Baby’s First Bath: Who, When, and Where?

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In the discussion of what interventions and procedures may be offered for your baby postpartum, the first bath rarely makes the list.  You may wonder why it should!  A bath is perfectly harmless, right?  Could it really be considered an intervention?

If an intervention is defined as anything that intervenes in the continuous physiological process of labor, birth, and breastfeeding, then the in-hospital bath certainly qualifies as one.

Ultimately, the “burden of proof” for any intervention should lie on the intervention itself.  Are there any real benefits to a first bath being given in the hospital by a stranger?  If so, do these benefits outweigh the risks?  Rather than framing the discussion around risks of an in-hospital bath, though, let’s look at some of the wonderful benefits of delaying your newborn’s first bath, which include:

The Magic of Vernix At birth, your baby’s skin will be coated with a white, waxy or cheesy substance called vernix.  Depending on how many weeks your baby gestated, there may be a little or a lot of vernix on the skin.  Vernix provides protection in the womb from contact with the amniotic fluid (so that baby’s skin won’t wrinkle like ours does after a long bath).  Vernix also provides antibacterial protection, a true benefit in a hospital setting.  Vigorous scrubbing and bathing can remove this protective layer.  Rather than washing this natural barrier away, you can massage it into baby’s skin like lotion.

Breastfeeding Instincts Baby uses the smell of amniotic fluid on his or her hands to help initiate breastfeeding.  You may notice your baby nuzzles her hands against her nose as a cue that she is ready to nurse.  Washing away the natural smells on the baby’s skin will also get in the way of the signals provided by these smells which kick start instinctual breastfeeding and bonding processes.

hand-breastfeed

Together is Best for Mom and Baby Mother and baby both benefit from uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact for the first several days after birth.  This closeness helps with regulating temperature, heart rate, and stress hormones, as well as increasing bonding hormones, and helping to establish mom’s milk supply. Baby’s other parent is the next best habitat when mom needs a break; familiar sounds and smells are comforting and calming to baby.  Removing baby from the loving arms of his parents for a bath interrupts this bonding time.

First Bath is a Lovely Ritual Giving baby her first bath is a sweet privilege that parents can enjoy when they are ready.  Bath time can be a good way to transition to a change in setting once the family leaves the hospital and settles at home.  Or, it can wait until days later when intuition says it’s time.

Who will give your baby his or her first bath?  When and where will it occur?  This choice is up to you!

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Birth Matters!

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In the summer of 2006, I was lucky enough to be chosen for a role in Louisville’s Birth Care Network’s local production of Birth the Play. The play is comprised of 7 women’s birth stories with 7 actors playing all the characters within each story: family members, partners, doctors, nurses, etc. Part of the powerful narrative of one woman’s cesarean birth story is her consternation at how often she is told, “…but you had a healthy baby!” when she tries to express her grief at how her child was born.
At the time I was taking part in this show, I was very pregnant with my second son. My first birth had hit me face-first with surprise, dismay, fear, disappointment, and many other emotions that I didn’t quite know how to heal. Whenever we would rehearse the scene with those lines about “…but you had a healthy baby!” I would wonder if that was something people actually said to women who talked about their births honestly. It seemed like such a silly and dismissive and ignorant thing to say.

The more I have worked in the birth world as a doula, childbirth educator, and breastfeeding peer support person, the more I have heard that trite line trotted out to mothers and it never ceases to amaze me that it can be anything besides a line in a play. I have many theories about why people like to use that line so much: they’re genuinely trying to find the silver lining and make the mother feel better, they are in denial about their own birth experience and the feelings they don’t want to face about it, they just aren’t thinking about what’s coming out of their mouths…etc.
But let’s look at what’s really being said behind those words…

If a woman has a birth experience that is unexpected, scary, or traumatic in some way (and that’s really only up to her perspective, not anyone else’s), she may feel any or all of the following:
Sad
Angry
Confused
Betrayed
Like a failure
Abandoned
Lonely
Frightened
Traumatized
Depressed
Bitter

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Her feelings about her birth may affect her ability to bond with and enjoy her baby or to enjoy life in general. Her feelings may make it hard for her to connect to other people who just don’t seem to understand. She may feel jealous of other mothers whose births she perceives as having been “easy” or “perfect”. She may not want to talk about her feelings for fear of being judged. She may feel alienated by all of this.
If she does find the courage to say something about how she is truly feeling and is met with “…but you have a healthy baby!” what she is really hearing is this:
“Your baby is the only part of this story that matters. You do not matter. Your body does not matter. Your feelings do not matter. Birth does not matter.”
And I am here to tell you that none of that is true. Of course every mother wants more than anything in the world for her baby to be safe and healthy. But that hope is not mutually exclusive of everything else having to do with her birth story. In fact, all parts are connected: mother, mother’s feelings, mother’s body, mother’s experience, baby’s health. Every piece of the puzzle affects all the others.  And to tell a woman that her feelings and experience are invalid is just the sort of thing that sets us up for our current rates of postpartum depression in the United States, for an epidemic of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder following birth  (Postpartum Traumatic Stress Disorder?), and for a culture of disconnect and “dis-ease” (as in, the opposite of health).
So, what do we do about this?

For mothers:
Find the support you need. There are people out there who are willing to listen to your birth story and the feelings you have about it with no judgment. There is support for you. Contact a local birth network, your doula (or, if you did not have a doula, find one in your area who can point you in the direction of local support), your local ICAN (International Cesarean Awareness Network) chapter, a therapist, or a friend who is a good listener. Look for a postpartum wellness group on facebook. Join a positive new moms group or playgroup. Don’t stop reaching out until you have gotten what you need to process and heal. It is possible.

For others:
Watch this video .  And please, never tell a woman that the only thing that matters about her birth is her baby. Listen quietly. Hug. Bring meals. Let her cry. Let her feel her feelings. Help her find support if you feel it is more than you can do to help her by yourself.
Some of my favorite resources:
http://postpartum.net/
http://www.parentingscience.com/childbirth-trauma.html

And, one very concrete way you can work on processing your story and move towards healing is to take part in an upcoming “Unpacking Your Birth Baggage” workshop with me. In this workshop, we will work in a small group to look at the feelings we have from our birth experiences (or about an upcoming birth…read more about the workshop here) and figure out how to own our stories in a confident, freeing way rather than being held back by them. The process is powerful and so is the chance to be in a safe place with supportive women. The workshop package includes ongoing support via a private facebook group and other chances to contact after our face to face time has passed. I believe so strongly in this process and want to share it with as many women as I can.  In order to give women the specific type of experiences they need in this process, I will be offering two separate workshops: one for expectant mothers who are holding doubts, fears, and confusion about their ability to give birth; and another for mothers who have had traumatic or unexpected birth outcomes and need a safe place to process them and move on into parenting with freedom and joy.  The next workshop is set for March 11 and 18 and is intended for Mother’s who’ve given birth before.  To learn more details or to register, visit my website.

Know this: You matter. Your feelings matter. Your experience matters. Your birth matters. BIRTH MATTERS.

Sending you a hug,
Jenny Claire

Photo credit: Jana Glass, Looking Glass Photography

Take a Journey to Joy…Unpack your negative baggage!

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Walking path - downhill

Walking path – downhill (Photo credit: Dey)

Unpacking Your Birth Baggage
Imagine you’re about to embark on one of the most important journeys of your life. You’re not exactly sure what is ahead on this trip but you know it will have some challenges and surprises and will hopefully end with an incredible reward. You know lots of other women who’ve travelled to your intended destination. Some of these travelers talk about how painful, scary, and arduous the journey was; others have told you that they found the trip full of joy, empowerment, and revelation. You don’t know what to expect!
As the time nears for you to take off, you check on the suitcase you’ll be taking on the trip. When you try to lift the suitcase, you find it’s impossible to get off the ground. Then, you realize it has already been packed for you by your mother and all of your other female relatives, several movie and television producers, the advertising executives at many major baby gear manufacturers, a few co-workers, and a woman in line behind you at the grocery last week. You open the suitcase to find it contains nothing but rocks, bricks, an anvil, and a 40-year-old travel guide to your intended destination.
You realize none of this makes sense for a journey as important as the one you’re about to begin. This is your trip and only you should get to decide what you’ll pack and what sort of adventure lies ahead!

Each of us enters into birth and parenting with “baggage”. The secret is realizing that you have a choice about what baggage you continue carrying and what baggage you toss behind you as you move forward. The “Unpacking Your Birth Baggage” workshop will help you go through the process to explore what sort of baggage you’re currently carrying, to decide what tools and insights you want to be carrying to help you achieve your desired journey, and to make steps to help you pack the sort of bag that will serve you well along the way. What sort of trip do you want to take? How do you want to feel while you’re travelling? The choice is yours and I would love to be your travel agent in helping you plan the journey that will bring you the most joy and satisfaction.

This workshop is for you…
-if you are pregnant for the first time and have lots of anxiety, fear, questions, and confusion about birth and wonder if you can “handle it”.
-if you have had a previous birth experience that left you with sadness, anger, trauma, grief, confusion, or doubt which you just can’t seem to heal from or let go of.
-if you want to take ownership of your birth and parenting journey wherever you are right now in order to enjoy it fully moving forward.

This workshop will take place over the course of two weeks in an intimate setting with a small group of other women also looking to achieve freedom and confidence on the birth and parenting path. You will be given ongoing support for the process after our face to face time together as well, via private facebook group and personal consultation.

I have had the privilege of helping many women through this process and have seen astounding, inspiring results. I am excited to offer this experience to as many women as I can.  As with all of my offerings, if cost is an issue, don’t hesitate to contact me to discuss options.

 

We’ll meet at Mama’s Hip to do this great work together, two Tuesdays, 6:30-8:30. A $20 deposit is required to hold your spot in the workshop, payable via PayPal or check. Registration details are available here. Register today to claim your spot; spaces will be limited to ensure an intimate group for open discussion. Don’t miss your chance for this empowering experience. I can’t wait to get started helping you unpack your birth baggage so that you can Pack Your Bags for a Journey of Joy!  Contact me with any questions.

Note, updated April, 2014: The May session of this workshop will be the last one offered until September at the earliest.  If you are anxious to explore this process, don’t miss your window!

How is a lactation consultant like a nursing bra? Both should make you feel comfortable & supported!

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This is my second post in a series about lactation support.  Check out my previous post “Differing models of lactation advice: Go with the flow.” to read about different approaches to understanding breastfeeding. 

In many cities these days, mothers are blessed with lots of options for where to turn when breastfeeding doesn’t go smoothly.  Most hospitals have lactation consultants on staff.  Many nurses working in labor and delivery or postpartum care positions receive some lactation training.  Obstetric and pediatric practices often have lactation consultants in office.  More and more private practice IBCLCs are finding a niche in the community.  There are breastfeeding peer counselors available through La Leche League and WIC.  If you’re lucky, you live in a place with all of these options and more .   So, how do you know where to start?  And, once you’ve visited with one or more of these resources, how do you know if you’re getting the best help for YOU?

Each mother and baby is special and many variables exist  within the nursing relationship.  Breastfeeding is an art, not just a science, and while the mechanics are very important, so is the emotion.  There aren’t always going to be easy answers or quick fixes to breastfeeding problems (in fact, I’m always wary of any solution which promises to be quick or easy).  In many cases, mothers are able to learn that the things they thought were indications of a problem are just examples of normal newborn nursing behavior.  But, in those cases when a very real challenge or problem appears, getting the proper help is vital.

You SHOULD feel one of more of the following after a visit with a breastfeeding support person if that person is a good fit for you and your situation:

* Relief –Whether it is physical relief from painful latch or emotional relief, some sort of lightening should occur.  You may say, “Ah, it feels much better now when she latches.” or “Thank goodness.  I’m glad to know this is normal.” or “My burning question has been answered.”  If you do not feel actual immediate relief, you should at least feel…

Hope – Because it takes time to break old habits and train new, and because healing isn’t instantaneous, you may need to continue practicing techniques and tips you learn in your visit to acheive noticeable results.  But you should at least feel that some progress is being made and you are on the right track to improvement.  At the very least, you should feel that your support person is committed to helping you figure out what WILL work if this path does not.  So, you may be thinking, “We are working on this and it will get better.” or “We are going to figure this out.”

*Increased Confidence – Notice I say “increased” and not just “confidence”.  For many mothers, confidence is something we must develop over time as we learn about our babies and how to trust our intuition and reason.  Breastfeeding can be a huge part of gaining confidence IF a mother receives positive messages of support.  Your lactation pro should encourage this feeling in you by helping you to see all the things you are doing right and by recognizing that your baby is a perfect individual.  Some confident things you may say to yourself include, “I am a good mother.  I am seeking answers for my baby and my self.”  or “My baby and my body work beautifully.” or “I can make enough milk to feed my baby.” or “We are learning together.”

Your lactation consultant or counselor SHOULD:

-Be respectful of your personal space.  Of course she is on your team to talk to you about your breasts, but she should explain what she is doing and/or gain permission from you before touching you or your baby.

-Be respectful of your concerns and feelings.  She should listen to what you believe to be the problem, ask questions to gain more information, and understand that fear, love, anxiety, exhaustion, and many other feelings can come in to play surrounding breastfeeding.

-Address the specific problem which concerns you.  She may understand other issues which are linked to your concern as well and it may be necessary to solve one problem before a related one can be fixed.  But, it is not up to her to decide for you that you should fix something which you don’t define as a problem.  

-Provide a follow-up plan.  You should understand such specifics as “How long should I try this before deciding it isn’t working?” and “What is the next step if this doesn’t solve the problem?”  She should also provide a clear understanding of what sort of follow-up care is provided within her fee if applicable (further visits, phone help, etc).

A lactation support person SHOULD NOT:

-Dismiss your concerns.  This includes problems with pain during nursing.  If her answer is “Everything looks fine.  It shouldn’t hurt,” move on to someone who will help you figure out the source of the pain and solve the problem.

-Make you feel worse.  No guilt.  No fear mongering.  No shaming of your choices or your body.  Negativity is not going to bring about a postive result.

No lactation support person has all the answers to every question.  All professionals have limits and make mistakes.  And that’s fine!  If the person helping you doesn’t have the answer to your question or problem, she should either be willing to search for it to your satisfaction or direct you to someone else who can.  If you don’t feel you’ve gotten the help, support, or answers you need, DON’T GIVE UP!  Ask someone else!  Keep asking until you feel satisfied.  You and your baby deserve good support.

And, most of all, remember that YOU are the expert on YOUR body and YOUR baby.  While medical professionals and breastfeeding support people are experts in certain fields and have seen lots of babies and mothers, no one is smarter than you about what is right regarding you and your baby.  If an expert answer just doesn’t ring true with your gut, you have the right to get another opinion.

Stay tuned or sign up for email updates to read my next post in this series, in which I’ll delve more into the who, what, where, why, and how of the different lactation support people who may be available in your community.