DTP Offspring Guest Blog – Ebony Knight & Powerful Pioneers

Doula Ebony Knights became a Dancing Thru Pregnancy teacher in 2014 through the Healthy Start Brooklyn program. Together with her husband, Ebony runs Powerful Pioneers, a program to empower women, seniors and young adults through special workshops, activities and services.

Ebony 8DTP: Tell us about your work as a DTP teacher and a Doula.

EK: We start our class greeting each other, introducing ourselves to newcomers and start off with warm ups, stretching, etc. I have incorporated a Caribbean dance workout, which is a simple dance routine that gave us the opportunity to perform at BMS on stage out doors recently.

Ebony 9Ebony 4After we dance we relax and visualize and end with a discussion (sharing our thoughts and experiences to encourage each other).

To find out more about Ebony’s Doula service, click on this link, then click on the title:
Ebony doula

DTP: What do you most enjoy about your work?

EK: I truly enjoy what I do and was inspired when you traveled so far to teach such an amazing class. Also I have enjoyed getting a chance to meet these lovely ladies; my most committed and dedicated moms have recently had their babies. Some of these moms come back to visit and surprise me. Ebony 6

DTP: Tell us more about Powerful Pioneers and your activities.

EK: My husband and I have an organization called Powerful Pioneers and our mission is to empower women, seniors and children by offering workshops such as vegetarian cooking classes, dance, health education, drama classes and women and youth empowerment workshops.  You are welcome to visit our website to see what we do. If you happen to know any moms or organizations that would like to partner with us or utilize any of our services feel free to share.

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Healthy Pregnancy & Birth Essentials – Be Fit! Be Prepared!

Moving relieves stress.

Moving relieves stress.

Do you want a healthy pregnancy, labor, birth and early mothering experience?

This post is designed to provide basic information about achieving this goal. As with any life situation, there are things you can do to help achieve the best outcome of your pregnancy. Some things will be outside your control. Your baby will have blue eyes or brown hair or attached ear lobes depending on genetic factors. But many things are in your control. If you are fit and eat well you will help your baby’s development.

Circumstances can also play a role. For example, where you live can impact how much you walk or whether you are exposed to second-hand smoke. Sometimes you can change these things, but not always. We have put together just the basics, the things you CAN do to help yourself have a healthy pregnancy and birth!

  1. PRENATAL CARE – Repeated studies show that women who have regular health care started early in pregnancy have the best outcomes.
  2. AIR & FOOD – Your muscles need oxygen and blood sugar in order to achieve activities of daily living (ADL), fitness activities, labor, birth, and caring for a newborn. Muscles – including the uterus – need these two essentials in order to this work. Therefore you must do these things:
    • Breathe deeply to strengthen your breathing apparatus.
    • Eat in a way that is balanced (carbs, fats & proteins in every meal or snack) and colorful (fresh fruit & veggies) to train your body to
      Fresh fruit provides vitamins & minerals!!

      Fresh fruit provides vitamins & minerals!!

      produce an even supply of blood sugar and provide needed vitamins & minerals. You need 200 – 300 calories every 2 – 3 hours, depending on your size. Prenatal vitamins are your backup safety mechanism. Eat real food, not edible food-like products (example: potatoes, not potato chips).

    • Drink fluids (primarily water) and eat protein to maintain an adequate blood volume. Blood delivers oxygen and sugar to your muscles, placenta and baby. Pregnancy increases needed blood volume by about 40%. More if you exercise regularly.
    • You don’t need other items, especially things that are dangerous, like alcohol, cigarettes and drugs. Continue safe sex.
  3. PHYSICAL FITNESS – Pregnancy, labor, birth and parenting are ENDURANCE events. Strength, flexibility and mindfulness will help, but only if you have stamina to tolerate the stress to your cardiovascular and respiratory systems.
    Aerobic Dancing improves stamina while having fun!

    Aerobic Dancing improves stamina while having fun!

    • Cardiovascular conditioning or aerobics is the cornerstone of fitness. Make sure to get 20 – 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity 3 or 4 days a week. Find a qualified prenatal aerobic fitness teacher. If you are more than 26 weeks pregnant, start very, very slowly.
    • Core, shoulders, hips, pelvic floor – these areas need adequate strength training and gentle flexibility for range of motion.
    • Relaxation practice has been shown to help reduce the active phase of labor.
    • Mindfulness can be a big help in birth if you have adequate endurance and are not in oxygen debt, out of blood sugar, dehydrated or too tired.
    • Find classes here: DTP Take-a-Class
  4. EDUCATION – Be sure these items are included in your childbirth education course:
    • Landmarks of labor & birth progress
    • Sensations at various points in labor
    • Physical skills that promote labor progress and help achieve a healthy birth

      Learn the benefits "skin-to-skin" after birth.

      Learn the benefits “skin-to-skin” after birth.

    • Pain Management techniques to help you deal with the intensity of birth
    • How to maintain oxygen and sugar supply in labor before going to the hospital and while in the hospital
    • Standard hospital procedures (so you can decide when to go to the hospital)
    • Complications that can lead to medical interventions, including surgery
  5. GET SUPPORT – Make sure you will have continuous support for your labor and birth
    • Spouses, partners, and female family members can be helpful if they accompany you to your Childbirth Education class and know how to help you during the process.
    • A Doula is a great option for support because they are trained to guide a mom and family through the birth process.
  6. POSTPARTUM ACTIVITY WITH BABY – This is a great way to get in shape after birth.
    • Early General Fitness in the first few weeks: walk with the baby in a stroller or carrier, work on kegels and suck in your belly.
    • After 4 – 8 weeks you will be ready to join a Mom-Baby fitness group!
Birth begins the bond or unique love between mother and child.

Birth begins the bond or unique love between mother and child.

About Dancing

“When a normal, healthy child is born, usually in the father’s compound, the women perform the nkwa to rejoice. Then…they sing and dance their way to the compounds of the mother’s kin to inform them of the joyous event through the dance-play, gathering additional dancers as it moves from compound to compound. In this nkwa, in which only married women who have given birth perform, the dancers highlight procreative body parts, birth exercises and child care gestures.” – page 164, Hanna JL, To Dance is Human: a theory of non-verbal communication, 1979. Rev. ed. 1987.

From its inception in 1979, Dancing Thru Pregnancy® has been inspired by this passage from Judith Lynne Hanna’s amazing text, in which she describes how the Ubakala of Nigeria “announce” the birth of a child. The dance serves a dual purpose – it tells of the birth, but it also teaches the uninitiated how pregnancy and birth occur. For the dancers it also serves as a catharsis.

As a professional dancer, I long ago recognized the transformative power of dance to make experiences accessible.Molly and Miri Through Hanna’s writing we see how dance is itself one of the earliest and most profound ways in which common human experiences are taught and learned. Contemporary culture often removes this type of learning from our environment. Employing dance to help women approach birth has always struck me as an obvious first choice in preparing women for the physical, emotional, identity-forming and joyful process of birth.

In the intervening years, science and technology have reinforced our understanding of how this non-verbal learning happens. A most excellent discussion of mirror neurons appears in Acharya and Shukla’s article, Mirror Neurons: Enigma of the metaphysical modular brain, J Nat Sci Biol Med. 2012 Jul-Dec; 3(2): 118–124. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3510904/. Mirror neurons are key to how empathy and understanding of experience are produced when people view movement and gesture. The mere perception of an action sets off a low level firing of the neural pathway that executes the actions we are seeing. The authors provide a thorough grounding in the history of how we have come to recognize that mirror neurons exist and how they work.

There are more arenas in which dance also shines as a preparation. Appropriately choreographed, dance enables excellent physical fitness and includes all the elements of physical activity that research demonstrates are effective for optimal health in pregnancy and coping with the rigors of birth. From the perspective of exercise physiology, labor is an ultra-distance endurance event, followed by a strength test (birth), a long physical recovery period and 18 years or more of sleep deprivation. And, further, such a preparation aids the mother in achieving a physiologic birth as described in Buckley’s “Hormonal Physiology of Childbearing: Evidence and implications for women, babies, and maternity care.” This recent groundbreaking article describes how labor, birth and breastfeeding are promoted through hormonal actions, as well as why some technological advances in childbirth are working against these processes.

DTP at YH 12:13Achieving cardiovascular endurance (aerobic fitness) is essential. There are so many benefits of aerobic fitness that a full recitation and hundreds of citations will not fit in a blog. Our teacher training aerobic component takes several days, even for experienced fitness pros. But, to summarize: cardiovascular fitness improves implantation, enhances nutrient and oxygen delivery, reduces the incidence or severity of some pregnancy disorders, reduces the risk of fetal distress, reduces stress on maternal cardiac reserve while pushing, reduces the risk of cesarean, hastens recovery, helps maintain a healthy weight, alleviates anxiety, builds body-image confidence (Cochrane) and enhances long term maternal and fetal health. The two forms of cardio or aerobic activity most often cited for effectiveness are running and aerobic dancing.

Two other elements of dance that are useful for pregnant, birthing and parenting moms are strength and flexibility. There are Elongemany movement actions derived from numerous dance forms that promote both power and elasticity in the muscles, connective tissue and skeletal structure. Some effective positions, movements and skills are shared with other disciplines: Traditional childbirth preparation, weight training, gymnastics, physical therapy, yoga, t’ai chi, pilates, boot camp, plyometrics, proprioceptor neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) techniques, Feldenkrais, Alexander, somatic therapies, posture training, etc.

This letter I received recently from a (not pregnant) ballet student willing to share her experience is a clear reminder of how a well-designed dance class accomplishes enhancement of strength and flexibility, along with confidence about working with one’s body:

“Hi Ann,

I just wanted to let you know that I lifted weights at the gym last night… It had been at least 6 months since I had lifted weights at all, and so I figured I’d need to start at a relatively low weight and I’d be really sore the next day regardless. I was very surprised to find that I could easily lift the maximum weight I’ve ever lifted, which was the weight I used to lift at a time when I was lifting weights routinely several times a week. Every muscle group was strong. And today I am not sore at all. This is all to say that I am shocked at how much strength I’ve gained from ballet. I had no idea that just lifting my limbs against gravity could be so effective.

Thank you so much for having a class for beginner adults, and for your patience with all of us! I’m 42 years old at this point, and started ballet because I had noticed my core strength, flexibility and balance starting to really decline…I am so thrilled with the results from ballet even though I have such a long way to go!!! Plus it’s really fun. How I wish I would have discovered ballet in my 20s or 30s, since I didn’t learn it as a child!

Glenda G. Callender, MD FACS

An additional arena in which dance shines is in building mind-body skills. Dancing relies on centering – aligning with gravity to produce the greatest efficiency for movement (balance) along with breathing as a component of movement. Centering also reduces the load on the nervous system and allows the brain to modulate into the parasympathetic nervous system state, also known as the relaxation response (autogenic training, hypnosis, meditation, progressive relaxation), the zone (athletes’ term), mindfulness (big in research presently), the trophotropic response (the scientific term) or the alpha state (the current fad term). Dancers sometimes refer to this as tuning in to the unconscious. The actual coordination of motions, such as pushing, is primarily unconscious. The conscious piece is keeping a clear image of the goal, while allowing the body to work. This is the skill that allows the birthing mother to follow her body’s urges, flowing with the labor rather than trying to control what is going on. It gives her access to the cathartic nature of birth as a dance.

Centering 2:08Align

Breathe

Focus on the breath

Sense the movement within

Then, allow the body to dance…

A part of the dance experience I truly enjoy is a phenomenon known as muscle bonding. When a group does vigorous physical activity together – dancing together, a sports team, a drill team – a special kind of bond forms. Part of the euphoria is this muscle bonding experience.  Those of us whose interest lies in understanding the mechanics of such things have a pretty good idea how this works – some of which is laid out in this blog and the reading links. But, that is not the wonder of it. The wdancing_overview from backonder of it is what the Ubakala women experience moving together to announce the birth of a child.

When I am dancing with my pregnant ladies and we are in the grove with our modified hip hop routine, we are smiling at each other and feeling completely alive. We are breathing hard and working hard, but we are strong. My hope is always that when she senses that labor and birth are starting, a mom-to-be can get in that groove with the baby and support person. Birth as a dance.

No blog on pregnancy or birth is complete without a caveat. Every pregnancy and birth is unique. Sometimes things go wrong. But, mostly they go right! And, moms can optimize the experience. One of the greatest dangers to pregnancy and birth is sedentary behavior. Regular, vigorous, strength-inducing, flexibility gaining, mindfulness, relaxation muscle bonding fun is available. Check our U.S. and International Find-a-Class listing. If there is nothing near you, start something!

Dispelling Myths on Pregnancy Exercise

At regular intervals, it becomes necessary to dispel two persistent myths that are often perpetuated by well-meaning care providers. Both of them were debunked long ago, in research literature that is readily available and about which I have written a great deal, including in my chapters on Women and Exercise (editions 3 & 4) and Health Promotion in Varney’s Midwifery (edition 5), in posts on the DTP website, on my Twitter feed (@anncowlin), on DTP’s Facebook page and in a textbook.

DTP_mover1_pregnantThe more common myth is that pregnant women should never let their pulse get over 140 beats per minute. But, more on that one at another time. That was an ACOG guess in 1985 that long ago (1994) was rescinded.

The other is that pregnant women should never begin a new exercise regimen, but only modify (i.e., reduce) what they are already doing. What brings me to write this blog after a blog break (to respond to our expanding pre/postnatal fitness teacher training program) is that this evening I was told the latter myth was promoted by a CNM at a recent nearby conference. A childbirth education colleague alerted me to this occurrence and also to the happy response by an unknown person in the audience, who chose to differ with the midwife, citing Dancing Thru Pregnancy® as her example!! Thank you to this responder.

Let me address – yet again – the issue of whether it is safe for pregnant women to begin an exercise regimen after they become pregnant. The caveat I offer at the outset is that doing so should be under the supervision of a knowledgeable certified pre/postnatal fitness specialist. Within the profession, the resolution of this question is generally agreed to be the Cochrane Review conducted in 2002, which found that aerobic fitness can be improved or maintained in pregnancy. Improvement requires increasing the level of aerobic challenge. More recently, researchers concluded “….pregnant women benefit from regular physical activity the same way as non pregnant subjects…” and that “…[t]he adoption or continuation of a sedentary lifestyle during pregnancy may contribute to the development of certain disorders such as hypertension, maternal and childhood obesity, gestational diabetes, dyspnoea, and pre-eclampsia.” (Melzer et al. Physical activity and pregnancy: cardiovascular adaptations, recommendations and pregnancy outcomes. Sports Med. 2010 Jun 1;40(6):493-507. 

Put another way, the female is not put together to be sedentary in pregnancy. It is only in recent decades that this is an option. Until the mid 20th Century, activities of daily living required physical fitness, and obesity was rare, along with sedentary behavior. In the last few decades, those who are knowledgeable about the interactions of pregnancy and exercise, and who have the experience of teaching movement to this population, have come to understand how to present activities that improve the factors that improve maternal and fetal outcomes.

Those who are extremely well-versed in the field all agree that cardiovascular (aerobic) fitness during the 6 – 12 month pre-pregnancy period may be the greatest pregnancy enhancement a woman can have. Why? Because endothelial function is greatly enhanced, oxidative stress is reduced, and vascularity is increased by aerobic fitness, and these capacities underly healthy implantation and placental development (see Research Updates 2001-2005, Winter 2005 and Winter 2004 and Update on Immune Function). Barring that, beginning early in pregnancy is helpful because placental development is still underway. Barring that, mild to moderate aerobic activity introduced by 25-30 weeks will produce cardiovascular enhancement by the time of labor. My caveat goes here, too.

All conditions mediated by inflammation are a problem in pregnancy. Physical fitness is a major preventive strategy for inflammation, and pregnancy does not stand in the way.

 

 

Pregnancy Exercise – The Evolutionary Imperative for Vigorous Activity

I have long wanted to write this post. Recently two articles appeared in the NY Times prompting me to move forward. One article dealt with how it is that ongoing vigorous exercise produces brain enhancements. The second article dealt with how running creates its “high” and explained why the resulting addiction is an evolutionary benefit for human survival.

Every day in Africa a gazelle wakes up.
It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed.
 Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows that it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death.
 It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle.
When the sun comes up, you better be running.

Abe Gubegna
Ethiopia, circa 1974

The pregnant mom who exercises vigorously and regularly – the one who runs or swims or does aerobic dancing – is not the one at risk, or whose infant is at risk, of a lack of tolerance for the rigors of labor or for lifestyle health problems. It is the sedentary or low activity mother and her offspring who are at risk. I have written at length on this reality in my chapter on Women and Exercise in Varney’s Midwifery.

This realization has plagued me for ages, and the two articles in the Times convinced me to make this statement, explain why it is true and exhort women of childbearing age to become aerobic animals.

In the contemporary world, we are not as active as previous generations. Few women exercise to the extent required to develop the capacity to withstand the rigors of birth. It is little wonder that so often health care providers hear that women are afraid to exercise, and childbirth educators hear that pregnant moms are afraid of birth and don’t have confidence in their ability to do it. There are solutions for these issues…

The biggest bang for the buck is aerobics. This gets almost everything that helps you in labor. It increases endurance, strength and range of motion. It improves breathing capacity (you get more oxygen + less fatigue). It reduces your need to tap your cardiac reserve (your body works hard in labor but not to the degree it must if you are not fit). Plus, regular participation in a good cardio or aerobic workout gives you the mental toughness and confidence you need to know that your body is capable of the work and the recovery – what we call body trust. Fit Pregnancy has discussed the myths surrounding how hard a pregnant woman can work out.

Learning useful positions and movements is extremely helpful. Be sure that your workout also includes strength and coordination movements – such things as squatting, core movements for pelvis and spine, and other motions that aid your progress in labor. Being upright and moving are keys to a healthy labor. These require strength and coordination.

Mental focus and being present teach you to work with your body. Activities such as relaxation training, yoga, pilates for pregnancy and dance help you develop the mental skills (mindfulness and deep breathing) that accompany your movement. Learn to recognize your body’s signals so you know when it’s time to push.

A truly effective use of your time is a one hour class a couple times a week that combines all these elements. We have known this for decades. The evidence is clear that it works. Keep moving…right into labor and birth!

Find a safe and effective class or trainer.

Pregnany & Parenting Coaching

Looking through incoming emails, tweets, fb notifications and e-newsletters that inhabit my inbox more and more, I noticed something interesting:  Lifestyle Coaches for people entering the pregnancy and parenting pathway. After some investigation, I found a plethora (many, many) web business/sites that offer services on everything from getting pregnant to getting your kid into college.

There are sites by enduring public health organizations that cover the range of conception, pregnancy, birth and early parenting issues – such sites as those by the Mayo Clinic, the March of Dimes, and WebMD – starting with how to get pregnant. You can also find business sites for these range of topics – such as The Bump and BabyCenter.

In addition, there are individualized sites that cover coaching for one or more parts of the process. Sites specialize in getting pregnant, being pregnant, giving birth, caring for a newborn, finding childcare, finding early childhood education, how to talk to toddlers, what to do with children of all ages, how to get them ready for school, how to encourage them in school and so on. Some specialize in a combination of two or more of these topics. Some started out specializing in one topic and are moving along as the owners or writers evolve in their lives.

I realize that this is an outgrowth of the “mommy bloggers.” Many computer literate women found blogging a way to deal with the life-changing event of having a child. For some, the internet became a means of making a living while staying home. Realizing that there was a large audience in this realm, the mommy entrepreneurs evolved…and, not all of them are mommies.

We are beginning to see the next generation:  pregnancy and parenting life coaches – individuals who may or may not have professional backgrounds in one of these areas, but are learning to turn their own experiences into businesses that help – or purport to help – others along this part of life’s path. Where does the impetus for this come from? Is it just that the internet makes a new business model possible? What else might be happening here?

For some time, I have thought that young persons entering parenthood these days are at a distinct disadvantage. Bearing and raising children is not easy or cheap. It requires a network of support and advice that used to be present in the extended family. But, we leave home and are much more mobile these days. We may live in Texas, but our baby’s grandparents live in Oregon or Brazil or Turkey. I asked my own exercise, childbirth education, and parenting clients about this. I found that many were in the classes precisely because they felt they had no firsthand experience or knowledge about what it was like to hold, feed or change a baby, let alone be prepared for birth and the sleep deprivation that followed. I also found mommy bloggers and entrepreneurs who found the impetus for their new work sprang from these issues in their own lives.

So, over the next series of blogs, I will be writing about some of these sites and services…both the professional organizations and the new mom entrepreneurs who have turned a difficult life transition into a way of simultaneously helping others while putting food on their tables. It looks to be an interesting journey and I hope you will follow along! I will get the next blog up in a few days, as soon as I am in the next location with internet access. My office is temporarily in the hurricane blackout zone of CT, but they promise me service soon. The first topic:  How to get pregnant!