Saturday, July 18, 2015

Breasts Plan to Breastfeed--Don't Let Them Down

I think advocates have exhausted the mantra that human milk is best for human babies, but breastfeeding does not exclusively benefit baby. I believe Mom is often left out of the equation. In fact, if breastfeeding were only about the baby's nutritional needs, than perhaps someday there could be an adequate substitute--but it isn't.
Approximately sixteen weeks into pregnancy, a mom is notified via tender mammary glands, that she is, indeed, expecting. Her body is starting the preparation for future breastfeeding. An amazing, complex factory has commenced production of cells, aveoli, ductile work and Montgomery glands. There is even an increase in the pigmentation around the areola to create an obvious target for the baby once he arrives--make no mistake, the breasts are planning on breastfeeding.

Milk Synthesis explained

The attention given to every detail is absolutely mind boggling. The stage is set in precise detail. The breasts have prepared for breastfeeding like an athlete prepares for the Olympics. They are focused on their one job, and poised to perform. Imagine the disappointment when they are "letdown" postpartum. They never get to realize their full potential. Who is speaking up for the rights of the ta-tas? They have painstakingly prepared for this precise moment for nine consecutive months. Not only is is disappointing, it also poses serious health risks. Just like atrophy sets in when muscles cease to do what they were designed for, abandoning breastfeeding creates serious complications as well.

What happens when breasts are told, "You're Fired!" and are not chosen to fill the primary feeding position? Well, it isn't pretty.

Following birth, Mom's uterus is in need of some serious repair. The best way to return this muscle to it's pre-pregnancy shape is to contract the muscle--a phenomenon that is executed through breastfeeding. This is the most effective way to strengthen the muscle and reduce blood loss. Moms should plan on breastfeeding for a thorough workout, after all, they cannot walk into a 24 Hour Fitness and use the "uterus machine" to tone up.

Recovery continues as the baby continues to breastfeed. Mom may experience significant weight-loss as she burns more calories breastfeeding. The benefits do not stop when baby weans, they continue for a lifetime.

It is as though Baby says, "Mom, I need you to be around a very long time. I need your lap to sit on and your hand to hold...I need your advice when I'm a teen and in my adult years...I need your hugs on birthdays and every morning...I need your kisses on my scraped knee and broken heart...I need you at my wedding and at childbirth...I need you to be the grandmother to my children; and here's how I will make that happen--breastfeed me."

If Mom chooses to breastfeed, Baby will protect her from many immediate and future ailments. Breastfeeding moms experience a reduction in breast, uterine and ovarian cancer. Breastfeeding also lowers the risk of postmenopausal osteoporosis. Breastfeeding moms profit from the hormone Oxytocin, which helps to stabilize moods.

I hope we are encouraging women to listen to their bodies and listen to their babies. They should be entitled to receive all the advantages and bonding associated with breastfeeding. I know not everyone has the opportunity or freedom to select breastfeeding and they must rely on milk donations, supplements or a combination of both. I sympathize with them and understand their plight personally, but still want to convey for those who can, that they (not only their offspring) will reap the rewards.
Order your copy of the poster above

Breastfeeding is a relationship. A bond between Mother and Baby. A beautiful contract to support each other in health and well-being. Maybe breastfeeding and mothering isn't a thankless job after-all, maybe we just aren't making moms aware that their baby has a tremendous gift they want to give, but only by breastfeeding can it be received. Let's commit to empower moms and enable them to accept this life-giving gift.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Slippery Slope of Supplementing

There are a few pieces of education that can prevent unnecessary supplementation of formula or unintentional weaning. One problem is that many people misinterpret baby behavior. A baby communicates various ways. He uses body language, head movements, hand gestures and crying as forms of expression. The crying stage is usually what brings on the bottle.  A baby's cry brings full attention to the situation. The cry is annoying, upsetting and a "call to action." It was designed that way. If a baby just whispered, "Hello, up there, I'm over here and I need you." More often than not, the busy, distracted people around would not be aroused to take action. Since the cry demands a response, parents begin the ritual of calming baby. If the baby does not settle right away, parents will often resort to a bottle assuming that their baby is hungry. The bottle will elicit the suck reflex, making it difficult to cry. The baby also soothes by sucking so he continues to suck for comfort which reassures the parents that baby was indeed hungry. This sucking reflex is just that--a reflex. When we go to the doctor and he checks our patellar reflex with a hammer, if our leg spontaneously jerks forward, the doctor does not exclaim, "She wants to play soccer, see, just confirmed it!" That would be ridiculous, yet we use this reasoning when deciding that a baby needed supplements.

Everyone must also learn to appreciate and respect the fact that a woman's body and baby communicate through a series of events. Baby does at times need more milk and he must communicate this. The infant will "place his order" by frequently visiting the breast. He even tells his mother's body that he is not satisfied. He fusses, grunts, pulls his head back and arches his back. This arrangement convinces the mom's body to step up production. Many professionals used to refer to these stages as "growth spurts," until it was shown that growth does not necessarily coincide with the frequent breastfeeding. More recently, the feeding frenzies are being called, "frequency days." However they are labeled, they do occur and are necessary for regulating milk supply.

The body is amazing. It does not have to store all the milk the baby needs per day or week. It creates milk made to order. If a baby needs more, he expresses his desire and the breast-feeder complies.  Herein lies the problem. If a baby is given a bottle during these moments of frustration, it communicates with the woman's body, "Never mind, seems like baby is satisfied, it was a false alarm." The mom's body has no reason to produce more. The next time baby models the same behavior, parents may respond with the same solution. The baby will often take more from the bottle and if the supplement is formula, the ingredients are more difficult to digest and this "heavy" meal may encourage baby to sleep longer. A longer nap will also communicate to Mom's body that baby doesn't eat as frequently and she doesn't need to make milk as often. Next. the mom will notice a definite decline in milk, convincing her to supplement even more. Unfortunately, this unintentional weaning happens too often. Disappointed moms feel as though they were broken and could not effectively breastfeed. They think they were starving their newborn because he appeared unsatisfied with her milk, not knowing that this protesting was the exact recipe for increasing milk supply. If moms were encouraged to trust their amazing bodies and constantly put baby to breast so he could effectively communicate his needs and that the body would respond to meet those needs, we would see women empowered rather than defeated.

The good news is that the woman's body still wants to feed and meet the needs of her baby. The situation can be reversed. Mom must put baby to breast every time baby will nuzzle, suck, cuddle or nurse from the breast. It is also a good idea to practice skin-to-skin and get oxytocin freely flowing. Without this contact, the mother's body is persuaded that the baby is getting fed elsewhere and it needs to shut down production.

If breastfeeding has stopped completely, contact an IBCLC to help with re-lactation. Lactation Consultants can also help the mother who needs to supplement by sharing ways to continue the breastfeeding relationship and instruct on how much supplementation is necessary.

Interested in becoming a Certified Lactation Educator (CLE) and sharing evidence-based education with others? Sign up for an upcoming training on the Birthing, Bonding and Breastfeeding website.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Attack Formula Companies--Not Formula Feeders

It's here, another way to stop breastfeeding advocates and create a wedge between breastfeeders and formula-feeders. Blogs like, "I Don't Breastfeed and It's None of Your Business" exist to stir up emotions and create conflict. The problem I see with these posts and other seemingly anti-breastfeeding rants, is that they attempt to silence breastfeeding advocates, and encourage acceptance of formula "as is." The posts almost imply "leave my formula alone!"

But, alas, the formula companies had to do something fast to protect their market shares. There is a new battle on the forefront from both breastfeeding and formula-feeding families, it is a campaign worth of bipartisan support--improve formula ingredients and demand the manufactures use higher quality products in their manufacturing and eliminate harmful ingredients (like corn syrup solids and dangerous chemicals). Some countries do not even allow corn syrup solids in their infant foods, but in the United States we have them in spades. If formula companies can move the focus off of their companies to "nosy, judgmental, holier-than-thou, breastfeeders," well, then, they win. They strive to have a product that no one will oppose--an ambition I plan to thwart.
Similac formula in the US

Formula label in Australia

Enfamil ProSobee in the US

I have NEVER attacked a formula-feeder (and for those curious, I was one), but I definitely support breastmilk, and believe moms who must supplement deserve a better option than the ones currently on the market. If we, as a society, strive to protect babies and families who need supplements, we can affect great change. I do not know of one formula-feeding mom who does not want the best for her infant, and she has chosen the only option available to her. Unfortunately, the best alternative is not good enough. Formula companies use taglines such as, "Closer than ever to breastmilk," but in reality, that can refer to the color of the fluid or a myriad of other conditions. Formula is missing many key ingredients, some of which cannot be replicated.

Let's face it, we live in a world of ever-changing technology, Purchase a new state-of-the-art phone or computer and walk out the door of the electronics store only to discover your new purchase is already being replaced by another model. Markets are consumer driven. Companies make what sells and they are constantly fighting for the market. Since we are not demanding better quality from infant foods, no one is striving to make improvements. We cannot be ignorant of the strategies formula companies use--if they can keep breastfeeding moms fighting formula-feeding moms, no one will think to fight THEM. If we demand better ingredients, formula companies lose money. If we make banked-donor milk available, formula companies lose money, if we support breastfeeding and provide support to families, formula companies lose money--follow the money.

As an IBCLC and Public Health Educator, I have asked moms the question about why they are not breastfeeding and have heard a plethora of reasons. I have heard they were having difficulty and had no help; needed to return to wok and did not have a pump; were undergoing cancer treatment, which is contraindicated to breastfeeding; were getting ridiculed by family or partner; did not want to; and many more responses. Fortunately, I asked, because in asking I was able to learn their reasons and help them overcome some of their obstacles. I was also able to find supplements that worked for them, offer education and support, or just sit with them and helped them cry. When we show compassion, empathy, sincerity and love, people understand we genuinely care.

I am convinced this entire argument is less about the asking and more about how we ask; and, to be fair, it also has something to do with how the question is received. Take time to ask, but more importantly take time to listen.

Let me paint a different scenario on how formula-feeders have used their conditions to promote breastfeeding. I have worked with or consulted for over a dozen women with cancer or going through treatments,and they are using their struggles to educate and advocate. They honestly do not mind talking about why they cannot breastfeed and why their babies deserve better options than what is currently on the market. They use their conditions as an opportunity to shed light on how limited their feeding choices are. They advocate for more breastmilk banks (like blood banks), some even share their story publicly. I personally, love that approach.
Collecting donor milk for her baby to give while undergoing iodine treatment for thyroid cancer

No one should ever feel shamed or attacked for their feeding choice, but no one should feel silenced for sharing truth either. This is not a battle among mothers, this is a battle against large conglomerates that are forcing society to accept the status quo. Be nice, share evidence-based information, and stay sensitive. Seems simple.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Teaching Breastfeeding through Simple Analogies

We have to realize how vague our breastfeeding descriptions are to those who are unfamiliar with "normal breastfeeding behavior." Statements like, "babies breastfeed often" or "expect baby to wake frequently" can be misinterpreted based on the mom's expectations and definitions of the terms. The more specific lactation educators and consultants can be, the more successful moms will be. I try to use one of the "7 Laws of the Teacher": Teach from the Known to the Unknown.

Analogies can bring education to the forefront and help new parents relate to breastfeeding in a tangible way. I have shared these analogies or "advertisements" over the past year, but thought I would gather a few of them up and share them in one blog. I hope these analogies help others to educate on breastfeeding and convey the message that breastfeeding is the standard infant feeding practice.

I often describe breastfeeding anatomy and philology with house-hold items moms are familiar with. They may not have studied pictures of Dr. Coopers's Anatomy of the Breast, or read Dr. Hartman's research on the Mammary gland, but they have handled a bottle of glue.

Different posters convey the same message.  Having a variety of presentations can help reach the visual or auditory learner.  Some people like a quick, easy-to-read visual, while others prefer more detail. Advertisers state that a message must be seen at least ten times by an individual before it is "recognized." I think many educators can relate to this statistic.  I often feel like I am saying the same thing over and over again.
Unfortunately, some moms have been told that something is "wrong" with their breasts.  It is easy to blame a vulnerable, hormonal postpartum mom for difficult latch issues.  I like to remind moms that the baby doesn't come out of the womb, look at her breasts and announce, "those aren't like the ones I've seen in magazines." Babies have no basis for comparison.  There is a huge variation of nipples across the land and this could be a problem if babies were meant to "nipple" feed, fortunately for all the nipple challenged mommies out there, babies "breast" feed. I tell moms that nipples are like snowflakes--there are no two exactly alike. 

Anatomy concerns span from nipple formation to breast size. This is an easy description of "cup" size that everyone can relate to. 
Once moms gain the confidence that they will have what it takes to breastfeed, the next obstacle is milk supply. If I had a nickle for every time I heard the statement, "your milk hasn't come in," I would be a millionaire. 

I remind mothers that even though their meals were withheld from them, the baby had a steady supply of nutrient.  I sometimes joke that if they had been at the Home Town Buffet all day, they wouldn't be hungry right away either.  I encourage them to practice skin-to-skin, nuzzling, cuddling and offering the breast; but not be be discouraged if the baby is not ferociously hungry or "crawling to the breast right away.  In fact, the Breast Crawl has been documented to take up to 90 minutes to spontaneously occur. 

I invented the Lactation Lanyards as teaching tools to help with bedside education.  Seeing a formula bottle gives the impression that the baby should consume the amount in the container.  It is empowering to show a mom an accurate size of the newborn's stomach capacity.  The Lactation Lanyards are available from the Birthing, Bonding and Breastfeeding Store. 

Once a mom understands that her body is not only capable of growing her baby, it is also capable of 
nurturing her baby, the next obstacle is often overcoming any difficulties.  Prevention is key.  The first preventative step is not giving into the recommendation to bottle feed, or offer "just one bottle."
What about the accurately diagnosed "insufficient mammary tissue" or complications from breast surgery. What are those moms to do?  We have set the options as "breast or bottle" rather than "breast AND bottle." Some is still better than none, and this analogy points to that truth. 

I have many other posters and reminders about breastfeeding and breast milk.  I am working on my 2014 analogies.  Feel free to share misconceptions that frustrate you in the lactation field.  I may be able to make a visual to correct the erroneous advice. I hope you will join me on my Facebook Page: Birthing, Bonding and Breastfeeding and share some of the evidence-based information we post with others. Some of the posters are available for framing from the BBB Store

Happy New Year and let's work together to tackle myths and fears in 2014!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Milk Supply and Newborns—in Perfect Harmony

Lately, I have been trying to re-frame the way I think and talk about the first hours and days of breastfeeding a newborn. I came to the conclusion that if I truly believe that everything works in perfect harmony in nature, I needed to appreciate and understand the dyad’s relationship at birth prior to any attempt to "fix" the breastfeeding relationship. Once I removed any preconceived ideas and expectations and learned to appreciate the birth and postpartum period, I discovered that all mysteries dissolved. I believe (and research supports) the fact that the dyad thrives and survives through skin-to-skin contact. Since this is the optimal condition following delivery, the baby can begin to trigger the milk-producing hormone, prolactin; and milk-ejection hormone, oxytocin, just by “being in the right place at the right time.”

If the baby is separated from the mother, the mother’s body is somewhat confused and may even go through a "mourning" period. The stage was set to feed an infant when the placenta was delivered and the progesterone levels plummeted, but without the presence of a recipient, the mother’s body is not sure if milk is necessary or exactly how much is required. Without stimulation, the prolactin receptors are not laid down and milk production is in limbo.

In order for production to commence and maintenance to occur, baby must be allowed to set the pace. The infant is born with the life-saving skill of sucking. Without this inborn reflex, the baby would not survive. People have misinterpreted this reflex for generations. Some have diagnosed that the baby must still be hungry since the suck reflex is still present following a feeding session. This is no more correct than saying that a child must need a nap because he keeps blinking.

 The newborn’s suck is exactly paced and the mother’s milk compliments the demand. Since the newborn has a strong desire to suck, he may engage in this ritual with few breaks. Respecting this inborn reflex results in an appreciation for the infant's feeding pattern and mom's supply.

 Colostrum is very thick and is coaxed from the breast slowly; precisely the reason constant sucking is needed to extract the liquid gold. It is also crucial to the baby’s small stomach capacity that the fuel he is collecting is deposited in very small amounts. The consequences of a fast-flowing liquid filling the stomach with a few sucks would be catastrophic. A newborn would not be able to manage the volume if milk was plentiful immediately after delivery. Lactation experts and health professionals have used terms like "milk coming in" for years, when in reality, milk has the right consistency, right antibodies, right amount, right temperature, right availability on the right time table.

While the baby was in utero, he was fed on demand and was never left wanting. Now experiencing the extra-uterine life, he expects his needs to continue to be met. During labor and delivery, the baby had the advantage of the umbilical cord and a direct line to nutrition. Babies are not born famished--quite the contrary.  Babies are not always eager to eat immediately after delivery.  Often babies take one to two hours to find the breast and commence sucking.

Since babies have been regularly fed in the womb, they only need small amounts of colostrum to keep the gut lining coated to protect from disease and infection and some nourishment for caloric intake and to expel the excess red blood cells and prevent or treat jaundice. Drops of milk meet these needs. Constant sucking causes the "order to be placed" for more milk in the future. Constant sucking soothes and comforts the newborn. Constant sucking results in the right portions of nutrients to enter the digestive tract. Constant sucking makes the uterus contract and control postpartum bleeding in the postpartum woman. What a perfect relationship. Mom and Baby learning together…baby learning to suck, mom learning to respond. There is perfect harmony when we see the couple as one unit and allow nature to take its course.

In order to demonstrate this concept and provide a convenient tool for lactation educators, I invented Lactation Lanyards.  These teaching tools allow educators and nurses to provide on-the-go education.  I was familiar with the concept that newborns have a stomach capacity of approximately 5-7 ml at birth, the equivalent of a teaspoon, but to convey this message to new moms was challenging.  Now moms have an accurate visual to reinforce the message.  New moms often question their ability to produce enough milk, and seeing a two ounce bottle in an isolette increases their anxiety.  When moms are confronted with the Tiny Tummy Teaching Tool, they are immediately put at ease. The lanyards are equipped with a safety clasp and colorful bead depicting the infant's stomach capacity.  The Colostrum Card provides quick, accurate information about colostrum and its importance.  These tools are being used regularly in hospitals, WIC clinics and other perinatal programs.  They are available at

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Birth Doula-Helping to Ensure Breastfeeding Success in the Hospital

Joining a family for the birth experience is both a great honor and a great responsibility.  Doulas enter the most amazing place as they simultaneously witness and support in a miracle.  It is sometimes difficult to focus on the tasks and not get caught up in being merely a spectator in the blooming of a birth, but the focus comes with the realization that the goal is to support the family. A doula plays a crucial part in how the birth will be remembered and how breastfeeding will be initiated.  
Birth and breastfeeding are as closely related as a key to a lock.  Often, moms are discouraged by difficulty in breastfeeding which is often brought on by birth practices or protocols during the immediate postpartum period.  Many routine procedures jeopardize breastfeeding success. Having an understanding of how medications effect a baby can be a huge advantage to assessing the breastfeeding relationship.  Doulas need to keep a mental note of medications being administered and the type of birth a mom experiences in order to provide the best postpartum breastfeeding education and support.  A skilled doula can avoid long-term problems by anticipating possible consequences and formulating immediate solutions to common problems.

A doula can also be proactive by assisting in formulating the Birth Plan.  This is an excellent time for the birth assistant to explain all the procedures and the pros and cons of each intervention.  Once a mother's wishes have been spelled out, the doula is able to advocate for the family throughout the birth day. 

The keys to supporting a mom in the hospital begin before her first contraction.  Statistics show that most families reach their infant feeding decision prenatally.  It is important to offer education during prenatal visits with clients.  These scheduled visits are great opportunities to discuss what the client knows about breastfeeding.  One open-ended question I often begin with is, “What have you heard about breastfeeding?”  This question will often reveal fears, concerns, misconceptions and the mother's confidence level. 

Once the desire to breastfeed has been established, the doula’s role has a new facet.  The mom will rely on the doula to support her in this momentous decision. Breastfeeding is a brief event (in comparison to the entire life of an individual), that has life-long effects.  The research and resources about formula risk is abundant and breastmilk will insure protection from many childhood and adult health conditions.  I take breastfeeding support as seriously as all aspects of my work, and commit to helping a mom reach her breastfeeding goals—whatever they may be.

Observation is the first key to breastfeeding success.  Observations can even be made prenatally.  Statistically, obese, diabetic, and older moms (over 40) may have delayed Lactogenesis II (onset of copious milk supply).  Additionally, clients who birth cesarean may not experience fullness in the breasts until day four.  Being armed with this information is a huge advantage to the mom who is convinced she “has no milk” based on breast fullness postpartum.  Moms need to be reminded that the infant had a direct line to the all-you-can-eat buffet while in utero and does not enter the world starving. 

A doula’s immediate postpartum role is to encourage skin-to-skin and protect the “quiet hour” for bonding.  Doulas may encourage the mom to slightly recline, place Baby between the breasts (somewhat vertically) and assist as the baby scoots down to self-latch.  Doulas and hospital staff may offer additional assistance to the medicated mother if necessary. Most babies when placed skin-to-skin will initiate breastfeeding within the first two hours postpartum.  I encourage a "babymoon" much like a honeymoon where the family commits time and attention to love, learn and hold the new baby.

Medication taken during labor can also affect the breastfeeding outcome.  Natural pain management is the least likely to result in breastfeeding issues.  If medication is necessary, generally, the epidural is more desirable than anesthesia for c-section births.  The epidural allows for earlier contact with mom and longer nursing sessions.  The infant born via cesarean will often be sleepy and lethargic, especially if anesthetics were administered for a prolonged period.  Doulas can help with positioning, supporting the baby at breast, and helping to arouse the sleepy baby.

The baby who was exposed to narcotics during birth may be agitated and restless.  These medications are often administered with a promise to “take the edge off” during labor. Sometimes medical staff try to minimize the effects of labor medications, but it is important to understand that all medications can affect breastfeeding. Fortunately, with the support of a well-prepared doula, the transition from belly to breast can be smooth and natural. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

It's Time to Make "Doula" a Household Name

What is a doula?  

How many times has a doula been asked that question? It is a profession rarely highlighted in career choices and fewer people understand the role of a doula than that of a dog walker.  The services that a doula performs are fundamental to birth, yet even Micorsoft places a red, squiggly line under the word, expressing ignorance of the vocation.  

I was confronted with naiveté of society recently while attending an adult baseball game.  The pitcher threw a fastball to the batter who hit a line drive straight back to him.  The pitcher neither ducked nor got his glove up in time--taking the ball directly above his brow.  He went back, meeting the mound with all his weight.  There were gasps from the stands and players began to swarm around the injured pitcher.  Within seconds, as the huddled group decided how to respond, a voice projected towards all the on-lookers, and someone yelled, "Get Christy Jo, she works in a hospital!"  If it wasn't such a somber time, I would have burst out laughing.  I was sitting next to a friend who was a RN, yet they call for the Lactation Consultant/Doula?  What diagnosis did they expect?  The only response I could have offered (in my field of expertise) is, "Put some breast milk on it!"  Of course I can joke about it now since the player was transported to the hospital, had a few tests performed, observed for a few hours, and then discharged.  As I recount this story, I validate the need for education on the work and scope of a doula. What is a doula?
I could offer the text book definition: 
doula [ˈduːlə]
(Medicine/Gynaecology & Obstetrics) a woman who is trained to provide support to women and their families during pregnancy, childbirth, and the period of time following the birth
[from Greek doule female slave]
But that would only perpetuate the anemic understanding of the term.  A doula's skills and services are as varied as the women who perform them. To describe a doula as merely a labor assistant is equivalent to describing a sculpture, painter, metal smith and musician as an "artist." Does that tern explain or adaquately portray the gifts and talents of Picasso, Rembrandt, Degas or Michelangelo--absolutely not.  The general term is an insult to the master of the clay, dictator of the canvass and matriarch of the Renaissance.  An artist is so much more than the word suggests, yet, I suppose it is a starting point.

What Are a Doula's Qualifications?

There are some general attributes that can be given to most doulas.  Doulas receive specific education in the perinatal field.  Training can come in the form of mentor-ships or formal education.  Many doulas have completed a certification program that holds them accountable to the certifying agency.  In order to complete certification, students must complete numerous steps--all which enhance the skills and knowledge of the doula.  Certification may involve taking a specific training course, completing reading assignments, fulfilling observational tasks, attending coalition/support groups, role playing. accomplishing research projects and passing an exam.  Certified doulas are also required to re-certify for maintenance of the title.  

Doulas Should be Hired Early in the Prenatal Period

Doulas realize the importance of establishing a relationship with clients prior to attending their birth.  This is as very vulnerable time for a woman, and trust is of the most importance.  It is crucial to learn the family’s history, mom's preferences and develop a comfortable friendship.  Doulas often offer prenatal classes to their clients as part of the doula service.  Once a client explains her ideal birth, the doula can begin working towards that goal during the prenatal meetings.  Doulas may teach clients birthing and laboring positions or relaxing techniques that can be practiced between meetings. A well-prepared client is empowered and confident as the "birth day" approaches. The more comfortable the clients are with the doula, the more at ease they will be at the birth. The prenatal investment is paramount to a tranquil birth.

"My advice to every dad, 'Get yourself a doula'!" Johnathan F.

Doulas take the role of servant to heart, offering emotional and physical support throughout labor.  They are a valuable part of the team in a home birth, birth center birth or hospital birth. Whether a mom chooses a natural or medicated birth, a doula is equipped with information to support the family.  Even in the case of a planned or emergency C-section, a trained professional at a mom's side provides a calming effect for everyone present. 

Doulas often advocate for the family and remind the laboring mom or couple of their predetermined birth choices.  They guard the birth from distractions and intrusions.  Doulas anticipate the needs of the birth coaches and laboring mother--offering ice, wiping a brow, massaging feet and securing additional blankets--but most importantly, a doula is present.

In a hospital setting, nurses are required to complete so many routine tasks, that they are denied the luxury of lingering at the laboring mother's side; in contrast, the labor doula offers the security and comfort of continuous companionship. So often questions arise when the medical staff are not in the room.  A doula can help to answer questions and offer confirmation that birth is proceeding as expected.  A doula not only interprets the birth for those present, but also anticipates the most likely imminent events. I have had fathers watch in amazement as their soul mates go through a transformation that they could have never imagined; and with a few encouraging and assuring words, they can return to a state of awe rather than one of panic and disbelief.  

Partners frequently grasp for ways to offer support and comfort to their soul mates.  A doula helps to guide the process.  The doula also offers a second pair of hands for relaxation and massage as well as relief for a partner that may need a few moments to refocus.  Sometimes couples are more comfortable with the doula taking on a larger role in the production.  I have been at births where I have been asked to perform a monologue only calling in extras during specific scenes.  The couples had a well-thought out plan that involved the doula coaching and comforting Mom, providing direction and soothing measures.  Dad was free to record the event, contact relatives and whisper in his wife's ear.  A doula is a servant, performing any task that makes the birth more comfortable, enjoyable and memorable for her clients. 

There is no right or wrong way for the doula to assist, as long as she is working within her scope.  Doulas understand that the birth and the decisions are at the discretion of their clients, they just serve to make the transition form womanhood to motherhood as smooth and enjoyable as possible.   

Does a Doula Make a Difference?
Studies have shown that the use of
a Doula during labor and delivery can have
the following beneficial effects:

  50% reduction in the cesarean rate
  25% shorter labor
  60% reduction in epidural requests
  40% reduction in pitocin use
  30% reduction in analgesia use
  40% reduction in forceps delivery
  Improved breastfeeding
  Satisfaction with birth experience
  Decreased postpartum depression

*Adapted from Mothering the Mother--
How a Doula Can Help You Have a Shorter, Easier and Healthier Birth by M.H. Klaus, J.H. Kennell, and P.H. Klaus; Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., New York (1993).

Let a Doula Be Your Epidural

There are far more benefits to having a doula at a birth than there are to having an epidural--yet only one of these are talked about at hospitals, in moms groups or in the main stream media.  That needs to change! Let's remind moms that they don't need to--nor should they--enter this time alone or unprepared.  Moms can take birth back, and doulas can help.

Author's Note: I have been in the perinatal field for over a dozen years.  Originally, I entered the field as a Lactation Consultant.  Many of my breastfeeding clients had issues that originated in the hospital. I quickly realized I wanted to spend a more time in the area of prevention to avoid the numerous  postpartum visits where I spent days, sometime even weeks fixing what could have been avoided in the first place. 

More information about Christy Jo's Doula Services or Doula Connect (a service that matches clients with doulas) can be found on her website