Having a doula was such a blessing for me, someone I could speak too about my fears, who could empower me and prepare me for what was to come. It meant the moment I went into labour I felt I had a well-informed friend at my side. I really want to share the huge value a Doula can provide to an expectant mother. We are lucky to have Beccy Hands to tell us more about this essential role and her role as a masseuse.
Hi Beccy, Welcome to No Mum Is An Island. I am a great believer that no mum or dad should have to do everything themselves, we can’t possibly know it all, and we need all the support we can get, there is a wealth of information out there to help us upgrade our parenting experience, to make our lives easier and this website is a hub for just that! You have upgraded your life by doing what you love, supporting women through pregnancy as they become new mums.
You worked as a doula for many years and now focus on pre and postnatal massage. Why is massage so important in pregnancy?
When I specialised my training in pre and post-natal clinical massage, I realised that everything I thought I knew about pregnancy was not actually correct. I’d grown up thinking that you just had to put up with swollen feet and aches and pains and that pregnancy was something you had to ‘endure’. When I did my training and fully understood the body and what was happening, I realised that actually if you supported the changes your body goes through pre and post birth – then actually you can often get away with few to no aches and pains at all! Apart from the physical benefits, being supported through the trimesters also has wonderful effects on the hormones and nervous system because massage works at putting the body back into balance – we call it homeostasis, and in this state our body works best.
Because our lives tend to be quite busy and stress is high amongst lots of young women, we tend to have our sympathetic nervous system switched on more than we should. This is our fight or flight system, and means that energy is directed away from our core and to our limbs helping us get ready to fight or run away. Massage switches on the parasympathetic nervous system – this is our rest and digest system, and this is when we heal, build tissue and renew cells as well as digest our food and relax our bodies – so you can see how that would benefit a mama who’s growing her baby.
For lots of my clients who are pregnant with second, third or fourth babies – having a regular massage not only helps their minds and bodies, but also provides a time to focus and connect with the new bubba, who let’s face often doesn’t get a look in. I remember getting into bed when I was pregnant with my second, and suddenly she’d have a little wriggle and I would feel guilty because I’d hardly had a minute to think about her all day! My pregnancy massages were such a special time to dedicate to her and connecting to her while I was having them!
New mums have a challenging time in today’s modern world and self-care for mums is vitally important, can you explain why it is important to put ourselves first sometimes when we have a newborn?
I know it’s a phrase that is used a lot, but we really can’t pour from an empty cup. We have to give so much of ourselves to being a new mum, and I don’t think lots of women fully understand the changes their bodies go through in the months following birth (6 weeks doesn’t even scratch the surface, our body changes and adapts to being a mother for months and months after birth). If we knew just how hard our body was working, we would be much kinder to it and take much better care of it.
We often say to the mums we work with that you really need to keep topping up the tank, because if you run out of steam, then what!? I know we all find it hard to prioritise our own self-care, but it is part of our job in a way, to keep ourselves well. Athletes have to look after themselves so that they can perform for the team – we need to view ourselves the same way. We often say think back to the safety talks you get when you are flying – they always say ‘put your own oxygen mask on first’!
What are your top 3 self-care tips for mums?
1/ Slow it down
First week in bed, second on the sofa.
We know resting as a new mum sounds like an oxymoron- but it is SO important! Rest helps bodies to heal, ready to look after and feed a baby.
In many cultures’ mums are put to bed for up to 40 days to rest and bond with baby. We know our society isn’t set up for that, but for years we have recommended our mums try to have at least the first week in bed and the second on the sofa.
If you can, get some friends and family to help with meal drops, childcare for siblings (then your partner can rest with you) and help with household chores, it’s actually a lot more doable than you’d think.
During the first week mum can rest/sleep between feeds. She can eat nourishing foods and have lots of skin to skin – which has many calming benefits for both mum and baby. Having a week in bed can help slow down visitors too, and if they aren’t people you’d be happy to have a cuppa with in your pjs, then they shouldn’t be visiting. You will reap the benefits later both physically and mentally of really slowing down and allowing the body some time to heal, adapt and catch up with itself.
In cultures where mums have ‘lying in’ periods they also receive massage treatments from family members, which helps stimulate circulation. If you don’t have access to this, do remember to get up and stretch every couple of hours, walking to the loo or around the bedroom to ensure circulation flows around that lovely postnatal body.
During the second week, move to the sofa (or the garden if you need fresh air) but stay in pjs and continue to rest! You will probably be feeling itchy to leave the house by now, but fight the urge just one week longer, and instead enjoy getting to know this new person in your life!
If you don’t have family or friends nearby you could look into having a postnatal doula who can provide support to you and your family allowing you to rest.
2/ Expect all the feels!
No matter how you birthed your baby you are likely to have moments where you feel rather fragile as your body begins the healing process, your hormones settle and your mind processes the huge transformation you are going through. Its no wonder we feel a little tearful at times.
As if this wasn’t enough, the hormone that brings our milk in, can also bring with it a waterfall of emotion, so lots of women experience a very tearful day 3 or 4, and this is a time when you will need an extra-large dose of TLC.
It is perfectly normal for a new mum’s mood to fluctuate as hormones coupled with tiredness can really play havoc on our emotions, but we always advise mums to keep an eye on themselves. If your moods and emotions are preventing you from meeting your own or your baby’s day to day needs then it’s wise to reach out and ask for some extra support.
3/Manage your visitors:
In the early days and weeks after giving birth be honest with your friends and family about your need to rest and get to know your baby. It is not self-indulgent or bad manners it is essential as you start your motherhood journey to take it slowly and be gentle with yourself as you heal. There will be plenty of time for rounds of tea and cake in the weeks and months to come.
In fact, booking people in after your partner has gone back to work, can be a lifeline to look forward to on the days when you are flying solo. Remind the well-wishers that you will be SO grateful of their help and company in the weeks to come, and this will give them a sense of being able to help, which in turn makes them feel good.
Your Mother Boxes are heavenly for new mums can you tell us a bit more about them?
Thank you! The idea of The Mother Box came around when I very first started my doula journey, and I used to make up little herbal bath soaks and compresses for sore perineum’s for my clients, and a consultant I worked with one day said that he thought they should be for sale as they seemed to really help women.
At the time I was so busy, I didn’t have any time to think about doing anything with it. Then when we relocated to Brighton I had time to breathe before setting up my massage practice again, and at the same time met Alexis (a midwife) who had exactly the same idea as me – we both wanted to provide women with an understanding of the postnatal period, an ability to really honour and celebrate it, and also all the tools to really nurture themselves – so we started brainstorming, and before I’d even finished unpacking the house had got a bank loan and set up The Mother Box.
We work with a wonderful herbalist Jo Farren, who creates all of the teas and bath soaks for us and we have a box to support women through each stage of their pregnancy journey. We have an early pregnancy box, pregnancy and birth, postnatal and a Heal & Restore box for women who have had a tricky birth or postnatal journey. Each box comes with it’s own booklet, full of tips and tricks from a midwife and doula’s perspective of how best to really support yourself through each phase of pregnancy and beyond.
When our book was released last year, we then adapted the website and you can now also create your own bespoke box – so you can shop the entire range of goodies, and if you want the postnatal info you can add our book The Little Book of Self Care for New Mums.
Having both supported women through pregnancy loss – we also felt really strongly about wanting a box to honour this time. When I doula’d for women who were facing birthing their sleeping babies, it really struck me how little some of my ladies were talked to about healing their postnatal bodies, and many said that there didn’t feel like there was space for them to nurture and heal as grief swallowed them up – so we created two loss boxes, one for miscarriage and one for stillbirth.
Both contain herbs, teas, oils and tinctures for soothing the body and balancing the hormones and both books have words of support from mothers who have also experienced baby loss. We have had so many emails from mothers who have received these boxes thanking us for making them feel nurtured and honouring what they have gone through.
It can be quite exhausting in those first weeks postpartum and often both parents are too tired to cook, can you share with us your favourite easy recipe that can nourish a mother recovering from birth?
For a quick and easy nourishing meal you can’t beat the loyal Jacket Potato!
High in fibre, Vitamin C and B potatoes are tasty, filling and nutritious. Use a regular baking potato or sweet potato. Sweet Potatoes are are high in Vitamins A, B5, B6, B1, B3 and cartenoids.
Scrub your spud, pierce the skin and brush with oil. Place on a baking tray and scatter with salt. Bake for 1 hour in the oven or for 10 mins in the microwave (although you forgo the crispy skin in the microwave). Slice it open and add a knob of butter and top with a tasty filling. This is where you can get your vitamin fix – think about what you might be needing and go wild.
Try the following
Cheese and beans for protein calcium and fibre
Tuna and sweetcorn mayo for protein, omega 3 and vitamin C
Cottage Cheese, bacon and avocado for protein, calcium, vitamin K and vitamin E
Hummus, cherry tomatoes, black olives and baby spinach for protein, magnesium, vitamin c and iron.
Breastfeeding can be a real challenge and a concern for some new mums what would you advise to make this process easier, from starting breastfeeding to caring for engorged boobs?
My rule of thumb would be to have a lactation consultants’ number in your phone at the ready. Most breastfeeding issues are best sorted as quickly as possible to reduce soreness for you.
As your milk comes in around day 3–5, you will probably find yourself with full (read huge) and uncomfortable breasts. This, coupled with the milk hormones that make you feel like crying ALL of the time, can make for a pretty tough ride. But fear not some wonderful soothing pads can bring you lots of comforts! You can use them hot or cold and make them easily at home.
Hot: To ease engorgement and encourage the milk to flow before a feed, use a hot wash cloth, or breast pad soaked in hot water (NOT boiling) and place it over the breast; if you want to hand express a little milk to ease the pressure you can do that now. You can also do this in a warm bath and use the shower head spray to warm and massage the breast
Cold: Try using a cold breast pad after each feed to soothe hot sore breasts and reduce any inflammation and the sting that you might be feeling in your nipples as they adjust to breastfeeding. These are an absolute life saver, time and time again, our ladies say they honestly don’t know what they would have done without them.
Cooling breast pads
- Place 3 or 4 chamomile tea bags in a large jug and cover with boiling water. Leave too steep for 30 minutes.
- Place some breast pads, waterproof backing side down, on to a tray. Pour your chamomile tea over the pads until they are fully saturated.
- Place the tray in the fridge and leave to cool for a couple of hours.
- After a feed when your nipples are feeling sore or when your breasts are sore from engorgement, take a pad out of the fridge and place it inside your bra, so that it sits against the breast and cools it down. This is SO soothing and will take away any inflammation of the nipple.
- Throw the pad away after use, express a little milk, rub it around the nipple (milk is full of healing properties for the skin) and allow the breast to air dry before putting your comfy bra on.
The other thing I swear by is breast combing. This was taught to me by a Japanese midwife and was a life saver when I had mastitis myself. To help prevent mastitis, comb your breasts! If your breasts are feeling engorged and lumpy or you have a hot red patch or lump then the chances are you will have areas of blocked, curdled milk. This is a perfect breeding ground for bacteria which can then cause mastitis. Getting these blocks moving will help stop mastitis in its tracks and often prevent it altogether.
At the first sign of a lump or red patch, before each feed, with a small toothed comb, comb the breast from the top down toward to nipple, all the way around the breast. Use a steady firm pressure, hard enough to feel that you are moving the flow, but not hard enough to hurt; the pressure should feel nice and soothing. You can use a little oil to help the comb to glide.
Latch baby for a feed; they will encourage milk to move through the breast and will suck out the curdled milk (it’s totally safe, the bacteria causing mastitis doesn’t affect them at all). As baby feeds, continue to comb from armpit to nipple, focusing around the lumpy areas. You should start feeling relief quite quickly. Repeat this with every feed until the breast is soft and lump-free and any red patches have gone.
Obviously, if you do get Mastitis and are feeling unwell do go and see the GP as you may need a course of antibiotics – but I have to say once I started combing any time, I felt a lump I never got it again.
I felt quite lonely with a newborn baby as none of my friends had children, do you have any advice for making new friends as a new mum?
I hear this so often from my clients, and I too felt very isolated after the birth of my first daughter in 2006 – I think Facebook had only just come out then, so social media wasn’t even accessible. Saying that, I do think we need to be careful with our social media usage – as great as I think it is and it can be a fab way to connect us to other mums (Alexis calls is Tinder for mums – it’s how we met!) I do think we also need to make sure we are getting in ‘real life’ meet ups – as this definitely fills us up much more than virtual hangs.
We were never meant to parent in isolation, and the saying it takes a village is so true! Finding a tribe of women to hang with is so important. Whether you meet them through antenatal classes, mother and baby groups, social media, exercise classes or you just pluck up the courage to talk to a mum in a café – be assured there are lots of mums out there thinking the same, and desperately wanting to meet other mums too.
I had one client who actually put a post on facebook saying that she was a new mum to the area and was looking for other mums to hang out with and she was inundated with replies. These days there are great apps like Peanut who do the matchmaking for you!
Having a group of fellow mums can be an absolute lifeline, I used to swap childcare with my mum friends and we’d take in in turn to have each other’s littles and gift each other a couple of hours off! It was such a lovely way to support each other, and our kids got a play date out of it! Win win!
Is there any other advice you want to give to expectant or new mums?
Always trust your instincts! Out of all of the people around you, you will know your baby better than anybody else. It is easy to disempower a new mum, so we must be very careful with the language we use around them. We see this often with a throwaway comment made by a well meaning relative such as ‘oh, he’s playing you, just put him down to sleep in his cot otherwise you’ll be making a rod for your own back’ Sadly this can lead to a new mum, who wants nothing more than a snuggle with her new baby, but fears making this so called rod, putting baby in its cot, denying herself some amazing bonding time.
I remember working with a new mum once who had had a very quick and gentle birth and who was so happy and calm with her new baby. She seemed to be very intuitive and not at all fearful. She decided to go for a little walk along the ward with her baby and was quickly told off by a very stern midwife who told her that she should not be walking around with baby in case she dropped it.
The mum’s persona changed immediately, she became very worried and anxious and for hours after this incident kept second-guessing everything asking ‘is that ok’ or ‘is that right’. It was a clear example of accidental disempowerment – the midwife wasn’t trying to be unkind, but was trying to keep everyone safe, but for a delicate new mum, this interaction completely wobbled her.
Trust your instinct and remember that there is no right or wrong – all babies and all mums are different and your way is always going to be the best way!
Shop from the amazing The Mother Box HERE
For more great articles around pregnancy and being a new mum see below.