Interview with Nadine Richardson
Nadine Richardson, doula-turned-entrepreneur, founded She Births® in 2008 when she realised that a majority of pregnant women and their partners were going into labour uninformed and unprepared, leading to many avoidable traumatic birth experiences.
We spoke to Nadine recently and asked her to share her tips on how to have the best birth experience possible and to give us a sneak peek into some of the tools that are included in the She Births® course.
What inspired you to create She Births®?
I’m a mother and have been a childbirth educator, labour assistant and prenatal yoga teacher for over 20 years. After many years of attending births, and of course after my own experiences, I became inspired to develop a more effective preparation for childbirth.
She Births® provides a unique, comprehensive toolkit of skills for mums and partners. It empowers mums to have better births and enables partners to provide effective support.
The goal of She Births® has always been to restore the beauty and sacredness of birth. Because birth is just the beginning. When we meet the child we are about to raise in this world, we partake in an event that is probably the most important in that child’s life - and that event changes us too. It is a magic moment. Holding new life in your arms - nothing is better than that!
But as so many of us have experienced, if the birth process is overwhelming or extremely challenging, if we’re unsure of how to navigate the busy hospital system, or if our partner has no idea how to help, that magic moment can seem like a fantasy.
So we have to work to make birth special. We need to shape our philosophy and our mindset in the lead up to birth. We need to prepare. And we need to gather together a toolkit that can enable us to be empowered in any scenario, to feel the awesome pride and maternal satisfaction that we deserve.
I want that magic moment to be a reality for everyone. By preparing families for every birth scenario, She Births® enables them to create a beautiful birth experience, no matter what unfolds
Could you share an overview (and maybe an example or your favourite tool) of the inner and outer resources you recommend to help women prepare for a joyful birth experience?
I like the term ‘tool’ because it implies that you have a toolkit and when you pick up that tool, like you would a spanner or a hammer (dads, you’re welcome), it is YOU that has to hold it, angle it and work it in the way that is best for you and your body (or her body).
No one can give really you everything you need or tell you how to birth. It is YOU, or rather SHE, that births her baby at the end of the day. That is why it is so friggin’ empowering!
So I suppose my favourite tools are the ones that work best for my mums and dads. Breathing and spiralling for mums and massage and acupressure tools for partners. Although all of our inner and outer resources are utilised during the birth experience by couples, these four always come up trumps in our post-birth surveys.
*Note that at She Births® we use the word, ‘tool’ rather than ‘technique’. I think it’s really important to understand that there are actually NO techniques for birth. You simply have to find your own way through.
When should women begin practising these tools?
As soon as possible! Who doesn’t want more massages?! These are all life skills so I think earlier is best. When we feel centred from the breathing practices our lives become more manageable. When we do physical movements and exercise that help us build endorphins then we feel good and become more positive overall. Even taking on the dietary suggestions not only helps labour progress more easily but is helpful in building confidence. And that is what we need for labour - total belief in ourselves and our bodies that we have got this, we have done all that we can and now it’s time to let go and trust!
If a woman is feeling anxious about the birth or labour, what tools have you found to be the most helpful?
Apart from the practical, body-based tools (originating from yoga and other eastern traditions), I have found it critical for both mum and partner to have the knowledge of how the body is designed to work during labour – the anatomy, physiology and endocrinology. Anxiety is like lightning - it is unharnessed energy seeking the ground.
Yoga grounds the body - knowledge grounds the mind. Learning about the 3 bones of the pelvis and how they expand (when we are not lying on our back), or the 3 layers of the uterus and how they function harmoniously (without fear) plus the amazing concoction of oxytocin, endorphins and prolactin gives us sceptical westerners a deep trust in the process.
Our bodies are amazing and birth is so wonderfully orchestrated when we allow it. When I teach this, I see people's belief systems change in front of my eyes. Their bodies just relax more and more into their chairs as those deep subconscious fears dissolve.
Oh, and we definitely tell all our couples to stop watching all the terrible birth experiences on TV and in the movies. Seek out the positive and informed for your exposure therapy - ditch the drama!
She Births® recommends breathing techniques. Could you share why the breath is so important during labour?
Breathing is like a magic bullet because it has such a profound physiological effect.
When taught well it changes our blood chemistry from adrenaline and cortisol to oxygen and endorphins very quickly. But it also works so well for focusing our minds and settling our emotions. It cuts through the pattern of thinking - that constant circle of thoughts - and allows you to start to dream a little bigger and brighter.
The She Births® breathing techniques are also a little challenging sometimes – but that is part of their purpose. It gives the mind something to focus on during a contraction – a little bit of distraction can also be great pain relief.
Could you share a breathing technique that women can practice now?
The Soft Sleep Breath is very simple and what we utilise between contractions when we are not sleeping.
Simply close your eyes and bring awareness to your current breathing state – no need to change it or control it…just observe, be curious and continually bring awareness back to your nostrils and upper lip…the mind will wander and at some point, you will notice this…and when you do, very gently, just guide your awareness back to the breath….nothing else to do or focus on…just come back to your focal point, nostrils and upper lip.
If you prefer, you can also use a focal point in the centre of the chest or the rise and fall of the belly. It doesn’t matter really, just as long as you give the mind an anchoring point to return back to, the mind and heart rate will continue to settle and you will feel the benefits.
How can a woman involve her partner in the birthing process?
Partners can be involved in birth in so many ways. What most people don’t understand is that reading a book, then marking a few paragraphs and leaving it on hubby’s nightstand is not enough! A partner has to know everything mum knows so that she can relax and the partner can advocate for her during the process.
What is critical for birth is allowing mum’s neo-cortex to ‘shut down’ – her intellectual or analytical mind to switch off. Mums shouldn’t have to ask questions, request anything during labour or ask someone to leave the room – partners can do all of that when they are well informed, allowing mum to relax even more.
Mums are often carrying a secret anxiety about how their partner will cope on the day. She Births® allows a couple to get on the same page and this is a great relief. The added bonus is that by experiencing the course together, relationships become much more stable and intimate as a result of all the discussions and conversations we promote throughout.
We find that many couples choose She Births® because of the practical tools that partners learn. We are the first generation where men are in the birthing rooms and we prepare our partners to be daddy doulas. We even run an annual Daddy Doula Day to honour these special supporters!
What are some of the birthing positions you recommend to reduce labour times?
Being active and upright during contractions is going to help your baby descend and rotate which will reduce labour time. Being active has also been proven to reduce the need for medical pain relief. Our nutrition protocol and the overall elimination of fear helps to reduce labour time too without a doubt.
In the study of She Births® our average labour length was approx. 7 hours which is fantastic. We have also found that women who take prenatal yoga along with She
Births® also have easier births, possibly because of all the stretching and broadening of the pelvic diameter when we are on all fours and in the wide lunges.
What are some of the birthing positions you recommend to reduce tearing?
To reduce tearing we need to do a multitude of things, but your caregivers need to be doing a number of things too. It is a real team effort to take care of this part of the body.
We suggest firstly a pelvic floor assessment with a women's physio to check your resting tone - whether you over engage or not - so that you can learn how to release. I am a big fan of perineal massage or using an EPI-no to prepare both physically and psychologically. Water immersion during labour helps to soften the perineal tissue as does a warm compress on the perineum near crowning. The most critical factor, however, is that when we are pushing we are not lying on our back. We need to ensure the tailbone can move out of the way and our sit bones can widen.
There are studies that also say women who are not induced experience less tearing – so patience and less syntocinon during labour may be a factor. When She Births® mums are compared to those doing standard hospital birth education they had less tearing and also shortened the length of the second stage (pushing) by 32 minutes – that is partially due to our amazing Coffee Plunger Breath technique!
I love that She Births® focuses on the Fourth Trimester as well as the pregnancy. Can you explain why this is so important for mother and baby?
This is part of our own healing and repair post-birth. Our baby’s nervous system adjustment period is taking place and when we keep life simple it is also a very sacred bonding time that makes parenting so much easier in the long run.
You have to think about the birth for our bodies as a dramatic change – almost like treating an injury. We know that the majority of healing and recovery will actually take place in the first few months just after. But, if we also care for ourselves and slow down during this time, we will be spending our days simply watching and learning about our babies and also avoiding their overstimulation too. Rest now and have more energy later. Learn now and have a better relationship later. Keeping life simple and not doing too much is the basic key.
At what stage of pregnancy would be the best time to begin a birth course?
I have seen over the years that earlier is always best. It allows mums to feel so much more relaxed and enjoy their pregnancy without the fear of the upcoming birth! We suggest from about 22 weeks onwards – after the morphology scan. We also allow couples to attend up to 36 weeks because if they register prior they will have access to all our Online Resources that include videos, visualisations and our booklet that they can do a lot of the preparation with.
Do you have a lot of second and third time Mums coming to you for extra support?
We do – and they need a different kind of support. Sometimes there is less fear of birth, sometimes there is more. But mostly they are a bit more tired and definitely a lot more distracted. Weeks fly by and often we don’t even know how many weeks we are!
Often we can be struggling with the physical challenges of a second or third birth and that can be confronting. We all need to spend time preparing to meet our new little being and remembering that 99% of the time, birth will be a new and different experience – so we still have to prepare for whatever may unfold. That is actually what I love about birth! It is new, different and exciting every time – a natural rite of passage. We may as well just surrender and celebrate its awesome beauty and our amazing strength!
Find out more at shebirths.com