patient’s vitamin D levels is imperative.” When I asked her about cost, she said “insurance will cover the cost if the right diagnostic code is provided. Even if the patient lacks insurance, the cost is approximately $150 at a private lab and labs will usually give a 50% discount if they know that a patient does not have any insurance.” Dr. Kroner believes that “knowing what the level is allows a nutritionally oriented physician to prescribe a more exact dose of vitamin D and decrease the likelihood of undershooting.”
Vitamin D supplementation is probably the most practical way to get your vitamin D, but heading to a tropical beach in the middle of a New York winter is a lot more fun. So if you’re thinking about taking a babymoon, tell your honey that you have to go somewhere warm (nurse’s orders). Your body will produce about 10,000 IU of vitamin D after 20 – 30 minutes of midday sun exposure. Two things to remember for this kind of medicine: don’t burn, and you must expose as much of your skin as possible. Pregnant and topless on the beach? Good and good for you.
Coconut water is the new Gatorade. It’s my number one labor beverage recommendation because it’s super hydrating and loaded with electrolytes. The fresh coconut water at New York’s Organic Avenue is hands down the tastiest I’ve ever tried, but Zico (I prefer the mango) or other brands at the grocery store are just fine too. Fresh is, of course, best. You can pick up fresh coconuts at just about any health food store or Whole Foods anytime of year. Learn how to open them easily by watching this short video. Throughout pregnancy, in addition to pure water and coconut water, I also recommend green juices and smoothies, especially those containing celery and cucumber, which may contribute to glowing skin due to their high silica content. Silica also stimulates tissue healing, which can help speed recovery from both vaginal and cesarean deliveries.
Why is hydration extra important during pregnancy? For a lot of reasons actually, let me share two of them. The first is that dehydration can cause uterine irritability. What this usually means is that you feel like you’re in labor, but you really aren’t. So you go the hospital, wait endlessly in triage to be seen, only to be put on an IV and sent home an hour later. Save yourself the trip and keep on top of your fluid intake. The second reason is that if you partake in the conventional medical tests, toward the end of your pregnancy you will likely be sent for Biophysical Profile testing. One of the things this test can indicate is low amniotic fluid levels. Critics contend that the test isn’t all that accurate in terms of measuring amniotic fluid and some believe this can lead to unnecessary inductions. There is good reason to believe some cases may simply be dehydration. Make sure you drink up an hour before your appointment to decrease the chances of this scenario.
I hope these tips help support your holistic pregnancy and birth, and I wish all of the Girlie Girl Army mamas happy, healthy, and peaceful new beginnings.
Andrea Crossman, founder of Holistic Doula NYC, is a holistic RN, doula, and former labor and delivery nurse in NYC.