What are the stages of labour?

The stages of labour 

Knowing exactly what your body goes through will help you to make informed decisions as well as preparing you for the birthing process.

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Photo by Arteida Mjeshri

 

The first stage 

The initial stage of labour is when your cervix gradually opens. It is divided into three different stages: early labour, active labour and the transitional stage. The first stage of labour can last 6-20 hours or 2-10 hours if it isn’t your first time giving birth.

In the first stage of labour your cervix will open until it is fully dilated (10cm in diameter). Your cervix starts off in a posterior position (pointing towards your back) during early labour it will move to an anterior position (facing forwards). It will also soften and shorten. It is common for these changes to start taking place late in your pregnancy. As your cervix softens and adjusts position you may feel a slight backache or mild abdominal aches, you may even have loose bowels. This stage is sometimes referred to as prelabour.

During pregnancy a mucus plug forms over the cervix to keep infection out. This is released prior to labour, it is a jelly like substance that may be a little blood stained. It is known as a show. For first labours the show usually signifies that labour is coming within hours or days. If you’ve given birth before then your show could be a sign that you are already in labour.

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Early labour 

This is the stage in which your cervix goes from being closed to 3-4cm dilated. Some women don’t realise it has started, though the intensity of contractions will increase. It often feels like a period pain, with mild cramps and/or a dull backache. At this stage it is worth timing your contractions. In early labour they are often more than five minutes apart and only last 30-40 seconds.

During this stage you should be able to talk and move around. You might want to phone parents or close friends and make any last minute arrangements, ensure other children are taken care of and gather your hospital bag together. If you are planning a hospital birth, it is advisable to stay at home during the early stages. Early labour can stop and start, going to hospital can actually delay the labour. You are better off staying at home and trying to keep relaxed. This is a good time to drink plenty of water and eat something. You may not feel like eating much, but your body will rely on the energy and you may not be able to eat for a while. Complex carbs, protein and minerals are all important. So even a slice or two or wholemeal toast, a glass of milk and some fruit would be helpful.

This is a great time to engage in something really relaxing, perhaps a warm bath or some meditation or mindfulness exercises. Some women find that staying upright helps with the discomfort, so you might like to keep walking.

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The active phase 

This is the phase when your cervix opens to 10cm. Your contractions will be stronger, longer and more frequent. It is likely that you won’t be able to talk through them. Instead, focus on your breathing. You may find some comfort in rocking gently on a birthing ball. This will not only ease the pain but can also help to keep the pelvis supple and open. It is likely that the contractions will come every three to four minutes and will last 60-90 seconds. This can seem quite intense for many women as there is little time to rest between them. Focus on the idea that each contraction is helping your baby out into this world. Use controlled breathing and keep your body as relaxed as possible.

During this stage you will want to go to hospital if that is where you are having your baby.

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The transitional phase 

This is the stage between your cervix becoming fully dilated and the urge to push. Contractions tend to be less frequent but last longer and may be more painful. Sometimes a contraction will start before the last one has fully faded. It is common for your waters to break during or before this phase. Some women find this phase to be very overwhelming, it is often the point when women feel that they can’t go on. It is really important to remind yourself that this phase signifies the end of the opening of the cervix. Often there is a break from contractions before the pushing stage. This stage is often the hardest stage of labour. Remind yourself why you are opting for a natural birth. Also, give yourself permission to use pain relief if you need it. Focus on the transience of this stage.

The second stage of labour 

This is the stage in which you will push your baby down the birth canal. Keeping your pelvis open is essential so avoid lying on your back. It is also important to stay upright and let gravity assist you. Squatting positions are really helpful, so is kneeling on all fours. Whichever position you are in, it is helpful to move around. Rotate your hips in a figure of 8 shape, sway and keep active. This will give your baby the space to find a suitable position.

If you do need to lie down (because you need to rest or have had an epidural) lie on one side and ask your birth partner to support your upper leg to relieve any pressure on the lower back.

The second stage of labour usually doesn’t last more than a couple of hours. Sometimes it takes minutes. Often with subsequent babies it is only 5-10 minutes.

When you feel the urge to push you can bear down, listen to your body and work with your contractions. In between contractions be sure to breathe deeply and slowly. It is common to make noise when you are pushing. Go with it. Follow your primal instincts. With each push your baby will slowly move a little bit further down your vagina.

Crowning is when your vagina stretches over the baby’s head. Your midwife will be looking out for this. You will feel a hot, stinging sensation. At this point you need to stop pushing and pant lightly. This will allow your baby to be born gently. Making it less traumatic for them, and less likely that you will tear. Sometimes the head is born in one contraction and the body in the other. Other times it is all done in one movement.

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Photo by Aditya Romansa

 

The third stage of labour 

This stage is when you deliver the placenta and membranes. Once the baby is born you may have a few moments rest before your body starts to contract again in order to expel the placenta and membranes. You can have an injection that will mean you don’t need to push, it will cause contractions for you. Some women opt for this as they believe that a drug-free birth has given their baby the best possible start and they simply want to get the third stage over with quickly, so they can bond with their baby. The injection can also mean less risk of post-natal anaemia and less bleeding as the placenta is delivered. However, it can also cause nausea, vomiting and heavier blood loss. Skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding can encourage the third stage. Usually an assisted third stage and a natural one last the same amount of time.

Ideally, if there have been no complications, you will keep the umbilical cord attached for a few minutes. This will keep the blood flowing to your baby for a few extra minutes after the birth.

I found giving birth to be the most exhilarating experience of my life. Tapping into my primal instincts meant I moved around a lot and used a lot of deep squats. My daughter was born when I was on all fours, rocking my pelvis meant she easily found the space to move through.

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Photo by Tim Bish

 

Taken from ‘The Natural Baby: A gentle guide to conception, pregnancy, birth & beyond’ by Holly Daffurn and Samantha Quinn.

Breathing in labour

Breathing

Breathing deeply is so important in labour. It will keep you calm and collected, able to listen to your instinct and speak your mind. It will give you a vital sense of control. It can aid in pain management. It gives you energy which is so important during childbirth. It also supplies your baby with plenty of essential oxygen, keeping them alert and healthy. Counting your breath can also help you to time contractions.

Pain makes us naturally tense up, our breathing becomes shallow and our muscles tighten. At the first sign of labour you need to consciously loosen your shoulders, keep your spine lengthened and raise the crown of your head to the sky. You may feel comfortable walking around, you may prefer to sit. However, you position yourself, establishing a deep breathing routine is essential. Exhale fully through your mouth, using a long controlled measured breath. Count the seconds it takes and then match them as you inhale, keep that rhythm going for the entire first stage. Every time you breathe out let your muscles soften and relax, this will help your cervix and vagina to stay soft and pliant too. Once you have established a firm counted breath you may like to add some words, especially if the pain is becoming more intense. It could be a short mantra such as “I can do this” or “This too shall pass” (using two words for the inhale and two for the exhale or you could use one word such as relax. Breathing in for ‘re’ and out for ‘lax’). If you like the sound of a mantra, then it might be worth finding one before you go into labour. Having these little devices to support you all ready and waiting can be really empowering.

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If you are finding that your breathing is becoming shallow again, focus on the out breath as the inhalation will follow naturally. It is worth going through some breathing techniques with your birth partner during the pregnancy. They can keep you on track. Being told what to do can take away the feeling of empowerment, so rather than telling you to breathe they could gently place their hands on your shoulders to relax them, look you in the eye and breath with you. Perhaps even saying the words or counting the breaths for you.

Sometimes using sound can be helpful too. Breathe in through your nose as fully as possible and breathe out through your mouth making a noise as you do so. It may be an ooohh sound or an aaahhh. Sometimes the use of sound can help us to release the pain and deal with it more effectively. This is a useful technique once labour has become established and is progressing well.

You may find that the breathing gives you a dry mouth so it is a good idea for your birth partner to offer you water regularly. Sometimes sipping water through a straw is helpful so be sure to pack some straws and plenty of bottles of water in your hospital bag. Again, you may not want to be asked if you would like some water every few minutes so it may be easier for them to simply offer it to you without words or have it on hand so you can point to it if you want it. Being well-hydrated will also help with breastfeeding, so try to drink as much water as possible during the labour.

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Mindfulness

Meditation and mindfulness can be incredibly powerful. Entering a state of mindfulness can give you the power you need to believe in yourself. If your contractions are intense and close together, you may find it difficult to settle into this place. You might prefer to use a pair of words that can keep you positive and focused. You could inhale strength and exhale fear or pain. Come up with your own couplet that feels empowering and relevant. 

Taken from ‘The Natural Baby: A gentle guide to conception, pregnancy, birth & beyond’ by Holly Daffurn and Samantha Quinn.

A-level retakes: the right option for you?

Your grades are not your destiny: they’re just letters and numbers which rate how well you performed in one artificial arena, once.” Charlie Brooker

So you’ve got your A-level results and they are not what you need to get into your chosen university. Where do you go from here? What are your options?

Talk to your chosen university

If there are extenuating circumstances for your low grades or it was a pretty near miss, then you may still be accepted by your chosen university. Call up university admissions, talk things through and see how you can progress. If your chosen course isn’t oversubscribed then you may still be in with a chance. If resitting your A-levels seems to be the sensible option and your heart is set on that university, then you might like to check what their policy on retakes is. On the whole retake grades are accepted (and often commended) but in very rare cases some universities may not accept retake grades or they may ask for higher grades at retake than your original offer. Arm yourself with this information early on so that you can make an informed choice.

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Don’t make a snap decision

Not getting the grades you are anticipating can be heartbreaking. After years of hard work, it can feel pretty bleak – especially when your peers get the A-level grades they need. Don’t make any rash decisions. Take some time to think things through and talk through the options with your parents, teachers and friends. There are options available such as clearing, but signing up for a course that didn’t make your heart sing to start with might only lead to more stress and disappointment. It’s important at this stage to know that you have options, then take the time to carefully consider which option is right for you. There will be reasons why you went for the course you did, and committing to a different course (because it was available through clearing) may make the next few years incredibly difficult. Getting a good degree is inevitably hard work, but it will be even harder if you don’t have the enthusiasm in the subject to start with.

Be honest with yourself over why you failed

Was it lack of knowledge? Lack of confidence? Were you simply not ready? Did you not put the work in? Many students simply feel unprepared for their exams. Now you know what to expect, you can properly prepare next time and get the results that you truly deserve. Some students do not get the grades they deserve because they were unwell or missed too much school. You may have the depth of knowledge but lack the skills required to answer the questions. Retaking your A-levels gives you the chance to learn exam technique and independent study skills.

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Resitting your A-levels shows maturity

With the immense pressure that students are now put under, not getting the grades that you were hoping for can feel like a massive blow. It’s important to remember that the university you apply for will respect your dedication and tenacity. By retaking your A-levels you are showing a level of commitment and maturity that proves you are ready for university.

It’s only a year

Although many of your friends will be going on to university, there will be others that take a gap year or go into work. There will also be plenty of people from your 6th form who also need to retake their exams. As well as resitting your A-levels it is worth using the year to your full advantage. Could you also volunteer or do work experience in a field that would support your choice of degree? What could you do with the year that would really make you stand out to your chosen university? What would help you feel ready for taking a degree? It can also be helpful to have friends who go to university before you. You can visit them on campus and get a feel for student life which will really pave the way ahead for your own university experiences.

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Should I go back to my old college for retakes?

The benefits of going back to your former college (it is familiar, you know what to expect, it is no doubt close to home, it is more affordable) are often outweighed by the opportunities that arise when you go to a fresh college for retakes. Many students find that starting somewhere different, where the focus is on resits yields much better results. It can feel quite demoralising to sit through the same lessons with younger students. You might prefer to see this as an opportunity to try somewhere new and ensure that you don’t make the same mistakes again.

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You’ll learn more than how to ace your A-levels

The majority of A-level students who opt for a resit to improve their grades, find they take more from the experience than improved exam results. The impressive reviews from the popular retake option Rochester College talk about confidence and becoming more of a well-rounded person. Their intensive A-level retake course is set on engaging students and bringing out the best in them. They only accept students for resits if they know it is the best option for them at that time. Places like Rochester Independent College offer the perfect stepping stone in preparing students for university, not just academically but students are given more respect, without limiting rules or uniforms. They call their teachers by their first names and are encouraged to think for themselves and discover more about who they are. The class sizes are tiny, meaning you’ll be given more attention and support. You’ll also find yourself surrounded by people who are in a similar position to yourself. Colleges that specialise in resits really value the importance of learning exam techniques and independent revision skills. These skills will not only help you to succeed in your A-levels but will serve you well throughout the rest of your academic career. You can find a list of college that offer retakes here.

How do I go about retakes?

Once you have decided that retaking your A-levels and aiming for that coveted university place is your best option, you need to officially decline any university offers by 20th September so you can start the process of retaking. The option to retake exams in January is no longer there, so you will have to take them in the summer. You will also need to rewrite your personal statement if you decided to reapply to university through UCAS. This is a great opportunity to explain how your retake year has shaped you as a person and highlight what you have learnt through the experience. Get in touch with your chosen retake college and they’ll be delighted to offer you support and guidance. The courses start in mid-September so you still have some time to relax and recharge for the rest of the summer.

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Above all, don’t beat yourself up about not achieving the grades you had hoped for. Give yourself time to process it, find the best options for you and move forwards towards a bright and positive future. 

Problems feeding? Could your baby have tongue-tie?

Tongue-tie 

You may have heard of tongue-tie (ankyloglossia), but most of us know little about it unless it affects our child or someone we know. Tongue-tie is the name given to the birth defect in which a small tight piece of skin has formed between the floor of the mouth and the tongue.

Tongue-tie is most commonly picked up through problems with breast feeding. A baby with tongue-tie can struggle to latch on, the nipple when feeding, cause pain when feeding or slip off the nipple when trying to feed. This is because babies with tongue-tie are unable to open their mouths wide enough to latch on to both the nipple and the breast tissue. Successful breastfeeding also involves instinctively placing the tongue over the lower gums, without this mechanism the nipples are not protected from the gums and they can quickly become sore. A baby with tongue-tie is unable to cover their gums as their tongue cannot reach very far. If your nipples are sore and you have bleeding or ulcers, then it is worth investigating further to see if your little one may have tongue-tie.

Problems with breastfeeding not only mean that the mother suffers from painful nipples, but it can also mean that a baby does not gain weight quickly. It can also affect the bonding process between mother and child. If you suspect that your little one may have tongue-tie then it is important that you speak to your GP, health visitor or midwife immediately. A simple procedure can be carried out that will divide the tongue-tie and allow you to feed your baby.

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Even if you have a lot of experience with children, please do not assume that you will be able to detect a tongue-tie just by looking at the tongue. To the untrained eye, a tongue-tie is not always visible.

Bottle-fed babies with tongue-tie are often hard to spot, perhaps because a bottle teat does not feel pain and discomfort. However, restricted tongue movement may mean that your baby is unable to seal the teat properly and they may leak milk out of the corner of their mouth or take in a lot of air when they feed.

Tongue-tie that does not affect feeding is often not treated or may even go undetected. It is only when a child starts to speak that a speech therapist may pick up on the reason behind their difficulties. If tongue-tie is affecting a child’s speech then they will need to have treatment to resolve the issue.

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Tongue-tie is not always easy to diagnose. Even with feeding problems there could be another cause. For this reason it is important to see an oral specialist as soon as possible. If your child has any difficulty feeding then it is definitely worth investigating further. Feeding problems will not only affect their weight gain but will also have an impact on energy, sleep and development. It is much better to sort these things early on than to struggle on for some time. If you do suspect tongue-tie then discuss the possibility with your health visitor or doctor. If you have been breastfeeding, you may decide to express your milk instead and swap to bottle. Bottle fed babies with tongue-tie will still struggle to feed, take a long time feeding and may even fall asleep regularly at the bottle through exhaustion. They may also be colicky and suffer from trapped wind. At least your nipples will be spared though.

It is important to remember that tongue-tie is easy to treat and once it has been resolved will cause no long term problems or issues. If your child is struggling to feed, please don’t struggle on regardless. There may be an underlying issue. Seek help immediately.

This was taken from my book ‘The Natural Book: A gentle guide to conception, pregnancy, birth & beyond‘ which was co-authored by Samantha Quinn of Mumma Love Organics and was published by Green Books in February 2017. 

Ethical baby shower gift guide

Baby showers are a wonderful way to indulge your pregnant friends and celebrate their exciting new journey. Whether you choose to buy a unique baby shower gift for the expectant mum, their baby or both – the choice can feel a little daunting. There are some beautiful ethical gifts out there that are perfect for baby showers. Here is my pick of unusual gift options for mums-to-be:

Cloth nappy memory cards & pocket nappies from Baba+Boo

Beautifully made and with such personality and gorgeous designs. I’m a huge fan of Baba+Boo’s cloth nappies. Create a little bundle with their cloth nappy memory cards and a selection of their pocket nappies, for a gift that is as useful as it is ethical.

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For something different, Baba+Boo’s cloth nappy memory cards are a gentle, funny and adorable way to capture baby’s cloth nappy journey. Photo baby as she reaches milestones like her first poonami; or simply as a way of reminding mama that she’s doing her bit for the planet. Fourteen cards in total that are beautifully presented in a special gift box.

 

Reusable nappies aren’t just kinder to the planet, they’re kinder to your pocket too – something every mama cares about. And with designs like these, you’re giving a gift that’s on trend as well as useful. Baba+Boo’s designs are easy-to-use pocket nappies that are available as newborn and one size nappies; you can buy them as singles or in bundles of 3, 5,10 or 20.

Soothe Mama gift set from Ermana natural skincare

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If you’ve read my book then you’ll understand just how passionate I am about avoiding chemicals during pregnancy, which is why natural, chemical free products that nourish the skin and uplift the spirits make me so excited! This gift set from Ermana is not only beautifully presented in a chic presentation box but the products are absolutely beautiful too. It contains the Soothe Mama Body Balm and Soothe Mama Body Oil which are perfect for pampering pregnant mums.

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Combining cocoa, shea and coconut butters with almond oil and beeswax, the Soothe Mama Body Balm will help keep skin supple and nourished. It is also ideal for bump massage. Massaging your bump is a wonderful way to bond with your baby, as well as being relaxing.

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The Soothe Mama Body Oil is brimming with antioxidants and omega oils to feed and hydrate the skin, as well as helping protect against stretch marks. Apricot, macadamia, jojoba and vitamin E are all renowned for their nourishing and protective properties. Combined together they are the ideal luxurious and pampering body oil. Jojoba is very close in composition to your skin’s natural oils, meaning it is the perfect way to feed dry and dehydrated skin.

Online baby massage, language and connection course from Roots & Wings Parenting

Baby massage is a beautiful way to bond, connect and communicate with your little one. Taking an online course means that you can enjoy things at your own pace and both parents can be involved at a time that works with your family. This gift is delightfully ethical as it has no carbon footprint attached and is all based online.

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The video course will teach you how to massage your baby as you learn rhymes to correspond with different parts of the body. As well as six videos, this package includes 2 handouts, a how to guide and a colic sequence. Email support is available too and Alexia is immensely approachable and friendly, as well as highly knowledgeable.

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If you’d like to give your friend a unique baby shower gift in the form of an online baby massage course then all you need to do is buy the course from the Roots & Wings website and pass the login details on to your friend, or contact Alexia directly to arrange a personalised gift voucher.

Quarterly subscription box from Gentle Mamas

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If you are looking for safe and natural products then the girls at Gentle Mamas have selected some of the best out there for their subscription boxes. Offering the finest in natural and organics products, they pick 4-5 products each month which fit in perfectly with your non-toxic eco-friendly ethos. With gifts for mum and baby, these boxes are the ideal baby shower gift. Whether you buy a single box or an ongoing subscription, the boxes are curated according to the babies age. You can expect organic nipple butters, massage oils, natural toothpastes, silicone teethers, organic bodysuits, blankets, cardigans, natural perfumes, body washes, creams and so much more.

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They are also launching a brand new New Mama Luxury Box next week which includes a motivational planner, delicious chocolate and a wonderful array of luxurious natural beauty products. There are plenty of other gifts on their website which are ideal for pampering pregnant or new mums, as well as newborns.

Make your own relaxing bath salts gift set from Naissance

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I love this gift set from Naissance as it combines a wonderfully relaxing beauty treat, with a lovely activity. Creating your own beauty products mean that you know exactly what goes into them and with this beautiful gift set that means it’s cruelty free, vegan friendly, no parabens, no microbeads, no GMO, no SLS, no additives. As well as being packaged using sustainable paper and cardboard.

 

This set includes Himalayan salt, organic lavender essential oil, bergamot oil, lavender petals, a jar and a wooden scoop. The lavender is sourced from the Rose Valley in Bulgaria and smells divine as well as being relaxing and calming. Bergamot is refreshing and antiseptic, as well as being a powerful antidepressant. Lavender is fantastic for easing fluid retention and soothing away aches and pains.

Please check with your medical practitioner prior to using aromatherapy oils, especially if you have any health concerns. It is also worth noting that during pregnancy a woman’s skin is much more sensitive so expectant mothers should be extra-vigilant when using citrus-based oils (such as bergamot) as they can make your skin even more sensitive to UV light and may accelerate sunburn.

Beautiful natural makeup from bareMinerals

Keep it Glowing

This radiant collection for eyes, lips and cheeks is the perfect way to make any girl feel glamorous and decadent. If you want to gift your friend with something that is chemical free and natural, and can be used throughout pregnancy and beyond then indulging in some quality makeup might be a welcome move. With a stunning quartet of eyecolours, blush, luminizer, mascara and lipgloss this collection also comes in a beautiful bag making it a lovely gift.

Elegant jewellery from People Tree

If you are confused by which developmental toy is trending or worried about buying the same pampering mum-to-be products as another friend, then you might decide to buy your pregnant friend a gift that isn’t an obvious choice for a baby shower. As well as their wonderful ethical clothes, People Tree also do some stunning jewellery. A beautiful bracelet would be a lovely choice as swapping it from wrist to wrist after each feed is a great way for breastfeeding mums to remember which side they last fed from.

This beautiful gold-plated Soko cuff was handcrafted by African artisans and will add a dash of intrigue to any outfit.

Why I’m a passionate parent & not a perfect one.

Many people hear the words holistic parenting and think of glowing, impossibly healthy families who are far stricter with their choices than they are with their kids. I want to challenge this perception. For me, holistic parenting is literally about raising your children with careful consideration to their physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. It is also about making the best choices that you can possibly make without getting hung up on the things that you can’t manage. Don’t aim for perfection, I’ll tell you now that it doesn’t exist. Instead, aim to be the best that you can be.

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Nowadays with social media forming such an integral part of our culture, everyone seems intent on projecting their best side. Ultimately, many women are feeling overwhelmed with motherhood, simply because everyone else seems to be making it look so easy. Sam and I didn’t write The Natural Baby because we are perfect and flawless examples of motherhood, we wrote it because we are passionate about helping other mothers tackle the difficulties in an intuitive way. We found natural methods and complementary therapies to be hugely beneficial when raising our own children and coping with our pregnancies and wanted to share some of our little tips with others. We wanted to share stories, insight and experience and to cheer other parents on from the sidelines as they embark on one of the most exciting journeys possible. We are both so enthusiastic and passionate about natural birth, holistic parenting and complementary therapy that it has formed the basis of our professional lives as well as helping us through our own parenting journeys.

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So, before I go any further I’d like to let you in on a few home truths. I can humbly admit that I have contributed to the vast number of nappies in landfill. When my daughter, Jasmine, was born we couldn’t afford to buy reusable nappies and wraps and we were living in a very tiny flat with no means of drying them. It was a choice I made, something had to give. Although next time, I fully intend on using washable nappies. It’ll be much more manageable now that I’m living in a house with plenty of drying room (and a tumble dryer) and have more financial stability as well as a supportive husband to help out with the chores. Instead of washing nappies I spent my time breastfeeding, puréeing vegetables and interacting with my child. I don’t regret making that choice. I also stopped breastfeeding at four months when the mastitis made me seriously ill (I wish I had known Sam back then to help me out with some home remedies!). I took to breastfeeding without any help or support and enjoyed it immensely, I knew it was the best possible start for my daughter but I also knew when it was time to stop and knew not to beat myself up about not being able to continue. I also knew that I was fortunate to have those few months of being able to feed her myself, as many women are unable to feed their own babies.

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Now this may seem like a peculiar way to introduce myself as the author of a book on natural parenting, but it feels so important to me that I reassure and encourage you. You need to know right now that there is no perfect parent and that striving for false unreachable ideals will purely make you feel exhausted, inadequate and ultimately lousy as you admit defeat.

I’m not here to tell you what to do but more to guide, encourage and share with you the insight, knowledge and experience that I have picked up along the way.

As for my parenting journey and how I came to not only use the holistic approach through pregnancy and the baby years but also professionally. Here is my story:

When I was a child I was raised in a house where lavender oil was used to treat headaches, Arnica cream was used for burns and once in France when I had an ear infection so bad that it pushed me over the edge of delirium, my parents managed to find a homeopathic pharmacy and used Belladonna to treat it. Yes, my parents were products of the swinging sixties and remain proud hippies to this day.

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I picked up a few yoga poses and the basic concept of meditation on a yoga retreat at the age of nine where my Dad was performing as a musician. By the time I had reached high school my Mum’s yoga books had migrated to the well-stocked bookshelves in my room.

Aromatherapy got me through exam stress, Bach Flower Remedies were administered for my driving test and I was sent off to University with my very own bottle of that magical calming liquid. In fact, a glossy book with full colour pictures on Kundalini yoga was one of my very first purchases with my student loan and I’ll never forget the look on the University nurse’s face when I told her I didn’t drink, didn’t smoke and practised yoga for an hour a day. (Though I’m afraid that this saintly level of healthiness did eventually slip!)

When I became pregnant at 19, there was no question that I would do anything but what was best for my child. That meant leaving my University degree despite protests from my lecturers, it also meant moving 600 miles away so I could be back near my family again, as well as re-evaluating what I ate and considering that unborn child before everything else. Eating properly seemed logically simple, as did stopping caffeine and of course alcohol. I had been practising yoga before I got pregnant and was overjoyed to discover there was a local class for expectant mothers. I was looking for a way to keep my body supple and flexible through pregnancy and was hoping for some benefits for the birth too. I didn’t expect what actually happened. I met a group of remarkable women and their partners, one particular couple have become lifelong friends. I also met our inspirational teacher, Marilyn, who taught us all about natural birthing techniques. My labour was under six hours, I had no pain relief, not even gas and air and each moment was blissfully joyous. Jasmine was almost 8lbs 13 when she was born, so it wasn’t even as if she was a little one!

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I gave birth on my hands and knees and followed my instincts to guide me through the whole birthing process. My midwife was amazed and begged me to tell her what my secret was. She had never known such a speedy and uncomplicated first birth. I put it down to all the preparation and healthy choices I had made and educating myself in the ways of natural birthing and holistic pregnancy choices. I read, I listened, I absorbed everything and with professionals such as Marilyn to guide me, I was soon equipped with the right knowledge and insight to see me smoothly through an utterly exhilarating birthing experience.

I knew that I wanted to encourage and support other women in achieving the birth that they hoped for. I considered midwifery and becoming a doula, but realised that with my own daughter it would be hard to work such unpredictable hours. I became a single mother before my daughter was two.

When my daughter was old enough to attend nursery, I went back to college and studied a number of complementary therapies. Eventually, setting up my own massage therapy business and working with private clients as well as residents in old people’s homes and young people with learning difficulties. The work was incredibly rewarding. I have also practised massage therapy backstage at a few live rock concerts with some household names, which didn’t have the same level of job satisfaction somehow.

Eventually, I trained in pregnancy massage and went on to teach classes for pregnant women in children’s centres; my classes covered yoga, breathing exercises, relaxation and birthing techniques. It felt so right. Finally, I was able to pass on my knowledge and share my passion. Unfortunately, debilitating migraines meant that I couldn’t commit to the regular hours and had to give it up. While I was sorting my health out I wrote a few articles for magazines on natural pregnancy, parenting and health. Before I knew it I was writing for all sorts of publications and still enjoying the freedom of being around for my daughter. Writing has been the biggest part of who I am since I was very young, so carving a career from it was a dream come true. Although my profession shifted from being a complementary health practitioner to being a writer, my passion for massage, yoga, healthy eating and empowering women on their birthing journeys has never faltered.

When Sam approached me to help her write a book on holistic parenting I was overjoyed. I feel like I have such a lot to contribute. Like I said before, I’m by no means a perfect parent, but I am a passionate one and I really think that makes all the difference.

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This was taken from my book ‘The Natural Book: A gentle guide to conception, pregnancy, birth & beyond‘ which was co-authored by Samantha Quinn of Mumma Love Organics and was published by Green Books in February 2017. 

Pregnancy yoga benefits for childbirth and beyond

Whether you choose yoga for pregnancy classes or decide to practise prenatal yoga from home using one of the growing series of pregnancy yoga videos that are available on YouTube; Yoga is a wonderful way to bond with your growing baby, keeping your body strong and flexible, prepare your body for the birth and develop a state of inner calmness. It is also a lovely way to meet new friends. Here is my pregnancy yoga story and the reasons why I am such an advocate of pregnancy yoga.

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It came as no surprise that pregnancy yoga became such an important part of my natural childbirth story. Yoga has been part of my life since I was a child. I was fascinated by my mum’s yoga books and by the time I was a teenager they had migrated up to my bedroom. After my brother died, yoga classes were one of the few things that got me out of the house – there were very few yoga classes in my local area and so I had to join a class for over 40s (I was 17 at the time). At university, I surprised the admissions nurse when I told her I practised yoga every day for a full hour. I also fell in love with Bikram hot yoga, ashtanga and kundalini. During one of the Bikram classes, my instructor led us in a pelvic tilt – it didn’t feel right. He asked me if I was currently menstruating – I explained that I wasn’t. He suggested that I sit that exercise out. Within days a sudden bout of sickness paired with heavy, tender boobs prompted me to take a pregnancy test. It was positive, I was overjoyed… I was also unable to return to Bikram. In fact, I left Scotland and returned to England to be near my parents much to the chagrin of my university teachers.

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After a little research, I was able to find a yoga class within 10 miles of my house. I was hoping for some gentle exercise to keep me healthy throughout my pregnancy but what I actually got was so much more.

Through the classes I met a group of wonderful like-minded people who were all due to have babies at a similar time to myself. 13 years later and a couple of us are still firm friends. As a young mum, I found this support invaluable.

I also met our wonderful instructor, Marilyn who spoke so passionately about active birth, owning your birthing experience and tapping into your instincts to enjoy an intuitive birth. This wasn’t just some hippy-dippy mumbo jumbo. Marilyn used a full-sized model pelvis to demonstrate how lying flat on your back restricts the movement of the coccyx. Her methods were based on her own birthing experiences, attending the births of friends and family and years of devoted learning. Marilyn herself had been inspired by active birth educators such as Janet Balaskas and Sheila Kitzinger. Marilyn’s support, inspiration and encouragement meant that I had a joyous birthing experience myself and went on to teach pregnancy and childbirth classes in children’s centres and ultimately to devote years of my life to researching and writing my first non-fiction book The Natural Baby.

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Practising pregnancy yoga not only gave me a new found confidence in my body, in its strengths and abilities but it also made me feel completely in control. It allowed me to have a depth of faith in my own body, that I hadn’t felt before. I feel like modern life has so many of us trying to block out the signals that our body is telling us. If we are tired we caffeine it up, if we are in pain we knock back analgesics, we ignore hunger pangs and so many of us ignore the signs of ill health until they are out of control. Taking the time to slow down, to breathe and to truly connect with your body, to feel its limitations and strengths is such a wonderful experience. It is something that I truly believe we should practise for life. It really helped me to own my labour experience, but this love of yoga is something that has continued right through the healing of the post-partum period and as my daughter has grown. Now she is in her teens and we still have great friends who I met in that pregnancy yoga class. In fact, we went for a curry just a few weeks back and from nervous women with glorious bumps, it was joyful to see that we had evolved into a room full of families. The children are all beautiful and had their own table, their own conversations and plenty of laughter. I am still grateful to those pregnancy yoga classes for bringing this treasured friendships into our lives. There is something especially beautiful about friends you’ve known since birth.

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For pregnancy yoga videos so that you can practise pregnancy yoga at home in safety and comfort, there is a series of prenatal yoga routines on the Natural Mumma YouTube channel.

There are numerous benefits of prenatal yoga and preparing for labour is just one of them. Whether you opt for actual yoga for pregnancy classes or decide to practise pregnancy yoga at home, you should always consult your medical practitioner before doing any exercise. Opting to attend a class is a wonderful way to meet other expectant mums but it can prove costly. If you like to exercise alone, then there are lots of wonderful pregnancy yoga videos around.

You can read my story here: From teenage pregnancy to international author; how I turned my life around.

You can watch me sharing my story and tips for active birth here.