The Don’ts and Don’ts of Pregnancy

Have you ever noticed that when a person announces her pregnancy, after the “Congratulations” she gets a whole lot of unsolicited advice? It likely happened to you! And most of that advice comes in the forms of things to avoid? “Don’t do this, don’t do that…” It often comes from well meaning, yet uninformed friends and family.  It can even come from those “in the know”- doulas, doctors, midwives, prenatal yoga instructors- as well!

Slapping so many don’ts on pregnancy is problematic for a few reasons:

1. Upholds a culture of fear surrounding pregnancy. A little bit of fear is a good thing when it informs our personal safety, but too often, it is not based on reality and gets in the way of living a joyful life.  Consider the person living in an average neighborhood who misses out on the benefits of taking a walk- the fresh air, the exercise, the opportunity to connect with neighbors- because of the fear that they may be attacked along the way, even though this kind of crime in their neighborhood is virtually non-existent. Analysis of police reports and community data may show that taking a walk is generally a very safe activity, but news reports that focus on fluke criminal activity make many of us believe it is not safe to leave our homes.

In this culture of fear, pregnancy is perhaps The Queen of Scary Things. When women are constantly told that they should avoid things, the risk of whatever it may be starts to grow into something huge and looming, often creating a bigger problem than the initial risk. Nobody is ever told the risk of laying on her back during pregnancy- they are just told not to do it!  If I had a quarter for every time a student has told me she is losing sleep because she is not supposed to sleep on her back, but it’s the only way she feels comfortable, I’d be a rich woman! It’s nuts that so many women are experiencing very real risks of losing sleep and creating unnecessary discomfort in their bodies when the true risk of laying on the back- compression of the inferior vena cava- would create a sensation that would force them to change position anyway!

When fear informs our decision making, we often are unable to weigh the true risks and benefits and may end up with an undesired outcome. It may be as trivial as the expectant mom who suffers in a hot room because she was told raising her arms above her head to reach the thermostat would get the baby tangled in his cord. (I hope I don’t have to mention there is zero science to support this claim.) Or it may be way less trivial as in the all-too common example of what “might” happen if a healthy, low-risk mom goes past her due date. I regularly hear about doctors insisting on induction as early as 40 weeks for no other reason than dates. I quite literally never hear about doctors warning of the risks of induction. There are a bazillion studies that have looked a the issue of due date and induction and I don’t want to oversimplify any of them here, but I will say that discussing risks of going post-dates without discussing risks of induction does not paint a clear picture for moms.  I will also say that the number of moms I personally know who expressed feeling pressured into medically inducing labor and then regretted that decision afterwards is rather high. Time and time again I hear, “I was scared into it.”  For a clear picture of what the research says on the issue of due dates and induction, I highly recommend Rebecca Dekker’s article Evidence on: Due Dates. (It’s long, but thorough and well worth the time.)

Highly Recommended Reading!

Highly Recommended Reading!

Living in a state of fear keeps us from being in the moment, one of the ultimate goals of yoga and meditation practice (which of course, has been shown in numerous studies to reduce stress and increase overall health.) As Nancy Bardacke points out in her awesome book Mindful Birthing, fear exists in the future. If we are always anxious about “what might happen,” we miss the beauty and joy or simply the mental clarity of the present moment.

Every time a mom hears she needs to avoid something in pregnancy, it maintains the status quo that pregnancy and birth are terrifyingly risky and must only be experienced with extreme caution! Where is the joy in that!? Or the reality, for that matter? As birth photographer Harriet Hartigan says, “Birth is as safe as life gets.”

2. Profuse don’ts undermines and disempowers moms.  While advice in pregnancy is generally coming from an authentic concern for the expectant mother, telling her to avoid a bunch of things is basically telling her that she can’t figure it out on her own or that she shouldn’t trust her own knowledge and instincts. As the first step in a long journey raising a child, the last thing a mom needs is to feel disempowered. Raising a child takes courage and strength! Reinforcing that she is smart enough to navigate the experience, worthy of making her own choices, and her body is strong enough to grow and birth a human is a more effective way to show support.

No matter what your credentials are (doctor, doula, friend, grandma...), if you must give the mom some advice, make sure you know what the sources are for your recommendation, and be able to be clear behind the reasoning. Then support her in making the choice even if it’s different from what you would do in the same situation.

Pretty sure someone told me not to do back-bends in pregnancy, but my body just couldn't get enough of them then!

Pretty sure someone told me not to do back-bends in pregnancy, but my body just couldn't get enough of them then!

Recently I saw advice offered up to an expectant mom on social media regarding yoga practice. The poster congratulated her, then immediately added “Make sure to avoid deep twists and inversions.” Then summed it up with “Listen to your body.” The middle statement was totally unnecessary, and could have been much more useful if it included the reasons why, had defined exactly what constitutes a deep twist or inversion, or cited a source proving it was harmful, so mom could make her own conclusions about what is right for her.  Better yet, all three!  (Okay, I’ll do it: deep twists are hypothesized to upset the implantation/ growth of the fetus and may also put additional stress on the linea alba and inversions may negatively affect mom’s blood pressure or blood flow to the fetus; deep twists are those that rotate the spine more than just turning to the side and firmly compress the abdomen and inversions are defined differently depending on who you ask- handstands and headstands are definitely inversions, while downward facing dog is debatable; unfortunately, there are no adequately peer-reviewed studies to support every pregnant mom avoiding these particular poses or any specific yoga poses or any other physical limitations in pregnancy, except for avoiding anything that will cause abdominal trauma, like contact sports, or anything that is likely to produce a significant fall- the latter being pretty subjective. Phew!) Most moms should avoid deep twists and certain kinds of inversions in pregnancy, but for others the benefits of these poses may outweigh the risks- it’s really up to mom to “Listen to her body!” Really, that’s all that needed to be said!

As a yoga instructor, I never give an adjustment or correction in my class without a word regarding why and seeing if it’s true for the mom. For example, if a mom is in a lunge with her knee past her toes, I let her know it could put strain on her knee and ask how it feels when she stacks her knee over her ankle. To this day, I have never had a mom say it felt better with the knee past the toes, but someday there just may be someone who prefers it that way! I owe it to every mom to ask what her body prefers. It’s a reminder that she’s the one in control of her body!

3. Likely the information is incomplete at best and down-right incorrect at worst.  There are all kinds of crazy myths out there about pregnancy that are propagated through years of misinformed, well-meaning advice. Some are easy to scratch our heads and laugh at, like the example of lifting the arms above the head. But others are not so obvious. How many coffee-drinking mothers get admonished for enjoying their morning cup?  Studies are inconclusive on the upper limit of caffeine intake and its effects on pregnancy and the fetus, but there is enough evidence to suggest a cup or two a day of caffeinated coffee has no significant negative outcome to mom or baby. Surely the fellow who comments as you pick up your Starbuck’s order has not read these studies.

With so many people giving well-meaning advice, it becomes rather challenging for a mom to sift through credible information. Even doctors can give orders with little or no supportive evidence. Take bed rest for example.  According to WebMD, approximately 1 in 5 mothers will be assigned bed rest at some point in her pregnancy. However, studies show that not only is bed rest not effective, it can be down right harmful. Assuming that everything an OB says is right for every mom may not be in her best interest. Expectant mothers have the right to ask questions and demand research to back up their doctors’ recommendations!

Of course, most mothers today want to be informed about their pregnancies.  It should be left up to them to seek out information, discuss their findings with whomever they choose, and not have unsolicited advice flung at them. They have a right to decide what’s “fake news” and what is not without a chorus of don’ts coloring their research.

Needless to say, it drives me nuts to witness pregnancy advice, particularly when it comes in the form of “don’t!” A very common reason I hear from my fellow birth educators and doulas for why they are motivated in their work is because they want to empower mothers and reduce fear around birth.  Yet we are so entrenched in a culture of fear that many of us don’t realize that saying, “Congratulations! Don’t (fill in the blank here)” does exactly the opposite! If you are an expectant mom reading this and feel frustrated by the people in your life telling you what you shouldn’t do, feel free to share this article with them. If you are a friend, family member, or work with expectant moms, I hope you will consider the power of your words. Don’t be a “don’ter”!  ;-)

Did you get a lot of unsolicited advice and don'ts in pregnancy? How did you react? Share your experiences in the comments.

Happy...? Holidays...!?

Happy Holidays!  That’s what we all wish each other, but let’s face it, most of us moms experience a wee bit of joy and a whole lot of stress. Between the holiday parties, baking, gift buying, sending out Christmas cards, planning your holiday meal, secret Santa gift exchanges, juggling the dynamics of extended families, figuring out when Hanukkah is this year, taking the kids to see Santa, decorating, all while dealing with the extreme emotions the holidays invoke in our little ones (Melt-down City!), it’s hard to feel the joy!  This is my seventeenth year doing the holidays as a mom and I’ve almost got it down.  I’ve had nearly two decades to hone what’s important to me and to let go of the things that don’t.  And...this is the kicker...to not give a shit about it.  You know, truly letting it go.

It helps to have realistic expectations.  Kids will not be at their best- the upset of their routine, whether they are babies or much older, is enough to put them way out of sorts.  I try to take that into account as I weigh what is important to me and how much time I have to execute my plans (and to muster just a little bit more patience with them). Now that they are older, getting baking done is reasonable- I just need to factor in an extra five minutes for Arya to “help” before she gets bored. When she was a baby, if I wanted to bake it, had to happen after all three of them were in bed for the night, with me fighting exhaustion. Needless to say, I enjoy holiday baking much more now.

This annual funny-faced Santa photo would not have happened without the compassionate support and scheduling genius of Rosalinda Luna and Tiny Tots in Campbell. 

This annual funny-faced Santa photo would not have happened without the compassionate support and scheduling genius of Rosalinda Luna and Tiny Tots in Campbell. 

Getting the perfect family photo for the perfect holiday card?  No way...that’s probably the root of our family’s affinity for silly-faced pictures- so much easier to get them to make a funny face.  Then there’s the adventure of actually ordering the damned card. (Really!? I’ve been on my laptop for five hours comparing templates and prices at all the printing houses!?)

And there’s nothing worse than making a trip to the mall for that one gift for hubby with even just one of my kids in tow- that’s a guaranteed battle.  (Frankly, the mall is my own personal hell even when it’s not the holiday season!) So, Kev no longer gets anything that comes from the mall.  Thank goodness for Amazon! I’ve never been a huge lover of the holiday season- the cold, short days already put it at a disadvantage as far as I’m concerned- but I have figured out the parts that I like and have no qualms saying no to the rest. (Okay, maybe very few qualms- I'm human!)

This year is especially busy at our house.  Arya is dancing in her first Nutcracker (takes me back to my own youth!) and of course, my weekends are filled with my studies at Samyama.  So this year I’m letting go of sending Christmas cards.  Sorry, friends!  I’m resurrecting a dress from the depths of my closet for Kev’s corporate holiday party, baking when it feels fun (and if I run out of Christmas cookies, so be it), and most of the holiday shopping has been done when I’ve had a few moments to steal waiting to pick up my kids from school or during Nutcracker rehearsals thanks to the handy Amazon app.

Thanks to Mona for our first donation!

Thanks to Mona for our first donation!

Something that will always remain important to me is serving my community.  That’s an area I am not willing to cut corners on- it makes me feel good and I hope it’s showing my kids the things that really matter in life.  So this year my teenager and I are collecting tampons for homeless women and donating them to the Bill Wilson Center, serving homeless youth. Last year we met our goal of collecting 100 boxes and this year we hope to top it.  In addition, we learned that there is a high need for underwear, as most of the kids come off the streets with nothing but the clothes on their backs.  For anyone who donates a box of tampons or a package of undies (can be for men or women), I will enter your name into a drawing to win a basket of holiday goodies. If it is easier, cash donations are acceptable, too.  Just bring your donation to class or ping me to make arrangements to connect.  And if you are curious, this is the video that inspired us to start collecting tampons.  Like underwear, it’s one of those things most of us take for granted and is often overlooked when the homeless population is being served. As a birth professional, feminist, and a passionate supporter of educating kids on human development and sexuality, acknowledging the need for tampons is my thing. This project is near and dear to my heart. Thank you in advance for participating!

I’m suddenly feeling something a little bit...strange.  What is this feeling…?  Am I starting to actually like the holiday season!?  It’s a Christmas miracle!

Thanksgiving turkeys and...elephants!?

Thanksgiving is just around the corner.  You can tell because social media is filled with daily gratitude posts and Starbucks is serving both pumpkin spiced lattes and peppermint mochas. I’m on board with all of those things, especially the gratitude.  We live in a culture where the focus is often on what we don’t have than what we do have and most of us “struggling” financially in costly Silicon Valley still have more wealth than most of the world. It’s really nice to see the focus shift to appreciation even for just a short time each year.  

That said, as we approach the holidays, let’s not ignore the elephant in the room. Staying in a place of gratitude can be really challenging when the responsibility of cooking a huge meal for twelve is solely on your shoulders. Or when you feel obligated to spend thousands of dollars and a ton of sanity flying the family across the country to see the in-laws (as delightful as they may actually be).  Or when Aunt Em is demonstrably offended by your vegetarianism as she passes the turkey. (It’s not personal, Aunt Em! Really!) Or your brother who just can’t get enough of telling racist jokes...Or simply just navigating the aftermath of breaking your baby’s routine. Even if you are filled with gratitude, even if you are blessed to be in a family with very little drama, the holidays can bring up all kinds of difficult, crazy emotions.  

That’s normal and that’s perfectly ok.  

In my own case, it’s my yoga practice that has supported me to get to a better place with these sorts of issues that the holidays bring up.  A strong mindfulness practice, knowing how to ground myself- first physically, then emotionally, and recognizing what is known as “maya,” the illusion that distorts our perception of reality, have all helped me to open my heart and enjoy the holidays more than ever. It’s what leads me back to a joyful, abundant state of gratitude.

Thanksgiving 2016: We had a lot of piggies at our table, but no elephants!

Thanksgiving 2016: We had a lot of piggies at our table, but no elephants!

Like most yoga teachers, I felt called to teach because of the huge impact the practice has had on my own well-being. It has allowed for deeper connections with my partner, my children, my extended family and friends and most profoundly within myself. It’s deeply fulfilling to watch my students actualize these connections in their own lives.

And so I offer up a special Thanksgiving practice on Wednesday, November 22 at 9:00am at Blossom. This class is open to all members of the community- it is NOT specifically pre or postnatal, so it’s a great chance for those of you who have aged out of my other classes to practice with me once again. (Limited childcare is available onsite for a small fee.) We will focus on grounding, heart-opening practices so that we have the tools to tend that elephant in the room on Thanksgiving Day. Find nothing but joy in connecting with family and friends this holiday season! Let your yoga practice be your guide!

Investing in Your Birth Experience

Giving birth is not just a means to becoming a parent.  It is, by its very nature, a transformative experience that not only turns a woman into a mother, but her partner into a parent, their parents into grandparents, their sisters and brothers into aunts and uncles….While there are few sizable studies exploring the lasting impact of a birth experience on a mother, a small research project by Penny Simkin illustrates how mothers remembered details of their births 15 to 20 years later. I certainly remember my first birth experience in vivid detail and today my mom can tell me the story of my birth just as easily as the first time she shared it with me in my childhood.  So why is it that the average person does not bat an eye at spending tens of thousands of dollars on their wedding, but calls a birth class, which costs a fraction of the average wedding dress, “expensive”?

My wedding was great and all, but I don’t have much to show for it besides a fun time and an awesome husband.  (And I didn’t need the fancy wedding to keep the guy.) My births, on the other hand, have left long-lasting impressions, both good and not so good- emotionally, physically and mentally. Every penny I spent on my birth education and maternity care was worth it!

Krystal teaches an awesome VBAC class at Blossom

Krystal teaches an awesome VBAC class at Blossom

Birth classes and doula services (and anything else, for that matter, that will contribute to a positive experience) are not expenses- they are investments!  Bonding with baby, connection between partners, confidence in parenting, a healthy body and mind- these are all things that are impacted immensely by the birth experience. Living in Silicon Valley, I am no stranger to a budget, but there’s nothing more valuable than starting a lifetime with your new family off on the right foot. It’s absolutely worth giving up Starbuck’s for a year or skipping that monthly date at the movies. (You'll have plenty of time to catch up on Netflix those first few weeks glued to the couch with a nursing baby.)

As you consider your options for a birth class or a healthcare provider, remember that you get what you pay for. It may be worth it to pay a little extra out-of-pocket to have a doctor or midwife who spends the time to get to know you and truly supports your wishes when it comes time to meet your little one.  Resigning yourself to a particular provider or birthing facility just because it’s the easiest given your insurance, may result in compromising the things that are most important to you regarding your birth.

As for your birth class, taking one through your hospital may be less expensive than through an independent educator, but may not offer you all of the information to arrive at your labor with confidence. Is the focus of the class on your options as a maternity-care consumer or on you following their rules and being a “good patient”? In this area, the average hospital birth class is only six or eight hours long in total, may have ten or twelve (or more!) couples, and may not have the time or resources to adequately cover labor coping techniques, pros and cons of standard medical procedures (and how to know if they are in your best interest), or time for your questions.  By contrast, the average out-of-hospital class, has six to eight couples, runs for twelve to twenty hours, and focuses on giving you the tools to navigate all aspects of the birth experience, from coping physically with contractions to understanding all of your options and communicating them to your maternity care team. Check out Blossom Birth in Palo Alto for a variety of birth class options and let me know if you have questions. When I’m not teaching prenatal yoga or herding my three kiddos, I’m wearing the hat of Blossom Program Manager.  For classes further south, I recommend Harmony Birth and Family. There are also numerous independent educators in our area.  

There is no one right way to give birth, and you have every right to make it the best possible experience for you.  Having the information and support to navigate the experience can make all the difference. Birth classes, doula services, a doctor or midwife who sees you as an individual, and prenatal yoga classes are just some of the ways to prepare mindfully for birth and all that follows.  I can think of no worthier investment!

The best holiday for mummies like me!

The whole Fam, my folks included, fit in Spina Farm's giant chair!

The whole Fam, my folks included, fit in Spina Farm's giant chair!

Halloween is nearly here and I am bursting with excitement!  As far as I’m concerned, it’s the best holiday of the year.  It starts a few weeks ahead of time with a wonderful trip to the pumpkin patch. The orange pumpkins against the blue sky is just gorgeous and makes for a fantastic family photo op. (If you’re a Halloween purist, like me, you go to the real pumpkin patch on the farm.) Kev and the kids decorate our yard. This year we grew our own pumpkin patch right out front which has made a nice backdrop for our “graveyard.” Then the night before Halloween, we have our pumpkin-carving extravaganza.  Our family has a tradition of getting take-out from LaVilla (“Got Ravs?”) in Willow Glen and watching “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” It’s the perfect incentive for my Little Guys to finish their carving, clean their mess, and get showered.  While all of that is happening, we’ve got pumpkin pie baking in the oven and a huge pot of veggie soup brewing on the stove for our annual Halloween shindig.  The next evening, friends come over just before sunset, we have a huge photo op out front to showcase all the costumes, then we try to get the kids to eat some soup before we head out for some wonderful trick-or-treating!  

IMG_8332.JPG

Honestly, I think the number one reason I became a mother was to resurrect my opportunity to go out trick-or-treating.  I’m not embarrassed to admit that I was almost old enough to drink legally the last time I went out on my own. The couple of years between, I borrowed kids from friends so I didn’t look too silly going door-to-door.  Yeah, I guess you could say I LOVE trick-or-treating. And costumes- I love the costumes, too! It’s so much fun to come up with a creative idea and be something or someone else for a night. Last year, Kev and I were Pacman and Ms.Pacman. The year prior, Adam and Eve. (Don’t worry, we wore beige body suits.) My favorite was the year we were the Wonder Twins and Jeannessa, barely two at the time, was our space monkey Gleek.

Pregnancy offers another layer to make a costume fun.  Since two of my three babies were born in July, I only got one opportunity with a bump on Halloween.  That year I dressed up like a comical old miner, with suspenders and a long beard, straight out of a Scooby-Doo cartoon. My beer-belly looking bump gave it a little oomph. I’ve seen so many creative pregnancy costumes I just love!  Check out these really creative ideas (including some Star Wars stuff, woot!).

I’ve never really understood the thinking that Halloween is a kids’ holiday.  Historically, it certainly wasn’t.  The whole tradition of dressing up and going door to door for candy evolved from times of yore when people would put on scary costumes to scare away spirits on the eve of Samhain, when it was believed the veil between living and dead was at its thinnest, and travel from farm to farm.  At each house, they were offered snacks to sustain them through the night.  Jack-o-Lanterns lit the way.  So, I’d like to think I’m just kickin’ it old school with all of my Halloween shenanigans.  

This year, I invite the mummies to celebrate with me!  Come to my Halloween-themed classes October 29- 31* showing your Halloween spirit (costume, accessories, or just a fun Halloween T-shirt) and you will get a raffle ticket to win a Starbuck's Pumpkin Spice Latte (or whatever you fancy- I’ll give you a gift card).  If both you and your little one come dressed up, that’s two raffle tickets!

*Classes include:

  • Prenatal Yoga at Cindy’s on Sunday at 9:45am
  • Mom & Toddler Yoga at Blossom on Monday at 10:30am
  • Mom & Baby/ Toddler Yoga at Cindy’s on Tuesday at 10:00am
  • Prenatal Yoga at Cindy’s on Tuesday at 11:45am

And whether you can make it or not, please post your Halloween costumes on my Facebook page!  I absolutely love seeing everyone’s costumes, especially pregnant mamas and the wee ones. Happy Halloween Witches!!!

Monkey See...

Monkey See...

Monkey Do...

Monkey Do...

Monkey get in trouble too!

Monkey get in trouble too!