There is nothing quite as exciting as experiencing those first few consistent contractions. You wake up your spouse, you call your doula, you call your parents and the in-laws because you are so excited and ready for this baby!
It’s GO time!
… or is it?
Did you know many hospitals and birth centers don’t want the laboring mother to arrive unless she is in active labor.[i] To put a number on that, usually they want you to be at least 4 centimeters dilated with an active contraction pattern. But how will you know if you are in active labor or not?
If you are still feeling excited and giddy about being in labor, you are probably not in active labor.[ii]
One common rule of thumb is 4-1-1 or 5-1-1, each birth location has different preferences. This means your ACTIVE labor contractions should be coming every 4 to 5 minutes apart, the contractions should last for a minute, and this should be consistent for over an hour.[iii] Following this suggestion is a great way to avoid arriving to the hospital too early in labor.
EARLY LABOR may look like this…
So what should you do during this time? I have 3 suggestions: eat, drink, sleep!!! Seriously! Fuel your body and rest up so you have the energy to push a baby out![iv]
So now that you know what early labor looks like, how will you know when your body is in active labor? Often times there is a noticeable shift. Perhaps you have been resting and you bolt up because THAT contraction felt different! (It probably still isn’t time to go to the hospital, because remember that was just 1 contraction, we are looking for an hours worth of contractions that have that noticeable difference.) Or maybe you have been able to talk with others or at least pay attention to their conversations, but now you have to close your eyes and tune out the noise around you. Whatever it is there is a noticeable shift in your presence.
Some clear signs of ACTIVE LABOR are…
Early labor is commonly the longest part of your labor, so take the time to enjoy these last few moments while your baby is still nestled warmly in your womb. Once you enter active labor, find your rhythm; don’t become fearful when things intensify. Instead, calm your mind, quiet your birth space and take each contraction one at a time!
Some great ways to help you prepare for an AMAZING birth is to take a comprehensive birth class and hire a doula! After taking a class, you will feel more knowledgeable about the labor and birth process and you will feel confident in the decisions you make because you will be educated on the benefits and negatives. Hiring a doula will take the pressure off of you to remember everything. She will provide physical comfort, and she can remind you of ways to cope in early and active labor.
If you are looking for a comprehensive birth class in Winchester, Virginia, please click here to find out when the next class series starts.
If you are looking to hire a doula to help with your AMAZING birth, please click here.
[i] Under normal circumstances women are encouraged to arrive in active labor, but this is not always the rule. Please speak with your care provider to know exactly what they would like you to do.
[ii] At least for first time moms, many second time moms can sometimes hold that excitement until they are further along in labor.
[iii] 4-1-1/5-1-1 is a very normal representation of active contraction patterns, but there can be variations to this rule. I have seen women who have this contraction pattern but are in prodromal labor – that’s a discussion for another day. I have also seen women whose contractions never came closer than 7 minutes apart and yet she was in transition. The key is listening to your body.
[iv] Even if you are planning on having an epidural, please eat, sleep and rest because your body is working very hard even if you cannot feel it. You want to have the strength to push when the time comes.
There is so much joy and excitement expressed to expectant parents, but often we forget that siblings are expecting too.
Maybe we offer the common ‘aren’t you excited to have a little brother or sister?’ and leave it at that. But there are so many more ways to help your children prepare for a new sibling.
1. Take time to explain the happy news!
Some children (like my daughters) will cry happy tears and be thrilled, some may remain neutral on the subject, and still others may be disappointed and in denial. Validate how they feel and listen to them. Let them know that love grows! Explain that you won’t have to split your love between the baby and them, but that your heart will grow and expand to make room to love more and so will their heart. Give them time to process it.
2. Bring your kiddos to your prenatal appointments.
Ask your care provider to include them in whatever way possible. Maybe they can hold the doppler while listening to the baby’s heartbeat. Maybe they can help measure your belly. Ask the doctor to show your child the position in which your baby is laying.
3. Have your child pack a birth bag
There are two different kinds of bags: the homebirth bag and the hospital birth bag. For the mommy planning on birthing in a hospital, talk with your child about the arrangement you made for them… maybe its grandma’s house or their best friends house. Help them prepare a bag to pack. Explain that birth is spontaneous and can happen at any time, even in the middle of the night, so you may have to wake them up. Put something special in their bag, an unexpected gift, like a new book, a lego set, a movie, something to help entertain them as they await the chance to meet their sibling. For the homebirth bag, if your child is going to someone elses house, you can do the same as the hospital birth bag. If they plan to stay and attend your birth, perhaps then your could add some special snacks, print some coloring pages, and give them a disposable camera to document things from their perspective.
4. Let your children attend the birth
Making it a family affair will leave lasting memories. If you plan to have your children present at birth it is important to talk about what they can expect. Talk about the noises you might make… that some of them may sound like you are in pain, but you are just using a lot of power! Talk to them about the contractions, how they come in waves, and that during those waves you might need everyone to be quiet. Give them some ways to be helpful: getting you water in between contractions, getting daddy snacks and water, bringing a cold wash cloth to mommy’s head, singing to mommy and the baby in your belly, cutting the cord once baby is born, maybe they can announce the gender to everyone! ***If your children attend the birth, having someone on call to watch and care for their needs would be highly beneficial. And always have a backup plan in case they no longer wish to be there. You may want to check hospital policies before considering this decision.
5. Go with your child to buy a gift for the new baby
We all find joy in giving… I think kids enjoy it even more. Let them pick something out for their new baby brother or sister. If it is a book, help them write a note to their new sibling. Talk about the day their new sibling is born is the day you will celebrate the new baby’s birthday! You could even have a “0” birthday cake (cupcakes would probably be easier) with a candle and let the older children sing happy birthday to the new baby and blow out the candles.
6. Talk about postpartum.
This is an important conversation you can’t afford NOT to have. Your children need to know that mommy will be sore after having a baby. They need to know your care provider’s orders will be that you rest for a long time, that you can’t hold anything heavier then the baby for a few weeks. Talk about how the baby will probably want to be around mommy more than anyone else, and that mommy’s milk is important to helping baby grow strong and healthy. Explain and practice ways to snuggle with your child and let them know how important those snuggles are to you – no more running and jumping onto mommy, no more elbows and knees climbing all over your body. Tell them about all the ways they could be a big helper to you: getting you a cup of water, getting you baby’s diapers and wipes.
7. Take a Sibling’s Birth Class
Shenandoah Births is so thrilled to be hosting Birth Boot Camp For Siblings! This class is so AMAZING! Without going in to graphic details, instructors share in a child friendly, easy to understand way, the process of labor and birth. Kids get to see visual demonstrations, videos, and hand on activities that help them find their place in your growing family. Siblings want to prepare for an AMAZING birth also and this class is the way to do it!
Tell us how you prepared your kiddos for a new sibling! Comment below!
To schedule a private siblings class with Shenandoah Births, click here.
If you do not live in Winchester, Virginia and would like to find an Instructor near you, please click here.
Or perhaps you would like to buy the Birth Boot Camp Siblings Guide Book, please click here to be directed to your purchase. (This book is included in the live Siblings class)
Let’s pretend you just read the positive sign on your pregnancy test!
Now the questions begin…
… and the list goes on!
Did you know there is an early pregnancy class? A class that can help you navigate many of these questions? A class that will help you create community. A teacher who can direct you to incredible local birth resources such as: midwives, obstetricians, chiropractors, mommy groups, doula's, and much, much more.
Birth Boot Camp has created an Early Pregnancy Class to assist new moms in making educated decisions from the beginning of their pregnancy. Preparing for an AMAZING pregnancy from the start gives you the opportunity to find the best care providers, connect with your local birth community, maximize your health and wellness, and replace any fears with excitement.
How do you take this class? Shenandoah Births hosts Birth Boot Camp Early Pregnancy Classes. Find out here when the next class is being hosted or contact Shenandoah Births to schedule a private class. You can take this class as early as the day you get a positive pregnancy test until about 20 weeks, after which I would encourage you to take a class to prepare for birth.
Are you unable to attend a live class? That’s ok! You can purchase your copy of the Early Pregnancy Class Guide. And if you ever have any questions, please know that it is our pleasure to help answer them!
If you do not live in Winchester or the surrounding areas, click here to find a class near you!
When is the best time to take a childbirth class?
It’s surprisingly sooner than you might think!
The best time to begin taking a childbirth class is around 25 weeks gestation. Most comprehensive childbirth classes last around 10+ weeks.
You really want to complete the class by the time you are term (37-38 weeks gestation). While many women will go past 40 weeks gestation, a few of you will delivery a little sooner and it is better to be prepared!
Birth Boot Camp has created an AMAZING, modern, comprehensive childbirth curriculum and Shenandoah Births is thrilled to bring these classes to Winchester! This 10 week series will fly by as you have fun and create community with other expectant couples! Click here to learn more about the Birth Boot Camp curriculum.
Don’t have 10 weeks to spare? Is your due date rapidly approaching? Don’t fret just yet… Birth Boot Camp offers online classes! The entire 10 weeks series is available for you to watch from the comfort of your home during the time slot you can devote to it! And if you have any questions throughout the online series – our Birth Boot Camp Instructor, Jillian, will be there to assist you along the way! Click here to find out more about online classes.
If you would like to take a live class, but don’t live within in the Shenandoah Valley, click here to connect with a Birth Boot Camp Instructor near you!
Precursor: (1) I am not the type of person to get a tattoo on a whim. (2) I am not to type of person to spend money on a tattoo - I have 4 kids and I just feel my money is better spent elsewhere.
A week and a half ago I received the call that my grandfather had passed away. I was actually in the middle of Birth Boot Camp Doula training. I knew this was coming, but I didn't expect it so soon. So, when the doula training ended, I hopped in my car and made my way to be with my extended family. We grieved together: lots of weeping, lots of hugs, lots of holding hands. But we also celebrated my grandfather, we honored his life, we found joy in the memories - we have AWESOME memories!
My brother, who lives in Italy, flew in to be with us. He had the grand idea to go get a tattoo... he wanted to get swallows to signify the miles he has traveled at sea (Navy thing). My dad also had a special tattoo he wanted to get. Then they turned and looked at me.... next thing I knew I was getting a tattoo.
Well, not exactly the next thing... there was a lot of thought about putting a permanent fixture on my body. I had to check in the the husband, see what he thought about it. For people who know me well, they know there is a very special verse tattooed on my heart (my spirit heart, not my physical body)... they know I have a journal page that sits on my dresser (see the picture below), that same picture is the wallpaper on my phone (and has been for years), they know the first thing you see when you enter my house is a giant script on my wall with this verse. So choosing what my tattoo would be was simple; I have wanted this tattoo for a while.
I didn't have any tattoos up to this point. I had virgin skin! The biggest thing going through my mind was "Is it going to HURT?" "How PAINFUL was this going to be?" "What if I CAN'T take it?" (How many first-time moms say these exact same phrases when they prepare for their birth!) But, I had the TATTOO DOULA with me, my Dad!
My Dad is pretty legendary! He served 30 years in the United States Navy. He was a Deep Sea Diver - he has some pretty awesome sea stories! He has 13 tattoos; 2 he had removed before we moved to the Middle East (and not with a laser, with a scalpel) and he had one covered with a whole new tattoo (the old tat was scary). Tattoos were pretty commonplace in my home as a child. The tattoo my dad got during our family session is below.
He knows how it feels to get a tattoo. He knew what to expect. He has processed all the thoughts that I was having, many times over. He knew what the recovery would be like. He may have a rough and tough exterior, but he is a doula at heart. Just like I am a birth doula - I have been there, done that, got the t-shirt, maybe even the hoodie! I have compassion for women who birth, I understand what they are feeling. My dad had compassion for me.
My dad sat next to me and held my hand. He gave me words of reassurance. He informed me of the process. He helped me find confidence and security. He helped me remain calm. All the things a doula does. He helped the fear disappear which made room for excitement.
I must add that my sweet cousins and brother were also sitting in the background (not allowed to be close), giving me words of encouragement. My Cousin Jess kept saying things that helped distract me from the pain. She was one of my unofficial doulas during my third birth; she did hip squeezes and helped me find comfort. She was getting a tattoo as well, but she was experienced, having previously gotten a tattoo. Her description of the pain was SPOT ON!
So, I did it! I got a tattoo! The pain wasn't bad, but I was blessed to have the TATTOO DOULA by my side. My tattoo is below; 4 arrows representative of my 4 daughters. It reminds me that I am charged to raise the very best children I can. What good is an arrow if it is not straight? What good is it if it is not sharp? I am not a perfect mother, but this is a reminder to do my very best. My girls are blessings from the Lord and my quiver is full of them!
Huge shout out to Charlie Forsyth from Amulet in Saint Petersburg, Florida. I seriously wouldn't consider stepping into most tattoo parlors, but this place was more of a studio; super clean, incredible classy - probably the only one of its kind around. Charlie was so incredibly helpful and accommodating to our family. He did a wonderful job making me feel at ease, especially considering I had never gotten a tattoo before. He was attentive and gave us great professional advice, and his designs were beautiful! I also loved that they had an ALL NATURAL tattoo ointment!!! You can find Charlie on Instagram by clicking here.
One year ago, on July 2, 2015, I attended my first birth. I had never been in the room of another birthing women, aside from myself. It was one of the most miraculous moments of my life! And the exciting thing is, I have relived that moment 16 times over this past year.
In June of 2015 I trained to become a birth doula. Over the course of four days, I connected with women from all sorts of backgrounds and, together, we created a beautiful bond through a like-minded desire… that women feel supported during their births. I found my sweet spot! I have longed to find something that I felt so fit for, and I finally found it! Becoming a doula has been one of the most enjoyable journeys.
I was blessed to have a wonderful mentor, Anna Kemp, who was slowly transitioning out of her doula role and into a new adventure, and because of this, she was passing potential clients to me. With her word and stamp of approval, these wonderful families trusted me to be part of one of the most intimate moments of their life – the birth of their baby.
There are some things I learned this year…
Birth takes my breath away!
I am always mystified, amazed, blown away by the awesomeness of childbirth. Watching a woman labor, watching her find that safe place, a place where security and vulnerability collide, watching her find out how strong she truly is, watching her husband fall deeper in love with her. All of it is so breathtakingly beautiful!
I have resigned, that I will always cry happy tears at a birth.
I am a crier… always have been. Commercials make me cry. Saying goodbye makes me cry. Watching my kids grow up makes me cry. Seeing a baby born, seeing a woman become a mother, a man become a father, that makes me cry. And watching a man cry, that REALLY brings on sentimental tears!
On call life is hard, but I wouldn’t trade it!
I am a light sleeper in general, so when I have the exciting anticipation of a birth drawing near I loose all sorts of sleep. I have learned how to manage it better, by heading to bed earlier and having all my gear in place. Being ready helps me sleep more peacefully.
You have to have a safe place to share your joys or sorrows.
When I walk away from a birth, most times I walk away feeling high as a kite. I am overwhelmed by the joy that was filling the birth space. I am excited for the beautiful experience the couple just had. I have also walked away from births exhausted; having to process things that didn’t go the way everyone hoped it would. I attended a birth that had so many similarities to one of my own births and I walked away realizing that I never processed the traumas I experienced in birth.
Obviously, client confidentiality is of utmost importance, but by having a safe place for me to share, I become a better doula. I am able to give more of myself to the mother who has fears as her birth approaches, or who is exhausted by her 24 hour labor, or to the mother who is crying because her baby is crying as they both wait for the sweet relief of breastmilk to flood in, or to the mom who is preparing to return to work after her maternity leave ends and her emotions are consuming her.
First time moms CAN give birth naturally!
I did not have a natural birth with my first child – even though I intended to. I have to be honest, I got an epidural. After my experience, I resigned to thinking that first-time moms didn't know what they were in for, that the pain was too much, there was no way they could have a natural childbirth. Then I had a doula at my fourth birth and I realized how valuable that support was... so I began the journey to becoming a doula. I was still a little skeptical that a first-time mom could birth naturally, but then they proved me wrong, and I am so glad they did! You can read more about how 90.9% of these amazing first-time moms gave birth naturally by clicking here!
I can’t learn enough!
I have become obsessed with learning more. I want to attend every workshop, every class, read every book, listen to every podcast, watch every video – I LOVE any and all things pregnancy, birth, postpartum, breastfeeding, and baby related. I want to be able to give families the very best of me, so I am continually trying to educate myself.
There is so much more I could say, but then this blog would turn into an autobiography! So I will save it for another day.
Are you a first-time mom?
Do you hope to give birth naturally?
I bet whenever you tell people you hope to have a natural birth you get something along the lines of…
“Oh, you just wait…” or
“Don’t speak too soon…” or what about
“There’s no way! You’ll be begging for that epidural…”
I am here to tell you that first-time moms CAN give birth naturally. You can have an AMAZING birth experience. You can make it through without being overcome by pain!
Now just a warning: you are about to see a lot of numbers... (I like numbers and statistics. I’m not saying I am good with them, I just like them!)
I have been a doula for exactly 1 year and in that year I have served 16 moms. Of those 16 moms, 13 were giving birth for the first time.
Out of those 13 moms, 2 had scheduled cesareans due to breech babies.
Out of the 11 moms who could give birth vaginally, guess how many of them gave birth naturally?
10 out of 11 first-time moms gave birth naturally!
90.9% birthed naturally!
(And really, I should include the one mom who is the 11th person because she labored naturally and pushed for 5 hours before getting an epidural, then pushed for another 2 hours before baby arrived! She deserves some credit, don’t you think!)
I expected to see the veteran moms give birth naturally, but I didn’t expect to see so many first time moms have such awesome natural births. (I know that sounds horrible and I absolutely hate admitting that me, a doula, didn’t think first-time moms could handle it. This opinion of mine was based a lot on my own birth experiences, though. I plan to share my birth stories soon!)
After I attended the birth of a first-time mom I thought "WOW, she must have really prepared." Then the next first-time mom had a natural birth, then the third, then the fourth, and I began to see that if a woman has a supportive birth team, and her heart is determined, she CAN have an AMAZING natural birth.
Some of these first-time moms gave birth at home, some at birth centers, although most at hospitals. They had varying backgrounds of childbirth education, ranging from nothing at all to extensive classes, reading, and medical training. All of these moms were very different from each other, but they had a few things in common, do you want to know what they were?
1. They trusted the process of natural birth.
2. They had a supportive spouse.
3. They ALL had a doula!
Is this your first baby?
Are you a little nervous about natural birth?
Can I tell you a secret?
YOU are stronger than you know!
Your body is more powerful than you can imagine!
And you CAN have an AMAZING natural birth!
***Disclaimer: Please realize that this blog is based on my personal birth statistics, not on national standards. I also realize that while we may have the best intentions, that labor comes in many variations, so experiencing a natural birth is not always in our control. I also realize that there are women who prefer medicated births, this blog is to encourage those who desire a natural birth, not to discourage the mother who desires pain medication.
After trying to have a natural birth on my own three times, I finally hired a doula for my fourth child. Now, there is no way I’d ever want to give birth without a doula! Having a doula at your birth has been shown to
With that said, why would a doula decide to hire a doula for her own birth? Why would I, a woman who is trained to support birth, need the support of a doula at my birth? Let me tell you why.
1. You can’t exactly do a double hip squeeze to yourself!
And while my husband is amazing, like seriously, as I am writing this he is taking all the kiddos (4 in total) roller-skating! But back to my point, he may be amazing, but he doesn't know all the tricks to comforting a laboring woman. As a laboring mom, I may not be able to explain to him that I want his hands on my butt bones for counter pressure while I growl out through some pushes!
2. Nothing can replace the intuition of a skilled doula!
A doula isn’t just there to massage your back for 18 hours of childbirth. She is carefully attending to your labor progress.
I can’t tell you how many times I have suggested a change of position to a woman whose labor has stalled and all of the sudden things are moving again. Having a doula that can give wise suggestions could be the difference between a vaginal birth or a cesarean.
3. Doulas are for dads too!
When a woman is in labor, there are two major players, mom and baby, but dad needs support as well. A partner is emotionally invested and will instinctively move into a territorial, protective mode when he sees his wife in active labor. Having a doula to reassure him of the natural process is so helpful. Having someone encourage your partner as he comforts you is equally important. He needs to feel capable and empowered to support you!
And who knows, dad might like to eat a whole meal, or go to the bathroom, maybe get a cat nap in, and a doula can give him that opportunity without ever leaving you alone.
And to quote my husband, “Having a doula allowed me to enjoy the birth of our fourth daughter. It took away the stress and anxiety of trying to meet my wife's physical needs. Instead, I was able to love and bond with her.”
4. You get to be a goddess for a day!
Sure, I would love a sip of water. Yes, a cold washcloth would be wonderful. Oh my, this heated rice sock is incredible. I’d love another grape! Massage? By all means, my lower back is killing me.
When you are in labor, having someone care for you and take care of your needs is priceless – why not soak it up!
5. Every birth is different
I have had four VERY different births. My fourth birth lasted five days, and if it weren’t for my doula, I would have given up my hope for a natural childbirth. I know that every birth is different and the unexpected could arise at any moment. Having a doula can help with the emotional and physical transition of the unexpected.
6. Sanctuary instead of stress.
Please don't make me be the bad guy. I don't want to be the mean, cranky laboring woman. I don't want to have to kick people out of my labor space because they don't have the respect to see I need peace and quiet. So even though I am a doula, I need a doula that will help protect my space!
I am not the only doula who feels this way. I asked over 250 doulas if they would hire a doula for their birth, and the overwhelming majority answer was yes! So that's why this doula and hundreds of other professional doulas would hire a doula for their birth!
Disclaimer: I realize that there are exceptions to most scenarios. For example, some men are exceptional at filling the role of doula. Doula dads rock! Some women remain so engaged with their labor, that they do not need the intuitive directing of a doula. Other moms do not need a quiet birthing space, they enjoy the joys of conversations. I could go on, but I think you understand my heart.
I am a birth doula, childbirth educator, wife to an amazing man, and mother to four beautiful girls. I love serving families as they bring new life into the world!
Serving Virginia's Shenandoah Valley & West Virginia's Panhandle
Winchester // Stephenson // Stephens City // Strasburg // Berryville // Purceville // Leesburg // Inwood // Gerrardstown // Shepherdstown // Martinsburg // Charlestown // Middletown // Front Royal
Doula // Childbirth Educator // Placenta Encapsulation Specialist