Picture this - you’ve recently given birth to your gorgeous baby. Your mother, sisters, aunts and friends have come together to look after you, treating you to massages, cooking you delicious nourishing food and take care of everything so all you need to do is rest and fall in love with your baby.
All across the world cultures practice the tradition of ‘lying in’ where a new mother is looked after for between ten to forty days after the birth. She is relieved of household responsibilities, fed nourishing foods, massaged and expected to do nothing but rest and get to know her baby. It’s a far cry from this bouncing back and getting on with it that has become normalised in our culture.
In Japan there is the custom that a woman stays with her family for the month after giving birth and may also stay in bed for 21 days so she can focus on bonding with her baby.
In Mexico it is tradition for a woman’s female relatives to look after her for the first forty days helping with cleaning, cooking, and looking after older children for example so that the only thing a new mother needs to focus on is looking after her baby.
China and Malaysian have the tradition of lying in where mother and baby stay at home for the first forty days.
These are just a few of the cultural traditions around the postnatal period from a round the world but at the centre of all of them is the idea of putting the mother first and her only job being to rest and look after her baby.
I know it might feel unrealistic and indulgent to say that you're going to stay home and not pick up the hoover for several weeks. There's too much to do, life goes on. There are messages to respond to, meals to cook, laundry to do, bills to pay and perhaps even older children that need you.
Your body undergoes an incredible transformation over the nine months that you grow and sustain your baby. Once you’ve done the amazing work of birthing your baby, your body will change once again and deserves rest and nourishment so it can recover.
We also live in an increasingly isolated society, but new mothers do not thrive in isolation. You need a village. That village might be made up of your partner, your family and friends. It might mean investing in a postnatal doula so that you have the support you need so that you have the start to motherhood that you deserve.
It is crucial that a new mother focus on looking after herself during this time. I’ve come up with the term ‘mothermoon’ to draw attention to this.
Research has found that in cultures that have ritual and customs that support new mothers are:
In order to be able to think about what your mothermoon might look like, it’s helpful to have an understanding of what life after birth might be like. This is why I’ve developed The Mothermoon Workshop.
The workshop explores what to expect physically and emotionally in the days and weeks after giving birth, your baby’s experience of transitioning from the womb to the world and what you need nutritionally to help you make sure you’re filling your body with nourishment to help support your recovery. It also covers how to write your postnatal plan.
No two women or babies experience the postnatal period in the same way. However, by having an idea of what to expect, you can begin to think about what support you might need. Some things can be planned for while others are unknown until after your baby arrives. Having a plan will help you feel more prepared and give you the best chance of having the start to motherhood that you deserve.
My next south east London Workshop is taking place on Sunday 22 April at Space@61 and it’s the last one until the autumn.
For more info and to book your spot: https://billetto.co.uk/e/mothermoon-workshop-tickets-271684
To find out more about Sarah - https://www.sarahtessier.com or follow her on Instagram
I’ve only gone and done it! Having spent several years in my practice advising women on how they can speed their recovery post-birth I can finally announce the official launch of The London Acupuncturist’s Mother Roasting Kit. This beautifully packaged gift box crystallises all of that advice and contains everything needed for a traditional post-partum treatment to energise, nourish and restore new mums.
You can buy it here The London Acupuncturist's Mother Roasting Kit
Promoting recovery after giving birth, mother roasting closes the gateways that have been opened, repelling wind and cold from the uterus and preserving the health of the mother. This is said to address the depletion post-birth that Chinese medicine believes can be a factor in low milk supply, post-partum depression, prolapse, fatigue, insomnia and anxiety.
Deeply nourishing, relaxing, quick and easy to do, a moxa stick is used to warm the abdomen and the lower back (if a support person is available to help with that area) for five to ten minutes to tonify the Qi in that area post birth. Helping the uterus to contract and replenishing the blood and Qi it’s a post partum power up!
Mother roasting should be done around four or five days after birth (as long as no signs of fever are evident) and the gift box – which was illustrated by the supremely talented Marion Rhoades - contains a moxa stick, information about mother roasting, full instructions for use and a recipe for Junie’s Chicken Broth, a tried and tested traditional Scottish broth that is renowned for its blood building properties. (My mum Junie made this for me when I had my son and having a giant pot of soup to heat up for a quick meal was invaluable in that first week, when hangry hit a new shade of rage).
Why did I create the Mother Roasting Kit? I treat lots of pregnant women - sometimes right up until the last hours before birth - but rarely see them once their babies arrive. Understandably. But the fourth trimester is supremely challenging even if the birth has been ‘textbook’ and I know this treatment can do so much to help body, mind and spirit recover from childbirth.
This is a lovely baby shower gift, as well as a brilliant gift to you buy yourself and ensure you take a bit of time out for yourself in those crucial days after birth.
Just as last year you couldn’t move without hearing about hygge, there’s been A LOT written about Ikigai over the last few months, with another book on published recently (Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life). I came across this concept just this summer, while on a yoga and transformational breath retreat with the wonderful folk at East of Eden and it resonated immediately with what I do in the treatment room.
So what is it? And how the frick can acupuncture help find it? Neatly translated from Japanese as ‘reason for being’, it’s the point at which passion, vocation, profession and mission meet - and finding your own Ikigai can be transformative in the way you experience this life. Waking up every day knowing you will get to do something that feeds you on the deepest level? SIGN ME UP, YO. A life with purpose can transform our existence, and gives things like money, status and power their proper perspective.
At the heart of Classical Five Element Acupuncture (CFEA) theory is the idea that if we live as an authentic expression of our true selves then we live in harmony and balance and thus in health. So if you are struggling to identify your Ikigai, or you would like to live a life that is a truer external expression of your deepest self, then perhaps a Five Element Acupuncturist could help you figure that out. How?
Working out what really ticks your tock, finding the courage to make big life changes, or even quieting the external and mental noise that our lives generate can all be factors that hold us back from our Ikigai. Acupuncture can help turn up that inner voice, the one which is your true north. And that's when the magic happens.
Sleeping well is the cornerstone of health. Our bodies do all sorts of amazing things when we sleep that we aren't aware of. Unless you are that unlucky woman I read about last week whose sleepwalking was so bad she went down a flight of stairs and broke her back. (She's recovering, don't worry, I'm not that ghoulish.) Anyway, one of the things that happens when we are asleep is that our hormonal system gets to work in a major way. So sleep, or lack of, can have a huge impact on our hormonal system - and if you are a woman and know even a tiny bit about how your body works, then you know that the menstrual cycle and fertility are part of this picture. But how? And why is sleep a factor?
Well, hello endocrine system. The endocrine system is the collection of glands that produce hormones that regulate metabolism, growth and development, tissue function, sexual function, reproduction, sleep, and mood, among other things. These glands include the pituitary gland, the thyroid and parathyroid glands, adrenal glands, pancreas, and ovaries and testicles. So, you know, kind of crucial. And it has a complex response to sleep.
While sleeping, the secretion of some hormones increases, while some are inhibited. Fertility hormones affected by sleep include progesterone, oestrogen, luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). One key hormone affected is leptin, which affects ovulation, and women need adequate sleep for optimal leptin production.
Now of course there can be many reasons you find it hard to sleep, or to sleep well. Stress in our daily lives - whether external (e.g. work or family life) or internal (i.e. drinking a bucketload of coffee, an ice-bucketload of wine, or eating too much sugar) - can wreak havoc, as can things like taking our smartphones to bed.
The British Acupuncture Council have done the hard work for me and you can see a factsheet here which highlights the research that shows acupuncture can be effective in treating sleep disorders. But to quote: "On the evidence that we have, given that acupuncture appears to be at least as effective as existing conventional drugs, without their level of side effects, it could be considered as one of the therapeutic options for insomnia."
There you have it. As effective as drugs. Less side effects. So if you are worried that the quality of your sleep is affecting your ability to get pregnant, or you are embarking on IVF and are not a great sleeper, think about seeing an acupuncturist.
What do I mean, are you ready? Of course you’re ready, you want a baby and you want one NOW. You’ve been patient, you’ve been trying really hard, you’ve been really good and brave and now you want to see a positive result on a pregnancy test stick. The blue line, the PREGNANT sign.
I see many patients who are in the process of undertaking IVF but who aren't really mentally or emotionally ready for it. Panicked by their age, or the staff at the clinic they are using who have told them they must start IMMEDIATELY (let us not forget, are also running a business) or the crushing monthly feeling that takes over when a period makes its unwelcome appearance. The momentum carries them through from the panic at being told their AMH levels are low, or polycystic ovaries, or they are just a bit past their sell by date and if they don’t do it NOW they will have left it too late, to the point where they are booking in for treatment without taking stock.
Yes, time is a factor. Egg reserves are a factor. But not the only factor. Panic, fear, stress can all contribute to creating the wrong conditions for a positive result and you only have to look at the statistics to know that they are also against you.
To quote the quite wonderful Zita West, fertility is a whole body event. It is not something that takes place independent of your brain, your emotions, or your physical state.
So please, please, please, make sure you are feeling kind of ok. That you have come to terms with the IVF option. That you aren't railing against your fate, crying in toilets a lot, and feeling angry / resentful / depressed that you are going to have to try and conceive in an expensive, intrusive way. Some questions you can ask yourself (and be honest about the answers, you are only lying to yourself, after all.)
How healthy are you? You should be exercising regularly. This doesn’t mean embarking on some crazy regime but you need to be getting your heart pumping a few times a week whether you swim, run, walk, practice yoga or love Zumba.
If you don’t exercise habitually then start walking every day. This is important for bringing oxygen into your body, promoting healthy blood flow and circulation, which will help your mental state as well as your physical state. Exercise reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, improves sleep and increased your overall wellbeing – all of which are beneficial for anyone on the IVF train, which can be a huge strain. So not only will you improve your odds but you will also feel better.
BMI: If your BMI (body mass index) is over 30 then you are categorized as obese and studies show this can affect your response to IVF and a successful outcome. If you are an NHS patient they may not fund a round of IVF until your BMI is lower, and if you are paying for a round then unless you have money to burn and an emotional equilibrium like Teflon you need to address this.
If your BMI is under 20 then a risk of miscarriage is higher.
To calculate your BMI divide your weight in Kg by your height in Metres, then divide the answer by your height again. Or go online and find an easy online calculator to do it for you.
Have you been eating right? You know that too much coffee, skipping meals and drinking too much are not going to help. So make sure you are getting omega 3s, leafy green veg, lots of protein and just a little bit of whatever you really love so you don't feel like you are being punished twice. You honestly can have the odd cream cake or glass (glass, I said) of wine.
Are you (both) prepared for a bit of a rollercoaster? IVF can be bruising, no doubt about it, so you need to be going into it holding hands, a team. From the initial tests, to the drug stimulation, egg collection, fertilisation and embryo transfer you can go from hope to disappointment, so brace and try to rise above it all. These are all things you can't really control.
Could you deal with a multiple pregnancy? The chances of a multiple pregnancy are 1 in 5 with IVF, vs. a national average of 1 in 80, according to the HFEA. If you are undergoing IVF then on the one hand a multiple pregnancy would seem the answer to a ready made family. Two for the price of one, so to speak. That's true, but carrying twins (or triplets) carries far greater risks for you and your babies. If you are doing this alone, can you truly afford / cope with two? Or even three? If you don’t think you can then perhaps you should talk to your clinic about the number of embyros they transfer per round.
Are you strong enough to cope with any disappointments? If you think failing a round of IVF will pull you under then please just wait. It's unlikely to work if you are that fragile anyway. Have some counselling. Try acupuncture, CBT, or hypnotherapy, or anything else that can improve your state of mind and help you feel a bit more robust. The statistics don't lie and IVF can be a bit of a long game.
So if you need a month or two to get your head in the game, take it. It's important for you, your partner and for the months to come. And I absolutely promise it will help.
In the UK a quarter of women giving birth start their birth experience with a medical induction.
I’m sorry, what was that? A quarter, like 25%, you mean 1 in 4? Erm, yep. Given babies naturally only want to go one way (and no, Yazz, the only way isn’t up) and the very best, most efficient way to deliver most babies is by a woman going into labour spontaneously, the current rate of induction seems more than risk averse, it seems like some sci-fi Handmaid’s Tale kinda shit is going down.
So as you might imagine, it’s no exaggeration to say I get enquiries every week from women looking for ‘induction’ with acupuncture, understandably keen as they are to avoid more intrusive procedures.
So how can acupuncture help? Well I will say now it’s not a magic bullet. If a baby isn’t ready to make an appearance then one treatment a day before an induction is booked may not be enough to tip you into labour. What we are trying to do when we meet women in the later stages of pregnancy is encourage her cervix to ripen. And like all fruits when they ripen, well, you can imagine…
Things that might stop that happening? Working up to the last minute, fear or anxiety, not feeling ready, home improvements (I can’t tell you the number of couples I know who are expecting a baby and then undertake major home renovation projects, or a house move) – basically anything that messes with your adrenalin and cortisol levels (ie stress) can affect the hormones that help your body transition to the next stage.
The very best way to help you avoid induction in my opinion is to support your body in the final weeks of pregnancy time with acupuncture, reflexology, or better still, both. Pre-birth acupuncture from 38 weeks (see HERE for a dedicated post about this) is a wonderful way to support your body in the final weeks and encourage the ripening process. It could also help you deal with sleeplessness, anxiety around the birth, or what happens after the birth (yes madam, that’s yours now, yes, you have to take it home and keep it alive), and any other shifts and changes that might be experienced.
Now, please let me be clear, I don’t mind one way or the other if you choose induction. It’s your right, your decision, your body, your baby and your birth experience. So you get to choose. And in some cases, for some women and their babies, it is absolutely the safest option. For the rest of us, I say try acupuncture in the final weeks of pregnancy. It’s like putting a banana in the fruit bowl.
Anxiety and depression are often lumped together though completeley different, as they exhibit some of the same symptoms. However whilst many of us suffer a 'low mood' from time to time, or get anxious about a big life event, it doesn't feel too disruptive. The HADS (Hospital Anxiety and Depression) scale - which you can access here - is a downloadable checklist to rate your feelings and help you understand what might be going on for you, but what do you do about it? Is a natural approach worth considering?
There are many tools as our disposal as we understand more about brain chemistry and how we work. Doctors may well prescribe exercise, getting more sleep, CBT or mindfulness training now before they suggest antidepressants. Whilst research around acupuncture and anxiety or depression isn't extensive the British Acupuncture Council has reviewed it and info from their website is replicated below or can be accessed here.
I have worked with many patients who are suffering with some level of anxiety or depression. Loss of a loved one, struggling to conceive or coming to terms with not having children, social anxiety, the menopause, work stresses, or relationship difficulties, whatever the cause is the approach is the same - treat the individual. Not one single person is the same, so although I may see five people in a day for 'the same thing', its really not the same thing at all. This completely tailored approach means that we can work together to get to a better place as quickly as possible. So whether anxiety is the main concern, or it's a secondary symptom of a bigger life issue, getting to the root of it is what yields results.
Completely safe, a course of acupuncture can be undertaken side by side with any other treatments, including antidepressants. British Acupuncture Council info - Research has shown that acupuncture treatment may specifically benefit anxiety disorders and symptoms of anxiety by:
Well hurrah for Mercury no longer being retrograde, or whatever other excuse I can use to account for my laziness, but I have finally got my shizzle together to bring you a rather lovely pdf guide to acupressure in labour.
There are three very good reasons to use acupressure during labour. It promotes efficient labour, reduces the pain of contractions and helps maintain calm - what's not to love about that? Beautifully illustrated by the supremely talented Marion Rhoades, the pdf illustrates five acupressure points that are invaluable in labour, giving directions to locate them and what to use them for. I show these to couples as a matter of course during pre-birth acupuncture sessions, and I hope you find them useful.
Massage can be really, really, divorce-threateningly annoying when you are in the throes of labour, which is why this is called acuPRESSURE and not acumassage. Firm, strong pressure is required. Thumbs at the ready, birth partners!
More tips on pressure and location can be found here thanks to the kindness and wisdom of Debra Betts, who is at the forefront of acupuncture in pregnancy and birth.
Elvis may not seem the most obvious inspiration when you are 'training for labour' but he wasn't 'the pelvis' for nothing. Yes, it was a great excuse to include a photo, but still, not tenuous. Here's why. A lot of women suffer with backache, pubic symphysis pain or sciatica when they are pregnant and in the latter stages are told this is normal, yada yada. Yep, normal. However ignore it at your peril.
In case your attention span takes you no further, this is what you need to do - get checked out by an osteopath or chiropractor who specialises in pregnancy, when you hit the third trimester. Or earlier if you have backache. In order to accommodate a growing baby, your bones need to move in a certain way, supported by the ligaments and muscles around them. If everything is working in harmony, then your baby has its very own deluxe mansion with sea views. However, so many babies end up in the equivalent of a bedsit on a grotty main road. And if the space is cramped, i.e. if the pelvis is misaligned in any way it may reduce the amount of room available to a developing baby. This restriction is called intrauterine constraint and it can also make it difficult for the baby to get into the best possible position for delivery. Which in turn can lead to interventions.
A baby in breech position may not have room to move into the optimum position, so if you have been told your baby is breech I strongly recommend you both see an acupuncturist and a chiropractor or osteopath. Babies move around a lot, so a baby that is breech at 34 weeks can still move - but this is much harder if the room isn't there to move into. In my clinic I have found that combining the acupuncture protocol (I will write a separate blog post about this soon) with a treatment from a specialist bodyworker like Mary Anne Shiozawa or Nancy Nunn, delivers brilliant results.
Hypnobirthing could possibly benefit from a rebrand as it seems to have the faint whiff of patchouli for some, but I have totally drunk the Kool-Aid on this, hypnobirthing works and there's no two ways about it. To the uninitiated it is basically mind training, with a fat dollop of breathing techniques thrown in to help you help your body. I mean, yeah, I am part of the London Hypnobirthing team so a bit of love for it might be expected, but for me this is the foundation of any 'training programme' for childbirth.
It's not just for those who want a natural birth. Just because you sign up for a hypnobirthing course, it doesn't mean you have to sign away the option of pain relief, or will end up feeling like less of a mother because you have an elective caesarean. Whether you think you want to give birth in your front room, or with all the medical help known to man, hypnobirthing offers a lot of incredible benefits.
1 - the relaxation techniques that you learn, and have to practice daily, will help those last weeks of pregnancy pass more comfortably and easily. There's a deep relaxation mp3 that we used to listen to at bedtime that would send us both to sleep in minutes. I think I heard the last 20 minutes twice in two months. Which meant that I actually managed to sleep during labour as I was so deeply relaxed and my body was used to going to sleep when I heard the mp3 start.
2 - the power of breath, and understanding how to use it properly, can transform your labour. Honestly. I really wasn't sure I had much of an ability to cope with pain, and if you ever see anyone give birth on the telly you kind of get the idea that walking over hot coals would be more manageable. But they lie!! Breathing well will help bring oxygen to the muscles that are working their hardest to help your baby make its way down the birth canal and into this world and you have the power to help yourself on this one. Not only that but it transforms the pain from something you have to suffer through, to something dynamic that is helping you achieve your goal. You just have to take one breath. Then the next. And the next.
3 - your birth partner learns how to practically help you during the hours of labour and in the first hours after childbirth. There are a million ways that someone you love and trust can irritate you to the point of murder when you are in the throes of trying to push a new life out into the world, but if they take their homework seriously they are less likely to make you hate them temporarily.
4 - this course did more to engage my husband in what was happening than anything else we did. From being determined I should give birth in hospital with a doctor on hand to actually considering homebirth as one of our options was a mark of how the course helped him address the fears he had around it all, as well as educate him on what it was I was going to have to try and do. Sometimes you can feel like you are the only one thinking about what happens next, ie getting that great big lump of baby out, so this is very cheering. And uniting.
5 - the positive affirmations that you post around the house are colourful and friendly and help you feel quite celebratory about what is going to happen, as opposed to raddled with fear of the unknown.
6 - birth plans are an act of hope. We all have ideas about how we would like labour to unfold, or how our babies are born and we should do everything we can to enable that but sometimes nature has other ideas. The techniques you learn in hypnobirthing can help you stay calm enough to adapt to the turns your labour may take. After all, what counts is that you take a baby home, right?
After the hypnobirthing course with Hollie de Cruz, I truly started to embrace the possibility that I could actually, potentially, possibly enjoy labour. Scrub that, I bloody well knew I could. You know what? I did. The meaning of the word 'enjoy' took on new nuances, but yes, enjoy it I did.
Up next? I got physical. Like my facebook page here if you want to know when the post goes live.
Passionate about the pins.
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