Perineum Care and Recovery

Calendula Pads

For swelling, pain, heat.  Make 5-10 pads 6 weeks before due date.
Calendula flowers promote healing and are soothing when applied topically.

  • Calendula Mixture: Make tea from dried calendula leaves (1 full tea ball per cup water steeped for 10 min) or use tincture (20-30 drops per cup water).  Add 1-2 drops of lavender essential oil or some lavender tea to mixture.
  • Partially dip maxi pads – preferably long, organic – in calendula mixture briefly, just to soak top layer. Another option is to use a sprayer to wet the tops.
  • Freeze pads in bowls so they’re curved like the female body. Store in Ziplocs (labeled with your name) in freezer.
  • Bring the pads to birth-place! Hospitals and birthing centers may have a freezer you can use. If not, consider bringing a cooler or just wait to use them until you return home.
  • Apply immediately after birth.

Perineum Care after your Birth

Peri-bottles are one of a new birth mom’s best friends. Kind of like a bidet in a bottle or “A soothing spritz for your lady-bits!” according to Ninja-Mama.

Here are some tips and advice about using peri-bottles:

  • Plan ahead – find out if your local hospital provides one. Most do for use during the postpartum stay and beyond. Your midwife may also provide one for homebirth.
  • If they provide at one the hospital, take it home. It’s not fancy but it works fine.
  • Plan to have one peri-bottle in each bathroom the birth mother will use. The Frida Mom (sold locally at Groovy Mama and Hello Baby) and Ninja Mama are genius peri bottles. Most hospitals provide the one pictured 3rd on the link above, and it’s also sold locally at Jolly’s.
  • Use it every time you use the toilet. Just spray while peeing or after as a rinse.
  • Warmed water or a peri-rinse such as calendula infusion feel best. Room temp will feel cold but it’s okay too.

Perineum Rinse

Soothing and healing for swelling, pain, abrasions, tears, bruising.  It’s safe to use with stitches.  This can be prepared during early labor or ahead of time and frozen/refrigerated.

  • Fill a peri- or spray-bottle with calendula mixture (above), a healing solution (below) or warm water.
  • Hospitals will provide a peri-bottle.  A spritz bottle works too.
  • Squirt solution on perineum after every washroom use, shower/bath, or in between if extra relief is needed. Do not rinse solution off.
  • If urination burns then squirt during urination – start just before releasing urine – or pee in the bath.
  • Allow the area to dry between applications. Air-time or even a cool blow drier can be helpful.
  • Note: if the rectum is sore or stitched, support the perineum with a cloth during bowel movements (like pooping into a cloth).

Sitz Bath

(Not sure why we call it that; it’s just a shallow bath! Full tub works just as well.)

  • Soak your perineum in a bath for 15 minutes, 3 times daily. Shallow water is fine.
  • Add Epsom salt and if you wish to use herbs, add 1-2 cups raw herbs or healing herb tea, ¼ cup tincture, or up to 5 drops of pure essential oil. If you wish to use plain water then spray the healing solution after the bath.
  • Some women like cool water for inflammation while others find warm water soothing. Experiment with temperatures but avoid extremes during the initial postpartum days, and keep the rest of your body warm.
  • Do not sit on a donut-shaped vessel in the bath as it adds pressure.

Healing Herbs

Calendula is healing, along with other herbs such as comfrey, lavender, witch hazel, tea-tree, yarrow.  Feel free to ask me about the various healing properties of the different herbs.  Nice sitz-bath blends can be purchased – look for an Epsom salts base with herbs or pure essential oils; no fragrance or additives.   There are some nice soothing perineum sprays on the market, such as Earth Mama Angel Baby New Mama Bottom Spray, sold in Regina at Head-to-Heal Wellness and Groovy Mama in Cathedral, or Hello Baby in East.

Recovery from a Difficult Birth

After a difficult birth follow the above recommendations plus:

  • Keep knees together as much as possible for the first 2 weeks, even while walking
  • Avoid stairs
  • Lift nothing heavier than the baby
  • Allow area to “breath” – air time or cotton panties (no synthetics)
  • Avoid sitting or standing for long periods of time
  • Avoid perfumes, chemicals
  • Avoid straining on the toilet – good nutrition and lots of water, support perineum with a cloth during bowel movements (like pooping into a cloth)
  • See a Physiotherapist who specializes in women’s pelvic floor to heal pelvic floor muscles; recover from perineum tears; avoid or heal incontinence, painful intercourse and pelvic pain
  • Consider seeing a complimentary practitioner who specializes in and is experienced with maternal postpartum recovery, such as a Webster certified chiropractor or an osteopath, to help ensure pelvic organs, bones, ligaments are healthy and aligned.

Angie The Doula – Tips and Recipes for Labour-Aid Drinks

Here are some alternatives to store-bought sport drinks, which are usually full of chemicals and unhealthy ingredients. High quality coconut water is full of electrolytes. Any bone broth works too for Labour-Aid.

Labour-Aid and broths are excellent for hydration, energy and electrolytes.  They help keep the powerful forces of labour progressing.  Stock the ingredients at home and prepare at the first sign of labour.  Or make ahead (this is a great task for someone who wishes to help out) and freeze as cubes, popsicles, or in a bottle, to be thawed and consumed as labour progresses.

Most labouring women prefer their labour-aid chilled and their broths warm.

LABOUR-AID DRINK – basic (recipe shared by many midwives and natural birth books)
1 L  water or Pregnancy Tea
1/3 C  raw honey or real maple syrup
1/3 C  juice, fresh-squeezed from a real lemon
1/2 t  salt, preferably Celtic or Himalayan
1/4 t  baking soda
2 crushed calcium tablets

LABOUR-AID DRINK – easiest (recipe by Head to Heal Wellness)
1L water (for hydration)
1 Tbsp honey (to give us fuel while being active)
1/4 Tsp salt (to replace the loss of electrolytes)
1/4 Tsp baking soda (to replace electrolytes lost)
1/2 a lemon
Combine all the ingredients into a glass container and stir. You can tweak the amounts based on your personal preference and needs. Squeeze as much lemon as you like until you find your favourite ratio. Voila!

These next two versions are from Mommypotamus.  See the website for details of ingredients.

LABOUR-AID DRINK – Lemon Labor Aide
4 C  water
1/2 C  freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 t  salt, preferably Celtic or Himalayan
1/4 C  raw honey (or more to taste)
a few drops concentrated minerals (available at health stores, optional)
a few drops Rescue Remedy (optional)

LABOUR-AID DRINK – Coconut & Lime Labor Aide
3 C  coconut water
1 C  water (or more)
1/2 C  freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 t  salt, preferably Celtic or Himalayan
2 T  raw honey or maple syrup
a few drops concentrated minerals (available at health stores, optional)
a few drops Rescue Remedy (optional)

VEGGIE BROTH
Add fresh or dried veggies (e.g. carrots, celery, onion, garlic – anything) to boiling water
Simmer for 20-30 min
Add 1 T  apple-cider vinegar
Season with any herbs or spices you like
Add salt to taste, preferably Himilayan or Celtic (kelp powder can be used instead)
Blend to smooth consistency or strain veggie chunks out

BONE BROTH
Put bones and any left-over bits, including meat on bones in pot and cover with water.
Add 1-2 T  apple cider vinegar
Bring to boil then simmer (large bones such as beef for up to 24 hours; small animal bones such as chicken only need 3-4 hours)
Strain
Add salt to taste, preferably Himilayan or Celtic (kelp powder can be used instead)
Optional:  Add dried or finely chopped fresh veggies, herbs or spices and simmer for another 30min

Angie The Doula – Postpartum Warning Signs for Mother and Baby

CALL 811/DOCTOR/MIDWIFE WITH ANY WARNING SIGNS.  CALL 911 FOR EMERGENCY HELP!

If you call 911, have someone clear a path for EMT (halls, stairs etc), turn on outside light, put pets away, unlock door, clear driveway.)

Maternal Warning Signs

  • Vaginal bleeding heavy enough to soak a super-pad front to back in 1/2hr-1hr. Note: if blood starts to pour continuously, lay down immediately and call 911;
  • Foul-smelling bleeding or discharge
  • Passing clots bigger than a toonie
  • Temperature greater than 38C (100.4F)
  • Feeling flu-like
  • Uterus is painful to the touch
  • Uterus feels soft and is at or above the navel, and doesn’t respond to gentle massage
  • Sore, red, hot, tender area on leg or calf
  • Painful, swollen, red breasts or red / hot / lumpy spots
  • Sudden and extreme pain on nipples with feeding (may be thrush)
  • Persistent dizziness (call 911 if accompanied by bleeding)
  • Fainting (call 911 if accompanied by bleeding)
  • Feeling depressed, very anxious, unhappy or are crying without reason and cannot sleep or eat

Baby Warning Signs

  • Blue or grey in the lips, face or chest. Call 911.
  • Temperature of greater than 37.4C (99.3F) or lower than 35C (96.6F) (note: consider environment – e.g. is baby wrapped in layers in a hot room?)
  • Laboured breathing
  • Extra-sleepy and has not fed in the past 6-8 hours
  • Has not urinated or passed meconium (feces) in the first 24 hours
  • Yellow skin in the first 24 hours
  • Red patches, pimples or bumps
  • Vomits after every feed
  • High pitched cry or extremely irritable, inconsolable
  • Lethargic
  • Red, hot area around cord-stump; swelling of stump; discharge of pus, blood or meconium
  • Red blood in urine (note – some girl-babies get a little ‘period’ due to hormones)
  • Bright red diaper rash
  • White spots in mouth that don’t rub off (thrush)

Angie The Doula – Normal Postpartum Care of Mother and Baby

If you’re concerned, see Warning Signs for Postpartum.

In the first 24 hours after birth it is normal for birth mothers to:

  • Expect a fairly heavy flow for the first 24 hrs, like a heavy period in appearance and scent. Flow should gradually taper in the following few days, then continue lightly for approximately 4-6 weeks.
  • Pass small clots and gushes, especially after lying down for some time
  • Have a firm uterus that feels like a grapefruit below the navel
  • Experience night sweats
  • Urinate frequently
  • Feel exhausted and need rest

In the first 24 hours after birth it is normal for babies to:

  • Breathe irregularly, including pauses and some periods of rapid breathing
  • Spit up mucus
  • Have blue hands and feet with pink body, face and lips
  • Sleep for 4-6 continuous hours after birth then wake up every 2-3 hours to breastfeed
  • Pass stool (but may be within 48hours)
  • Urinate

Postpartum Care – Mother

  • In the first week, only responsibilities should be to eat, sleep and feed and cuddle baby
  • Sleep when the baby sleeps
  • Get assistance with getting up for the first day. Never get up while holding the baby (first 24hours), in case of fainting.
  • Do not lift anything heavier than the baby for 3 weeks after a gentle vaginal birth; 6 weeks after a Caesarean or traumatic birth.
  • Take temperature daily for the first 5 days; twice daily if membranes were ruptured more than 12 hours before birth or in case of traumatic birth.
    • Oral temperature: 15min after ingesting hot or cold, or being in hot water. Put tip under and against tongue to 1 side of frenulum, close mouth and wait for the beep (or 5min for glass thermometer; remember to shake well before use)
  • Light movement is fine during the first 6 weeks. Any increase in cramping, bleeding, or discharge going from brown to red means you’re doing too much!

Uterus recovery:

  • In the first 1-2 days, gently massage uterus (back and forth motion) several times daily to ensure it’s firm like a grapefruit
  • Urinate often
  • Breastfeed often
  • Nothing inside the vagina

Pain:

  • Take arnica to aid with tissue healing
  • After-pains are due to the uterine contractions and tend to be stronger with subsequent pregnancies and during breastfeeding. Lay or sit, apply pressure (e.g. pillow) and heat (hot water bottle), take extra calcium, and consider calling midwife for homeopathy.
  • It’s safe to take acetaminophen (Tylenol x-strength) every 6 hours (for pain) and ibuprophen (Advil) every 4 hours for swelling for the first few days after birth
  • Avoid aspirin, alcohol, herbal supplements with willow-bark as they promote bleeding

Perineum:

  • Keep area as clean and dry as possible
  • Use peri-bottle of warm water and 1 dropper of calendula tincture after using the toilet
  • Wear the lightest pad necessary and change it with every visit to the washroom.
  • Apply frozen calendula pads to perineum/hemorrhoids several times daily for 2-3 days
  • If any tears/suturing to perineum, soak in a clean bath each day with ½ cup of Epsom salts or sitz-bath herbs added. Keep knees together as much as possible, including while walking or on stairs.  Airtime helps speed recovery.
  • Begin light elevator-Keigels and pelvic floor exercises

Nutrition:

  • Drink plenty of water and nutritional drinks, including Pregnancy Tea Blend
  • Eat whole foods – 3 meals and 2-3 snacks daily (just like during pregnancy)
  • Continue prenatal vitamins, acidophilus, essential fatty acids for at least 6 weeks
  • Continue or begin to take iron supplements if they were prescribed

Normal Postpartum Care – Baby

  • Feed when the baby wants but a minimum of every 4 hours around the clock (see “breastfeeding” below). A breastfed baby shouldn’t be offered anything other than breast milk/ colostrum.
  • If baby’s definitely satiated and still wants to suck, it may save nipples to offer a clean pinkie; insert to first knuckle, pad up.
  • Keep the cord-stump dry (fold diaper below) and clean. No need to put anything on it, but calendula tincture is acceptable.
  • When changing diapers wipe from front to back, only once per cloth. Clean folds of skin but do not open genitals and never retract foreskin.
  • Clean baby’s hands, folds in neck, and face with a clean damp cloth daily
  • Bathing is recommended only once or twice weekly with gentle and “edible” soap
  • If fingernails are long then prevent scratching by cutting with newborn-clippers or gently chew them off
  • Keep the baby at a comfortable temperature. If concerned take baby’s temperature.  Put the end of the thermometer at deep centre of armpit, then the hold arm against side until thermometer beeps (or 5min for glass; remember to shake well before use).
  • For plugged tear duct gently but firmly press at the inner bridge of the nose with the pad of your finger beside the baby’s inner eye. Stroke up to remove blocked material, then downward 3 or 4 times to the nostril.  Repeat several times daily until it clears.
  • Sleep with the baby in your room. Baby should sleep on her/his back, on a firm surface away from puffy blankets and pillows.

Breastfeeding

  • Feed baby frequently, usually 10-12 times/24 hrs after first day or so. Baby may have long periods of sleep in the first 24 hrs so may feed less frequently. Feed the baby on cue, minimum every 4 hrs or so. Babies usually nurse for 15-20 minutes.
  • Baby’s mouth WIDE open before latching! If painful, retry the latch over and over until it’s correct.  This will prevent sore nipples. Don’t do even 1 feeding with improper latch.
  • Should feel a pull but not a pinch
  • Breast well supported in one hand, where an underwire goes, away from nipple
  • Baby position: skin to skin, belly to belly, nose to breast, pull in very close so that very little/none of areola is visible, with both baby lips open (not tucked in).
  • Nipple care: Expect nipples to be tender for a few days.  Express colostrums onto nipple /areola after each feed. Allow to air dry.  Do not use soap or chemicals on nipples.  In case of chaffed or dry skin, Lanolin or pure vitamin e-oil can be used (but try the colostrum first).  Change nursing positions
  • If breasts get engorged with milk (hard and full-feeling), apply refrigerated green cabbage leaves, and reapply new ones as they “cook”
  • Avoid the use of pacifiers or artificial nipples

PLEASE CALL IF YOU’RE TEMPTED TO USE FORMULA IN SPITE OF PLANNING TO BREASTFEED

Angie The Doula – Warning Signs During Pregnancy and Labour

Unusual sensations and some discomforts are part of normal pregnancies.  It is important, however, that any of the signs listed below be assessed right away.

CALL 811/DOCTOR/MIDWIFE WITH ANY WARNING SIGNS.  CALL 911 FOR EMERGENCY HELP!

If you call 911, have someone clear a path for EMT (halls, stairs etc), turn on outside light, put pets away, unlock door, clear driveway.)

Warning Signs – Seek medical advise soon, at least same day. Do not sleep on any of these or wait for them to go away on their own.

  • Reduced fetal movement that doesn’t respond to stimulation (see below) *
  • Maternal fever and chills
  • Dizziness
  • Persistent and severe mid-back pain
  • Prolonged nausea and vomiting
  • Initial outbreak of lesions or blisters in the perineal area
  • Change from normal urination – suspected bladder infection
  • Vaginal discharge with itching, irritation or a foul smell
  • Signs of bladder infection such as burning or urgent, frequent urination
  • Persistent negative feelings, low moods and/or overwhelming anxiety.
  • Gush of vaginal fluid or suspect ruptured membranes, with nothing felt to be falling out
  • Pinkish, brownish, sparse or suspected vaginal bleeding
  • Signs of labour (regular uterine contractions, waters releasing) before 37 weeks
  • If there’s a colour (yellow, brown, green) or foul odour when waters release

Danger Signs – The symptoms below may indicate a life-threatening condition, and require immediate medical attention.  Get to a hospital right away.

  • Accident or injury such as car accident or a fall (seek medical attention if required)
  • Sudden severe swelling of hands and face
  • Severe continuing headache
  • Visual disturbances (e.g., blurring of vision, spots, flashes of light)
  • Persistent, severe, sudden abdominal or pelvic pain
  • Severe epigastric pain (upper abdomen) – may feel like heartburn but more severe and not relieved by the usual tricks
  • Sudden and severe vomiting
  • Red flowing vaginal bleeding (CALL 911)
  • Persistent thoughts of self-harm, suicidal urges (CALL 911)
  • Convulsions (CALL 911)
  • Gush of vaginal fluid / suspected ruptured membranes, with a cord felt at or outside vaginal opening (cord prolapse) – get on hands and knees with buttocks higher than head (CALL 911)
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* Normal Fetal Movement:  If you’ve been busy or are unsure about movement then relax and have a meal, a small glass of juice or some fruit.  Palpate your baby to induce movement.  Pay attention to the movements.  Babies sleep.  If your blood sugar is low then so is your baby’s.  You should feel at least 10 movements over any 2 hour block and at least 1 in the first hour.   If not then seek medical attention.

Updated RGH policies for maternal patients and what doulas can do for you

As of April 2, 2021, RGH and all Sask hospitals are now closed to visitors and are restricting support to only ONE person in the Labour & Birth Unit and the Mother-Baby Unit. Each labouring woman can have one person with her throughout her stay; the same one person, no swapping or changing. The restrictions also affect patients in pretty much every unit throughout all hospitals.

The Sask Health Authority will re-evaluate weekly and get back to 2 support persons as soon as they deem it safe to do so. My fingers and toes are crossed that this happens before your birth! If it doesn’t, doulas are still here to help you.

I have been down this road a year ago for about 2 months with several clients and can still be immensely helpful to you. Here’s what doulas can do to help you prepare for your birth during this time:

  • Extra planning and education for your birth, given this new situation.
  • Answer your questions through pregnancy, birth and postpartum. You still have someone you can call anytime.
  • Early labour support in your home, while wearing masks.
  • Help you make the decision about when to go to hospital. We can do this by phone or in person.
  • Ensure you know which door to use, where to park, what you need to go through registration and admitting.
  • Be your back-up for support in case one of you “fails screening”. 
  • Be the primary support person if wanted or needed.
  • Phone and/or video support throughout your labour and birth. This works best if you resist the urge to “be polite and let your doula sleep”. If I have updates throughout your journey, I can advise you on questions to ask, positions to try, things to do for comfort, things to do to keep labour progressing as well as possible. I can watch for “cross roads” and help you towards what is your version of an ideal birth. I can still help you navigate detours. I supported 7 couples in this manner in 2020 and they were grateful for the guidance, even though it looked differently than we had originally planned.
  • Postpartum support will be offered as usual – at your home, by phone or video call – your choice. 

Here’s what you can do to make your birth as empowering as possible for both of you:

  • Extra planning and education, with a doula’s help.
  • Have a good solid birth plan.
  • RGH Tour with me
  • Easing Labour Pain class, which teaches partners how to do hands-on support. It also covers informed choice and many options for comfort and labour progress.
  • Print, read and bring to your birth Hospital Set-up 101. There’s a link to a YT video if you prefer that.
  • Check out my article, When to go to Hospital
  • Lots of communication with your doula!

My mantra lately, even with this latest development, is “everyone is doing the best they can”. The new restrictions are certainly frustrating (to say the least) and inconvenient but our health care providers are working hard to find the balance of patient safety and patient experience.  My fingers are crossed that this phase passes quickly and we can get back to our regular routines of attending hospital births in person. That said, I’m so sorry about the effect this has on your birth plans. Even if things change before you go into labour and we can be together in person, it does mean extra preparation and stress for you.

Please let me know if you have any questions. I am here to help.

I teach a variety of Child Birth Education classes and prenatal workshops online for people all over.  I have been a birth doula since 2002, and have helped over 300 clients with their births and over 1000 through prenatal classes. Learn more about my birth doula services, and contact me with any questions you may have.

Angie The Doula – Guide on When To Go To The Hospital

If you’re planning a hospital birth then you have to figure out when to go. This guide will help you make that important decision.

Most people don’t know that the majority of naturally-starting labours are usually done at home. Some people want to get to the hospital later in the birth process. They know the longer they’re in the hospital, the more likely they are to have interventions as part of their birth. Other birth mothers simply enjoy being at home more. 

One of the benefits of working with a doula is that we help clients decide when to go. We will let you know that you won’t be officially admitted if you aren’t “far enough along” in labour. Most first time birthers without professional guidance go far too early, often by many hours. This leads to the disappointment of being sent back home. 

Please note that this is a general guide. At your prenatal appointments, ask your medical care provider if there are any specific recommendations for when you should go in. Some pre-existing conditions or medical issues lead to different recommendations from those below.

Photo by Paula O. Licensed under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

When to go to hospital

Unless you’ve been told otherwise by HCP…

  • Pattern of sensations or contractions (explained below): 311 for a first birth or 411 for subsequent births; even sooner in labour if you have a history of fast birthing.
  • Can’t walk or talk through sensations that fall into the pattern above
  • Tip: If you feel like eating, then it’s likely too early, based on labour pattern alone
  • Lots of pressure and contractions end with a grunt, the urge to poop, bear down or “push”. 
  • Signs of labour or waters releasing before 37 weeks
  • Any health concerns (some “warning signs” are below)
  • Decreased fetal movement that isn’t remedied by eating and resting
  • When waters release? Maybe, maybe not.
  • If there’s a colour (yellow, brown, green) or foul odour when waters release
  • Want pharmaceutical help coping with pain
  • Feel safer at the hospital or want reassurance about your own or baby’s health (will be sent home if not in ‘active labour’)

Before heading in:

  • Have some juice or snack (unless you’ve been instructed to not eat e.g. schedule c/s)
  • Pee before heading out the door
  • Bring:
    • Health Card
    • Envelope with your prenatal records & birth-plan
    • Any prescription medications
  • Bonus: lip-balm and a hair-tie
  • Be ready to answer these 3 questions:

1.    What’s the labour pattern

2.    Have waters released? If so was there a colour? 

3.    Is the baby moving normally?

Warning Signs

This is a partial list. Warning signs are covered in detail in prenatal classes and health region documents.

Seek medical attention (do not sleep on these signs or wait in hopes that they pass):

  • Decreased fetal movement
  • Visual disturbances
  • Sudden and severe headache
  • Pain in upper abdomen that doesn’t pass
  • Maternal fever

911 call:

  • Red, flowing bleeding or clots
  • Sudden, severe / intense / sharp pain that brings you to your knees and doesn’t pass
  • Cord prolapse when waters release

A note about “being sent home”: It’s OK. Perhaps it’s inconvenient but it can be reassuring to get checked out, be found healthy, and then be sent home. I’ve met a lot of nice staff at various hospitals who will tell you it’s better to come in for nothing than to miss a problem.  

Note about the contraction pattern: 

  • 311 means 3 minutes between the start of one contraction and the start of the next; 1 minute from start to end of the contraction; at least 1 hour of that pattern consistently. (411 is the same except 4 min between contractions.) 
  • Use 411 as your guide if you wish to get there soon into active labour, and likely stay but maybe sent home . 
  • Use 311 as your guide if you want to be more certain of being admitted and have no need or desire to go earlier in the process

I teach a variety of Child Birth Education classes and prenatal workshops online for people all over.  I have been a birth doula since 2002, and have helped over 300 clients with their births and over 1000 through prenatal classes. Learn more about my birth doula services, and contact me with any questions you may have.

Angie The Doula – Complications and Congenital Issues

It’s one of the worst prenatal scenarios parent-to-be’s may have to face – being told their baby will have complications or congenital issues (a disease or physical abnormality present from birth). Complications can range from a variation of normal (e.g. extra digit) to one that’s moderate but can be managed with medical care (e.g. club-foot, cleft lip/palate) to something that can range from mild to having the potential to completely change a family’s life (e.g. Down’s syndrome, spina bifida). 

This article addresses some considerations for families that are expecting a baby with complications.

How severe will the Complications and Congenital Issues be?

With the testing and ultrasound schedule commonly recommended during pregnancy, surprises are uncommon. In most cases of complications, people are made aware before the baby is born.  

Until the baby is born, it’s impossible to know for sure what the severity will be. It’s important to maintain hope and a connection with your baby. Dr. Sarah Buckley writes extensively on prenatal screening, which includes false positives (a screening or test result showing an issue when there isn’t one). In that case, a suspected problem is found to be non-existant or milder than expected. 

I’ve seen several of my clients go through this terrible roller-coaster, waiting for news, expecting the worst, and then finding everything is normal on the next ultrasounds and at the birth. It’s hard for them to ever believe their baby is OK. When parents-to-be are in limbo like this, it can lessen their attachment with their unborn baby, even after further testing confirms all is well. 

Photo by Topato at Flickr. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

What do I need to be aware of?

As you learn about a condition, the list of risk factors can leave parents – especially the pregnant ones – feeling like they are to blame. Find a counsellor or other parents in the same situation to help you work through these feelings. In many cases, no one is actually to blame.

Another sad reality about having a baby with complications is that it can be very hard on the parents’ relationship. Knowing that ahead of time can allow you to find resources, strategies and counsellors to help. 

Keep in mind:

  • You can have a smart, beautiful, amazing baby that happens to have a congenital complication.
  • Many humans far surpass the limits put on them by stats and well-meaning medical care providers. Don’t limit your child! Their environment and how they’re treated can really make a difference in how their potential plays out. (Of course, that’s true for most children.)
  • Focus on your child’s strengths while also being aware of their circumstances.
  • There are countless people living normal productive lives and accomplishing great things in spite of being told they’d never be able to do it…
  • Healing and thriving happens in the community. Humans are not meant to fly solo. 
  • Almost all parents struggle with worry, exhaustion, uncertainty, feel the pain of their child when they’re unwell, are learning to navigate life with a baby, love their baby and will do anything for them, have hopes and dreams for their child. This is common to parenting no matter if your baby is healthy or not.

To Prepare:

  • Seek out support groups – in person or online. Social media can be a bit of a minefield and provides a much different experience than a setting where you connect with actual humans. It can be scary, especially for introverts, to join a group but most people are glad they did so.  
  • Find an excellent online resource or two – not 10!  
    • Good sites will describe the condition in clear, understandable and kind terms.
    • Those sites will have a section directed at parents
    • Links to articles and resources that resonate with you
  • Look at images online, only from those vetted sites, so you’ll know what to expect
  • Find out what the policy is at your birth-place regarding family bonding and skin-to-skin contact in case of known complications, and yours specifically.
  • Learn about local resources from your medical community. Many places have an excellent team of social workers, occupational therapists, medical people, therapists, geneticists that can help you navigate.
  • Find out about social and government resources. You may be eligible for grants, programs, respite plans, and all manner of assistance available for families that have extra challenges related to a child with complications. Sometimes they’re hard to find.
  • Learn as much as you can about the complication:
    • Best and worst-case scenario / mild to severe case
    • Learn the language – technical terms, acceptable language
    • What future treatments might your child need? When? Is treatment invasive or painful? Is it necessary?
    • You have choices!  What does the future hold for your child without treatment or by taking a different approach?  

How can I manage my Baby’s health?

You will be your child’s best advocate and may have to become somewhat expert in their condition. Keep a binder or digital folder of every test-result, procedure, appointment. Also, have a section for resources. Do not assume every medical care provider you meet knows the full picture of the specifics of your child. 

If necessary and if you’re able, look outside of your own geographical region for treatment options.

What words and terms should I use?

The way people talk about your baby can be unknowingly hurtful. It helps everyone if you address this with those close to you. Many people want to be helpful or at least respectful but don’t know how. They tend to either stay away or blunder through, possibly adding stress or misery to your situation. 

Here are some suggestions you can share:

  • Use language that puts the human first e.g. baby with Down’s Syndrome
  • “Birth defect” is inappropriate. Terms that might feel better: Complication, congenital disability, variation of normal, congenital abnormality. 
  • A list of acceptable terms in general and for specific issues:  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64884/ 

Prepare a cheat-sheet for loved ones and those that will be in your child’s life.

  1. Unacceptable terms
  2. Acceptable terms
  3. What makes the condition better and worse
  4. Special treatment the child may need e.g. can’t digest a certain food, needs a special baby-carrier
  5. What can they do that’s normal? e.g holding the baby won’t hurt them
  6. What you need – how can they help? How can they normalize life?
  7. Welcome them to visit or participate in your child’s life
  8. Links with more information
  9. Success stories, anecdotes

Online Resources:

Cochrane Review – https://www.cochrane.org/ the gold standard for reviewing and analysing medical research 
Stanford Medicine https://med.stanford.edu/ 
Johns Hopkins Medicine https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org 
Mayo Clinic https://www.mayoclinic.org/ 
Health Link British Columbia https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/ 
March of Dimes:  https://www.marchofdimes.org/complications/ (trigger alert: great info but some harsh language)

I teach a variety of Child Birth Education classes and prenatal workshops online for people all over.  I have been a birth doula since 2002, and have helped over 300 clients with their births and over 1000 through prenatal classes. Learn more about my birth doula services, and contact me with any questions you may have.

Angie The Doula – Postpartum Support and Maternal Mental Health Resources

At two weeks postpartum, the realities of new parenthood can be a whopper. Many new parents find this time hard, especially during this pandemic when most people don’t have the support they’d normally have. Remember that new normal that most families find around 4-6 weeks? That might feel like forever at this point. 

This is a good time to check in about maternal mental health. Partners can struggle with mental health too. Here are some good resources:

Postpartum Support
  1. Maternal Mental Health Issues This online article includes risk factors (any of these that can be addressed can help make postpartum life easier), things to help, local resources, what partners can do.
    There’s a big range between thriving and needing clinical mental health services. This article has suggestions for things that can help in that space.
  2. Self assessment tool: This version of the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS), Edinburg Screening & Care Guide, includes valuable information about risk factors and where to find help. This is the form your health care provider would use if they screened for maternal mental health.
  3. Self assessment tool: The Postpartum Progress Checklist has more questions than the EPDS. It can be used to facilitate discussion between postpartum clients and their health care providers.  

If you’re struggling, then here are some things to consider as next steps:

  • Gather up support. I have a list of postpartum doulas to share in a range of experience and fees. (My list includes several doulas not on the DofR site. I train them and only recommend people I trust. If fee is a barrier or consideration, I can likely help you find someone that fits your budget and needs.)
  • Ask the public-health nurse to come in for a chat.
  • Take your self-assessment tools and/or concerns to your 2-week medical checkup. 
  • Make an appointment with your doctor or midwife.
  • If you have a health plan at work or in-house mental health counsellor, then that will be your fastest route to get counselling and psych services.
  • Call 811 if you need non-emergent medical advice as they are supposed to be well-trained in postpartum mental health.
  • Get medical attention today if you have thoughts of harming self or baby. Unfortunately, that usually means a trip to the ER.
  • In case of psychosis, call 911.

I want to reassure you of two things in case medical help is needed:

  1. Breastfeeding is still possible with almost all mental health drugs. (Many women are reluctant to get help for fear of not being able to BF.)
  2.  Families are kept together during mental illness, as long as there’s one healthy adult (parent, grandparent, relative or close friend as guardian). If a parent has to be admitted to the psych unit then the baby stays with the other parent or guardian. Visits with the mentally ill parent are arranged as soon as possible. A few of my clients have been down this road and it’s not easy but they received excellent care and recovered.   
postpartum support

I teach a variety of Child Birth Education classes and prenatal workshops online for people all over.  I have been a birth doula since 2002, and have helped over 300 clients with their births and over 1000 through prenatal classes. Learn more about my birth doula services, and contact me with any questions you may have.

Angie The Doula – New Parent and Baby Essentials

What are the most important items for new parents and their newborns? Everyone has different opinions about this.  Think about what you have to do with your baby.  A travelling family will have different needs than a family at home.

This New Parent and Baby Essentials list is from my experience along with comments from families with whom I’ve worked.  It’s biased toward being kind to the environment and keeping life simple.

Before we get started, I want to let you know that really all you need is a warm safe place to lay your babe, change your babe, and transport your babe.  Note that babies will go from laying stationary to rolling over in the blink of an eye.  Save your babe from a fall and potential injury by never leaving them unattended on a flat surface such as a bed or table, unless they’re surrounded by little rails or something that will both prevent rolling and suffocation.

New Parent and Baby Essentials

Essentials:

  • For maternal postpartum recovery and wellness:
    • Bottom spray (postpartum perineum-saver!!)
    • Adult diapers for the first week – not pretty but awesome way to prevent postpartum leaks
    • See breastfeeding section
  • Something to wear the baby – sling, wrap, carrier or baby pack for newborn i.e. supports head
    • May need a couple of methods to accommodate different adults – sizes, abilities, preferences
  • For baby:
    • Car seat
    • Baby blanket or cover for car seat
    • Receiving blankets – 20
    • Mini-wash cloths can be used as wipes – 40-50
    • Baby blanket for home
    • Digital thermometer
    • Q-tips, in case of care of umbilical cord
    • Baby nail clippers 
    • Saline-squirter or nose-sucker
    • Baby clothes – many people get way more than they need from family & friends
      • A few outfits including sleepers and undershirts
      • Socks & mitts
      • Outdoor clothing
      • For winter babes, outer clothing such as a fleece bunting-bag or something that covers hands and feet as part of the outfit.  Also a good hat that stays on.
      • For summer babes, a sun-hat, and thin clothing to cover up skin but not overheat
    • Baby ear-muffs (hearing protection), e.g. for music festivals, movie theatres
New Parent and Baby Essentials
  • For breastfeeding/chestfeeding:
    • Nipple cream or pharmaceutical grade lanolin (e.g. Lansinoh)
    • Nursing bras
    • Nursing pads (pref cotton, non-disposable)
    • For consideration: a little manual pump or milk collector device such as the Haakaa
    • Book: Womanly Art of Breastfeeding – quick answers for breastfeeding issues; easy to read and short fix-it suggestions
  • Diapering.  Set up a safe place and have supplies ready to use.
    • Change table with little rails, change pad (with sides) on a table or dresser, or towel on the floor
    • Diapers – what kind will you use?  Cloth or disposable (biodegradable, organic, or regular)
    • Wipes – washcloths / reusable, or disposable
    • If using cloth, you’ll need a storing, soaking and washing method.  Feel free to ask me.
  • Think about sleeping options:

CPS recommends baby sleeps in the same room as parents for the first year ideally, 6m minimum

  • Baby blanket or quilt; no pillows needed
  • Some kind of washable pad for under baby – can be anything from a proper baby-pad to a folded sheet.  This goes under the baby-sheet to avoid scrunching and twisted bedding.
  • Family bed – a futon on floor, extra-wide bed, or 3 sided crib that attaches or goes against parents’ bed
  • Family room – a safe place for baby to sleep in your room but not necessarily attached to bed ()
  • Baby room – high quality crib with slats close enough so a pop-can won’t fit through 
  • In a pinch – box, drawer or laundry basket
New Parent and Baby Essentials

Other things that make life easier (and are worth every cent!)…

  • Really great nursing pillow 
  • Smart Medicine for Healthier Kids book has both allopathic and holistic advice on childcare from newborn to teens
  • Calms book – a short read with great tips for learning to communicate with your new baby
  • Medicine dropper – has many uses other than medicine
  • Stroller, or Burley/Chariot 
  • High quality and “clean” baby care soap and laundry soap

Nice to have but not essential

  • Swing or Rocker
  • Baby-bath or Tummy Tub but another option is to just have a bath with your babe to minimize buying stuff.
  • Baby monitor, depending on your lifestyle and home layout.
  • Breast pump and glass bottles in case of emergency or depending on lifestyle.
  • Playpen  

I teach a variety of Child Birth Education classes and prenatal workshops online for people all over.  I have been a birth doula since 2002, and have helped over 300 clients with their births and over 1000 through prenatal classes. Learn more about my birth doula services, and contact me with any questions you may have.