Shereen Zarroug and Eleonora Fornelli are the childbirth professionals and doulas who launched Baby Belly Mom last year in the UAE. Here, they answer our questions about helping new mothers face some of their biggest fears: delivery and breastfeeding.
Is there a common element to the fears and hopes of parents?
What tends to happen is that mothers here are very big on social media platforms, which increases the possibility of moms coming across negative birth stories from other moms. Unfortunately, people love to talk about their negative experiences whereas the positive ones aren’t that widespread, which is why we love to bring moms on to our podcast, to share their positive birth stories as well as show lots of positive birth videos to couples taking our hypnobirthing classes. The UAE has a high Caesarean section and intervention rate, which frightens women. This is primarily due to the different backgrounds and educational experiences of the obstetricians in the UAE, which makes it hard for the country to formalize a national scope of practice. But we are slowly working towards that. It is heartwarming though, that all the mothers and couples we work with hope for a natural, normal and unmedicated birth experience, which is a great start, and we help them as much as possible to achieve that.
There is so much fear around childbirth for women – how do you try to cut through that? What do you wish all women could know?
Lots of women don’t believe that a natural and unmedicated birth is achievable because of the fear they have about childbirth. We try to cut through that also through our hypnobirthing classes, where couples are educated on the normal and physiological aspect of birth and on relaxation techniques, as well as how to think positive about birth.
We also host free monthly Positive Pregnancy Circles for expectant moms, providing them with a safe, relaxed and non-judgmental space where they can come, meet with other moms, share their fears and anxieties and feel supported by the other women in the circle. We have had great feedback on the circles and they have helped many of the women who attend look forward to their positive birth experiences.
We want women to know that childbirth is a normal and natural process for a woman’s body to experience and if women start trusting in their bodies and abilities, most can have uncomplicated and positive birth experiences, and come out feeling confident and empowered through it.
How can women become more confident about childbirth?
Most women who attend our Positive Birth Circle and hypnobirthing classes come out more confident because they feel supported and they understand what childbirth is all about. Once a woman is confident, trusts her birth support team and knows her options, we noticed they have more comfortable births and more positive birth experiences. Hypnobirthing is a great approach for women who are fearful about birth, as they will learn lots of coping techniques for pain management such as breathing and visualization, but also understand where the fears are stemming from. Having said that, we also have seen some beautiful births where women experience pains of childbirth, but are so empowered by them as they understand why they are feeling this way and they connect to their babies in this way which makes them have positive birth experiences.
And how about the care you give after birth?
With the Postnatal Doula package we offer a personalized service to the new mom with a vast array of services coming from different traditional practices. The aim of a postpartum doula is to comfort and hold the new mother’s space for her to have more clarity about what she wants with her baby, supporting her in her own decisions without imposing any personal beliefs or ideology. For many moms, especially the ones who want to take care of their baby by themselves, it is very important to have a supporter in the first days of motherhood in order for them to find their own path and receive the correct information.
What issues are the most prevalent after the baby is born?
We notice that some of the most common concerns for first-time mothers is the sudden change in routine and lifestyle, especially if the mother has previously been a very social person. This is why we also created a monthly Mom & Baby Circle for new mothers to meet in a casual and relaxed space, so they can chat to and discuss with other new moms any challenges they are facing, any worries and experiences they have, which we found comforting for them all.
Another common concern we face is breastfeeding moms, and the challenges they find in getting baby to latch on and the constant worry about whether baby is feeding enough. Most moms find comfort in understanding how newborn babies work and most just need that reassurance that they are doing a great job even though some think they might not be.
What sort of breastfeeding support do you provide?
As doulas, we are educated to provide breastfeeding support and in the team we also have breastfeeding counsellors. We already start educating the mom about the tricks and tips useful to start and continue a positive breastfeeding experience during pregnancy and being with the mom during the “golden hour” – the first hour after birth – we usually help the mom by explaining and showing how to correctly latch the baby on.
We always say to our moms that to breastfeed, as well as the whole parenting journey, has to give her and the baby happiness. If one of the two is over-stressed by it, it means that some change has to be made, as the golden rule is to have a happy mom, a happy home and a happy baby.
Like the birthing process, breastfeeding seems scary for many women because it is a very new experience and we are not exposed to it. Nowadays we rarely have the possibility to see how to breastfeed or to chat about it with relatives and close friends and ask all the “taboo”and practical questions that will clarify our doubts. This is why most women quit breastfeeding within the first weeks after delivery.
We receive many calls requesting breastfeeding support and we do our best to attend every mom within 24 hours of her call. During the home visit, we talk and listen to the mother, we do our best to empathize with her and check the whole picture in order to understand how best we can support her. We work with different professionals who can support the mom and the baby, depending on each case and we really like being part of a wider network that supports each mom in a personalized way.
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Ann Marie McQueen
Ann Marie McQueen is the founding editor-in-chief of Livehealthy and host of The Livehealthy Podcast. She is a veteran Canadian digital journalist who has worked in North America and the Middle East. Her past roles include features editor for The National, trends writer and columnist for the Canadian newspaper chain Sun Media, and correspondent for CBC Radio.