Yoga meets Labour - Using yoga techniques in the birth of my baby girl

 Miss P, just minutes old

Miss P, just minutes old

I am back! Its taken me a good few months to finally get my head out of newborn land and semi-back into writing about all things Yoga. Life is pretty full these days (not busy, everyone is busy - just very ‘full’) and is a juggle trying to bed Miss P into the family whilst ensuring her big brother is ok emotionally with such a big change to the family dynamic. Then also getting myself right mentally, emotionally and physically whilst working part-time, running a household and ensuring my husband and I don't become ‘transactional housemates’. Maybe my yoga blog posts might get few and far between for the next little while!

On the 23rd January, Miss P joined our family, making another beautiful birth and entrance into the world - as did my 3-year-old, Master N. I borrowed yogic techniques heavily and also followed the CalmBirth™ approach to labour and birth.

 

How the day went

Well, I definitely didn’t start out thinking I was going to have a baby that day. It was the day before my due date. I woke up thinking my waters may be slightly leaking, but I had a few things to do that day and chose to get on with it and see how I went. The photographer we booked to take some family pics once bub arrived wanted to do a maternity shoot, so I donned some makeup, styled my hair and frocked up. Little did I realise I was about to be the most glamorous new mum on the ward that evening!

 The day I went into Labour - Photography from  adriateall.com.au

The day I went into Labour - Photography from adriateall.com.au

After overcoming a few trials and tribulations position-wise during pregnancy (low-lying placenta and breech presentation) bubs was still keeping me on my toes and had managed to turn posterior in the lead-up, so off I went once again to acupuncture at 2pm. My acupuncturist just so happened to be right beside the hospital so after my appointment I thought I'd better just pop in and get these waters checked. Sure enough, I had a hind water leak and was going to be induced in 30 mins. So there I was, my car parked in a 2-hour zone and nothing but my purse, a water bottle (but looking super glam - phew) and I was about to have a baby. After that, it was all stations go. I was started on the drip, hubby arrived 1.5 hours later with my bags and beloved exercise ball. We spent an hour or so making the ‘pushing playlist’ (which we still listen to! Accessible on Spotify here) and chatting. They broke my waters, cranked up the syntocinon and then we were down to business.

4 hours of super-intense second stage labour (hard and fast - how lucky was I?) but my contractions were all over the place, not regular or consistent and no rest in-between. I’d been through this before with Master N, and thought I was a long way off. But suddenly it was time to push! Our 115-minute pushing playlist got cranked up, but 1.5 songs in and Miss P was here! Whoosh!

 

Yogic Techniques I used during labour

I was super lucky to have a non-complicated birth, something that many women are not as fortunate to experience for factors completely out of their control. So in the first instance, I was so very grateful to be given another chance for a natural delivery using no pain relief, especially since I spent a lot of my pregnancy preparing for a caesar delivery.

Being a yoga teacher and having a passion for birth and the amazing things the body can do, I was so keen to once again challenge my body and; more importantly, my mind. I had spent many weeks preparing for the birth (you can read about this here) and the big day was finally here. My labour this time was only 6 hours, with Master N it was 16 and I used the same techniques. So here is what I found helped me most in both my labours.

 

Breath-work or Pranayama

This amazing technique helped my body to stay calm during contractions and allowed me to relax in between. According to Dr Grantly Dick Read’s ‘Fear, Tension, Pain theory’, the more we fear labour and birth, the more tension it creates which leads to the release of stress hormones and adrenaline in the body causing ineffective and painful uterine contractions. We can control this both before, during and after labour by using the breath to ensure the body and mind remain calm. Deep diaphragmatic breathing is a way to stimulate the vagus nerve which triggers a relaxation response in the body. This reduces the production of adrenalin and increases the release of Oxytocin and Endorphins (the body’s natural painkiller), which are essential for opening the cervix and encouraging uterine muscles to work effectively during labour.

So I took as slow, deep conscious breaths as I possibly could. Pranayama, as yogi’s call it. The term ‘pranayama’ actually goes much deeper than breathing. It is a way of controlling the prana or energy in the body, however, breath control is a common way of achieving this. I probably averaged about 4 breaths per minute. I was so completely focused on my breath, thinking of nothing else but the air flowing in and out, trying to extend the exhale and pause at the end of the exhale. In Yoga, we call this Visamavritti Pranayama which is using an uneven but consistent breath ratio consisting of inhaling, pausing, exhaling, pausing. My most common ratio during labour was 5:3:6:5 respectively.

 

Positioning and Asana

I tried many positions this time including (a sort of) Utkata Konasana (Goddess), an ‘Anjaneyasana (Crescent Lunge) meets Utthan Pristhasana (Lizard) pose, a very high Malasana (Garland or Yogi squat). But found the trusty ‘bouncing on the exercise ball’ (not very yogi at all) was the most comfortable. Of course this is purely a personal preference, however, I found I could rock and bounce on the ball to help draw bub’s head down and manoeuvre them through the birth canal. At least this is what I was visualising as I rocked and rolled! I also found this gave my husband (and amazing support partner) full access to help me through contractions by rubbing my back, massaging my shoulders etc. Then when a contraction was over I could lean back onto his legs and just rest until the next one.

 

Conscious Thinking and Visualisation (aka. getting in ‘the zone’)

Some yogic mindfulness techniques (I guess you could call it!) also helped me to shift my focus. The practice of Pratyahara, which comes with meditation, is the process of shifting the awareness from the external world and drawing the focus within. This, in combination with Dharana, concentration of the mind.  Drawing the attention away from the senses - in the case of birth - away from the sense of touch (pain from contractions) and fiercely concentrating the mind on another aspect ie. visualisations, mantra, breath. In my case, I was so wholeheartedly focused on my breath that I was in my own little world, I barely opened my eyes, I didn’t talk to anyone, I barely made a sound. Just counting the seconds of my breath. 

Another technique I did try that was useful (more so before I was in ‘the zone’) was focusing on another area of my body, an area that was not experiencing the intensity. I wiggled my toes…. a lot. And I still use it when breastfeeding! I also had a list of mantra’s I repeated to myself to remind me to believe in my body and surrender to the process.

 

My husband, my rock and my amazing support partner

My husband probably played the biggest part in helping me during labour. Especially with my first birth when I didn’t know what to expect, wasn’t sure if I could do it etc. And he really didn’t get any of the credit. If it wasn’t for him, my first birth probably would've resulted very differently.

Just to know there was someone I loved there with me, cheering me on, motivating me to keep going, believing that I could do this and being so in awe of what his wife was capable of enduring. The midwives even commented on how calm and amazing he was and left us to it most of the time, knowing I was in safe hands. He spent the entirety of both labours counting my breaths with me, talking me through the contractions and encouraging me if I ever doubted my abilities. What a man!

 

 My gorgeous kids - Photography from  adriateall.com.au

My gorgeous kids - Photography from adriateall.com.au

Pure f-ing belief in my self and my body

This aspect was much easier the second time around as I knew what to expect and drew a lot of strength that I had done it before. Provided all went swimmingly and there were no complications; I believed my body could do it so much that I didn’t give myself an out. I completely surrendered all control and just trusted my body knew what to do.

 

 

So there you have it, the final page of my pregnancy and birth yoga journey. Now the attention shifts to recovery and rebuilding my body post natally. 

 

39 weeks! Turning my breech baby

 39 weeks and looking forward to a caffeinated coffee! Or maybe a nice cold glass of bubbles... 

39 weeks and looking forward to a caffeinated coffee! Or maybe a nice cold glass of bubbles... 

Well, here we are, 39 weeks pregnant - and down to the final few days (hopefully!). Apart from driving my husband crazy with nesting and various baby-related chores, I am feeling well and enjoying the calm before the inevitable storm.

The last 4 weeks have been interesting. If you have been following along with my birth journey, I have had a breech bubs since 29 weeks. I had such an amazing, powerful birth with Master N using CalmBirth techniques to assist with the contractions (aka. ‘surges’) and associated pain (aka. ‘pressure’), I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed that it was looking like a caesarean section for me this time around. To be honest, I kept yo-yo-ing between “just accept it and start preparing for a positive cesarean experience” and “no, I am going to do everything I can do to help flip this baby and look into a breech delivery”. It was quite a tumultuous time for me mentally as I couldn’t seem to choose a path to stick to. So I ended up doing a bit of both - preparing for a caesarean whilst still doing everything I could do despite the low chances of it turning.

At my 35 week scan, I was told the baby was frank breech (bum down, head under my ribs and feet in front of the face), with a less than 5% chance it would turn. Bummer. But still, I persisted with all my weird and wonderful techniques to help flip baby. At my 37 week scan, I was 100% convinced it was still breech with a large hard mound stuck underneath my ribs and very limited movement. But to my honest amazement, it turns out that was a boney bum I could feel and its head was DOWN! I could not believe it - I was ecstatic and so very fortunate. 

Now, I am not sure if bubs was always going to turn or if it was something I was doing to help give it the space it needed. But I thought I would put together the things I was doing consistently that maybe did or didn’t have an impact. At the very least, it felt like I was trying everything I could and the rest was out of my control.

 

Chiropractic Manoeuvres (Webster Technique)

For me, I think this one made the most difference. I went to see Bianca at Body in Balance as she was one of the few Chiropractors trained in the specific pregnancy manoeuvre called the Webster Technique (read more about it here). The Webster technique is a chiropractic manoeuvre to help align the pelvis and whilst they say it is not designed to turn a breech baby, it can be a nice side-effect. 

On my initial consultation (35weeks +2 days), Bianca ran a series of tests and we discovered my pelvis was out on one side by a whopping 471%. She explained if the pelvis was out that much then my uterus could have a kink in it, something that baby just couldn’t seem to get past. Makes total sense. As soon as she adjusted me, bubs started wriggling around straight away and continued for the next hour - I had never felt baby wriggle that much. She obviously freed up some room in there! I have been seeing her 1-2 times a week since then to ensure the pelvis hasn’t reverted back out of alignment. I can't reccommend this highly enough.

 

Meditations, Self-hypnosis and deep Visualisations

This was another aspect I think helped me mentally. The mind-body connection is such a powerful tool. Biochemically, meditation and similar techniques set off a chain reaction of hormonal releases which help to relax the nervous system and the tension in the muscles. When I went to the chiropractor, she tested where my nervous system was sitting on a scale from sympathetic (stress response) to parasympathetic (relaxation response). Even though I was feeling quite relaxed on the outside, my nervous system was sitting in the sympathetic (stressed) zone. If your body is in the sympathetic state, it is starting to prepare to fight or flight, therefore muscles are tense and ready for action. Not the ideal conditions for bubs to grow, turn and flourish. So I realised I needed to work on getting my body and mind into equilibrium.

I changed my morning meditations from CalmBirth meditations to 2 guided meditations in particular:

Both are a little steep on price (approx AUD$17 each) but I was up for trying anything! Both of these meditations focus on relaxing and releasing through the muscles supporting the uterus and also letting go of fears relating to the birth. I found these, coupled with intense visualisation of baby turning really helped. Occasionally I listened to them as I was falling asleep at night and then had crazy visualisations all night about baby turning!

 

Talking to bubs

This is one my senior prenatal yoga teacher Rachael Foster from Luminosity Healing recommended. Just having a good old chat to baby and ask them to turn around. I also roped Master N to chatting (or yelling) to bubs daily telling it to turn around.

 

Prenatal Yoga of course!

As well as my morning yoga practice that I shared in my previous post, I was also going to prenatal yoga classes. It is always a wise idea when pregnant but particularly when facing any pregnancy issues (pelvis discomfort, odd baby positioning, blood pressure, fertility issues). The classes can easily be modified to accommodate various stages of pregnancy as well as many variations to ensure you are practising safely whilst pregnant. So I was modifying my practice to ensure I was only attempting poses that were useful to turning baby rather than poses that would help to engage baby low down in the pelvis. I worked very closely with Rachel to come into many weird and wonderful positions to release the abdominal and hip ligaments, create space and use gravity to our advantage (hence lots of inversions upside down!). Rachael mentioned to me in class once, the power of a group of prenatal women together can be very strong so always a good idea to pop along. 

 

Many techniques from the Spinning Babies website

This is a great resource with copious amounts of information on turning babies. I recommend reading through it around the 32-week mark so you can start doing the daily / weekly activities to help position baby. In particular, I did a lot of the daily activities, forward-leaning inversions and the breech tilt - sometimes with a bag of frozen peas placed low down in my pelvis to encourage bubs to move upwards towards my ribs. I had some interesting experiences trying to lie down on an angled ironing board on my own when hubby was away!

 

 Moxibustion - Traditional Chinese Medicine designed to help turn breech babies

Moxibustion - Traditional Chinese Medicine designed to help turn breech babies

Acupuncture and Moxibustion

And lastly, the Traditional Chinese Medicine approach - Acupuncture and Moxibustion. We all know what acupuncture involves (needles placed along meridian lines in the body to help stimulate the Qi or energy in particular areas). Moxibustion involves burning sticks of Mugwort underneath your little toe for 20 minutes twice daily to help the Qi to rise up to the uterus and create light heat that hopefully gets baby moving. I was using very smokey sticks of mugwort which resulted in many strange looks when I was doing this in the middle of a campground whilst on holiday! But at least it kept the mozzies away….

 

So what now?

 

Now I have gone back to preparations for CalmBirth. I listen to CalmBirth meditations every morning which helps my mindset and belief - surrender to the process and truly believe that my body is perfectly designed to birth this baby. I practice my relaxed breathing (trying to take 5-6 breaths per minute) to help keep my nervous system calm when it is under stress during labour (and also helps with my 3 year old toddler tantrums haha!). I am still working on the relaxing visualisations and gathering tools I can use during labour to create this calm environment. And of course, prenatal yoga, trying to get deep into the hips to help engage this baby’s head!

So wish me luck and I will see you on the flip side.

Confession of Meditating #4 - REMIND YOURSELF OF THE WHY

IMG_0201.JPG

IDEAL: Reaching a higher state of consciousness
REALITY: Helps me to deal with everyday life and be a calmer mum

Always come back to the why. Why am I doing this? What in my Sankalpa; or intention, of meditation. For me, this is not to reach a higher state of consciousness. Whilst that would be great, it would require solid time, energy and commitment. Something that is just not a priority in my life right now. My goal is just to have some time to work on me, my mind, my thought processes. To be a calmer, less serious mum and find a tool that helps me to approach life in a calm, positive and less reactive way, especially with toddlers.

The aim is not to stop all my thoughts, but rather try to detach from them a little. Remembering, I am not my thoughts. I always explain thoughts in meditation as like a train pulling into a station - don’t get on board, don’t judge or evaluate, don’t follow the thought. Just watch the thought from afar, watch the doors close, bring the focus back to the breath and watch it gently slip away.

Confession of Meditating #2 - DIFFERENT TYPES OF MEDITATION

 My beautiful set of Mala Beads that were gifted to me at my Yoga Training graduation

My beautiful set of Mala Beads that were gifted to me at my Yoga Training graduation

Ideal: Closed eye seated meditation
Reality: There are many different ways to meditate

There are many ways to meditate. Of course, not all of these techniques follow the idealism of meditation and do not all achieve the same benefits but; again, just the notion of being consciously aware and practising mindfulness has its own merits in itself. Here are some styles that I tend to sway towards:

Guided Meditations:

I love a good guided meditation, especially if you are prone to falling asleep during meditation (which I do A LOT) or your mind tends to get immersed in your thoughts. I use guided meditations for the times when I am working through something in particular (ie. anger, disappointment, positivity, gratitude, stress, sleep). I find that both the conscious mind is listening to the words but the unconscious mind is really working to alter those reoccurring and underlying thought patterns. For example, at the moment I am 34 weeks pregnant, and I am using the CalmBirth guided meditations to prepare my mind and my body for labour and birth. When I was in labour with Master N, my external world completely shut down, I was in my own little bubble and hence I really only remember bits and pieces of the birth process. I found I really relied on this unconscious mind and the work I had put into CalmBirth and making sure I unconsciously believed in my body and the power of staying calm to really get me through. 

There are a few good apps that I use: Insight Timer, Headspace, Happify and Buddhify.

Walking Meditation:

A great alternative for those who are time poor. This focuses more on mindfulness and being completely aware in the present moment rather than zoning everything out and drawing the focus within as you do in a sitting meditation (yes that would be quite dangerous). I use walking meditations when I walk Master N in the pram up the road in the mornings to get a coffee and used this a lot if I miss a morning meditation.

Group Meditation:

Many yoga and wellness studios offer meditation classes. These are commonly a guided meditation but also introduce different types of meditation for you to try out in a safe environment. For example, Moksha Yoga Studio in Bentleigh includes pranayama (breathing) techniques and sometimes mantra and chanting. Its a great way for those new to meditation to experience different types and also help to overcome feelings of self-consciousness or nervousness around meditation. Science states that practising yoga in a group setting boosts the oxytocin levels in the body (one of our feel-good hormones), and this is part of the reason why you sometimes end up leaving on such a high.

Japa Mala Bead Meditation:

So this involves a set of Mala beads. Mala Beads are 108 beads strung together with a junction bead in the middle. The idea with this is: repetition of a meditation technique 108 times, touching each bead until you reach the junction bead again. Some common techniques of repetition are breath work or pranayama (one round of breath per bead) or one repetition of a mantra per bead (either in your mind or out loud). Some common mantras are “So hum” or “Om”. I also find this method of meditation really useful for those who have a tendency to fall asleep or engage in thoughts. Its helps to give the mind something to focus on.

Confessions of meditating - the ideals and the realities of a meditation practice

6C0A9883-LORES.jpg

Aah meditation… an amazing practice aimed to centre and ground us, align the energy in the body, calm the mind as well as the physical body. 

It seems these days everyone is doing it - mindfulness and meditation - its the ‘in-thing’ of 2017. However, there are a plethora of benefits to this ancient practice which have now been backed by many scientific studies. We could be here all day if I listed them out but here are some of my favourites:

  • Innervates the parasympathetic nervous system which triggers the relaxation response - this lowers stress levels, regulates breathing, lowers blood pressure and heart rate and increases immune system functioning
  • Helps to clear the mind, slow down brain waves which slows thoughts and projections of the mind
  • Regulates hormones of the endocrine system
  • Stimulates biochemical releases of serotonin, oxytocin, endorphins, dopamine that stimulate an overall sense of calm and increase positivity and happiness
  • Assists in combatting the symptoms of anxiety and depression

When I first took up a meditation practice, I was under a preconceived notion - I must do it for at least 20 minutes per day, I must sit cross-legged on the floor and completely quiet the mind so there were no thoughts at all. The reality is, for a lot of people (including me) this is not always possible. 

Whilst these things are ideal, all it was doing to me was making me feel guilty that I couldn't commit, I started to evaluate the meditation as a ‘good one or a bad one’ and just ended up feeling like a bit of a meditation fraud. And as a result, my motivation waned and I inevitably gave up.

I have now come to an understanding with myself and given myself a few personal guidelines to follow to help make this a regular practice. And just to give myself a bloody break! So over the next few posts I will share these with you, maybe this might just help you to do the same and make meditation a habit in your own life.