So many times, our modern culture focuses on the fact that cesareans are now a choice and the technology and skills have improved. So many times, birth in the modern world is promoted because we have epidurals and obstetricians and... well, those aspects cannot be denied. However, I want to focus not on what technology didn't exist throughout the history of birth, but what the historical influences on birth were that actually may have improved the outcomes of birth compared to the modern day.
Historical Influences on Birth - Life
You birth how you live. It is kind of that simple. The historical birth would have experienced life in a way that better prepared the body for birth. Nothing more than the daily actions (and non-actions) of living prepare the body to gestate, birth, breastfeeding and experience vitality in the childbearing years and beyond. Now, this also means each culture would have seen their own influences of how they live on birth - most having really great outcomes. Think way back before civilized America. Too many times early America and Europe-before-America is the comparison to health statistics when people were either living in highly crowded unsanitary conditions or highly secluded conditions with mono-diets full of filler foods.
Historical Influences on Birth - Wild Food
Wild food is hardier. Wild food germinates and sprouts in the conditions that support its growth the best. This means they are, typically, growing in optimal conditions being fertilized naturally through forest decomposition and companion plants. It will thrive in those conditions (or stop growing when it is not provided with them or overtaken by larger plants or invasive species). A wild food will most often have more nutrients than its store-bought, farmers-market purchased, and even organically farmed counterparts - especially when the comparison is to a mono-culture of plants. Hunter-gatherer cultures have increased nutrients in their body compared to western cultures, reducing the need for synthetic or whole-foods supplements. Wild foods are highly diverse. One wild fruit tree will never be the same variety as another wild fruit tree grown from the seed. The seeds are designed to carry unique genetic codes to improve the health of the species. We can relate this to what happens when humans mate with other humans who's genetic structure is similar to theirs - many complications physically and neurologically.
Adding wild foods (not seeds planted in rows in the forest - but foods that grow, seed and spread on their own) is one way we can improve modern birth in the way that a historical birth would have benefited.
Historical Influences on Birth - Movement
Movement was crucial for survival at one time. This meant, even when someone didn't want to move - they had to from a very early age or they wouldn't eat or have shelter. They not only had to move to hunt and gather their food, but also to process it. A food processing movement now takes only the push of a button. A food processing movement historically would have taken days of labor to not only create a quality tool to process the food, but then to process the food with that tool by hand. It isn't just the movement that improves the whole healthy of the body, but the significant decrease in processed food due to the movement it took to create a processed food.
The other major movement influence on historical birth was walking and climbing with minimal to no footwear as well as bending and squatting for various needs, such as elimination. This improved whole body alignment, especially in the pelvis area. The soft tissue surrounding the pelvis was significantly more flexible and toned (round ligament and lower back pain would have been experienced to a much less degree). This would have created a significant impact on not only the health and safety of the birth, but also the speed of labor and the birth phase. While many tribal rituals appear to be barbaric to our modern culture, the daily life of the woman prepared her for this physiological task. Wallis tells us in The Micmac Indians of Eastern Canada that, "a normal labor lasted two hours." Each culture, of course would have had their differences just like the modern women that sits more than she moves will often experience a longer more physically demanding labor (or deal with symphysis pubis dysfunction). More whole-body movement prior to childbirth (and pregnancy) typically equates to an easier labor. Whole body movement does not equate to one style or a few styles of exercise; keep this in mind.
Historical Influences on Birth - Reverence for the Circle of Life (Not Fear)
The heartbreaking aspects of life are the most difficult topics for modern cultures. I cannot even begin to pretend that I wholly understand what a family experiences through some of these most difficult times, even through various losses I have experienced myself and with my family. What we do see, however, is that our culture is built on quantity of life and not quality of life. We do see that the more disconnected cultures become in daily life, the more difficult it is to manage the times where our spirit must be supported from many angles. Tribal cultures had a deep reverence for not just human life and death, but the place humans have in connection to the earth - giving thanks for everything that is received and thanks (because of understanding) when desired things are not. The more we fear any of life's experiences, the more we fear birth. The more we search for one thing or many things to save us, the less we rely on our own actions. Making choices doesn't guarantee us anything (hospital, home, midwife, obstetrician, unassisted, herbs, medications, faith) - but it does allow us to be an active participant in this experience and better understand, or trust, outcomes when we have participated in the informed decisions of our life. There can be a lot of healing in accepting that we will never know everything; our beliefs shape our actions and reactions.
Historical Influences on Birth - Birth Normalization
Though many historical cultures used a woman that had experienced many more births and had more knowledge of herbs than the others, most births that weren't unassisted, were attended by the family and friends of a woman who had a natural knowledge of birth and herbs because they were immersed in it from the time they were born themselves. A young child would have fetched water or an extra set of hands to come when labor had arrived and these women were often mistakenly labeled as a "midwife" causing modern readers to relate that name to what they see in a care provider today. Being someone that would have learned from their elders and having been immersed in [mostly] normal birth from when they were a babe is quite different than someone who learns western medicine, surgery and birth on your back from mothers that may be very ill-prepared going into pregnancy. Modern birth is simply not like birth was from a culture that lived a life of survival which naturally developed the body for reproduction. The historical birth attendant (usually the mother or mother-in-law) provided guidance on herbs and foods to use or avoid, and in many cultures offered regular abdominal massage throughout the pregnancy improving fetal position and maternal relaxation. During pregnancy, she held space and provided calm energy. Not much more was needed and in most cases hands and herbs did the trick where it was needed.
We can't address the normalcy of birth views without addressing the awareness historical cultures had on the number of pregnancies they experienced. More babies would have meant a lot more work for survival of the tribe, so it wasn't common to have more than 2-3 kids in many tribal hunter and gatherer cultures. Food sources, and even various stress levels, would have influenced the menstrual cycle and affecting fertility too for when natural food sources would have better supported pregnancy. Additionally, through awareness of their body, physiological breastfeeding, and herbal uses, they would have naturally spaced babies and prevented pregnancy (yes, even more barbaric measures as well) to reduce the number of babies for their culture's needs. Spacing their babies meant more time for the uterus and body to heal between pregnancies and to be in a physiological space best prepared to handle a pregnancy and birth.
just breathe Reflection Journal Prompt - Week 2
Reflect: List 6 practical goals for movement and health:
The Oxytocin Method creates actions that improve the biological function of your body - physically, emotionally and holistically to improve the natural hormone needed for spontaneous labor progression and a happy healthy birth.
While we can choose to utilize historical approaches to birth, we are also blessed to not have to use all their measures as well. The biggest influences are our regular life choices that will affect our perinatal experience. Can you see historical influences on birth that you can adapt to your daily routine which may positively influence your birth?
Prenatal movement is equally necessary for a healthy birth as nutrition. Unfortunately, chiropractic care has been touted as the supreme fix for prenatal discomfort. While chiropractic care can certainly have its benefits and uses for pregnancy, it is often a result of poor movement practices that cause the misalignment in the first place and without fixing these movement practices, the return to chiro appointments will be regular. Here are 5 Must-do Prenatal Movements to add into your daily movement-based lifestyle.
Walking in Pregnancy
Walking in pregnancy is by far the most important prenatal movement that should be a significant part of your lifestyle. An average of 3-10 miles a day of walking (though not at one time) is historically supportive for a healthy life including birth preparation, lower cancer risks than non-movers, and decreased uterine (menstrual) discomfort. Walking moves the pelvis in a way that helps to support baby in a biologically desired position and also helps to provide valuable nutrients to the pelvis and digestive system. Walking any amount more than you already do (if you're not in that average 3-10 miles per day range) is beneficial. Work up to 1-3 miles per day, on average. You would likely also benefit from a visit to a physical therapist (find one that is Nutritious Movement Certified or generally uses natural movements as a basis for therapy) for guidance on gait patterns and proper alignment so that your walking is overall beneficial.
Unless you're walking barefoot in the woods most of the day on all sorts of terrain, your feet and legs can be a little stiff. Furthermore, if you have any rise on the heels of your shoes at all, your calves are shortening and subsequently reaching your pelvis and back causing misalignment which may contribute to longer more intense labor. Calf stretches as a prenatal movement, or any time, help to elongate the muscles, but these have to be done on top of a movement-based lifestyle. Calf stretches can be done any time. Use rolled up towels or yoga mats, or half domes and place them at your sinks, your stove, your tables, your TV - wherever you find some down-time. Be sure to rotate between multiple areas of calf and foot stretches for diversity.
If sitting exceeds any other prenatal movement or non-movement activity of your life by any amount, then your legs, pelvis, and back are reducing in length, tightening, and unable to be as mobile as birth will desire. The pelvis helps connect the top of the body to the bottom of the body through muscles, ligaments, and various tissue. Having a mobile pelvis enables baby more of an ability to move throughout pregnancy, labor, and birth. Have a partner hold your ankle and push to the point of stretching, but not pain. Hold this for 30-60 seconds and then go a little deeper. If you don't have someone available, grab a towel or yoga strap to hold this stretch. Sit on the floor without your legs crossed, alternate legs. You can notice tightness if your pelvis has to tuck in this position or your thighs come off the ground. Work on other stretching and work into sitting in this position without tucking. Scoot your bum up against a wall and lift your feet in the air; hang out and read a good book. While these positions may not be suitable for all stages of pregnancy, there are many ways of incorporating movement into your life for a more mobile pelvis.
Squatting was once a crucial part of our daily gathering lifestyle. We also squatted to eliminate which helped to loosen the tissue surrounding the pelvis. Squatting is a significant birthing position for many women that instinctively choose their own birthing position. The issue is, we don't squat enough and our often sitting-based (rather, lack of movement based) lifestyles don't promote pelvic mobility. Squatting daily as a form of natural prenatal movement whenever you need to get up and down out of bed, off the floor during down time, to get pots and pans...etc., increases the natural mobility of the pelvis allow better movement for baby. Adding in a few extra squatting sessions - not as an exercise, but as a stretch - further helps to counterbalance work needs and lifestyle choices. Be sure to squat with your knees close to vertical and keep a curve in the spine. Grab a partner and have them support you as you pull your pelvis backwards and down into a squatting position just enough to keep your shins vertical and not tuck your pelvis. Keep your toes pointing forward while you do this, too. Hold that for 15-20 seconds at a time. Butt tucking motions are counter productive to a squat. By the way, relax on the kegels a bit... literally. Tightness is one thing that is common in a sitting based lifestyle. We need more movement, stretching, and flexibility.
Sitz Bone Awareness
Any time you're sitting, be up on your sitz bones (and for the sake of knowledge sharing, these are actually your ischial tuberosities, not your sitz bones... but that's the common term that is used so we're going to call them sitz bones here for ease of understanding). You can see the lack of space baby has in the first photo with a tucked pelvis. You can see the mobile sacrum and increased space for baby with the untucked pelvis of the second photo when sitting up on the sitz bones. These are the bony protuberances at the bottom of the pelvis. Being aware of their location will enable you to sit up (right now as you're reading this) any time you find yourself in a sitting position. Remember, though, that sitting shouldn't be a position that happens more than other positions - but you should be aware of how you're sitting when it does happens. No laying back on the couch, slouching at dinner, or bucket seats in the car (add a puff of air to a pool ring to sit on in the car). Even if you're sitting on a birth ball (physical therapy ball), you need to be up on your sitz bones with a curve in your back (but not over arching and sticking your ribs out). Keep your knees below your hips. A nice comfortable position to align the spine and pelvis when needed. Just remember to take change positions throughout the day (every 15 minutes) and take regular movement breaks (15 minutes every hour). If you haven't put two and two together yet, you can see how a "pushing" position of being in any way other then up off your bum and forward leaning or squatting decreases room for the baby as well.
What prenatal movement do you like to add into your movement-based pregnancy?
Move for birth in multiple ways every day. Movement is vital to whole body wellness. Moving for birth strengthens muscles and enables ligaments to flex to create proper alignment (which means better alignment for the baby and a smoother birth).
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Birth Prep Challenge for a happy healthy birth is coming soon!!!
Everyone wants a great birth. We also want birth prep to be easy and straight forward. What everyone might not know are the amazingly simple things you can do to make that happen. Discovering how to navigate the birth industry is important. Realizing how your birth environment and birth team influences your birth is crucial. Learning techniques for comfort and optimal fetal positioning is a wonderful way to enhance our birth experience. However, a great birth doesn't simply mean fun, pain free, or vaginal. A happy birth IS a healthy birth and the definition of a happy healthy birth changes for everyone as long as the whole family's health and happiness is included in that definition.
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Preparing for birth, years ago, happened with daily life. It still does... only you may not be preparing for the type of birth your body was designed for or what you desire. Maybe you're not quite sure if you can change your experience or where to start - and that's what the Esali Birth Prep Challenge is for.
It is said that it takes at least 21 days to create a new habit.
Follow along over the next 10 weeks as we talk about simple habits you can create that take only a small mind shift or a few extra minutes of your day to change your whole body. The habits are key to continued health. We all create habits - some positively influencing us and some negatively influencing us. Creating new habits might not always be easy - so you'll need to incorporate these new routines daily - but it starts with a desire to want to change or try something new. Some only require a change in action without any extra effort, so what are you going to lose?
Are you ready for the Esali Birth Prep Challenge?
Can't wait to get started with you - tomorrow January 17, 2017!
I'm sure you've seen videos of the mommas dancing their way through their labors and births. I'm sure you've found it funny, maybe you even tried it. Maybe you're one of the ones that found amazing benefits, even just for comfort, from moving your pelvis. In fact, most of us that have tried this in pregnancy will continue to do this well after the baby is born because this isn't a pregnancy or woman-only movement. Do you know *why* this is helpful?
Belly dancing was historically done for pregnancy and labor. As with most traditions, it developed into more entertainment and theatric performace and lost its connection to a way of life. Let's talk about that connection a little bit.
Birth supporters and advocates are constantly talking about positioning of the body for a smoother birth. We all know (or should know) that sitting on your bum with you pelvis cocked forward or back lying in labor is 100 kinds of wrong for getting baby out in a healthy and happy way, right? We may even suggest a chiropractic adjustment or massage often to help align things. A physical therapist that specializes in women's health will take these treatments a step further and is definitely worth looking into so you can not just treat the symptom but fix the root problem of your discomfort and misalignment; but I want you to take a step further with your care because how you move regularly is how your pelvis and baby are aligned and appointments aren't going to fix the responsibility you have to take care of your body nutritionally and physically.... AND emotionally.
Belly dancing moves the baby. It moves the baby so that baby can move in the pelvis. What it also does is move the pelvis, ligaments, and muscles - including the uterus. If your uterus is tilted from not moving your body enough, your baby is going to be tilted. If your ligaments (way more than just the round ligaments in the front) are tight, they're going to tilt your cervix and overall cause more pain. If your body isn't hydrated, your myofascia will be brittle and crispy and no amount of chiro care is going to keep you aligned. If you're not moving and stretching and overall taking care of your muscles, ligaments, and bones - your body and baby won't be positioned well for birth. Belly dancing, rather big sensual movements of the pelvis in circles both ways and figure eights and dips and turns and just going with your body massages the ligaments, massages the muscles, moves the pelvis, turns the baby - it does all these things that many adjustments are trying to do, but dancing does it all at once from the inside out!
So take a look at the video above if you haven't already at what your baby might be doing inside that cozy womb while moving your pelvis 5 minutes every 30-60 minutes of the day.
The only thing you have to do is keep moving, and stay well well hydrated so that the myofascia doesn't get brittle. This is crucial. Likewise, if you have a desk job...etc., these movements can be done on a birth ball as well. Of course, this is only one piece of the puzzle and one movement you can add into your daily routine. There are a lot of other techniques you can use for optimal fetal positioning in pregnancy to not only prevent discomfort now and in labor, but also increase your ability for spontaneous birth. There are specifics to your situation that change the way these techniques are approached. You can scour the Spinning Babies website for a few of these tips, and if you're interested in learning more? Join me in a monthly birth class or for mentoring sessions online or locally.