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This blog is for sharing interesting information about yoga, pregnancy, birth, parenting and anything else I think you might be interested in!


I will also post related local events here.

By Tessa of www.tessayoga.co.uk, Aug 2 2017 10:49AM

Short version: When a baby appears needier than others, it may be that they are a ‘highly sensitive person’ (HSP), which can have many benefits in later life. It can mean that as a parent your role is to protect your little one from being easily overstimulated and as they grow older help them to explore new situations from a place of safety. Living with highly sensitive babies can feel exhausting and make you wonder if you did something wrong, so this article explores some ways to do this and hopefully gives a sense that your instinctive way to react is exactly right. Most of all you need to know you are not alone.

In-depth version:

You may not label your baby as needy, but perhaps other have. Does your baby seem to need more cuddles? Not sleep well, either in the day or at night (or exhaustingly during neither)? Does s/he appear to cry more than others in your mama circle? What about pumping and flexing their limbs vigorously or arching their backs as if trying to get away from something? Even if not, I ask you to read on for those that do have a baby like this so you can support them through the first difficult year. My first daughter was like this, and having felt like a zombie for the first 11 months and felt at times so overwhelmed, I empathise deeply with the mums going through this who come to my Mother & Baby Yoga classes.

You may not have come across the term ‘highly sensitive person’ (HSP), but there is increasing research about this trait both in adults and children (and animals). Elaine Aron was a pioneer in writing about this trait (and I thoroughly recommend her book), which is estimated to affect 20% of the population, equally amongst males and females. That means that out of your meet up with nine other mamas, potentially two of you and two of your babies could be highly sensitive. It is most likely inherited from one or both parents, or may be enhanced through circumstance, such as being born prematurely.

What is meant by highly sensitive? It might be that you, or your baby, are sensitive to noise or too many people in a room, or that you pick up on everyone’s emotion and are so busy digesting what you are feeling that you are tired afterwards. Essentially, an HSP is more easily aroused by anything around them, especially new stimulation, and their nervous system is likely to be overloaded more quickly.

Being highly sensitive can have both drawbacks and benefits. Some HSPs may be labelled “shy”, “introverted”, “slow to get going”, a “cry baby”, but often what is happening is that they are deeply processing what is going on and more likely to feel overwhelmed. (Boy, did I get so fed up of being told I was shy as a child when I really felt I wasn’t, I was just thinking about things before I was ready to speak.) The positives include that they can be extremely creative, good leaders because they understand what others are feeling, empathetic, and deep thinkers.

You might recognise some of this for yourself, or for someone you know, but what does it mean for a baby? If you imagine in the first weeks of life outside the womb, a baby is in a totally new environment. If you are genetically programmed as highly sensitive this can be an even more intense experience. Since you cannot talk to your parents, you can only express any overwhelm through ‘negative’ expressions such as increased crying, irritability or discomfort.

Newborns cannot distinguish between sensations from inside the body and those outside. So a feeling of hunger could be experienced as a pain or unknown danger. Elaine Aron uses the analogy of a storm brewing where the newborn is taken out on a trip. Just imagine your baby starts to feel a sensation building and intensifying (hunger), then noise from the people outside the pram is added, bumping over the curb is added, the jiggling of the pram toy over their eyes, the glinting of the sun, a siren, an uncomfortable fold of coat under the back, a child pulling your hand….. it all becomes too much and the overstimulated and overtired baby cannot be soothed by any means.

As your child gets older, the reaction may change, partly depending on the parents’ reactions. By two months old the behavioural-activation system is functional so if you highly sensitive baby with high activation you’ll have an easily angered baby, but if you have highly sensitive with low activation you may appear to have a placid and ‘good’ baby at this age, but they may be withdrawing as a way of protecting themselves from overstimulation.

At six months old, the automatic ‘pause-to-check system’ comes online. Your child will be able to feel fear if past upsetting experiences matches what is happening currently. This may make him more hesitant about new situations, but if the parent can provide a buffer (e.g. limiting the time with this new stimulation, ready with a big familiar hug, ready to leave early) your child will be able to find ways to work with their enhanced pause-to-check system. If a sensitive child is constantly pushed beyond their capacity, it may be that the system becomes too dominant and it leads to pause-to-do-nothing-new reaction and your child appears withdrawn.

By ten months, a child has the ability to decide how to experience something or to stop a behaviour, for example, to override caution to join in with something (e.g. banging an instrument at noisy rhymetime). This is helped by social support, that is, your child has learnt to imitate what others have done to manage their sensitivity. Those with sensitive boys may need to work extra hard at this because our culture expects boys not to be ‘cry babies’, to ‘fight your own fight’, to ‘man up’ etc – you get the picture. By the time of pre-school and particularly starting school, a parent may feel under pressure to get their child ‘school ready’ and worry that they have been overprotective. I think that if 20% of a class are highly sensitive we need to be having conversations with staff to make them aware of this trait and how to support those children (purely not labelling them as shy would be a big support).

Unfortunately, when you have a so called ‘needy’ baby you are likely to get all sorts of unsolicited advice about “not making a rod to break your back” (whether it’s cuddling or feeding them to sleep), “leaving my baby to cry never did my child any harm” etc etc. The research shows that if we can be aware of this potential for overstimulation and provide a buffer, the baby will grow into a child and then an adult who can do this for themselves and enjoy the gifts of being highly sensitive. If, however, we push babies and children to withdraw themselves in order to protect themselves from overstimulation, they may at best appear introverted and at the worst be set up for a lifetime of not feeling that they fit in or that there is something wrong with them, perhaps leading to anxiety and depression. (Obviously, this is an oversimplification since there are so many environmental and social factors affecting the adult that they will become.)

So what if you think your baby or child could be highly sensitive? Attachment parenting makes sense because you are keeping your infant close, where they can feel safe with what is familiar to them. As they grow, you provide the safety from which to explore without becoming overstimulated. Perhaps you know half an hour at rhymetime is enough stimulation for your baby and you leave slightly early, or as they get older stay only an hour at soft play with quiet time afterwards, or a big encompassing hug if it all starts to get too much. The basic need is that your infant is held and protected from overstimulation.

Practical suggestions would be:

*baby wearing (following the TICKS rule for safety)

*learning what is overstimulating for your specific child

*limiting stimulating environments (or at least new stimulating environments) without being overprotecting

*walking in nature

*recognising the overstimulation cues for your baby (e.g. breaking eye contact after holding it)

*talking in a low, soothing voice with familiar phrases or singing familiar lullabies

*explaining to others that more stimulation (jiggling your baby around) will not ‘cheer’ her up

*if a baby won’t sleep, staying with them in a darkened room with less stimulation and resting yourself! (NB. often sensitive children find theatres and cinemas overwhelming places)

*use blankets to cover the crib (making sure that they are safely secured) to cut out stimulation

*co-sleep so they have your physical presence (see ISIS online for co-sleeping research and guidance)

*breastfeeding to sleep (NB it is not safe to leave a sleepy baby alone with a bottle)

You may well have done those things instinctively, but the important thing is not to feel that you are pandering to your baby’s needs or that you have caused the sensitivity by doing something wrong: you are responding in a nurturing and appropriate way. However, this extra care can be tiring, so what is also important is how you look after yourself when caring for a sensitive child, especially if you realise you are highly sensitive too. I soon learnt not to pack too much into a day. One activity (visiting a friend OR going food shopping OR attending a playgroup) meant that we both did not get overstimulated (me by a fractious baby!).

With a subsequent child, this can be harder to manage because you have their schedule to work around too. It is totally ok to not attend a planned event if you have had an exhausting night – catching up on sleep is a priority if you are to be able to protect your infant from overstimulation. Find a buddy that has a similar experience with their child so you know there is someone just a text away who can truly empathise. If you don’t have family at hand who can lend support, perhaps think about finding someone nurturing and trusted who can become a regular babysitter. Maybe once a week they come to your home where your baby is in familiar surroundings so you can do something to nurture yourself – attend a yoga class, go for a walk in nature, or simply a quiet tea in a café while you breathe out slowly. (Perhaps you can do this with your buddy – looking after your two six month olds one week, and having your turn to care for yourself the next week.)

Be reassured that as your child grows, a sound and nurturing home environment encourages your little person to express their sensitivity and the more difficult aspects of their personality as they learn to manage them, but this will be rewarded with a deeply thinking child who will surprise you at every turn. Of course, we need a mixture of people in a family so those that are not highly sensitive provide important stability and other qualities to be cherished. Using Compassionate Communication (or Non-Violent Communication) can help different types of personalities understand each other, but that’s another blog…

Other suggestions if you are highly sensitive or are parting a highly sensitive child

Treat yourself to a subscription to Juno magazine, where there are lots of parents using a gentle approach and feel that you are part of a wonderful community.

Join an Attachment Parenting group on Facebook and/or attend local meetings

Watch the film Sensitive: An Untold Story

Read Elaine Aron’s books e.g. The Highly Sensitive Person (also available as an audiobook for while you’re feeding your baby!)

By Tessa of www.tessayoga.co.uk, Jul 8 2017 05:20PM

Many congratulations to Jennie and Craig on the arrival of their baby son! Here is his birth story, which beautifully illustrates how when you know all the options availabe to you, you can make positive decisions as birth takes a very different direction than planned and still feel in control. Make sure to read the tips that Jennie has given you at the end of the story. There are lots of organisations out there that will support you in getting the best care for you and your baby.

Jennie says "After having made all the arrangements to have a home birth for our first baby, inevitably our 'plans' went out the window when at 36 weeks we established Noah was in the Frank breech postion (folded like a V shape). The home birth team were no longer able to support me and RBH more generally would only offer me an elective caesarean due to their staff's lack of experience and confidence in delivering breech babies naturally. 

I tried everything (spinning babies, moxibustion, acupuncture, ECV, visualisation) between 36 weeks and his birth to get Noah to turn but he is clearly stubborn like his mum and lazy like his dad as he didn't budge a centimetre. 

Being the dog with a bone that I am, I researched all our options and quickly established there was no reason we could not attempt for a vaginal breech birth (it was as safe, Noah was in best position, etc) except finding the care provider with the right experience to support us. After a 3 week battle with NHS trusts we got the agreement that the John Radcliffe would accept the transfer of our care to their specialist breech team who support VBBs.

I met a couple of their amazing staff for my transfer appointment on 29th June and clarified our plan, and I strongly suspect that it was after this meeting and knowing things were sorted out that my body relaxed enough for Noah to feel safe enough to make his way.

So, Saturday early hours of the morning i began to have 'tightenings' that were like strong period pains. I noticed them but assumed that it was just Braxton Hicks upping their anti. I attended yoga and a baby first aid course that day without any real issue. Then by 9pm Saturday I was getting suspicious as the tightenings were coming regularly (approx every 6 minutes for 40 secs) and were a bit stronger so I used some breathing techniques at times. I began to time them, and then accepted I was perhaps in early stages of labour (and had been all Saturday).

Sunday morning I suspected things had died off a bit, as tightenings were more sporadic. However low and behold at 8.30am I felt a pop whilst laying in bed and when I stood up my waters had broken! By 9.30am contractions were every 5 mins and stronger so I put my TENS machine on and we set off for Oxford (midwives didnt want to delay me coming in with him being breech).

When I arrived at the John Radcliffe contractions were every 2-3 minutes, and a continued to labour for approx another 8 hours. I only ever used the TENS machine and a birth pool for pain relief and I put this down to the breathing techniques, birth affirmations and education I had learnt and practised during pregnancy both at yoga and antenatal classes. The midwives made comments throughout my labour about how calm and in control I was, just breathing through contractions. I was very quiet and 'in the zone'.

It was funny as at various points in labour I could hear Tessa reminding me to keep breathing, imagine the golden thread/rope/chain, to keep jaw lose, and commenting things like "I trust my body and my baby to work together", which I really believed. I stayed mostly kneeling or on all fours, as it helped reserve energy but also meant I could do a lot of rocking, swaying and almost 'dancing' with my hips.

I had a really hands off labour with no examinations or interventions until the very end, when it was confirmed I was 10cm dilated but despite everyone's best efforts (and all my energy) Noah would just not come down into the birth canal. They could see his buttocks appearing when i contracted but then he would disappear again. After over an hour of my body pushing for him, we all agreed that something was stopping him from coming down and that a c-section was the right option (assisted delivery not an option with breech babies). 

I was lucky to have an amazing consultant and midwives who respected and advocated for all my wishes for a more gentle c-section, so Noah was eventually born at 7.39pm with delayed cord clamping, immediate skin to skin (where he stayed for the whole op), no cleaning, minimal noise, lowered screen so we saw his sex for ourselves, and not being taken to be weighed until I was all stitched up. 

Noah is gorgeous and I have absolutely no regrets about the way his birth ended up. The fight at the end of pregnancy was worth it as the whole labour was an amazing, positive experience and not one to be scared of.

The morals of this (very long) birth story that I wanted to share are:

-do your research.

-fight for your wishes as it's your body, your birth and your baby.

-accept that there is no 'right' way to birth your baby.

-your baby and body know what they are doing, and sometimes it is not aligned with what you may want! However, trust them.

-put in serious commitment to learning and practicing breathing techniques if you want to avoid other types of pain relief.

-listen to Tessa, she knows her stuff!! Keep breathing, keep calm and keep moving."

What an amazing story. 'Gentle caesarean' is increasingly being recognised as a mum- and baby-friendly approach, including the practice of seeding the microbiome (see article in the Guardian here, an article by the Positive Birth Movement here, and in Huffington Post with links to the Microbiome movie here) .

I can't wait to meet Noah! What a super cutie :)

By Tessa of www.tessayoga.co.uk, May 16 2017 09:20PM

In my Pregnancy Yoga classes, I am always talking about the importance of MOVEMENT during labour, and of using positions that use GRAVITY to aid dilation and the baby’s descent. However, there’s another important factor in the equation: BALANCE in the mother’s body.

You may have heard of wanting the baby to be in the Optimal Foetal Position (OFP) ahead of the birth; with the baby’s head down, bottom up by the ribs, chin tucked in, and with the baby’s spine away from the mother’s back. There are positions that the expectant mum can rest in to encourage OFP, but if there is an imbalance in the mum’s body with all the positions in the world the unborn baby may not be able to get into that position ready for the birth.

The imbalance can be caused by asymmetry in the pelvis caused by postural habits, like carrying a bag always on one side, or tight muscles within the pelvis such as the deep core psoas muscle. This can make it difficult for the baby to turn into an easier position ready for birth.

I would thoroughly recommend going to see a chiropractor as an MOT for the mother’s body at the beginning of the third trimester, before the baby starts to really put on weight, in order to support balance (or before, if you have pelvic pain, sciatica or heartburn). Locally I recommend Anne Loader, http://www.aclchiropractic.co.uk/ or Kelly at Dynamic Family Chiropractic http://www.dfchiropractic.com/. However, there are things that the expectant mum can do at home that will also encourage balance in her uterus.

Five things that a pregnant woman can do to promote balance in her womb to maximise her baby moving into the Optimal Foetal Position ready for birth:

1) Sit upright or leaning forward – minimise slouching – to stop muscles tightening;

2) Walk barefoot whenever you can (and tiptoe);

3) Keep symmetry in your body when sitting – avoid crossed legs;

4) Use pillows between your knees AND ankles at night;

5) Release tight muscles

[In this photo, you would be in a slouching position with your pelvis tipping back. What you want is to have the front joint (where the grey represents the pubis symphsis) tipped forwards and touching your chair, and the inverted V of the sitting bones on the chair seat. Hopefully you don't have screws like that holding your pelvis together!]

In more detail….

1) Sit upright or leaning forward – minimise slouching!

Most people think of the pelvis like a bowl, but actually the ‘bowl’ is tipped forwards and underneath are the sitting bones. Not just in pregnancy, but in life, it is better for your spine and the muscles at the front and back of your body if you are sitting on the sitting bones (obviously because that’s why they’re called that!) rather than tipping off the back of them. Otherwise some of the deep core muscles, such as the psoas, can tighten from the change in posture and in turn that affects the space that your baby has in utero, but also to move over the pelvic brim during birth.

Try sitting…

* on an exercise / birth ball (make sure your hips are higher than your knees to get the correct position) or leaning onto the ball while watching TV,

* kneeling (you can put cushions between your feet and underneath your bottom so that it is comfortable)

* rocking on a rocking chair (the action backwards and forwards is really beneficial for your pelvic muscles)

* sit on the floor – this will mean that you change position often, rather than get stuck in a slump on the sofa!

The ‘torch test’ can tell you if the position is supportive: imagine a torch shining straight out of your navel. If the light is pointing up towards the ceiling, you are slouching. If the light is shining straight ahead or towards the floor, you are in a good position.

You might have come across these positions in relation to Optimal Foetal Position, but I want the expectant mamas to think also about the effect on their bodies of good posture.

2) Walk barefoot whenever you can (and tiptoe!)

When you’re at home kick off your shoes and walk around barefoot. What happens in your feet directly affects your hips and pelvis (and upwards!) Most shoes have a heel and with any thickness of heel, you are tipped forwards from your natural axis. This can be even more problematic once a woman moves into the third trimester and there is more weight being carried by her skeleton (and all to the front). The combination of being tipped forwards and extra weight is a common cause of back ache during pregnancy.

In addition, the relaxin hormone (that circulates during pregnancy to prepare your pelvis for some minor movement during the birth) affects other joints too. This means that your feet and the arches can flatten. You might then think that therefore you need more support, such as raised arches in your shoes. However, you want your feet to spread properly as you walk to support how your body has evolved to move. (See https://nutritiousmovement.com/about/ for fantastic information on this.)

Simply by coming up on to tiptoes in a balance you can help to keep your feet moving optimally and give your feet a stretch. In the Pregnancy Yoga classes (www.tessayoga.co.uk), we do a number of different exercises to keep the feet healthy and release tension in the feet. This in turn helps the cervix to dilate during the first stage of labour. As Uma Dinsmore-Tuli says: “the feet are the wings of the pelvis”; that is, healthy feet = healthy womb.

I thoroughly recommend Barefoot Shoes that do not have a heel, but provide a protective layer without any restriction to the foot’s natural movement (https://www.vivobarefoot.com/uk). They also do children’s shoes.

3) Keep symmetry in your body when sitting – avoid crossed legs!

Many people have heard that crossing your legs can cause varicose veins, but here I am concerned with balance in the pregnant woman’s body. By crossing one leg over the other, you create a twist in your pelvis and this creates tension or a slight twist in the lower uterus. I believe this asymmetry and accompanying tightness can sometimes be sufficient to cause an obstacle to a baby descending during the birth or the ‘failure to progress’ that can lead to a cascade of intervention.

In the Pregnancy Yoga classes, we do sit cross-legged on the floor for some of the movements, but we change which leg is in front half-way through. As individuals, we have a tendency to always cross the legs with one in front or the other every time, and this can lead to imbalance over time (just as sitting on a seat with legs crossed at the knees or ankles can). Becoming conscious of these habits is very helpful.

(Conversely, asymmetry during labour can be very helpful. For example, from kneeling if you step one foot forward into a lunge this creates asymmetry. Or stepping out of a birth pool creates asymmetry. This can create more space through the pelvic girdle. (To imagine how, picture a bottle half filled with water – if the bottle is tipped over to 45 degrees the surface area increases.) This can allow a baby to tuck a chin under or move a hand out of the way, thus decreasing the surface area of the baby to move through.

4) Use pillows between your knees AND ankles at night

Another way to maintain balance in the expectant mother’s body is to keep the knees and ankles the same distance apart as the hips. It is important to remember that the hip sockets are at the front of the pelvis, rather than the sides. Using pillows or cushions between the knees and ankles prevents the leg hanging down and pulling on the hips, which creates a twist in the pelvic floor and hip joints. This may also help with uncomfortable hips at night and pelvic pain, whether in the sacroiliac joints or pubic symphysis.

5) Release tight muscles

If someone knows or suspects that they may have tight muscles in the torso and through the pelvis to the femur (thigh bone), there are exercises/ positions to release them. For example, I know when my right psoas muscle is tight because the hip sounds as if it is clicking when I lower my right leg and it is straight. By doing a psoas-releasing exercise for a couple of minutes this noise will disappear for me.

Psoas release

Up to 30 weeks (or earlier if it is uncomfortable): the woman can lie on her back with her knees bent. Then she places cushions under her hips to lift them up from the floor slightly and support them (two cushions or pillows should be sufficient, or two yoga blocks). Then she extends one leg out so that it is straight with the heel on the ground and relaxed (i.e. the foot can turn out) for two minutes. Then she bends that knee up and straightens the other leg for another two minutes. Afterwards, with both knees bent, she pushes into her feet to pull the cushions out of the way, and rests for another two minutes on the ground.

30 weeks and over: the woman can sit on the front edge of a sofa and lean back onto a pile of cushions / her elbows. She stretches one leg out straight and relaxes it for two minutes. Then she changes to stretch the other leg out straight for two minutes. Then she sits upright on the sitting bones and rests for a further two minutes with the knees bent and feet on the floor.

Forward-leaning inversion – for balancing uterine ligaments

Suitable throughout pregnancy, except during nausea or heartburn.

Start on hands and knees. Drop down on to the forearms with the elbows under the shoulders. Pad the knees if necessary to be comfortable. Relax the head. Take three slow breaths here (if you know golden thread breath this is a great position to practice it in – see here for a description www.tessayoga.co.uk/pregnancy-resources).

IMPORTANT: Then sit kneeling for another three breaths. (Leaning forwards creates space and length, and the resting is where the balancing can take affect.) Cushions or 2/3 yoga blocks can be put between the feet and under the bottom if it is uncomfortable to sit directly on the heels when kneeling.

For other useful releases, visit http://spinningbabies.com/learn-more/techniques/

With this information I certainly do not want to give pregnant women something else to worry about, but I hope it will help them and their supporters an inkling of how important it is to prepare the mum’s body for the birth rather than only focus on the baby’s position.

Happy positioning!

Tessa x

By Tessa of www.tessayoga.co.uk, Jan 11 2017 01:59PM

I teach Pregnancy Yoga and the number of my clients that are induced is much higher than I would like. When I open an email with a birth story from a new mum and she writes “then I was induced”, my heart sinks because it often ends in a caesarean.1 Don’t misunderstand me; there are times when I am so grateful that we live in a place where women have access to that life-saving surgery. However, when I read their birthing stories, which are often very detailed, I can see that there is a grey area where if they had been given a little more time before being induced, or being augmented where contractions were weak, given consistent care so they felt in familiar hands or had a doula that could provide an underlying confidence in natural birth, the outcome may have been different. I sometimes feel that the system is failing pregnant women in this respect and I want to talk about two things that women who are planning to conceive can do to increase their confidence in making a decision around induction.

As a pregnancy yoga teacher I am very careful about what I say regarding whether to be induced or not. Some women who have told me their stories felt pressurised to be induced and talk about being emotionally bullied by health professionals. There is talk about putting the baby at risk of dying. It is a very strong woman who with that having been said out loud by their care-giver can say that they still want to wait and not be induced. Usually they will have done a lot of reading beforehand and are well versed in statistics, physiology and other things that make them resolute as long as their baby appears happy and healthy in utero. If you are a woman that did not know that induction can lead to a cascade of intervention you might not have thought to read up about it. Or you may just be so desperate to meet your baby, you ask to be induced earlier than recommended, perhaps having a sweep on your 40 week appointment. Given that due dates are an approximation, we can easily do something that will give us confidence about when our baby is likely to be ready to trigger labour.

Prevalence of induction

First, a bit of context. The 2014 NICE guidelines state that information to women at the 38 week appointment should cover the possibility of induction between 41+0 and 42+0 weeks.2 The Maternity Statistics for England for the year ending 2014, reported an induction rate of 25.0%, which is part of an upward trend.3 Locally, an ‘uncomplicated singleton’, that is, a healthy single baby, would be induced at 40+12 (rather than 42 weeks) and that has led to the number of inductions increasing to 15.5% in 2014-15. This is lower than the national average, but this does not include the women who were augmented for weak contractions, which account for another 13.4%. Of those induced (rather than augmented), 21.8% were induced within 7 days of the estimated date of delivery (EDD), 33.4% after 41 to 42 weeks and 9.3% at 42 weeks, and 53.9% of those induced were nulliparous (first babies). There were only two that went ‘significantly over’ the 42 weeks, with one being a typo with 50 weeks being recorded! These figures show you how importantly a hospital will take your ESTIMATED date of delivery (but also how mistakes are made).

A meeting organized by the World Health Organization on Appropriate Technology for Birth, held in Brazil in 1985, recommended that “No geographic region should have rates of induced labour over 10%”.4 Obviously we are well over that figure in England, but practices around the world show that lower rates are possible. Ina May Gaskin has delivered thousands of babies at ‘The Farm’ in Southern Tennessee with a spontaneous birth rate of 94.5%.5 This is compared to 60.3% of spontaneous births at my local hospital (which included the augmented deliveries, which The Farm’s data does not).1 Some practices within the UK have other thoughts, like the now-closed Albany Midwifery Practice, whose co-founder states: ‘some mothers with pregnancies of 42 weeks or longer need reassurance that they are neither crazy nor irresponsible for resisting induction when all signs are good’.4 I had a mother in my class who personally gestates for 43.5 weeks, so did her mother and grandmother: that is normal for her family.

My story of going overdue

With my first daughter, Zara, I was booked in for an induction at 42 weeks at my 40 week appointment. The 42 weeks arrived and I went into the hospital with my husband for the appointment. Zara was fine and it was suggested that I be given a pessary to start induction. I said that I would rather wait since she appeared very happy there and fortunately I wasn’t given a talk about risking my baby’s life. The maternity department was very busy that day and the midwife had to keep leaving to assist with births. Five times she came back and offered me the pessary and five times I reminded her that I didn’t want it thank you very much. On the fifth time, she suggested a sweep and I agreed, something that in retrospect I would refuse if I was in that situation again. I agreed that I would return for monitoring each day. I was happy that I had done my reading and had a supportive partner with me at the hospital. Fortunately I went into labour that night and she was born at 11am the next day. Our decision was based on two things: one, the fact that the monitoring said my baby was fine (I instinctively knew that to be the case) and, two, that I knew precisely when she had been conceived and that my EDD was wrong. She wasn’t an IVF baby, but I had been charting my cycle ahead of conceiving and knew when I had become pregnant by a sustained rise in basal temperature. That information gave me so much confidence.

I had read Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler (www.tcoyf.com) and was charting my basal temperature, cervical mucus (or juices as I prefer a non-clinical sounding term), and recording when we made love. I found this process of charting exciting and it made me appreciate the intricacies of my body. The charting helps you understand when you are ovulating and make the most of your fertile phase (or conversely to avoid it if you are not wanting to become pregnant). You can tell when you are pregnant because instead of the temperature going down again, it remains elevated and signals buying the pregnancy test. Just imagine how having this piece of information of the day of conception can give you ammunition in the face of induction! When I was pregnant with my second daughter, I not only knew again the precise date of her conception, but also the length of gestation with my first baby. Before my first baby, my cycle was usually 32 days long and so the EDD would have always have been a bit out, notwithstanding sperm sometimes taking a couple of days to reach their target! Imagine how if my daughters have children, they could know not only the date of conception for their baby, but how long they were in utero before a spontaneous delivery. Generation on generation, we will know what has happened in our family: that is, what is normal for us.

Developing menstrual awareness

Since having Zara, I came across Alexandra Pope and her incredible work on menstruality. In her workbook, Women’s Quest, she focuses more on the emotional journey of the menstrual cycle than the physical signs. With Sjanie Hugo Wurlitzer, she has set up the Red School Online that enables a woman to reflect deeply on her menstrual cycle and the wisdom inherent in it. I intimately know my menstrual cycle and chart my emotions, physical signs and dreams day by day. It has given me a deep trust in my body and I am aware when I have not taken enough rest or paced myself kindly. I know that every four or five months I will have a longer cycle of 36 days and so I don’t worry about it; I’m happy to wait. I dream that more and more women will come to see their cycle not as a nuisance, but as a highly-tuned well-being sensor. And that their bodies are amazing.

If women trust that their bodies are amazing that would make my work as a Pregnancy Yoga teacher much easier! Sometimes I feel as if I am asking women to make a giant leap from distrusting their bodies that for so long they were worried about becoming pregnant through their teens, twenties, (thirties), that leaked menstrual blood at inconvenient times, or that they took pills to regulate the bleeding or to get rid of it totally, to feeling that their (pregnant) body was incredible and natural birth was possible. I do see that giant leap happening in class because pregnancy is a time of openness and the upcoming birth is a big motivator, but how much easier it would be if women were supported to already appreciate the awesomeness of their bodies. The transformation of pregnancy would be just the proof. This knowledge may result, not an induction where control of birth is given over to the hospital, but in allowing time to birth at the woman and her baby’s own pace. How empowering would that be?

For those women who experienced a challenging birth, you might find support from meeting with your Consultant Midwife to understand what happened, meeting with a Talking Therapies counsellor (postnatal women are prioritised), giving feedback through the local Maternity Forum anonymously or otherwise, seeking support through online groups or keep on talking it through with friends (but please not pregnant ones!) I hope though that you might approach your cycle, when it returns after the birth, with a new perspective. I feel that cycle awareness can provide a lot of healing and help us prepare for future children, and down the line, a smoother menopause.

Gifts of menstrual awareness for pregnancy and birth

By practising menstrual awareness we become experts on our own well-being, and thus can make more informed decisions when it comes to the well-being of our unborn babies too and trusting our instincts about our embodied experience. We realise through connecting with other women who are cycle aware that there is a diversity in the length of our cycles and we experience them differently (and similarly pregnancies last different lengths). Through charting our cycles before becoming pregnant, we have more accurate information on the date of conception rather than an estimate based on every woman’s cycle being the same length. This knowledge is personal power in the face of institutional policies and constraints.

Want to get started? Find a Red Tent near you ( I host the Caversham, Berkshire one) or visit the Red School Online. I am planning to run menstrual awareness workshops for couples so please get in touch if you are interested at www.tessayoga.co.uk (or for workshops for pregnancy yoga teachers/ doulas or mother blessings or FREE resources for pregnancy/postnatal women).

1 At my local hospital, the Royal Berkshire Hospital, if a nulliparous woman is induced she has a 33% chance of that leading to a caesarean. Source: Siddall, J. Maternity Services Report 2014-5; Royal Berkshire Hospital, Reading.

2See here for a summary of the guidelines: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg70/chapter/1-Guidance

3The NHS Maternity Statistics, England: 2013-14 can be found on the Health and Social Care Information Centre website at http://www.hscic.gov.uk/catalogue/PUB16725

4Wagner, M. Pursuing the Birth Machine: The search for appropriate birth technology. Camperdown, NSW, Australia: ACE Graphics, 1994.

5Gaskin, IM (2003) Ina May Gaskin’s guide to childbirth. Bantom Books: New York.

6Reed, B. (2016) Birth in Focus: Stories and photos to inform, educate and inspire. Pinter & Martin; London.

By Tessa of www.tessayoga.co.uk, Dec 21 2016 11:01AM

I created these as a substitute to mince pies, but there are delicious in their own right. As some of you may know, I'm currently dairy-, gluten- and refined sugar-free (but that's a story for another blog). They have the unctiousness of a great mince pie, but are lighter and healthier.

You'll need:

1 tea cup of raisings

1 tea cup of apricots (I like the unsulphured ones - hence the dark colour)

1 tea cup of pitted dates

2 teaspoons of cinnamon

2 teaspoons of ground ginger

1 heaped tablespoon of coconut oil (if solid, otherwise 1 and a half in liquid)

2 heaped tablespoons of ground almonds

This will make 15 walnut-sized balls.

Here's how to make them...

Put the dried fruit in a blender and blend until the pieces are evenly small. (Alternatively you can chop them, but make sure the pieces are small enough that they'll stick together.)

Melt the coconut oil in a bain marie (I put a cereal bowl over a small saucepan of boiling water and heat on a low heat until almost all the solid coconut oil is liquid, then switch off the heat. Directly heating the coconut oil will damage its healthy properties.)

Being careful not to burn your fingers, pour the liquid coconut oil into the dried fruit. Add the spices (and adjust according to taste). Mix well

Scoop out the mixture to make a walnut sized ball. Squish together and roll in your palms until you know it won't fall apart. You will get oily hands, but coconut oil is a good moisturiser so it's all fine. Then roll in the ground almonds for the 'pastry' of your mince pie.

Put in a container. When all the balls are finished, but the container in the fridge for 20 mins. Lick all the lovely stuff off your fingers. Keep in the fridge when not scoffing.


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