Things Only a Doula Could Know

Expecting? Considering a non-traditional birth? Here’s some great advice for your pregnancy from a woman who knows best.

Increasing numbers of women are considering non-traditional birth plans, which often means a return to more ancient (traditional!) pregnancy processes. The word doula comes from the Greek, meaning a "woman who serves." A modern doula is a trained professional who provides emotional, nutritional, and physical support to pregnant women. Studies show that women who use doulas tend to have healthier pregnancies, shorter periods of labor, and that their babies are often healthier and breastfeed easier. Lori Bregman is an LA-based doula. Her recent book, The Mindful Mom-to-Be, provides nutritional advice, healthy recipes, natural remedies for pregnancy symptoms, developmental milestones, and techniques for labor, alongside meditations, exercises, checklists, and month-by-month advice. We sat down with her to learn a little more about just what a mindful pregnancy is all about. Wanderlust (WL): As you mention in your book, doulas are not a new concept—but mainstream medicine seems to be just catching up to their importance. Why are doulas especially important in our modern world? How do doulas help repair true human connection in a world in which it seems to be increasingly lost? Lori Bregman (LB): This question makes me think of the awesome book, The Red Tent. For years and years all over the world women have been supporting women through childbirth and after. Mothers, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, friends, and neighbors all come together, joining forces to mother the mother and help out with the new baby. Women in today's modern world often don’t live close to their family and work demands, family responsibilities or financial constraints make it harder to get away to help. That’s where doulas come in; doulas are a familiar face. She is someone that you have built a relationship with throughout your pregnancy who you know and trust. A doula stays by your side supporting, encouraging, and nurturing you throughout the whole birthing process and afterwards. WL: Eating organic, whole food is, of course, important during pregnancy. Any advice to expectant mothers on how to curb less-than-healthy cravings? Is it ever ok to “splurge”? LB: I am a big of fan of the 20/80 rule what you do 80% of the time makes a difference. I even take it one step further and allow 30/70 just to take some of the pressure off. Also, when I look at someone’s diet I never go crazy cutting out and changing things dramatically, as they will never stick with it. Instead I tweak it simply by suggesting healthier options: for example, a whole bagel with butter to a whole grain bagel with organic almond butter. WL: A lot of your advice invariably leads to more intentional, greener, and cleaner living habits. Why is it important to keep up with these habits once the baby is born? LB: There are toxins everywhere. It's hard to control what’s happening out in the world, but you can control what happens in your own home. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) conducted a cord blood study that found 232 chemicals in the 10 newborn infants from the study. The cord blood study found children are being exposed—beginning in the womb—to complex mixtures of dangerous substances that may have lifelong consequences. Babies and children are extra-sensitive to toxins because their organs and brains are still developing, which makes it harder for their bodies to detoxify. Additionally, the hormones in our foods, as well as the toxic preservatives and chemicals found in products we use can disrupt the body’s natural hormones. Buying organic, hormone, and GMO free whole foods, using non-toxic cleaning supplies, paraben-free and phthalate-free body products, filtering your water system, switching to glass or BPA-free bottles, and going shoeless in your house are steps you can take in your home to help protect your child. WL: What would you say to expectant mothers who are working, volunteering, or already raising kids, who claim that they don’t have time in the day to take for introspection and healthy living? How can an expectant mother carve out that time and still maintain sanity? LB: I can’t even begin to stress how important it is to take the time each day to put the oxygen mask on yourself. Like Eleanor Brown says, “You can’t serve from an empty vessel." Have you ever noticed how children and animals react around certain people? Children are naturally drawn to some people, and get calm or smile when around them. Around others, they cry or are repealed by them. The same goes with animals. Children are feeling beings. Something to be mindful of is that they pick up, feel, and are riding off your energy. The calmer, more centered and balanced you are, the calmer and more grounded your children will be. Self-care isn’t selfish, it's an act of self love. When you make the time to care for yourself, you are a living example to your children by demonstrating self love. Some of my working mamas set their alarm early to meditate, do their yoga practice, or just to carve out some time to read the paper, journal, or take a relaxing bath before starting their day. Others do it at night after the children go to sleep, or they take turns with their partner watching the kids so the other can get some self-care in. Every mother, family, and relationship has a different dynamic so you need to come up with an authentic system that works for you all. WL: You offer several different recipes for various stages of pregnancy. Do you have a favorite, or one that has resonated deeply with several of your clients? LB: Yes! Everyone goes crazy for my pregnancy smoothie that I co-created with Beaming. It's great at any stage of pregnancy ... and after. My “knocked up" smoothie is full of powerful superfoods such as avocado—high in omegas for the baby’s brain development, and to help moms memory and mood; chia seeds—high in calcium for healthy teeth and bones and  which also helps relax mama’s body; and berries that are high in iron, such as goji and strawberries, for healthy blood and to help prevent anemia. The recipe is in The Mindful Mom-to-Be, and Beaming juice carries the smoothies as well as sells smoothie kits full of the ingredients to make. WL: Your chapter on Cultivating Your Intuition is great—and somewhat of an anomaly in an advice book. How much of your work as a doula is focused on helping women help themselves? What’s your number one piece of advice to help women come into their own, both as individuals and as mothers? LB: I would say most of my practice is teaching women to connect with their inner knowledge, and to empower them to follow it. They can read all the parenting books, go to all the experts for advice, and seek high and low for that one guru who will tell them what’s right for them and their child. Yet I believe the one guru they're often searching for is within. It is my belief that before we are born, children pick and choose parents. If that’s the case, then the spirits already know one another, and you are already connected on an energetic level. It always amazes me when I guide someone inside to connect and bond with their baby in the womb, have them tune in and write down what they see, feel, or hear. At some point down the road I have them read it; 99 percent of the time they have totally described their child. As far as birth goes, you can't teach a women how to give birth. It's just something we organically do. But you can learn how to ride the waves, surrender, let go, and trust the process by getting out of your head and letting your body and baby do what they know how to and need to do. WL: Skeptics may say that activities like talking, reading, or writing to your baby is to live in a fantasy world. What are the benefits of an expectant mother developing a relationship with an unconscious being? LB: Trust me, I have had those clients! Once I had them doing all this they felt so much more excited about and connected to their baby. They were more present for their pregnancy as they connected with the magic of what their body was doing and the miracle of life that was growing inside of them. WL: So much of pregnancy revolves around heightened senses and perceptions. In this way, how does pregnancy compare to a deep meditative state? How can meditation help expectant mothers deal with hypersensitivity? LB: Most of the things we worry about are things that happened in the past—which are gone and over with. Most of the rest of the things that we are worried about involve what's happening in the future—which aren’t real or might not ever happen. The only thing that’s true and which you have control over is what you choose to do in the present moment. This is where life exists. The present is the stepping stone for the path your future will be built on. Meditation helps you be in the present moment: the only place that’s real. WL: You give describe techniques to prepare for the actual physical event of childbirth, as well as advice on how to create your physical space. Has a client ever surprised you with a technique or creation of her own? Have you ever learned anything from a client? LB: I have been doing this for 14 years and I have never seen two women, children, births, or relationships that are the same. Every birth I do and every women I support throughout their pregnancy I always learn from and never want to stop learning. My clients, as well as their partners, doctors, and midwives, are all my teachers. I actually make a point after each birth to process, journal about it, and take a few things from each experience to add into my practice. All I can say is what works for one person might not work for another. I try and focus on who this person is authentically and tune into her own individual needs. WL: Fear, of course, is a major concern heading into the actual act of childbirth. What’s the single most important thing to remind expectant mothers as they near their due date? LB: I would empower them by reminding them that they were made to create and birth a baby ... to always trust their natural instincts—they will never lead them down the wrong path. I'd also empower them to remember that babies and all things have their own divine timing. Due dates are just an estimated time. I'd also remind women to receive help from others during the postpartum period. Unfortunately most modern women have a hard time allowing others to do for us. Lastly, I'd tell women to be present. You will never have this day or time again with your child. — Lori Bregman headshot   Lori Bregman is the founder of the Rooted for Life Pregnancy Coaching Program, a complete body, mind, and spirit support system that helps women through fertility, pregnancy, birth, and into new motherhood. As a doula, healer, and life/pregnancy ocatc, Lori has over 20 years of experience helping clients transform their lives. She blogs for ModernMom.com, Mind Body Green, and at her own website LoriBregman.com. She live in Santa Monica, CA.