A guide to pregnancy and childbirth
Nurturing Mother and Baby
Ever present, all pervading
All knowing, eternal, causeless.
Grander than the grandest,
Smaller than the small.
You begin your journey as a speck of intelligence.
Food, images, memories, and desires
Transform you into cells, eyes, ears, and flesh.
Curving back within yourself,
You create again and again.
You are the lover and the beloved,
The seer and the scenery,
The creator and the creation.
Behold this child from the womb of creation.
Through the seed of man,
To the womb of woman,
You return to us again and again,
Ever dancing your cosmic dance.
Your baby’s birth is a magical beginning. You have been the chief participant in a creative process through which a new life has become manifest. The next days, months, and years will be devoted to nurturing your baby so that she can realize the full potential of being human.
Incubating and birthing a baby may be the most amazing and intense experience of your life. Following pregnancy and birth it is common to feel a combination of bliss and exhaustion. Please take the time to consciously slow down and honor yourself, your partner, and your baby. Create the space over the next few weeks to relax, meditate, and sleep as much as you can, allowing your rhythms and those of your newborn to entrain. The more you rest, the more you will be able to enjoy your new baby. To accomplish this, you’ll need to temporarily relinquish your need to keep everything else in life under control, making bonding with your baby and rejuvenating yourself your highest priorities.
Give yourself permission to let go of cleaning and household errands for a while. The first few postpartum weeks go by incredibly fast. Slow down and enjoy each moment. Create a peaceful sanctuary around you and your baby. Take time to close your eyes and breathe. Try not to rush off to the next stage before you fully experience the one you’re in. Surround yourself with relaxing music and soothing aromas. Set up a support system to help with meals, cleaning, and errands so that you can focus your energy on caring for your baby and for yourself. Your body needs time to adjust to the dramatic physiological changes that occur after birth. Honor your body by giving it time to heal.
Strengthening the Bond
Parents and newborn babies are meant to be together. The intimacy between a mother and baby during the nine months inside the womb needs to continue outside the womb through feeding, cuddling, rocking, holding, and carrying. Babies have a primordial need to feel physically connected to their caregivers and seek this intimate bond soon after birth. Fathers and partners can share in this intimacy from the first minutes of life.
In most cultures across time and throughout the world, Baby, Mother, and Father are nurtured and pampered during the immediate postpartum period. The nuclear family is surrounded with protection and support by their extended family and community. Friends and family members bring nutritious meals and perform basic household chores, enabling the new parents to get some rest so they can be emotionally available to bond with their new baby. One of the challenges of modern Western society is overcoming the isolation that our uprooted lifestyle can engender. Well in advance of your baby’s birth make preparations for family and friends to be available to support you during the first few weeks after birth. According to Ayurveda, the first six weeks after giving birth is a critical period for the mother. Taking time to replenish yourself after the powerful expenditure of energy during pregnancy and birth prevents imbalances from setting in that can lead to health concerns later in life.
Immediately After Birth
Think rejuvenation and replenishment after birth. Be sure to drink plenty of fresh juice, water, or herbal tea to hydrate yourself. Listen to your appetite and when it kicks in, begin with easily digestible soups or hot cereals, advancing to more substantial foods as you feel hungrier. Ask your support team to prepare delicious, nutritious, freshly prepared meals when you are ready. Spend a few minutes several times per day gently massaging your belly with warm oil. Almond, sesame, coconut, and jojoba oils are good choices. Take as much rest as possible with your baby and partner. For the first several days at the hospital, birthing center, or home, sleep when your baby sleeps. Stay in your pajamas day and night for the first week. Although you will be tempted to use your baby’s downtime to catch up on things, we encourage you to make getting the rest you need a high priority. Spend a few minutes tape-recording or journaling your impressions about the birth experience while the thoughts and feelings are fresh in your mind. Continue this ritual of documenting the process, which you will thoroughly enjoy reading months and years from now.
The First Few Weeks
After the intensity of the labor and the first few days following birth, you will probably be looking forward to quiet time with your baby. Focus on recovering your energy by staying close to home for the first few weeks. Have someone available to nurture and support you so you can concentrate your attention on your baby. Again, make resting a high priority. Meditate as much as you can. If you are up during the night feeding your newborn, practice your breathing-awareness meditation so your body is resting even if your mind is awake. Cultivate the habit of giving yourself and your baby a daily warm oil massage, focusing extra attention on your belly and head. For the first few weeks, be gentle with your digestive tract. Favor simple, nourishing foods like soups, steamed vegetables, casseroles, and freshly baked breads. Be sure to continue drinking plenty of fluids including fresh juices and warm herbal teas, particularly if you are breastfeeding. Continue paying attention to the sounds, sights, and smells in your environment, choosing to expose you and your baby to sensory impulses that are nourishing while avoiding those that are toxic.
Comfort for Your Perineum
Expect to experience some soreness in your perineum after a vaginal birth. To soothe the tissues that have been traumatized from abrasions, stitches, tears, or bruising, use frozen herbal pads on your perineum to reduce swelling and discomfort. To make the herbal ice packs, steep one or more of the herbs mentioned below for five to ten minutes in hot water. Strain the herbal mix and place it in a container. When it is cool, add a few capfuls of liquid aloe vera. Soak large sanitary pads in the herbal mix, seal the soaked pads in separate plastic bags, and freeze. We recommend that you make these up a few weeks before your due date and store them in your freezer.
There are a number of different herbs that can be effective in relieving perineal discomfort. Try boiling 1 teaspoon of fresh grated ginger (Zingiber officinale) in a pint of water, soaking a sanitary pad in the decoction, sealing it in a plastic bag, and chilling the pad before extracting it from the bag and applying it to the perineal region. German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) has a soothing effect on irritated tissue. Make an infusion using 1 tablespoon of flowers per cup of boiling water. Cool and apply compresses with a clean cotton cloth or pad. Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is derived from a bush that is native to the forests of Atlantic North America. It is commonly helpful in reducing symptoms of minor skin irritations and inflammations. There are a number of commercial witch hazel preparations available through your local pharmacy. You can make up your own by pouring a cup of boiling water over a couple of tablespoons of dried leaves, then straining after ten minutes. Apply soothing compresses after the infusion is cool. Witch hazel is also helpful to relieve swollen hemorrhoids.
Use a squirt bottle filled with warm water and a few drops of Betadine solution to ease discomfort and keep your perineum clean. Squirt the warm water solution over your perineum each time after you urinate. Aloe vera gel can be helpful to relieve perineal soreness. Apply the inner gel from a fresh leaf or prepared aloe vera gel directly to any irritated area. It can help relieve pain and protect the healing area from infection.
After your baby is born, you will have a bloody discharge called lochia, which usually lasts for about six weeks. During the first week the flow will be similar to your menstrual period, and then it should gradually lighten over the next few weeks. Your uterus will take about six to eight weeks to return to its normal size while the site where the placenta was attached heals. Take it easy throughout these first few weeks to help your body heal. Use sanitary napkins rather than tampons during this time.
For one or two days after birth you may experience contractions as your uterus slowly returns to its normal size. Women who have had prior pregnancies may more commonly experience these as their wombs need to work a little harder to get back into shape. These contractions are commonly felt during breastfeeding, because the natural hormone oxytocin that stimulates your milk letdown also helps to contract your uterus. If these sensations become uncomfortably intense, try practicing the following exercise.
As you feel a contraction, close your eyes and take in a long, slow breath. With each exhalation visualize your body relaxing from your head down into your toes. After a few breaths bring your awareness to your belly. Feel your belly rise and fall around your womb. With your next breath allow your awareness to drift inside your womb. Sense your breath flowing through this sacred space inside of you—this place from which your baby has just come. Acknowledge your womb for all its work and wisdom in nourishing and birthing your baby. Honor it now for continuing to work as it returns to its normal size.
There are a couple of herbs that may be helpful in relieving the discomfort of postpartum contractions.
• Raspberry (Rubus idaeus) has a long traditional use in soothing and balancing the female reproductive tract. A tablespoon of the leaves steeped in a cup of hot water can help relieve cramping and soothe the digestive system.
• Valerian root (Valeriana officinalis) has been used since the Middle Ages to relieve discomfort and reduce tension. It has been shown to relieve muscle spasms and can be sedating. Because it may enter into breast milk, it should be used sparingly in breastfeeding moms. It can be added to a hot bath soak to relieve muscle aches.
Hemorrhoids are common after giving birth. These swollen rectal veins can be quite uncomfortable and bothersome. They frequently develop during pregnancy due to the excess weight of the womb on your pelvic floor. The pressure from the intense pushing during labor can often make them worse. Although they usually disappear within a few weeks after birth, they can sometimes persist longer. Do your best to avoid straining during bowel movements, using a gentle stool softener if you are constipated. Be certain to get enough fiber in your diet through plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The following suggestions can also help reduce discomfort and swelling.
• Aloe vera gel can be applied directly to the hemorrhoids to help reduce swelling and soothe discomfort. Use the gel from a freshly cut leaf or a packaged product from your health food store or pharmacy.
• Psyllium seeds (Plantago afra) have been used throughout Asia, Europe, and the Mediterranean since antiquity to support smooth bowel movements. They are very mucilaginous and swell to ten times their size when fluids are available. Metamucil is the most common commercial form of psyllium. It is important to drink plenty of fluids when taking psyllium.
• Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) can be useful in the short-term treatment of hemorrhoids. Licorice has antiinflammatory properties and has been used traditionally to soothe the digestive tract. Taken in excess, it can lead to elevated blood pressure and altered blood electrolytes. A cup of tea made from 1 teaspoon of shredded root per day for a couple of weeks will provide a safe dose.
• Witch hazel pads already packaged or made by soaking gauze pads in a witch hazel solution can provide hemorrhoid comfort. Chill the pads in the refrigerator and apply to your bottom after a bowel movement or as needed for comfort.
• Take a warm sitz bath in which you immerse only your legs, buttocks, hips, and lower abdomen in warm water. The name comes from the German word sitzen meaning “to sit.” A variety of soothing herbs can be added to the bathwater, including calendula (marigold), lavender, rosemary, chamomile, marshmallow, and slippery elm. Aveena oatmeal, available in most pharmacies, can also be added to a bath. Add about 1 cup of herbs to the warm bathwater and soak for fifteen to twenty minutes.
Pelvic Floor Exercises—Kegels
Developed by Dr. Arnold Kegel in the 1940s, these pelvic floor exercises will help you strengthen and regain tone in the muscles of your perineum. They can aid in the recovery of trauma from stitches or tears. At first you may find it hard to hold these muscles for more than a few seconds, but continue performing fifty to one hundred Kegel exercises each day, and over a few weeks you will find that your perineal muscles regain their normal strength. When toned, these muscles help support your internal organs and prevent urine incontinence now and throughout your life. (See Chapter 4, page 122, for instructions on performing Kegels.)
The Emotions of Motherhood
Your emotions may fluctuate widely during the first few weeks after your baby’s birth. One minute you may feel indescribably happy as you look into the eyes of your baby and in the next minute you may feel overwhelmed with sadness. You may find yourself crying and laughing in the same breath without knowing why. Rapid changes in moods are a normal feature of the postpartum period. This emotional turbulence is generated by the many biochemical and hormonal changes that occur in your body after birth. The fatigue that commonly accumulates as a result of your baby’s irregular sleep schedule is an important contributing factor. This typical phase of uncomfortable emotional turbulence commonly known as the “baby blues” usually subsides within ten days to two weeks of birth. The following suggestions can help you settle these emotional waves.
As your mind quiets, your body takes over.
• Get as much rest as possible. Sleep when Baby sleeps or nap when older children nap.
• Meditate daily—you can do this while feeding your baby.
• Don’t skip meals—eat fresh, nourishing foods daily.
• Begin exercising as soon as it is safe. Start with leisurely strolls, gradually increasing your level of activity.
• Accept loving support from your family and friends.
• Communicate your concerns to your spouse or partner, to close friends, and to your health advisor.
• Journal your thoughts and feelings on a daily basis.
Although as many as 80 percent of women have a short bout of the baby blues after delivering their child, postpartum depression is a more serious concern. Affecting about 10 percent of new mothers, it is more severe and intense and may affect the ability to care for a baby. Women with a prior history of depression are more susceptible, but it can affect any woman, regardless of age or number of prior pregnancies.
Postpartum depression may not become obvious until several days or weeks after birth. A woman may find herself overwhelmed with sadness, irritability, and exhaustion to the point that she is unable to perform basic household chores or function productively at work. She may lose the ability to enjoy things that used to bring her pleasure and may be overcome with feelings of anxiety. Sleep and eating patterns are often disrupted. In extreme cases, a woman may have impulses to harm herself or her newborn baby. Her embarrassment over her feelings adds insult to injury and may delay her seeking necessary treatment.
Lack of social support along with an unrealistic need to be a perfect mother increases the risk for postpartum depression. Complications during pregnancy and a premature birth may also be contributing factors.
The most important thing to recognize if you are having intense feelings of sadness is that you need and deserve professional help. If you know someone who is suffering with this condition, strongly encourage her to get the attention she needs. The most loving and caring individuals may find themselves struggling with depression. If you are having this problem, it does not mean that you are a bad person; it does not mean that you do not love your baby; it does not mean that you are being punished for something you did or did not do. It does mean that you have a physiological and biochemical imbalance that needs treatment. For your sake and the sake of your baby, get the support you need to overcome this distressing condition if you find yourself experiencing the following symptoms for longer than two weeks after giving birth to your baby:
• persistent feelings of exhaustion
• increasing feelings of sadness, guilt, or helplessness
• lack of interest in your baby
• inability to care for yourself
• intense feelings of anger with thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
Help with postpartum depression can take the form of counseling and, if appropriate, antidepressant medication. As your spirits begin to lift, good lifestyle practices can help you reawaken your inner pharmacy so you can regain your sense of self and enjoy the experience of mothering your baby.
Your milk is specifically made for your baby. It is far superior to any other fluid that you could use to feed her. Breast milk is a remarkable fluid, infused with the best nutrients for your baby’s well-being. In addition to supplying core nutritional needs of your baby, breast milk has components that provide immune protection against a wide range of illnesses and infections. It enhances the development of healthy bacteria in your baby’s digestive tract and reduces her risk for allergies and asthma as your child develops. Although the digestive enzymes in your baby’s stomach break down some of the substances in breast milk, others provide a level of protection that cannot be replicated by formula.
The first few days after your baby is born, your breasts produce colostrum. This is a yellow-colored, concentrated fluid, rich with infection-fighting antibodies. These antibodies attach to the lining of your baby’s nose, mouth, throat, and stomach, protecting her from various viruses and bacteria. Enzymes to improve digestion, growth factors to support healthy gut bacteria, and proteins that regulate iron are all contained in colostrum. It also has a mild laxative quality, which helps your baby move the first stools of meconium out of her body. By the third or fourth day after birth, your breasts will begin the shift from producing colostrum to producing mature milk. The milk produced during this shift is known as transitional milk. The concentration of immunoglobulins and total protein decreases during this transition while the lactose, fat, and calorie content increases. This transformation takes place over a period of about two weeks.
The composition of mature milk changes throughout each feeding. The milk at the start of a feeding is called foremilk, which is high in volume but low in fat content. The milk toward the end of a feeding is called hindmilk. It is higher in fat content but lower in volume. Breast milk provides high levels of long-chain fatty acids, which are important in healthy brain development, and carnitine, which is important in energy metabolism. Allowing your baby to feed for as long as she likes ensures that she receives both the necessary volume and the fat content for healthy development.
Herbs to Enhance Milk Supply
Although it is generally recognized that infants benefit from being fed breast milk for at least the first year of life, many woman discontinue breastfeeding sooner. A reason commonly cited for stopping breastfeeding is the mother’s concern that she is not producing enough milk to satisfy her baby’s needs. Although scientific validation is mostly lacking, there are a number of herbs traditionally suggested to enhance a mother’s milk production.
• Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is the most commonly recommended milk-boosting herb. It is available in the form of tablets, tinctures, and teas. It does have a documented blood sugar–lowering effect, so be certain to eat regularly throughout the day if you are trying fenugreek. In high doses, fenugreek can give your breast milk (and your baby) the smell of maple syrup.
• Aromatic herbs such as fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), anise (Pimpinella anisum), and cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) each have their proponents as milk-enhancing herbs. Perhaps they add interesting flavors and fragrances to the milk, resulting in more vigorous suckling and enhanced milk production. They also have digestive calming effects, which can be of benefit to both Mother and Baby.
• Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) is an herb traditionally used for rejuvenation that also is reputed to enhance milk supply. It is naturally rich in vitamins A, D, E, and K.
• The Ayurvedic herb Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus) is a cousin to the common asparagus plant. Shatavari has a long-standing reputation as a rejuvenative for women and as a breast milk enhancer, with studies in cattle documenting its milk-augmenting properties. Eat your asparagus and see if your supply increases.
Flowing with Nourishment
According to Ayurveda, breast milk is an upadhatu, or “superior byproduct,” of a woman’s rasa, which can be translated as plasma, sap, or essence. In order for breast milk to be nourishing, a woman’s rasamust be appropriately nourished. The best way to ensure that your “sap” is nourished is to be certain that you are eating a well-rounded balanced diet with appropriate levels of protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Listening to your appetite and following a balanced six-taste diet is the easiest way to confidently receive the nourishment you need from the food you are eating. We also recommend you continue with a high-potency multivitamin/multimineral to provide a nutritional safety net as long as you are breastfeeding. Be sure to drink plenty of fresh water and juices while avoiding nutritionally empty sodas, coffee, and alcohol.
Feeling comfortable with and confident about breastfeeding supports adequate milk production. Taking time to meditate (it’s great to do so while breastfeeding), finding a quiet space, and visualizing your nourishment flowing easily from you to your baby can all help you relax into the experience. Seek guidance from a lactation counselor if you are still concerned that your milk flow is not adequate for your newborn. A little education and practice will most often relieve your concerns, enabling you to enjoy the primordial mammalian experience of nourishing your offspring.
Make feeding time a consciously intimate and loving experience. Whether you are breast- or bottle-feeding, cuddle your baby close to your body with her belly toward your belly while you feed her. Make eye contact and send thoughts of love and appreciation to the new soul that has been entrusted into your care. While feeding your baby, bring your awareness fully into the process by closing your eyes and breathing slowly. Feel your arms around your baby as you embrace her. Notice your belly rising and falling against her body. Feel her molding into you. Sense her head in your arms and be aware of her tiny hands touching you. Experience your love and care flowing through you as you nourish her.
Relieving Breast Fullness or Engorgement
To relieve breast fullness, try more frequent feedings for a time. Vary your breastfeeding positions so all areas of your breasts can be drained. Apply warm compresses before feedings and cold compresses after feedings for comfort or stand in a warm shower several times a day. Gently massage your breast with strokes moving from the periphery to the nipple. Make certain that your bra fits properly and you are not irritating your breast with heavy bags or purses.
If despite the measures above, your breasts remain excessively sore, or you are having a fever, contact your health professional. If an antibiotic is prescribed, be certain that it is safe for use during breastfeeding. Gingerroot, chamomile, or calendula soaks can provide symptomatic relief.
Life Force–Enhancing Exercises for Parents
Caring for your baby provides the opportunity to rediscover the world. Seeing the universe through the eyes of your baby can be a precious reminder that life is magical and miraculous. To recapture the wonder that you experienced as a child, take time each day to tune into the five natural elements in the world—earth, air, fire, water, and space. These life force–enhancing suggestions will nourish your newborn baby and your own inner child.
• Weather permitting, walk barefoot on the earth for at least ten minutes each day. Have your attention on your feet with the intention to absorb nourishment from Mother Earth.
• Walk along natural bodies of water, allowing the cooling, cleansing, coherent influence of water to infuse your being.
• Allow the light and warmth of the sun to permeate you. Acknowledge the energy-giving force of the sun, the source of all life on earth.
• Take a walk where there is abundant vegetation and deeply inhale the breath of plants. The ideal time to receive the life force of plants is at dawn and dusk.
• Gaze into the stars at night. Allow your awareness to fill the heavens and the cosmos to fill your awareness.
• Eat locally grown, fresh, and lovingly prepared fruits, vegetables, and grains, which imbibe the life force of all five elements.
Nurturing Your Baby
A new story begins with the birth of your baby. The nine months of pregnancy during which you cared for your child by caring for yourself set the stage for a magical beginning. As you tenderly care for your baby over the next few months, ensure that the love and support that began in your womb continues to flow. This new life has been entrusted into your protection so that her physical, emotional, and spiritual needs are attended. Pay attention to nourishing all of your baby’s senses. Have sweet sounds, tender touches, interesting and beautiful visual stimuli, nourishing tastes, and soothing aromas available for your baby to enjoy. Along with your love and care, these nurturing sounds, sensations, sights, flavors, and smells will provide your baby with the building blocks for a healthy, enriched, and enchanted life.
Your Baby’s Flow of Consciousness
Research by Boston-based Dr. Peter Wolf, a child psychiatrist, and Dutch psychologist Heinz Prechtl has outlined and elaborated the six different states of consciousness that a newborn baby experiences. Being aware of these states enables you to better understand and respond to your baby’s needs throughout the day. The six states of awareness are quiet alertness, active alertness, drowsiness, quiet sleep, active sleep, and crying.
During her quiet alert state, your baby is responsive and focuses on you when you talk to her. Her body is relaxed and her eyes are alert. Your baby is very receptive in this state, and it is a wonderful time to deepen your bond with your newborn.
During the active alert state, your baby demonstrates rhythmic body movements, which seem to be her way of interacting with you as you communicate with her. She will be interested in looking around at her surroundings while she is in this state, but may not be as interested in making eye contact with you.
Your baby will enter into the drowsy state as she awakens or falls off to sleep. Although her eyes may open and close, she will not be focusing on anything in particular. Her eyelids will begin to sag as she drifts off and you may even see her eyes roll upward while her lids are still partially open. She is in the state between wakefulness and sleep.
During quiet sleep your baby’s face and body will be relaxed with very little movement. Her breathing will be peaceful, although she may sigh periodically.
Active sleep is the baby’s equivalent of REM (rapid eye movements) sleep in adults. Your baby will be asleep but physically active in this state. She may wiggle and move, make silly faces, and have periods of sucking. She may even scoot her body close to you for warmth while staying asleep in this state.
Crying is your baby’s way of letting you know that she needs something. She may need food, warmth, or comfort. You can usually soothe her in this state by feeding her, picking her up, or cuddling with her. Crying is a form of communication for babies. She may be telling you she is uncomfortable or simply wants to know that you are close by. As you lovingly respond to her cries, she will learn to trust that you are listening and caring for her needs.
Babies have many ways of relating to you and the world. They cry, fuss, wiggle, kick, listen, stare, change their expressions, look into your eyes, and smile. They are continually learning how to communicate their needs to you through their movements and sounds. Your baby may seem to be in conversation with you as she learns to converse by watching your facial expressions and imitating them back to you. She continues to dialogue as she learns to move her body in synchronized movements to the inflections in your voice.
There is always a reason when your baby cries. She may want to be fed, cuddled, comforted, or changed. She may be trying to tell you that she needs help falling asleep. Over the first few months you will learn to accurately interpret your baby’s cries and you will become more adept at understanding her unique way of being and communicating.
There are many opportunities to bond with your baby. For some it’s through co-sleeping, in what has become known in the West as the “family bed.” In many cultures throughout the world babies sleep in bed with their parents for their first few months or even years. Bed sharing has been shown to stabilize a baby’s heart rate and reduce crying. It also encourages frequent breastfeedings, and has been suggested to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
There is controversy regarding co-sleeping. Concerns have been raised by the Consumer Products Safety Commission regarding infant deaths every year attributed to accidents as a result of babies sleeping in adult beds. Most often these are due to entrapment of the baby’s head in a bed structure, although suffocation from an adult rolling onto the baby is also reported.
Recent studies have found that more people in America are sharing beds with their babies. The percentage of infants and parents co-sleeping rose from 5.5 percent in 1993 to 12.8 percent in 2000. Babies and mothers that sleep together show synchronization in their movement and breathing patterns. Mothers who sleep with their babies are also more attentive, performing protective behaviors such as kissing, touching, and repositioning their infants five times more than when mothers and babies sleep in separate rooms. If, as an expression of your desire to stay close to your baby you decide to share your bed with her, be certain that you take the necessary precautions to prevent accidental injuries by keeping pillows away from your baby’s face and removing any structures that could possibly entrap her.
Nurturing Your Baby Through Her Senses
Your baby learns about the world through her senses. Just as you pay attention to the nourishing food she receives through her mouth, attend to your baby’s other senses by focusing on nourishing sounds, sensations, sights, and smells. Talk, read, and sing to your baby. Spend time in natural environments where the sounds, sights, and smells of nature can nourish both of you.
Your baby has been listening to the beat of your heart and the sound of your voice for months before her birth. These familiar rhythms and vibrations are reassuring to her. Holding her against your chest where she can hear your heartbeat and sweetly conversing with her will soothe and comfort your baby.
As you talk and interact with your baby, assume that your new child is an intelligent being. You will naturally find yourself using higher pitched tones, because your baby will show greater responsiveness when you do so. Like most people, babies like to be looked at while they are spoken to. Many studies have confirmed that your baby prefers your voice to any other female voice, and prefers her father’s voice to any other male voice.
Exposing your baby to a wide variety of nourishing sounds stimulates neurological development. Listen to different types of music. Sing, read poetry, tell stories. Take regular walks so your baby can enjoy the primordial sounds of nature—birds chirping, water flowing in streams, the wind rustling the leaves of trees. She will soon begin to make sense out of the different sounds, tones, and syllables to which she is exposed.
Many studies have demonstrated the need for infants to receive regular nourishing touch to support healthy emotional and physical development. Keep your baby snuggled up to you as much as possible. She is nurtured by the warmth and closeness of your body. Make your baby’s transition from the womb to the world as effortless and stress free as possible.
The skin is the largest sensory organ in the body, and dozens of studies have shown that babies who are lovingly touched have more stable nervous systems, enhanced immune function, and improved digestive systems. Reports from the University of Miami have demonstrated that premature babies in neonatal intensive care units receiving daily massages put on weight faster and are able to leave the hospital sooner. Massage can help ease colic, stimulate circulation, improve sleep, boost immunity, and enhance bonding and attachment. Massaging your baby on a daily basis is a wonderful way to connect with her.
Massaging Your Baby. Trust yourself in intuiting what is good for your baby. Your loving intention is more important than any particular technique. Explore a variety of strokes as you massage the different parts of her body. Discontinue the massage if your baby gets upset, as newborns may only enjoy short periods initially. Go slowly and enjoy this loving space with your baby. The following steps are guidelines for your baby’s first massage. Improvise to create a massage that flows well for you.
Preparation. Create a safe and comfortable space for your baby’s massage experience. Keep the temperature in the room comfortably warm, for your baby’s body is still learning to regulate its temperature. Uncover only the part of your baby that you are massaging. Use only pure natural edible oil, such as sesame, almond, or sunflower.
Make eye contact with your baby as you begin, making certain that this is a good time for a massage. Throughout the massage continue making eye contact while softly talking or singing to her. Newborn babies often keep their arms and legs folded closely to their body. Avoid pulling on her limbs, allowing your strokes to glide gently over her flexed arms and legs. The most important principle of a successful massage is that both you and your baby enjoy it.
Feet and Legs. It’s often easiest to begin massaging your baby around her feet and legs, which seem to be less sensitive places on her body. Try massaging your baby during a diaper change, while you are getting your baby dressed, or before or after a bath. Use your fingers or whole palm with each stroke.
Begin by uncovering one of your baby’s legs and warming a few drops of oil in your hands. Gently massage the top of your baby’s thigh and hip with circular motions. Stroke up and down her thigh and then around her knee. Perform up-and-down strokes over her lower leg and then move to her foot. Massage her foot on the top from her toes to her ankle, and then around the bottom of her foot. Massage her little ankle and ankle bones, and then her little toes. If her toes curl up, let them stay curled and massage around them.
If she is calm and enjoying the massage, do the other leg. If she becomes fussy, then begin with the other leg the next time. About the time your baby is six to eight weeks old she will begin to enjoy long strokes down her leg from her hip to her foot.
Buttocks. The buttocks are easy to reach during diaper changes and if allowed by your baby, can follow the massage of her legs. Uncover your baby’s buttocks, and with a few drops of warm oil in your hands gently massage your baby’s buttocks using small circular motions, one side at a time. To reach her entire buttocks hold your baby to your chest with one hand and massage her lower buttocks with the other hand using circular motions.
Belly. Massaging your baby’s belly can help soothe colicky discomfort due to congested gas. Expose your baby’s belly, after placing a few drops of oil in your hands. Beginning on the right side of your baby’s tummy, massage in small circular clockwise motions spiraling from her navel outward. Avoid getting oil on her healing umbilical cord. Continue massaging in larger and larger circles until you cover the entire abdominal area.
Chest. With a few drops of warm oil on your hands, place your fingers on your baby’s chest and glide your hand down along the sides of her torso, bringing your hands together over her belly. Gently cover her chest and sternum as you stroke from her clavicle to her belly, repeating several times.
Arms. New babies often keep their arms flexed close to their body. Do not force your baby to extend her upper arms; rather, gently stroke around her bent joints. Apply a few drops of warm oil in a circular motion around her shoulder, back-and-forth motions over the upper arm, circular over the elbow, back-and-forth over the forearm, circular around her wrist, and gently over each finger.
Back. Your baby will begin strengthening the muscles in her back as she learns to hold her head up and exercises her arms and legs. Massage her back while holding your baby upright against your chest or try laying her facedown over your legs or another soft surface. Using a few drops of warm oil, gently glide your fingers or palm with light pressure along your baby’s back from her shoulders down to her buttocks. Repeat this motion several times. Then, starting at the neck, gently make small circular strokes with one or two fingers along each side of the spine down to the lower back. Again, repeat several times from the neck to the sacrum.
Scalp. A gentle scalp massage is comforting and nurturing. It’s best to allow the oil on the head to be absorbed for a little while and then shampooed out. Massage your baby’s scalp using a small amount of oil over her entire head, as if shampooing her hair, being particularly gentle over the fontanels, or soft spots where the skull bones have not yet come together.
Face. Babies are often sensitive about having their faces touched. Check with your baby to make certain that the experience is enjoyable for her. If she doesn’t like it at first, try again in a few weeks. If she seems willing, try starting with your baby’s ears, which generates a relaxing feeling throughout the entire body. Next, move to her forehead, using gentle circular motions, and then continue this around her temples. With one or two fingers gently stroke from the forehead along the outer edges of her face down along her jawline to her chin. Repeat this stroke a few times. Because babies are born with a rooting reflex triggered by stimulation on the cheeks and lips, avoid stroking these areas for the first few weeks.
Once you have finished the massage, spend a few minutes holding your baby close to you before dressing or bathing her. Tender touching is one of the most direct ways we have to demonstrate our love to the people in our lives. Taking the time to massage your baby will ensure a magical beginning to her life.
Infants see best at a distance of about 8 to 10 inches from their eyes and are particularly fascinated by human faces. They tune into various facial expressions and early on begin to imitate them. Most babies are vocalizing by four weeks and smiling responsively by six weeks. They have intense curiosity for their world and a voracious appetite to engage with their environment.
Have colorful, interesting shapes and objects around for your baby to see. She is constantly learning, remembering, and sorting through visual images. Although she will not be able to focus fully for a while, spend time in beautiful, natural settings that nourish all her senses.
Research has shown that your baby is able to recognize your smell within the first couple of days of life. In the brain, smell, memory, and emotion are closely linked. When a smell is initially associated with an experience, the smell alone can later trigger the feelings associated with the original experience. You can use this phenomenon, known as neuro-associative conditioning, to enhance the comfort and well-being of your baby by consciously creating associations between fragrances and comforting experiences. For example, during massage diffuse a soothing aroma, such as lavender, rose, vetiver, or vanilla. Your baby will begin to associate the aroma with a comforting sensation so that in times of discomfort the scent by itself may create a relaxing response.
A SENSE OF HUMOR
Research has shown that laughter may be one of the best medicines. Studies have found that a good belly laugh enhances immune function all day. Make playfulness with your baby a regular part of your daily schedule. By the end of her second month, she will respond to your funny faces and peekaboo games. Remembering to lighten up and not take yourself too seriously is good for both you and your baby.
Nurturing the Nurturer
One of the most important things mothers and father can do to be good parents is to take care of themselves. Once you have established a semblance of rhythm in your new family, ask a close relative or trusted friend to watch your baby for a short while so you can have some time to yourself. Also, make it a priority for you and your spouse or partner to nourish the bond that created your baby. It is not selfish to take care of yourself; rather, it is essential that you maintain your own mind-body balance so you can provide everything your new child needs to flourish physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Enliven Through Your Attention
• Place your hands on your belly a few times throughout the day and send loving thoughts to your unborn baby.
• Journal each day about your experiences.
• Early in your pregnancy, plant a tree or flowering bush to symbolize the growth of your baby in the womb. After your child is born, you can take care of the plant together.
• Read enchanting stories and heartfelt poetry aloud to your baby and listen to beautiful, relaxing music each day.
• Perform a daily oil massage on yourself before you bathe or shower.
• Diffuse an aroma while listening to music, while soaking in a tub, or while meditating to create the association between the fragrance and the relaxed state of awareness.
• Ensure that you have all six tastes available during your meals throughout the day.
• Choose to eat meals that are rich in color, aroma, and texture.
• Be mindful as you eat your meals. Eat at least one meal each week in silence with your full awareness.
• Practice meditation for twenty to thirty minutes twice daily.
• Pay attention to signals of stress that you experience during the day and employ stress-reducing behaviors to minimize the harmful effects of stress on you and your unborn baby.
• Perform yoga postures with awareness on a regular basis, being gentle and respectful of your body.
• Embrace your pregnancy as an opportunity to experience more natural healing approaches to common minor health concerns.
• Whenever an uncomfortable symptom arises, go through a mental checklist to ensure that you are taking time to relax, eating properly, drinking enough fluids, and exercising regularly.
• Develop an open line of communication with your health care provider and have a low threshold for calling about any emotional or physical concern that may arise.
• Commit to improving your conscious communication skills. When you are feeling upset, determine what you really need and ask for the behavior that will fulfill your need.
• Practice the seven steps for emotional clearing when you are experiencing emotional turbulence. Notice how empowering the process can be when you take responsibility for your feelings.
• Whenever you are finding it difficult to communicate with your partner about your feelings, create the opportunity to practice conscious listening.
• Become familiar with the stages and phases of labor and birth. Knowing the map will increase the likelihood that you get to where you want to go.
• Practice your breathing exercises so you can draw upon a wide range of centering techniques during labor.
• Explore with your birthing partner various massage, pressure, and breathing practices so you can build confidence that he will be there for you when you need his assistance.
• Commit to taking it very easy for the first few weeks after birthing your baby. Make bonding with your newborn your highest priority.
• Take care of your perineum and bottom, using sitz baths and herbal packs to reduce swelling and discomfort.
• Use all five senses to connect with your baby and create a nurturing environment for both of you.