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Checklist and Tips for Making a Birth Plan

Most people who give birth in a hospital are meeting their medical care team for the first time. Because of the circumstances, the staff do not have the time or bandwidth to get to know their patients in-depth.   

A good birth plan, which I prefer to call “Birth Preferences”, can build bridges with your medical team. It can help them get to know you and quickly understand what you’d like in your ideal birth. It’s also helpful to learn about the policies and practises at your birthplace, so you know what to put on your wish-list.

Your Birth Plan document should be only one page with lots of white space and an easy font – at least 12pt. Use respectful and positive, but firm language. “I prefer….” is wishy-washy for something that really matters to you. 

I recommend you use language that reflects who you are. If you have a great sense of humour, feel free to insert fun and levity in your plan. “If Jamie takes a nap, please kick him when he starts snoring.”

Checklist for an excellent Birth Preferences document

This section includes examples. Feel free to copy them or use your own language. 

  1. Start with an opening paragraph that includes:
  • An opening statement that encompasses your attitudes or overall vision e.g. “We’ve prepared for a natural birth” or “An epidural is part of my plan” or “We’re using Hypnobirthing as a tool.”
  • A statement about consent, such as “We’re open to changes after discussion with the medical staff so we can make informed choices.” or “I will ask questions whenever a procedure is recommended and then need a few minutes alone to think.”
  • A kindness to the staff. “Thank you for supporting us through our birth process” or “We appreciate the work you do.”
  1. An additional opening paragraph if there are special circumstances:
  • Medical conditions that need to be known urgently, such as “Lucy is allergic to penicillin”. 
  • Mobility issues or cognitive considerations.
  • Sensitive issues that may affect your birth, if it feels safe to share. (It’s been my experience that this level of personal sharing makes for better treatment.) “Due to previous trauma, no one is to touch me until I am aware of who they are, understand why and what’s involved, and have verbally agreed.”  Or “Robin faints at the sight of blood, even one drop.” Or “We’ve had a previous loss and do not want to discuss it. Please see the prenatal records.”
  1. Then a short list of points for your wishes. It could be titled, “These are our wishes”:
  • If anyone is joining you, name them. E.g. Your doula or “plus-one” such as a friend or mother.
  • The environment you’d like, such as quiet with dim lights, loud rocking music (bring your own), window blinds open for sunshine, privacy.
  • Continue this section with points that are unique to you. Here are a few of my favorite things from the hundreds of birth plans I’ve seen:
    • I must wear my purple socks at all times.
    • Do not offer pain medications; I’ll ask if I want anything.
    • Please run a bath and encourage me to get in.
    • Minimal cervical checks and only by experienced staff.
    • I will eat if I’m hungry; please provide a waiver.
    • Please provide the squatting bar and recommend positions to keep labour moving.
    • Please coach me through pushing. 
    • I will breathe my baby down and appreciate quiet during the bearing-down stage.
    • Essential staff only; no observers or learners. 
    • Students are welcome.

You get the idea!

  • Cord and placenta plans, if any. E.g. We’d like 3 minutes of delayed cord clamping. Or We’re keeping our placenta. Or Please show me the placenta before disposing of it.
  1. Some people add an “In case of Caesarean:” heading, with things that are important to them such as playing a certain song, delayed cord clamping, requesting someone to take photos if possible, keeping family together as long as possible in the OR.
  1. A closing sentence such as “Thank you for taking time to read this page” or “Thank you for being part of our big day!”

Do not include:

  • Disaster planning language e.g. “… unless something goes wrong.” or “… unless it’s needed”.  It’s a given. 
  • Things that aren’t issues. If your local hospital has a policy that all babies are held skin-to-skin by a parent immediately upon birth and for the first hour (that’s the policy in my local hospital), then there’s no need to ask for that. 
  • A shopping list of all the things you don’t want. You don’t have to tell your medical team that you don’t want an episiotomy or a caesarean – they know that. (Well, unless you’re in a place where episiotomies are routinely done – then add that to the list! In almost every Canadian hospital, episiotomies are not routinely done.)
  • The interventions that are only done after discussion, such as induction, which requires a conversation and signed consent form. 
  • Postpartum care of the maternal or newborn patient. “I will breastfeed” or “I will use formula” do not belong on the birth plan. 

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 – Basic Prenatal Nutrition

Once pregnancy is achieved there are many transformations taking place in the body, such as hormonal changes and increased weight of the pregnant person and the developing child. Vital organs must work harder e.g. kidneys must filter up to 150% of normal blood volume throughout most of the pregnancy. All this building and changing is best done under optimal nutrition and function by the body.

Nutritional Guidelines

In a nutshell, do this EVERY day:

  • drink sufficient purified water or herbal tea
  • eat clean (organic) whole foods and lots of them to obtain high amounts of minerals, vitamins
  • be especially diligent about meeting daily requirements of calcium, magnesium and iron
  • whole food is colorful and looks pretty much like it did coming out of the earth
  • eat quality, health protein at every meal
  • take a high quality prenatal vitamin
  • ingest lots of essential fatty acids (usually through fish oil)
  • take acidophilus daily
  • relax when you eat
  • eat 3 healthy meals and 2 healthy snacks
  • obtain trace-minerals needed for every body function and baby development
  • liberal use of Himilayan (pink) or Celtic salt (grey)
  • drops of “Trace Minerals” added to water
  • avoid the “nasty whites” (sugar, salt, flour), chemicals such as coloring and artificial flavours or sweeteners,
  • artificial/processed foods, caffeine, drugs & alcohol

Nutritional requirements are fairly straightforward. Most sources agree on the nutrients needed for fetal and maternal health, with the exception of dairy, grains and essential fatty acids (EFA). Only the newer and more holistic sources of nutritional highly recommend EFA for pregnancy (see section below). These same sources may or may not recommend foods and portions/ratios that are an integral part of the Canada’s Food Guide. Education and awareness of one’s own health is important.

Proper nutrition is vital before and during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding
Photo by Anton Nossik. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

Any nutrients taken in or lacking directly affect the baby. The first step is in eating enough; 2400 calories is the daily minimum. Of course quality of food is as important quantity. Nutrient dense foods are best, such as organic whole foods. Raw or lightly steamed veggies provide many nutrients and fiber. Fiber is important to prevent constipation, a common pregnancy concern. Fiber also carries out toxins and used up hormones, which decreases liver load and morning sickness.

Water: Clean purified water is essential. Water is needed to maintain blood pressure with increased blood volume, to flush toxins safely and to provide transport for nutrients through blood to placenta. The best way to increase fluid intake is with clean pure water and herbal teas from the safe list.

Eat Mindfully: The manner in which food is eaten is important too. Eating mindfully and slowly, chewing food thoroughly, and keeping liquids to a minimum with food will ensure good assimilation of nutrients. Smaller more frequent meals and healthy snacks ensure nutrients are better assimilated and blood sugar stays constant. In the case of digestive problems consider using digestive enzymes.

Eat Organic: Organic foods are higher in nutrients, especially minerals, and of course much lower in chemical toxins. Watch for “certified organic” on labels or know your farmer.

Protein: 60-80g minimum daily. Deficiency tied to congenital abnormalities and pre-eclampsia.
Vegan sources of protein include spirulina, quinoa, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds. Animal sources are usually the densest and include meat, eggs, and dairy. Organic animal foods are important, as conventional farming may use hormones and antibiotics routinely, and poor quality feed.

Prenatal Nutrition

Essential Fatty Acids: The recommended daily intake of EPA plus DHA is about 650-1000mg/day during pregnancy and lactation. Omega-3 fats, especially DHA, are needed for fetal brain and spinal cord development. Fetal concentrations of DHA are directly correlated to maternal DHA levels. Reduced fetal DHA concentrations lead to decreased visual function and altered learning and behavior. Over the past 15 yrs, breast milk DHA concentrations have decreased by over 50% so it’s important that DHA levels are maintained throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding. DHA also helps prevent premature delivery. DHA is vital for fetal brain development and health throughout life. Most prenatal supplements have absolutely no DHA.

Current recommendations are to limit and even avoid certain fish during pregnancy. Generally, the larger the fish, the more mercury contamination and other toxins it contains. Wild small fish (e.g. sardines, mackerel, anchovies, salmon) are preferable. Avoid farmed and/or large fish due to lack of nutrients, mercury & other heavy metal contamination, and toxins due to feeding and farm practices. Examples of large fish are tuna, sea bass, marlin, and halibut. Mercury readily crosses the placenta and has a high affinity for nervous tissue i.e. brain and spinal cord. Fetal mercury exposure contributes to mental deficiencies and other neurological problems.

The safest way to ingest EFAs is by fish oil or micro-algae. Supplements are not all equal. Liquids are best as they are readily digested and one can smell rancidity (only rancid fish oil smells like fish). One has to take up to 14 caps daily to get the required amount of EFAs. Good brands start with quality oil and undergo strict cleaning / processing methods. They use 3rd party tests for EPA/DHA values and are tested for contamination. The label defines EFA values. And they taste good – really!

Vitamins & Minerals Supplement a.k.a. Prenatal Vitamin

Supplement means supplemental i.e. in addition to food, not replacing it. Food based nutrients are best but the addition of a high quality prenatal vitamin ensures certain requirements are met. High-quality supplements are important. There’s quite a difference between brands and sources in terms of ingredients (fillers, natural vs. synthetic vitamins, quality of nutrients) and absorbability (the form of nutrient used and method of processing). There’s also a cost difference – don’t waste money on low-grade supplements. Small doses need to be taken throughout the day; quality prenatals are never ‘one-a-day’.

Food-based vitamins are generally the best quality. The ingredients are more absorbable and bioavailable than isolated vitamins. More nutrients are absorbed with smaller doses and the micronutrients and enzymes are present, resulting in fewer issues such as constipation and nausea.

Minerals are usually best assimilated when taken in food form or herbal teas. Once a plant has ‘processed’ the mineral i.e. taken it from the soil and incorporated it into its structure, it’s much easier for us to absorb and lower amounts are required. Take your supplemental prenatal vitamins & minerals with food.

Why Prenatal Vitamins?

Prenatal vitamins are designed to meet most of the nutritional needs during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
High doses of Vitamin A have been linked to congenital abnormalities such as cleft palate and heart problems. Daily max during pregnancy = 10 000IU. Prenatals use Beta carotene a.k.a. “Pre-vitamin A” and the body will convert to vitamin A only what it needs.
Folic acid in higher amounts to ensure the neural tube forms properly.
Calcium requirements double.
Too many other vitamins and minerals to list all the benefits.

Iron (40-80mg) with vitamin C
If taken in supplemental form, an organically based one that has gone through plant or yeast is best. For example, Floravit™ or Floradix™ are 95% absorbable and therefore do not contribute to digestive problems and constipation.

Trace minerals are involved in most physiological and metabolic processes and are required to assimilate macro minerals. Sources include kelp and other seaweeds, trace-mineral supplements, and Celtic or Himalayan sea salt (i.e. not white salt).

Probiotics are the ‘good bacteria’ that live in human bodies, mostly in the gut. Functions include:
Helps stave off Candida overgrowth during this vulnerable time (pregnant women are especially susceptible)
Protect baby through birth canal
Assimilation of nutrients
Protects digestive system from invaders
Boost immune system

Decrease or Avoid:

  • ‘Junk’ food of any kind
  • Refined & processed foods deplete minerals and promote dehydration
  • Regular salt promotes edema
  • Alcohol is a teratogen (causes birth abnormalities)
  • Coffee is a possible teratogen and promotes dehydration and mineral deficiency. The research is mixed as to the safety of one cup daily.
  • Caffeine in other forms
  • Meats susceptible to parasites, bacterial infections and high in additives e.g. cold-cuts, raw fish
  • Candida promoting foods (sugars and alcohol)
  • Unnecessary medications. See a pharmacist, medical doctor and/or holistic health practitioner for help with health issues.
  • “Street drugs”
  • Smoking
  • Phenylalanine containing supplements. E.g. – Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet) has high levels phenylalanine and may alter fetal brain growth / development
  • Mineral oil blocks absorption of fat-soluble vitamins
  • Shark cartilage (in joint-pain supplements) inhibits the new blood vessel growth needed during pregnancy

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.