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Cycling & Birthing – What’s the connection? (Part II)

As Laura wrote, on July 12th, she and Jay accomplished an amazing thing this summer!  Read Jay’s analysis of how cycling is like labour.  She make SUCH a good comparison!

Recently, my colleague Laura Warren and I entered in the 32nd annual STP (Seattle-to-Portland) cycling event on July 17th and 18th.  The cycling tour is a two-day ride from Seattle (beginning at the University of Washington) to Portland Oregon (ending at Holladay Park).  Each day would be 102 miles of bike riding alongside over 9500 other cyclists.  As birth doulas and childbirth educators, Laura and I could not help but compare the experience with childbirth.  Here are some of the observations we discovered during our ride.

A.  The ride was not only a physical challenge, but a mental challenge as well: Throughout the ride, Laura and I did alot of self talk to motivate us to continue and persevere through it, even when we felt we didn’t have it in us.  During labour, moms have to tap into their inner strength, just like we did, in order to motivate themselves to carry on with the job of birthing their baby.

B.  Having continuous support through Laura was really helpful to keep me focused and positive about the job we had to do.  I hope I did the same for her.  In labor, having continuous labor support from a partner, midwife, doula or family member helps to build up Mom’s own endorphins, helps her feel safe, supported and uninhibited so that her sole focus is to keep relaxed and meet the challenges that labor will demand of her.

C.  Fueling our bodies and getting adequate rest really helped not only in our training, but on the ride itself, it helped us with the challenge of riding 102 miles a day. On our first day, we were unable to eat a good breakfast and had had sub-standard sleep.  We had to sustain the first two hours of our ride on power bars and gel shots before we got to our first mini- food stop.  This resulted in mental and physical challenges for Laura, who struggled during the first half of the ride.  Eating, drinking fluids and resting throughout early labor is essential in preparing Mom’s body to meet the challenges of Active Labor.  During Active labor, it is so important that Mom eats if she feels hungry and is starting to lose her “umph”.  The energy in her food will help fuel her body and help her gain the strength that will be needed as labor becomes more challenging.

D.  The second day provided us with rolling hills along country side roads.  After each hill, we would look way ahead to see another hill waiting to challenge us.  When we got discouraged, we would tell each other to just look at the road immediately ahead of us, breathe and keep peddling.  In labour, Mom sometimes become afraid of her contractions, and fear what is ahead of her.  As a result, she may panic, become tense and find it hard to relax, making the contractions feel worse.  Mom must take each contraction one at a time.  She needs to breathe that one contraction away, relax as much as possible between contractions, then use her new energy to greet the next contraction with her breath.

E.  There were times in the ride when we got so tired, we would wonder when the first or the second day was coming to an end.  We learned that if we timed our rides just to the next mini-stops which were every two hours or so, that became our goal.  That thinking made the endurance of the ride more manageable.  Sometimes when a Mom labours, she wonders “when will this end.”  The reality is that she doesn’t know how long her labor will be.  So if Mom can set mini goals such as reaching a dilation goal, or getting through a stage of labor, or getting through 5 contractions, it can make her labour more manageable and she can focus on the small achievements.  Which would you rather hear, “you have 12 more hours to go” or “let’s just breath through 5 more contractions?”

F.  When Laura and I cycled into Portland after 204 miles, the absolute elation, wonder of what our bodies could do and the sense of accomplishment was overwhelming.  We had done it.  All the training, mental preparation, nutritional education and being each others “cycling doulas” accumulated in a powerful and empowering experience.  When Mom holds her baby, she will feel these things also.  Being in labor is a physically and mentally challenging experience, but with the right preparation, support and trust in what your body can do, the result can be an amazingly positive, rewarding and miraculous journey. 

Laura and I trusted that our bodies, if adequately prepared, would see us through our cycling experience and we relied on each others’ support to help motivate us.  In a woman’s labour, her body and support team will and can do the same.  Good luck to all those parents awaiting the arrival of their little ones!

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Is it a boy? Is it a girl? VIHA’s Ultrasound Policy

This month, VIHA (The Vancouver Island Health Authority) announced that ultrasound technologists doing prenatal ultrasounds will no longer reveal baby’s sex to the parents.  In fact the official policy is that the technologist is not to discuss any aspect of the ultrasound with the parents while it is going on:


“The Ultrasound Technologist (Sonographer) will not be able to provide you any results of your scan, whether that concerns the gender of your baby, or any other matter.  After your examination is performed, it will be read by a qualified Diagnostic Radiologist, who will give the results to your doctor or midwife.  Under no circumstances are technologists permitted to give results to patients – please do not ask them to do so.  Parents who want to know their baby’s sex are invited to go to private ultrasound facilities and pay for an ultrasound for the purpose of identifying the baby’s sex.  You can click here to read VIHA’s ultrasound fact sheet (PDF)

I know some parents who are quite upset about this.  They feel that the tech will know something about their baby which they will not be allowed to know.  I sympathize.  Knowledge is power and a woman should be able to know everything that can be known about her baby and her pregnancy.  Or should she?  There may be things she doesn’t want to know – ask any woman who has had a false positive on a screening test – sometimes too much knowledge is a very uncomfortable thing.

Some people, who don’t want to find out the baby’s sex (or couldn’t find it out when they had their babies 30 years ago) says things like: “It spoils the surprise!” or “It shouldn’t matter – as long as it’s healthy!”  When I was pregnant with my first child, I said: “I don’t care – as long as it has red hair.”  He turned out to be a boy – with brown hair.

On the other hand, what would make us need to know our baby’s sex?  If there is a real risk of a genetic or sex-linked disorder, the parents will be counselled about having amniocentesis which will find out the baby’s sex along with any other chromosomal information.  Some have been saying that the reason for VIHA’s policy is due to the fear that parents will terminate pregnancies when the baby is not of the desired sex.  But I have not been able to find any statistical evidence that this is actually happening.  I think the real reason behind this change in policy is that it takes a lot of time to identify EVERY baby’s sex and then many parents are bound to be disappointed, or even upset, when it turns out that appendage was the umbilical cord.

When I was pregnant with my second child, I wanted SO much to have a girl, that I decided to find out so that if it was a boy I could get used to the idea before the baby was born.  It WAS a boy – with red hair!

At first, many parents will say that they want to know if the baby is a boy or a girl because they want to know what colours to buy.  And when I suggest that they can still go shopping after the baby comes – in fact shopping is a great activity to do with a small baby sleeping in a carrier – the parents will tell me they want to know so they can bond better with the baby.

It’s true that we are hungry for anything we can find out about our baby which will help us imagine what life might be like after the birth.  We need to be able to imagine ourselves as a parent for this baby and imagine what the baby might be like. 

But I need to ask, is the baby’s sex the MOST important thing about that baby?  Is it more important than whether the baby is calm or tense, quiet or noisy, cheerful or grumpy?  Will it affect our parenting style more than whether the baby is sensitive, relaxed, lively, or sleepy?

I wonder if NOT knowing the sex of the baby could be a good thing.  For a few months we are not assuming anything about the baby based on its chromosomes.  We are getting to know our baby, his/her favourite times of night for dancing, propensity for hiccups, tastes in music.  We are daydreaming about the baby without swathing it in pink or blue.  Maybe that’s good practice for later in the baby’s life when we have to learn to parent THIS baby, not the one we thought we would have, or the one we wish s/he could be.

I am not sure what the best way to deal with this is.  I just know that there are WAY more than two ways to think about it.

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Cycling & Birthing – What’s the connection?

I am in AWE of my Childbirth Educator buddies, Jay Duncan and Laura Warren, who have been training for the Seattle-Portland Classic Bike Ride for the last six months.  They have been keeping us up-to-date on their progress and telling about what they have learned personally through the experience of training together.  I asked Laura to write about it for our blog.  Here is what she had to say…

Jay and I will soon be leaving for the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Ride.  We’ve been training for since February.  204 miles in 2 days.  I still can’t believe that we’ve come this far.  Many times, I have wondered how it was that we stayed motivated enough to continue.  Well, I finally realized that our cycling is not that different from giving birth.  As a matter of fact, I have decided that since I was able to give birth, I should be able to accomplish any goal I set for myself.  (Mind you, it has been a long time since I gave birth!).

Every time I show birth videos in my classes, I wonder why I feel such empathy for those women.  Those of you who have attended the class might remember the mom in that birth pool who continues to say “I can do it” as she breathes and focuses on her doula.  Well, I realized that I too say that to myself everytime I encounter a hill while I ride (and trust me, there are plenty of those in Victoria).  I have been my own doula all along.  And when I don’t think I can anymore, I hear Jay telling me that I can do it.  And she also reminds me to breathe!

I know that once I start the ride, there will be no going back (just like a mother-to-be, once labour starts).  I know that I will have to pace myself if I expect to finish (a Mom too).  I know that I will have to stay hydrated and nourished so that I have the energy needed for the journey (yep, Mom too), and I also know that if needed, I can call for help (hmm, a taxi might be My chocolate cake).

Jay and I have tried to prepare ourselves as well as possible for this event.  That’s all we can really do.  Now we have to wait and see where our journey takes us.  I know we will make it to Portland, and what I hope for the most is that at the end of our ride, we look back and say: ‘We did it”!

We’ll keep you posted.  And as some of you go through labour on July 17 and 18, we will be thinking of you and the hard and rewarding work you are doing… along side us.

Happy Cycling & Happy Birthing!

P.S. In case you are wondering what the chocolate cake is all about, in my classes, I use “chocolate cakes” as an analogy of pain medications.

UPDATE: Click here for an update on Laura & Jay’s Ride!

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My First OFFICIAL Blog Post

Well, of course, I have been blogging for years: writing short essays for my website on topics that I hoped would be useful to my clients and my colleagues.  But now Mothering Touch has an actual Official Blog.  This is a little intimidating.  And yet, so much happens here every day of the week, I should never have trouble finding something to write about.

Right now, in the big activity room, Do Stier, a Doula Trainer for Vancouver, is running our annual DONA-International Post-Partum Doula Training.  Fifteen enthusiastic and caring women are learning how to help mothers and families in the Post-partum period (the first six weeks after birth).  Last week I ran a DONA-International Birth Doula Training and twelve new birth doulas have now joined our birthing community.  One of my trainees, came from as far away as Edmonton!

A couple of moms with their babies, on a stroll downtown, have popped in to nurse on the comfy brown couches in our smaller back room.  That back room – officially called the Resource Room (now "The Nest"!) – is one of my favourite things about this place.  We planned it as a room for breastfeeding consultations and private prenatal classes.  It houses our lending library which contains books and DVD’s on pregnancy, breastfeeding and early parenting.  The room also gets used for meetings of local community organization, like the Doulas of Victoria or Breastfeeding Matters.  And on most days, a few mothers and fathers and babies find their way there for a quiet time and a peaceful breastfeeding moment.

Tonight, when we’ve tidied up from the four-day doula training, there will be a prenatal yoga class in the Activity Room.  Elke will lead the lovely round-bellied moms through invigorating and then relaxing poses.  After that, I will teach the fourth class of six-week Childbirth Preparation Class for Doctors’ Patients.  Having spent the last three weeks learning about childbirth and natural self-help and coping measures for labour, tonight we will examine pain medications and other medical interventions.  I look forward to seeing this group of excited parents-to-be, whose questions and curiosity always make the evening lively.

I hope this this blog can become an extension of our store – a place where new and expectant parents can be sure of a friendly welcome and balanced information.  We hope you’ll visit us often.

– Eva

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Breast is Best for Moms Too!

It’s common knowledge that breast milk is the best start for babies, reducing risks for many short term and chronic diseases.  But the best kept secret is that breastfeeding is beneficial for moms too!

Latest studies show good evidence that women who breastfed their infants have up to a 12% reduced risk of type 2 diabetes for each year they breastfed.  Breastfeeding decreased the risk of ovarian cancer by up to 21%. Breastfeeding also decreased the risk of breast cancer by up to 28% in those whose lifetime duration of breastfeeding was 12 months or longer.

Women who did not breastfeed their infants were more likely to have postpartum depression (unmeasured factors, such as depression that was undiagnosed prior to giving birth, may have increased the rate of depression seen in this group).  And current studies show that after weaning their children, breastfeeding mothers’ bone density returns to pre-pregnancy or even higher levels.  In the long-term, lactation may actually result in stronger bones and reduced risk of osteoporosis.  In fact, recent studies have confirmed that women who did not breastfeed have a higher risk of hip fractures after menopause.

If we as a community want to improve the health of our future generations, we need to come together and support our mothers in their choice to breastfeed. Here’s our chance to support breastfeeding moms!

– Eva

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Making a belly cast is a wonderful way to capture your belly in the final stages of pregnancy.  It can be done on your own, with your partner, or as part of a blessingway ceremony.

help pregnant mom remember the latter days of the third trimesterThe dried cast can be left blank or decorated pretty much any way you like: with paint, feathers, collage, beads.  If you do your cast as part of a blessingway or with friends, you can ask them each to bring something meaningful to decorate your cast with.  Friends and family can help the pregnant mom with the preparation and casting process. Afterwards, it can be hung on a wall as a visual reminder of your baby’s first home.

Making the cast is fairly simple, and you can gather the supplies at a craft store, or buy a kit at The Mothering Touch Centre with everything you need as well as instructions on how to create your cast.

We also have books such as Birthing From Within by Pam England, it offers advice and techniques for making your cast, as well as other projects to express yourself artistically during your pregnancy; and Shari Maser’s book, "Blessingways: A Guide to Mother-Centered Baby Showers".  She has many suggestions for marking your pregnancy as a rite of passage into motherhood.

So pull out your beads and feathers, your favourite pictures and your paintbrush, and get casting!

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Postpartum Dads

The answer I got from the counsellor was, "Now is not the time for you.  Now is the time to take care of your wife."

A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that it’s not just women who suffer from depression around the time of a new baby.  Researchers have found that 10% of men suffer from both prenatal and postpartum depression, which can manifest as aggression and impulsiveness.  It is a topic that can be difficult for fathers to talk about, and leaves many feeling alone and isolated.  Read the Globe and Mail article here.

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A Parents’ Guide To Packing

Summer’s almost here and that means camping trips, visits to grandparents and holidays near and far.  Here’s a packing list we think is useful for parents whether you’re just going up-island for the weekend, or travelling the globe.

Medicine & Toiletries

  • Thermometer
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Nail clippers
  • Emery board
  • Baby Tylenol or Motrin
  • Nasal aspirator
  • Infant saline drops
  • Your favourite diaper cream
  • Gravol
  • Q-tips for applying meds
  • Band-aids in various sizes
  • Unscented moisturizer
  • Polysporin

Other items for your carry-on/diaper bag

  • Disposable diaper wipes
  • Diapers (if you use cloth diapers… bringing a few eco-friendly disposables just for emergencies is a good idea)
  • A diaper change pad
  • Receiving blanket
  • Small picture books and non-rolling toys
  • Sippy cup or water bottle
  • Two changes of pants; 1-2 changes of socks and 1-2 changes of shirts; 2 pairs of pjs.
  • 1-2 good coverage bibs
  • 3 face clothes, and a small plastic bag for wet ones.
  • Barf bags
  • A portable DVD player with headphones
  • Magnetic travel games or decks of cards – 52 Fun Things to Do on the Plane by Lynn Gordon is a neat deck of cards with plenty of activities to keep kids of all ages busy
  • Your child’s favourite comfort object – blankie, soother, teddy, etc

Dressing for the Plane – choose clothing for the easiest possible diaper change/trip to the toilet, for example:

  • Pants with snaps through the crotch that don’t need to be taken off completely
  • An undershirt that is just a shirt, not a onesie
  • If using pjs, one-piece zippered ones are great
  • A sweater or extra shirt that buttons so that you can just undo it, or take it right off easily

Tip: If your travels are taking you out of the country, we’ve found Prism Imaging on Fort Street to be the most child-friendly place in Victoria to get passport photos done.

And to make traveling even more fun for kids, check out the Trunki wheeled luggage system for kids (pictured above and to the right), kids can pack it, ride it or even be pulled on it – way to make that airport time fun!  We’ve got the Trunki in stock in every color from pink to tiger-stripe – bring your kids in for a test drive!

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Breastfeeding Is Like Ballroom Dancing

Two people learning to do the same thing with their bodies at the same time. Each has to learn a set of new skills but also has to learn how the other will respond.

Stage 1 – Starting Out:

When you start out learning ballroom dancing there are tense hands and shoulders, sore feet, twisted ankles, stepped-on toes, irritation at the partner for not behaving as expected.  Nothing makes any sense, the music goes too fast and the instructor seems smug and self-satisfied.

In breastfeeding this is the stage of:  “How do I get her on if her little hands are in the way flailing about and when do I know if her mouth is open enough and as soon as I get her latched on she falls asleep and if I take her off she wakes up right away again and HOW OFTEN do I have to do this every day?  The breastfeeding counselor gives me all this advice, but SHE doesn’t have to wake up four times every night!  I bet she’s forgotten all about how hard this is.”

Stage 2 – Got a grip:
Eventually, you and your partner learn one set of steps to one piece of music and you can do that reliably, though with some false starts and a lot of effort.  You grip each others hands too hard and use up way too much energy.  You’re not really having fun yet, but you’re going to stick with it a little longer.

In breastfeeding this is the stage of:  “I can only breastfeed in one chair with exactly five pillows in precisely this position and if anyone talks to me while I’m doing it, it won’t work.  Why am I doing this again?  Oh, yeah.  It’s good for the baby.”

Stage 3 – Almost there:
At some point dancing gets to be fun, at least some of the time.  You can do more than one step and sometimes you can even have a conversation while you’re doing it.  And you realize that you really do like your partner after all, these lessons were not a terrible idea that is going to ruin your relationship.

In breastfeeding this is the stage of:  “Hey, that wasn’t so bad and it doesn’t hurt and I only had to re-latch him once!  Look at his little hand lying on my breast.  Isn’t it sweet?  Oh he’s come off the breast and he looks like he’s had enough to drink.  Hey, he smiled!  Maybe not right at me, but he smiled!”

Stage 4 – And you’re off!
A very few dancers get to the next stage where they can walk into each-other’s arms and sail off across the floor through complex figures to whatever music is playing.  They don’t even think about what their feet are doing, but rather how much they are enjoying moving to the music.

Luckily, almost every mother who breastfeeds for longer than four to six weeks gets to this stage.  “It’s 5am.  Have I fed her since midnight?  I can’t remember.  I must have, we started out with her on my left side and now she’s on my right and my bra’s unhooked.  I guess I did it in my sleep.  I can’t believe it’s become this easy to feed her!”

In some ways, breastfeeding is much more difficult than ballroom dancing because your partner doesn’t understand the instructions given by the ‘teacher’.  You can’t explain to your baby how he should open his mouth or where he should put his hand.

In other ways, breastfeeding is easier than ballroom dancing.  You’ll get way more practice, feeding your baby 10-12 times a day in the first weeks.  Also, you have hormones that are helping you to bond with your baby and make you want to feed him.

Actually, breastfeeding is really a lot simpler than ballroom dancing.  Trust me, I’ve tried both.


Copyright Eva Bild, 1999
You may reproduce this article if you reproduce all of it, give credit to its author, and do not make any money from it.