Monday, 25 September 2017

Your story. Your voice. Your truth.

Today on the blog, Gina reflects on birth experiences may people have, the importance of being able to speak about these experiences, and being truly heard and supported. 

As an antenatal educator, I've been teaching pregnant couples for over six years now and I've taught nearly 400 couples. I also ran a Positive Birth Movement (PBM) group in London for three years, and I've been running another PBM group in Kent for the last two years. So I've had many, many birth stories shared with me over the years, both in a professional capacity, and also in passing when acquaintances (like mums at my kids' school) discover what I do for work. It is both my job and my passion not only to listen to these stories, but to truly hear the feelings and emotions behind what each parent has to say when they share their story.

In this blog, I want to reflect on the importance of both speaking your truth, whether you had a positive or negative experience, as well as the importance of being heard with compassion and without judgement.

Why share your birth story?

Many parents can benefit from sharing their birth experiences.  

The most obvious reason to talk about birth is if you had a traumatic experience. Talking about it can help you with coming to terms with upsetting memories and emotions. Sadly, I've heard people share many negative birth experiences, including some truly heart-breaking stories.  The one common factor for all of these individuals is the need to speak their truth in their words when they feel ready and safe. Speaking helps healing. A wonderful father that I met has spoken widely about his family's experience of losing their baby girl. And his sharing of their story has helped other families as well as his own. 

Maybe you feel disappointed with how your birth went, but it wasn't particularly 'traumatic'. It's possible that you have negative feelings about your birth experience, and your baby is now here safe and well. You may have been told, 'well, baby is here safely, that's the most important thing'. Of course, every parent wants their baby to arrive safe and well, and that is everyone's top priority. But you, your experience and your feelings also matter.  

Having a negative experience of childbirth can leave you with unresolved feelings for many years. Mothers sometimes feel guilty for having negative feelings, perhaps having trouble bonding with baby or struggling to settle into the role of mum. Dads or birth partners sometimes feel guilty and upset because they looked on helplessly whilst mum endured a difficult delivery.

Infant loss, still birth, birth trauma, negative birth experiences - these can leave an indelible mark a family, and simply taking that step to speak about it with a trusted individual can be hugely transformative.  For some parents, it can make all the difference, by releasing that pain and those fears, feeling able to enjoy one's life and family as it is now, and perhaps even feeling ok about trying for another baby again. It can feel empowering to begin the healing process and allow your life to move forward. 

Do you have a positive birth story to share? 

Positive birth experiences need space and acknowledgement too.  Why?  Your positive story may be a personal triumph over your fears and anxieties, moving past a previous negative birth, dealing with the loss of a baby or other complex feelings and difficulties.  Your positive birth deserves to be acknowledged and heard in the same way as those who experienced trauma and loss. 

It's hard to believe, but parents often feel guilty about sharing positive stories. Of course, in sharing your own positive story, you don't want to make others feel bad if they had a negative experience.  If you are hearing someone else's story, remember that their story is not a judgement or critique of you or your story.  If you feel that way, it is important that you find a safe space to share and heal from your own experience.  

If you share your story and you feel judged negatively as a result, maybe someone has heard your story as a criticism of their story, even though that wasn't your intention.  Remember that kind of response is about the other person's own unresolved feelings. They need space to heal. Telling one's story is about articulating, accepting, finding peace. And it can also be about celebrating your own journey and experience.  

Sharing positive birth experiences has the power to transform how those around you approach birth. Positive Birth groups are 100% committed to this.  FInd your own wonderful safe place to get support for all of your choices and all of your experiences.  Facilitators of these groups are registered with the PBM and are responsible for creating that confidential, non-judgemental space for the parents that attend the meetings.   

Mindset is a powerful thing.  Going into birth well-informed, prepared and supported can make even the most sudden change of birth plan more manageable. I've had clients unexpectedly need to be induced or have an emergency c-section, but because of good preparation and support they are able to report these births as positive experiences, even though things did not go to the original 'plan'.

'Holding Space' and Feeling Safe 

In the birth professional world, we talk about 'holding space' for our clients.  This means providing a space for you that feels safe, where parents feel 'held' and able to be and express what they need to, in whatever shape or words that comes. For mothers and fathers alike, creating a safe space where they are completely accepted and respected can be the first important step towards healing. 

It's a big responsibility to hold space for those sharing birth trauma and loss, and even positive experiences.  Any good birth professional understands the importance of being able to listen without judgement, without inserting one's own feelings or experience, and always with unconditional love and compassion.  This is what my ZenBirth team and I are committed to, and it's what we put into everything we do to help parents on their journey to meeting their babies.

My experience of hearing and listening to birth stories is that it is incredibly moving and has helped me to grow personally and professionally.  I have observed the process of parents releasing negative emotions around previous birth experiences.  Liberating oneself from these things can help couples acknowledge what went well during the birth and how joyful it was to welcome their child into the world, at the same time as recognising reasons why the delivery did not go as planned and eventually coming to a point of acceptance and peace.  Talking things through helps you to both gain clarity and lift the burden of those negative feelings and emotions. 

Whoever you share your story with, it is important that you feel listened to and that the person is committed to holding space for you that is safe, confidential, non-judgemental and truly focussed on you.  Remember there is always support out there, whether you are a parent or a birth professional, or both.  There are some organisations listed below that provide excellent information and support.  

Wishing you well. Remember that you and your story matter, always.
Gina xx
Gina Potts is Director of ZenBirth – Hypnobirthing UK. She comes from an academic research background, focusing on women's history, writing and feminism. Since 2009 has spent much of her time researching into all aspects of maternity care, pregnancy, birth and women’s postnatal health. In 2011, she founded ZenBirth and has helped hundreds of couples have a positive birth experience. Gina now leads a growing team of ZenBirth instructors who provide antenatal hypnobirthing education courses across London and the South East of the UK.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Birth is a Feminist Issue

Your voice is important. It is right that you should feel informed, in control and call the shots during your pregnancy, during the birth and in your life

Remember that just because you are pregnant, doesn't mean you have to hand over your power to someone else.  Growing a baby and giving birth are amongst the most powerful and empowering things you will ever do.

You and your baby are the most important people during your pregnancy and you have the power within you to learn about what is right for you, to gather good evidence-based information, to make the right choices for yourself and to assert your voice so that you get the care and the birth that you want. 

In this short video Gina explains why, for her, birth is a feminist issue. 


Gina Potts is Director of ZenBirth – Hypnobirthing UK. She comes from an academic research background, focusing on women's history, writing and feminism. Since 2009 has spent much of her time researching into all aspects of maternity care, pregnancy, birth and women’s postnatal health. In 2011, she founded ZenBirth and has helped hundreds of couples have a positive birth experience. Gina now leads a growing team of ZenBirth instructors who provide antenatal hypnobirthing education courses across London and the South East of the UK.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Keeping Fit in Pregnancy

Keeping fit is great for your physical and mental health.

In this week's blog, Mara Fekete, ZenBirth's resident fitness guru and hypnobirthing instructor in South West London, gives you some excellent tips on how to keep fit during pregnancy, even if you have never taken much exercise before.  

Doing regular exercise can help you to deal with the extra demands on your body during pregnancy. It also promotes muscle tone and strength, as well as improving feelings of mental well-being. Keeping fit can therefore have a positive effect on how you manage both your pregnancy and your labour.

When a woman finds out she that a little one is on its way, she may find herself changing her usual routines and habits.  Unfortunately, taking regular exercise is one of the thing that women often stop doing, or do less when they become pregnant. Sometimes this is due to having less energy due to pregnancy sickness or just being tired as a result of growing a little person. Because exercise has wonderful benefits it can be a mistake to give up on keeping fit altogether.  

If keeping fit wasn't part of your life before pregnancy, now is not the time to suddenly storm into a gym and start training like there is no tomorrow.  However, taking regular exercise within your fitness abilities is a really good idea. We all have different lifestyles, so some of us have done exercise on a a regular basis before, and some of us have not. The good news is, it does not matter what your usual habits or abilities are, because you can start at any time.  

Here are a few tips and ideas for keeping fit in pregnancy: 

  1. Check if your health care provider (GP, Midwife, Obstetrician, etc) what kind of exercise they suggest based on what they know about your health.  It's important to get advice when starting a new fitness routine, especially when you are pregnant and if you have any health conditions.
  2. Exercise has a 'feel-good factor' thanks to the hormones produced during physical activity. These include dopamine, serotonin and endorphins.  Enjoy how great exercise can make you feel mentally.  A positive mind has a great effect on how you feel in your body.
  3. Whatever type of exercise you do, always avoid overheating. This is especially important in the first trimester, especially in Summer.  The key is drinking plenty of water. Keep hydrated mamas!
  4. Always warm up before and stretch after your exercise routine. In pregnancy your hormone relaxin is raised in preparation for childbirth. This hormone relaxes the ligaments in the pelvic area and other parts of the body.  So it's extra important in pregnancy to stretch gently. It can also help to find an fitness instructor who is specifically trained to support pregnant women.
  5. Making exercise a new habit can be exciting! You have a great selection of classes you can choose from: water fitness (aquanatal), pregnancy yoga and pilates, walking, swimming and more.  If you are interested in weights and aerobic exercise, you can try these on a moderate level and get the support of your trained instructor to help you.
  6. If you are already really into fitness, and if you are having a healthy pregnancy, you can, for the most part, carry on with most of your activities as before.  But please listen to your body. It will tell you if it is too much.  You should consult a fitness instructor and your health care provider if you are unsure. And you should pace yourself and be sure you are not over doing it. 
  7. For all pregnant women, definitely get information and support from a qualified pregnancy and postnatal fitness instructor. These days nearly every gym has a trainer who specialises in pre- and postnatal training. And also ensure you are attending your regular check ups with your GP or midwife, and that you are not doing anything to an extreme level.
Enjoy and look after yourself.  Wishing you a wonderful pregnancy and a beautiful birth.

With love, 


Mara Fekete
Fitness Instructor and Hypnobirthing Practitioner


Monday, 5 June 2017

That gut feeling!

Research shows the important role that the gut plays in keeping us healthy and happy.

There is a profound dynamic interaction between your gut, your brain and your immune system, starting from birth with baby's development of gut microbiota. Zakia explains this important relationship.

Where does it all begin?

Let's start with a mini biology lesson. Trillions of bacteria live in your child's (and your own) gastrointestinal system, many of which are good bacteria that keep the gut healthy. These bacteria have been there since birth, when your baby's gastrointestinal tract became colonized with good, bad and benign bacteria (known as flora). This happens when baby passes through the birth canal during a vaginal delivery, during which baby picks up some of your microbes.

If you breastfeed your baby, you help your baby build up more good bacteria, because breast milk contains substances known as prebiotics that promote the growth of healthy bugs. Prebiotics are also found in high-fiber foods like whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Once your child weans and starts on solid foods, the gut microflora will change, and then remain pretty much constant throughout his or her lifetime.

Why is it so important to have healthy guts?

  • It helps the body to digest certain foods that the stomach and small intestine have not been able to digest.
  • It helps with the production of some vitamins (B and K).
  • Scientists have shown that brain levels of serotonin, the 'happy hormone' are regulated by the amount of bacteria in the gut during early life.
  • It helps us combat aggressions from other microorganisms, maintaining the wholeness of the intestinal mucosa.
  • It plays an important role in the immune system, performing a barrier effect.

What can disrupt the gut flora?

-        Antibiotics, for instance, can kill both bad and good bacteria in your child's gut flora. "About 20 to 30 percent of kids develop diarrhoea when they take antibiotics," says Daniel Merenstein, M.D., director of research in the Department of Family Medicine at Georgetown University Medical Center, in Washington, D.C.

-        Various diseases can disturb this otherwise fixed amount of microflora.

-        Poor diet: sugary and processed foods, lack of fruits and vegetables.

How to help your little ones maintain a healthy gut, and trust their gut?

Always start with food. Teaching our children the importance of eating wholesome, unprocessed, unrefined food is crucial to help them develop healthy eating habits. Keep to a strict minimum of sugar, fizzy drinks, processed and salty foods. Increase foods that are gut friendly, including vegetables, good oils, good proteins (fish, lean meat), wholegrains, fruits, fermented foods and drinks, such as Kefir.

Teaching a healthy approach to eating will help your children as well. Teach them about eating slowly and enjoying their food, rather than just scoffing quickly whatever is available. Eating slowly make them more aware of their body and teaches them to recognise when they are full. Explain what different foods can do to their body and mood, by all means give them the odd chocolate bar as a treat, but do also explain why it is an occasional treat.

Science is only confirming what naturopaths and nutritionists have known for years: that good physical and mental health start primarily in your gut. So look after your children’s gut flora, and yours too.  And this will help the whole family live a healthier and happier life.

Stay healthy, stay happy!
Zakia Mance
Naturopath and Hypnobirthing Practitioner


Monday, 15 May 2017

Empower yourself. Empower your birth.

You can do this! 

Founder of ZenBirth, Gina Potts, talks about how you can empower your birth.


Read more about Gina and the many empowering ZenBirth birth stories here

Gina Potts is Director of ZenBirth – Hypnobirthing UK. She comes from an academic research background, and since 2009 has spent much of her time researching into all aspects of maternity care, pregnancy, birth and women’s postnatal health. In 2011, she founded ZenBirth and has helped hundreds of couples have a positive birth experience. Gina now leads a growing team of ZenBirth instructors who provide antenatal hypnobirthing education courses across London and the South East of the UK.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Becoming mindful for you, and baby

The week Zakia tell us about how mindfulness can benefit both you and baby, in pregnancy and beyond. 

Pregnancy and motherhood isn't always easy. The myth of a glowing radiant mother-to-be is still prevalent in our society. However, the reality is sometimes different depending on your circumstances. That's where mindfulness can help you. New research is starting to suggest that mindfulness practice can protect the health and well-being of mothers and their babies. Here are three reasons to practice mindfulness during and after pregnancy

1)    Mindfulness reduces stress

In a small pilot study in 2008 (1), 31 women in the second half of their pregnancies participated in an eight-week mindfulness programme called Mindful Motherhood. The programme included breathing meditation, body scan meditation and hatha yoga. In two hours of classes per week, participants also learned how to cultivate attention and awareness, particularly in relation to aspects of their pregnancy: the feeling of their belly, the aches and pains, and their anxieties about labour.

Compared with women waiting to enter the programme, participants saw reductions in their reported anxieties and negative feelings like distress, hostility and shame. These were all women who had sought therapy or counselling for mood issues in the past, but the programme seemed to be helping them avoid similar difficulties during a transformative time of their lives.

2)    Mindfulness boosts positive feelings

Not all mindfulness involves meditation. You can become more mindful by simply noticing the way moods and bodily sensations fluctuate throughout the day. This type of mindfulness can counter our tendency to be “mindless,” when we assume things will be the way we expect them to be—the way they were in the past—and we don’t notice new experiences. For example, pregnant women might expect pregnancy to be exhausting or uncomfortable, so they pay less attention to the happy and peaceful moments.

In a 2016 study (2), a small group of Israeli women in their second and third trimesters received a half-hour training in this type of mindfulness. Then, for two weeks, they wrote diary entries twice daily about how they felt physically and mentally, a way of helping them realise how much things change.

Compared with groups of women who simply read about other women’s positive and negative experiences during pregnancy, or did nothing specific at all, women in the mindfulness group saw greater increases in their reports of well-being and positive feelings, like enthusiasm and determination across the duration of the exercise. Also, the more mindful they were after the experiment (as measured by questionnaire), the higher their well-being, life satisfaction, self-esteem, and positive feelings one month after the birth—a time when women need all the resources they can get.

3)    Mindfulness may promote baby's healthy development

Some women may worry about the possibility of a premature birth. “Preemies” (babies born before 37 weeks) are at risk of breathing problems, vision and hearing issues and developmental delays. Mothers of preemies often have high rates of anxiety, depression and stress, which often go unacknowledged in the face of the baby’s needs.

Here, too, mindfulness may have a role to play. In a 2005 study (3) of 335 pregnant women in Bangalore, India, half were assigned to practice yoga and meditation while the other half walked for an hour per day, starting in their second trimester and continuing until delivery. The yoga group, who took yoga classes for a week and then practiced at home, had fewer premature births and fewer babies with low birthweight.

A new wave of research is looking at the impact of motherly mindfulness on infancy as well, following babies as they develop. In a 2015 study from the Netherlands (4), babies whose mothers measured high in mindfulness at the beginning of the second trimester had fewer developmental problems. At 10 months, according to mindful mothers’ reports, babies were less likely to have difficulties settling down and adjusting to new environments (“self-regulation”) or controlling their attention and behaviour (“effortful control”).

Mindfulness is beneficial in many ways, for pregnancy and beyond, for both you and your baby.  And to benefit, you need to practice regularly. So let yourself start enjoying simple mindfulness practices everyday, like simply observing your breath, or sitting quiety and listening to all the sounds around you, or mindfully enjoying your food by chewing slowly and tasting and smelling every flavour in your meal. Giving yourself space to be mindful, to be in each moment and experience it fully, is super for your mental health, and is also great prepartion for birth and parenthood.  
Stay healthy, stay happy!

Zakia Mance, Naturopath and Hypnobirthing Practitioner 

Monday, 1 May 2017

Should I just have the Epidural?

It's a big question: should I just have the Epidural to block it all out ?

Most of us have had other women tell us: 'oh, just have the Epidural!', 'why wouldn't you have it?'  But have you found yourself saying to them, or yourself: 'I'm not sure I want it', or asking: 'what happens when I have one?' or 'what effect will it have on baby?' or 'how will I manage the sensations of childbirth?'

This week, we look at Epidural. What it is. What it does. The Pros, Cons and Alternatives. 

Epidural: what is it and how does it work?

Epidural is an anaesthetic which is used for pain relief during child birth, as well as in some kinds of surgery including c-sections.  Epidurals are administered by injection into the spine and this is always done by an anaesthetist in the hospital.  When a woman decides to have an epidural during childbirth, she will first be put on a drip, sited in the arm, so that she can be given fluids during the epidural.  Then she will be asked to be in a leaning forward position, or lying on her side.  A local anaesthetic will be used to numb the skin where the injection will be given.  A needle is then placed between the vertebrae of the spine, usually in the lower part of the back, in order to insert a plastic tube called an epidural catheter.  The catheter is left in whilst the needle is removed.  A line is then inserted in to the catheter which delivers the epidural drug into the woman’s body. The pain relief effect is usually reasonable quick, taking full effect in about 20-30 minutes. 

Epidurals can be delivered in differing dosages, having more or less pain-relieving effect.  The higher dose will numb must of the lower half of the body and it won’t be possible to stand.  A lower dose epidural can be used, which is called a mobile epidural, and this provides a lower level of pain relief whilst allowing the woman to have use of her legs and to move around. Regardless of the dosage, the woman will need to be attached to a monitor, strapped around the woman’s tummy, throughout the labour.  This is in order to keep track of how baby is handling the labour and also to detect when contractions are happening. 

What are the pros and cons of Epidural? 

Epidurals provide effective pain relief, but do impact upon the progress of the labour.  Because epidural relaxes the muscles, and the uterus is a set of muscles, it can make labour less efficient.  So epidural can cause labour to be longer.  The woman is less likely to feel the sensations of her contractions, so the midwife or doctor may need to coach her to push when the monitor indicates contractions are happening.  Coached pushing may be more forced than mother-led pushing, so tearing may occur as a result.

The benefit of epidural is that it is an effective form of pain relief, including partial or complete loss of sensation in the whole lower half of the body.  The woman would not feel the contractions or urges to push.  It also enables a woman requiring a c-section to have no sensation, whilst remaining awake during the whole procedure.  The woman is then able to receive her baby immediately once baby emerges.  

Risks and side effects of epidural may include: discomfort when the needle and catheter are inserted, numbness in the chest and stomach areas and also in the legs, the legs may not be strong enough to stand where a high dose is used, low blood pressure, light-headedness, nausea, loss of bladder control, itchiness, headaches, temporary or permanent nerve damage, labour can be slow and less effective, higher occurrence of emergency c-section, baby may be less alert than usual at birth and baby may take longer to effectively breastfeed, other more serious effects and complications that should be discussed with your medical care provider. 

What are the alternatives

Many women choose to avoid having an epidural due to the implications it can have for both mum and baby.  Learning about the physiology of childbirth is useful. Understanding why you are experiencing certain sensations can help you embrace, rather than resist, what you are feeling as you birth your baby.  You may dedice to prepare yourself with tools to help you manage the sensations of childbirth. Different labour and birth positions can make birthing easier. Relaxation techniques and using breathing can help your body ease into the sensations, and allow your baby to emerge more gently.  Things like massage, reflexology, aromatherapy and other alternative therapies can help you to maximise your feelings of relaxation and calm. If your body is relaxed and free of tension, the birth will be easier. Being supported by a caring and supportive birth partner, together with a birthing environment that helps you feel safe and secure can also help your birthing to progress smoothly and gentlyThese are all things that hypnobirthing courses cover. 
Whatever you decided to do, make sure you educate yourself before your baby's birthing day.  Making informed decisions helps to make the birth experience much more positive regardless of the route you choose.

Gina x

Gina Potts is Director of ZenBirth – Hypnobirthing UK. She comes from an academic research background, and since 2009 has spent much of her time researching into all aspects of maternity care, pregnancy, birth and women’s postnatal health. In 2011, she founded ZenBirth and has helped hundreds of couples have a positive birth experience. Gina now leads a growing team of ZenBirth instructors who provide antenatal hypnobirthing education courses across London and the South East of the UK.