Category Archives for "Birth Preparation"

Top tips and wisdom to help you better prepare for a confident birth

I didn’t know I could say no! How to stand your ground to get the birth you want.

Photo by Omar Lopez on Unsplash

"I didn’t know I could say no," she exclaimed, turning her surprised face towards me.  I can see the cogs literally  whirring as she applies this  new knowledge to her situation, as the possibility for a different way forward opens up.

I smile encouragingly, my own cogs working overtime as my mind is flooded with all that I desperately want her to know to ensure her birth goes as she dreams of… Where to even start?

I want her to know that her right to say no is enshrined in human rights law.

I want her to know that these human rights apply equally to her in pregnancy and birth just as they do at any other time.

I want her to know that these include the right to decline any treatment for any reason or even no reason at all.

I want her to know not to go in blindly trusting an overstretched system that is not women centred at its core, but to go in eyes wide open and ask for what she needs, expecting it to be given.

I want her to be aware of the limitations of this system with its overworked and understaffed workforce in supporting her so she is empowered to ask for more for herself.

I want her to know doctor doesn’t know best, she does.

I want her to know she has choices, more choices than she has been given so far.

I want her to know she is not just a passive passenger in this birth, an object of interest for obstetrician to tick off in their file but is the active agent.

I want her to know to ask for more information, with facts and evidence, to be able to make her choice and to expect this to be given with respect and dignity.

I want her to know she can request a new midwife, a different consultant, change hospital – whatever it takes until she is heard and respected.

I want her to know she deserves to raise the bar on her expectations for this birth and her treatment way, way higher.

I want her to know there is another world possible for her. A world where her birth isn’t all about managing risks, counting stages, measuring and charts.

I want her to know this world has her at the centre of her birth experience and that it is her opinions, desires and wishes that matter here.

 I want her to know this is an everyday magical world where she, her baby and body will dance the birth dance in an organic flow of pulsing energy- maybe it is intense, maybe difficult at times but it is her dance no one elses.

I want her to know there is another version of her waiting on the other side.  A strong, proud and confident woman and mother born with her baby.

I want her to know she is holding out her hand to invite her across the threshold and hold her hand throughout.

I want her to know to trust herself as the only real expert in her own birth, the only one who can really decide what’s best in each moment.

I want her to know and value her instincts that were telling her to say no and to have the courage to stand her ground.

I want her to know that when she really shows up and claims this space for herself in this way then she will see those supporting her change to reflect her newfound strength and conviction.

I want her to know there are people here who care and have her back.

I want so much for her.

I can feel the fire rising in me, burning through my silence and hesitation. I want this fire to touch her, to warm her heart so she knows she is loved and supported.   I want this fire to light the fire in her own belly so she finds her courage to speak her deep desires.  I want this fire to fan the flames of her own passion so she rises up to claim her desires. I want this fire to ignite her own passion for herself and her birth so she can make it happen her way.  I want this fire to blaze a trail for us all to follow as we collectively  transform the face of birth and the path to motherhood.

The fire is pulsing in my heart and flames flicker through my words as I repeat with as much emphasis and love as I can muster ..

“You absolutely have the right to say no. “

That day we did chat a little more and I  know she has since given birth as she wished to a wonderful baby boy.  This post today is dedicated to her and to all the women who didn’t or don’t know they can say no.  For all the women who are hearing their soul whisper to them that they deserve more and better. 

I hear your whispers too. I see you.

I love you.

Resource List:

Along with the passion and fire it’s good to get practical.  Below is the grounded practical resource list you can draw on when you need to make a stand for what you believe in for your birth.

1 Knowing where you stand.

“Human rights require public bodies to treat you with dignity and respect, consult you about decisions and respect your choices.”

(From Birthrights fact sheet - Human Rights in Maternity Care

You don’t stop being a human being just because you are pregnant. You and your unborn child are not the property of the NHS. All your basic human rights apply in pregnancy and childbirth too.  Along with dignity and respect you should be able to exercise your right to informed consent. Meaning that you cannot be made to do anything you don’t want to do and that you should be provided with all the information you need to make your own choice.

The human rights in childbirth charity -  Birthrights  -founded by Rebecca Schiller produce a number of excellent fact sheets. These include Human rights in maternity care, consenting to treatment, choice of place of birth, right to a c section, accessing your records and making a complaint.

(Currently the legal information is for the UK- Please check for your own country. Please message me if you have links to equivalent factsheets for other countries and I will add them.)

I recommend the Aims booklet ‘ Am I allowed' By Beverley a Lawrence Beech,  which gives in detail all the information you need to make an informed decision. Aims stands for Association for improvement of maternity services and this and other booklets that go into great depth on specific subjects can be bought direct from the Aims website.

2 Getting the information you need.

Now you know you have the right to dignity, respect and informed consent you might be forgiven for thinking this will all just be handed to you effortlessly at every step of your pregnancy and birth. Sadly this is not the case or I would not be writing this post.  

Given the shortcomings in the existing system you may need to ask and ask again to get all the information you need.  The Acronym BRAINS is one of the best and most widely known ways to make sure you cover every angle. Here it is in detail:

Benefits: What are the benefits of  X (the procedure that has just been offered to you) You may ask- How will this help me? What problem will it solve? You can also ask what undergoing this treatment option means for you – how is it carried out, how long will it take what else is involved?

Risks: What are the risks of procedure, protocol etc? You can also ask about potential side effects and knock on effects for the birth. In some cases you may wish to ask what effect a procedure has on future pregnancies and births

Also a missing piece here is to check in with absolute versus relative risks. In other words there is a big difference between a risk that doubles if the original risk is 25% or 0.1% Finding this out can really put risk into perspective. A consultant is used to seeing difficult births and is likely to stress the risks of not doing a procedure they recommend. By asking more questions you can get the information you need and a fuller picture to choose what is best for you.

Alternatives: What else is possible? What other options do I have? Remember to go through brain again with each alternative.  This part can really open you up to the choice that is so often present and that you may have been unaware of.

Intuition: Intuition or gut instinct is an undervalued but powerful tool For me, whilst listening to medical advice and getting information is important, intuition trumps everything when it comes to the final decision.  We are conditioned to rely on information we can measure, and monitor. Birth is not linear and predictable in this way and you are not a statistic. Different people respond differently to different procedures and only you know what is right for you. Tune in to your body and listen to your inner guidance. After receiving all the information, take the time to discover what your intution, your  baby and body need you to know You may like to ask for time for this and to make a decision ( see my next point below)

Nothing: What would happen if I do nothing? What would happen if we wait and how long may we wait for? Again you can cycle through the first part of the acronym and apply it to the strategy of waiting-  What are the benefits ? risks? Etc

Smile:  It can be very stressful trying to make decisions in a pregnancy that has taken an unexpected turn. We may be tense and worried about what may happen and concerned about making the right decision. Try consciously shaking out your body and stretching. Sit tall and smile- even if you don’t feel like it at first. The physical movement in your face fires off neurons and chemicals flow- a message of positivity is being sent through your body.  This will be ok. I am ok. I can do this. 

3- Taking off the pressure

On the spot under the gaze of your consultant or midwife  you may feel pressured to make an instant decision.  There is usually more time than you think even if you are in labour. It is important to ask and check so you can create some space and time for you to make the right choice from the  right feeling place for you.

Try :

Thank you for all your information I /We would like to go away and think about it to make our decision.  

How much time do I have to make my choice? Can I have ten minutes, half an hour?

Even if the decision is a no brainer, but it may not be the route you had hoped it can still be worth asking for a few minutes so you can come to terms with the change of plan emotionally and energetically.  So that when you choose your next step you do so with calm strength dignity, and love.  

 Give yourself as much space and time as you can for each decision to feel good.

Remember- You are the mother, the one at the centre of this amazing birth experience and you deserve for your wishes to be heard and respected.

Much love to you on your journey.

5 Steps to Overcome Overwhelm and Create Some Space For You

Since my first post a couple of weeks ago on overwhelm it seems that every other person I meet is going through their own version of meeting overwhelm in their lives. Whether they are blaming it on the recent mercury retrograde or Christmas on top of an over full schedule, there seems to be a theme.   Too much to do in too little time and a sense of you drowning in the onslaught.

I’ve also been asked a number of times how I manage to stay afloat, how I manage with my three children and a business and all that I do.  Truthfully, everything has stepped up a gear now that I have three children and sometimes I feel my head is only just above water.  Pregnancy is also a game changer that can cause everything to seem more intense and challenging. But what has changed for me is that I am now enjoying the swimming.   

Today I am sharing 5 steps to support you move out of overwhelm.  

Steps I have been taking over and over since becoming a mother.  Steps that you can use with other repeating patterns you may notice in your life that you would like to change. Steps that work in an emergency breakdown situation such as I described in my last post and are also useful as longer term preventative and transformative medicine.

1.  Catch yourself and Stop.

So let’s say this talk of overwhelm is striking a chord in you.   Your daily duties, however small seem to loom large and impossible over you. And you have less energy than before because you are growing a baby, remember?  Tears are bubbling under the surface, beneath which a simmering cauldron of emotions looking for a way out  threatens to boil over  willy nillly at the slightest trigger.  

Awareness in this kind of situation is key and usually at least half the battle.  If you are running in ‘overwhelm mode’ then you are invariably either thinking or doing too much.  Or both. You are likely guilty of carrying the larger than necessary ‘mental load’ that women tend to carry- planning and managing the whole family’s needs whilst simultaneously undertaking more than your fair share of the actual workload.

This pattern is so normalised that it often slips under the radar but can be a significant contributing factor in overwhelm and burn out. 

Once you see your patterns you have a choice. Change becomes possible.

Catching yourself is pretty straight forwards to understand if tricky to do but what do I mean by stop?

Well I do mean just that. Perhaps you need to literally stop, sit down, take a break and breathe deeply.  Even for five minutes.  When you need to be active again consciously relax the parts of the body you are not using and be relaxed in motion.  How exactly you continue to stop depends partly on your individual path and relationship with overwhelm. Emotions may come up. Let them.  And this is where you can move on to step 2.

2.  Assessment and re-evaluation.

My invitation is to get cosy with a cuppa, sit back and ask yourself how you are really. let yourself cry if that’s what’s here.  Treat yourself the way you would your best friend or small child who was struggling. Show yourself the kindness and love you would them. ( See step 3 for more on kindness) Listen and mentally give yourself a hug. Validate yourself and your experience this way.  Make this a regular check in ritual for yourself over medium and long term and make sure you schedule it into your regular schedule.

You may hit up against a good dose of denial or resistance when you try to stop and be kind to you in this way. Objections like who else will do it if I don’t or I don’t have time for this now…Don’t let these get in your way. Listen genuinely–and then go deeper.  Behind or under this resistance is usually fear. Your old cherished identity is being threatened by the changes you are proposing. It wants to keep you safe, even if that safety comes at the cost of rest and self-care. Under observation its logic often makes no sense at all, hence the complete sense in taking a little time with yourself to enquire where you are at and what you want and need right now.  

3.   Be Kind to You

The kindness mantra ‘Be kind to you’ was taught to me by Joel Young, the Creator and Custodian of NPA. The benchmark to test your decisions against is to ask ‘is this kind to me?’  You are worth the kindness and time you give to others.  Already just catching yourself and resolving to stop is huge. Massive. Ginormous. Give yourself some credit for this already and follow it up with cutting yourself some slack with kindness.  In the process of change please be super kind to yourself. 

Changing your relationship to the world and yourself gives your cherished identity a big shake up. Not always easy, so go easy on yourself.

I think I am stressing this point a little extra due to my own history of being anything but kind to myself in complete contrast to how I treated others in my life.  Extending patience, compassion and understanding to myself has been transforming in how I feel on a daily basis and how I manage with my three young children.

Just to be clear if the judger rears her head with commentary on you about being overwhelmed and not coping when your sister/mother/ next door neighbour did or so and so has more on their plate but they are doing ok.

Not kind.

No, that kind of comparison is a way heaping more weight on your overburdened load.

Telling yourself to pull yourself together, that you are being ridiculous, hold it in and rest later.

Nope, more judgement.

Not kind.

Honestly if it is unkind to you stop. If things fall apart because you stop and rest then that is a serious confirmation you were doing too much alone. 

4. Action

As I mentioned earlier, awareness is key and once you’ve let the big emotions out, released the immediate tension from your body and jumped off the routine treadmill, now the next level of awareness becomes available and it is time to take action.

It may be all you need to do is tweak your schedule, or it may need a  rewrite with you at the heart and on every page. You may choose to book a massage, go out for dinner with friends, or schedule evenings curled on the sofa with a good book.

Perhaps the action you take is a pruning of any more actual doing activities because you need deep rest and some long periods of doing very little.

 When you have been overactive doing nothing is a positive proactive and sometimes incredibly tough next step. Yet, sometimes the kindest action you can take may be to schedule doing nothing at all.  

Remember the action you ultimately take to support you will always tick the box of being kind to you. If it doesn’t pass the test- bin it.

Whatever you choose it will not add more to the burden you have been carrying. You just put that down. The invitation here is not take a night off to tick a box and then next morning pick up the old burden. If necessary, unpack that burden with some inner work to be free of limiting beliefs about why you don’t deserve to rest or why it has to be you doing all the work. Then see what is yours to pick up at the end. It will be lighter.

You may need practical support which brings me to next step.

5.  Ask for help/delegate

If in the previous steps you really see you have too much on and there are important needs you have that are currently not being met like resting, then do ask for help and do delegate tasks. Try writing a list of everything you do. Then consider who could I ask to help? To whom can I delegate? What can be done later or not at all? If this feels too much then get help with this too.

Seriously.  I see far too many women (me included) struggling to go it all alone when we thrive on cooperation and company.

If you felt drawn to needing inner work in step 2, consider whether you will work though this more swiftlly and easily - a kindness to busy you - with some professional support such as I offer in my birth confidence sessions.

Be open to new and novel ways to do things and be supported. Ask around for ideas and inspiration.

Finally, I would like to say let this be fun. Even if moving out of overwhelm is uncomfortable look for ways to make it fun. Breathe some lightness and laughter into your day. This is perhaps the best medicine of all.

I invite you to take at least one of these steps and try it out this week.

See what happens.  Do drop me a line I would love to hear your experiences.

If you would like to learn more about how to be kind to yourself using The NPA Process please follow this affiliate link to download you FREE copy of the process.

If you would like some personalised support to help you drop overwhelm for good and feel comfortable and confident as you approach your 'birth date' check out my birth confidence sessions and get in touch

8 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Giving Birth

I spent a lot of time preparing for  the birth of my first child. Trawling the internet, ordering books to read and in-depth emotional clearing work. Somehow I still managed to leave some gaps. Some of these gaps are quite funny now- New born poo colour for example…! I actually thought as the thick treacly meconium gave way to bright yellow mush that it was all due to the lovely meal cooked by my husband I’d eaten the night before coming out somehow in my milk. (His African sauce was made with Palm Oil which is bright orange and solid at room temperature, liquid when heated and permanently stains everything it comes into contact with bright yellow.)

Some of the gaps in my knowledge caused me some temporary concern and added stress and I hope that this post will save some of you from the same needless worries that I experienced.

So here goes, in no particular order, I wish that I had known:-

1. To listen to my body not the estimated due date, which would be better phrased as a guess date or month.

I did kind of know that due dates are just an indication and that there is some question over the accuracy of the 40 week marker in the first place. ( See bottom of post for useful links on gestation length and EDD calculation.) I also knew that most first time mothers give birth at around 41 weeks. I just thought that would be the same for me. So at 38 plus 5 and contemplating the mammoth task of mounting the stairs I felt a wave of despair at the thought I could have another four weeks and how would I cope. It never occurred to me that this – plus the furious house cleaning- could be an indication that I wouldn’t have to wait that long...

At 39 weeks exactly, I waved my parents out of the door on Good Friday Evening and we all joked how they would be back soon enough. I shut the door and felt the first cramps. Oh…! I nearly called them back in but thought, "It’s probably Braxton Hicks, I’ve not had any of those yet…."

Takeaway Number 1: Listen to your body and be prepared.

2. That early labour can feel like period pains

Those first ‘Braxton Hicks’ were very low down, dull aches across where my uterus would be were I not pregnant. They felt like period pains. I watched the wild thought fly across my awareness that maybe something was wrong. I was expecting big waves of contractions right across my lovely big belly. I think I was forgetting about a gradual progression of labour and expecting to be thrown right into the most intense labour sensations from the get go.  

Still I did at least do something right here. I checked out the panicked thoughts, reassured myself that I was all good and as it was nearly 11pm, I went to bed. It was a restless night that felt like one big contraction but I got a decent amount of sleep in between. I woke at 9 am when I could not ignore that I was in labour any longer as they were now close to 5 minutes apart.

Takeaway Number 2: Connect with the sensations in your body and enjoy the knowledge your body is working for you and get rest while you can.

3.Some fresh red blood is to be expected when the plug goes, this did not mean I was bleeding to death.

Another one of those fleeting thoughts that had my heart rate racing. I knew to expect a plug shaped piece of tissue. And there was no mistaking the plug when it arrived. It was, well like my bathroom plug same shape and size and quite solid. Despite the name I wasn’t expecting it to be so pluglike. But somehow I hadn't expected a little gush of blood.

I breathed through the panic and my fears of looking stupid and rang my midwife. She was wonderful and suggested I put a pad on and check the amount of blood then call her back. Great advice and as I put the phone down I realised I was not bleeding any more beyond the couple of drops that had spread out on my clothes and looked much more than they actually were. Thanking my mind once more for its extreme caution in wanting to keep me safe I relaxed again.

I will quickly add that you may not get an obvious plug like I did. Some women lose the plug weeks before labour starts and some like me during my second son's birth, never know if they lost it down the toilet without realising or some time in labour as they never see it and there are all kinds of variations in between.

Takeaway Number 3: Slow down and breathe. Ring your midwife and ask even if you feel stupid.

4. That later labour can feel like the baby is coming out of your bottom not your vagina.

So useful to know! It really does feel like that. Another unexpected surprise. The pressure of the baby taking up the space in your body causes you both to feel like the baby is coming out of your bottom and for you to actually evacuate your bowels for real. So yes both these are great signs that your baby is on the way and good things to know in advance.

Takeaway Number 4: Expect to poo, and know it's a good sign.

5. That Vaginal Examinations are not compulsory.

I believed that I needed to be examined at least once, found to be the magic ten cm and given permission to push. I knew I was going to follow my body regardless of numbers, I just thought that was the system and I would have to go along with it. I have since learned that I could have said no to the one examination I did have.  It was so clear to all around that I was in labour and doing well, an examination wasn’t necessary. I didn't really want one, I just thought I had to.

Here I have to say my midwife was wonderful. She asked permission, asked if I had had one before ( I hadn’t) and was totally gentle so I could hardly feel it. She then pronounced me 8 cm. Although I would have refused had it been clear to me this was an optional intervention, this announcement actually helped dispel the worry that I had called her out too early and was going to look stupid when she said sorry you are not in labour yet!

Finally I want to really stress that vaginal examinations are a choice and you are the one with the power to choose what is right for you.  I was aware that they only tell you what is going on in that moment and that can change. I knew that birth is not linear despite the (mostly male created (charts that imply a certain progression per hour. I had heard many anecdotes of women I know personally and their friends or family who had nearly given birth in triage as labour progressed so quickly. I knew all this but at the time did not know I could make my own choice. Some women find them reassuring as I did in this example. Others prefer not to know and there is a danger of feeling discouraged if you have laboured for a while without any corresponding increase in openness. This seeming lack of change on its own does not mean that nothing is happening. Again listening and communicating with your own body will help you decide what you need.

As for me in this birth story, the official confirmation that I was truly in labour and pretty far on was like a load lifted.  I got back up and onto my knees on the floor, for the final stages of opening my body. For that 8 cm was moving pretty fast now, I was not on any arbitrary linear timescale. I had no idea what timescale I was on as I was moving deep into the labour trance world and nothing made much sense any more. There was just one more hesitation on my part.

Takeaway Number 5: You have the power to choose what support you need. You can say no to vaginal examinations.

6. You don’t need permission to start pushing

Not if your body is spontaneously pushing even as you concentrate on relaxing deeply and going with the flow of the birthing energy. Try stopping that life force. That kind of pushing is impossible to stop.

Sometimes women are told they must wait until they get to ten centimetres, whereas in some cultures women are told to start pushing from the first contractions and push all the way through labour. I have always been confused by these seeming contradictions and the lack of trust implied in the process and the woman and baby giving birth. (Check the end of the post for more information on pushing before 10 cm) i 

In the mean time there I was on my knees, head buried in the couch, swaying, when I felt my body begin to push. "Oh," I thought, "I am only 8 cm? Will I be in trouble? Should I tell her?"  I lifted my head just long enough to say tentatively, "my body wants to push now." "You just go with what your body wants to do," my midwife replied gently. AAhh so good. The last worry smoothed away with just those few words. I dropped my head into the sofa again and let everything go.

Takeaway Number 6: Spontaneous Pushing is impossible to stop or control but can feel fantastic. Trust your body.

(A small aside- if you are a community midwife who attended a home birth on Easter Saturday in Handsworth and you recognise this story. Thank you. You were so lovely. You always asked permission, explained and exuded a quiet confidence and respect that was catching. I would love to hear from you if you ever read this- I cannot remember your name.)

7. It is totally normal for the baby to do bit of a to and fro dance just before finally emerging.

I felt my son come right up between my legs during the contraction. As I relaxed into the quiet space I felt him move straight back again. With the next contraction, he surged forwards enthusiastically, then fell back again as it subsided. Now as I write and remember this rhythm I am reminded of the sea, gentle waves that lap the shore and the water trickling back to the ocean. It was exactly like that. It serves a purpose, I believe, to soften and prepare your body. Your baby is also an active partner in the birth and needs to rotate himself into position as he comes out.  

My son was gearing up for his final exit where he would shoot accross the pool as I sat up to see him. What I would do differently if I could go back would be to have more patience and really enjoy this part. There was no pain as I floated in my pool. It was a fabulous opportunity to connect with my son, reassure him all was well and to take his time rather than question in my head if that was normal or not. 

Takeaway Number 7: Be patient and take your time as you start to crown. A bit of to and fro is normal and may help.

8. Keeping mother and baby warm after the birth is vitally important.

We were so in love with our new son that we didn’t get out of the pool. Unfortunately, the room was colder than we would have liked due to an unforeseen heating problem and I started to feel chilly. The midwives had been filling in their paperwork and hadn’t realised we were getting cold. It was easily rectified with some warm towels, dressing gown and blanket but we came close to needing a transfer for a cold baby.

What I did learn with this experience is just how amazing we women are. I may have been blissfully unaware of the temperature of my serene baby but my body knew differently. As my husband and midwives wrapped us in a bundle I started to sweat. The only comparable heat I have experienced is during a fever. My body became a furnace and heated my baby so fast that my lovely midwife wondered if she had made a mistake taking his temperature. I know, as did my body that she didn’t and my birthing story ended happily with the midwives leaving to sleep as my husband  and I remained resting on our sofa enjoying our baby as he took his first feed.

So there you have it. 8 tips from the birth story of my first son. I hope you find them useful. If you have any of your own to share, please comment and let me know.

If you enjoyed a quick glimpse into the birth story of my son you can read the complete story along with 12 other wonderful water birth tales in this book. Click image to buy from Amazon.

Below are links to some articles that you may find useful related to the points raised in this post.

Women's gestation can vary by up to 5 weeks-Article in the Independent

History and calculation of the EDD

Article on pushing with an anterior cervical lip by Midwife Thinking.

5 Simple Ways to Relax Deeply Using Your Breath.

I breathe in deeply. The cold blast of air on this frosty winter morning is stimulating and I feel alive. I am reminded of the power of the breath and I stand for a few moments longer just breathing and taking in the view before I set off home, back to my day and to work.

Those few moments of breath made all the difference and I wonder. How have you been breathing this week? How are you breathing now?

Take a few moments to just breathe right now then come back and join me as we explore some simple ways to incorporate breathing exercises into your day.

Welcome back. I feel calmer, more connected and ready to act. How do you feel?

Sometimes, just remembering to take the time for a few simple breaths, without even any particular practice, is half the trick. Of course, a regular practice is beneficial, hugely so. Your body remembers your regular routine and the relaxed state it produces. Practice on ordinary days and when you really need the tools they will be right there waiting for you. Your body will respond more quickly than you may you expect, dropping you back into relax mode.

So let’s go. Let me share with you five simple ways I like to harness the power of the breath in my everyday life.

1. Make each breath count.

My favourite way is to count as you breathe in and again as you breathe out. Make your out-breath longer than your in-breath. This promotes relaxation and helps shift your body from the sympathetic nervous system – fight/flight mode to the parasympathetic mode in which your body is at rest. You can use any number that feels comfortable to you. Try counting in for 4 and out for 8 or in for 7 and out for 11.  As you practice try and lengthen your breath without forcing it. Experiment with what feels good to you.

A variation on this is to count each complete breath. Congratulate yourself on each completed breath. Let each breath be one step on a staircase to deep relaxation. In labour each completed breath, just like each contraction, is one more step towards meeting your baby.

2. Follow your breath.

If numbers aren’t your thing you may prefer to journey with your breath round your body.  Imagine you are the air that is coming into your nostrils and down into your lungs. Notice how it feels to fly in and down to your lungs. Experience the expansion as more air fills the lungs and the gas exchange takes place and oxygen is gifted to your system. Allow yourself to be propelled back gently to the outside airon your out-breath.

Repeat and take your journey further. Follow the oxygen into your muscles, your womb, to your baby. Notice how your body feels to receive you in this way. You may see images of how your body looks inside or you may simply get a sense of where you are. Feel grateful as you return on the out-breath carrying unwanted toxins and carbon dioxide back out of the body and into the air.

Be playful and curious. Let your mind get interested and your body relax.  I have always loved the story of Aladdin and was captivated by the magic carpet. Have fun imagining journeying on your own magic carpet, powered by your breath. 

3. Charge your breath.

Ever felt a charged atmosphere during an argument? Could cut it with a knife? Consciously change this dynamic by charging your out breath with what is no longer useful to you. You can invite your fears and worries or tension and stress to leave for example. Nature abhors a vacuum so make sure you then charge your in-breath with what you do want instead. Choose a useful resource such as confidence, trust or peace and let it move into your body with the breath.

4.  Point of focus.

My favourite is a candle. The flame has an instant calming effect on me, my heart expands in peace and I feel comforted and connected to something pure and sacred. It awakens memories in me of times around the campfire sharing stories and wisdom.

Breathe steadily in and out as you gaze on the flame. Imagine the warmth and light of the flame enters you on your in-breath. Feel it connect to the fire in your own belly, illuminating you from within.

Fire is also purifying. Try gently blowing out your fears with your out breath into the candle flame. As the candle flickers with your breath imagine that the flame is transmuting and purifying those fears, allowing confidence to come in their place.

When you finish you may either allow the flame to burn itself out in its own time, or you may blow it out with an accompanying wish or intention.

5. Let your heart lead.

Without the heart there is no breath yet even before the breath our heart was beating for us. Earlier still, before even our own heart developed there was the steady rhythmic beating of our mother’s heart guiding our development. Listening to a pulsing heart beat has the power to calm and soothe both babies and adults. It is a gateway into the great love and compassion of heart energy.

Use that energy to guide you as you breathe. Place your hand over your heart and feel it beating. If this is hard try placing your fingers on your neck or wrist where you can feel your pulse easily. Begin to connect to your heart beating and allow the love of your heart guide you to release and relax. Let the gentle loving energy of your heart be the leader as you hand over the reins and take long, slow breaths in alignment with your heart .

The inspiration for this invitation comes from the wonderful Indra Singh of Silent Moon Imaginarium. You can listen to her guide you in an emotional breath meditation on periscope here -perfect for those times when you feel you just can’t relax or meditate. (highly recommended , her meditations are powerful.) and she has a wealth of meditations and resources on her You tube channel here.

Aaah, I feel more relaxed just writing this post and will be off to practice breathing as soon as I press publish. I invite you to choose one of these techniques and schedule in a few minutes a day at a time convenient to you and have a go.

Then let me know how you go I would love to hear.

Stop worrying and start breathing. A simple hack to help you and your loved ones to move through panic and fear.

Photo by Omid Armin on Unsplash

One of the questions I commonly get asked is,  "What do I do when things aren’t going to plan? Is there anything I can do really?"

It’s a challenging question right?

Usually well meaning people try to reassure us with instructions to relax and stop worrying, like it is that easy. "Don’t worry," say our worried partners, in an attempt to console both of us. "Just relax, you are doing great."

Does this work? Do we instantly relax and stop worrying in the face of problems just because someone who cares about us tells us to?

Of course not. Certainly not when that person is worried too. Sometimes we even erupt in anger right back at them, our fear and frustration spilling over in desperation.

Sometimes, if the person reassuring us is truly embodying a truth that all is well, then that will be transmitted to you and you will feel calmer.  More often it is the fear that is catching.

In this post I would like to share with you two positive stories that illustrate this and point to a better way of initiating that relaxation and letting go than the direct instruction to do what you really would already be doing if you could!

Story Number 1: Sitting With My Grandfather.

“Don’t worry,” my grandad said to me with his slow gentle energy. He sighed and paused. “You will worry of course, but you don’t need to.”

I continued sitting with my grandad in silence, just breathing. Feeling emotions run through me. I had chosen to be the one to tell him of our bad news, the serious illness in another family member. I hadn’t expected him to be so calm. He was like a strong tree in a storm.

Oh the wisdom of our elders, so often overlooked. Having lived through way more than I, including a World War, he was more comfortable with shock news. He knew he couldn’t take my worry away. He didn’t even try. Yet I could feel his love and caring in the silence. I was reassured by his calm presence as I am when I sit under a tree in the woods and the energy under his words pierced through my bubble of worry. His honest assessment that neither he nor I could prevent me worrying gave me permission to be where I was and let the feelings flow.

We sat in silence a little while more just breathing together. His slower pace influenced me and I slowed and softened myself.

There was something timeless and healing in just breathing. Taking space together. Letting the space heal. So powerful. So useful. So often neglected in the rush and panic of the pain.

Story 2. Jason Chan speaking at The Tree of Life

“Just breathe,” the words echo through my mind again and I move now to a recent time listening to Jason Chan, a Spiritual Master and Healer talk at a Tree of Life Event.

“Just breathe,” he smiled to an appreciate audience who let out a wave of laughter in recognition. I could feel the whole room relax as they followed his instructions. In seconds the energy of the room had shifted from a higher, nervous energy to a softer more expansive feel. And he invited us to feel the changes quite literally by waving our hands in the air in front of us to sense the environment. Before we applied focus to our breath we had all been unconsciously held in the sway of our thoughts, and the habitual busy energy we often reside in. He didn’t change our state by teaching us some complicated breathing process that would take years to master. He led me swiftly to a peaceful place quite simply with a little focus, an engaging down to earth manner and plenty of humour.

What really hit home was his demonstration of the difference we all felt in being told ‘Don’t worry’ when worried in comparison to the effect of being asked to ‘Just breathe.’

The first is a negative instruction and the brain will happily imagine the worry, then work out how to cancel it. Too late! Your super-fast nervous system and subconscious has already responded to the first part and you are having to work harder to get back to relaxation. It also just tells you to stop something but doesn’t give a clear instruction of what else to do instead. When we are fearful and panicked we don’t have full access to time and reasoned thought. We need simple clear instructions we can get behind that will lead us through to a better space. Just breathe fits that bill.

Of course breathing is something that gets talked about a lot when you are preparing to give birth. Lots of different breathing exercises are taught, all with the aim of supporting you to relax. (Re)learning to relax is an invaluable tool to enjoy your pregnancy, support the optimal development of your baby and help you labour with ease. In my next post I will go into more detail as to why breathing is so effective and share some suggestions of techniques you can use.

Today I wish to keep it simple and leave you with three points I learnt from my grandfather and Jason Chan.

  1. The power of the breath to shift us through difficult emotions in an emergency.
  2. The speed at which a shift is possible. Think of how fast fear hits as you see a bus bearing down on you unexpectedly and imagine this in reverse.
  3. We can be reassured to remember we have all we need at our fingertips. Breathing is accessible and we all know how to do it.

This last one is key. Learning and practicing techniques is empowering and useful. If in the moment you can’t remember a thing and your mind is blank with panic, just come back to your breath and start there. Focus on your breath and then make the out breath longer. Nothing fancy, just bring yourself back to your body and your breath and keep breathing. Let the breath do the work.

I invite you to try this now. Imagine a scenario in which you are usually worried.  Perhaps you usually tell yourself not to worry?  Instead invite yourself to breathe.   Spend a few moments breathing and reflecting on how you are today. Then take a moment to let me know how you found it. I would love to hear.

P.S.  If you enjoyed this then try it out with your loved ones too. Next time someone close to you comes to you with a problem, replace 'don't worry' with 'just breathe' and spend some time sitting and breathing together and see what happens.

Three simple tips to ease your pregnancy and labour. Part Three: Rest and 13 ideas to get more of it.

Rest is much underrated in our society and is crucial to our health even when we are not pregnant. Our bodies love balance and we need to balance action with rest. It is during rest that our body regenerates and creates new cells. During pregnancy we need more rest as our bodies are working hard behind the scenes to grow our babies. In this post I share a little of my story towards a healthy balance of rest and action and 12 ideas to get more rest in your everyday life.

20130710_232551In my first pregnancy, luxurious lie-ins with my husband (who works shifts) were the norm. I could stay in bed as long as I liked and especially in the first few months I did. I got plenty of rest.

With my second it was a different story. This time I had a toddler to look after and a busier business. A lie in now lasted five minutes until 7.05am. If I was lucky it would be a gentle wake up with soft pat and a sloppy kiss. If I was unlucky it would be feet in the head and shouting in my ears.

My toddler son no longer napped and loved action. Lots of action. I did my best to keep up with the housework, my business and his energy levels but I started to feel more and more tired. I usually pushed on through the tiredness. ‘Pregnancy is not an illness’, I read, and ‘moderate exercise is good’. So I was slightly annoyed when swollen ankles, a sore coccyx, and general lethargy suggested I should rest up. I couldn’t keep up with my pre pregnancy schedule but I felt a subtle fear I may be missing out as life went on as usual for everyone else around me whilst I was feeling exhausted.20130709_121145

I noticed I was not giving myself permission to stop and rest. Instead I was frittering away what spare time I did have with various excuses about what a lot there was to do. . I didn’t want to slow down or rest up in case someone thought I wasn’t coping. I was accidentally going along with a common pattern in our society. One that values multi tasking, working as long as possible during your pregnancy and puts self care pretty low on the list. Particularly if the self care looks like ‘doing nothing’.

I was running just to keep up with the treadmill and had forgotten to appreciate just how much hidden work our bodies are doing as they conceive, grow and then birth our babies. Our bodies do all of this without our conscious input, automatically without us thinking or checking in, ‘oh did you remember to grow that arm?’ But although creating a whole human whilst we carry on with our daily lives happens automatically we and our bodies are not automatons.   We are organic systems that need input to get this output. The input I was missing out on was rest. I was looking like the Duracell bunny.

Even when I was looking restful, reading to my son for example. My mind would continue its frenetic hopping fixing planning running. I held tension as I worried about what I hadn’t done that needed doing and tried to balance that with staying awake. I worried what kind of mother I was if I couldn’t even stay awake to read my son a story.

Not useful or kind to myself right?photo-1421338443272-0dde2463976a

I couldn’t even see that.   I just kept on trying to get everything done so I could finally rest at the end of the day. By which time all I could do was slump in an exhausted funk. I would drop off to sleep with my son carrying the tension with me. Only to wake up the next day still running and feeling like I hadn’t even slept.

Recognising the pattern of running myself into the ground in an attempt to meet everyone else’s needs without considering my own took a while to dawn. But that crucial first step taken the second and third quickly followed. Step 2 for me was the inner work to clear out the hidden issues that were driving the energy draining behaviours that were leading to exhaustion. Step 3 was rebuilding a healthy balanced schedule that included me time. Soon I was up and running again to a completely different and slower tune. Ironically the more I rested, the more energy I had, the more I got done with less effort and the more time I had for me including to rest and the more energy I had for play and so on.

Here are 13 great ideas I picked up along the way on how to incorporate the rest you need into your day without compromising on all the other jobs you have to do.

1 Yoga Nidra. This is my number 1 tip and number 1 rescue remedy. Both prevention and cure it is simply wonderful. If you are new to the practice you are in for a treat. Sometimes referred to as ‘yogic sleep’ it is a simple way of entering a deep restorative, relaxing state. The beauty is that you can do it lying down and although the intent is to remain awake, alert but rested, there is no harm if you do drift off. The quality of accidental sleep during yoga nidra is so different as you will have released tension you were carrying and you awake refreshed. Check out the free resources listed at the end of this blog post.IMG_0998

2. Yoga Nidra, Ok so I know this was point 1. But it is so helpful, versatile and transformative that I thought it deserved a mention again, Just to drive the point home. Try it just after you wake up to ease yourself into the day. Just before you go to sleep then drift off gently after. Or any time of day, carve a slot of quiet time out for yourself lie down and off you go. 25 minutes of the deep relaxation reached in the resulting meditative state has been compared to 2 hours of ordinary sleep. So often I would wake after half an hour and feel like I’d had a nights sleep the difference was so striking. It is not called yogic sleep for nothing.

3.Yoga Nidra. Can I really do that? Make it point 3 as well? It really was that good for me. I never got bored, I had a playlist with several different tracks. I sometimes used non yoga nidra guided visualisations and applied the practice to those instead and got great results. To get started I share at the bottom of this post some of my favourites. I also gave it a go with my son as a way of getting him to sleep as I rested next to him. With some tracks as short as ten minutes with others up to half an hour with some imagination you will find so many places and ways of using it in your day.

4. Yoga ni… just kidding. There are ways of resting without having to lie down and sleep.  Which of course is not aways possible especially if you ahve an older child. For this tip you definitely want to stay awake. Tip 4. Take a bath – alone, with your kids, with your partner; morning, afternoon, night; before tea, after tea. for the same reasons water is so effective as pain relief in labour it is also great for relaxation whilst pregnant. This is also an opportunity to create an association with the water and a deep relaxation state which is useful if you are planning a water birth. Run the bath, Light some candles and put on a hypnobirthing cd or other beautiful music that you love.

Exhausted with lively kids who aren’t interested in soothing music? Don’t worry and don’t wait till bedtime. Throw away the rule book. This is serious survival. Many an afternoon has been whiled away in the bath in our house. Shrivelled wrinkled feet are a fair price for an hour plus of sitting more or less still. Happy children with minimal effort and extra rest time. Everyone wins. Plus the baby weight is relieved by the buoyancy of the water. There are so many great things about a bath. If you have older children who are too large to fit with you, put them in the bath then see points 1-3 above. Extra tip: Cover the floor with many towels so you can let go of water damage worries.

duck bath5. Take a bath even if you are having a shower. Letting the hot water run over your body feels absolutely wonderful and is way more restful than standing. Watch out for any resistance that shows up as you read this idea. (e.g. I don’t have time, I don’t have a bath, the shower hose is too short.) Usually the objections are groundless or easily resolved – ( you do, sit in the shower, buy a longer one) It is not about the bath itself, it is the sitting and resting.   Sometimes the 5 minutes in the shower in the morning is the only me time I am getting for most of the day and I value it strongly. Make those five/ten minutes count. Sit down play some restful music and follow point 6…

6.  Take 5 deep breaths. Breathe in through your nose and slowly out through your mouth, Make the out breath longer than the in breath and focus on releasing tension. Use this at any time, especially when points 1-3 are not possible. Try anchoring the practice to activities you do every day such as going to the toilet. Another one of the few times you may get a moment to yourself if you have other children! Use those precious moments well. Try Including your children and make a game of it. You will be teaching them valuable skills for themselves as you model this. This is also something that you can all do to help with strong emotions such as anger giving everyone a chance to calm down and take a more restful approach. Another win for everyone.

7.  Extend point 6. Take a breath for each part of your body in turn and blow out the tension from each area on the out breath. When you have gone through your whole body use the next breath to set an intention for your next task. Let your breath carry you through to your next activity. Aim to remain relaxed as you do. So much tiredness is created when we hold tension in muscles that are not required for that job. Use only the muscles that are needed for the task in hand and send the rest on holiday bringing me to point 8.

photo-1427097829427-56a905bf70048. Go on holiday Yes you heard right, I am recommending a holiday as a top easy tip to incorporate into your every day… Before you dismiss this out of hand as impractical, expensive delusion and hopeless wishful thinking or point out that holidays can be stressful too, hear me out. Holidays are so memorable as they are a break from the routine. We do things differently on holiday. We go to new places, often places we have dreamed about for years. We do things we would never dare or would not give ourselves permission for at home. It is this adventurous carefree mindset that I am suggesting you borrow. Grab it and take a holiday from your regular day. Take a two hour holiday and do something special for you that you wouldn’t normally. Imagine you are on your dream holiday. What would you treat yourself to? Go ahead and find a way to do that for yourself today or tomorrow. Go to a spa, Book a massage. Really indulge yourself, Gotoes resize on , you deserve it, your body and your baby will love it too.

9. Get support. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You may need some childcare while you go on ‘holiday.’ Perhaps you are getting nesting instincts and it feels imperative to deep clean the whole house but the idea feels overwhelming. Perhaps it’s just the everyday housework and you can’t face hovering up for the third time that day. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It is not a sign of weakness but of strength and honouring of the mother that you are and the amazing body that is growing your baby. Ask for help then accept it and enjoy yourself.

10. Get creative and make it fun. Think outside the box as you look for ways to relax and incorporate point 8 and 9 as you do. Throw a house cleaning party with a potluck dinner to share. You are then in charge of delegating all the tasks from your armchair/ sunlounger as you sip your holiday cocktail…

11. Make it even more fun. Laughter is the best medicine so the saying goes and it certainly knows how to release tension. Everything feels better with a good bout of laughter, so much so that there are entire therapies devoted to the practice. Get some friends together and play some comedy films. ( Steer clear of comedy films about birth, they are usually awfully inaccurate and dramatic) Tell each other jokes. Make funny faces at your children, spouse, or yourself at the mirror and laugh until you cry.

12. Take a tea break. Buy some special luxurious herbal tea bags just for you. Sip slowly and iTea-Timendulgently and mindfully. Feel the nutrients being absorbed into your body. Enjoy the warmth soothing your throat. Switch off from the world and put your feet up for the time it takes to drink your cup. This is another one you can involve the children if you can’t get away. My children love sipping ‘tea’ from a teaspoon from their own cup. (often honey and lemon in water or mint tea)I don’t know why a teaspoon but it takes ages so extra minutes for me to rest.

13. Finally back to the holiday theme. What do you think of when you imagine your perfect holiday? Relaxing by the beach? Soaking up the warm sunshine? We often have deep positive associations even with just the word. Check in how you feel as you say the word holiday and notice how it affects your mood if you imagine you are on holiday. Our brain sends out the same signals as it does when we are actually experiencing the holiday for real and we benefit from the flow of feel good hormones which are just the same ones that you want to have flowing for a smooth labour,

So now that summer is over and the rain seems determined to make us forget what the sun looks like and if escape on a real winter sun holiday is not an option for you, what do you do?

Well combining a few of the above tips I would recreate my own holiday retreat from my own home following the instructions of Nicole Harlow in this post. In fact I am so inspired by her description of how she transforms her winter apartment to the beach in summer I am shortly off to crank up the heating and get out my beach mat.

What if your dream holiday is skiing and winter snow? Actually It doesn’t matter what your dream hphoto-1422207134147-65fb81f59e38oliday is. Whatever it is, take those elements that you love the most and find a way to recreate them. Want a chilly autumn holiday? Turn off your heating, leave the doors and windows open then cocoon yourself in front of a fire in your sleeping bag toasting marshmallows and cooking sausages on a stick. Wish you were up the mountains skiing. Put your skiing out fit on inside the sleeping bag, make homemade snowflakes to hang round the room, play some snow action films and follow point 10 without caring how ridiculous you look. Older kids will love the idea and join in enthusiastically and come up with even better ideas. Feeling social? Invite friends round and bring out the inner child in us all.

A quick summary:

We need rest and lots more than we usually give ourselves in our fast paced society. Rest is underrated and neglected but we can easily build it back into our lives and have a lot of fun as we do. Give yourself permission and get creative. Once you start the opportunities and ideas come flooding. Build those ideas into what you are already doing each day as I talked about in Part 1.

Those extra moments of rest although they may seem short will very quickly make a difference to your energy levels. As a mother of two rambunctious gorgeous boys with never ending energy who I have had a steep learning curve over the last five years on how to look after myself with enough rest. I would love to hear how you find these tips.

What is your favourite? Do you have any great tips of your own to share?

I will be your willing guinea pig to try them out so let me know in the comments or on facebook page.

Here are some links to some of the Yoga Nidra Tracks I used:

A Yoga Nidra to release resistance by Samantha Nolan Smith

A ten minute track Radical Love 10 by Nicole Harlow

A Yoga Nidra information site with many free downloadable tracks

Another free resource by the Journey relaxing and healing- 3 guided visualisations *

Photo Credit: foot massage photograph  is by Margaret Klepacka of DarSan Photography

*Affiliate Link


Three simple tips to ease your pregnancy and labour plus ideas to effortlessly implement them into your life: Part Two – Dates

Part two of my favourite tips to ease pregnancy and labour is all about dates. I have a long love affair with dates and here I share some insights into why dates are beneficial during pregnancy (or at any time) along with a recipe you may like to try out.

raw datesAs a child, dates were a mysterious and luxurious sticky fruit I only ever saw at Christmas. I somehow had the idea that they were mainly for adults, visitors and important people. I used to look at them and marvel without touching, feeling their specialness that wasn’t yet for me. Somewhere along the way my views changed. Probably helped along by my husband. When I moved to Birmingham to live with him I was surprised to find those ‘special’ boxes of dates were pretty ubiquitous in his house and to be consumed at all times of year.   I began to eat a lot more dates. As gloriously sticky as ever I now love them and they are always a staple in our cupboard.   Dried or fresh they have still retained a sense of mystery and luxury that enriches me as I consume along with the more everyday nutrients they contain. I chop them into my homemade muesli, eat them alone as a snack when my energy levels were low, pack them as energy boosters on long wilderness walks and recently revisited my favourite biscuit recipe from my university years.

Throughout both my pregnancies I ate them constantly, usually straight out of the kilo box kept on the sideboard. I had no idea that my instinctive choice to nourish my body had led me to a perfect power pack of nutrients and minerals for the needs of my pregnant body nor that this was backed up both with some solid research and by ancient religious texts.

In the Qur’an, surah 19, Mary is instructed to eat Date fruit:

  • 23.  And the pangs of childbirth drove her to the trunk of the palm-tree. She said: Oh, would that I had died before this and had become a thing of nothing, forgotten.
  • 24.  Then one) called to her from below her, saying: Grieve not! Your Lord has placed a stream beneath you.
  • 25.  And shake the trunk of the palm-tree towards you, you will cause ripe dates to fall upon you.
  • 26.  So eat and drink and be consoled.

(Qur’an 19:23-26, An Explanatory Translation by Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall I.D.C.L.)

This short passage also alludes to the benefits of water during labour, both to drink and bathe in, and hints at the relief to be gained from an upright birthing position hanging off the branches of the tree. It also indicates the altered trance like state of deep inner awareness that is experienced in deep labour. In this case Mary is guided by a voice that is either attributed to the Angel Gabriel of Jesus himself. In fact, there is so much to be inferred from these simple few lines that it could fill a whole other post at least…

…Coming back instead to the point of this post- the benefits of eating dates. dates pan

Each delicious mouthful of dates provides you with a veritable powerhouse of vitamins, minerals and amino acids, including but not limited to:

  • Iron– important in the manufacture of red blood cells generated energy and so proper intake helps to prevent anaemia and relieve excessive fatigue. Iron needs increase in pregnancy due to the increase in blood volume so it’s good to eat plenty of iron rich foods.
  • Magnesium– Acts with calcium to support baby’s bone formation and replaces your spinal bone mineral density after birth. Magnesium deficiency is often linked with muscle cramps, a common complaint in pregnancy. for those who have experienced this, anything that relieves this has got to be good!
  • Potassium-a kind of electrolyte that is important to maintain balance of fluids and to regulate healthy heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Calcium– is important in the development of bones and teeth for the baby and the developing foetus takes up calcium at a rate of 350 mg per day. Also indicated in the prevention of pre-eclampsia and raised blood pressure
  • Vitamin K– Important in blood clotting and supporting healthy bones
  • Selenium– helpful for brain development in your baby
  • Folate-a B vitamin used for cell division and red blood cell formation as well as development of baby’s neural system
  • Copper– required for production of red blood cells
  • Tannins– (flavonoid polyphenolic antioxidants) These have anti haemorrhagic properties.

(Sources of information quoted above found at end of post.)dates in progress

Investigating the benefits of date consumption for labour this study from 2011 found a significant reduction in the need for induction and a more favourable delivery outcome. The study compared 69 women consumed 6 dates daily for 4 weeks and were compared to 45 women who ate none at all. The women in the date eating group showed higher cervical dilation, significantly higher proportion or intact membranes, higher incidence of spontaneous labour ( 96% versus 79%) They also found the mean latent stage of labour to be shorter in this group of women ( 510 minutes versus 906 minutes) –

(Side note: I am not a big fan of rigid delineation of labour into structured phases nor the use of the word delivery but that is the terminology used in the study from which I am quoting.)

As if energy boosts, delicious tastes and shorter labour wasn’t enough, I came across this study that compared dates against intramuscular oxytocin administered immediately after birth. The dates again came out top with significantly reduced bleeding compared with the use of synthetic oxytocin and were recommended as an alternative in normal delivery. ( sorry for the terminology again, it’s a direct quote.) Yet another reason to keep dates a supply of dates handy. for eating dates.

Do I wish I had known all this prior to my pregnancies?

Perhaps. I would have eaten them with more conscious awareness, savouring the historical link to Mary and her Divine Birth, celebrating her intuition that brought her exactly where she needed to be at the foot of the date tree and her surrender to the Divine wisdom she received there. I would invite this appreciation awaken and anchor that knowledge and ability in me for my own birth experience. Perhaps I would also have visualised those super nutrients travelling on their journey to the muscles of my uterus, nutritional support to honouring the work they would do during labour.

Either way I am glad I ate those dates.

Did it help me in labour? I certainly had an amazing time in labour but it would be difficult to retrospectively split myself in two and have one of me abstain whilst the other avidly devours dates to see how much influence the dates had in that…

Nevertheless, providing you like dates, this is one of those simple, easy to implement actions that can’t hurt and is totally delicious along the way. Yummy snacks with no guilt whatsoever!

I hope the photos of our own family ‘date consumption research’ have tempted you and here is the recipe we were making – my favourite recipe for date slices for you to try out.finished date slices

Recipe for Date and Oat Slices
  • 8oz dates roughly chopped
  • 4 tablespoons water
  • 3/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon honey (optional)
  • 6oz butter
  • 2oz demerara /soft brown sugar
  • 4oz oats
  • 4oz wholemeal flour
  1. Grease 8in/20cm sandwich tin
  2. Put dates,  water, cinnamon and honey in pan and cook gently for 5mins until, soft and spreadable.
  3. Put butter and sugar in clean pan and heat until butter melts. Take off heat.
  4. Sprinkle in oats and flour and mix
  5. Spread half oat mixture on base of tin, cover with dates and spread remaining oat mixture on top.
  6. Bake in the oven at 180°C/ 350°F/ Gas Mark 4 for 30 minutes.
  7. Allow to cool for 10 minutes then cut into  pieces.

Variation – Replace oats with semolina.

I would also love to hear from you. What are your favourite ways to eat dates? Do share any tips or recipes and we ( I and my two enthusiastic young cooking assistants ) will test them out!

Sources of nutritional information in this post:

Zita West, Natural Pregnancy
Dorling Kindersley 2005



Dr Yehudi Gordon, Birth And Beyond: The Definitive Guide to Your Pregnancy, Your Birth, Your Family – From Minus 9 to Plus 9 Months Vermilion 2002

Three simple tips to ease your pregnancy and labour, plus ideas to effortlessly implement them into your life: Part one- Squatting

This is the first part of a three part series on three tips for ease during pregnancy and labour that can be easily integrated into your every day activities and suggestions on how to do that. Today I am writing about squatting and how I found an effortless way to integrate the practice into my ordinary life to the benefit of my pregnancy and birth experience.

Bang! Crash! Ball after ball whizzes past my ears. I swerve matrix style keeping my eyes on my target, a foot above my son’s head, just out of reach of his fingertips. I take a deep breath in and throw with all my might watching in satisfaction as the ball sails easily past my son, down the corridor and with excited glee he trots away, out of sight after it.

Enjoying my brief respite I smile in satisfaction too. My hands fall to my belly and I gently stroke my now quite large bump and wonder what my baby thinks of this new game. As my son’s smile lights up the top of the stairs once more and balls renew their relentless downpour I reflect that my children are indeed, as the saying goes, my best teachers. Thanks to my son’s delight in the ‘stairball’ game I now have a regular squatting practice, cardiovascular work out and am getting toned arms to boot.

BallsI was already aware that gentle exercise in pregnancy was beneficial, particularly given our overly sedentary lifestyle. I knew being fit was useful as labour can be a pretty intense experience that has been compared to the energetic output of running a marathon. I felt fairly fit and active. I had to be looking after my young son. I had been active in his pregnancy too, swimming, pregnancy yoga and lots of walking. I continued with these as they were all enjoyable activities I could do with my son. But I wondered about my core strength. I wondered if I was doing enough.

The words of Ina May Gaskin echoed in my mind, “Squat 300 times and you are going to give birth quickly.” Ina May is pretty cool and her results speak for themselves (Only 1.4% Caesareans and 68.8% Intact Perineum from 2028 births for example*) so taking her advice on squatting seemed like a good plan. But despite a strong, strong desire to ensure I was doing everything I could to promote a smooth labour and birth my resistance to actually squatting on a regular basis was huge. I bet there are many who struggled as much as I did to implement this simple, useful, and easily accessible piece of advice. I tried a few times but quickly got bored and found an excuse to do something else. On other occasions I simply forgot and would be reminded later with a twinge of guilt, not enough of a twinge to get me off the sofa though, Until the game…

Suddenly I was squatting for between 20 minutes and 2 hours a day. Not continuously for 2 hours, I cried off for breathers and I listened to my body, building up my stamina for this new activity gradually.   But each time the balls came flying down the stairs I carefully bent my knees in a squat until I could reach the ball.

The barrier to squatting successfully broken I began to find other ways to incorporate squatting into my daily life. Where I’d been going wrong was to doggedly persist in the one solid session approach which just wasn’t working for me.

I found that on the rare days when ‘stairball’ game was not part of the curriculum I could use the stairs as a reminder and squat once at the bottom and top of the stairs each time I went up or down them. Which was fairly often given the state of my memory and the needs of my bladder during later pregnancy. I used the stool bought to help my son access the toilet so I could adopt a squatting position there too. I also replaced bending over with squatting whenever I needed to pick something off the floor. The repetition gradually sunk into my mind and body and I found I was creating a habit.  I was remembering more easily that I was intending to do lots of squatting and each time I was reinforcing the habit some more. Not that I needed too much internal reinforcement when my son was around…

The key ingredients to my new success as taught by my son: 1. Make it fun, 2. integrate it into what I was already doing and 3. build it up gradually.

Since then I have applied these principles to other areas of resistance in my life to great effect. Such as my impromptu yoga sessions : I no longer wait to find a full hour slot. I do what I can where I can, shorter and more often. I add in random moves such as cat stretch whilst playing horses with my children, or even deliberate poses when the music stops in musical statues.

Thinking up innovative ways to maintain connection with much loved yoga practice and other facets of my former life has been lots of fun, once I broke out of my box. Just as the brainstorming exercise of finding 50 uses for a particular object helps break us out of creative stupor by forcing us to get creative in limiting circumstances, so I am no longer am I confined to my box of how I have always done it, now the box is a boat, a rocket, a hat, and suddenly a world of possibilities is opening up in seemingly unconnected areas.

Back to the squatting, did all this effort pay off in the way Ina May intimated? Well it was certainly not the only factor but my son was born easily at home in approximately 3 1/2 hours from start to finish, and my arms still look great. So I would count that as a resounding Yes!


Incorporating exercise into pregnancy in the context of our often sedentary modern lifestyle is a great and healthy thing but must be done appropriately to your individual fitness and health. When starting anything new and particularly during pregnancy be mindful of your body and start small and gently. Be kind to yourself, listen to your body.

Here are a three posts with more detailed information on how to squat safely and effectively and why it is useful in pregnancy.

The suggestions in this post for exercise are not intended to replace advice by your midwife, doctor or other health professional. If in any doubt as to the suitability of any exercise please consult your doctor of other qualified health or fitness professional for advice. BirthEssence is not to be held liable for any injury or misadventure from following advice in this post and appropriate supervision and/or medical advice should always be sought.

* Information from Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, Ina May Gaskin, 2003 Vermilion Appendix.

Click the photo to the left or link above to read reviews of her excellent book or to buy.

4 Guiding Principles and 5 Great Ideas for Grounding in Turbulent Times

Photo by Vitor Pinto on Unsplash

I love being pregnant, I love the feeling of the growing child in my belly.  I felt well and strong both times and yet I also felt the most vulnerable I have ever felt in my life. In addition to clearing out unhelpful beliefs at ever deeper levels  I steadied myself with regular grounding practices that felt essential to my survival and wellbeing. Survival sounds dramatic but truthfully there were  moments during my second pregnancy when I was floundering in panic so strong I struggled to catch my breath and I could feel my blood pounding on the inside of my head. Times when I was desperately reaching out for anything familiar to hold onto. In those times the wisdom of the earth and its slower pace calmed my racing pulse and soothed my worries. I wish I had developed a regular practice much earlier than I did, and reminded myself more often when I forgot.

In this post I share with you four of the basic principles I now bear in mind when wishing to ground myself and five ideas for grounding that calmed and supported me and that I continue to practice and enjoy daily even though the extreme vulnerability I felt in pregnancy is no longer with me.

Principal 1-Use the Power of Intent

Never underestimate the power of intention. Much has been written about the manifesting power of our thoughts and our outer reality mirroring our inner world. We hear this so often we can sometimes overlook the simplicity and efficacy of the principle. Check in with your intention as you choose an activity and trust that choice. State your intention openly out loud. Believe in it. Then throw caution to the wind and have some fun.

Principal 2-Uncover the Hidden gifts of  Resistance

photo-1425065106899-11d69663395aResistance can show up in so many ways and the most common for me are telling myself I have no time, and then forgetting when I do make time. It is so easy for me to say, ‘oh I can’t do that I have to look after my children.’  Children who delight in making up games involving mud, stones and sticks and who would love any excuse to roll around in the dirt under the guise of grounding.

My invitation is to use your resistance as a springboard of inspiration and challenge your habitual perspectives. Look at what you are saying is not possible and turn it on its head. Invent a grounding game for your children and join in. Ask them to come up with new ways to connect to the Earth. If you do not have children, invite your inner child to play instead and step back in time to an age of wonder and innocence and get fascinated with the world at your feet.   A different perspective can do wonders for your mood. Lie on the earth and imagine the world from the perspective of an ant or a ladybird. See what insights come your way.

Principal 3-Seize the opportunity

Don’t wait for that ideal time as it doesn’t exist. I am sure you have heard that before. I am not sure my toddler son has though, but he doesn’t waste his time questioning if the time is right or if he has time and embodies the principle quite naturally. The other day I observed him unwittingly do a full sun salutation in the middle of the supermarket floor. I thought he should get back in the trolley so I could zoom around the supermarket and get out of what I felt to be an oppressive atmosphere and get back into the daylight as quick as possible. He had other ideas and was ignoring me. Totally. He did downward dog, cobra, some impressive rolling moves, cat pose and a few I have forgotten before returning to downward dog. He finished with Shavasana and a big grin.

Just to be clear I have not done yoga with him as the few times I tried he sat on my head and bounced. Yanked my clothes down shouting milk. Laughed uproariously, ran over me, lay down under me and kicked, jumped on my knees singing Zoom Zoom. Yet with the natural wisdom of children he was engagingly reminding me to seize any opportunity, get creative and try something new.

Although I think I will all the same steer clear of the supermarket aisle in favour of the park or garden for an impromptu Yoga session.

4-Tap into the Original Energy within.

This is an idea that came to me courtesy not of some esoteric traditional teaching per se but in the form of the Terry Pratchett Discworld Series and specifically via the youngest witch Magrat*1 . Faced with a locked door and no magical powers she was stuck. Thinking creatively and inventively and recalling advice from her teachers she placed her hands on the wooden door and invited the door to remember the time it was a tree. It sprang into life and started to grow leaves and branches and failed to remain a locked door. She was able to get in and do what she needed to do and I am inspired to use what I have and follow it back to its Source.   Or in the words of Thich Nhat hanh describing  mindfulness practice ‘ So the practice consists of looking deeply into the ground of consciousness to identify the seeds that are there.’*2 When he looks deeply into the nature of a flower  he sees in addition to the petals and colour of the flower, all the non flower elements that were essential on its path to manifesting as a flower including the rain, soil and sun and the gardener.  I use this idea when I can’t physically get out in nature to open a pathway of connection using whatever objects are to hand.

So bearing these simple principles in mind when in need of grounding I like to:

1-Go Barefoot in Nature 

And cultivate a few flowers of my own.

barefoot seaWe do like our shoes, to protect our feet, to look pretty. We are also generally fans of pavements, and spend a lot of time indoors on carpets and artificial floors. And we mostly live in cities. All of which is far removed from our evolutionary origins.

This separation from the natural world with a fast paced, gadget happy substitute can cause considerable stress to our system. Whereas the background electromagnetic frequency of the Earth generally vibrates at the low frequency of 7.8HZ which corresponds to the Alpha spectrum of human brain waves or the state of consciousness we enter when in deep meditation.  Studies on urban populations have shown measurable benefits with even small amounts of time spent in green places such as parks as it supports us to harmonize our vibration with that of the Earth.

So I invite you to get up, get out and get your shoes off! Even if it is just for a few moments. A relatively short period of time may be enough to slow you down and bring you back into harmony with the earth.

Go for a short walk with intention. Stand for a few minutes in your garden.  Choose your patch of earth and luxuriate in the sensations available to your naked feet. Is the ground rough, smooth, cold, hot, soft, level, bumpy? Savour the different textures and flavours of the ground as you meet with the earth through your feet. Sense the energy and wonder about the history of the ground you are touching. Feel the ground touch you back wondering about you, who you are.  Feel your feet come alive with this connection. Feel this life energy move through you and in you. Feel the grounded potential in you be activated with each conscious step on the earth.  Lie down and bask in the sun, supported by the Earth. Let it soak into your very bones.

This might be a bit chilly in Winter ( though don’t let that stop you) and even in summer.

For those times when this is not practical as a warming alternative I like to:

2-Drink Nettle teaTea-Time

Whilst pregnant with my second I felt I needed a boost and asked inside what could I do? I got a picture of a nettle leaf. To my delight with the help of trusty old Google I discovered that nettle tea was perfect for women and particularly pregnant woman and something of a superfood plant. They are also growing in my deliberately wild garden. (Tip: If you have a garden have a look around and see what you have growing that you can make tea with. the herbs and plants that grow naturally or you have chosen to grow are potent medicine for you.) My eldest is now also a big fan.  As I sip the tea I can taste the earth energy and feel all those nutrients entering my body. I love nettle tea. If you don’t fancy braving the stings or don’t have them in your garden you can buy it readymade pretty much anywhere. If nettle tea is not to your taste try another herbal drink.  Or plain old water. For once again intention and animation are key here. You have an intention to get more grounded. What does your body desire? What do you love to drink? Choose what arises in this moment. Take it outside if you can and stand on the earth. But even if this is not possible drink it with the intent of grounding and savour each sip. Take those moments of slowness to really imbibe the essence of your chosen drink and connect to the energy of the earth that was a part of its creation.

When I can’t get outside with the real trees I like to:

3-Tap my tree.

SONY DSC Travelling in Thailand and getting up early one morning I found the park literally full of people rhythmically tapping each part of their body awake. I was fascinated and tried it out myself despite feeling a bit silly. I have since experienced it as a partner exercise in a couple of different seminars back home too. I also dimly remember dance lessons in primary school where we had to pretend to be a tree…

So here is my take on all that.

With a partner you stand and imagine that you are a tree. Visualise the roots going down into the ground and feel the earth energy rising up your roots and grounding you. Feel that energy rising up your body/trunk and out through your arms and head as the branches. You may sway and flow with the energy. Meanwhile your partner taps with loving intent on your feet. They can then move up your legs and torso, and head and arms and back down to your feet. Finish with your feet. If you have knowledge of EFT tapping points you can include those. Again get creative. Combine this with affirmations, singing, sighing, whatever the practice moves you to do.

Don’t have a partner or your children don’t want to play this game, you can do it alone. Follow the suggested visualisation and do your own tapping.

When despite all these ideas I keep forgetting to ground myself I like to:

4-Invite some Red into my life.???????????????????????????????

Red: The colour of our blood, the life force energy flowing through our veins day and night. A powerful colour, strong bold and courageous. It is also the colour of the base chakra and is a grounding vibration that can support us to be more grounded if we let it. Try:

  • Wearing red, especially if you don’t usually. Perhaps you have some shoes, or a scarf or a t shirt. Have a dig around your wardrobe or your friends! and play.
  • Alternatively get out the paints and colouring pencils and make some colour. Don’t worry about being the next Picasso, who once said of an exhibition of children’s art ‘When I was their age I could draw like Raphael but it has taken me a whole lifetime to learn to draw like them.’ *3 Start from his end point and play like a child with their innocence and wonder. See what comes out of your play and display it proudly. Each time you see your picture you can use this as a signal to take a moment to consciously ground yourself. A moment of awareness is all it takes to get back on track.
  • Notice all the areas of red in your home and garden and as you go about your day. Each time you notice red take a breath in with the intent to ground yourself. You may be surprised just how often you are able to remind yourself to be grounded and how much fun you can have. ( particularly if you have older children and make this a game for them too.)
  • Buy some flowers for your home or a red plant for the garden.
  • Write an affirmation in bold red and pin it up prominently with a red ribbon.

When all else fails and I feel overwhelmed and exhausted I like to:

5-Take a bath

This may seem an odd one to include in a list of grounding activities but bear with me. Yes water is more about fluidity than the solidity of grounding but when you are tired and other grounding activities feel impossibly active then you can slide into a bath and let go into the soothing embrace of warm water. As the warmth penetrates deeply into your tired muscles and you let your tiredness ooze out into the bath water you can switch off from your surroundings and let your awareness wander with the water.  All things have their own consciousness and memory, water is no exception. You can follow the energy of the water right back to its origin in nature as a  pure mountain spring bubbling out of the earth, tinkling music to your ears as it ripples through pebbles. Imagine you are that stream of fluidity and feel the earth that you flow over and through supporting you as you sit in the bath. Invite that earthy grounding energy to permeate the water and then soak into your body which is itself largely water. Let your imagination run as you flow over boulders through forests out into the sea. Feel the energy of the earth that lies under the water that covers much of the planet. Breathe gently and infuse your spirit with this earth magic as you rest in your bath.

So this is my take on getting grounded. How about you? I would love to hear from you.

Choose one of the above activities, have a play and then drop me a line about your experience.

Or Inspire me with your own ideas. How do you get grounded when you feel spacy and floating? 

*1 Terry Pratchett, Wyrd Sisters ( Discworld Novel 6) 1988

*2Thich Nhat hanh, You Are Here: Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment. Shambhala Publications Inc. 2001

*3Twyla Tharp, The Creative habit: Learn it and use it for life. A Practical Guide. Simon and Schuster Paperbacks. 2003 (page 163)