November 2014

O'Natural Mama

Author: Becca Edwards

From the moment a woman sees a positive sign on a pregnancy test, she blooms with questions and emotions. I know. I’ve been there three times myself and assisted in seven births. Many times mamas-to-be recall images of women in excruciating pain or Carol Burnett’s quote, “Having a baby is like taking your lower lip and forcing it over your head.”

Here’s the truth. From conception to delivery, having a baby is an amazing journey. As more parents jump on the baby bump bandwagon of environmentally safe toys and bedding, BPA-free products, and organic foods, a disconnect remains between o’natural pregnancies and o’natural labors. The empowered preggo rocking it out in a yoga class, painting the nursery in low VOC paint, and registering for an organic cotton ERGObaby carrier sometimes loses her momentum in the delivery room. Why? Many healthcare providers, researchers and, yes, moms say it’s because we tend to look at childbirth as a clinical procedure rather than an amazing physiological process.

Like a gender-reveal party, there’s good news. Hilton Head and Bluffton parents are welcoming more natural births. “At Coastal [Carolina Hospital], there is definitely a larger number of mothers delivering naturally,” said labor and delivery nurse Jana Bates. She credits this to midwives like Dr. Elizabeth DuRant of Riverside Women’s Care.

Even still, many women are requesting induced labor, according to Heightland, who believes that with proper prenatal planning, more moms would feel prepared and empowered to go intervention-free. “Many women want to go naturally but haven’t prepared enough for it beforehand and get overwhelmed,” she said. “I feel that if a woman truly wants an un-medicated birth, she should educate herself for it as much as possible.”

Rather than poring over boring books like What to Expect When You Are Expecting and going cross-eyed browsing through websites, moms can enlist the services of a birth doula. “So, what the bump is a birth doula?” you might ask. The Greek word “doula” means “woman caregiver.”

Mollie Kinard, a yoga instructor and birth doula, elaborated, “I offer physical and emotional support, breathing and relaxation techniques, position recommendations, and partner support.”

Art of Massage and Yoga owner April Lewis (who is also a Hypnobabies doula, placenta encapsulation specialist and herbalist) added, “I work with the mom and partner in advance on breathing, yoga poses and reflexology. I send them home with some essential oils to apply to reflex points. This also allows the father to feel much more involved.” Lewis also teaches techniques to ease back labor and talks about the benefits of red raspberry leaf tea in strengthening and toning the uterus.

For both Kinard and Lewis, their care begins during the prenatal phase—no matter how late or early in the pregnancy—and continues from delivery to postpartum recovery. Essentially, a doula’s objective should be any soon-to-be-parent’s objective: to have the mom feel supported and informed, especially during the birthing experience. “I became a doula because I am amazed at the things women are capable of doing and I want to empower them to realize those capabilities,” Kinard said. Likewise, Lewis said, “I became a doula to allow women to have the best birth that they see fit.”

Childbirth is divided into phases and stages—from pre-labor to the third stage, or the passing of the placenta. Throughout this entire beautiful process, hormones play a big biological role.

According to Drs. Marshall Klaus and John Kennell, “Hormones have an effect on pain, are critical to an easy delivery, and are significant to the mother-baby connection.” Oxytocin, or the cuddle hormone, produces the contractions needed in the pushing stage of delivery and also plays an important role in breastfeeding. (When a mother induces labor, she is prescribed Pitocin, or the synthetic form of oxytocin.) Beta-endorphin is a biological opiate and is secreted during times of stress and or pain to restore homeostasis. Evidence shows that with proper coaching and the implementation of the breathing and relaxation techniques practiced during pregnancy, the mother more readily produces beta-endorphin, enabling her to manage or even “get in front of” her pain and better enjoy her birth. Beta-endorphin also activates the production of meso cortico limbic dopamine; together these hormones work like a powerful dose of morphine to control pain.

“The natural production of these hormones during labor avoids the negative side effects of both injected and synthetic hormones and painkillers,” wrote Klaus and Kennell. Interventions such as an epidural can slow down labor, especially during the first stage. Here’s how: Mom orders the epidural. She anxiously waits for the anesthesiologist, anticipating that as soon as he/she walks in her pain will stop. (This can give false hope to some women, as the epidural effects everyone differently.)

Although receiving an epidural is a minor procedure, it requires several steps including the insertion of a very long and uncomfortable needle. Meanwhile, the woman is working through intense contractions and a whirlwind of emotions. I’ve watched doula clients’ blood pressure go up, their breathing become shallow, and their faces become flush during this process. They are in fight-or-flight mode, and their bodies are secreting cortisol, the stress hormone.

DONA International (the oldest, largest and most respected doula association in the world) cited the most recent systematic review and looked closely at how benefits of labor support varied by the type of person providing the support. The review found that the effects were strongest when the person received continuous support, especially from someone like a midwife or doula who was neither a member of the hospital staff or in the woman’s social network. (This is not to say our local nurses don’t rock—because they do.) It also reported that these women were 28 percent less likely to have a cesarean section, 31 percent less likely to use synthetic oxytocin to speed up labor, 9 percent less likely to use pain medication, and 34 percent less likely to rate their childbirth experience negatively.

Kristin Magowitz recently delivered a healthy baby girl named Lila with the assistance of a doula. “There was no question in my mind I would give natural birth my best shot,” she said.

“Fortunately, I was able to have a successful and beautiful drug-free birth.” Reiterating the words of Bates, Kinard and Lewis, Magowitz added, “Unfortunately the birth experience is assumed by many people to be a trauma or something to be feared. I think this fear leads women to want to employ methods to avoid the experience or at least find a way around the parts that may be more uncomfortable. Also, I think that most women don’t have any idea the consequences of interventions like cesarean sections or epidurals. There are so many medical risks involved with interventions during and after the delivery.

“There is a fine line though,” Magowitz continued. “How to deliver should be a decision made by the mother.” Magowitz wishes that doctors would give a little more information on the risks and benefits of all different options. “I think it is good to remain open to these interventions in case they are medically necessary or if the baby or the mother’s health is in danger,”—a view shared by everyone interviewed for this article.

When it comes to setting herself up for post-partum success, a mom can still be holistically minded. Lewis’ spa offers a Moor mud wrap that helps with lymphatic drainage and reduces water weight and swelling. Kinard and Lewis both teach Mommy and Me yoga classes. Hilton Head Hospital and RN certified lactation consultant, Jean Magarelli offer a breastfeeding support group, which is crucial to getting the hang of things as well as creating a social network of moms going through the same new mama drama.

Holistic health coaches and nutritionists on Hilton Head Island and in Bluffton can inform moms about ways to naturally support the thyroid, immune system and breast milk production as well as cope with the effects of sleep deprivation. Sheila Stephens of Stephens Compounding Pharmacy sells a complete line of maternity products and provides one-on-one sessions to discuss supplementation and health goals. In addition, Facebook pages such as the Boob Group and Lowcountry Doula Co-Op offer forum-like benefits.

Ultimately, having a baby is awesome. Whether it is totally natural, medicated, or somewhere in between, Magowitz made a valid point. “I think a key factor in living a fulfilling and happy life is to trust yourself and feel empowered day-to-day,” she said. “One of the most important times to really work and focus on this is during pregnancy and motherhood.” 

Becca Edwards is a DONA certified birth doula, IIN holistic health coach, yoga-Barre instructor, writer/blogger, and owner of b.e.well and b.e.creative (

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