Nurturing the Mother – the Sealing Ceremony and Belly Binding
Pregnancy and childbirth is a magical experience. It can also physically and emotionally deconstruct you in a way no other experience can. And once the birth is over, it can seem like all eyes, and care, turn to the baby. A ceremony, much like the ones our ancestors may have held, honours the role you have played in sharing your body and bringing forth new life, and is an important part of helping you restore your balance, allowing you to move into motherhood with grace and ease.
One of the most beautiful ways of doing this is through the Sealing Ceremony and Belly Binding, marking the transition from maiden to mother, a rite of passage which must be marked, honoured, and valued.
What is the Purpose of a Sealing Ceremony?
During childbirth a woman’s body is all about opening up to allow new life to come into the world. This can leave a woman, who has shared her body with her baby for nearly ten months, feeling empty and vulnerable.
A Sealing Ceremony is a way of honouring the role of your body, and returning it fully to your own possession.
The Sealing Ceremony
Whilst a Sealing Ceremony can be done anywhere from about 6 hours after birth, I recommend waiting till around 2-6 weeks postpartum. This ceremony is designed to replenish and nurture both your body and your mind, and celebrate your journey from woman to mother.
First a calming, nurturing space is set up using candles, essential oils and a space cleansing spray to dispel stagnant energy and protect your aura.
You will then sink into a Cleopatra Milk Bath or a Healing Herb Bath. These fragrant baths are full of ayurvedic herbs chosen specially to heal and relax the body.
After the bath you will be massaged with luxurious scented oil, with special attention to your womb space, before being wrapped in cloths. Heated flax lavender packs will be tucked around your body. I then bestow blessings as you are firmly ‘tucked in’ with warm blankets. Now is the time to rest, enveloped in warmth, and to reflect on your journey through pregnancy and into motherhood.
When you are ready your belly will be massaged with warming Ayurvedic oil and you will be encased in either a Bengkung or modern Belly Bind.
Finally, healing postpartum tea or ceremonial cocoa is drunk as we sit together acknowledging your birth experience, and stepping into motherhood feeling heard, strong and supported.
What is Belly Binding?
Belly Binding is an ancient tradition that has been practiced for hundreds of years in many cultures around the world.
During pregnancy your organs move and many of your muscles separate in order to accommodate your growing baby. Binding your belly helps your body heal and recover. Organs are gently encouraged back into their original positions, and stretched muscles are supported as they heal. Your pelvic floor, in particular, comes under a lot of stress during pregnancy, and binding helps support this group of muscles as they return to their normal strength.
Generally, your muscles should be fully healed around two months post-birth. Occasionally, muscles don’t heal as quickly as they should. This is called Diastasis Recti. Using a Bengkung Belly Bind, in combination with some form of physical therapy will help with this condition.
Types of Belly Binding
Traditionally, belly binding has been done using a soft cloth around 14-15 metres long, which is usually brightly coloured. This is wrapped and knotted around the body from the hips to under the breasts.
There are now ‘preconstructed’ belly binds available that are made from traditional fabric, and include the knots, but are fastened with Velcro. These are ideal if you will be putting the belly binding on yourself without assistance, as learning to wrap the traditional bindings can be tricky, not to mention time consuming.
How to Belly Bind
It is important to get the amount of pressure in belly binding right. You are looking for firm but gentle support. If you can’t sit down, or you are having trouble taking normal breaths, the binding is too tight. In fact, it’s a good idea to get advice from me on just how firm it needs to be.
Can I use Belly Binding if I had a C-Section?
Belly binding can be particularly helpful if you’ve had a C-Section, as it will support the muscles around the incision site as they knit back together. However, it is important to wait until the wound is dry and healed before binding, so check with your midwife or obstetrician for clearance first.
When Should I Bind?
After a vaginal delivery you can start wearing a belly bind as soon as you feel ready. Ideally, it should be worn 12 hours a day – you can even sleep in it if you want to – for around 6 weeks, although you can continue to wear it for up to 12 if you wish.
As I mentioned earlier, if you have had a c-section, you should wait until your wound is sufficiently healed before you start binding, but it’s likely to be around 2-4 weeks post-delivery.
Who Performs Sealing & Binding Ceremonies?
Not all Postpartum Doula’s will provide a Sealing and Binding Ceremony, but I believe it is an important ritual to include as part of the Postpartum healing journey.
If you are pregnant and would like to book a Sealing Ceremony and Belly Binding, you would like to gift a ceremony to someone you know, or you would like to talk about how adding a doula to your pregnancy, birth and postpartum support team can help you, I would love to chat. Give me a call on 0422 258 771 or contact me:
The Importance of the Pelvic Floor in Pregnancy
A Guest Article by Mary Bacon
In today’s blog, I want to demonstrate how to effectively strengthen your pelvic floor, and how to relax your pelvic floor muscles.
As a young mum no one educated me on the importance of pelvic strength during pregnancy and post-delivery. I had my first baby at twenty, and second at twenty-two. Two very different pregnancies, but both natural deliveries without any complications.
I found my passion in the fitness industry after my first daughter was born.
I joined a gym and started my journey in fitness, strength, and happiness.
Thirty years later, the passion is still strong.
Over the years as I personally trained women, it became evident that women are not being taught how to activate their pelvic floor muscles correctly. Some women presented with weak muscles, and small percentage with unusually tight muscles. To my surprise most of the women who had super tight pelvic floor muscles were the group fitness instructors or heavy weights lifters. We can understand why there are so many pelvic floor physios nowadays.
The Importance of the Pelvic Floor in Pregnancy
Your pelvic floor muscle is only one part of the core muscles. It covers a good area of the deep part of your pelvis supporting your bladder, baby, organs, and bowels.
During pregnancy this muscle has a lot of load to carry, especially as your baby grows. Knowing how to effectively strengthen it is key, not only to facilitating a smooth birth, but also to avoid future problems like prolapses and incontinence.
Towards the end of the pregnancy all mums need to do some exercises to relax the pelvic floor and prepare for the birth. Alison uses Optimal Maternal Positioning with all her clients to help with this preparation.
Strength and Relaxation
The hormones progesterone and relaxin are high in the first and the third trimester, their function being to help loosen muscles, joints, and ligaments, especially in the pelvic area, in preparation for the growth of your baby and for delivery. But it is also beneficial for the mum to know how to consciously relax her pelvic floor muscle, as this will help move things along during labour and delivery.
There are different methods of strengthening pelvic floor. My favourites are ultrasound machine or a blood pressure cuff as a bio-feedback tool. But of course, how many mums would have access to these? If you do go to a pelvic floor physio, look for one that has an ultrasound machine and can test your pelvic floor.
With an ultrasound machine you get to contract your pelvic floor and visually see on the screen if you are doing too much or too little. I have personally had this done and have been present during many of my pregnant ladies’ ultrasound sessions. They are blown away by how much concentration it takes to contract, control and yet not over activate.
The blood pressure cuff is used as a bio-feedback tool. This can be used at any stage of pregnancy or for lower back rehabilitation. Basically, the mum lays on her back with knees bent. The pressure cuff is pumped to a certain measurement and placed directly under her lower back. Breathing exercises, followed by pelvic floor contraction, are then done to generate a certain pressure reading on the cuff.
This is repeated a number of times, and progressively pelvic floor strength and stability is improved. It is very concentrated effort, and might seem slow and perhaps boring at times, but it’s for a short period of time.
According to Pelvicfirst.org.au, bladder and bowel control problems affect almost 4.8 million Australians, 80% of whom are women. That is the equivalent of the population of Sydney.
Exercise prescription for core work needs to be individually tailored, as some women have a flat back, some lordotic (eg: gymnast curve) and most women have a neutral normal curvature.
Strengthening the Pelvic Floor
Let’s assume everyone has a neutral curve in the lower back.
In this example I will help you do your pelvic floor exercise. Imagine you’re doing it with a blood pressure cuff under your back – except you will use your hand to perform this exercise.
- Lay on your back with both knees bent.
- Place one hand under the small of your back. Generally speaking it’s the area directly under your belly button area.
- Breathe in diaphragmatically. Your diaphragm sits between your ribcage and belly button. (Ensure that your lungs are not expanding, as it’s the diaphragm that should be expanding first).
- As you breathe out, slowly and gently lift your pelvic floor muscles in. Your pelvic floor muscles are like an internal hammock, which attach to the pelvis via ligaments, and extend from in front of your vagina to behind your anal passage, so ensure that you are contracting this area also. It should be a very gentle lift, and not a sharp pull or a strong contraction. This part is the internal lift of your pelvic floor.
- While maintaining the lift of your pelvic floor muscles, you will need to draw the lower portion of your abdomen inwards (or towards the spine). At the same time, gently press your lower back down on the hand under your back.
- This will create pressure in your abdominal wall. Hold that pressure while still breathing normally for 10 seconds and relax for 10 seconds.
- Repeat for 10 times or as many as you can. Movement should be slow and controlled. Build up on it.
There are many other pelvic floor exercises which incorporate other core muscles, but this is the foundation that you build with first as it isolates the muscles. You can then integrate with other muscles later.
Relaxing your Pelvic Floor
In your third trimester, you need to focus more on relaxing the pelvic floor muscle.
This will prepare you for natural birth and needs to be practiced now.
As this muscle is internal, and you can’t very well pick it up and stretch it, it has to come from the brain connecting with this muscle and doing a slow and gentle push. Fortunately, it’s quite easy.
- Find your comfortable position. You can lay on your back with your knees bent, or do a bridge like position on all 4’s. (hands and knees).
- Do your breathing as you would for the above exercise, including a small contraction. Don’t hold it – instead gently push out from the internal section of your vagina. It can help to visualise you are pushing the baby’s head out, or that you are about to poop. (TMI, but I actually pooped during the crowning of my baby’s head. I was very embarrassed, but the nurse made me feel so comfortable I was over it in a sec).
This is the time that you just let it all out and relax. Your mindset should be all around welcoming this baby in the easiest and most natural way possible. The more tension you hold the longer it takes to birth the baby. So, being visual and relaxed will help you manage pain and a give you a better birthing experience.
Mary Bacon is a pregnancy fitness expert, personal trainer and a published author of Pregnant Fit and Fabulous. Her work is endorsed by doctors and PhD’s and is sought after by Olympic medallists such as Jana Pittman, who represented her country at three Olympic Games. Mary also helps mums and couples get fit and healthy before they fall pregnant. Her passion is to help women feel confident, nourish their body and baby, and have a happy and healthy pregnancy. Mary’s reputation in getting mums back in shape after delivery is like no other. She takes a total holistic approach, focusing on recovery, nutritional balance and individual exercise programs.
As a certified life coach, Mary also covers the mental and emotional aspect of pregnancy and postpartum or fourth trimester.
You can follow Mary on FB or Instagram @pregnantfitandfabulous
If you would like more information on how to strengthen your pelvic floor, or you have questions about any other aspect of your changing body, l would love to chat. Give me a call on 0422 258 771 or contact me:
Postpartum Nutrition & Nurturing – Why They’re So Important
One of my favourite responsibilities in my role as a doula is providing nutrition and nurturing to new mamas in the postpartum period. Helping them transition from woman to mother in a way that feeds their soul and strengthens their body. This is what led me to undertake the Milk & Seed Apprenticeship. I consider myself a bit of a food alchemist, for me alchemy is creating from individual ingredients something that, when combined in a certain way, makes something wonderful. Something far superior and energetically valuable.
What is the Postpartum Period?
Before we get into why nurturing and nutrition during this period is so important, let’s be clear about what the postpartum period is.
Most maternal health practitioners, whether they be doctors, midwives, or doulas, consider the postpartum period to be 6-8 weeks post-birth, although some argue it may be as long as 12 weeks.
This is the period of time it takes for most of the major organ systems of the body to largely return to their pre-pregnancy state. This includes the hormones, metabolism, the genitourinary organs, and the circulatory system.
That said, full recovery of a woman’s body can take 6-12 months, particularly the restoration of muscle and connective tissue.
Why Mama’s Need Nurturing and Nutrition
Over the past 100 years or so Western culture has created an expectation that a woman will give birth and go right back to business as usual. But carrying and birthing a baby, then learning to be a mother, is an enormous undertaking. Physically. Mentally. Emotionally. And culturally. As a mama we are now responsible for keeping a life other than our own safe, happy, and thriving until they are able to do so for themselves. That is no small undertaking.
But you cannot pour from an empty cup, so taking care of the mamas, ensuring they have the nutrition and nurturing they need to step into their new role is vitally important.
What is Milk & Seed?
Milk & Seed is all about using food as medicine. Their philosophy takes modern superfoods, combined with ancient, traditional healing foods and practices from around the globe, to help new mothers replenish their vital life force.
Their Apprenticeship taught me how to cook nutritious comfort food for mamas, using ingredients specifically chosen to address their postpartum needs, as well as the practice of healing rituals which have been used for centuries to nurture and restore.
The philosophy at Milk & Seed is simple – when women are well, the world is well.
Why I Did the Milk & Seed Apprenticeship
I am passionate about nurturing and supporting mamas during the postpartum period. Not only to help them become the best mama they can be, but also helping them recover their pre-pregnancy health and vitality.
The knowledge I gained through this course has helped me develop recipes for comforting food that is nutritionally designed to provide mamas with everything they need for:
- healing the body
- balancing the hormones
- increasing the quality and quantity of milk production
- returning energy and strength
Healing and nurturing rituals also provide an antidote to our rushed modern lifestyle, helping women to ease into the joy of motherhood with grace and love.
I want to share with you a wonderfully indulgent recipe I learned at Milk & Seed, which is easy to make, keeps well in the fridge, and provides that comfort we all seek from time to time – chocolate – but in a healthy and nourishing way.
Chocolate Reishi Gheenache*
This decadent yet medicinal chocolate “gheenache” can be eaten with a spoon, used to frost cupcakes, cakes, or spread on toast as a healthier and incredibly nourishing version of Nutella. Any you can make it before baby comes, so it’s ready and waiting for you when you need it.
2 cups ghee
1 cup cacao
½ cup maple syrup (or to taste)
1 tbsp reishi powder (optional)
1 tbsp cordyceps powder (optional)
1 tbsp shatavari powder (optional)
1 tsp cinnamon powder (optional)
½ tsp vanilla powder or 1 tsp vanilla extract (optional)
Gently melt the ghee until it is a golden liquid. Then sift in the cacao and remaining powders (if using) as well as the maple syrup and vanilla extract before mixing well. If there are lumps, you can blend with a stick blender until smooth. Pour into a 16 oz mason jar and refrigerate until set. To use as a frosting, let gheenache come to room temperature after it is set for a spreadable consistency, and let your cake or cupcakes cool before frosting.
This Gheenache is so good everyone in the house will want to try it – so don’t be afraid to double the recipe!
If you feel you, or someone you know, would like the support of an experienced and knowledgeable Doula who is qualified in providing nourishing and replenishing meals during the postpartum period, please give me a call for a chat on 0422 258 771, or contact me:
*Recipe courtesy of Milk & Seed
How to Manage the Baby Blues
People talk a lot about the Baby Blues, and often they are confused with Postnatal Depression. However, they are two very different things. So what are the Baby Blues, why do they occur and how can you not only survive them, but thrive?
What Are the Baby Blues?
The Baby Blues are a naturally occurring phenomenon and happen to around 80% of new mums. Generally they kick in anywhere from 2 to 10 days post birth. The good news is they usually only last a couple of days.
Symptoms to look out for include:
- Tiredness, often accompanied by sleeplessness, no matter how tired you are
- Feeling weepy and crying for little or no reason
- Mood swings and irritability
- Trouble thinking clearly and making simple decisions
- Loss of appetite
Whilst we don’t know why some women suffer from the Baby Blues and others don’t, we do have a pretty good idea of the causes and contributing factors:
- In the days following birth the hormones your body is producing fluctuate wildly, and these hormones control your mood to a large extent
- Following pregnancy and birth your body is often depleted of much needed nutrients, adding to the tiredness you will feel as a consequence of disturbed sleep
- If your birth was difficult, or did not go according to plan, you may be feeling disappointment, guilt or even resentment
- Worry about things other than the baby, like money, jobs and family or relationships
What You Can Do
Typically, the Baby Blues don’t require intervention and will resolve themselves once your hormones settle and you find a routine. However there are a few things you can do to lessen their impact.
- Eat well. Pregnancy will have depleted your body of a range of nutrients and the sooner you replenish them the better you will feel. There are also certain foods which contain nutrients that help balance hormones. These include lean proteins, leafy greens, eggs, avocados, almonds and cashews, flax, pumpkin, and chia seeds. And it’s important to stay hydrated. Particularly if you are breast feeding.
- Sleep. Yes, it sounds simple. But it’s not always so easy with a new baby. If you can, sleep when baby does. Don’t worry about the washing or the dusting – it will all still be there when you feel a little more on top of things.
- Fresh Air and Exercise. If the weather permits, put baby in a sling or a pram and go for a walk. Even if it’s just around the block. You will both benefit from the experience and you’ll feel better having escaped the house. Especially if the washing is piling up.
- Accept Help. Family and friends are almost always willing to help with a preparing a nutritious meal, doing a load of washing, or watching the baby while you get some rest.
- Make some time for yourself. This is particularly useful if you feel yourself missing your ‘old life’ (don’t feel guilty – it’s not unusual to feel this way). Even if you can only carve out 20 minutes to read, watch an episode of your favourite sitcom or disappear down the YouTube rabbit hole, do something you enjoyed pre-baby.
- Find a good Doula. An experienced Doula is trained at helping manage the Baby Blues and can not only provide physical and nutritional support, but a sympathetic and experienced ear for you to confide in.
Finally, cut yourself some slack. Don’t try to live up to some impossible standard of perceived ‘perfection’. Every new mum struggles with aspects of adjusting to parenthood, so don’t be fooled by the Insta-worthy impressions presented by others.
How to Tell if it’s Something More
As I mentioned earlier, the Baby Blues generally last no more than a few days. If you notice any of the following symptoms it may be a sign of something deeper like Postnatal Depression.
- If your low mood doesn’t lift for more than two weeks
- If there is no light and shade in your day – with the Baby Blues you will generally have moments of happiness, even if they are fleeting
- If you begin to experience these feelings more than two weeks after the birth of your baby, at any time in the first year after birth.
Postnatal Depression should be taken seriously, and you should contact your health care provider or community health nurse as soon as possible if you have concerns. You might also like to check out The Gidget Foundation.
If you feel in imminent danger of harming yourself or your baby, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14,
One Last Thing…
It’s not only birthing mums who can suffer from Baby Blues. Partners can also experience a bout of blues after the birth of a new baby, so it’s important to keep an eye on each other.
If you are pregnant of have just given birth and are concerned about how to manage the Baby Blues, I would love to help. Please give me a call on 0422 258 771, or contact me here for a chat:
What is Postnatal Depletion?
Postnatal Depletion refers to the physical and mental deterioration of a woman caused by the process of pregnancy, giving birth, breastfeeding, and caring for her child. Whilst there has been a great deal of discussion on Postnatal Depression, Postnatal Depletion is not as commonly understood. However, according to Dr Oscar Serrallach[i] more than 50% of women suffer postnatal depletion, and it can last up to 7-10 years. Which means, of course, it is highly likely you are still depleted when you have your next baby, further depleting your reserves.
So how do you reduce the risk of Postnatal Depletion, and if you do experience it, what can you do to help recover?
What Causes Postnatal Depletion?
During pregnancy, the mother’s body diverts essential nutrients first to the baby. This can cause a depletion of essential nutrients in the mother’s body. The most significant of these is essential fatty acids, which are required to support brain development in your baby but are also essential to your own wellbeing and brain function.
Other nutrients which are depleted during pregnancy include Vitamins A, B6 + B12, D, E, K, folate, iron, zinc, magnesium, thiamine, selenium, and niacin.
In addition, there are changes to the mother’s brain which rewire it for motherhood, and, according to some doctors, cause it to shrink up to 5%, which is the cause of ‘baby brain’. The continued loss of DHA fatty acids exacerbate this.
Once baby is born, the depletion of essential fatty acids and nutrients continues as these are diverted to producing breast milk for your growing baby.
Although they are two very different conditions, many of the symptoms of Postnatal Depletion are similar to Postnatal Depression. In fact, extreme depletion can lead to, or at the very least exacerbate, postnatal depression.
- Extreme fatigue – tiredness even when you first wake up, falling asleep without meaning to
- Mood swings
- Baby Brain – including poor memory, fogginess, inability to concentrate, and a feeling of being ‘lost’
- Hypervigilance – feeling constantly wired and on alert
- Loss of libido
- Feeling overwhelmed by motherhood
- Reduced immune function – which can lead to poor gut health, increased risk of illness and infections like mastitis
Reducing the Risk
The best way to reduce the risk of postnatal depletion is to be prepared:
If you are planning to become pregnant, make sure you are eating a healthy diet rich in the nutrients we mentioned earlier, and you are getting plenty of rest and exercise. The stronger and healthier you are when you conceive, the better for you and your growing baby.
Again, make sure you are getting the nutrition you need. Be especially careful to ensure you consume sufficient fatty acids. Seafood is high in these nutrients, and since pregnant women need to take care around eating seafood because of concerns about mercury, it is worthwhile looking for additional ways to include them in your diet. Try walnuts, flax seeds, chai seeds and egg yolks. And make sure you get plenty of rest so you are at your best when labour begins. This is also a time to think about how you will be supported once baby is born. Put in place some plans that will ensure you have the help you need.
The two most important factors here are nutrition and rest. Easier said than done when you have a new baby to take care of. But taking care of mum is just as important as taking care of baby. There’s a reason they tell you to fit your own oxygen mask first – you can’t care for others if you are not coping yourself. Don’t feel you need to leap back onto your feet. Many cultures around the world incorporate a full month of care for the mother post-birth. This allows time to recover strength and replenish lost nutrients, and return to health.
How to Recover
Whether you are experiencing Postnatal Depletion or not, taking care of yourself after you have given birth is vital to you returning to full health and being the best version of yourself you can be – which can only be good for your children, your partner, and your friends and family, not to mention yourself.
Here are a few things to help every new mum, particularly those suffering from depletion:
- Look carefully at your diet. It is not always easy to get the micro and macro nutrients we need, especially when you are tired and busy with a new baby, so choose your foods carefully. Enrich your diet with fruits, nuts, raw vegetables, and plenty of hydration. These can easily be eaten while you feed baby. Consider talking to a nutritionist who specialises in postnatal nutrition, or engage a Doula, who will provide you with meals rich in the specific nutrients you need.
- Incorporate gentle exercise in your day – whether it is a walk in the fresh air with baby in the pram, or a yoga class. A little light exercise will improve brain function and help balance hormones
- Rest – it’s hard to get enough sleep when you have a new baby. Think about whether there is a friend or family member who can watch baby for an hour while you nap each day, or split the night feeds with your partner so you can get a good run at sleep. There will be a routine that works for you.
- Call in support. This is the time when a woman needs the most support she can get, see if you have friends or family who can help once your partner goes back to work, or consider a Postpartum Doula, who will not only provide nutritional foods, but can help with caring for baby, light housework, advice on breastfeeding and sleep routines, but also with giving you space to get some rest yourself.
If you feel you may be experiencing postnatal depletion, or you are pregnant and would like to take steps to ensure you don’t experience it, I would love to help you. I have a Certificate in Botanical Medicine for Motherhood, which addresses Postnatal Depletion, and can provide a range of nutritional meals as well as physical and emotional support. Please give me a call on 0422 258 771, or contact me:
[i] Dr Oscar Serrallach – The Postnatal Depletion Cure: A Complete Guide to Rebuilding Your Health and Reclaiming Your Energy for Mothers of Newborns, Toddlers and Young Children