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Birthing Language by Tara Thompson, BWI Birth Doula Student

Words are powerful, so it is important to consider what words to use around a laboring mom. Her senses are already elevated and she is on high alert, and she is perhaps now in her “primal brain”. What is said to her or in her presence is sure to have an impact on her labor and possibly even her labor progression. Words are not always necessary at birth, and even kind and encouraging words may inhibit the mother from fully being in her labor state of mind which could possibly interrupt her labor. Not all women enjoy listening to others during their labor. It is important to know when to talk and when not to. When language is needed or wanted, how we talk is of great importance. Please allow me to explain this further.

The volume at which we speak should be considered. Is the mom vocal herself, perhaps moaning loudly? Is the room full of distractions? Are you trying to assist her in finding something to focus on? She may appreciate a loud, direct tone, but often, I think it is more so the case that a woman needs a soft voice spoken to her. A whisper in an ear can be received stronger than a yell. The loudest voice in the room isn’t always the most impactful. It is important to evaluate the situation, know the mother and follow your intuition when deciding on how to speak to the laboring mom.

Where we are when we are talking to mom is also important. Are we across the room or are we near her and close to her in her laboring space? Depending on where a woman is in her labor, she may only be aware of the bubble around her. To properly communicate with a laboring mom, you must be near her and in her space, while being respectful of that space as well. It is hard to whisper across a room to someone who may not even see or feel you.

Once respecting the importance of volume of our voice and location of ourselves in relation to the mom, we must carefully craft our words. As a doula, I am careful to not interrupt a mom’s labor as sometimes silence is needed and wanted. With that said, I also know when to use words to encourage, reassure, inspire and affirm. I would not want to mislead her by using arbitrary words. I must also be careful to not give subjective medical advice if she asks
questions on what she should do if given options by her provider. These words could easily derail a mom from her labor.

A carefully crafted sentence is important and how we phrase what we are trying to convey to mom should be considered before speaking.
Nurse: “You are 4cm dilated.”
Mom: “JUST 4cm?!”
(insert pause to think, consider her feelings and gently touch mom while looking at her)
Me: “You are making great progress! Your body is working to open so your baby can
come out.” (Refrain from analyzing numbers)

In that exchange of words, I wanted to be careful not to mislead her. I didn’t want her to feel as if she had so much more to progress, but I also didn’t want to convince her that the next part of her labor would be fast. I simply wanted to support her by giving her well-earned credit for her hard work and remind her that her cervix is not a crystal ball.

“This is hard!”, says the mom. My reply would be simple, “…and you are strong! You are doing good work to meet your baby.” I would be careful not to choose words that give herself doubt. I want her feel confident herself. Labor is of course hard work, but it would not be helpful to affirm that or remind her. What would be helpful is to remind her that she is strong enough to birth her baby.

What if mom says, “I can’t do this.” I can recall saying this when in labor with my first. I also remember hearing, “You have to, sweetheart.” Maybe the reply was said with empathy and some endearment, but it did not leave me feeling confident, positive or optimistic. I felt helpless. A better reply would have been, “…but you are already doing it. I am right here with here with you.” I think it would have been helpful to be reminded that I was doing it and that I
wasn’t going to be alone.

These are several examples of what can be said to a woman in labor, but ultimately it is important to remember the timeliness of our words, the volume at which we say those words and where we are communicating them from. If we remember to speak from our hearts, we are more likely to speak what is perfect at that moment in time.

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BirthWorks Reborn by Stephanie Parry, BWI Childbirth Educator and Birth Doula Student

The birthing of my career as a childbirth educator and doula began over 18 years ago, on a cold fall evening as I pushed out my VBAC baby into the bed he was conceived in, surrounded in peace and love and welcomed earth side by his parents, grandmother, and loving midwives. There is something so otherworldly and generational when a baby’s first introduction to human life involves dim lights, hushed voices, warm hands, and landing safely on mother’s soft breast. How I wish all babies were introduced to this world in such a manner. Not all of my six children were born in a gentle way, but because of my knowledge and inner knowing of the BirthWorks philosophy, my children were all consciously
welcomed in awareness and peace.

Life has brought me great surprises through raising children, navigating a divorce, and entering the life of single motherhood. And though I have had to take other jobs to provide an income for my growing family, always my heart has been with birth work… my life’s passion to witness and hold space for the women who birth themselves as they birth their babies. I have found that the choices I made in life to raise my children often coincide with how they were birthed… in love and peace and with a lot of wide open space for them to feel safe to explore who they are.

Recently, as I was attending a therapy session to release some past trauma and difficult feelings that I was holding onto, I was led into visualizations that reminded me so much of the work we do in our BirthWorks childbirth classes that it bought me back in time in my body to a workshop many years ago while attending training with Cathy Daub. Cathy was helping me release and deal with the grief from the separation from my daughter after her traumatic cesarean birth a few years before. The three day separation from her had caused significant trauma and guilt that I had not yet dealt with. It was crucial to release this in order to move forward in my path as a childbirth educator and doula. When Cathy led me through the guided visualizations to help my body create a new memory, I was holding my baby in my arms as soon as she was born. This is the memory my body has of her birth now. And I was changed from the inside out.

As I sat through the therapy this past week releasing feelings of grief and hurt, my body instantly reminded me of my experience during that childbirth training so many years before. And I knew in that moment where my next step was… that I belong with birthing women. One of the most amazing things about BirthWorks has been the inner knowing and trusting of my own intuition that it has instilled in me. How easy it is to forget who we are and what we are all about in the busyness and chaotic pace of life. And how easy is it that in a moment our body can remember and teleport us back to a time that has been imprinted into our cells.

The world is in the middle of a tumultuous and uncertain time. Yet, life continues on and babies will be born. And so it is a deep honor and with gratitude that I step back into the path of serving birthing women and their families and accept my calling alongside the women who have paved the way before me.  I am BirthWorks reborn!

Blessed be.

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Together With Love at an Unassisted Birth by Jules Baird (BirthWorks Doula Student)

“She's coming, she's coming, she's coming!" exclaimed the birthing mother.
"Your body and your baby clearly know exactly what they are doing. We are here with
you," I responded as her doula.

My name is Jules. I live down here in Christchurch, New Zealand and have recently
attended my first two births as a Doula in training with Birthworks International. In my
first birth as a doula, I was welcomed and encompassed by the beautiful home birth
midwives and able to support my friend to have an empowering calm home birth.

My second birth was just a month or so later with a mother having her fourth baby and
with a history of fast births. Her second child was a planned home birth with a midwife
after a traumatic hospital first birth. The baby arrived on the bathroom floor before her
midwife arrived. Her mother in law was present and all were well but it was a scary
experience for this mother.

She was able to have a slower calm, attended water-birth with her third in her living
room. Now, her fourth pregnancy was a surprise and caught mother and father off
guard. For them, it took many months to come to terms with having a fourth unplanned
child. I met her late in her pregnancy when she had injured her ankle and was left
mostly immobile. We formed a strong connection over several visits and I noted her
main fears were to be alone during birth and to have an injury due to a fast labor.

The day came. I answered my phone at 2:50am to a very calm positive voice saying,

"I think the baby is coming."
“What’s happening?” I asked.
“I’ve been contracting for half an hour and my water just broke. Yes, come!”

Even though her tone was very calm and relaxed I took her call for me to come very
seriously and got to her house 15mins later (thankfully she lived very close).

Walking in, I heard the mum on the phone saying to her midwife,
"Ok,...I suppose I will call you back when I really, really need you here.”

She sounded slightly dejected. I greeted her husband who was busy in the kitchen
boiling water and beginning to fill the pool. I rounded the corner to greet mum with a
smile as she rolled onto her knees on the couch as a very strong contraction began.

"Wow this is very, very strong...this is the first one like this...maybe I do need to call my
midwife back," she says through some low primal groans.

Her body seemed to shift gear as soon as soon as I, her support person, arrived. I
applied back pressure through this contraction and when it has passed I asked,

“Would you like me to dial your midwife or shall we wait for one more contraction?”
“Wait for another contraction,” she decides.

Moments later, the next contraction came, even stronger than the last one. We move
through this contraction together and then she dials her midwife. As she does I look and
see the pool is a long way from full so I quickly take a hot water bottle, fill it and wrap it
in a clean towel to support her with heat ( a decision that turned into a small miracle
later on, from a carer’s perspective).

The next contraction was stronger again and with a panicked voice and low grunting this
beautiful mother moved to the ground on some clean towels her husband and I lay out
and said,

"She's coming, she's coming, she's coming!"

Mindful that too many words keep a mother in her higher cortex, I wanted to find a way
to validate her fears and calm her in the same moment. So choosing my words very
carefully I said in a soft warm tone,

"I know you don't want your baby to arrive before your midwife. Know that your body
and your baby clearly know exactly what they are doing. We are here with you."

With that, she seemed to calm slightly and go inward finally joining her baby on the
journey to her. Her baby was clearly moving very fast and mums breath was very quick.
Miindful that she was worried of tearing due to a quick labor, I then said in a calm voice.

"Let’s just slow things down a little by slowing our breath," and I breathed slowly with
her.

With that, she really slowed and became calm and present as her baby began to crown.
But just then, another moment of worry emerged from her,

"Who will catch my baby?" (as she was on all fours and didn't want to move).
"Dad is here ready to catch your baby," I said giving him a big “I’m here to support you
too nod" and showing where his hands needed to be.

He watched his daughter’s head be born and slowly rotate. I sensed a moment of worry
from him that he may not be able to catch his baby so I put my hands down well below
his to show him support and reassure him (although for me I had already made a
mental note to myself that I would do everything possible to not touch her baby as that
is not my role and furthermore wanting to protect the microbiome of this little one).

A moment later their beautiful little girl slid out into her father’s hands and I helped talk
mum through carefully lifting one leg so dad could pass baby under to her. I moved

closer to mum as she sat back and brought her baby up to her chest with the most
beautiful calm, empowered look on her face. I remember thinking with reverence,

“Wow, birth is just so normal." I was so caught up in the moment!

Then, suddenly feeling responsible to some degree, thoughts came to me,
“Check the baby’s color.”
“Check the baby’s breathing.”
“Keep the baby warm.” I quickly turned to my side seeing a clean towel wrapped in a
hottie. What a miracle!

We wrapped their new baby girl promptly in a beautiful warm towel and laid her on her
on mum’s chest. She was born ten minutes after I arrived and half an hour before the
midwife arrived.

The mother has since told me how empowering this birth experience was for her. She
said it could have easily been just as scary as her second unattended birth but simply
having someone with her that was calm and positive really allowed her to step into the
moment and be present with her baby girl as they began their next journey of life
together.

For me, this birth was one of the biggest divine gifts I will ever receive. It showed me
that both my knowledge of birth and my ability to calmly trust my instincts in the
moment, were enough to significantly support and help the mother, father, and baby to
have an empowering birth experience.

Later in the kitchen the father beamed saying to me,

"I can't believe I delivered my daughter!"

As this was my second experience with birth support to date, and a much more close up
one than my first beautiful experience, I did find myself thinking of all that could have
gone wrong later in the day... I have been able to settle on the reassurance for myself
that if anything untoward would have happened we would have worked through that
together in love. The key words that linger for me are “Together with Love.” The birth
was a gift my soul will always remember.

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Covid-19 and Childbirth

 

The Corona Virus pandemic is a new disease causing massive confusion, uncertainty, suffering,
and death. We all have questions, many of which cannot be answered at this early stage of the
pandemic. We do know that the virus is spread mostly through respiratory droplets produced
when someone who is infected coughs or sneezes. We do know that the virus can live up to a
week on plastic and metal and even up to 24 hours on cardboard, making wiping down
contaminated things like doorknobs very important. We are all still learning if it spreads in
other ways, but no matter what your questions, the primary and most effective precautions to
take whether pregnant or not remain:

1. Washing your hands with soap completely and for 20 seconds including between the
fingers and thumb under the nails

2. Respect social distancing. Stay at home with your families whenever possible. Avoid
people who are sick and treat other people wo do not appear sick as symptomatic
carriers of COVID-19 i.e. keep your distance at least six feet to help prevent the further
spread of the virus. We must all do our part to help prevent the further spread of the
virus. It is only when the world works together as a team, that we can fight this invisible
disease.

3. Cover your cough and sneeze and cough or sneeze into your elbow.

4. Wipe down any surfaces that could be contaminated with alcohol wipes of at least 65-
90% isopropyl alcohol. The good news is that even though the viruses are easily
transmitted, they are also easily eradicated upon contact with alcohol.

5. Wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) if you are a health care worker, and follow
all the protocols and instructions for when and how to use and change PPE, to ensure
your own safety.

These recommendations hold true for most questions surrounding pregnancy, labor, birth, and
the postpartum period. This is an invisible disease that must be taken seriously. Here are
questions you may have concerning Covid 19 and birth:

Mothers testing positive for COVID-19 who have tested positive at birth for the virus: There
have been no babies born to mothers testing positive for COVID-19, who have tested positive at
birth for the virus.

If I test positive, will it spread to my baby when I’m pregnant? We still do not know at this
time but precautions must be taken like coughing into the elbow and following other
recommendations above to prevent transmission to others at birth. So far, no infants born to  mothers with COVID- 19 have tested positive for the Covid 19 virus at birth. The virus was not
found in samples of the placenta, amniotic fluid, or breastmilk.

Are my young children more or less likely to get COVID-19: At this time, it seems from the
data that very young children are much less likely to get the disease, however, since little is
known about COVID-19 all precautions above are strongly recommended. Thus far, only one
infant less than one year of age has tested positive for COVID-19.

Will pregnant women be more ill with the disease than non-pregnant women? It has always
been important for pregnant women to protect themselves as much as possible as they have a
higher risk of developing severe illnesses in general, including from influenza viruses. COVID-
19 is no exception. It is especially important for them to follow the recommendations above.

What should I do if I’m pregnant and test positive for COVID-19? Pregnant women with
confirmed COVID-19 or who are PUIs (Pregnant persons under investigation) should notify the
obstetric unit prior to arrival so infection control preparations can be anticipated.

When I’m in labor, can my partner and doula be with me? Many, but not all hospitals are
allowing only one person with a woman in labor and some even allow nobody else in the room
except caretakers. Social isolation is seen as one of the most effective ways to prevent the
spread of COVID-19 and unfortunately this includes women in labor. It is best to call your
hospital to find out what policies they have regarding these questions and they can change
quickly or sometime be negotiated separately with your care provider for special
circumstances.

Can I stay with my baby after birth if I test positive for COVID-19? Infants born to mothers
with confirmed COVID-19 should be considered PUIs. As such, infants should be isolated
according to the Infection Prevention and Control Guidance for PUIs. However, it is
recommended that separation of the mother from her baby should be made on a case-by-case
basis.

If I test positive for COVID-19, can I breastfeed my baby? “Breastmilk provides protection
against many illnesses and is the best source of nutrition for most infants. The CDC has no
specific guidance for breastfeeding during infection with similar viruses like SARS-CoV or
Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV). However, much is unknown about
COVID-19. Whether and how to start or continue breastfeeding should be determined by the
mother, in coordination with her family and healthcare providers. A mother with confirmed
COVID-19 or who is a symptomatic PUI should take all possible precautions to avoid spreading
the virus to her infant, including washing her hands before touching the infant and wearing a face
mask, if possible, while feeding at the breast. If expressing breast milk with a manual or electric
breast pump, the mother should wash her hands before touching any pump or bottle parts and  follow recommendations for proper pump cleaning after each use. If possible, consider having
someone who is well feed the expressed breast milk to the infant.” 2

For more information visit
1. Prevention for 2019 Novel Coronavirus.
2. Interim Guidance on Breastfeeding for a Mother Confirmed or Under Investigation for
C”OVID-19.
3. Interim Considerations for Infection Prevention and Control of 2019 Coronavirus Disease
2019 (COVID-19) in Inpatient Obstetric Healthcare Settings.

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Feeling Spirituality in Birth

At the peak of childbirth, a woman in labor not only has the capacity to heal herself,
but to heal the whole of humanity – her own liberation contributing to the liberation
of humanity through the web of global consciousness to which we all belong.

BirthWorks philosophy: Birth is instinctive, Birth is sacred, Birth is ancient.

Spirituality can be broadly interpreted as the quest for self knowledge and the search for a
higher purpose and meaning to life. As such it can be described as a universal human
experience. For some the spiritual quest may be fulfilled through religious practice and
belief. Others may turn to more esoteric traditions and still others may look to meditation
and the development of self awareness. In the context of being a doula I would define
spirituality as the practise of helping birthing women reach their full potential and deepen
their self-awareness. The safe space that the doula protects enables the woman to
surrender to her birth, transcending the what/where/who/why of self-understanding up until
this point. The practise of human values of right speech, right thought and right action will
enable a doula to carry out this special work.

The belief that death, the end of one’s life, is a spiritual event appears to be ubiquitous
across every culture. It seems oddly lacking that in today’s western culture the
synonymous birth, the beginning of life, is not commonly thought of as spiritually
significant. Women’s health counsellor and childbirth educator Sharon Moloney states in
her paper on the research of women’s spirituality around menstruation and birth “cross-
culturally and throughout history, pregnancy and childbirth have been perceived as
spiritual events because of the miraculous processes involved”. She goes on to say that
despite many couples feeling that birth is a deeply spiritual event, modern obstetrics
largely ignores the spiritual side of birth. She says “Because birth is so commonly
experienced as a techno-medical event, no one guesses that the depression and spiritual
distress that often follow are reflective of a system (and a discourse) at odds with women’s
physiology and needs.” When birth becomes a medical event to be managed by
professionals the physiological side of birth becomes compromised; both by upsetting the
birth physiology and by alternating the mother’s emotional state. Scientific literature
abounds around the important role hormones play in the physical and emotional outcomes
of birth. Indeed oxytocin is now recognised as the key hormone regarding both

contractions and love. By upsetting this process we are robbing women not only of their
right to a healthy and emotionally satisfying birth but also of one of the key spiritual
experiences in a woman’s life.

A doula can play an important role in upholding the spirituality of birth. As protector of the
birthing space, a doula provides the security that women need to allow themselves to
unravel in the process of birth. Her presence and gentle words create the safety a woman
needs to let go and her reminders to “go within”, “dive deep” and “surrender” help guide a
woman to her inner depths, enabling her to connect to her true self. Eckhart Tolle says
“Whenever you accept what is, something deeper emerges than what is. So, you can be
trapped in the most painful dilemma, external or internal, the most painful feelings or
situation, and the moment you accept what is, you go beyond it, you transcend it. Even if
you feel hatred, the moment you accept that this is what you feel, you transcend it. It may
still be there, but suddenly you are at a deeper place where it doesn’t matter that much
anymore”. When a doula helps protect a woman from external stimulation and
interference, a woman has the possibility to transcend her experience. She may reach
places within herself, and I would argue within universal consciousness, that she never
even knew existed. Uninterrupted she is able to reach her deepest levels, those where
spiritual transformation takes place. Although she appears to be doing very little, the doula
is doing very important work.

Midwife Marianne Littlejohn says “How a baby is born and how well a woman is treated
when she gives birth sets the tone and is the matrix from which a child will grow into a
future we have not yet imagined”. When the doula meets her clients with an open heart
and mind, and when she shares compassion and kindness with the entire birthing team
she creates a climate of love that resonates throughout the days and lives of all those she
meets. The harried Doctor may reflect on his manner when he observes the doula sitting
contentedly with a birthing woman. The midwife may remember why she first drawn to the
profession when she observes the connection between doula and birther. When
overwhelmed with a crying baby and a crying mother, the partner may remember the love
and patience a doula showed to the woman during the toughest times of labour and bring
forth those qualities within them-self. At the opening of the next chapter of a couple’s life,
the doula participates in the creation of a future of peace and happiness.

Childbirth is a life experience of rich spiritual meaning. Women report birth as being
deeply spiritual and in some cases a time of spiritual transformation. Midwife Marianne
Littlejohn writes, “Birthing my firstborn son I knew I had tapped into a secret and powerful
source of love and energy within myself. I felt more connected to that and from that
moment on, I knew I was going to be a midwife”. A study of spirituality in childbearing
women identified the following spiritual themes in childbearing women “childbirth as a time
to grow closer to God, the use of religious beliefs and rituals as powerful coping
mechanisms, childbirth as a time to make religiosity more meaningful, the significance of a
Higher Power in influencing birth outcomes, and childbirth as a spiritually transforming
experience”. I am particularly interested in the last theme, that of childbirth as a spiritually
transforming experience. I believe childbirth is one of the few times in a woman’s life that
she is pushed to such extremes of experience that she may undergo any degree of
spiritual transformation. Above that, I believe that at the peak of childbirth she not only has
the capacity to heal herself, but to heal the whole of humanity – her own liberation
contributing to the liberation of humanity through the web of global consciousness to which
we all belong.

Within the context of being a doula, it is important to highlight the spiritual beliefs of the
families one is working with. A doula should ask what, if any, spiritual beliefs the family
and particularly the birthing woman hold. She should be careful that her words and
actions are respectful of these beliefs, and if she feels attuned to them, she may ask if the
family would like her to bring this spiritual aspect in to the birth in any way. This could be
in the form of prayer, meditation, cleansing, sage, chanting, mandala, candles, incense,
prayer beads etc.

To finish I will turn to a quote by Sharon Moloney that I feel expresses the depth of
spirituality that a birthing woman may experience. She says “Something was happening
which would render me forever different……. to be given the opportunity to know this
power of creation in the most intimate, deeply personal way—in my own flesh, and from
the depths of my being. Yet it was also frightening—something much bigger than me, over
which I had no control.” Blessings on the doula who is able to assist a birthing woman in
having such an experience.

Response from a BirthWorks International student to the following assignment:

Birth, regardless of any religious affiliation, denomination or belief system, is a miraculous
and spiritual event. In your work as a doula, you will become acquainted with families with
different beliefs and religious affiliations. How do you define “spirituality” in the context of
being a doula? How do you see spirituality being a part of supporting families during birth?

References
1. Spirituality in Childbearing Women. Lynn Clark Callister, RN, PhD, FAAN and Inaam
Khalaf, RN, PhD, 2010.
2. Dancing with the Wind: A Methodological Approach to Researching Women’s
Spirituality around Menstruation and Birth, Sharon Moloney, 2007.
3. Relationships – True love and the Transendence of Duality. Kim Eng.
4. Midwife Explains The Spiritual Side Of Birth. Huffington Post, 2015.

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Sleep? What Sleep?

“The one thing nobody told me about having a baby was about sleep and how exhausted I would be! I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in over six months!”

Many new parents are completely unprepared to cope with a baby who does not sleep well, who wakes up much more often than normal during the night and cries.  Some infants begin to sleep through the night almost immediately and others do not do so for many months.  Newborns lack a regular pattern for waking and sleeping. Their sleep-deprived parents quickly reach a peak of frustration and experience intense emotions as they struggle to meet the 24/7 demands of their child, at the same time trying to balance that with their own needs for sleep. Dazed parents groggily note this night after night, when the baby wakes time after time for feeding or comforting.  For a while parents have to adapt their own sleep cycle to the baby’s irregular sleep, taking catnaps and rising out of deep sleep to attend the baby’s needs.  The situation intensifies if the parents are arguing about how to handle the situation.

These parents have a dangerous amount of sleep debt. Parents of newborns are said to lose 2 hours of sleep per night until the baby is around 5 months old, which decreases to 1 lost hour per night during ages 5-24 months.  Sleep and nap times shift steadily from day to day, so that parents might find themselves up at midnight one night and at 3am the next. Over the first year of a baby’s life, parents each lose an estimated 350 hours of sleep at night.  Preparation for parenthood needs to include a consideration of strategies for parents to cope with their own loss of sleep as well as wakeful babies.

After a long labor that ended up in a cesarean, and then nights with little sleep, my postpartum days were a fog.  I had all the symptoms of sleep debt – lack of focus and clarity, impatience, worry and anxiety, low energy, and crying.   My husband was in medical school and not home to help much.  My mother insisted on doing everything for me, even taking care of the baby which I wanted to do. My daughter cried a lot and my pediatrician told me it was because I was vegetarian – she couldn’t have been more wrong.

Most people in America today are suffering from some sleep debt and go about their days feeling that the tiredness is normal.  Birthing parents are likely in sleep debt even before they give birth to their baby being up through the night to change positions and urinate due to pressure of the fetus on the bladder.  Couple this with a long labor followed by needing to be awake night after night to feed and soothe their baby.  And what if their baby is one who does not sleep through the night for many months?

Even before pregnancy, we as a nation are sleep deprived and go about our days feeling that tiredness is normal.  This is mostly due to the invention of a single and profound technological advance – the light bulb (1879). Now we could work late into the night, or read for pleasure into the wee hours of the morning. The light bulb mimics daylight and has the ability to shift our internal biological clocks.

When I was travelling around the world years ago with my husband, we often slept in places that had no electricity.  We found ourselves going to sleep just after sunset and rising at sun rise.  We became more familiar with the zodiac moving across the night sky.  We were more in tune with the earth’s rhythms and felt more energy.  There was no light bulb to keep us up. The light bulb has upset the natural order.

When new parents know what to anticipate and expect, and when they have the support they need, the postpartum period can even be enjoyable. I wish I had known more.

Did you know….

  • Our sleep begins well before we are born. The fetus spends most of his time asleep – about 16-20 hours a day.  Many women believe their baby is awake when kicking inside, but the baby is most likely asleep which explains why pregnant women can feel kicking at almost any hour.
  • We have biological clocks and circadian rhythms: The internal pacemaker or biological clock located deep in the brain in two pinhead-size clusters of nerve cells called the suprachiasmatic nuclei or SCN, controls a profound daily continuing oscillation approximating 24 hours. These cycles are called our circadian rhythms. They can be seen in almost every function in the body, from basic cell processes to activities of the whole body.
  • Circadian sleep cycles cross the placenta

The circadian sleep cycles begin before birth by passing across the placenta.  Even though the fetus isn’t exposed to light from outside the womb and can’t tell when it is night or day, the mother is communicating this information to her baby. Research on rats and mice at Harvard University showed that these signals from the mother actually stimulate the fetus to mirror its mother’s circadian cycles.  They found that the mothers’ fluctuating melatonin hormonal levels signal the biological clock in the fetal brain, preparing the babies for the rhythms of life outside the womb.

  • The mother’s circadian rhythm seems to act as a gatekeeper, inhibiting birth during the day and promoting it at night. That is why women often go through “false labor” the night or two before actual labor begins. The mother’s circadian rhythm is opening the gate to a nighttime delivery, even before the baby’s biochemical push to be born is strong enough.
  • The fetus starts labor: The fetus signals the mother when its body is mature and ready to be born and actually starts the labor process. All mammals tend to give birth during the time they normally would be asleep, possibly to make sure the birth happens “at home” and safe from predators.
  • When does dreaming begin? Rapid Eye Movement (REM)

It was found that near term fetuses have about 60-80% of the sleep time in REM sleep, also known as “dream sleep.” Typical newborns spend about eight hours in REM sleep, about 50 percent of their daily sleep. As adults, we spend about 25% or about two hours a night in REM sleep. By old age we have only 15-20% REM sleep.

Immediately after birth, there are only two sleep stages, REM and non-REM sleep.  REM sleep is sometimes called active sleep in babies because the muscular paralysis that always accompanies such sleep is not fully developed. Non-REM sleep on the other hand is often called quiet sleep, because the baby is sleeping like a baby, perfectly still, quiet, and limp.

At birth, infants usually sleep 16-18 hours per day, distributed evenly over six to seven brief sleep periods.  They can pass directly from wakefulness to REM sleep and alternate between REM and non-Rem sleep every 60 minutes or so instead of the 90 minutes adults take to cycle from REM sleep.

Newborns can’t talk but very young children can and do talk about their dreams. Less       than two years old, a little girl was sleeping one morning and her father heard her say           “pick me, pick me.” He looked at her eyes and saw some typical rapid eye movements.        He woke her and she said ‘Oh Daddy, I was a flower.”

  • Newborn sleep states: We now know that a newborn gradually develops more sleep states and these are not random. Stages that have been identified are Deep Sleep (quiet sleep), Light Sleep (active sleep), Quiet Alert state, Active Alert State, Crying State, and Drowsy State. The best time to play with a baby is in the Quiet Alert state.
  • Baby’s biological clock matures gradually. A newborn’s biological clock matures gradually to keep track of the time of day. Therefore, imposing a regular pattern of sleeping and waking is bound to be met with distress for both the parents and baby. However, providing cues such as light in the morning and evening dim light along with regular feeding schedules, can help them along as their biological clocks are maturing. Because new infants have a strong homeostatic sleep drive, they build up sleep debt over a few hours and then pay it back right away with a nap. This continues throughout the 24 hour day until their biological clock is mature.
  • Sleep by the age of 12 months: By the end of the first year, the overall number of sleeping and waking hours has changed very little. The infant still sleeps 14 to 15 hours a day. Except for one to two daytime naps, the sleep periods have shifted to the night and the waking periods to the day.  By about 18 months of age, most toddlers are taking only one nap.  Children slowly sleep less and less until their daily sleep measures about 10 hours which holds steady until they reach puberty.
  • Dangers of sleep debt: Without warning, drowsiness can become sleep in an instant. You are only a few seconds from sleep when your eyelids begin feeling heavy. When the biological clock is not alerting the brain, the sleep debt pushes it toward sleep. The biological clock is at its lowest ebb in the middle of the night and people are more prone to distractions, lack of focus, poor memory, bad mood, and slow reaction times.  This is life threatening if for example you are driving a car.

What you can do…

  • Napping – the most important solution

Taking naps is an excellent and respectable strategy for sleep management.  Naps can make you smarter, faster, and safer than you would be without them.  They should be widely recognized as a powerful tool in battling fatigue and the person who chooses to nap should be regarded as heroic. The longer the nap, the greater the benefit and the benefits seem to be long-lasting. A 45 minute nap improves alertness for 6 hours after the nap. And for 10 hours after a 1-hour nap.  The rule of thumb for new mothers is:  “Sleep when your baby sleeps.”

  • Faith and Surrender: Surrender to the process of parenting, and even in your most tired moments, remember that amazing thing you have done to conceive, grow, and birth a baby.  Have faith that it will get easier as he/she sleeps through the night.
  • Drink a glass of water and feel the peace that it brings.
  • See birth as a miracle: Yes, your life has changed, but soon you will hardly remember the time before birth. Babies and young children make us smile. Their joy is immeasurable.
  • Breathe deeply and slowly: Take long deep slow breaths in and out when you feel you have reached your limits.  Practice awareness by closing your eyes, breathing in love and breathing out your worries.