By Sonya Edmonds, MAMA’s resident clinical aromatherapist + massage therapist
Pregnancy brings many changes, physically, psychologically and socially. There is often some concern about the use of aromatherapy during pregnancy. However, under qualified, expert care aromatherapy can enhance wellbeing through each stage of pregnancy in the following ways:-
- May help to alleviate common discomforts such as nausea, muscular complaints, varicose veins, haemorrhoids, pruritis (itch), fatigue, insomnia and emotional upsets.
- To help maintain good general health through regular use of essential oils and prevention and early treatment of infections
- Support your pregnancy through reduction of stress and anxiety and ensure good sleep patterns.
- Preparation for labour, both physically and psychologically.
Research regarding the use of essential oils during pregnancy and birth is very positive leading to aromatherapy being incorporated into various health care settings. Aromatherapy can be combined with massage to support the changing body during pregnancy and is valuable for birth preparation. One study done by The Touch research Institute showed a reduction in anxiety, stress hormones and obstetrical complications in women who received regular massage during their pregnancies.
Aromatherapy can be employed for childbirth to help reduce anxiety, encourage relaxation, promote uterine contractions and relieve pain as well as to treat associated symptoms such as nausea and fatigue. Fear, anxiety and stress can have a negative impact on the commencement and progress of labour. Odour has a direct pathway to the area of the brain that governs fear and research shows the use of positive aromas can help to reduce pain perception.
Consultation with a qualified aromatherapist is strongly recommended when using essential oils during pregnancy. Sonya uses high quality essential oils and a variety of massage techniques safe and appropriate for each stage of pregnancy.
Becoming a new mum (or dad) is life changing! This time is full of wonder and excitement as well as challenges and readjustment. During the postnatal period aromatherapy and massage can be beneficial for new mums as they recover from birth and adjust to the physical as well as emotional demands of motherhood.
Aromatherapy and/or massage can provide support for new mums in the following ways:
- Healing of wounds & prevention of infection
- Relief from muscular tension, often associated with birth or breastfeeding posture
- Help treat breastfeeding issues: under or over supply, mastitis
- Ease other discomforts e.g. digestive issues, poor sleep, fatigue
- Alleviate feelings of anxiety, depression, low confidence
- Empowerment as a new mum by learning how to care for your family with natural, aromatic remedies.
Each stage of our children’s lives brings new challenges as parents. Especially significant for parent is the saying “fill your own cup first so you can give to others”. Sonya provides nurturing treatments specific to your needs at any stage in your parenting journey.
Babies and Children
With guidance from a qualified practitioner essential oils and other aspects of aromatherapy can safely be used to treat many minor ailments in babies and children. Special care needs to be taken when treating babies and children and consultation with a qualified aromatherapist is recommended, especially for children under 12 months of age.
Childhood conditions that can be treated with aromatherapy include:
- Respiratory issues, coughs and colds
- Asthma and allergies
- Digestive upsets such as colic and constipation
- Muscular discomfort
- Skin problems
- Poor sleep
- Emotional upsets
Mother Nurture aromatherapy products are also available at MAMA to help nurture the whole family.
Infant massage is also offered at MAMA through classes or private consultation.
Touch is integral to our wellbeing and there is a comprehensive list of benefits for infant massage, based on extensive research. Some of the many benefits to babies and children include:
- Reduced crying time
- Improved sleep, improved mood
- Relief from wind, colic, reflux and constipation
- Boosts immune system
- Relief from sinus and chest congestion
- Enhanced co-ordination
Research has also shown that performing regular baby massage has helped caregivers feel more confident and less stressed, enhancing the special bond with their baby.
By Tanya Strusberg, from Birthwell Birthright and Lamaze Instructor at MAMA
Book into Lamaze at MAMA here!
The most common response I get when I tell people that I am a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator is; “Lamaze? Isn’t that the breathing method?”
If you’ve ever watched an American television show or movie that features a birth, chances are pretty high that Lamaze will feature in there somewhere. Whether it’s a scene of the couple attending their Lamaze class or the woman huffing and puffing through her labour; (no) thanks to Hollywood, Lamaze has become synonymous with breathing!
It’s interesting to look at the historical context to understand why this all came about. The 1970s saw a revolution in birth and Lamaze was at the forefront. Only a few years earlier, women were routinely sedated during labour using a combination of morphine and a drug called scopolamine, which induced what was known as “Twilight Sleep”. Not only did it aid in taking away the pain of childbirth for the mother, but it also took away a mother’s memory of the event as a whole. The backlash started shortly after women really started to put two and two together and realised they had no memory of their child being born, which was the beginning of the end of the twilight sleep days – but not before a generation of women and their babies suffered as a result of this barbaric and highly unethical procedure.
Lamaze childbirth education offered a thoroughly emancipated alternative to twilight sleep. It encouraged women to be totally present throughout their labour and birth, to take control of their bodies and to embrace this normal, physiological process.
Over the years, Lamaze has continued to develop alongside the best, most current medical evidence available. Gradually, it moved away from being a method or a technique for giving birth (think: “hee hee, hoo hoo!”), and now takes a very holistic approach to healthy pregnancy, birth and early parenting.
So what’s it like to attend a Lamaze class? Simply put, Lamaze takes the mystery out of birth. It helps you feel more prepared for birth, so you can achieve a safe and healthy experience. The fact is; we live in an era of information overload. Around the world, pregnant women are bombarded on a daily basis with messages that birth is an emergency waiting to happen. It’s rare that we see beautiful images of birth and rarer still that we are exposed to empowering and positive stories of birth. As a result, many women don’t have faith in their body’s ability to give birth naturally and without a lot of medical intervention.
In a Lamaze class you will learn all about the Lamaze Six Healthy Birth Practices. These evidence-based practices promote, protect and support natural, safe and healthy birth.
Caesarean rates in Australia are now over 32% and that represents an increase of about 50% in 15 years. According to the World Health Organization, a Caesarean section rate of about 5 – 10% is the target for overall optimal maternal-baby outcomes. According to a ground-breaking landmark study of nearly 700,000 women in NSW hospitals, only 35 per cent gave birth with no intervention in public hospitals, while this dropped to 15 per cent in private hospitals. Tens of thousands of Australian women with low risk of birth complications are undergoing unnecessary medical interventions in private hospitals in a trend that leading midwifery expert, Professor Hannah Dahlen of the University of Western Sydney has described as “horrifying”.
It is crucial that women are educated about the normal process of birth. Pain in childbirth is not like pain caused by injury or illness, and women do have the ability to rise to the experience of childbirth. Hospital prenatal classes rarely normalize birth for women or introduce options for non-pharmacological techniques to help manage the intensity of labour.
The media and our constant exposure to technology have eroded women’s confidence in their ability to give birth. In addition, our constant reliance on technology has also eroded our confidence in our bodies.
Taking a Lamaze childbirth education course informs you about your options for birth, builds confidence and provides you with the necessary tools to help you make good informed decisions about your care. It’s our goal to help you to regain your connection to the vital force deep inside that knows how to give birth. It’s that same force that intuitively guides us to parent our children.
Tanya Strusberg is the founder of birthwell birthright. She is a Melbourne-based Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator and a Fellow of the Association of Certified Childbirth Educators (FACCE). She is a passionate advocate for women’s maternity care and her articles have appeared in The Journal of Perinatal Education, Australian Midwifery News, Science & Sensibility, Interaction – the journal of the Childbirth and Parenting Educators Association of Australia (CAPEA), Empowering Birth Magazine, Rockstar Birth Magazine, Mum’s Lounge, Go Ask Mum and Whole Woman. Through her internationally-accredited Lamaze Educator Training program, she is very excited to be training a new generation of Australian Lamaze educators. Last, but absolutely not least, she is also the mum of two beautiful children, her son Liev and daughter Amalia.
The amount of emphasis there is on the magic 40 weeks gestation, more commonly known as the ‘due date’, surely this has to mean something, right? Should my baby be born on this date, or by this date? On social media, people count down the days to this date, as the time approaches a barrage of messages ensues, wanting news of baby’s imminent arrival. And what does this pressure and expectation do to women anxiously anticipating their baby’s arrival, and to the belief they have in their bodies ability to birth?
The truth is, that magic 40 weeks itself is a rather insignificant date. It is a date which was coined as a rough average, around which a woman was expected to give birth. Now the focus here is the word ‘around.’ A term pregnancy is between 37-42 weeks. So an ‘overdue’ or ‘post dates’ pregnancy, is that which is post 42 weeks. Many women birth after 40 weeks, so many in fact, that France classes 41 weeks as the ‘due date’, which I will rephrase as, ‘the average time of birth’.
But how accurate are these dates? A scan must give a correct due date right? No. The most accurate time for a scan to estimate gestation is between 10-14 weeks, and even then can only be accurate to within a week of the true date. Estimating gestation outside of this four week window is not particularly reliable. If a woman has been having regular periods, or is confident of the date of conception, then this can sometimes give a more accurate date than a scan, and should be discussed and considered.
Now, we need to consider the psychological impact and subsequent physiological responses, to the social and medical pressure on a pregnant woman to have her baby. It is astonishing that this pressure exists at all, when the commencement of labour is something women clearly have no control over. There is no magical ‘birth my baby’ switch! With this overwhelming expectation comes stress, anxiety and self-doubt. These things cause increased levels of adrenaline in the body, which in turn, inhibits the production of the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin is our birthing hormone which understandably needs to flow uninhibited in order for our body to labour. And women need confidence and self-belief in order to fully embrace and embody this labour. The only helpful and necessary comments to a woman nearing the end of her pregnancy, are those of positive affirmations and love. Oxytocin is, after all, the incredible hormone of love.
Finally, there are many important changes happening within the body during these final few weeks and days. Your body, baby and placenta are all working together in harmony to increase levels of particular hormones and receptors for these to bind to. These will both prepare baby for birth, making it easier for baby to cope with the demands of labour and the transition to life out of the womb, and also give the body all the tools it needs to bring baby into the world. This is an important, sacred time, and should not be disturbed unless medically necessary. As we are all individuals, this preparation process will be completed at different times for all of us. This is what we mean when we say that birth will happen when your body and baby are ready.
So, what is my advice to women preparing to meet their baby? To think of pregnancy as 42 weeks gestation? Definitely. To cherish these final weeks, surround yourself with love, and embrace your inner goddess? Absolutely! In most cases, when a woman and her baby, together in harmony, are ready, birth will happen.
Davies, R (2003). “I’m ready for you, baby, why won’t you come?” How long is a pregnancy and how long is too long? New Zealand College of Midwives Journal 28(1): 8-10.
Khambalia, A. Z., Roberts, C. L., Nguyen, M., Algert, C. S., Nicholl, M. C. and Morris, J. (2013), Predicting date of birth and examining the best time to date a pregnancy. International Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics, 123: 105–109.
Kullinger M, Wesström J, Kieler H, Skalkidou A. Maternal and fetal characteristics affect discrepancies between pregnancy-dating methods: a population-based cross-sectional register study. Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand 2017; 96:86–95.
Menticoglou SM, Hall PF (2002). Routine induction of labour at 41 weeks gestation: nonsensus consensus. British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology 109(5):485-91.
Written by MAMA mum, Jacqui
So my pregnancy was fairly easy and uncomplicated. I remember thinking (and probably saying) ‘When’s the hard stuff going to start?’
All my prenatal check ups were pretty uneventful – everything ok, off you go, see you in a bit. I had minimal monitoring, just the 20 week scan and the initial blood tests.
At about 28 weeks Kelly was able to feel the baby properly and said she was breech but that didn’t matter much at this point, still lots of time. I had done a lot of reading during my pregnancy and two books (Ina May Gaskin’s Spiritual Midwifery and Henci Goer’s Thinking Woman’s Guide to better birth) dealt quite a lot with vaginal delivery of breech births. I’d also seen Ina May’s documentary Birth Stories, which showed a breech delivery. This was all before I had much understanding of the birthing practices in Melbourne, so I took this knowledge of the baby being breech as nothing to worry about. Most likely baby would turn, if not, we’d work though that at the time.
This mindset continued through each check up as we found she was still breech. At about 32 weeks I started doing some exercises to try and turn her but I was starting to get the feeling that she wasn’t going to budge. As I got to 35 weeks and my last week of work (and the week before Christmas) I started thinking maybe I’d better try something a bit more productive. Even then, I only started to ‘worry’ because of other people’s comments on her position. It was only then that I started to feel like her being breech was a bad thing, rather than merely unconventional. So I had some acupuncture done and took the moxibustion sticks home to continue this treatment, although the feeling that she was happy where she was starting to become stronger.
Then, on the eve of my last day of work I had my 36 week check up at the hospital and everything changed. I walked in thinking the only thing I had to worry about was telling the obstetrician I wouldn’t be doing the GBS swab. We never even got to that. The doctor looked at my file and commented on the baby being breech. The day before I had started feeling quite different, like she had dropped, so I was keen to see if maybe she had turned. She had a feel of my tummy and said no, looked like she was still breech, we’ll go and do a scan to check. That confirmed things, so back to the room we go. At this stage I was still not particularly concerned, just wanted to know what the next step would be. I was certainly unprepared for her next words.
‘We don’t recommend vaginal birth for breech babies, so I can book you in for a caesarean for 39 weeks.’ What??!
I hadn’t even considered that as an option! I had been thinking I would be told that I couldn’t birth exactly the way I wanted (for example a water birth) but it never occurred to me that I couldn’t have a vaginal birth at all. She went on to explain why it wasn’t recommended, none of which sounded convincing to me. So when I meekly asked if it was possible to talk about a vaginal birth, she went on again about the risks, ending with the great line that ‘Of course, if something went wrong with the baby, you’d never say ‘at least I had a vaginal birth’.’ That left me flabbergasted and quite speechless – of course not but… isn’t there another option? Eventually we booked in for an ECV to try and turn her, but by then I was convinced she wasn’t moving and that it wouldn’t work.
We left in shock. Aaron had to go back to work and I went home. And cried. I was just devastated. It came out of nowhere, and was delivered so cruelly. Aaron suggested I call Kelly, but I didn’t want to hassle her (always the way with me) and also I was so upset I knew I would just be crying and it wouldn’t be a very productive conversation. I knew I was keen for a natural, vaginal birth and that a caesarean was way down on my list of what I wanted, but I was surprised at the depth of my feeling. I was completely devastated at the idea that I couldn’t give birth normally. I was already feeling like a failure at the prospect of it. Eventually I worked through it, and got to the point where I was ok if I had to have a caesarean, but I think I would still have had to deal with it after the birth if it had eventuated.
So then I had to go to school the next day for my last day – what a way to end the year! I was so distracted. Barb eventually convinced me to call Kelly, which I did, and as predicted, I cried a lot. But she was so reassuring and I was seeing her that night. Again, it was a lot of tears, but she had options – calling the hospital, seeing if there was someone there who would allow me to have a vaginal, or getting into contact with ‘Vaginal Lionel’ a private obstetrician (we were never going to be able to afford him but it was just good to have an option at that point) and talking to Jan, the other MAMA midwife, who had lots of experience in breech (though she couldn’t deliver it anymore, due to the insurance issues for independent midwives).
The other hugely beneficial thing Kelly did that day was telling me to sit down and think about what was really important for my birth experience. When I actually sat down and thought about this I realised that my ideal birth was based on a simple principle – that I was involved as possible, which meant being able to do as much I could as well as being informed about everything. It was the idea of a bunch of medical people extracting a baby out of me and me being nothing more than the vessel it needed to come out of that frightened me so much about having a caesarean.
We went in on Christmas Eve day for the ECV – the first of many hours spent hooked up to the CTG machine. And sure enough she wouldn’t budge. I don’t know if my belief that she wouldn’t move influenced it, but she just did not budge one bit.
By then, Kelly had worked her magic and got me the name of a obstetrician at the hospital who delivers breech babies, so when it didn’t work and they again suggested a caesarean, I had a name to ask for – Kobus Dupleissis. They were able to make me an appointment with him for the next week. He became my light at the end of the tunnel. I was already feeling so much calmer about everything because I was being given options. If Kobus had assessed me and my baby and said that we couldn’t have a vaginal birth for reasons related to us I felt I would have been ok with that. It was just the blanket no from the first obstetrician that made no sense to me.
Through all this the feeling that I could have a vaginal birth without problems never left me – I just couldn’t believe my body wouldn’t be able to do it. Nothing felt wrong, I never felt uneasy, I was never frightened at the prospect of her coming out bum first, even despite people around me projecting their anxieties on to me (yet they all seemed to know someone who had delivered a breech baby naturally, although most were before older generations).
Finally we had our appointment with Kobus. He had no problem with allowing me to try for a vaginal birth as I fit all the criteria (smallish baby, frank presentation), the only area to be discussed was whether or not I should wait to go into labour naturally and run the risk of not having a obstetrician on duty who was skilled in delivery breech baby. In the end I decided to be induced so that I could ensure I had a chance.
This meant going in a week before her due date (of course Kobus was going on holidays the following week!) and being induced. I had acupuncture and an induction massage to try and get things started, as well as an attempt at a stretch and sweep, though I was nowhere near ready for that to be of any benefit. Unsurprisingly I spent the whole day being hooked up to the Syntocinon drip to no effect. By the end of the day I was sure I was going to be told ‘We had a try, time to go in for a caesarean’. But Kobus walked in at 5, had a look and said ‘have a rest, we’ll try again tomorrow’. What a relief!
The next day I started it all again, but thankfully it all kicked into gear pretty quickly and by midday I was in established labour. My memory of the actual labour and birth is quite calm compared to the stress of the preceding weeks. It was hard work, and annoying to be hooked up to monitors (thankfully Kelly had made sure I had access to wireless ones, otherwise I would have been tethered to the bedside, which would have driven me mad). But for the most part I just felt an overwhelming need to push through and finish it. I never wanted to ‘stop’ the pain, I just wanted it to be over. Once I reached transition, Faris arrived, along with the paediatrician, an extra midwife and a few students who had asked if they could observe. I was happy enough to have people watching as I knew that observing a breech birth was the first step in changing the mentality of medical practioners.
One of the reasons people are reticent about vaginal breech births is that they can require some manipulation as they come out. As such I was on the bed with my legs in stirrups to allow for Faris to assist. I pushed out the bottom, which is roughly the size of a head, though a lot more alien looking! We didn’t know the sex, so when the bottom was out, Faris asked if we wanted to know the sex – it was rather apparent at that point that she was a girl!
Once the bottom was out, Faris released the feet, which were still up by her head inside the birth canal. Then he left her bottom and legs to ‘flop’ down – the weight of the dangling legs helps the body come out to the shoulders with another push. Then he helped release first one shoulder and then another with each subsequent push, leaving the whole body hanging out – they make rather interesting photos! Finally the head needed to come out. From memory I gave maybe two pushes, and she was still inside, so at that point Faris decided forceps were needed, and he helped get her head out.
Finally, here she was, our stubborn little bum first baby! The cord was cut immediately as she needed to be taken for air. All was good though and within a few minutes she was back with me, already hunting for the breast! (She continued to be a keen breast feeder until we weaned her at 20 months!)
I felt fantastic at this point – absolutely elated! The Syntocinon was put back up to max levels to get my placenta out, which was actually more painful than the birth – I was certainly over it by then and not happy to be having more painful contractions!
Over the next hour my husband and I enjoyed snuggles with our little Clementine and I had a shower (one fun fact about pushing a baby out bum first is that is pushes out all the meconium – not particularly pleasant, although at least we never had to change a meconium filled nappy!). I started to feel a bit faint at this point, and I was bleeding a bit more than expected. Over the next 5 or so hours, this faint feeling increased, and the bleeding continued. No one was sure what the problem was, as my placenta had been whole, I hadn’t had any tears, though there was a tiny nick on my vaginal wall from the forceps. After many very painful vaginal examinations, it was finally determined that the nick on my vaginal wall was the cause of the bleeding, and I was sent to surgery at about midnight to repair it. By this stage I was in a lot of pain and feeling very, very faint, so I was thankful for the general anaesthetic. It certainly put a dampner on what had otherwise been a pretty fantastic birth experience. Poor Aaron was left with the baby, feeling rather clueless! Thankfully, Jan had suggested expressing colostrum in the days leading up to the induction, so we had a fair bit on hand, which allowed him to feed her. Even before I went into surgery I had gotten to the point where I didn’t have the energy to feed her, so I am very thankful for that extra bit of advice – another way the MAMA midwives work their magic!
We left as soon as possible the next day, and I recovered at home with Kelly or another midwife visiting every day. This is by far one of the most beneficial services MAMA offer. To know that I had a friendly face popping in each day to just check in, check how I was recovering, offer advice when I wasn’t sure what to do, or just a comforting voice when it all got a bit overwhelming (I’m looking at you day 5 blues in the middle of a heatwave!!), was just indispensable.
So that’s my story! In the months that followed I felt like superwoman, I was just so proud of my body for achieving what it did, and my stubborn mind for sticking to my guns! I’m pleased to hear that there is now a Breech Clinic at the Royal Women’s hospital now, so that if someone like me turns up with a breech bub at 36 weeks, they will be transferred to a team of carers who will give them a range of options to choose from. Hooray!
Ebony Rae – a special rainbow baby
“We are very excited to finally meet our little rainbow, Ebony Rae Tonkin. 4.29kgs and 53cm long, Ebony was born on 16th January at home surrounded by the most loving and supportive birth team we could have asked for. Thank you to Marita, Marg, Jan, Kelly & all the staff at MAMA, as well as Bethany (Belly Beans Doula) and Christine, for all your support to help make our HBAC dream a reality. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts – Ian, Karly, Beau, Bennett and Ebony xox”
Images by Lacey Barratt.