best practices

NEW: Upper Valley – Vermont + New Hampshire!

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Tree Life Birth Care in White River Junction, VT, is our newest location for Total Pregnancy Fitness. The center is dedicated to providing balanced, evidence-based support to women and their families during pregnancy, labor and postpartum. They offer doula care, childbirth education, prenatal dance classes, and lactation consulting in the Upper Valley region of Vermont and New Hampshire. For more information, visit http://LifeTreeBirth.com or email Mary Etna Haac at DoulaMaryEtna@gmail.com.

Mary Etna R Haac, MPH, PhD, DONA-trained Birth Doula. Bilingual: English-Spanish. 703-447-98-94.

Exercise and Body Trust in Birth

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In the generations since birth moved from the home to the hospital setting, it has become less and less frequent that women in developed nations see birth first hand and accept it as a natural part of life prior to their own first birth experience. The “epidemic” of fear surrounding birth may well be partly a result of this phenomenon. In a recent post published in Midwives magazine, a publication of the UK’s Royal College of Midwives, DTP director Ann Cowlin wrote a blog entitled ‘Exercise and Body Trust in Birth.’ The post addresses the confidence in one’s body that accompanies training specific exercise and how this applies to pregnant women and their preparation for birth. Here is the link to the blog post: http://community.rcm.org.uk/blogs/exercise-and-body-trust-birth

About Pain and Birth

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This is excerpted from our Dancing Thru Pregnancy blog.

That Was Then…

As I became involved in the birthing field, one of the nurse-midwives with whom I was acquainted introduced me to Jung’s quotation: “There is no birth of consciousness without pain.” (Alternately, “There is no coming to consciousness without pain.”) It struck a deep chord in me.

When I first saw the saying, “There is no birth of consciousness without pain,” intertwined with a drawing of a woman literally giving birth, the truth of the image seemed obvious to me. It become hard-wired into my underlying assumptions about giving birth. The process itself combines intense noxious sensations with mid brain emotional input into what neural science calls pain. For years, this realization has driven what and how I teach: Being fit and educated in body/mind are the tools of enlightenment and self-empowerment.

…And This Is Now

A little while ago I came across a NY Times article “Profiting From Pain.” While the article concerns the huge increase in the legitimate opioid business – products, sales, hospitalizations, legal expenses and workplace cost – it restarted my thinking about a topic fermenting in my brain between That Was Then And This Is Now: The sense of entitlement to a pain-free existence. The idea that pain free is better than painful. And the selling of this idea for profit.

Where does this come from? Trying to obliterate pain has led to increased addiction, death and other adverse side effects. A new topic has shown up in women’s health discussions: Increasing use and overdose from prescription pain killers by women, including during pregnancy.

Could it be that human fear of pain is being used to generate financial profit? (the opium-is-the-opiate-of-the-masses model). Perhaps once the notion of palliative care reached a certain level of acceptance for the dying within the medical community, it began to spill over into other human conditions (the slippery-slope model). Or, perhaps we don’t want transparency at all (the denial model).

In the last few days, NPR has raised the question of whether the high cesarean birth rate is tied to the payment for procedure rather than outcome model? The recovery from cesarean is more painful than the recovery from vaginal birth, has adverse side-effects for mother and baby, and was originally designed for use only for the 15% +/- of real complications that arise in normal birth. So, how is it being sold to 35% of women in the U.S,? At one point, there was a serious discussion within the medical community that if women were afraid of the pain of birth and wanted a cesarean, a care provider should do one. No discussion of why it seems painful or how to deal with pain.

The Affordable Care Act aims to improve some of the cost issues in medical care by shifting the payment incentive away from procedures and on to outcome assessment. As a result, the cesarean rate and even such seemingly innocuous procedures as fetal monitoring are coming under scrutiny. If we truly want to do a service to the mothers-to-be in the ACA transition period and beyond, I think we must discuss the question of birth and pain.

I can think of many questions that fall under this topic…Why do we call the intense phenomenon of birth “painful”? How do our genetics, behavior, training and thought-processes affect our experience of pain? What about the health care culture – has it focused on relieving pain at the expense of what we gain from working with pain short of trauma or imminent death? How do we prepare women for working with sensation without automatically labeling it pain? Is the “empowerment” often attributed to giving birth what is learned by going through the center of the “there is no birth of consciousness without pain” experience? These questions are just a start.

In closing…

Let me address the childbirth educators and pregnancy exercise instructors. This is our present challenge. In my work, I feel the necessity to make all pain management strategies understandable to my clients. I find that most of the women I see in classes must deal first with self-discovery before they can assess their commitment to the view of birth they carry in their minds. The images of birth we lay out for them to consider need to include an understanding that you cannot escape the work of birth. Being present – mindfulness – can be scary and intense but it is the medium by which our consciousness expands. Cardiovascular fitness and strength are the source of our endurance and power.

DTP Offspring – Renee Crichlow: REAC Fitness

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In Part 4 of our continuing series on DTP’s offspring, meet Renee Crichlow, ACSM Certified Personal Trainer from Barbados, whose REAC Fitness business includes Mum-me 2 B Fitness Series (prenatal), After Baby Fitness Series (postnatal) and 6 week Jumpstart Body Transformation Program (general female population).

See photos and read more about Renee’s business on the DTP Blog here. The adventures of one of her students is featured in a recent series of articles in Barbados Today.

Renee is a women’s fitness specialist, targeting all stages of a woman’s life cycle from adolescent, child bearing years, prenatal, postnatal to menopause. I design various exercise programmes to help women get into shape. As a trainer, friend and coach, I am committed to guiding, motivating and educating women to exceed their fitness goals and to permanently adopt healthy lifestyles. She started studying with DTP in March 2012 and completed the practicum in May 2012.

I most enjoy the good feeling associated with knowing that I am helping women to positively change their lives through exercise. I have learned that we are connected and not separate from each other. Sharing our challenges and triumphs enable each of us to grow and have a sense of belonging like a sisterhood. The baby and pregnancy stories always amaze me and I learn a lot considering I don’t have children of my own.  I am also fascinated by the fact that as the pregnant mummies bellies grow, they are still moving with lots of energy and I feed off of that energy.  I just love working with pregnant ladies and mothers.

Birth of Pregnancy Exercise: Evolution of DTP

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Sometimes it is fun to look back at the long road to the present! Recently, I was interviewed by our local online media outlet (the Branford CT Patch) and was really thrilled with the resulting story. It focused on the 30 year road of DTP and I thought you might find it interesting.

Here is the link to the story and the subtitle:

http://branford.patch.com/articles/ann-cowlin-a-prenatal-fitness-pioneer-celebrates-30-years-of-work

What started as a “fledgling experiment” has become one Branford woman’s life work.

Thank you for taking a look!

Still looking for new ways to develop core strength & coordination for new moms…start with the posture on the left (inhale) and move to the one on the right (exhale). Keep the transverse abdominal sucked in. Repeat….

Pregnancy Exercise Safety

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This post is adapted from the 3/17/11 DTP Blog on Pregnancy Exercise Safety. For more evidence-based information on Pre/postnatal Health & Fitness, check out the DTP Blog. The Blog includes information starting prior to conception and continuing through postpartum and mom-baby fitness.

There are three sections to this post: 1) moms-to-be, 2) pregnancy fitness teachers and personal trainers and 3) some specific contraindicated and adapted exercises. All information presented is based on peer-review research and evidence collected over a 30 year period of working with this population. More information on safety can be found on this site on the page Benefits, Safety & Guidelines.

1) Safety & Exercise Guidelines for Moms-To-Be

First and foremost, be safe. Trust your body. Make sure your teacher or trainer is certified by an established organization that specializes in pre/postnatal exercise, has worked under master teachers during her preparation, and can answer or get answers to your questions.

These are the safety principles that we suggest to our participants:

  • get proper screen­ing from your health care provider
  • pro­tect yourself
  • do not over­reach your abilities
  • you are respon­si­ble for your body (and its contents)

Squatting is an example of a standard pregnancy exercise used for childbirth preparation that must be adapted by each individual based on body proportions, flexibility, strength and comfort.

Don’t assume that because your teacher and some participants can do a certain movement or position that you should be able to do it just like they do. If your teacher is well trained, she will be able to help you select variations that are appropriate for your body.

When you are exercising, make sure you are getting the most from your activity. Keep these findings in mind when choosing your workout routine:

  • Aerobics and strength training provide the greatest health benefits, reduce the risk for some interventions in labor, help shorten labor, and reduce recovery time
  • Cen­ter­ing helps to prevent injury; relaxation and deep breathing reduce stress; and mild stretching can relieve some discomforts
  • Avoid fatigue and over-training; do reg­u­lar exer­cise 3 — 5 times a week
  • Eat small meals many times a day (200–300 calo­ries every 2–3 hours
  • Drink at least 8 cups of water every day
  • Avoid hot, humid places
  • Wear good shoes dur­ing aer­o­bic activities
  • BE CAREFUL! LISTEN TO YOUR BODY!

If you experience any of the following symptoms, stop exercising and call your health care provider:

  • Sudden pelvic or vaginal pain
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Dizziness or shortness of breath
  • Leaking fluid or bleeding from the vagina
  • Regular contractions, 4 or more per hour
  • Increased heartbeat while resting
  • Sudden abnormal decrease in fetal movement (note: it is completely normal for baby’s movements to decrease slightly during exercise)

2) Safety & Exercise Guidelines for Teachers & Trainers

A principle of practice that increases in importance for fitness professionals working with pregnant women is having the knowledge and skills to articulate the rationale and safety guidelines for every movement she asks clients to perform.

This goal requires adherence to safety as the number one priority. Here is how we delineate safety and the procedures we require of our instructors for achieving safety in practice:

First priority: safety [First, do no harm]
  • sometimes medical conditions preclude exercise
  • find an appropriate starting point for each individual
  • individual tolerances affect modification
  • general safety guidelines are physical
  • pregnant women also need psychological safety
Mind-Body Safety Procedures
  • Centering enhances movement efficiency and safety.
  • Always begin with centering.
Strength Training Cautions
  • avoid Valsalva maneuver
  • avoid free weights after mid pregnancy (open chain; control issue)
  • avoid supine after 1st trimester
  • avoid semi-recumbent 3rd trimester
  • keep in mind the common joint displacements, and nerve and blood vessel entrapment when designing specific exercises
Aerobics or Cardiovascular Conditioning Procedures
  • Monitor for safety
  • Instructional style needs to be appropriate.
  • Walking steps with natural gestures can be done throughout pregnancy
  • Vigorous steps with large gestures are more intense, appropriate as fitness increases
  • The ability to create movement that will be safe and work for various levels of fitness and at different points in pregnancy is one of the most critical skills for pregnancy fitness instructors.
Venue Safety
  • Setting should provide physical and emotional safety
    Equipment must be well-maintained

3) Contraindicated and adapted exercises

Exercises for which case studies and research have shown that there are serious medical issues include the “down dog” position, resting on the back after the 4th month, and abdominal crunches and oblique exercises. Here is more information and adaptation suggestions:

Contraindicated: “Down Dog” requires that the pelvic floor and vaginal area are quite stretched, bringing porous blood vessels at the surface of the vagina close to air. There are records of air entering the vaginal blood vessels in this position and moving to the heart as a fatal air embolism.

Adaptation: Use the child’s pose, with the seat down resting on the heels and the elbows on the ground, hands one on top of the other, and forehead resting on the hands. Keep the heart above the pelvis.

_________

Contraindicated: Resting on the back during relaxation.

Adaptation: Rest in the side-lying position. About 75% prefer the left side, 25% prefer the right side.

_________

Contraindicated: Abdominal crunches and oblique exercises can contribute to diastasis recti in some women. The transverse abdominal muscle is not always able to maintain vertical integrity at the linea alba, and thus there is tearing and/or plasticity of that central connective tissue.

Adaptation: Splinting with curl-downs, see positions below. By pressing the sides of the abdomen toward the center, women can continue to strengthen the transverse abdominals without the shearing forces that place lateral pressure on the linea alba.

Curl-downs are generally the safest and most effective abdominal strenthening exercise.

Splint by crossing arms and pulling toward center (L)

Or, splint by placing hands at sides and pressing toward center (R)

Safe Motherhood

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The challenges to safe motherhood vary depending where in the world you live. In some areas the challenge may be to get adequate nutrition or clean water; in other areas, it may be to prevent infection; and in still other locations it may be trying to avoid pregnancy before your body is ready or getting access to prenatal care. In the U.S., it may mean avoiding being sedentary and making poor food choices, or having to deal with the high technology environment of medical birth that can sabotage the innate physiological process of labor and birth.

Birth begins the bonding or unique love between mother and child.

The biology of birth is a complex series of cause-effect processes…baby’s brain releases chemical signals to the mother and the placenta begins to manifest the maternal immune system’s rejection of the fetus.

To help the ball get rolling, relaxation (the trophotropic response) helps promote the release of oxytocin. With the help of gravity, the head presses on the cervix, amplifying the uterine contractions. After an ultra-distance aerobic endurance test, the cervix opens enough to let the baby move into the vagina and the mother’s discomfort moves from sharp cramping into the bony structure as she transitions to the strength test of pushing. She transitions. Relaxation modulates into an ergotropic – adrenal – response to gather her power.

Pushing is an interesting term…more masculine, I think, than the one I prefer:  Releasing. Releasing or letting go of the baby. It’s a catharsis. In this portion of the labor another set of important processes help the baby clear its lungs of amniotic fluid, stimulate its adrenal system and challenge its immune system, as the contractions drive the baby downward. The mother’s deep transverse abdominal muscles – if strong enough – squeeze the uterus like a tube of tooth paste, to aid this expulsion. In the meantime, the labor is helping set up the mother to fall in love and produce milk. When the baby emerges and moves onto the mother’s chest, s/he smells and tastes the mother, recognizing her mother’s flavor and setting up the potential for bonding.

Any way you slice it, there are two parts to safe motherhood. One is a safe pregnancy…healthy nutrition, physical fitness, safe water, infection prevention, support and a safe environment. The other is a safe labor. In a safe labor, there is both an environment that promotes the natural process of labor and the means necessary for medical assistance when needed. Women die at an alarming rate from pregnancy or birth-related problems. Despite some progress made in recent years, women continue to die every minute as a result of being pregnant or giving birth.

What keeps us from having a better record on motherhood is often lack of care in the developing world and too much intervention in the U.S.. They are two sides of a coin. Mothers’ experience and health needs are not on equal footing with other cultural values. In places where basic prenatal care or family planning are low priorities, at-risk women are vulnerable to the physical stresses of pregnancy and birth. In the U.S., machine-measured data is paramount, even if it produces high rates of false positives, unnecessary interventions or counterproductive procedures. We are learning that obesity and sedentary lifestyles have detrimental effects, but fewer pregnant women than their non-pregnant counterparts exercise.

Despite the money spent to support the technological model of pregnancy and birth in the U.S., there are parts of the world with lower rates of maternal deaths – especially Scandinavia, Northern Europe and parts of the Mediterranean and Middle East (Greece, the United Arab Emirates, Israel, Italy and Croatia). In fact, in the U.S., maternal deaths are on the rise.

It’s a tricky business. Clearly Western medicine has a lot to offer the developing world when there are medical concerns. On the other hand, importing the U.S. model could create more problems than it solves. Instead, the micro-solutions now being developed in many locations will be observed and evidence collected by organizations such as the White Ribbon Alliance and UNICEF.

There is an effective international midwives model adopted by JHPIEGO, the Johns Hopkins NGO working toward improved birthing outcomes. It assesses the local power structure, social connections, potential for trained birth assistants, and location of available transportation to create a network so that locals will know when a labor is in trouble and who can get the woman to the nearest hospital.

In the U.S., there are in-hospital birth centers that allow low-risk mothers the opportunity to labor and birth in a setting designed to encourage the innate processes. Women are beginning to vote with their feet…staying home for birth. Women are going abroad to give birth. At the same time, women are coming to this country to give birth, believing it is safer than where they are. There are several ways these scenes could play out.

But, I’ll wager, improving outcomes will involve compromise:  Watchfulness and support in most births, plus better ways to assess danger and provide technology. No matter where you live in the world, the solution may be essentially the same.

Active Pregnancy – the rationale

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Moving into Motherhood

It’s time to hit the main theme again:  Aerobically fit women are at reduced risk for things that go wrong in pregnancy, improve their tolerance for labor and birth, and recover more rapidly in the postpartum period.

Moving into Motherhood

The arrival of the holidays provides a good reason to bring this up, yet again! Pregnancy is a gateway time in women’s lives…we become more aware of our bodies, our sensations, our feelings, our needs, and how versatile and amazing our bodies are. We can make people with our bodies! During pregnancy, we often take precautions…we eat more carefully, avoid toxins, try to avoid stress. When the holidays arrive, we see indulgent behavior in a different light.

Yet, even with all this focus on behavior, we sometimes miss the biggest aid to a healthy pregnancy:  physical fitness. Research clearly demonstrates that fit women do better, are healthier and happier. More and more in the U.S. we see disorders of normal organ function that accompany sedentary pregnancy.

Let’s look at this a little closer (yes, I am going to repeat myself some more, but it is an important concept to spread). We live in a body model that rewards an active lifestyle.

Being sedentary causes things to go wrong

Not moving creates biochemical imbalances because the cardiovascular system atrophies and molecules created in the brain or brought in through the digestion may not get where they need to go for a healthy metabolism.

Your cardiovasculature is the highway that brings usable substances to the place they are used. You have to help it grow and develop, use it to pump things around and give it a chance to be healthy. Aerobic fitness does all these things.

Advice for young women of childbearing age

If you are thinking of pregnancy, have recently become pregnant, or work with women of childbearing age, we encourage you to open avenues of activity for yourself or others in this population. You can learn more from our blog dancingthrupregnancy.wordpress.com. You can seek out local pre/postnatal fitness experts on this site. Yoga is nice…we use some of it in our work, along other specific exercises for which there is a direct health benefit. But, we also see yoga converts who come into our program in mid pregnancy unable to breathe after walking up a flight of stairs. How will they do in labor? Not as well as those who have been doing aerobic dance or an elliptical machine 2 or 3 times a week.

The AHA/ACSM guidelines for the amount of aerobic exercise needed to improve cardiovascular status hold true for pregnant women just as they do for the rest of the population – a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate, or 75 minutes of vigorous, or a combination of these levels of intensity, per week. If you are not getting this level of activity, you are putting your health – and that of your offspring – at risk.

CDC Fitness Guidelines Include Pregnancy

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Recent CDC Guidelines on Exercise for the general population include pregnant and postpartum women. Specific information for pregnant women is included at this URL:

http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/guidelines/pregnancy.html

James Pivarnik, PhD, president of the American College of Sports Medicine has released a Medscape video for health care providers encouraging them to be aware of the fact that the CDC considers a minimum of 150 minutes per week of moderate activity (or 75 minutes of vigorous activity for athletic women, or a combination of intensity for fit women) to be important for pregnant women, along with the general population.

DTP’s Total Pregnancy Fitness instructors learn how to combine activities so that women receive an adequate amount of exercise each week during their pregnancy. To find out about becoming a teacher, click on Become a Teacher above.