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Book review: Hold Your Prem by Jill Bergman with Dr. Nils Bergman

This book on best practices for premature baby (prem) care is invaluable. It will be exceptionally useful to empower parents of a prem AND as a resource for birth professionals. The Bergmans share best practices to meet prems’ needs that recreate as closely as possible the experience in the womb. This is quite profound, but in typical Western hospitals [dealing with liabilities (and fears) around prem care] is not always a priority. Prems being with mom, with skin-to-skin contact is best because it makes the biggest difference in terms of neuroscience (baby’s brain development) which wires babies’ nervous systems for health.

This book gives clarity on how to meet these deep needs and how we can change the landscape to prioritize prems’ needs – especially during the exceptionally significant early seconds, minutes, hours and days after a prem is born. This book is the premise for Kangaroula training offered next weekend by BirthWorks!  If you want to learn more, please register now or when it is offered again in 2021.

When certain things are not in place for the mother-prem connection, it is at the cost of stress on baby’s autonomic nervous system (ANS) and brain development.  What “the baby expects biologically” does not happen if the prem spends most of the time in an incubator (or crib), and being in this state of stress or shock, especially for a prem, wires their brains to not relax and expect stress, with costs for exceptionally important development in the first few months of their lives and longer.

“Skin-to-skin contact provides the biologically expected stimulation to wire the brain in the best way possible… The brain is stimulated by sensations. The sensations from the mother are good and reassuring. They make the brain develop… This brain-wiring depends on the mother’s presence.” (p.11)  Babies have certain sensory needs (feel of skin, smell of mother, hearing her voice and heartbeat, see her face and tasting breast milk) which if they are in place help babies relax (so they breathe, eat and sleep better).  But if a prem is not with mom, they go into “shock” when trying to regulate their own body temperature (and more) and their nervous system is stressed (fight-and-flight).  There are steep costs for a prem to be in a negative stress state, when their brain is not fully developed, lungs are not ready for breathing air, sight and hearing are highly sensitive, and skin is fragile (p.12). 

For parents, this book will empower you, so if your baby is a prem, you can take care of yourself, and understand what is happening in the hospital to advocate for your baby. [For parents of term babies, so much information is relevant to your babies’ care and needs as well.]  As parents of a prem, you will understand how normal it is to experience a multitude of emotions (such as… very confusing, scary, worry, fear, uncertainty plus joy, hope, love and also more positive ones too).  It provides information and insight into certain areas – how to read signs from your baby, technology used, problems prems might face in the NICUs, the value of skin-to-skin contact, breastfeeding (with tons of tips), neuroscience (brain development), how you can best ask for help, and taking your prem home to parent them. You can use this book to “lessen the stress” and “help you and your prem cope better” (p.9) but more than that… you will understand what is going on (what your baby is telling you, even what good reasons there are for wires and tubes on your baby) and how the key thing that can help your baby is YOU! – your presence, your touch and your love. (You can hold your baby with the wires attached, if you ask.)

For professionals, you may find academic validation that much of what you intuitively do (outside of managing technology as needed) when working with prems is already in-line with best meeting their needs. You may understand parents of prems better, and thus how to work best with them to make positive changes for ideal care for their prem. As a childbirth educator or doula, the book clarifies the ultimate best baby care… because understanding and meeting a prem’s needs best is the most extreme way we can give the absolute best care to any baby, and deeply understanding the experience of parents of prems frames the support that is also best for any new parent.  

This book emphasizes the importance of the shared journey… starting with the mother/baby connection, and the cooperative teamwork of parents and providers together.  This matters a lot! – in the context of neuroscience, honoring parents speaking for their baby, and embracing that “mom + milk” are the key ingredients in building the prem’s health. The book also states that in NICU prem care there are some areas of controversy where academic “evidence is insufficient or absent” (pp.v), which reinforces the vital bond between mother and baby, and the need to find the best balance of mother-care and technological care. The conversation with prem parents and health professionals is key to improve prem care now and in the future.

Hold Your Prem helps us choose to care for term infants and prems with deep knowledge and awareness, in conscious ways that minimize trauma (which sadly is unintentionally created in some hospital/NICU-care models). The Bergmans empower parents and providers through detailed understanding and steps to allow the best nurture science, skin-to-skin contact, positive breastfeeding support and mother-baby bonding, so together we co-create a “nurture care” model to minimize stress, maximize babies’ comfort to meet their deep developmental needs in the early moments of their precious lives, enhance bonding, and align intention to create healthy babies and brain integration, so prems’ nervous systems are balanced and well, which can give prems the opportunity to live healthier lives and effectively connect socially in the future.

If you’re inspired to learn more and to learn how to advocate for prems in your work, consider joining BirthWorks for Kangaroula future trainings, now offered virtually.

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Book Review: Nobody Told Me About That – The First Six Weeks

Nobody Told Me About That – The First Six Weeks
by Ginger Breedlove

Book review by Cristin Tighe, BWI Program Director & CCE(BWI)

What a valuable read – this is the most comprehensive book about the postpartum time I’ve picked up. It’s focus on the first six weeks is key! As a mother of first a daughter and then twin boys, and as a postpartum doula, I have experienced the challenging personal reality of going through the early weeks with newborn(s) and have professionally supported varied clients through it!  The first six weeks or so with a baby is also the most precious time.  Having the option while pregnant to understand what to expect after the baby is born very comprehensively and clearly is a true gift – as it empowers parents, so they can enjoy this time more.

For parents-to-be, the first four chapters are like gold. They focus on what is normal (can eliminate much worry!), how to make safe and empowered sleep decisions, and feeding realities (including breastfeeding benefits and tips for success).  Understanding certain key things is exceptionally helpful – like it’s normal that a baby may have a cone-shaped head, acne or other skin changes, cross eyes or make funny sounds when sleeping.  It’s also so valuable to know what to expect day-by-early day about when a baby will poop, changes in sleeping and eating patterns, as well as the truth about how tending to a newborn after birth is often an emotional roller coaster but certain things can minimize that.

For mom, considerations and choosing before baby comes about early day visitors (and tips on how to manage them sweetly!), about how to prioritize mom’s sleep needs and shift the schedule as baby’s sleep and eating needs vary over the first weeks, will also assure her needs are met.  The 36-page chapter on breastfeeding is a lot… but if this is read before the baby comes, parents should feel very empowered on almost every key consideration for breastfeeding (and can skip other books and online resources as prep).

Other key chapters can definitely help parents, and without a doubt do provide valuable insight for birth work professionals and medical providers.  They include: in-depth information for fathers/partners, on postpartum depression (“the #1 complication of pregnancy”), returning to intimacy and to work, dealing with challenges (inequity/racism, unexpected interventions, mother and infant mortality, trauma, grief), as well as fun ideas on practicing mindfulness and getting a pet accustomed to a new baby.  Additional key topic chapters offer deep insight from women of color, LGBT* families, and real from-the-heart stories sharing the experience of what it’s like up to the first six weeks+ AND how moms can find their voice through this magical, demanding experience.

Do note this book is like a mini-encyclopedia, and often has repetition – so if you’re pregnant or a partner anticipating your new child – good to purchase it now.  (This book is so important for those in the US (or with a similar model) of more medicalized birth options and minimal support for after-baby care — which is often very little advice to no advice/hands-on preparation followed by mostly no professional support at home for weeks.  Even in countries, like Belgium, where you have in-home midwives visit every other day for a few weeks to check baby and mom, affordable pediatrician visits earlier than six weeks, and optional free childcare support, this book is invaluable.

Overall, this book empowers and deeply enlightens… of all the birth-related books on my bookshelf… this is a keeper! I will refer to it again and again for clients’ needs and do encourage both new parents and professionals to purchase it now.


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Journey Into the World of Nurturescience!

Journey Into the World of Nurturescience!

Become Registered As A Kangaroula!baby feeding on mom with 2nd woman watching

March 21-22, 2020 in Medford, NJ (12 miles from Philadelphia)

 “Behavior is Place Dependent.”  “What is an innate fetal agenda?”  “What are primal behaviors?”  “What does brain regulation and dysregulation look like?” “ What happens to a baby when there is an allostatic load?”  “How is ‘suckling’ different from ‘sucking?’ ” You may wonder, “How do these affect the brain of a newborn baby and his growth into adulthood and what can we do to help newborns get a better start in life?”  Journeying into the world of Nurturescience  provides answers to these questions.

When I think of a journey, I think of going deeper into what I already know.  When I was in my twenties, my husband and I, newly married, decided to travel around the world for one year.  That one year became three and a half years, visiting 55 countries on six continents of the world, and becoming transformed along the way.  We made this trip early in life and have had the benefit to this day.   We found out that there is always more when you decide to dive deep and the earlier it is learned, the better.

This has been my experience travelling with Nils Bergman and hearing him lecture about Nurturescience.  In fact, his Nurturescience is the NEW Neuroscience.  The impact of what a newborn baby experiences in the first days and weeks of life is more fascinating and has a deeper impact than we realize.  With this new learning in Nurturescience, my passion to help moms and babes have healthier experiences in birth has become more intense because I see how this impacts society and its leaders at large. The beginnings of this lie in birth.

This workshop will benefit all health professionals, including neonatal nurses, midwives, lactation consultants, birth and postpartum doulas and childbirth educators certified in their field through any organization.

Come and learn:

  • How nurture matters for brain wiring of all babies, but how also to apply this for small and sick babies (premature).
  • The powerful connection of mother and baby – the two truths – Zero Separation of mother-baby is our biology, and the mother-baby dyad should never be left alone.
  • The Innate Newborn Agenda – The mother’s body precisely controls every element of her infant’s physiology, from heart rate to release of hormones, appetite, temperature, and the intensity of activity. “This creates an invisible hot house in which the infants’ development can unfold.” (Hofer)
  • How brain wiring is place-dependent – the critical moments at birth and after are when baby brain cells are fired and wired by maternal sensory inputs. There are more synapses in the brain of a newborn baby than stars in the universe, so every baby is born with the full potential of the universe.
  • Ways to help avoid infant brain dysregulation and enhance social connection through life (to avoid the tendency for later social withdrawl).


I wish I had known more about nurturescience when I was a young mother and am grateful for the research surrounding this new neuroscience.   We are starting a new movement of Kangaroulas in the USA.  Be one of the pioneers in this movement.     Click Events.  For more information click Trainings and scroll down to Kangaroula trainings.

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Babies, Birth, Bonding, and Beyond – What’s Love Got to do With it?

Sally Dear Healy, Ph.D.

What does love have to do with babies, birth, bonding, and the rest of our lives? The answer is, quite a lot. In fact, love has the potential for impacting how we are conceived, how we experience pregnancy and birth, as well our ability to engage in successful relationships. Moreover, our capacity for love, or the lack thereof, can influence our behaviors and relationships for the rest of our lives, including the way we mother/parent. The crucial point is that the capacity for love begins long before the baby is even born, and some argue even prior to conception. What we know for sure is that we need to be paying more attention to ‘what’s love got to do with it?’ In the words of Michel Odent, “At a time when people are focusing on violence and the roots of violence, I am convinced that we can go a step further in our understanding . . .  by turning the question on its head and looking instead at how the capacity of love develops.”[1]  We will begin with a look at romantic love, or what would be the ideal environment for a new soul to be conceived.

In 1999, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco began looking at the biological basis for human attachment and bonding. Their research clearly showed that oxytocin is “associated with the ability to maintain healthy interpersonal relationships and healthy psychological boundaries with other people.”[2]  In addition, they reported that “In humans, oxytocin stimulates milk ejection during lactation, uterine contraction during birth, and is released during sexual orgasm in both men and women.” Last but not least, the research revealed that “Women who were currently involved in a committed relationship experienced greater oxytocin increases in response to positive emotions.” From an evolutionary perspective, this makes perfect sense since ideally a woman’s body and mind are stimulated in such a way as to promote a feeling of safety so she can welcome and nurture her child from conception on.

Conscious conception means approaching the moment of life’s beginning with all the attention it deserves. Moreover, the belief that conception can and should be ‘conscious’ is long- and well-supported. In 1986, Jeannine Parvati Baker’s seminal book Conscious Conception became a comprehensive reference that engaged an awareness far beyond the process of biological conception and engaged the belief that conception is far more than ‘just’ a physical act and biological process.[4] As an example, if a woman is open to conceiving, one of the most important things she can do is to open up her heart-uterus connection, again ideally prior to conception.  This is because when a woman becomes pregnant, a channel or line of communication opens between her ‘heart’ and that of her baby.  According to the Chinese, the ‘heart’ is the spirit’s ‘home’ and is associated with the heart center (chakra).  The heart chakra, or Anahata, is the center of love, balance, and connection and is responsible for regulating the energy associated with self-acceptance, self-love, compassion, openness, and unconditional love of others. Babies receive intuited feelings from their mother via this line of communication.

Carista Luminare-Rosen’s research shows that “Prenates can see, hear, feel, remember, taste, and think before birth.”[5] In other words, babies in the womb have the emotional and intuitive capabilities to sense their parents’ love, or lack thereof. Thus, we can argue if the spirit of the baby does not feel that the mother is ‘ready’ for conception then they will not initiate the relationship by coming to that mother at that time. The spirit of the baby may also determine that the womb is not a safe place, at least not at that time. While it may be difficult for mothers/parents to reconcile with the words of James Thurber, “He who hesitates is sometimes saved,” we cannot negate the possibility that babies do in fact make ‘choices’ about when they are conceived and who they chose as their mother.  The good news is that, as Huxley (1987) suggests, “Preparing for the moment of conception offers (women) the opportunity for a renewal of (their) perspective and existence.  Rather than being a random moment, lost in the events of ordinary life, conception can turn into the culmination of in-depth work on (herself) and (her) relationships.[4] The point of this process is to have a sense of self-love and a receptive love environment for the baby. This exploration and awareness can, and often does continue during pregnancy.

Back in 1978, Tarn Taran Kaur Khalsa established Conscious Pregnancy Training for German Kundalini Yoga teachers (Kundalini Yoga is the Yoga of Awareness).  Her intent was to explore a woman’s journey to motherhood including her self-identity, as well as her relationships and building her family culture through the birthing and postpartum process.[7] Since then numerous books and articles have been written about prenatal bonding, however, while the words “bonding,” “attachment,” and “connection” are used widely and interchangeably, few if any actually mention or engage the word love, nor is the word “love” found in the Index.  This was surprising but not unexpected.  More concerning is the fact that a search for “love and pregnancy” focused on topics such as “10 Fun Date Ideas for Pregnant Moms and Partners,” “5 Ways Pregnancy Will Change Your Relationship,” and “15 Things Men Absolutely Love About Pregnant Women,” while others focused on teen pregnancy.[8] What is most important is that mothers and babies feel and experience love during the pregnancy.[9] This will allow babies to receive the message that the uterine environment is both physically and emotionally safe, which in turn prepares them for birth.  Accordingly, Nathanielsz (2001) argues that “The right kind of environment will allow (the woman/mother) to offer the right kinds of messages to (their) child so that, at birth, he is already well along the most healthy developmental path.”[10]

We would hope that the feeling and experience of blissful love is automatically present when a woman gives birth and a new life enters this world, but rarely expand this expectation beyond the birthing woman/couple and their baby to include the love or loving feelings of a care provider toward their patient/client, and even towards themselves.  While some OB’s claim that they “love what they do for a living,” and “treasure the relationships (they are) able to be a part of with each of their patients,” other than few vague references to midwives, I found no mention in the research of a care provider being taught to or purposefully communicating feelings of love towards the woman, her  baby, or the birthing environment, let alone purposely creating a space where this kind of love flourish.  In other words, mothering/parenting should ideally embrace a purposeful conveyance of love and the mindful creation of a space where love can flourish.

What does appropriate care look like in the first few years of life?  Lots and lots of love!  According to Schore (2014), “Optimal attachment scenarios allow for the development of a right-lateralized system of efficient activation and feedback inhibition of the HPA axis and autonomic arousal.”[11] Unfortunately many of today’s parenting advice focuses more on the needs of the parents instead of the needs of the baby/child.  As an example, on the website Love and Logic, in an article titled “End the bedtime Blues” (J. Fay), parents are admonished to “stick to (their) guns” when it comes to putting children to bed.  If the child “resorts” to saying they are frightened, or that there are “monsters in their room,” Fay argues that parents should respond by saying “Well, sweetie, my advice is to make friends with them.  See you in the morning.  I love you,” and walk out the door. Now imagine how this scenario plays out when the infant/child is not developmentally ready for separation.  While the spectrum of research on love and healthy human development is far beyond the scope of this article, what is most important to remember is that oxytocin is produced naturally when we love, are loved, nurture another, give selflessly, or engage in affectionate touch.”  The love invested early on will pay huge dividends later on.

In fact, the impact of oxytocin extends far beyond the time of birth and early parenting.  For example, the article “The role of oxytocin in psychiatric disorders: A review of biological and therapeutic research findings” (Cochran, 2013), looked at oxytocin as “an important regulator of human social behaviors, including social decision making, evaluating and responding to social stimuli, mediating social interactions, and forming social memories.”[12] What this review discovered is that “oxytocin is intricately involved in a broad array of neuropsychiatric functions, and may be a common factor important in multiple psychiatric disorders such as autism, schizophrenia, mood and anxiety disorders.”  More specifically, “while there is less evidence for a clear dysfunction in the oxytocin system in patients with schizophrenia,” some studies suggest that “there may be a dysfunction in oxytocin processing associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and that there may be developmental changes associated with the oxytocin system over the lifespan of individuals with ASD.”  Moreover, with regards to epigenetics, “Even when there is no direct genetic evidence of alterations in oxytocin-related genes, the expression of these genes may be affected by epigenetic modification and provide a different mechanism for oxytocin’s role in the clinical phenotype of ASD.”

Going back to Cochran’s study and the impact of oxytocin as an important regulator of human social behaviors, it is worth noting that Allan N. Schore (2017), looked at the psychoneurobiological mechanisms that underlie the vulnerability of the developing male.  His findings showed that “stress-regulating circuits of the male brain mature more slowly than those of the female in the prenatal perinatal, and postnatal critical period,” “developing males are more vulnerable over a longer period of time to stressors in the social environment (attachment trauma),” and that there is an “increased vulnerability of males to autism, early onset schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and conduct disorders.”[13] These results are of considerable interest given that in November (2018), the National Survey of Children’s Health updated the CDC figures of 1 in 59 children in the U.S. with a diagnosis of autism[14] to roughly 1 in 40 having a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.  It is also notable that autism in boys, reported by the CDC to be 4 times more common than in girls, was updated to reveal that boys were (only) 3.5 times as likely to be diagnosed when compared to girls.[15] Instead of the cultural emphasis of “toughening up” boys by treating them differently than girl babies, literally from birth on, we should instead be taking a more dedicated look at the psychoneurobiological mechanisms that impact development and treat all infants with tender, responsive care so that they can experience secure attachment.  As Shore concludes, “In light of the male infant’s slower brain maturation, the secure mother’s attachment-regulating function as a sensitively responsive, interactive affect regulator of his immature right brain in the first year is essential to optimal male socioemotional development.”

In light of the research on the connection between love, oxytocin expression, as well as  the short- and long-term impacts on infant/human well-being, it is clear that love is  likely to be one of the most crucial elements in the process, beginning with preconception and extending at least through the first few years of an infant/child’s life.  Moreover, we must begin with loving the pregnant and birthing woman, her baby, and her partner – on the birth day, and every day.

[1] Odent, M. (2014). The Scientification of Love.  London: Free Association Books.

[2] Turner, R., Altemus, M., Enos, T., & McGuinness, T. Psychiatry Interpersonal & Biological Processes, 62(2):97-113.

[3] Turner, R., Altemus, M., Enos, T., & McGuinness, T. Psychiatry Interpersonal & Biological Processes, 62(2):97-113.

[4] Parvati Baker, J., Baker, F., & Slayton, T. Conscious Conception: Elemental Journey Through the Labyrinth of Sexuality. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

[5] Luminare-Rose, C. (2000). Parenting Begins Before Conception: A Guide to Preparing Body, Mind, and Spirit for You and Your Future Child.  Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.

[6] Huxley, L. (1987). The Child of Your Dreams. Minneapolis, MN: CompCare Publishers.


[8] One notable exception is Elizabeth Nobel’s book Primal Connections: How our Experiences from conception to birth influence our emotions, behavior, and health (1993), which not only mentions love in the Index, it cross-references the listing with “heart.”

[9] One of the songs in the BirthWorks trainings asks, “What can we do to bring her love, on the birth day, and every day?”

[10] Nathanielsz, P. (2001). The Prenatal Prescription. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

[11] Schore, A. (2014). Early interpersonal neurobiological assessment of attachment and autistic spectrum disorders. Frontiers in Psychology, 5:1049. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01049

[22] Cochran, D., Fallon, D., Hill, M, and Frazier, J. (2013). The role of oxytocin in psychiatric disorders: A review of biological and therapeutic research findings.  Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 21(5):219-247.

[13] Schore, A. (2017) “All our sons: The developmental neurobiology and neuroendocrinology of boys at risk. Journal of Infant Mental Health, 38(1):15-52.

[14] Centers for Disease Control (2018). Data and Statistics: Autism Spectrum Disorder. Retrieved from

[15] Kogan et al. (2018). The prevalence of parent-reported autism spectrum disorder among US Children. Journal of Pediatrics, 142(6).