Guest Blog Post: Parental Leave Blues

Mat leave blues
by Maya Hammer, M.A., Counselling Psychology

In Canada it is typical for one parent to take a year-long parental leave, with some variation amongst those who are self-employed or sharing the leave with a partner. While parental leave is a great opportunity to take a break from your professional life to raise your child, the day-to-day experience of parental leave can be lonely, boring, and exhausting. Being a parent is hard work as you are in high demand and have limited control over your schedule. Feelings of sadness, anxiety, anger, irritability, and exhaustion are common, especially for high achieving Type A individuals who adhere to a rigid schedule and time management structure. Spending 10 or more hours on your own, five days a week, is quite removed from traditional ways of raising children in community, extended family households, or tribes.

It is important to find ways to support yourself during this time. Be gentle and compassionate with yourself as you grow into your new role. Take time to identify what you need in order to feel good on a day –to-day basis, specifically addressing times that feel most difficult, such as first thing in the morning or the final hours in the afternoon before your partner comes home from work. Stay connected to your partner, family, and friends while seeking out new mom friends so that you do not feel isolated. Connect with people by phone or online when it is too difficult to leave the house. Use your support network to help with childcare or hire a babysitter for 3-4 hours so you can nap, exercise, do something fun, or catch up on errands and other responsibilities. Involve your partner/spouse as much as possible with care for the baby.

Learning to be flexible, creative, and let go will serve you well during your leave. This requires a paradigm shift from being productive, organized, and ambitious, qualities that may have been integral to your life pre-baby. Making the switch from ‘doing’ to ‘being’ is not always easy. In the book Momma Zen, Zen Buddhist priest and mother Karen Maezen Miller describes her relentless path towards letting go of expectations, welcoming mistakes, and reconnecting with her innermost self. Maezen Miller reminds us that being a parent is an excellent opportunity for growth and transformation if you accept what is happening, without judgment, on a moment to moment basis.

Maya Hammer is a psychotherapist in private practice specializing in women’s mental health, prenatal and postpartum mental health, infertility support, pregnancy loss and infant death, and couples counselling. She provides emotional support for all clients of The Nesting Place. | | 416.597.0015

Guest Post: You’ve Heard About the Baby Blues, But Do You Know About the Baby Pinks?

Guest Posting by Maya Hammer

We all know about the “baby blues”, a common experience of emotional ups and downs in the first week or two postpartum. Many of us, however, have never heard of the “baby pinks”, or The Highs, a feeling of intense happiness or euphoria following birth.

Symptoms of postpartum hypomania include:
-racing thoughts
-fast talking
-being very active
-decreased ability to concentrate
-impulsivity, e.g., shopping
-decreased need for sleep

These symptoms can be triggered by childbirth and usually subside after 6-8 weeks postpartum. In some cases, however, postpartum hypomania is an early indicator for bipolar disorder, depression, or psychosis. Therefore, it is very important to seek treatment if you or a loved one you know is experiencing.


Pregnancy and childbirth can trigger mental imbalance because of physiological changes such as stress, dysregulated cortisol, increased inflammation, decreased serotonin, and hormonal fluctuations. In addition, psychosocial factors can impact mental well-being including disrupted sleep, the demands of caring for a baby, lack of support, life stress, marital difficulty, or trauma. Genetics plays a part too: a personal or family history of mental illness, in particular bipolar disorder, predisposes a woman to prenatal and postpartum mental illness.


It is important to seek treatment immediately if you notice unusual behaviour in your partner or loved one. Treatment can involve:
1) mood stabilizer medication
2) therapy to stabilize mood and regulate daily schedule
3) support and education for partners and families

For further reading, check out this blog post on postpartum hypomania and mania, mom’s experience of hypomania induced by anti-depressant medication, a study on the prevalence of postpartum hypomania, and another study demonstrating that hypomanic symptoms can be used to correctly diagnose postpartum bipolar disorder.

As well, check out an article in Today’s Parent, and Maya’s appearance on CTV Canada AM talking about the baby pinks.

Maya Hammer, M.A., Counselling Psychology |

Making Healthy Eating and Activity Easier for Parents with Young Children

Now that we’re a month into the new year….how are your resolutions going? I bet more than one of you resolved to eat healther, cook healthier and be more active didn’t you? Well if those resolutions are lagging, here are some quick tips to make healthy eating and being active with younger kids a lot more convenient.

I interviewed Personal Trainer and Owner of Belly Bootcamp, Dara Duff-Bergeron for some easy ways you can integrate healthy eating and activity into your day with children. Believe it or not, this tips will allow you to eat healthier and be more active without gym memberships or hours away from your work or family life.

What are some common obstacles for healthy eating and activity for parents of children under 5yrs?

Many of the young parents I know (including myself) put their children’s nutrition above their own. They will often prepare healthful meals and snacks with lots of fruits and veggies, protein and dairy for their little ones but grab muffins, lattes and fast food for themselves. One of the most effective healthy eating strategies I’ve ever tried is to eat almost exactly as my children do – if I’m feeding them an apple for an afternoon snack, I grab the same. We don’t let our kids get to the “hangry” stage because we know we are tempting a tantrum; however, parents so often go hours between snacks and meals until hunger becomes so extreme that we don’t make careful decisions and instead choose for comfort, reward or convenience.

Another common misstep is to prepare convenience foods for our children – nuggets, fish sticks, etc. – and to clean their plates when they are finished eating, or grab a few bites while we serve them because we haven’t nourished ourselves properly during the day, and then to consume “adult foods” with our partners as well. I believe eliminating the idea of “kid foods” and “adult foods” would solve both of these dilemmas.

Do parents really need to spend an hour at the gym to see changes in their fitness?

Absolutely not. Some of the most interesting research in exercise of late is in two areas: short interval training and non-exercise metabolism. More and more we know that better fitness and fat loss results are actually gained by putting in 20-30 minutes of intense interval training (which can be a mixture of strength and cardio exercises easily done at home with little or no equipment, or simply by running your stairs or around the block outside), as compared to traditional long, moderate cardio workouts. Why not work hard for 20 minutes to get better results than you would in an hour of easy jogging or cycling, for example? There is also some great research that shows the majority of our caloric burn in a day comes from non-exercise activities such as playing with our kids, walking to and from the subway, even fidgeting when we are in a meeting or doing simple household tasks! When weight loss is a concern, a sensible diet will provide about 75% of your weight loss or weight maintenance results; small amounts of strength training and cardiovascular exercise, done frequently, will solidify and maintain your lean, healthy physique.

Long days with daycare drop-offs, commutes and important meal, bath and bed time routines leave few opportunities for hitting the gym, and I find many parents feel there is truly NO time in a day to exercise. The hour or two we used to enjoy as single people in the gym, or our favourite after-work yoga classes, seem out of reach and our North American all-or-nothing attitude leaves us thinking if we cannot get in a stellar workout, we have no time for fitness at all. This is not only harmful for us but a terrible example for our little people who see mommy and daddy harried, unhealthy and with no time to care for themselves. They too come to believe that unless you can get to the gym or commit to a 10K run before you head to work, you don’t move your body. We do a disservice to our children by teaching them that physical activity and play ends with childhood.

What are some foods that pack a healthy punch that are easy to prepare and inexpensive?

When I look at a client’s food journal, I am always surprised at the amount of carbohydrate that makes up the average diet. While whole grains, dairy and fruits and vegetable provide great carbohydrate energy sources and vitamins and minerals, they are also the simplest thing to grab, usually, and tend to take over the fat and protein sources that should be filling us up at each meal. Particular foods are a matter of taste, but I recommend most people increase the amount of fat they consume and some of my favourite fat sources are nuts (pistachios are my favourite because they are slow to eat and are the lowest in calories of all tree nuts), avocado (I eat mine with a spoon straight out of the peel with cayenne sprinkled on top), and whole eggs. Eggs should not be feared – there is plenty of evidence that eggs eaten for breakfast actually improves weight loss results and the old egg-cholesterol connection is tenuous, at best, and less and less valid as new research pops up. For those with healthy cholesterol levels, 2 eggs per day for breakfast (or a cheap, fast lunch) is a great way to get healthy protein and fats. Canned fish is a great way to increase your fat and protein intake as well, on the cheap. Try making large one-pot meals such as soups and stews, or more roasted meats with a variety of root and green vegetables and you’ll have not only a healthy dinner but leftovers for your healthy lunches the next day.

What about the kids? Any ideas of helping them come off the sugar rush of the holidays?

Sugar is the only drug of childhood and you can understand your own sugar reliance by appreciating the excitement with which kids approach sweet treats and special occasion desserts. I am a believer in allowing kids to have plain old sugary treats and I don’t concern myself with sugar substitutes, flour substitutes and the like as we don’t bake or eat desserts often. A treat should be a treat, in my opinion, and kids should learn to use the drug of sugar wisely. To deprive a child of all traditional sugary treats simply delays their introduction and removes from the parent the opportunity to teach the child about consuming treats in moderation and with thoughtfulness. Explain to your kids, as I do, when they’ve had too many treats over a weekend or holiday (or if you’re simply trying to change your family’s eating habits for good) that they have had too many treats recently and that it is time to return to a healthy way of eating with treats on occasion only. Children are smarter than we give them credit for and they are very interested in taking care of themselves. They may fight you. They may cry or whine or throw themselves on the floor. Be strong. Give sweet healthy foods at “treat” times on regular days – fruits after dinner, for example. And select a variety of fruits and vegetables to deliver new carbohydrate experiences – if you chop a pineapple while you prepare dinner and place it on the table once everyone is done their main dish, it will seem like a dessert to a little person. Be excited about the healthy foods that you serve them and model good eating behaviour – sit down to that pineapple yourself and they are much more likely to enjoy it. When you need a real treat, a popsicle is one of my favourite choices – half a popsicle (one stick) is only 30 calories and contains only sugar and water, basically. Kids love them and you can treat them once or twice per week without delivering tons of gluten, sugar, or chemicals.

What about our breastfeeding moms? What are some healthy, easy foods they can have during the day that don’t require any prepping..and can be eaten with one hand?

In the early days of breastfeeding your hunger can be so strong it is painful and food can seem so impossible. My advice in the first few weeks is to eat whatever is available, and to rely on your family members and partner to provide meals. Don’t stress if your food intake is not perfect in the first few weeks – motherhood takes practice and a new baby is a job and a half. Focus on eating enough and getting rest when you can, and stay hydrated. The La Leche League recommends a minimal intake of 1,800 calories while breastfeeding and there are, of course, women around the world who survive and breastfeed on much less than that. Hydration is key as you need liquid in order to make liquid. Try to have a glass of water near your nursing spot and drink every time you nurse – in time, you’ll have an almost Pavlovian reflex and get thirsty every time you nurse, which will remind you to drink. I recommend when you have a few minutes that you chop some fruits and veggies, slice some cheese or prepare a sandwich in advance and leave it in the fridge so it is ready when you need it. Don’t fall into the trap of spending your day out with baby in the stroller and consuming all of your calories at local coffee shops on supposedly “healthy” muffins, mochaccinos and donuts. Keep a natural energy bar (Lunabar and Clif bar are two good choices) or two in your purse, and throw in an apple or other fruit that will survive well as you travel around. Be prepared! Eggs are one of my favourite meals at home since they take just minutes to prepare and eat, and pack a serious nutritional punch. Raw walnuts and almonds are a great back up plan if you are having a rough day or end up out of the house longer than you intended – their fibre, fat & protein will keep you going and they can last weeks in your diaper bag or cupboard.

* * * * *
Even though these ideas can make a huge difference in the time it takes to eat healthy and be active, I understand that there are other obstacles that may make these changes feel difficult for you.

For those of you who don’t live near a grocery store, try ordering your groceries from

For those of you who don’t have the time or energy at the end of the day to cook, and don’t have freezer space for stocking up, try, a business that deliveries fresh, hot, healthy meals to your home.

And if you need a little bit of everything, one of our postpartum doulas can come into your home with a few groceries, tidy up, prepare snacks and get dinner in the oven while you take time for your children, your exercise or just a little quiet time for you.

5 Easy Toddler Sleep Strategies to Use During the Holidays

By Amanda Spakowski and Jennifer Poole

Three years ago my 3-year old nephew was visiting us for the holidays. On Christmas morning, he ran down the stairs to see a towering pile of gifts that Santa brought and preceded to move through the following emotional breakdown “Wow look at all those GIFTS! My bionicle is in there! Where is my Bioncle? I can’t find my Bioncle! I WAAANT MY BIOOOONCLLLLLE.” If you have children yourself, you can imagine the high-pitched wails and seemingly never-ending flow of tears that followed!

Toddler Sleep Strategies for the Holiday SeasonAfter speaking with our Postpartum expert, Jennifer Poole who is a postpartum doula and sleep consultant with Toronto’s The Nesting Place, I realize that this breakdown (and many subsequent others during that visit) might have been avoided or simply minimized if we had reinforced and supported my nephew’s sleep routine in the midst of the busy holiday season.

Read on to hear Jennifer’s pearls of wisdom that may save you from what can be the traditional Christmas morning meltdown!

1. Stick to your sleep routine.

It’s easy to fall out of routine during the holidays but this can have disastrous effects on a child as becoming overtired can lead to poor sleep and a vicious cycle ensues. This is especially true for children who still nap; naps are easy to skip but are essential to the child.

2. Keep a bedtime ritual

If you don’t already have one, establish a calming bedtime ritual. The holidays are very exciting for children and they may find it more difficult to calm down and fall asleep. By establishing a calming ritual (for example, bath, book, song) your children are more likely to fall asleep more easily.

3. Avoid highly processed and sugary foods, especially before bedtime.

4. Balance quiet time with activity

Make sure your kids are getting the exercise they need. When kids are off school and have a whole new bunch of toys to play with, there is definitely an urge to play video games or watch tv all day. Get them outside for a walk in the snow or a toboggan ride. Exercise and fresh air will help them to sleep better.

5. Invest in White Noise

Sound machines are a great way to drown out the loud, non-rhythmic sounds of holiday parties that may keep them up or make them feel like they’re missing out on the fun!

When is the best time to have professional family photos taken?

By Guest Blogger: Negin Sairafi of

This is a question I get asked on a weekly (sometimes daily) basis—when should
we schedule our family portraits? Well, I can’t say there is a perfect time or age or
season, but there are a few guidelines you could follow to determine what would
work best for you family.

1) Age is more than just a number – How old your kids are matters when it
comes to portraits. For example, I like to photograph newborns in the first 3
weeks of birth, then again at 3-4 months, 6-9 months and the first birthday.
You have to keep in mind the age difference between your children as well;
two babies will be more difficult to photograph than a baby and a toddler,
and if you’ve got three or more…having the older ones at an age where they
can listen and follow direction will help make the session run more smoothly.

Father Kissing Baby2) Runaway baby – Is your baby crawling? Walking? Running? I always
recommend scheduling a session before the baby is mobile—this is when we
can capture great interactive shots but won’t have to worry about where the
baby is headed next!

3) In-studio versus on-location – Do you want timeless studio portraits that
can hang on your walls and work with any décor, or would you prefer a
fun on-location session at the park or beach? Answering this question will
determine when and where you should have your family photos done. Beach
sessions are great for the summer and park sessions are perfect for fall.

4) Parents know best – no matter what the professionals say, you know your
kids best; that means you know what makes them happy and when they
need to nap. Your portrait session has to coincide with your daily/weekly
routine—missing a nap, snack time or even ballet may not be a good idea if it
means the kids won’t be in the best spirits for their close-up. Discussing these
details with your photographer is important and will help you pick the best
date and time to schedule your portraits.

5) The perfect gift – Sometimes photographing your family aligns with the
Holidays or a birthday and this is a great time to capture your little ones
while giving a memorable, personalized gift that will be cherished for a

Now that we’ve got the guidelines, remember that photographing your kids is
important, whether professionally or via iPhone—capturing the spirit of your family
is something you will never regret investing in, regardless of when, where and how
you do it!

Follow up to CBC interview re: PTSD After Childbirth

Amanda Spakowski Owner/Founder Birth Doula and Prenatal Educator of The Nesting Place

Amanda Spakowski Owner/Founder The Nesting Place

On Friday Sept 28th, I was interviewed on CBC radio regarding a recent study indicating that 1 in 13 women in Canada experience full Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) following childbirth. Even more women experienced partial symptoms of PTSD within 1-3 months following their delivery.

While the study was specifically looking at the presence of PTSD in women who have given birth, it’s important to note that either parent may experience PTSD or another postpartum mood disorder. Please do not disregard symptoms in your spouse simply because they were not the one’s who gave birth to your child.

With findings like this (and with only 4-6 min per interview), it’s understandable that many of you had more questions about what this means for parents preparing for birth and for those currently struggling with PTSD or something similar.

From parents I’ve heard:

What are the risk factors of PTSD?
Am I at high risk of PTSD?
What symptoms would I be showing if I was experiencing PTSD?
What is the difference between PTSD and Postpartum Depression (PPD)?
Who would I go to for help?

From the birthing community I’ve heard:

Should we be worried that these findings will instill a greater sense of fear in our clients before birth?
What does this indicate about the way prenatal classes and other birthing materials prepare parents for childbirth and postpartum?

To explore this topic further, we’ve elaborated on these questions and consulted with counselor Maya Hammer of The Health Psychology Clinic in Toronto.

Who is at risk for PTSD?

Verrault et al. found that there were four dominant risk factors that indicated a woman may be more likely to experience PTSD following childbirth.

-a history of previous sexual trauma
-a sensitivity to anxiety
-a lack of perceived help following childbirth
-a more negative childbirth experience than expected

*It’s important to note that a history of depression was not included in the risk factors associated with PTSD specifically, although it can be a risk factor for Postpartum Depression.

Concerned FatherWhat are the symptoms of PTSD?

A parent experiencing PTSD will exhibit an exaggerated emotional or physical response to references to their childbirth. They may see their child or their spouse as a symbol of their trauma and distance themselves from that person to prevent themselves from re-living the event. They may experience flashbacks where they feel as though they re-live the event again or have lingering anxiety that prevents them from sleeping or engaging in day-to-day activities with their family, friends or work.

What is the difference between PTSD and PPD?

PTSD is exhibited with very severe emotional and physical responses to references of the childbirth or sometimes their child. This is sometimes described as a heightened state of arousal in the individual. They will feel agitated and keyed up when they are triggered.

With PPD, the symptoms present themselves as an overall sense of overwhelm which may or may not be connected with the childbirth itself or the child. Someone with PPD may cry excessively whether they’re speaking about their childbirth or not, have intrusive thoughts about themselves or their child and have little motivation to care for themselves, their child or their work. Their sleep may also be disrupted.

Who would I go to for help?

Postpartum mood disorders are difficult to understand and the symptoms of each fall on a spectrum of severity. The symptoms often overlap with one another leaving it difficult for parents themselves to identify if a mood disorder is present or which one it is. For a full listing of possible mood disorders, please visit Postpartum Support International.

That being said, a parent doesn’t have to be diagnosed with a mood disorder to benefit from therapy that simply helps them to adjust to the normal emotions that accompany the immense changes to their life, relationship and self-identity. For more information about private or group support for your adjustment to parenting please contact Maya Hammer, psychotherapist (in Toronto) or a postpartum counselor in your city.

Try searching your location on Psychology Today to receive a listing of counselors in your city.

Won’t these findings cultivate a sense of fear in parents preparing for birth?

This is a concern for both birth educators and parents. As birth educators and doulas familiar with the factors that influence how comfortable and safe parents feel during delivery, we are intimately aware of the influence that fear can have on parents in labour.

Relationship of fear and pain in labourWhen a pregnant woman is afraid in birth, her body is more likely to tighten in an effort to protect herself. This tension, in turn can influence the way the woman experiences her sensation – she is more likely to identify her sensation as pain when she is tight and fearful of it.

Whereas in other life experiences, the sensation of pain is an indicator that something needs attention in the body or that the individual is in some need for help, in labour, the sensation of labour is not an indication that anything is wrong. The sensation is not something to fight. It is not something that is done to you, it is you. It is your body opening and your body doesn’t ‘want’ to take you to a place that is dangerous for you, even if it is very challenging for you to experience it.

Although it’s realistic to expect moments of fear in birth and moments when the body is tense, the practice of coping with labour is in letting go of tension in the body; of reminding oneself or the labouring woman that she and her baby are safe and that this is a safe process to be experiencing. As she softens her body and let’s go of the need to control her bodily urges, her feeling of coping increases and the sensations can feel much more manageable.

Prenatal classes that focus on coping and labour support for childbirth can be a great place to develop your coping skills for birth. In particular, many parents have found the practices of Birthing From Within and Hypnobirthing (together or separately) to be useful in helping them address their fears of birth and reinforce their coping mindset. Visit their websites for a listing of classes in your area.

With studies like this one, it’s important that we use the results in the way that they are meant to be used; as a tool to help us identify those parents who may be more at risk for PTSD so that we can better prepare and support them, as an indication to parents exhibiting symptoms of PTSD that additional support is necessary and to emphasize to all parents the importance of proper birth preparation and postpartum support.

What does this indicate about the way prenatal classes and other birthing materials prepare parents for childbirth and postpartum?

There are two findings in this study that that I’d like to highlight for parents and birth educators. One, that parents were more likely to identify trauma in their birth if they experienced a more negative birth experience than expected and two, that the perceived lack of support following childbirth increased the symptoms of PTSD. Let’s look at these one at a time.

Woman labouringExpectations for childbirth

How does your understanding of birth influence how you prepare for your own delivery?

Some parents are very afraid of birth and go to great lengths to avoid the situations that they are afraid of. They may employ a particular practitioner that they believe will help them to avoid the birth they don’t want, engage in a prenatal class and take up coping practices that emphasize the birth they’re hoping for or choose a birthing location that lowers the likelihood of their fear unfolding for them.

Other parents who have great trust in birth may prepare for their delivery in a similar way. Their innate trust in their bodies manifesting as “I trust I won’t need that intervention” or “I trust that that won’t happen because I am built to give birth.”

This trust is inspiring and truly amazing. Similarly, choosing support people and a location of birth that feels safe and supportive for you makes a world of difference to how you feel during your labour. My hope is that all parents feel confident and strong in themselves however they are delivering. However, the problem with both of these approaches is that these parents are preparing for the birth they hope for to the exclusion of the possibility that it might not go as planned.

Birth educators do their clients a disservice and parents do themselves a disservice when they prepare for one birth possibility to the exclusion of another. It is a very unrealistic approach to birth preparation that insinuates a parent has so much control of their delivery that if they make all the ‘right’ choices and do all the ‘right’ exercises that they’ll guarantee themselves a particular birth experience.

There are many factors that influence the way that a labour unfolds and the options available to parents. Each birth is unique, it happens over it’s own period of time and can be different not only between women but between births for the same woman.

You’ll notice that in this section I am describing parents as preparing for “their desired birth” and avoiding “their unwanted birth scenario.” This is not to be interpreted as every parent preparing for an unmedicated, vaginal homebirth, but rather to acknowledge that while some parents’ ideal birth is just that, others’ include the support of an epidural. Still others would much prefer the challenges of cesarean delivery to those of a vaginal delivery. For these women, their unwanted scenario may be an unplanned, unmedicated birth, an unplanned home birth or a vaginal delivery.

We cannot ever make sweeping statements that insinuate that mothers who choose to birth at home without an epidural will have an easier or more empowering delivery than a mother who birth in the hospital with an epidural. We cannot even state that all women who have cesarean deliveries will experience trauma or that all who have vaginal deliveries will not. A trauma is influenced by the way a woman relates to her birth experience, whatever it is, not simply by the presence or absence of medical support.

I invite all parents preparing for birth to prepare for the birth they hope for in addition to the possibility that they’ll need to stray from that plan.

Pregnant womanSo what is the best way to prepare for birth?

Pam England describes her first birth experience in her book, Birthing From Within. As a midwife she felt she had all the information she needed to birth her own way. She new the statistics of home birth vs hospital birth, she did a tonne of yoga, ate well and trusted birth. There was no part of her that believed she would birth any way but vaginally. But birthing is not about ‘making sense’ of things. We can’t put all the pieces together to guarantee ourselves a certain birth scenario and like many women, Pam found herself experiencing a cesarean delivery that she was quite unprepared for.

After this experience, she questioned herself. With all of the knowledge she had around birthing, she still didn’t birth vaginally. She began to ask herself, “What information really is important for birth preparation if not the information that she already knew? And if it wasn’t just book knowledge she needed for birthing, what was it that she really needed to know about birth to give birth with the understanding of a mother opposed to the understanding of a clinician?

Then, it came to her when she was pregnant with her second child. What she really needed in order to feel prepared for this birth, was to prepare for another cesarean delivery.

In other words, part of fully preparing for birth is preparing for the delivery you hope won’t happen in addition to the birth you hope for yourself.

When parents are kept in the dark (or keep themselves in the dark) about the birth possibilities they’re nervous about, they are left unarmed with knowledge and coping tools that can help them feel grounded and resourceful in their delivery. With an awareness of all birth scenarios, parents speak with more confidence, come prepared with words and items that will allow them to feel more connected to each other, their birth and their baby no matter which path of birth unfolds for them. It is with preparation for the unknown, not avoidance of the unknown that feelings of competence and confidence follow.

As parents, I invite you to really ask yourself, what is that YOU need to know about to feel fully prepared to birth.

Doulas and birth educators, what topics or activities are you nervous to bring up with your clients.

I’m betting the answers to those questions quite possibly will be the most important things you’ll need to consider for your birth preparation.

Postpartum Support

Perceived lack of support in postpartum was another factor influencing the presence of PTSD after childbirth. This should be read as both “lack of support” and “perceived lack of support.” For some, the support may be there but the individual may not actually feel supported by those in their life. Perhaps she has difficulty accepting or asking for help or maybe the support offered is not appropriate to the needs of her or her family.

Many parents feel an overwhelming sense of pressure to do it all themselves and struggle with a sense of being “not good enough” if they find that they can’t do it all on their own. In the bigger picture, Canada and the US are some of the only countries in the world that do not have a cultural or traditional practice of caring for a family who has welcomed a new baby over more than 2 weeks.

In Latin-America, new mothers are cared for by female relatives for fourty days following birth. In China, it’s 30 days; in Mexico, India and the Middle East it’s 40 days. But here, we allow partners up to two weeks off and the mother at home is often left on her own around the same time. We can be very isolated here and in Canada and it is very much up to the parents themselves to cultivate a comfort in asking and receiving help. I invite parents who have difficult asking for help to consider how help actually allows them to be better parents. I challenge you to actively put your circle of support in place to permit you the freedom of enjoying your new family in amongst the numerous tasks that need to be done.

Nest of supportSome ideas to start:

-Email all of those family and friends who say “call me anytime” and ask them to sign up for the circle of support tasks. You might make a list for meal angels, child care angels and errand angels (have them sign up for a particular schedule so that they don’t make other plans and you can depend on them when you need them)
-Post a list on your fridge of things visitors can do to help (Many people want to help but don’t want to insult you by just cleaning up around you. While you may be waiting for them to offer to help, they may be waiting for you to ask for it!)
-Contact a counselor in pregnancy and set up bi-weekly or monthly phone calls for your first year following baby. A third set of eyes who knows what signs to look for to identify postpartum mood disorders will me much more effective than your sleepy parent-brain
-Consider hiring a birth and/or postpartum doula who can alleviate fears as they arise, provide in home support for feeding baby and take on some of the day-to-day tasks that allow you to spend more time with your family and get more rest as you recover from birth
-Print out a postpartum depression checklist provided by your counselor or physician to screen yourself for PPD in the first year following delivery

Simply being physically well cared for after a baby means that your mind will be in a better place to cope with the challenges of adjusting to a new baby. Enacting this help is not an indication that you’re not good enough, it’s a necessary measure in self care that allows you to be the present, patient and loving parent you so badly want to be.


Prenatal Classes, Birth Doulas and Postpartum Doulas:

Birthing From Within


The Mother’s Guide to Self Renewal
Mama Zen
The Labyrinth of Birth
The Postpartum Husband

Online workshops

Birth as a Hero’s Journey
Birth Story Circle
Cesarean Birth Healing

Counselors and Support People:

Postpartum Support International
Pacific Postpartum Support – Vancouver
Victoria Mom – Victoria
Families Matter – Calgary
Women’s Health Clinic – Winnipeg
Healthy Babies and Families – Thunder Bay
Postpartum Support List – Toronto
Family Services Moms Group – Ottawa
Counselors in Halifax

Listings of Counselors in your area:

The Real Deal Behind the Colic Issue: What is colic, does it even exist and either way…what can I do about my baby’s crying?

By Amanda Spakowski
Owner/Founder The Nesting Place: Prenatal classes and doula care

The word “colic” has been around for quite some time and is often used to diagnose babies who excessively cry, appear to be in pain and who haven’t been soothed by any of their parents’ attempts at reassurance. But in recent years, the existence of colic has been questioned by scientists and doctors, leaving parents with conflicting information about their child’s well-being and the treatment (if any) in which to ease the discomfort they see their baby in.

In this short review, we’ll go over how colic has been diagnosed, what new research tells us about this condition and soothing methods that have been shown to make a difference to your crying baby.

What is colic?

Colic has been described as a condition where a baby excessively cries and appears to be in pain. The baby’s face may be bright red while she cries, she might run out of breath during a cry, hold her fists really tight and bring her legs right up to her chest or straight out in front of her.
Bouts of colic are described as coming on suddenly, without noticeable cause and may last up to 3-4 hours. Parents report their babies being resistant to the soothing techniques that have previously worked for them. This behaviour in babies is noticed as early as 2 weeks after birth and begins to subside or goes away completely by 8 weeks.

We don’t really know what causes this behaviour in babies but it is a commonly held belief that colic is related to painful sensations associated with passing gas. Parents will often take up natural and medical techniques of helping their baby with gas in an effort to relieve the pain they believe their babies are in. If their baby is, in fact having gas issues they will notice a difference in their baby’s behaviour and likely hear their baby pass gas during or after their efforts to relieve the gas pain.

But, gas issues are not the cause of colic. Recent studies show that babies will actually have more gas bubbles in their tummy after they cry than before they’ve started crying. So there will be times when a baby is crying, parents try everything including their tried and true gas relieving techniques and their baby STILL cries!

Then what!?

The Period of Purple Crying

In 2008, the National Centre on Shaken Baby Syndrome and a few key people from UBC teamed up and studied the crying in babies that seemed to come up for no apparent reason and has, up until this point, been referred to as colic. What they found was the all babies (whether they were diagnosed with colic or not), including those from different countries (read as: independent of parenting and soothing techniques) have either a predictable period of time during the day or short frequent periods of time throughout the day where they cry for no apparent reason.

This amount of time increased over the first 6-8 weeks and then started to go away. Different babies exhibited crying patterns to higher or lesser degrees but ALL babies exhibited this pattern of behaviour. Since then, numerous studies performed by scientists world-wide have confirmed these results and indicate that this crying is actually a normal part of your child’s development.

***Time for the disclaimer! This does NOT mean that you don’t have to soothe your child or try to find out if there is something that is causing your child’s crying. It means that after you’ve tried everything you can think of (including taking your child to the doctor if you’re concerned that they’re sick), if your baby is still crying, it’s likely that the crying is part of your baby’s normal physiological development.

They call it The Period of Purple Crying to help people remember the characteristics of this normal crying. Purple is the acronym…..

Peak of crying (crying can increase and peak at 6-8 weeks before it starts to go away)
Unexpected (can come and go with no rhyme or reason)
Resists soothing
Pain-like expression on baby’s face
Long lasting (can last as long as 5hrs per day or more)
Evening (often occurs in the late afternoon or evening)

Sounds awesome doesn’t it. So whereas we used to think that babies who cried like this suffered from colic, we’re now finding that there is, in fact nothing wrong with your child; your child is not in pain, you are not a terrible parent who can’t figure out how to help your child, but rather it’s going through a normal phase of it’s life.

“Ok,this is all interesting…. but my baby is STILL crying! What do I do about it?!”

Don’t worry. This isn’t a “your baby’s incessant crying is normal, just deal with it “ kind of article. There are soothing techniques that can make a difference for you. You may not always be able to stop your baby from crying, but with these soothing styles you’ll be able to shorten that period of time or minimize the intensity of those bouts of crying.

First, it’s important to learn that your child has a ‘calming reflex’ and just by holding him a certain way, he can go from crying to calm in seconds. This way of soothing is based on the idea that what your child will be soothed by is reminiscent of the stimulus he has received in the womb. It’s called the 5 S’ and is a part of The Happiest Baby on the Block parenting series.

The 5 S’ are:

Swaddling (your baby is used to being held closely in the womb)
Side lie
Shushing (the noise of the birth mother’s digestive system and heart rate is about as loud as a vacuum cleaner! Often babies are not over stimulated, they’re under stimulated!)
Swinging (think of how much your baby was bounced around in the Belly Bootcamp class you did in pregnancy. Yeah. They like to be rocked!)

There is no spoiling your baby with these soothing methods. Your child is used to having this soothing as their disposal for 24 hrs a day 7 days a week until it is born. They’re actually already adjusted to less of this soothing in their life outside of your body. So even if you were to soothe your baby for every sqeak, it’s still less than what it’s used to having.

Dr. Harvey Karp is featured on the Happiest Baby website and videos and does an amazing job of describing this technique to parents. Check out his online videos and give it a try with your baby.

And here’s a little something that you might not think of as a therapeutic technique for lasting results of calming for your child. Infant massage.

The Wonders of Infant Massage

baby massageMassages are not just a nice was to relax now and then. Physical and therapeutic touch interacts with your nervous system to calm the nervous system and relax muscles to impact your overall sense of peace and patience day-to-day. It’s no different for your child.

We interviewed Infant Massage practitioner Dina Khorasanee to get her expert account on how infant massage helps with fussy babies specifically.

A: What is colic from your perspective?

D: We still do not know the root causes for colic. We do know that when a baby feels calm, secure and feels relief from gas, their colic symptoms
go away.

A: There has been debate as to whether or not colic exists or has been mistaken for what we now know is the Period of Purple Crying. What is your take on this?

D: My understanding is that those who describe this period as Purple Crying are of the view that this is a normal part of a baby’s development, and should not be thought of as an illness. If this helps parents to be calm during this period of time, then it is likely to have a positive effect on the baby. The most important thing is to take the time to understand the cycles in your baby’s day by observing and listening to your baby. You can then be more in tuned to helping them through any discomfort they may be feeling before they move into full-on crying.

A: Is there a difference between a baby crying from colic or gas? If so, what is the difference?

D: Gas is a much milder form of colic. Gas can come and go, lasts for shorter periods of time and can be reduced or eliminated with some routine baby care.

Colic lasts for longer periods of time and can be more difficult to reduce or eliminate. For this reason the message class has a specific colic message that includes a special series of strokes designed to reduce colic significantly.

A: How does massage help soothe the baby with gas?

D: Nurturing touch allows parents to understand their babies better, gives them to tools to relieve and relax their baby’s body so that their body systems can thrive. The proper functioning of the baby’s systems, coupled with a healthy attachment between baby and parent, allows gas to be moved and the baby soothed significantly.

A: What signs would the baby give you to tell you that it has gas and needs a massage?

D: Babies will usually stiffen their bodies, raise their knees, change their facial expression, and cry.

A: What do you find is the most common mistake parents make when they are massaging their baby for gas?

D: Many parents are tense because the situation has become very stressful to them. The first step is to relieve ones own stress first, and then be able to transfer that calmness on to the baby. This is why my infant massage classes begin with parent relaxation first. When you massage you are communicating with your baby. Ask yourself, “What do I want to communicate with my baby?” Do you want to communicate tension and stress? Or do you want to communicate calmness, love and security? Take the time to observe your baby, listen to your baby, and allow them to know that they are being heard.

A: Can you tell me more about how infant massage calms a baby in the moment?

D: In massage we ask the baby for permission to massage. Soon the baby will recognize your signs and know when you are about to massage them. Babies who are showing signs of tension or angst, soon become loose and relaxed the moment the massage begins.

A: Does baby massage have a lasting effect over the course of the day?

D: Oh yes!

A: How often should a parent massage their baby?

D: As often as the baby would like and when ever you are relaxed and have time to massage.

A: Are there different strokes for different outcomes?

D: Yes. This is what I cover in my baby massage classes. There are strokes that relieve tension or gas, strokes that simply relax an over-stimulated baby and strokes to stimulate a baby who is perhaps a sleepy feeder or in need of energy for some other reason.

A: How can parents best learn these strokes?

D: By working with someone who can guide them on how and when to do the massage. Parents also learn from each other and the similar circumstances that each of them are working through. Classes help parents to understand that the setting is important when doing the massage. They feel more comfortable and confident in their ability to massage their baby effectively and get help when they are not sure if what they are doing is correct.

Maintaining a Healthy Relationship/Marriage Postpartum

By Maya Hammer

Baby proofing your marriage. Couple kissingHaving a baby is hard on relationships! Even happy and functional relationships become strained after the baby arrives, or after the arrival of a second or third child. There is less time for each of you as individuals and for you as a couple. Your relationship becomes transactional as you negotiate responsibilities with very little sleep. Here are some quick tips for maintaining a healthy relationship:

Communicate Openly: Be honest with your partner/spouse about how you are feeling so that you avoid build up of anger and resentment. Some moms or partners report the need for empathy and emotional support, while others require more practical support such as breaks from the kids and help with laundry, cooking, or cleaning. Be specific about the type of help that you need. Seasoned moms Stacie Cockrell, Cathy O’Neill, and Julia Stone shed light on some of the communication challenges new and experienced parents may face in their insightful and humourous book Babyproofing Your Marriage.

Take care of yourselves: Each of you requires time for self-care so that you can be loving, patient, and present when you spend time together. Encourage your partner to engage in fun, healthy, and meaningful activities and ask him or her to support you in your endeavors. Renee Peterson Trudeau’s book The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal suggests ways to reconnect with yourself, create balance, and attain optimal well-being in your new role and identity as a parent. While this book is promoted specifically to mothers, either parent can use this journal-based book to reflect on their experience as a parent.

Divide Labour: Make a list of chores and responsibilities and assign yourselves to those that you enjoy most. Let go of the chores you are not in charge of. Outsource when you can: hire a cleaner, a personal chef, postpartum doula, or child care provider. Prioritize important tasks and leave other items on your To Do list for a later date.

Baby Proofing your marriage. Couple KissingPlan dates: Plan weekly or biweekly dates. Hire a babysitter or ask a friend or family member to babysit so that you can get out of the house. Enjoy home dates too when you leave laundry or dishes for later so you can watch a movie, play scrabble, or enjoy a glass of wine.

Nurture intimacy: Physical intimacy facilitates emotional connection. Plan a date for sex, preferably daytime if possible as you may be less tired. If you are not interested in intercourse, be creative! There are many ways to be intimate. Great Sex for Moms by Valerie Davis Raskin provides sound advice for reclaiming your sex life.

Couples counselling is a safe place to voice concerns, explore issues, mediate discussions, learn effective communication strategies, and deepen your connection to each other.

Maya Hammer, M.A., Counselling Psychology

I received a wonderful surprise…

I received one of the most humbling, and flattering pieces of news this week….a Mom who had taken my prenatal class about a year and half ago sent me an email and told me that in her school of Naturopathic Medicine, they are using an article that I wrote for “Bearing Witness: Childbirth stories told by doulas” for one of their writing assignments.

This, in itself was exciting enough for me to hear about! But then I noticed that she had attached her essay to the email for me to read. Their task was to read my article, titled “The Great Letting Go” and compare it to how the media portrays childbirth in movies and TV. In it, she shared the shifts she felt from having attended my class and gave insight into how her new relationship to birth influenced her actual experience of birthing.

Very rarely do I have the opportunity to hear about or witness these shifts from parents who attend my class, and as I read I was deeply touched by how this Mom came to find a comfort and power in herself as a birthing Mom. While this story was of particular significance for me, there is a deep value in hearing the stories of birthing women as mothers, mothers-to-be, partners, practitioners, siblings…you get the picture :)

It’s only three pages long and she’s shared it with you here today...take a look.

Self Identity After Baby

It’s mother’s day coming up next weekend. It’s a day to celebrate you as a mother, but do you know who that is? Many women don’t immediately feel like a mother once their child is born, and instead gradually learn to see themselves in ways that fit with the identity of “mother.” In the meantime, the self she has previously known herself to be feels completely out of reach as her daily activities, capabilities and expectations have shifted so dramatically.

Many people understand that life with baby warrants a lot of changes, but what that actually feels like for them is often a surprise. Some women feel themselves drop into the identity of “Mother” right away, and maybe have even identified themselves as Mothers long before their baby was born. But for the women who do not feel like a mother right away, the shift in her self identify after baby can be a place of real loneliness or loss, even while at the same time loving their child and new family.

This month we encourage you to explore activities and events that cultivate your self care and nourish the growing sense of ‘Me’ that evolves alongside your growing children. The Mother’s Day Soirée with speakers Heather Clark, author of “Chai Tea Sunday” and fashion stylist Rachel Matthews Burton will feed your spirit and your fashion sense for a total self make-over. Get out more with your baby by attending our free Baby Wearing Workshop, where you’ll get to try different carriers with your child that’ll enable you to get out of the house (or get more done inside the house) hands free!

Some women will choose to honour their life changes through ritual, journaling or creating artwork. On Friday May 11th, Toronto’s Doula Care organization is hosting a Birth Fire at Dufferin Grove beginning at 7pm. Parents are invited to bring memories, wishes or items that they wish to let go of to burn in the fire.

How might you honour your life changes in motherhood?

You might just take a moment to really listen to the inspiring stories from real life parents in your life, without judgement and without comparing yourself to their unique story. Whatever you do, be gentle with yourself as you gradually grow into your parenting feet. Just as your child takes time to learn to walk on it’s own two feet, you too will take time to learn to walk on your parenting legs with confidence.

*This excerpt was shared from our Spring Newsletter “Self Identity After Baby.” To view the entire newsletter click here *