4 Tips About Birth, From The Animal Kingdom

At the risk of giving you all flashbacks to the most traumatic pop music low of 1999, “You and me, baby, ain’t nothing but mammals“. Birth is one of our main defining features. We carry pregnancies and deliver live young and placentas. Humans are, of course, unique in so many ways. However, there are still lessons to learn from other branches of our mammalian family tree.

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Feeling safe and undisturbed

One of the key events to watch for when awaiting the birth of kittens, is sudden self imposed isolation by the mother cat. She’ll often hide, tucking herself away in a cupboard or under furniture. When she can’t find a place to hide, she’ll turn to an area where she’s felt safe and secure in the past (I know I’ve heard plenty of tales about throwing out bedding after a cat seeks comfort during birth on her person’s pillow). Often owners are cautioned not to move their labouring cat. She may panic when disturbed, and lash out, or labour may stall.

One past client was set to move into a new home just days after her due date. She went overdue, and progressively became more and more anxious about the impending move and birth. Early labour signs kept arriving, and disappearing. Moving day came, and sure enough, 12 hours after completing the big move she went into labour. She felt safe. She was no longer anxious, her space was no longer being disturbed, and the cascade of labour hormones were free to start. There is evidence to suggest humans have very similar needs to our cats in this respect. We don’t want to be disturbed and stressed in labour. Birth where you feel safe. Minimize stress if at all possible. Try to limit changes in surroundings as much as you can. Be a cat, allow yourself to feel safe.

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Getting good support

Bonobos, our close chimp cousins, were previously thought to birth alone. In fact, it was originally believed most species of primate birth alone. Recently, evidence has suggested that this is not the case. The use of midwives and doulas appears to be a primate phenomenon, not an exclusively human one. In both events linked above, involving snub nosed monkeys and bonobos, two labour attendants were present. Two females stayed with the labouring female and comforted her, with one of the two acting as Midwife. Allowed closer into the birthing space, and even catching the baby.

We already know there are concrete benefits to the midwifery model of care and concrete benefits to doula attended birthing. This one is so obvious, almost all primates have come to the same conclusion. Good labour support is essential. Find a team you trust. Lean on them. Be a bonobo, get support.

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Find your village

Elephants are the ultimate example of girl power. Males grow up, and head out on their own. Mothers and daughters stick together for life, forming vast herds made up of generations of women. All holding each other up on their journey through birth and child rearing. During labour, if a predator is foolish enough to wander nearby, the women in the herd will form a living wall to protect the mother and her baby. The herd pitches in after the birth, tidying up, attending to the baby. Reports indicate the herd bellows with joy at the moment of birth, cheering mother and baby on. The calf will remain in constant contact with their mother as a nursling, for 5-10 years. The herd will be there, a constant source of support.

Don’t isolate. Turn to your mother, your grandmother, your sisters and cousins. When you don’t have family, make your own herd. Join mothers groups, reach out to friends, go to that LLL meeting. You deserve a community cheering you on. Be an elephant, find your village.

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Practice self care

When wolves give birth, their pups cannot walk. They’re completely blind, and deaf. Tragically, they also have an incredibly high mortality rate. Wolves are extremely intelligent and emotional animals, with a deep sense of family bond. When a baby is lost, they grieve, and even hold funerals. Obviously, for a wolf pack, protecting mother and pups during the postpartum period is absolutely crucial. The wolf mother practices great self care. She keeps herself clean. She retires to her den, rests, establishes her milk supply. Her community picks up the slack. They deliver meals to the den, and protect her. When the pups get a little older, the pack will take turns visiting and entertaining the pups, even babysitting when mom steps out of the den.

Take care of yourself postpartum. Take that nice long bath. Sleep as much as you can. Be gentle with yourself. Stock up on easy, reheatable meals, or order in. Let your community pick up the slack. Take them up on offers to help or babysit. When those offers are few and far between, hire a postpartum doula. Be a wolf, practice good postpartum self care.

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