Birth Stories

A birth that needed a doula

Pregnancy Problems

I had my third child when I was 38. Because we had moved I was using a new obstetrician and a new hospital. I didn’t even know what a doula was. But boy do I wish I had had one!

Early in my pregnancy my mother was told the cancer she had undergone surgery for the previous year had spread to her lungs and her liver. It was inoperable, and her condition deteriorated quickly. By September – my baby was due in January – she was unable to leave the house.

I spent my days dropping my children at school and preschool and driving to my parent’s home nearly an hour away, so I could help Dad care for Mum. My 4 year old went from 3 days at preschool to 5, and I had to rely on friends to pick them up if I was running late. A couple of weeks before I was due, Mum was moved to a hospice because Dad could no longer manage her needs.

My second baby had been quite big – 4.4kg – and his shoulders got stuck. So the doctor decided to induce me. I agreed to the prostaglandin gel, but not to any further intervention. Shortly after we arrived at the hospital and the gel had been inserted Dad called to say Mum’s doctor had told him it would not be long and he should come right away. There was nothing I could do but wait for a birth, and a death.


By early evening I was not even in first stage labour and I was frustrated. Signing myself out of the hospital, I went to visit my mother to say goodbye. Since it was my third baby, I could tell labour was not far off, and since Mum was not conscious, I said a brief farewell and went home to wait.

We arrived back at the hospital in the early hours of the following morning. After being admitted I was told if I wanted an epidural I would have to have it now as the anaesthetist was going home. Since my previous births had been very long, I agreed even though I wasn’t ready.

Just as the anaesthetist was finishing my epidural a woman arrived who was in active delivery in her car. Everybody rushed out to help. The emotion of the day had taken its toll and my husband and I dozed off. I woke some time later unable to feel anything at all from the waist down. In the chaos of the emergency arrival, the midwife had forgotten to lower the level on the epidural drip. I begged them to stop the drip and eventually they did, but I felt completely disconnected from my body and what was happening.

Joy and Grief

Hours later I delivered a healthy baby boy. Knowing my Dad and brother were with my Mum, I asked my husband to call them so they could let her know, even though she wasn’t conscious. An hour later she passed.

I was an emotional wreck. My husband had to go home to our two older children, my Dad and brother were making arrangements for my Mum and I was alone in the hospital with a beautiful new baby boy, grief and joy at war.

The nurses were kind, but they were run off their feet. Despite being a well known and respected hospital, they were understaffed. Being a third time mum I was left pretty much to my own devices. Obs were taken, but the nurses were in and out in a flash. And while they were with me their pagers were constantly going off, distracting them. I needed someone to talk to, but there was nobody.

The following day I began spiking a fever that caused me to shake uncontrollably. I couldn’t even hold the baby. Blood was taken, but they couldn’t find the cause. The doctor wouldn’t allow me to go home until I had gone 12 hours without a spike. But I had a funeral to go to.

Finally, at 10:30 the night before my mother’s funeral the doctor gave the OK for me to leave. I had taken a lovely little navy and white suit to bring my baby home in, but it was late at night, raining and unseasonably cold. My husband brought a warmer suit from home. It might sound silly with everything that had happened, but he grabbed a worn out handed down growsuit from the bottom drawer – two sizes too big. I cried. My beautiful baby was going home from the hospital in a faded onesie with the sleeves rolled up and legs dangling empty.
The next morning I was up and out of the house with two children and a brand new baby, attending my mother’s funeral in a fog of confusion, grief and exhaustion.

If only I had a Doula

Having a doula would have made all the difference. Someone would have been awake to alert the midwife that the epidural drip needed to be turned down. Someone would have been there to support me and my husband when Dad rang to tell us mum had passed. Someone would have been there making sure I was not alone in my room in the days following the birth. And someone would have made sure that the warm outfit brought to the hospital for my dear little boy to wear home would fit!

In the days following I would have given just about anything for someone I trusted to take the baby for a walk so I could grieve in solitude, if only for a little while. And maybe take care of a meal or two so I could take some time to help my older children understand the incredible shift in their world. If only I had known about Doulas.

My daughter – the oldest – is now 23, and I hope I will be there to help her when she eventually has her first baby. But even if I am, my gift to her won’t be an expensive pram, or carseat. It will be the gift of a doula. That kind of help is priceless.

Breastfeeding – Hacks That Help and Myths That Don’t

There are always plenty of people around to give you ‘good’ advice on what to do when it comes to your baby – and nothing seems to encourage more helpful advice than breastfeeding! Some advice is genuinely helpful, and some just makes mums more confused and anxious.

Hacks that Help

Here are some clever things that will help make breastfeeding easier to manage – both at home and when you are out and about:

  • Double Up – If you are out and about and know you will want to breast feed, wear a tanktop under your blouse or t-shirt. You can lift the top layer, and lower the bottom one, so neither your chest nor belly is exposed.
  • Nursing Apps – there are a number of nursing apps that you can download that will help you track when, how long and which breast your baby fed from as well as nappy changes. If you are concerned or anxious these can help you relax in the knowledge that you can monitor what you and baby are up to.
  • Mammary Minders – If you are worried you won’t remember which breast you fed baby from last you can actually buy ribbons that clip on your bra strap. But just as easy is putting a hair tie or bracelet on your wrist – even a ring on your finger.
  • Milk Savers – As an alternative to breast pads these fit over the nipple of the breast you are not feeding from and catch any letdown from the breast. This can be stored and used later – waste not want not!
  • Sore Breasts – If your breasts are very sore and engorged put cabbage leaves straight from the fridge in your bra. The enzymes in the leaves will give you some relief. This is also helpful when you are weaning.
  • Let Down – If your breasts are not ‘letting down’ for any reason try a warm washcloth and a massage. This should help get the milk flowing freely.
  • Set Up – When feeding at home, set yourself up with everything you might need before you sit down. A bottle of water, a healthy snack, some relaxing music, a blanket if it is cool. You should be as relaxed and comfortable as possible so you can enjoy the bonding with your baby.
  • Mastitis – is an infection in the breast tissue, and sometimes occurs while breastfeeding. It can be caused by a blocked milk duct or bacteria in the breast. Your breast will feel sore, swollen and hot and you may experience fever and chills. You can treat Mastitis easily at home with a combination of hot showers and wheatbags, to help increase milk flow; massage, to help unblock the duct; and cold packs to combat inflammation. If you have trouble with persistent mastitis, it may be worthwhile investing in a Lactation Massager which uses vibration to help unblock the duct. It is also helpful in improving milk flow, increasing milk supply and helping ensure you breast is fully emptied. I recommend the LaVie Lactation Massager –
  • Making Milk – If you are worried about your milk supply there are some teas and tinctures that can help. You might like to try the More Milk Tincture or the Breastfeeding Bliss tea from
  • Hydrate – Drink plenty of water. Good nutrition is important while breast feeding – both to keep up your energy levels and to ensure you produce sufficient milk to keep baby growing. This is such a huge subject that it will get a blog all of it’s own in coming weeks, which will include recipes for smoothies and lactation cookies, as well as what foods to limit or avoid. In the meantime, keep up the water!

Myths that don’t help

Theories on pregnancy, birth and raising babies are changing all the time. Well-meaning advice from people who had babies many years ago might not be supported by current research. Always fact check with a trained expert, and follow your instincts. Some myths you may hear include:

  • You can’t get pregnant while breastfeeding. Breast feeding is not a contraceptive! When you have first given birth you may not feel like you will ever need contraception again, but you will. Many couples have been taken by surprise thinking that since mum has not yet had a period they are safe from pregnancy. Not so.
  • You won’t have enough milk if you have small breasts. Small breasts do not mean less milk. Most women are able to produce enough milk to feed their baby. If you are having trouble with this your doula, baby health nurse or a lactation specialist can help you.
  • In hot weather your baby will need water from a bottle. Babies do not need extra water in hot weather. Your breast milk will adjust naturally to provide your baby with everything they need.
  • You can’t breastfeed while you are pregnant. You don’t have to stop breast feeding when you are pregnant with your next baby. It is fine to continue, although some babies wean themselves, and some mums find their milk supply is reduced. Still others find it very tiring. Do what feels right for you and your baby.
  • You shouldn’t use dummies. Dummies are not for dummies. You will hear lots of theories about how dummies interfere with breastfeeding. In fact, recent research suggests the use of dummies is associated with a lower risk of sudden infant death syndrome. So allowing your baby to go to sleep with a dummy is not a bad thing at all.
  • Stop breastfeeding when your baby gets teeth. Teeth don’t interfere with breast feeding. Just because your baby has developed teeth, you don’t have to stop breastfeeding. If you and baby are happy to continue, do so. It is very rare for a baby to bite the breast.
  • You can’t breastfeed if you have small/inverted nipples. The size and shape of your nipple will not affect your ability to breastfeed. Even women with inverted nipples can breastfeed with some advice and assistance.
  • Formula is just as good/better than breast milk. Formula is not ‘just the same’ or ‘better’ than breast milk. Breast milk is biologically designed to provide your baby with everything it needs, and changes over time with your baby’s needs. Formula does not contain antibodies, growth factors or digestion enzymes. Nothing is better for your baby than breastmilk.
  • Get your partner to feed with formula at night so you get enough sleep. Breastmilk production has little to do with mum sleeping through the night, so getting your partner to feed baby with formula will not work. In fact, it is likely to reduce your milk supply, which is stimulated by feeding. If you are tired – which is inevitable with a new baby – aim for a nap when baby is sleeping.
  • You must feed from both sides every feed. If your baby has had enough after only one breast you don’t need to worry. It is not important to drink from both breasts at each feed. You can feed from the alternate breast next time!
  • Babies are sometimes allergic to breastmilk. Your baby will not be allergic to your milk. They may, however, be allergic to something you ate. If your baby is showing signs of allergic reaction remove the suspect food from your diet.
  • Breastfeeding is painful. Breastfeeding doesn’t hurt. You will feel a not unpleasant stretching sensation, but if it hurts there will be a reason – like cracked nipples caused by incorrect latching on.


The most important thing to remember in breast feeding is to relax and enjoy it. Listen to your body, and your baby. It’s the most natural thing in the world.
If you have any questions about breast feeding, a doula, baby health nurse or lactation specialist can help. Please feel free to contact me with any questions.

Breastfeeding Basics

Breast feeding can be one of the most beautiful experiences of mothering. It can also be frustrating and confusing. Luckily, there are lots of things you can do that will help make you a pro in no time.

Why Breastfeed

There are a whole host of reasons for both mum and baby that make breast feeding the way to go.

  1. It helps to create that close and loving bond with your baby like no other single thing will do
  2. Breast milk is specially designed by nature to provide your baby with the ideal nutritional balance, and it changes over time with the needs of your growing baby
  3. It is by far the most convenient form of feeding – after all, wherever you go, your breasts go too! No need to carry formula, sterilise bottles, or find somewhere to prepare a bottle.
  4. It helps prevent breast and ovarian cancer
  5. Breast feeding will prolong the time before your periods return, and who wouldn’t love that!
  6. Breast feeding can help you shed that baby weight that all women get when pregnant.

Things You Might Need

All you really need to breast feed are a pair of breasts. However, there are a few things that will help make it more comfortable and enjoyable for you and baby:

  • A comfortable chair with a high back to support your head, and low arms so you can hold your baby comfortably
  • A feeding pillow that will help support the weight of your baby – even though they are tiny they do get heavy after a while
  • Nursing bras. These are generally softer, without wires and have drop-down cups to allow comfortable access to your nipples.
  • Breast pads. These are a bit like nappies for your breasts, and fit inside your bra. They will prevent embarrassing wet spots appearing on your top when you least expect them. All sorts of things can trigger the ‘let down’ response – even someone else’s baby!
  • Breast pump. There will be times when you have to leave your baby, or when you want your partner to do some of the feeding. A breast pump will allow you draw off and store excess milk (in the freezer generally) for just such a time. This is especially useful if you are going back to work. A breast pump can also help you to increase your milk supply if it seems to be a little low.

Getting Started

Whilst breast feeding is a very natural process, some women and babies have trouble getting the hang of it. If you are struggling – persevere. There are plenty of people who can help you. Don’t be afraid to look for advice.

When you first feed baby – ideally within an hour or two of birth – you will produce colostrum, which is designed to provide your new baby with the nutrients and antibodies they need to build their immune systems.

Within a few days you will start to produce milk. Your breasts will start to feel firmer, and you will experience ‘let-down’, a tingling feeling in your breasts. Milk will most likely leak from the breast you are not feeding from. In the early days, this may also cause a cramping feeling in your uterus, which is your body’s way of helping return it to it’s normal size, and should ease within a few days to a week.

What is Latching On?

This is the term for how your baby takes the breast into it’s mouth. It is important for the baby to latch on properly, otherwise they won’t get sufficient milk, and you can end up with sore nipples. Don’t worry, this is generally quite an instinctive process, and any difficulties are usually resolved within a few of feeds.

Baby’s mouth needs to be open wide, with their bottom lip curled down. If the sucking hurts your breast or your baby’s cheeks are sucking in they are not latched on properly. Always bring your baby to your breast, not the other way around.

How Often Should I Breast Feed?

Generally speaking, in the first month a baby should be fed on demand. This might be as often as 10 or 12 times a day. Babies should never go more than 4 hours without a feed – even at night. As your baby grows, they may feed less often. By the way – count the hours between feeds from the beginning of the feed, to the beginning of the next. The length of the feed isn’t too important – some babies are guzzlers and some are grazers.

Your baby will let you know when they have had enough by slowing down or stopping sucking, turning away, or even falling sleep. Don’t worry if they have only drunk from one side – you can start on the other side at the next feed.

Breast milk is much more easily digested than formula, so you might find that breast fed babies feed more often than formula fed ones.

Is baby getting enough?

Some breastfeeding mums worry if their baby is getting enough milk. If your baby is happy, gaining weight and producing around 6 wet nappies a day, they are getting enough.

One last thing…

Don’t be surprised if as soon as you feel you have established a breastfeeding routine, baby changes things up for you. You may find that with sleeping, eating and behaviour, your baby seems to be one step ahead of you.

Try to be flexible, and if you are worried about how your breastfeeding is going, a doula, baby health nurse or lactation specialist can always give you advice and put your mind at rest. And to help with those middle-of-the-night questions, all my clients receive a complimentary copy of the Breastfeeding Video series by Amberley at Maternal Instincts. I would be happy to chat with you about any other concerns or questions you might have.

Tearing – Prevention and Cure

One of the things that most concerns women when thinking about labour – apart from the contractions of course – is ‘tearing’.  This refers to the tearing of the perineum and is unfortunately often part of giving birth. But there are a number of things you can do to avoid, or at least reduce tearing.

What is the perineum?

The perineum is the muscular area between the vagina and the anus.  It supports the posterior (rear) wall of the vagina. During childbirth this area needs to soften and stretch to allow the head and shoulders of the baby to emerge safely.


For many years it was common practice to perform an episiotomy, a cut in the perineum either directly towards the anus, or angled down and away to the side, to help make room for the baby and avoid ‘tearing’.  This is no longer standard practice unless there are real medical reasons as research has proved a natural tear carries less risks and heals better. These days episiotomies are only done if the baby is in distress and needs a quick delivery with forceps or vacuum, the cord is being crushed, or the labour has been very quick and the perineum has not had time to stretch at all.

How to Avoid Both

So how can you prepare your perineum for all the stretching it will have to do and hopefully avoid both tearing and an episiotomy?

Preparation is the key

In the later weeks of your pregnancy – from about 34 weeks on – you can start getting your perineum ready for birth.

Massage – daily massage will help relax and stretch the muscle.  Your doula can show you how this is done. You can use vitamin E oil, coconut oil, or Perineal Massage Oil from Blissful Herbs, which contains calendula, rosehip and lavender.

Balloon – some women find massage difficult, and there are now a couple of devices a bit like a balloon on the market that you can insert and inflate to gently stretch the muscles.  Your doula can let you know where to get these and how to use them.

Exercises – since your perineum is attached to the pelvic floor, the pelvic floor exercises you are probably already doing will help stretch this muscle.  Your doula can recommend additional exercises that will not only relax the tissues of the perineum, but also prepare your body to give birth in an upright position and fully stretch your pelvis.

Protecting your Perineum during Labour

OK – so you’ve done all your exercises and your massage and now you’re in labour.  What can you do to continue to protect your perineum?

Upright Birth – an upright position such as kneeling, squatting, standing or even on hands and knees will help the perineum begin to stretch early in labour by putting the pressure of the weight of the baby on the muscle.

Water Birth – a water birth has been shown to reduce the likelihood of tearing as it not only relaxes the perineal muscle, but relaxes the whole body and reduces anxiety.

Perineal Compress – holding warm damp towels against the area, especially during pushing and when the baby is crowning, not only relaxes the muscle but provides it a little extra support.

Baby’s Position – the optimum birth position for your baby is Occiput Anterior.  This means head down, facing mum’s spine. In this position the head is at the best angle to come through the birth canal and vagina.  If your baby is not in this position it is sometimes possible to ‘spin’ your baby. Your doula or midwife can give you advice on this.

Time – As long as neither you nor your baby are in distress, take your time.  Listen to your body. It will tell you when you need to push. When the baby is crowning – the head is coming out – you will probably feel what we call ‘the ring of fire’.  If you can, don’t rush this stage, as this is when you are most likely to tear. Allow the tissues time to stretch slowly.


If – despite all your best efforts – you ended up with a perineal tear or an episiotomy, there are a few things you need to know that will help reduce discomfort, and speed up healing.

Inflatable ring – as much as possible, try to sit on an inflatable ring to reduce pressure on the area.

Hygiene – keeping the area clean and dry is really important.  It may sting when you you go the toilet. If it does, pour warm water over the area to dilute the urine.  After a bath or shower use a hair dryer on the area, not a towel.

Cold packs – can help to reduce swelling.

Wound care – Blissful Herbs have a Soothing Salve and Post Natal Bliss Healing Bath Herbs that can help support the healing of the perineum and reduce pain.

Your doula can help you with ensuring your perineum is in top shape for delivery and help protect it during birth.  If you would like to talk about anything related to your pregnancy and birth plans or concerns, I would love to chat with you.

Managing Pain in Childbirth

Childbirth is tough. There’s no getting around it. And it is different for everyone. Some women find it centers in their back, others all in their belly. Some women find they can soldier through with few comfort measures, while others find it just about unbearable. Every woman and every labour is different. Fortunately, there are also many different ways you can manage the challenge.

There is an intimate connection between the mind and the body in labour, and it is well documented that if we can relax one, the other will follow. So it is important to consider both physical and mental comfort when thinking about managing your labour. The first and single most important thing is to choose a birthing environment and team that you feel confident and comfortable with. This will set you up with the best possible chance of achieving the birth you want. Remember, you are the one who is labouring, so the choice is yours.

Non-Medical Pain Relief in Labour

Birthing Doulas are trained in the delivery of a wide range of non-medical relief:

Breathing, Meditation, Mindfulness, Afirmations and Relaxation Exercises

Particularly in the early stages of labour, many women find that breathing exercises, meditation and relaxation exercises help. Not only do they give you something to focus on, but they help reduce anxiety, which in turn helps to reduce discomfort. Practice mindfulness and breathing exercises during your pregnancy so that when you are in labour you can use them when you need them. Your doula will have suggestions, or you can find exercises online.

It is also worthwhile to develop some affirmations that you can use during labour. Write them down, and teach them to your support team. You might not ever use them during your labour, but the act of creating them will impart a positive mindset.


The use of essential oils can help in relaxing the mind and creating the sort of environment in which you want to give birth. Young Living and doTerra create lovely oil blends that are ideal for relaxing. Choose scents that appeal to you, but try to aim for something with lavender, clary sage, bergamot, rose, peppermint or lemon, as they promote calm and relaxation.


Being comfortable in the environment in which you are labouring can help keep you calm and relaxed.

Bright, harsh lights can create stress, so consider the lighting in the room. If you are at home you might like to use candles. Battery-operated LED flameless candles are a practical alternative, and more acceptable in most birthing centres and hospitals.

Music can also have a huge effect on the atmosphere in the room. Prior to labour consider what music you might like. Ideally, you should aim for something calming and relaxing. White noise is often a good choice. Waves can also be good as they echo the ebb and flow of contractions.

Hot and Cold Packs

Heat packs are particularly helpful when you are experiencing your labour in your lower back. They can be used on the abdomen, but care should be taken that they are not too hot, and not left on for a prolonged period. A warm compress can also provide relief for the perineum in the early stages of pushing.

Cold packs, or cool damp towels can be comforting on the forehead or back of the neck.

Warm Shower or Bath

A warm shower or bath relaxes the muscles that are working so hard during labour. Buoyancy can help you relax and relieve pressure and discomfort. Allowing a warm shower to fall on your back is particularly good for back pain. Not to mention the overall muscle relaxation of a bath or shower.
A water birth provides you with this comfort throughout your labour, can soften the perineum and provides baby with a peaceful transition from womb to world.


Different positions can provide relief during labour, depending on where you are ‘feeling’ your contractions – what is uncomfortable in one position can be alleviated in another. Generally, the more upright you are able to stay the better. Upright positions work with gravity to help labour progress, and the pressure of the baby’s weight on the birth canal will help you dilate. Leaning forward over the back of a chair or on a beanbag can help, and puts you in a great position for your partner or doula to massage your back.


As with an upright position, moving around if you are able to can help move labour along, and provide some relief, particularly from back pain. Rocking, swaying, walking and dangling often help. Some women even like to dance. Whatever movement helps you is OK.

Massage, Light touch and Effleurage

Some women don’t like to be touched during labour but it can help relax muscles and provide comfort and reassurance. Studies have shown that when we flood the body with pleasurable feelings, painful ones are blocked. This is known as the Gate Control Theory. Massage and Effluerage decreases cortisol (the stress hormone) and increases endorphins, serotonin and dopamine production.

Deep massage through the back and hips can help as the hips expand to allow the baby passage.

Light touch or Effleurage uses gentle strokes without pressure, unlike deeper massage. Stroking down the arms, legs and back can feel lovely, as well as light strokes on the hair and scalp.

TENS Machine

TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. Through small electrodes that are placed on the skin a TENS machine provides small electrical pulses that can relieve muscle tension and stimulate production of endorphins. The beauty of this device is that it is portable, so you can move around, and the electrodes are easily relocated if the pain you are experiencing shifts. TENS can be ideal for women who don’t wish to be touched.


If you have had good results with acupuncture during your pregnancy, you may find it helpful in labour. Some hospitals have staff trained in acupuncture, but in general you will need to engage your own practitioner.

If you are uncomfortable with the idea of needles, Acupressure can work just as well, and has the added benefit that you can do it yourself when you feel you need it. You might also like to try counter pressure. If you are feeling your contractions in your back, having one of your support team press firmly on your sacrum while you are on your hands and knees can help enormously.


When we are near someone we love – like a partner – our body releases oxytocin and endorphins, which are ‘feel good’ hormones. Having your partner close, maintaining eye contact, kissing, and even intimate stimulation can help during labour. Some women find this difficult – especially if there is a cast of thousands in the room – but if you are comfortable with the idea, it will very likely speed up labour and reduce discomfort.

Medical Pain Relief in Labour


Often called laughing gas by dentists, Nitrous Oxide has the benefit of being self administered – so you control when you need it. It doesn’t remove all pain but ‘takes the edge off’. It may cause nausea or disorientation, but doesn’t last long in the body. However, for about 30% of women it doesn’t provide much relief.


Pethidine is related to morphine and is generally injected into the thigh or buttock. Whilst it does provide relief, it can also cause dizziness, nausea and disorientation. It does cross the umbilical cord to the baby, and can reduce respiration and reflexes.


An epidural is delivered via the injection of anaesthetic into the lining of your spinal cord through your back. An epidural probably delivers the most effective relief available in labour. You will still feel a sensation of pressure during a contraction, but not pain, and will remain alert. The downside of an epidural is that you will be unable to get up and move around, which reduces the positive effects of gravity. It may also affect your blood pressure, so you are usually given a fluid drip, and a catheter as sensation in your bladder will be affected.

Always remember…

The most important thing when thinking about pain management in labour is to be kind to yourself. Don’t ever feel you are being weak by asking for relief. You are the only one who knows what your labour feels like, so don’t be afraid to ask for what you want, or to change your mind about going drug free if you feel you need to. The aim here is simply to deliver a healthy happy baby to a healthy happy mum.

If you would like to know more about pain relief in labour, or talk about your pregnancy and birthing plans or concerns, I would love to hear from you.