We often focus on the dark side of the influence continuum on the podcast. This time we are discussing preparing how to do ethical parenting with Julie Hartman, a Certified Birth Doula, Certified Lactation Counselor, and New Parent Educator. She supports families in the perinatal period through support groups and teaching classes on living with a newborn. Most importantly, she is the mom of three adult children and can connect with the people she works with through shared experiences.
We discuss what a doula and lactation counselor is, as many people are unaware. Julie tells us a birth doula is often confused with a midwife, but they are different. Whereas the role of a midwife requires formal medical training, birth doulas support the family before, during, and after birth. They assist the family in empowering and speaking up for themselves so that they can advocate for their needs in the birthing process. Birth Doulas also help educate families on the decisions that could need to be made during a hospital birth so there are no surprises and families can think those options through before they are in the heat of the moment. Julie shares her expertise in ethical, positive parenting techniques.
The Role of the Birth Doula
Julie tells us that most doulas are women, though male doulas exist, and while it’s rare to have one, it is an option. Julie talks about the language used within the doula profession, including birthing partner and birthing persons, rather than father and mother. She discusses the role of the doula, which includes supporting the birthing partner in supporting the birthing person. Additionally, if the birthing partner needs a break, the doula can step in to be the primary support person during that time.
We talk about the birthing process and the role of oxytocin, which floods a person’s body when interacting with someone they love by making them feel safe and secure. Sex and general touching can also flood a person’s body with the hormone. Most doulas will recommend skin-to-skin contact with the baby right after birth to promote the production of oxytocin, which in turn promotes the production of prolactin, the milk-making hormone necessary for breastfeeding.
Trusting the Doula Not to Bulldoze
Julie informs us about meeting the family prenatally to establish a connection, as it’s an intimate process to be involved with birth. Because of this, trust in the birth doula is paramount. It is essential for the birth doula not to come into the process and “bulldoze the situation” coming between the birthing person and their partner. It is about support, so a high social IQ is essential. They need to know when to intervene and when to step back. Julie talks about sometimes using hand signals rather than verbalizing communication to interact, as voices can distract the birthing person, and the goal is to keep them in the flow of what they are doing.
Although nurses also play a role in the birthing process, they are often in and out of the room and going off shift during the birth, so doulas can be that consistent support that hospital personnel sometimes cannot.
Birth Doula Certification
We talked about the certification required to become a doula. Julie was certified through a training program called DONA, or Doulas of North America, and has been a practicing doula for almost 20 years. She tells us how helpful it is to be known in her community as a doula because she knows and has worked with most of the birth professionals in her area. She tells us about the birth ball, a fantastic tool to use during labor. The gravity inherent in being upright helps the baby’s head to get in the correct position in the birth canal. Often, hospitals will have items like birthing balls and other props, but women don’t know to ask for them, so part of Julie’s job is educating women on those options.
The synergy of Beer and Milk
We talk about everyday problems in the perinatal period that people must know about. Julie discusses staying away from alcohol and smoking but educates us on the cultural use of alcohol to promote milk production. She tells us in Ireland, post-natal women sometimes drink a beer a day (usually a dark one with malt) to promote milk production.
We discuss breathwork as part of the birthing process. We also address the inherent fear of the unknown that occurs with the birthing process. Unfortunately, the media often portrays birth as a painful and challenging process. Julie discusses educating people on the process to alleviate some of that fear and help them understand what will happen and their options. She tells us that medical language can be terrifying, so she aims to lessen the fear by using colloquial terms for things. An example of this is the medical term “rupturing of membranes,” commonly understood by most people as water breaking. Birthing persons need to know what is happening and understand it is not as scary as the medical language sometimes makes it sound.
Julie talks about procedures that may need to be done when complications occur in the birthing process. Many things are not as urgent as they seem. Sometimes they are and are rightfully treated as such. Still, there are situations where time can afford the family a moment to breathe and to grieve, for example, the need for a C-section over a vaginal birth, which the birthing person may have been working toward throughout laboring.
She discusses the importance of educating women prenatally on the anatomy of birth, so they can understand the role of pain and why it’s happening. She tells us there is a difference between pain and suffering; the latter is to be avoided because it isn’t necessary within the birthing process. It is different for every person. Some things can be done to reduce suffering, but every woman has a threshold that needs to be respected regarding pain moving into suffering.
I share the story of a friend who I assisted with her birth by educating her on self-hypnosis techniques and then was present per her request at the birth, helping her manage the pain. I realize now there were other things I could have added to that process regarding how I spoke with her about her pain that would have been helpful. Still, the hypnosis helped her blood pressure stay in the lower range during a long labor.
Expecting the Unexpected
Julie tells us about expectations of a baby’s appearance at the moment of birth, which are often very different from reality. She helps people understand how the child will present, and there may be things such as a pointy head, which is normal, as well as blood and other fluids on the baby. She prepares her clients for this.
Once the prenatal period and birth are over, the new parents take the baby home, and people often forget that support is just as necessary during this time as before. Through her company Nest Assured with Julie, she teaches parents how to manage a zero to three-month-old. She talks about the importance of bonding with the baby and how that can be accomplished, including the role of matrescence, which means the season of life in which one becomes a mother. Julie discusses how this encompasses the process of motherhood, from hormonal changes to learning how to be a mother. She tells us not everyone feels like a mother right away when the child is placed in their arms for the first time. New mothers do best when they are reassured that this is a normal response for many.
We discuss how a baby adapts to the environment around them outside the womb, that inside it, there is a lot of noise, so a sound machine can be helpful with soothing a newborn because they are used to it. Babies are also soothed by movement, which is why they tend to quiet when rocked back and forth. Repeated rhythmic sound and movement are what they are used to in utero. We discuss the power of voice with newborns. It is now recognized that newborns are familiar from month five in utero with the voice of their parents. Therefore, it can be very soothing for them to hear it via reading, talking to them, and letting them know we are on our way when they cry if they cannot see us from their bassinet.
She talks about how the first three months of a baby’s life are critical in developing a secure attachment style. Those attachments develop through our response to children in those critical months, including not allowing for excessive crying before we respond to them and using soothing and kind voices/words.
Julie explains to us how this attachment helps in the process of breastfeeding as well because mother and baby are already interacting and familiar with one another when mothers are talking to their babies. Julie reminds us that breastfeeding is best, but a parent can or wants to feed her child is appropriate. She talks with us about the benefits of breastfeeding on a child’s immune system, which are many. We discuss the process of breastfeeding via the breast and pumping and the differences in those choices.
We also discuss how babies sleep and what can be helpful to ensure they can do so in the best and most healthily possible.
The Educated Parent
Education around prenatal, birth, and life with a child for parents is vital to understanding how to promote a child’s best possible start in life. What we do in those critical first few months of life can change everything for better or worse throughout a child’s lifespan, so gathering as much knowledge as possible is one of the best ways to promote the security necessary for a child to thrive.