Thrive Birth Center Blog

Gut Health and Pregnancy; By Tessa Mancini Gillen

You might have read the recent article in the NY Times about microbes and the wondrous world of human milk, or you might have seen our Facebook post on the benefits of babies born through the bacteria dense birth canal. Let’s dive in a little more, into the magical world of gut bacteria and pregnancy, and how you can balance the micro biome through diet and nutrition. There is a reason we call refer to healthy gut bacteria as the second greatest ‘gift’ a mother can give her child.

Beneficial microbes that populate our gastrointestinal tract are not only unique for every individual, but are also laid out from birth. Babies essentially inherit their micro-biome from their mother, making maternal gut health of vital significance during pregnancy and the postpartum period. These microbes can affect the mechanisms that regulate our body weight, energy, digestion, assimilation of nutrients, mood, mental health, immune system function, among other factors, and these colonies of microbes can be quite complex. For example, did you know that the severity of toddlers tantrums can be linked to the populations of microbes in their gut? Or that 90% of our serotonin (the happiness hormone) is made in our gut, and how much serotonin we make as an adult can be traced back to our gut health as an infant? Or even that the microbiome of a pregnant woman’s reproductive tract can predict preterm birth? (4) Pretty wild, eh?

Our gut microbiome actually changes during each trimester in pregnancy, with these beneficial microbes shifting as pregnancy hormones do, helping to support fetal growth as it progresses. (2) Research suggests that our bodies are coevolving with these microbes, and that we are able to use them as a tool, inducing metabolic changes that promote energy storage, allowing fetuses to grow optimally. (2) The importance of gut flora can not be understated and is of vital significance, not only during pregnancy, but during birth and the postpartum period as well. New research from Scientific American notes the possible connection with gut health and the microbiome’s role in autism. According to Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, children with GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome), toxicity flows from their gut throughout their bodies and into their brains. This burdens the nervous system, preventing it from performing its normal functions and process sensory information. She states,“Virtually any toxic exposure, including a vaccine, can be the “straw that broke the camel’s back” in a situation like this. The end result can be symptoms of autism, and/or any number of other neurological problems.” (3)

So where do we start? How a baby enters the world influences their microbial profile, with microbe communities differing in babies born vaginally versus via ceacarean. An article in Science Daily reported:

“At the time of delivery, the vagina is dominated by a pair of bacterial species, Lactobacillus and Prevotella. In contrast, infants delivered by caesarean section typically show microbial communities associated with the skin, including Staphylococcus, Corynebacterium, and Propionibacterium. While the full implications of these distinctions are still murky, evidence suggests they may affect an infant’s subsequent development and health, particularly in terms of susceptibility to pathogens.” (5)

The documentary Microbirth, directed by Alex Wakeford and Toni Harman, takes an in-depth look at the life-long consequences that our micro-biome have on our health, noting that there are generational impacts, affecting DNA that can then be passed on to future generations. This new emerging research shows how vital these microbes really are, and how imbalances can contribute to life-long chronic, degenerative diseases. (3) Toni Harman wrote an article about her film in the Huffington Post, stating: “Two amazing events happen during childbirth. There’s the obvious main event, which is the emergence of a new human into the world. But then there’s the non-human event that is taking place simultaneously, a crucial event that is not visible to the naked eye, an event that could determine the lifelong health of the baby. This is the seeding of the baby’s micro biome. However, with interventions like the use of synthetic oxytocin (Pitocin / Syntocinon), antibiotics, C-section and formula feeding, this microbial transfer from the mother to baby is interfered with or bypassed completely.” (1)

Babies born without this first exposure to the microbes, located in their mother’s birth canal, start life with an incomplete and imbalanced microbiome. This imbalance can have life-long consequences. Harman continues, “The discovery of the microbiome is an exciting moment in human history. The insight gives into the existence of the trillions of bacteria that live on us and in us potentially offers the medical community a new way to treat disease. Even more importantly, it also offers the possibility of helping prevent disease in the first place. And it all starts with birth. Even if vaginal birth isn’t possible, then immediate skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding should be fully supported and encouraged by all healthcare providers to help ensure the baby’s microbiome is still seeded with the mother’s own bacteria. Apart from the obvious gift of life, the seeding of the baby’s microbiome is perhaps the second greatest ‘gift’ a mother can give her baby.” (1)

And while it is easy to recommend ways to reinoculate the gut with beneficial microbes, it is just as easy for the bad guys to take over. Antibiotic use, sugar consumption, birth control, and processed food all negatively affect the micro-biome. Beneficial gut microbes are highly susceptible to toxins, which can wreck havoc on your gut health. Studies show that glyphosphate, the active ingredient in Roundup, alters and DESTROYS these beneficial microorganisms. (3) So a good place to start is simply to eat non-processed, organic foods, with an emphasis on including fermented foods into your diet, everyday. The health of your baby’s gut starts with the health of your gut, so make it a priority. Yogurt, Kimchee, Sauerkraut, and Coconut Keifer are a few of my favorites.

DSC_0136 And then there are Probiotic Pops (recipe below). The sun is out, the weather is hot, and summer is kicking. These golden days are often accompanied with trips to the beach, rafting on the river, and more often than not, treats for the kids. But that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your child’s health, nor your own, while loading them up with refined sugar, which leads to the growth and overpopulation of the bad microbes. These frozen treats not only help to cool you down during these scorching days, but are rich in beneficial gut microbes and are sweetened with natures array of natural sugars that actually help to feed these good guys. These microbes are essential for you, for your kids, for your unborn baby, and these pops make it easy to ensure everyone is getting the goods.

Probiotic Pops

2 cups Watermelon
Fresh fruit of choice
Coconut Water Probiotic (I love inner-eco, but there are several good ones out there.)

Puree watermelon and pour into popsicles molds. Fill 3/4 full.
Add 1 TBS Coconut Water Probiotic to each mold.
With a chopstick, stir to disperse evenly.
Add in chunks of your favorite fruit to fill the molds. Blueberries, strawberries, kiwi slices, figs, you get the picture.
Freeze and enjoy. <3


Tessa Mancini Gillen is Thrive’s go to herbalist and nutritionist. She teaches classes and is the master mind behind the Mama Meal Plan which delivers home cooked, organic and nutritionally dense meals to new families in Sonoma County.

Thrive Birth Center Blog

Water Birth Photos



With most births, labor starts slow and begins to build. Oxytocin and endorphins begin to flow, and mama can feel surges of euphoria between and even during intense contractions.




Often, the birth room is quiet as the support team works quietly and mama works hard.







Vocalizations, changing positions, they all watch as she goes deeper inside herself.






Supporting a laboring woman is more about bearing witness to her expressions of love and uncomfortability than trying to make labor seem like it’s not happening.






And although she knew she was having a baby, it’s still a surprise, an everyday miracle of sorts.





Thank you to Ellen and Dustin for trusting us, and sharing these beautiful images of the birth of their babe with us.

Thrive Birth Center Blog

The Value Of Postpartum Care; Where You Give Birth Matters

By Jasmine Maes, LM, CPM

The first days and weeks after a baby is born are full of emotion, new experience and adjustment to life with baby. There are often tears of joy and frustration, limited sleep and new physical sensations. Caring for baby, healing after birth, and the arrival of breast milk all bring a sense of fullness to days and nights. New parents are often recovering from labor and missed sleep.

Following a hospital birth, a woman may stay for 1-3 days as a patient at the hospital. During these days, her vital signs, healing and functions are monitored by the staff. Her baby also is a patient, and a nurse comes in frequently to check vital signs, feeding, weight loss/gain, and jaundice. On the second day most families are discharged home with strict instructions to follow-up with their family doctor or pediatrician within a day or so for weight and jaundice checks for baby. A woman’s milk has not arrived yet, and her nipples may be sore from the adjustment to feeding baby, not to mention tenderness from any healing stitches. Her sleep has been interrupted by regular visits from staff and family, and there is little to no space made in the hospital for families to snuggle together. Even more stressful for many families, little accommodation is made for older siblings to be in the hospital with their families.

It is often routine for babies to be taken to the nursery for weight checks, tests, and hearing screening. Even seemingly harmless procedures like bathing a newborn in the hospital can do more harm than good, as amniotic fluid and vernix are shown to be protective against bacteria, as well as to play a key role in newborn feeding, imprinting, and bonding (No smelly synthetic Baby Magic shampoo for my new baby, please!). There are often rules about baby’s safety and co-sleeping, which can limit skin-to-skin time and breastfeeding. After discharge from the hospital, parents are instructed to return to their pediatrician’s office every few days for weight checks until milk has arrived, baby has regained its birth weight and breastfeeding is more established. No care is regularly scheduled for new moms following hospital discharge until 6 weeks following the birth! No evaluation of healing, minimal breastfeeding support, no postpartum depression screening, or the chance to discuss, process, and ask questions about labor or her baby’s birth. A woman who gives birth by cesarean may have a two-week post-op appointment with a doctor to check her incision, but otherwise it’s the long six weeks till she is seen again by her doctor or nurse-midwife.

In contrast, following a birth center or home birth, the focus is on uninterrupted bonding and skin-to-skin connection with baby. Assessments of mama’s and baby’s well-being are done unobtrusively with baby at the breast or in a parent’s arms. Separation is neither encouraged nor necessary to provide thorough care for a newborn baby. Midwives recognize that the safest and healthiest place for a baby is with it’s mama. Even the routine and thorough newborn exam following birth is offered in the bed with parents and no procedure is ever performed without clear permission and consent. After a nap, a good hot meal, and some care and teaching by our midwives, families get to go home to the inviting comfort of their own beds around 4-6 hours following birth or in the morning if the birth occurs overnight. Or even easier yet, following a home birth, the midwives tuck a family into their own bed and plan to return for follow-up care the next day. Here is where the truly deluxe treatment begins.

IMG_0089 Whether birth happens at Thrive or at home, a midwife visits the family at home within 24 hours of birth, on day 3-5, and again on day 7-10. These visits last about 90 minutes, with time for care of both mom and baby. Vital signs are checked, baby is weighed and evaluated for jaundice, with appropriate referral for any abnormal findings. In-depth discussion of breastfeeding and any emotional or physical challenges are reviewed. Newborn Genetic and Metabolic screening, which is offered to all families in California, can be performed at the 3-5 day home visit, with parents’ permission. Additionally, families are invited to return to Thrive at 3 and 6 weeks post birth for continuing postpartum care visits for mom and babe, including family planning counseling and well-woman screening.   Additional postpartum visits are available in the event that there is a concern or challenge.

As licensed primary caregivers for low-risk mamas and newborns in the first 6 weeks after birth, midwives are trained and equipped to give comprehensive and safe care during this especially sweet and sensitive time. The midwife returns at these regular intervals so that parents can spend these precious and vulnerable first days in the privacy and comfort of home. No unnecessary exposures or long waits in germy waiting rooms, no delayed feedings, no climbing in and out of the car for sore mamas, or wrestling engorged breasts into uncomfortable nursing bras. Just rest, recuperation and togetherness. Another benefit is that older siblings can be a part of postpartum care to help ease adjustment to the new baby’s arrival.

breastfeedHelp with breastfeeding challenges and support for mamas with emotional adjustment stand out as two of the most valuable pieces of this ongoing care. Plenty of new mamas are unsure their baby is getting enough milk, feel overwhelmed learning to help their baby latch, have challenges with producing enough milk, or receive mixed messages or inaccurate information about breastfeeding. The US has a relatively low breastfeeding success rate, with 72% of women breastfeeding at birth, but only 49% still breastfeeding at 6 months, and a dismal 27% still breastfeeding at 12 months, despite the World health organization recommendation of breastfeeding through 2 years of age, or as long as mutually desired by mother and child. Multiple studies show that prolonged breastfeeding gives children the absolute healthiest start to life by reducing incidence of obesity, diabetes, autoimmune disease, food and environmental allergies throughout the lifespan. What most women need for success is more support and information. Women cared for by midwives regularly have breastfeeding success rates that surpass these national averages.

When choosing where to give birth, doesn’t it make sense to consider what care will look like after baby arrives? It makes sense to have care that takes into consideration the needs of the entire family, and to have frequent, professional, and personalized care in those crucial first days and weeks of your baby’s life.

Thrive Birth Center Blog, Thrive Birth Talk

Mineral Magic

Mineral Magic; by Tessa Mancini Gillen, Holistic Nutritionist and Herbalist

Preparing a nutrient rich mineral broth is an essential skill to be learned and utilized, as it brings healing and rejuvenation to your kitchen and every dish it compliments. Substituting mineral broth for water in many everyday recipes can truly transform your health. When cooking grains, beans or pasta, use mineral broth. When making a soup or stew, mineral broth. Or simply drink it as is, and enjoy this alkalinizing, mineralizing and rejuvenating beverage. It is recommended to gently simmer these vegetables and herbs for 4-5 hours, optimizing the nutrition that will infuse into the broth. I often start a broth before heading to bed, and strain it first thing in the morning. And don’t worry, many of the desired therapeutic compounds found in this broth are not heat sensitive and won’t be damaged from the cooking.

1 1/2 pounds onions with skins, quartered
6 celery stalks, with leaves, chopped
3 carrots, scrubbed and chopped
1/2 pound shiitake or maitake mushrooms
2 1/2 pounds yams, chopped
1 small celery root, chopped
3-4 pieces dried kombu
1/4 cup dried wakame
5 or more cloves of garlic (crush/chop and allow to sit for 10 minutes before adding to broth)
1 bay leaf
Handful of Calendula Flowers (omit if pregnant)
1/2 bunch fresh parsley

Heat a heavy-bottomed stockpot (with pasta strainer in) over medium heat and add the onions, celery, and carrots. Add 3 TBS of water and cover the pan. The vegetables will release their own water content, known as sweating.
After 5 minutes, remove the lid. add mushrooms, and cover the pan again to continue sweating.
Add yams, celery root, seaweed, garlic, bay leaf and fresh calendula, and cover with filtered water. You want the vegetables to be covered by 2” of water. Bring to a soft boil, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 4-6 hours.
Add in the fresh parsley during the last hour of cooking.
When the stock is finished, strain by removing the pasta strainer and press as much of the liquid out as possible. You could also strain using cheese cloth, pressing the solids to get as much of that golden liquid out as possible.
Once cooled, store mineral broth in canning jars for up to one week in refrigerator. If freezing stock in canning jars, be sure to leave 2 inches of head room at the top of the canning jars. Or fill ice-cube trays or other freezer molds with broth for easy and accessible use when needed. This allows for a few quick cubes here and there, without having to de-thaw a whole jar. Enjoy.

For more info on Tessa’s upcoming classes or her individual consultations on fertility and perinatal nutritional health, please contact Thrive at (707) 387-2088.

Thrive Birth Center Blog, Thrive Birth Talk

Introducing Solids; What, When & How, with Tessa Mancini Gillen

Finally, we made it. Six months. This milestone feels big, somehow bigger than the others. Life is starting to feel light again, and we have somehow transitioned from the deep and dark room of newborn land to a much sweeter space of existence. With all the light and joy that this milestone brings, introducing food may be one of the bigger highlights. Breast Milk has been the cornerstone for this human’s existence. And for good reason. Full of fatty acids, antibodies, nutrients, protein, and fat, it truly is the perfect food. It also contains quite a bit of sugar, making your baby’s introduction to food a sweet, satiating one. Have you ever wondered why Breast Milk is so sweet? I used to believe that it was full of sugar to send the signal to our brain that it was a safe food, and yes, please eat more: positive feedback. And while this still rings true, a deeper understanding leads me to include the role of sugar being necessary for feeding our gut microbiome, the true cornerstone for health. Our gut health affects our mood, our ability to digest food, assimilate nutrients, and eliminate waste and toxins. Our gut health can be a huge indicator for which diseases we will be susceptible to later in life, including diabetes, obesity, asthma, allergies, autoimmune disorders, and more. 90% of serotonin (the happiness hormone) is made in the digestive tract, over 70% of our immune system resides in the gut, and at birth we are starting from scratch. Newborns have a gut free from bacteria, which begins to populate with hundreds of thousands of microbes, critical bacteria that will have lasting impacts on your child’s health. These bacteria need one thing to thrive and survive. Sugar. Which is conveniently found in perfect proportions in Breast Milk, the perfect baby food. But there does come a time when your baby’s nutritional needs will increase, and solids will need to join the party.

Introducing solid food too early can increase the risk for developing allergies and intolerances. Your baby’s digestive tract is not equipped to handle most foods until around 6 months, when digestive enzymes begin to develop. Without these enzymes, your baby is unable to digest most whole foods. In Ayurvedic tradition, babies are given small amounts of spices (cumin, coriander, cinnamon, amchur, sumac) on the tongue to help increase these necessary enzymes and begin to build-up the digestive fire.

As intestines begin to mature, they secrete the protein immunoglobulin A (IgA), which acts like a protective paint for your baby’s developing digestive tract. IgA not only coats the digestive tract, it prevents the passage of harmful allergens into your baby’s system. This protective IgA exists in very low numbers in the early months and does not reach its peak production until 7 months of age. As the digestive tract matures and develops, the body is better able to become nutritionally selective, filtering out offending allergens, making this a great time to start introducing some gentle, safe whole-food options.

While many parents introduce oatmeal and rice cereal right around this time, it may not be as beneficial as once thought. Around 6 months of age babies nutritional needs go up, including iron and zinc, neither of which exist naturally in fortified rice cereal. Also, these tiny digestive systems are still developing, and with limited enzymes available, grains can be tough for babies to digest. In fact, it can take over 2 years for the enzyme amylase to really kick into gear, which is needed to break down both rice and oatmeal. If there is no amylase, there is no break-down, leading to discomfort and irritation for the wee ones. No thanks, I’d rather introduce REAL unprocessed foods, foods that contain all the necessary enzymes and minerals to benefit my babies growing nutritional needs. And I’ll take that without the discomfort and irritation.

So you are 6 months in and your baby is eager to eat some REAL food. What should come first? Surveying other cultures around the globe, the answer isn’t clear-cut. There are many different approaches that share the underlying theme of introducing REAL food. In Oceania, the Yafars chew up fish and then feed it along with liver to their babies. The first foods for Inuit babies include seaweed and “nuk-tuk” (seal blubber) and in Puerto Rico, common first foods include potatoes, mashed boiled plantains, rice, mangos, and many other tropical vegetables and fruits. In Indonesia, babies are given rice pudding mixed with liver and veggies, and in Japan babies are given miso soup, and raw fish is given to babies under 2 years of age. Herbal teas are frequently given to babies around the world, and all of these variations in infant feeding help to show us that there is never just one way to introduce solids. Make your babies first bite flavorful and nutrient dense, and choose real, organic and non-refined options.

Here are a few ideas to get you going:

When introducing new foods or spices, wait 3 days between new introductions, and be mindful of any food allergy symptoms.

Common Food Allergy Symptoms Include:
1. diarrhea/ constipation
2. vomiting
3. swollen face
4. rash/ skin irritation
5. wheezing

Common Allergenic Foods:
1. dairy
2. soy
3. peanuts & tree nuts
4. shellfish
5. wheat
6. eggs

Foods To Be Delayed Until At Least 1 Year Of Age:
1. Honey
2. Nuts/Nut butter (There are mixed reviews on this. Some studies say introduce early and some say wait. There is no definitive answer.)
3. Shellfish
4. Cows milk. Between 9-12 months, fermented dairy may be ok. The fermentation breaks down the milk lactose into simple sugars, which are more easily absorbed.

First foods to introduce:

Banana: Conveniently contain amylase, an enzyme needed to break down carbohydrates that is not present yet in babies digestive systems.

Pear: Known to be anti-allergenic, pears also offer digestive support in alleviating your baby’s constipation. Pears (cooked) are known to be very gentle on a baby’s stomach, making it a good choice for those with reflux.

28522_396366871515_2228200_nAvocado: One of nature’s perfect foods for babies, this gem is easily digested and contains over 25 essential nutrients including iron, copper, magnesium, and essential fatty acids that help the body to function optimally. Avocados also help the body to assimilate and absorb these key nutrients, truly optimizing your baby’s nutrition.

Nettle: Introducing nettles provides your baby with a good boost of iron, not to mention a whole tool-box full of vitamins and minerals. Nettle also contains acetylcholine, which is necessary for optimal brain development, and essential fatty acids, making this earthy green superfood a true whole body vitalizer. Try pureeing fresh nettle leaves with a touch of breastmilk (until smoothly processed), or simply make a tea.

For more information on introducing solids, and some clever ideas on how to get the essential vitamins and minerals into your growing baby, join me for Introducing Solids; Baby’s First Bite at the Thrive Birth Center. April 16th, 12-2 pm

Thrive Birth Center Blog, Thrive Birth Talk

Where You Birth Matters, Part Three: Are Birth Centers Safe?

With the upcoming screening of the locally produced documentary Why Not Home? The Surprising Birth Choices of Physicians and Nurses, we thought it was a good time to have a community conversation about the importance of birth location. 

In Part Three of this series, Melissa Wiseman, LM, CPM, looks at why the studies show us that birth centers are not only safe but ideal for low risk families. Enjoy! 

Are Birth Center’s Safe? A look at the studies, your choice, and why it works! 

More and more families are seeking the care of midwives for their pregnancy and birth. Some preferring hospital birth with Nurse-Midwives and others choosing home birth or birth center care with Licensed Midwives. The choice of where you give birth is highly personal and is based on your own set of values, ideas and knowledge about birth. We give birth where we feel safe and despite the past century of being told that hospital birth is the safest place for birth to occur, women who give birth in free standing birth centers are experiencing much better outcomes.

A recent article Maternal Outcomes in Birth Centers: an integrative review of the literature presented maternal outcomes from 23 quantitative and 9 qualitative studies of 84,300 births planned to occur in freestanding birth centers throughout the United States and internationally.   The outcomes were certainly favorable for healthy, low-risk women who choose to give birth at a freestanding birth center. These positive outcomes included higher rates of vaginal birth and lower rate of cesarean birth, greater perineal integrity and fewer episiotomies, less use of oxytocin for labor augmentation, and less use of epidural or other pharmacologic pain management. A review of this magnitude is a highly valuable comparison tool, especially if you are pregnant and deciding whether a hospital or birth center or home birth is right for you.

In addition to this study, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recently released a statement that healthy low-risk women should be supported in their choice to give birth in birth centers. So, what is it about birth centers that promote better outcomes for you and your baby?

Midwifery Care provided in birth centers

Women report greater satisfaction with the comprehensive and individualized care and a more egalitarian relationship with their midwives, where a personal connection helped them to engage and be an active participant in their care. When we provide you with unbiased information, access to high quality clinical care and ample opportunities to make your own choices, then will we really see superior outcomes for both you and baby. professional-bubble

A place where your choices are respected

Women who are respected as the prime decision maker throughout her and her baby’s care feel a greater sense of empowerment. Becoming an empowered voice in your care and in the care of your baby is essential as you transition into parenthood. We encourage you to be engaged and active participants in your care, and in turn your midwives trust and respect the informed choices the you make.


IMG_0741-Edit-1200x800It is a home away from home

Birth Centers are home-like environment that is set up specifically to promote uninterrupted, natural birth. Birth suites are often spacious with a large tub, should you choose to labor or birth in the water. The layout is created to ensure safety and privacy during birth, each piece of furniture carefully chosen for both comfort and function, and our cabinets are stocked and organized to hold the necessities for labor and birth.

Baby on a Scale

Out of sight, not out of reach

In birth centers, your midwives give you the room to labor and give birth without pressure to submit to common interventions such as pharmaceutical labor induction, augmentation and epidural pain management. These are still accessible, but do require a short car ride to the hospital to obtain. Because these options are associated with risk of further interventions and cesarean section, they are best used when only absolutely necessary. To promote the most physiologic birth and best possible outcomes, healthy low-risk women should have the opportunity to go into labor when their baby and body is ready. They should also have the space to labor and give birth on her own terms with the watchful guidance of skilled midwives through the process.


But what if something goes wrong?

Complications can arise in labor and birth and such is life, we don’t drive with our airbags out just in case they don’t do their job and inflate on impact. And it certainly doesn’t mean a healthy low-risk woman needs to give birth in the hospital “just in case”. Because midwives are experts in normal birth, midwives are especially good at identifying patterns in labor that are not following the normal progression for birth. Remember, there are yellow lights before there are red lights. With the undivided attention your midwife, she can address issues that might arise in a timely and dignified manner. You are the number one priority of your birth team! As midwives, we are readily equipped to treat some of the more common complications that may arise in labor, birth or in the immediate postpartum. If there are more complex or emergent issues, we are able to make a timely transition to the hospital.



The choice around where to give birth is only for you to make. But the tides are starting to turn as we are seeing our health care system encouraging healthy, low risk women to seek birth center care. And why? Because our mamas, our babies and our outcomes are strong.

~Melissa Wiseman is a licensed midwife practicing at Thrive, Ultimate Frisbee enthusiast, and all around birth nerd. 

IMG_4418[1] copy
Thrive Birth Center Blog

Where You Birth Matters, Part Two: Water Birth

We are excited to launch our new blog series Where You Birth Matters.

With the upcoming screening of  the locally produced documentary Why Not Home? The Surprising Birth Choices of Physicians and Nurses, we thought it was a good time to have a community conversation about the importance of birth location. In this series, we’ll take a comprehensive look at birthing locations and outcomes, including the hormonal process, the safety of out-of-hospital birth and associated studies, obstacles around fees and access, and ways families can afford a supported birth experience. Plus, we’ll let you hear directly from families about why they value and fought hard for a birth experience that should be everyone’s right~ safe, supported, and dignified.

In Part Two of this series, we are bringing back a past blog piece on water birth. Midwife Bee Lauher looks at why and how water birth works as well as busting a few myths. 

Where You Birth Matters, Part Two: The Wisdom Of Water Birth

When a laboring woman steps into the birth tub the atmosphere changes, voices quiet and the softness of her body is noticeable.

Midwives have known for decades that warm water is one of the most powerful tools we have in reducing pain and tension in child birth. And yet, in the medical model of care, we are still seeing fear and resistance to letting women soak their bodies in water during labor and birth.

Recently, I was in Indonesia meeting with an Obstetrician and his group of students at a local hospital. We were discussing the differences between maternity care in the U.S. verses Indonesia. He asked, somewhat startled, “You don’t do water birth do you?” I replied, “Of course, more than half of the births I attend are water births.” His jaw dropped a little and he said, “You let babies eat their mom’s poop!” The table erupted in laughter. It was funny, but it also reflected that the medical world is still in the dark about the safety and benefits of hydrotherapy in birth.

The majority of hospitals in California will allow a laboring Mama to get in the shower for short periods between of time while being connected to a hospital bed for electronic fetal monitoring. Rarely are you able to be in active labor in the shower, and if you are blessed to find a hospital that offers a birthing tub, it is unlikely that you will be allowed to birth in it.

Midwives are skillfully trained in the art of monitoring fetal heart tones in any position, in any room. We use water proof hand held dopplers which allows us to keep a close eye (or ear) on your baby while you are in the tub.

There are many myths revolving around the risks of water birth. The primary myth is that the baby will take a breath underwater and aspirate fluid into the lungs. Rather, a healthy baby that has been thriving during labor and born into the water will be perfectly safe and will not inhale water due to the design of their throat. The larynx has 5 times more taste buds then the tongue does, which allows it to interpret solutions as they hit the back of the throat. As the solution passes the larynx the taste buds will signal the glottis to automatically close, while at the same time swallowing anything in the mouth. This automatic response is called the Dive Reflex. All healthy active babies have one. Indeed, it is believed that infants are born with this reflex so that they can easily breastfeed and not inhale milk.

IMG_4418[1] copyBy facilitating mobility and reducing stress related hormones, while at the same time increasing oxytocin and endorphins (which neutralize pain and encourage a trance like state during labor), midwives have have seen and experienced the following benefits of water birth:

• Enables the mother to assume any position which is comfortable for labor and birth
• Speeds up labor
• Reduces blood pressure
• Gives mother more control of body
• Provides significant pain relief
• Promotes relaxation
• Conserves her energy
• Reduces the need for drugs
• Gives mother a private and protected space
• Causes the perineum to become more elastic and relaxed, reducing the incidence and severity of tearing and the need for an episiotomy and stitches
• Reduces cesarean section rates and transports to the hospital for pain management
• Encourages an easier birth for mother and a gentler welcome for baby

It is a common belief that because babies have been happily floating in warm water for the last 40 weeks or so that birthing a baby into the water ensures a smooth and gentle transition into life with gravity. These babies are less likely to be stressed by a harsh environment. They are more likely to be born into their Mama’s hands, quietly, gently, and peacefully.

Of course, there are situations that are not ideal for a water birth. Each mama and each baby are different and require individualized care to create a birth plan for you.

For more information about water birth or the benefits of laboring in water, contact Thrive. We are more then happy to discuss your birthing options!
Love, Bee Lauher, LM, CPM

*For more information the birth photographer who can took the photo above, please contact Seana Burglund and see her website here.

Thrive Birth Center Blog

Where You Birth Matters, Part One: Oxytocin


UnknownWhere You Birth Matters, Part One
Oxytocin: the Hormone of Trust and Community

By Kelly Gray

You might already know that oxytocin plays a major role in the process of childbirth and breastfeeding. This birth-related hormone is responsible for the uterus pulling itself up to thicken the fundus so that the baby can be released. In other words, oxytocin contracts the uterus. When labor is undisturbed, oxytocin will flood the laboring woman’s body with a euphoric feeling while decreasing stress hormones. After labor, oxytocin helps with the let-down of the mother’s breast milk, as well as facilitate mother-baby bonding.

But, it’s even more nuanced than that.

Oxytocin is the body’s messenger of love, and that means a lot. It is produced in the hypothalamus and released via the pituitary gland. It flows through the blood of humans when they feel connected, intimate, and safe. Whether you are in your lover’s arms, nursing your newborn infant, or laughing with your best friend, your body releases oxytocin, which allows you to deepen your connection to those around you. Under its influence, we might experience the feeling that we often describe as love. What is that sweet restful feeling after an orgasm? What is that warm rush mothers get while breastfeeding? Or the need to hold your baby when you hear her cry? It’s oxytocin!

Scientists have identified oxytocin as having a major role in our ability to build community and form morality, all based on a unique transaction that happens between humans: TRUST. What’s really interesting about trust and oxytocin is that it’s largely built upon non-verbal cues and it’s a two way street. Oxytocin allows us to read another person’s non-verbal cues and decide whether we trust them and discern whether they trust us. If someone displays cues that they don’t trust us, our oxytocin lowers. Fortunately, if someone lets us know they trust us, that’s the foundation for a good relationship and our oxytocin flows. Oxytocin is literally the hormonal building block for relationships, family and community.

Thus, where we give birth and who we invite into the birth room affect our oxytocin levels, which in turn affect our experience of childbirth. For instance, if your provider looks at you while grimacing and says, “You’re making a baby that is too big for your body, we’ll need to talk about scheduling an induction or cesarean”, this will decrease your oxytocin levels. At the core of this statement, your provider is expressing distrust in your body’s ability to birth your baby. In reaction, your oxytocin production decreases and you might not trust your provider, or worse, your body. This additional stress might even affect your ability to spontaneously go into labor. On the other hand, when your midwife smiles at you and says, “Your body is perfect and your baby is perfect,” your oxytocin production surges. You build an intimate relationship that supports spontaneous labor that feels manageable and secure.

During birth, oxytocin aides in contracting your uterus, which allows your womb to pull up so that your baby can enter your birth canal and be born. The closer a laboring woman gets to having a baby, the stronger her contractions are, and the more oxytocin she has in her body. Her sensitivity to non-verbal cues is heightened, and the need for trust is even more crucial.

As support people, it is paramount to think of the laboring woman as having super human skills in reading non-verbal cues. Best intentions aside, what we tell her non-verbally affects her body and emotions. A provider who is peaking too loudly, too many interruptions or observers, or a partner who is jittery will have a profound impact on the progress of labor. When stressed, the laboring woman’s body will decrease her oxytocin production. In contrast, think of the woman who hears, “You are doing beautifully,” or “Take your time”, or sees her doula smiling from the corner of the room. She will feel her contractions strengthen and her euphoria surge. If she feels her partner’s arms embracing her while she sways in the candle lit room, she feel protected and safe and allowed to walk towards the intensity of birth. When her vocalizations are met with knowing nods, and her uncomfortability is met with enthusiasm, she can feel trust at the core of her experience. In turn, trust and connection will protect her body and her baby as her labor becomes stronger, and her contractions become longer and closer together. Since having longer, stronger and closer contractions is the only way to have your baby, why not have them from a place of euphoria?

Sexuality can teach us a lot about birth, the dance between intensity and euphoria, welcoming the peak of the experience, the need for trust, connection and consent. An orgasm is physiologically and emotionally very similar to that of a contraction. In both, you will find the need to relax, release, and allow them to surge through you on the bridge that links the mind and body. That bridge is built from the hormones of labor, particularly oxytocin.

Sports research shows that emotional transference, when one person’s emotions are redirected to another’s emotions through non-verbal cues, is oxytocin induced. Sports research also shows us that oxytocin increases under physical activity. The euphoric feeling experienced from playing with a team that you trust is real, and oxytocin allows players to build a cohesive unit based on positive emotions that enhance their game.

It’s not just where or with whom we birth that will determine our ability to get our oxytocin going. Culturally, we have a relationship that is suspicious of the woman’s body and her ability to move through her biological initiations like menstruation, birth or menopause with ease and joy. At large, we often go to places to birth our babies that we associate with sickness and death with emergencies that feel out of our control (and all our cultural confusion over those normal experiences). Often, due to cultural narratives that we inherit, we feel shame, fear and distrust around our bodies, gender or sex. Sometimes, our ability to create oxytocin is hindered by past traumatic experiences, mental health or autoimmune disorders.

What I really want you to know about oxytocin is that oxytocin allows you to fall in love with your newborn and understand all of his non-verbal cues. It’s at the core of our first human experience: having our needs met by our family. When the oxytocin cycle is interrupted, such as when synthetic oxytocin (Pitocin) is given to the laboring woman, we see Moms who might struggle with milk production, postpartum depression, and are challenged to read their little one’s non-verbal cues. Synthetic hormones can decrease or even turn off our naturally producing hormones. This affects not only mothers and babies, but also all of the mother’s relationships. We know that medical interventions can be life saving, and sometimes, we must take risks like introducing Pitocin into the birth experience. If we do, we must determine if it is medically necessary so that you can trust the intervention. That’s worth repeating: to trust the intervention through the process of informed consent. We must be mindfully aware of all the ways we can strengthen our oxytocin experience during the intervention and afterwards. Protecting the hormonal loop is one of the greatest steps that we can take to protect the human experience and all that it has to offer: safety, connection, trust and love.

What can we do before, during and after birth to get oxytocin going? This is my go-to list, but feel free to add your own to it.

  1. Choose a birth team and location that you trust, and talk to them about what makes you feel safe and connected.
  2. Take a childbirth class out of the hospital that focuses on the mind~body connection, advocacy and evidence based birth practices.
  3. Hug, laugh and take a walk with a trusted friend.
  4. Participate in Community: attend a rally for a cause you believe in, go to a hip-hop show or the opera, sit with others in the presence of the divine, join a community garden or neighborhood project. Connect.
  5. Meditate, practice yoga, get acupuncture.
  6. Massage, make love, masturbate, feel sexy~ but only if you want to, otherwise it won’t work!
  7. Understand informed consent and be prepared to advocate for it- Childbirth Connection is a great resource for the legal rights of the childbearing woman.
  8. Ask your birth partner to become educated about the hormones of birth and their unique role in protecting your birth experience.
  9. Sing, Dance, Chant, Make Art; cultivate your creativity without inhibition!
  10. A daily practice of Positive Birth Affirmations: I trust myself, I trust my body, I trust my baby.
  11. Hold your baby, nurse your baby, and look into her eyes. Tell her that you love her, and let her know that you know that she loves you, too. Repeat, repeat, to infinity, repeat.



Suggested reading for those who crave more information:

Sports research and oxytocin

Oxytocin and trust research

Dr. Sarah Buckley on the Hormones of Labor

Thrive Birth Center Blog, Thrive Birth Talk

Understanding the Psoas: The Muscle of the Soul

By Lyla Moore

The psoas (so-as) muscle is actually a pair of muscles found deep within the core. It originates from the lumbar region of the spine (middle low back) and wraps around into the pelvic area, attaching at the hip with the help of several strong tendons. In animals, we call this muscle the tenderloin. Ilio-Psoas

From a physical standpoint, the psoas is responsible for stabilizing the base of the spine. When the muscle is tight or injured, we experience low back pain, sciatica, disc problems, hip degeneration, knee, and pelvic pain. It is engaged when we are sitting, running and walking. As you lift your knee to take a step, the psoas contracts. As the leg swings back, as it does while running, it lengthens the muscle. If you sit for long periods of time, the psoas remains in a contracted state, and this can lead to habituated tightness. During pregnancy, the tone of the psoas can effect the decent of the baby and even fetal position. Maintaining a healthy psoas eliminates low back pain and leg pains, opens and centers the pelvis and hips, which ultimately can support you in bringing your baby into the world with more ease.

From a mind/body standpoint, the psoas is the major muscle which is activated during the fight or flight response, when we respond to stimuli with primitive, primal survival instincts. It is spoken of as the muscle of the soul in Daoist healing traditions. A healthy psoas is linked to our ability to thrive, blossom, and become ourselves fully. Our self expression, self actualization, and speaking our truth, are all emotional aspects of the psoas. And for this reason, along with the physical importance, it serves us well to create awareness around our psoas.

Now that we know more about this important muscle, you may be wondering how you can maintain a healthy psoas. The key is focusing on a deep release of this muscle. It can only lengthen once it has been released. Yoga can be very helpful in aiding the release of the psoas. The simplest pose I would recommend to begin to gain awareness around the psoas would be a simple low lunge. Bend your left knee to a ninety degree angle, and take your right leg back behind you with your knee on the floor. Press the right shin and top of the right foot into the floor and release the tailbone down toward the floor. Even out the hips and lift the chest and you will feel the right side of your psoas in the stretch. Lifting arms overhead while in a low lunge may be tough on the joints during pregnancy. Once you are postpartum and ready for more work, if you lift the arms overhead and move the upper back into a small backbend, you will find even more sensation arise within your psoas. The key to finding release in this muscle is to practice moving through yoga poses using undulating movements, move the spine in a wave like motion, and focus on long exhalations. A gentle or restorative yoga practice will serve you best on your journey toward releasing the psoas.

In so much of our lives we are on go-go mode, and the psoas never gets a chance to release. As we sit for long periods, the muscle contracts and continues to remain engaged even though our bodies are inactive. As you move through pregnancy, and prepare for the intensely primal experience of giving birth, it is a great time to build awareness around the psoas muscle. What I love about the practice of yoga is that it offers us an opportunity for deep awareness within the body, as well as building awareness around how our mind influences our body. Try one of the yoga classes at Thrive to experience a practice designed specifically to support you during your pregnancy. If you’ve recently given birth, you are welcome to attend my Saturday morning Pre/Post Natal class with your pre-crawling baby. Taking time to unwind and recharge is crucial for a healthy pregnancy, and to find balance as a mother. Your psoas will thank you for it!

Holistic Childbirth Prep Workshop, Staff, Thrive Birth Talk

Storytelling For Birth, Family, and Community

In our home, stories have a special place in our daily and seasonal rituals. As we gather nightly for dinner, we go around the table, first sharing what we are grateful for and then sharing the stories of our day. We might talk about a moment of tension, a friendship forged, a duck family spotted. After dinner and dishes, we retire to the couch for story time. My partner might tell a classic from memory, or I might retell a traditional folktale while he plays the guitar and my daughter contributes sound effects.

Stories weave our lives together by giving us an opportunity to share our vulnerabilities and accomplishments. We feel heard and supported when we might have felt alone or isolated before sharing. As listeners, we sit in silence, absorbing the ebbs and flows of a narrative taking shape.

Stories also serve to give us a place in our family’s history, as well as our larger community and culture. As Autumn darkens our days and we hang our holiday lights, we gather to tell stories of our ancestors, friends, or family members that have passed. We speak their names to honor their place in our history. For my daughter’s birthday, I open the day by telling her the story of her birth. This is a complex story and every year I carefully build in more of the nuances. It is not lost on me that her birth was shaped by, while simultaneously standing in contrast to, the media’s representation of birth and a woman’s body. It’s important to me that her first experience of birth takes root between her and I, connecting us, like an invisible umbilical cord.

I believe that our stories can take seed in our beings. We hold them tenderly in our bones and body, sometimes dearly, and sometimes in angst. Over the two days in which my labor unfolded, I became deeply connected to all the reproductive experiences and narratives that were shaping my daughter’s birth and my birth as a mother. My reproductive experiences will, no doubt, affect my daughter’s reproductive experiences. The reproductive experiences that we have lived as women affect our births at a multigenerational level. One of the ways that we can positively harness our past and future is to become mindful storytellers, because telling our stories is an act of honoring our transformations.

At Thrive, we have ongoing classes and events that honor the art and power of Story. I teach our Holistic Childbirth Education Workshop, where you will hear the story of the Hormones of Love and the Landscape of Labor. On December 5th, we’ll be throwing a storytelling gala for professionals and families, Stories From the Birth Room. We’ll be joined by doctors, midwives, and other professionals who will share their own stories, some sorrowful, some hilarious, all victorious in the act of transformation. In January, our beloved yoga teacher Sara Woll will lead mamas in finding balance between fear and bliss in her Truth Telling Circle. You can also join Sara in her Prenatal Yoga and Community Tea Time class, or Lyla Moore’s Prenatal and Postpartum yoga classes, where pregnant people and new mothers gather to expand and deepen connection.

If you have a story to share, please let us know. We appreciate the wisdom we gain as we sit to listen to you.

Warmly, Kelly Gray, Center Coordinator, Kelly@ThriveBirth.com