Category Archives: Birthwork

February Used Birth Book Giveaway

Click here to enter the giveaway!

I’ve discovered minimalism and it’s changing my life in the most amazing ways! I’m paring down my library and am offering giveaways during the next few months. Books will be gently used and will center around pregnancy, birth, the postpartum, and parenting. This month I’m giving away:


This giveaway runs until 2/25/14 @ midnight. Please share with any doulas, midwives, libraries, birth centers, clinics, birthworkers, or pregnant women who might be interested! Visit the giveaway here.


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9 Ways to Relax a Baby with Infant Massage


After a stint of NO day naps due to teething, my kiddo now gets massaged every day after her morning bath… and we’re rewarded with a nice long afternoon nap. WOOHOO!


Infant massage has numerous benefits, a major one being relaxation for your baby. Research shows that infant massage reduces stress and lowers cortisol levels and improves sleep patterns and can help babies sleep more deeply (and awake well-rested). Many parents ask me to teach them specifically to help with their child’s sleep habits (or non-sleep habits, I should say!) Every baby, including my own, goes through different day & night sleep/awake phases as they grow, develop, and hit new milestones. Some parents sleep-train while others find that baby-led routines work best for them. Infant massage classes can help new parents no matter what style of parenting they choose- parents leave class with a better understanding of infant behavioral states and learn hands-on techniques for relaxation.

Here are some tips to help make the infant massage experience more relaxing and enjoyable for both you and your baby. Try them out and see if they work for you and your family!


  • Use a natural, plant-based oil

We know that using an oil during massage can cuts down on friction and thus makes massage smoother and more flowing, as opposed to jarring. Studies have found that, as compared with infants who received massage without oil, infants who received massage with oil were less active, showed fewer stress behaviors and head averting, and their saliva cortisol levels decreased more.(1) Check out my article at Our Mom Spot to read more about choosing the right oil.


  • Focus the massage on one body part at a time

If you don’t have much time but want to get a massage in (something that occurs in my life quite often), you may want to save time and massage two areas at the same time, as in both arms or both legs simultaneously. One great thing about attending a class and learning all of the techniques properly is that once you’re comfortable with them at home you can adjust the routine as needed. Instead of massaging two areas at once, try spending less time on each area, or only doing certain techniques. Rushing and massaging baby too much at one time could be counterproductive to the relaxing experience you’re hoping to create.


  • Only one parent massages at a time

Having more than one person massage at a time may be overstimulating for the baby. It’s tempting to, for example, have mom massage the left leg followed by dad massaging baby’s right leg, but another option is to have one parent massage in the morning, and the other in the evening (or any other system that you find works for you).


  • Set the mood

This isn’t always possible to do, but it may be worth a try if relaxation or deeper, more restful sleep for your baby is a goal. Think about the type of environment you enjoy when getting a massage- maybe a warm temperature, dim lighting, and soft music, and set a relaxing mood before beginning a massage.


  • Relax yourself before beginning the massage

In class, we always do a relaxation exercise before beginning massage. This is a great habit to get into as your baby can sense your stress and become stressed himself. And consider this: studies have shown that when mothers and babies make eye contact, their hearts beat in sync! Imagine the effect that your actual touch can have on your infant’s systems.


  • Find a comfortable position for both you and baby before beginning

Your baby (though sometimes not at first) may enjoy being massaged for 15 minutes or longer, so it’s important that you are in a comfortable position to start with. Try propping yourself up with a pillow or two to keep your bottom and lower back comfortable, and keep some water next to you.


  • Follow your baby’s cues and don’t force the massage

Infant massage is all about reading your infant’s cues and meeting your baby’s needs. If your child at any point is giving you “no” signs, like fussing, crying, arching the back, or a clue that is unique to your baby, stop the massage and give your baby what she needs. You can always try again later!


  • Use enough pressure to be gentle but effective

Using a pressure that is too light may tickle your baby. Always use your best judgement when applying pressure, be extra gentle around joints and knees, and stay below the ribs during tummy massage.


  • Use “Resting Hands” before each massage

Resting hands is a technique taught in class that is to be used before each part of the massage begins. For example, if you are about to massage your baby’s left leg, heavily rest your hands on top of the leg before going into your strokes. This way, your baby has a moment to understand that that particular body part is going to be massaged. Using Resting Hands will help to not overstimulate or startle your baby. Touch Relaxation is another technique learned in class which over time may help to “wire” your baby for relaxation at your touch.


Infant massage is science and evidence-based, but it’s also an art. Don’t stress over perfecting the techniques- enjoy the one-on-one quality time with your baby! They’re only so little for such a short period of time.


I. Field, T., Schanberg, S., Davalos, M., & Malphurs, J. (1996). Massage with oil has more positive effects on normal infants. Pre and Perinatal Psychology Journal, 11, 75-80.

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Natural Oils are Best for Infant Massage ~ on OurMomSpot

Just a few benefits of infant massage!

Just a few benefits of infant massage!


I had a wonderful opportunity to be a featured guest writer on OurMomSpot. It’s a really unique site dedicated to parents and has lots of great forums to participate in (my personal favorites are Parenting Talk and Homestead Talk!) The article is entitled Natural Oils are Best for Infant Massage and includes some things to look for and consider when choosing a massage medium, as well as a short video by Linda Storm of Infant Massage USA, who explains the basics of baby massage.

Working with new families is absolutely one of the most rewarding things I get to do, and teaching infant massage is a deeply meaningful experience for me- I get to watch parents fall in love with their babies… for some it’s for the very first time and for others, well, they fall in love with their child all over again! New parents often become more comfortable in handling their infant through massage, and learn to communicate with their babies and recognize/respond to their cues. There are countless physical and emotional benefits for both infants and the adults who massage them, and watching parents strengthen their confidence while bonding with their little ones is priceless.

During my training with Infant Massage USA, I witnessed live breastfeeding for the very first time, which completely rocked me to the core in the most positively powerful way. I also experienced parents coming to classes gushing with excitement about changes they saw and felt in their babies’ health, sleep patterns, and behavior. I hoped that after my initial training, I would keep the joy that I felt during my time spent with my learning group, and I have. Infant massage is that amazing.

Read Natural Oils are Best for Infant Massage on OurMomSpot and watch the video, choose an oil that’s right for you, and enjoy some special time with your baby today!


Also check out:

Infant Massage: A Handbook for Loving Parents

Find an Infant Massage USA instructor near you here!

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Resources for the Postpartum Period

My doula partner and I put out a newsletter each month for our small pregnancy, birth, and postpartum support business. This month, we focused on the early postpartum period, and all of the physical and emotional recovery and changes that take place.  We’ve included some really amazing resources from:

concerning postpartum topics like

  • meal planning and recipes
  • visitors in the first week
  • why it’s so important to rest, relax, and bond with baby
  • tips for a less stressful, more restorative postpartum from moms who have been there
  • the physical and emotional realities of the first few days and weeks
  • how to be a great partner during the postpartum

This month’s newsletter is a a great resource for expecting parents and new families, as well as doulas and birthworkers ~ you are welcome to share!

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I Support Infant Feeding


I find the I Support You movement to be the best thing to happen to the parenting community in a long time. There is a sometimes unspoken, sometimes loud war against both breastfeeding and formula feeding mothers, and division, resentment, guilt, judgement, and cruelty exist on both sides.

Author Suzanne Barston sums up the I Support You message perfectly:

…We also feel that the best way to support breastfeeding is to ensure that every woman feels empowered and equipped to feed her baby in the best way possible. That may not always mean breastfeeding; this doesn’t mean that we are ignoring the science, but rather performing our own risk/benefit assessment and making a highly personalized decision. This may not be your choice, and it may not be the best choice on paper, but parenting is not a standardized test. It’s more like an open-ended essay question.

By listening to each other’s stories, as long-winded, convoluted, and complex as they so often are, we can start fresh. This can wash away the negativity, judgment and defensiveness, so that we can more adequately address the real reasons women are not meeting breastfeeding recommendations. And we can do all of this without ruining a mother’s sense of self or well-being. I think that’s a pretty clear win-win.

I love how many women have come forward in the past couple of weeks to share their stories of the infant feeding choices they have made, and watching friendships form over social media due to their incredible honesty and open minds. This movement is about support in its purest form- compassionate, non-judgemental, understanding- support. Motherhood and parenting are not competitive activities, but it seems it’s easy to make them so.

It is vitally important to remember that infant feeding choices may encompass a myriad factors besides the type of food an infant receives. When we explore a mother’s choice of infant feeding method, we may be delving deep into her history, ideologies, and life circumstances:

  • How does she feel about her body?
  • How does she feel about her breasts?
  • About sex and her sexuality?
  • About mothering and parenting?
  • How was she parented?
  • How was she mothered?
  • What type of dynamics are at play in her significant relationship?
  • Does she have to go back to work? When?
  • Finances.
  • How supportive is her partner/parents/siblings/employer/family/friends/care provider/nursing staff?
  • Does she have reliable transportation? Safe housing?
  • How does she feel about touch?
  • How does she react to stress, sadness, anxiety, anger?
  • What feeding method is “normal” to her? What feels right to her?
  • What is her living situation like? Who else lives with her?
  • Are there language barriers existing between support people and the mother/family?
  • Did/does she have support prenatally and during the postpartum?
  • What was her birth experience like? Did she feel it was safe and satisfying?
  • Is her culture/religion/community supportive of her choices?
  • Does she have access to positive emotional and physical support during her pregnancy and postpartum?
  • Did/does she have access to resources and education so that she is armed with the information she needs to make informed decisions for herself and her family?
  • How did/does she feel about pregnancy?
  • Did she have access to lactation consultants or IBCLCs before and after birth?
  • Was/is her health care providers and staff properly educated and trained, compassionate, patient, available when needed and affordable?

When it comes to infant feeding, a woman’s choice may have everything, nothing, or something to do with the handful of possible factors listed above (or countless others). Either way, it is important to remember that there are 1,000 ways to be a “good” mother, and the choice to breast or formula feed is one that does not tip the scales negatively.

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The Doula Code (featuring Bruce Lee)

This 15 point doula code is not a complete list nor is it written in any order of importance. I personally need to do everything listed equally in order to maintain sanity, sleep at night, and provide the best care possible. And of course there are plenty of Bruce Lee quotes… the man knew how to articulate, what can I say?


namaste, bruce

Namaste, Bruce!


1. Commit to our clients’ experiences as a whole.

What IS is more important than what should be.

When we commit to our clients, we are making a commitment to forever be a part of that family’s birth story. This is a huge responsibility, and not one that should be taken lightly. When we make this commitment, we are not committing to a birth outcome, but instead are committed to supporting our clients’ choices throughout her pregnancy and birth. By trusting birth and trusting our families to make the right decisions for them in that moment, we are not only supporting, but empowering.


2. Trust our instincts.

Don’t think, feel… it is like a finger pointing away to the moon. 
Don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory!

Birth is a primal, raw event, and for me, birthwork does not involve nearly as much thinking as one might think (pun intended?). When I arrive at my client’s home or hospital (we have no free-standing birth centers in NJ…yet!), my brain shuts off and I live completely in the present, my actions and reactions coming mostly from my instincts.

Our instincts are key when choosing families to work with- Yes: though our clients will most likely come to us seeking care, we have the right to decide with whom we want to work, just as families will decide if we are the right doula for them. For me, birthwork is a two-way street, and if my spidey senses signal me that a family would be best served by another doula, I do not hesitate to refer them. Trusting my instincts has also gifted me with families who could maybe needed extra help overcoming financial barriers to care- we need to always trust our instincts to help us find families who are going to be wonderful matches for us and our unique doula-ing.


3. Be honest.

Doula work is not easy, and sometimes it takes a thick skin to come out of a birth in one piece. Birthwork is a delicate dance, and often we are faced with dilemnas of when to speak and when to stay quiet. Every situation is so wildly unique that there is no quick-fix or one-size-fits-all approach that is appropriate- it is during these times that we need to trust our instincts, take a beat, and reflect on what is best for our client in that moment. Always be honest and choose your words and silence with great care and consideration.


4. We will never know everything, and that’s okay.

This is a big one. There is an endless amount to be learned about pregnancy, women’s health, mental health, birth, labor, the postpartum, newborn care, infancy… It is easy for doulas to feel overwhelmed or unprepared, and this is a shame because we simply can’t know everything there is to know. First of all, the research is always being updated. Science isn’t static- it’s ever-evolving, and we should be as well.

If we don’t have an answer, that’s okay. It’s important to be honest with our clients and to let them know that we are not sure but will find out for them. This is a wonderful opportunity to spend time after our meeting doing quality research and learning more about a particular subject. As doulas we are not expected to know everything, but we are expected to be life-long students.


5. Create a doula practice that best reflects YOU.

Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.

There is a doula in this world for every woman, and every doula has their own preferences and tendencies. There is no “right way” to doula, and it is important that we stay true to ourselves.

We do not have to be a “certain way” to “attract” clients. We don’t have to jump on any sort of bandwagon or promote any particular movement- as we grow more comfortable in our roles as doulas, we will naturally fall into “styles” and methods that are authentic for us. We are the right doula for many families, and by being genuine, we will connect with them organically.


Screen shot 2013-07-18 at 3.22.51 PM


6. Keep your promises.

Obviously, things happen that are out of our control, but it is hugely important to keep our promises. We need to call when we say we will call, send that followup email, research that statistic. Be true to your word, always.


7. Allow yourself to be moved.

Birth is the real deal. Supporting a woman and her family during labor and through their rite of passage is one of the most intense things we will ever do. It’s natural and normal to have strong feelings during and after the birth, which is why it is so important we find others with which we can safely process our experiences.

If I don’t cry during the actual birth, I always cry afterwards. Normally, about 2 hours after the birth when everyone is settled and in love, I slip away, leaving the family to bond. I usually break down as I’m passing the nurses’ station, into a fit of tears and emotions. I’ve probably freaked out many in the elevator down to the lobby, while I laugh/cry and fall apart into a million beautiful pieces.

Birth is a sweet mix of chaos and peace- it is every paradox, every mixed emotion, every star in the sky, every atom of every every being… it is pure insanity and a single moment where everything that ever was makes total sense. So be kind to yourself, and have a good cry! if you need one- You deserve it.


8. Empty our cups: Leave our baggage and ego at the door.

Empty your cup so that it may be filled; become devoid to gain totality.

The births we support have nothing to do with us. As doulas, we exist to serve- for me, that means to inform and support, period. With healthy boundaries in place, it is our duty to leave our past experiences, biases, and personal opinions at the door. It is so vital that we do not let our past color the experiences of the families we are so privileged to support.


9. Respect birth in all its forms.

This goes hand-in-hand with #8. Despite our personal preferences regarding our own births, it is vital that birth is respected in all of its forms. Birth can be unmedicated and medicated. It can be vaginal and Cesarean. Birth can be soft or hard, long or short. Rarely is it black or white… instead, birth prefers to reside in the gray, gooey center. It’s not about the outcome, but about treating our families with dignity and respect during their journey to parenthood.



 10. Be water.

I’ll let Bruce explain this one:

Be like water making its way through the cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.

Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless, like water.

If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash.

Be water, my friend.


11. Be compassionate and culturally sensitive.

This should be a given, but I cannot stress its importance enough. Part of what makes doula work so invigorating is the exposure we gain to different cultures, traditions, and dynamics. Being a doula is very humbling, and as we move throughout our work, we find that not everyone is like us. People look different, act differently, speak differently. Every family and woman we serve is unique and comes with their own diverse histories. Embrace the new, even if it is outside of your comfort zone. We learn from every family we work with.


12. Do no harm.

Yes, I think the system is broken. Maternity care and health care in general is broken. In order to make a difference, we need to continue to work from the inside, within the system, facing perhaps those institutions and individuals which we personally would rather not deal with. We never know who will be impacted by the kindness and compassion we give to our families- we never how wide our ripple effect will spread.

As doulas, we should always do no harm. This is in regards to the families we work with and all involved in our clients’ labor and birth. As in all professions, there are always a few bad apples to spoil the bunch, and in my opinion, I must always be professional and respectful as to not harm the reputation of myself and the other doulas in my community. By serving all involved with respect and compassion, we will do no harm.


13. Be a team player.

Doulas are a huge part of any family’s birth team! We work with care providers, partners, family members and all those in a position of support to help our families have safe and satisfying birth experiences. Everyone involved in a woman’s labor and birth plays an integral role in her birth story. We can learn from every midwife, OB, nurse, doula, family, and educator in some way.


14. Listen.

Asking thoughtful questions and assisting our clients in doing the same is a huge part of being a doula. Equally, if not more valuable, is listening to the answers. Active listening leads to a better understanding of the challenges and strengths of the families we serve, and it is only through this listening that we can give the very best care.


15. Be a BE-la, not a DO-la.

It’s not how much you have learned, but how much you have absorbed from what you have learned. It is not how much fixed knowledge you can accumulate, but what you can apply livingly that counts. 
‘Being’ is more valued than ‘doing.’

Our greatest tools as a doula are our eyes, our hands, and our heart. Sometimes we will be more hands-on, and other times, most times, we will “hold the space.”

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Primal Newborn: The Magical Hour

Touch is the ultimate positive communication. The sensitive mother’s hands, fingers, and arms are warm, calm, and receptive, her whole body conveying that her infant is endearing, desirable, adorable, precious.  With loving, tender touch more or less a constant, her infant feels loved, lovable, and accepted.
Sharon Heller, PhD ~ The Vital Touch

The first hour of a baby’s life is known as The Magical Hour. During this hour, your baby will go through 9 distinct stages when she is placed upon Mom’s chest directly after birth- 9 stages that we all, as infants, are primally wired to experience.

When infants and mothers experience skin to skin right after birth, bonding occurs naturally. Back in the day, we thought that babies had to immediately be placed in warming beds after birth, but now we know that mothers have thermal synchrony with their infants! This means that when a baby is placed on your chest, your breasts will change temperature, and warm your baby by up to 2 degrees Celsius, or cool her by 1 degree, depending on what she needs in that moment. Our bodies know just what is right for ourselves and our new baby, and immediate skin to skin and touch has lasting benefits for all involved.

In The Primal Connection, Mark Sisson explains that
Newborns who have abundant contact with their caregivers, particularly the mother, each day tend to be calmer and less fussy. The tend to sleep better and fall into a regulated schedule more easily than those who receive less touch. They gain weight and grow more. On the other hand, babies who experience touch deprivation show markedly suppressed levels of growth hormone, oxytocin and vasopressin (another bonding-related hormone), and higher levels of cortisol (the primary neurochemical associated with stress).

Once your baby is Earthbound, he will experience the the following 9 stages- all which can occur if he is simply placed upon Mom’s belly or chest (depending on the length of the umbilical cord!) right after birth:

1. Cry
Your baby will shout her birth cry as her lungs fully expand. If the baby was born vaginally, her lungs will have been ‘squeezed’ while being pressed through the birth canal, and most fluid will be “coughed” out immediately after her upper half is born.

While in utero, your baby did not have to use her lungs, because oxygen was passed through the placenta and umbilical cord. Now that she is out in the world, she will use her lungs for the very first time ~ one of many exciting “firsts” you will have the honor of experiencing with her.

2. Relaxation
After he cries, your baby will fall into a state of deep relaxation. Eye and body movements will be minimal, and he can relax on your bare chest, warmed by your thermosynthesis and a blanket over him. Warm, safe and secure, there is no better place to relax than right on his mother. The birth cry and relaxation stages all occur within the first few minutes of life.

3. Awakening
Your baby may begin to awaken from her relaxation stage. She might begin to move her shoulders, head, mouth, eyes, arms and legs.

4. Activity
Around 8 minutes after birth, your baby will begin to make more pronounced movements and may begin to make sucking motions and other early feeding cues, such as displaying her Rooting Reflex. You may notice her focusing her eyes- she may be able to see as far as 7-12 inches!

5. Crawling
This is, to me, one of the most amazing things that we do as human beings in an entire lifetime. Your baby comes equipped with an incredible primal reflex called the Walking or Stepping Reflex, and will literally crawl from your stomach or chest, to your breasts. Yes, really. Not only can your newborn baby crawl/step from your stomach to your chest, but in the process also massages your uterus, which may help to expel the placenta and reduce uterine bleeding. (Klaus and Kennel, 2001). The stage is also known as The Breast Crawl. Interestingly, the Stepping Reflex disappears at approximately 6 weeks after birth.

6. Rest
Your baby may rest for long or short periods during this first hour.

7. Familiarization
Once the baby crawls to the breasts, she will begin to explore. Using her hands and mouth she will begin to touch and massage the breast. Just as cats do, the baby will “make biscuits” in her own way. Her sense of smell is highly developed; most babies respond to scents as early as 7 months gestation! (Schaal, Orgeur, Rognon 1995). She’ll use this incredible sense to find her way around your breast.

Amniotic fluid may also have a role in helping infants locate the mother’s nipple (Porter & Winberg, 1999; Varendi et al., 1994). There is considerable overlap in the odors contained in amniotic fluid and the secretion of odors surrounding the nipple and areola and newborn infants will crawl on the mother’s belly to reach her nipple…
A Sense of Smell Institute White Paper, Review: Olfaction in the Human Infant

8. Suckling
After she has found the nipple through touch, smell and taste, your baby can self-latch and begin to feed herself!

9. Sleep
Labor is hard work, and your baby will be tired after his spiral dance down into your life. The sleep stage is a wonderful opportunity for Mom, baby and Mom’s support team to get some rest.
From research by Jack Newman, MD, FRCPC and the International Breastfeeding Centre, immediate skin to skin for the first hour of life has incredible benefits for your baby:

  • baby is more likely to latch and latch on well
  • maintains body temperature normal better than an incubator
  • is less likely to cry
  • will indicate to Mom when ready to feed
  • is more likely to breastfeed exclusively and breastfeed longer
  • has higher blood sugar
  • maintains her normal heart rate, blood pressure and respiratory rate

We also know that consistency and quality of touch as an infant can affect the child’s social and emotional development later in life:

There is a clear relation between a lack of touching in infancy and childhood and the awkwardness and roughness in “play” that characterizes such individuals in childhood and in later life- individuals who are unable to establish contact without colliding.  – Ashley Montagu, Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin

Especially if your parenting practices reflect the same values of infant massage, your child will be more likely to respond to others with empathy and warmth, to respond to social problems with compassion and altruism, and to experience life as a joyful adventure in which he has the opportunity to love and be loved- to help others and extend himself in genuine service to humanity.  -Vimala McClure, Infant Massage: A Handbook for Loving Parents

Skin to skin does not have to end after The Magical Hour- Kangaroo Care is an amazing way to bond and encourage your infant’s intuition and trust in you. It’s also a great way for dads and partners to relax and bond with baby, too! Infants want to feel your warmth, hear your heartbeat and inhale your smell; there’s no safer or more comfortable place to be than snug against their parent’s chest, not only right after birth but throughout infancy.

Infant Massage: A Handbook for Loving Parents, Vimala McClure
The Primal Connection, Mark Sisson
Boba Family
Breast Crawl
Sense of Smell Institute
The Vital Touch: How Intimate Contact with Your Baby Leads to Happier, Healthier Development, Sharon Heller, PhD
International Breastfeeding Centre
Jack Newman, MD, FRCPC
The Magical Hour
Touching; The Human Significance of the Skin, Ashley Montagu
From Birth to Breast
Midwifery Today


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