I first encountered NCT when I signed up for their antenatal classes when I was pregnant with our first child in 2001. Little did I imagine at that point that being involved with this amazing charity would eventually lead to me developing a career that has taken me in directions that I would never have thought possible.
The NCT Antenatal classes provided me with information and support and enabled me to develop confidence in myself and my ability to birth and breastfeed. At a time when none of our friends were having children, our NCT class introduced us to other local parents-to-be and we all formed a close bond through the mutual support that we provided for each other when our babies were born.
By the time I was having our second child, some of my other friends had started families of their own. They turned to me as an ‘experienced mum’, for breastfeeding support. Although I had breastfed my first and second child, I felt I wanted to be able to have the background knowledge and training to offer one to one support to other mothers. I decided to train as an NCT breastfeeding counsellor. I discovered that I loved the NCT style of facilitation, and the course content which covered breastfeeding knowledge, counselling skills and adult learning theory and practice all fuelled my passion for supporting new parents.
I qualified as an NCT breastfeeding counsellor in 2010. Part of my new role was to facilitate the breastfeeding session of an NCT antenatal course. I have to admit I was not looking forward to it – I have never been a particularly confident person, and certainly never relished the thought of standing up in front of a group and talking. However I found I really enjoyed the sessions, and from the feedback that I received it seemed that the parents enjoyed them too.
I live in rural area of Somerset, and felt very aware of the limited services for anyone in my area, but especially new mothers. There was no local breastfeeding support, so when I heard that a new children’s centre was to be built in the next village, I contacted the area manager and requested a meeting (something else that I never imagined I would do!) I put forward my idea of having a local breastfeeding drop-in group, and the manager appointed me – to run one locally and two more in the Bridgwater area. Three years later, the contract had to be terminated due to funding cuts, but I was determined to keep a group going. I applied to Awards for All, and in January 2014 I was able to open the Cannington Baby Cafe. The word spread about what mums could gain from attending such a group – warm, friendly, non-judgemental breastfeeding support and information (all values at the core of NCT). Mums travelled from across Somerset to attend the group where they could meet other mums and importantly, enjoy a hot drink! Sadly the funding ran out a year later, but since then I have secured another group to re-open as an NCT drop-in, and also to fund some training for peer supporters who will be able to help support the group as the attendance has grown.
Today I continue to facilitate the group and breastfeeding classes. Last year I qualified with the NCT to facilitate their new antenatal course, ‘Essentials’ and I have loved being able to work with parents through such an important time in their life. It was a desire to offer more support in the antenatal and early postnatal period that also led me to train as a NCT doula. Today I work as an independent doula, but my training and the support I received whilst attending the NCT course was exemplary.
Supporting people in their journey to parenthood my passion – my training and my work with NCT has led me down many new paths, given me new skills and so much more confidence in myself and working with other professionals.
And the best part of all is how many wonderful parents I have had the privilege to work with, at what is often their most vulnerable, challenging, exhausting, rewarding and exciting time of their life.


Knitting and doulas – a yarn of pattern, rhythm and relaxation.

Last month I attended a hospital birth. In the weeks before the due date the mother-to-be and I met several times and discussed what she felt she may need to make her birth comfortable. These included suggestions of relaxation techniques – visualisations and ways to focus on releasing tension. We also discussed massage or touch – did she like firm or gentle touch, on her back, feet, or hands? We talked about music, positions for birth, and the practicalities of the support I could offer.

A few weeks after our last antenatal meeting, the mum called me to let me know her labour was beginning. Once she felt her labour was beginning to settle into a pattern, she rang again to ask me to make my way to meet her at the hospital. When I arrived she was very happy sitting on her birthing ball in the early stages of labour. The atmosphere in the room felt relaxed and happy as I chatted with the mum and dad to be.  

As her labour progressed, the mother became more and more inward focussed and I felt confident that she was finding her own rhythms and ways to concentrate on what her body was telling her to do. Our chatter ceased as the mum fell silent through each contraction as the sensation demanded more of her attention. I had brought some knitting with me and after two false starts of the pattern, I got into a rhythm myself, of knitting a baby hat. I found that knitting had exactly the effect I had read about – instead of focussing solely on the mother, I could relax and focus on my knitting. Perhaps this sounds a little odd – surely doulas are meant to ‘be there’ for the labouring mother, by her side, supporting her physically or emotionally, not getting on with a craft project! However, knitting can have a much deeper effect than just creating a piece of clothing….

The French birth expert, Michel Odent wrote of a renowned midwife, Giselle,  who often knitted at births she attended. In his article ‘Knitting needles, cameras and fetal monitors’ (1996), he focussed on Giselle’s knowledge of physiology of birth and the importance of privacy and darkness for a woman in labour. He wrote how a woman may feel less observed by a midwife whose attention appears to be focussed on knitting. Odent still talks today of the importance of labouring women having privacy and not being watched.

Odent later wrote how repetitive tasks are an effective means of reducing tension. Labouring women can be particularly sensitive to atmospheres or feelings within a room – if those around her are stressed or anxious the mother may pick up on these feelings and in turn become anxious herself. Anxiety and fear produce adrenalin  – this hormone counteracts the effect of the hormone oxytocin, which drives labour. The converse is also true – if the atmosphere in the room is one of calm, then the mother is more likely to feel relaxed, allowing the free flow of oxytocin and her labour to progress.

Odent suggested that if a woman is aware that her midwife is knitting, then she may feel reassured that all must be well with her labour and that the midwife is not worried about what is happening. Knitting helps to keep adrenaline levels low, creating a relaxing sense of security all round.

When I knit, my mind can clear of the chaos of the day and I can become almost meditative as I relax into the rhythm of the clicking of the needles. When in labour, women need to be able to switch off the ‘thinking’ part of their brain and tap into their instinctive thoughts to guide them through their work of bringing their baby into the world. Many women find a rhythm or a routine to help them focus, yet relax, and in this way I feel I share a connection with the mother.

I hope that the baby’s hat that I completed is a reminder for the mother of how strong she was in labour, how her mind and body carried her through her labour, how she was able to use a rhythm to keep relaxed and focussed and – perhaps – how my relaxed state empowered her to have the birth she wanted. 

Face of Birth

Last week I attended the Bridgwater Positive Birth movement’s screening of the film ‘Face of Birth’. This is a documentary looking at our human rights as women, to chose where, when and with whom we give birth. The film focuses on birth in Australia, and the stories of women who had chosen to birth at home, but also looks at birth on a global scale. It features interviews with some of the worlds top childbirth experts – Michel Odent, Sheila Kitzinger and Ina May Gaskin to name a few.

What struck me was the power of their emotions surrounding their stories, even though for some their children were now adults. Our births are an experience that remains with us for life. Research has shown that if women do not have a positive birth their confidence in mothering their new baby can also be undermined – mothers are less likely to breastfeed and are more likely to suffer postnatal depression.

The important message that is conveyed by this film is that women need those choices and to feel empowered in their birth so that they can have that positive experience. In the film the UK was portrayed as a country where there are more choices surrounding birth – here we are still cared for by midwives rather than doctors during our pregnancy and birth, and home births are an option whereas in some countries it is not supported.

I wonder, how did you feel about your birth? Did you feel that you had autonomy surrounding your choices? Have you been left with a sense of empowerment and fulfillment?

Do visit the page http://www.faceofbirth.com/index.html for lots more info and interviews


Welcome to my first post as a new blogger!

I hope to share with you articles on the subject of birth, breastfeeding and the journey through early parenthood that I feel may be useful, inspirational and informative.

I would like to start with this is amazing story of a mother being enabled to do something she never dreamt she could – but you may need the tissues when reading it!