The Ultimate Birthing Stool

I am so excited! I have partnered with an incredible industrial designer, Kara Springer, a fellow member of the Centre for Social Innovation and designer of the amazing Kaya Birthing Stool. I’m getting my very own Kaya Birthing Stool soon and I can’t wait to try it out with a client.

Unlike traditional birthing stools, the Kaya Stool can be used in a wide variety of positions for labour and birth. It can even be submerged in a tub and used in various ways during a waterbirth. It can also be used to support rocking or swaying positions. Check out the info (and pictures) on the Kaya website to get an idea of how versatile this tool is!

An added bonus is that the stool is phthalate-free and made in an environmentally conscious way (no dioxins or other toxic chemicals are released during manufacturing) under ethical working conditions right here in Canada.

I plan to use mine with clients who are into trying it, but I think for anyone having a baby, it would be a great investment if your doula or midwife doesn’t have one already and you are interested in movement throughout your labour and birth (one of the best ways to encourage labour progress). After the baby is born it could be added to a child’s room or play area until the next baby is on his way!

The stool has been added to birth centres and hospital obstetrics wards all over the world. Check out this Ricki Lake video about an amazing birth centre in LA – the stool makes a cameo around the 3 minute mark.


TONIGHT! Free screening of Doula! The Ultimate Birth Companion

Doula DVD

Just a quick reminder about the screening of Doula! The Ultimate Birth Companion this evening (Wed. March 28th) at 7:30pm at the Centre for Social Innovation, Annex. The address is 720 Bathurst St. and the screening will be taking place in Meeting Room #4on the 3rd floor. There will be an informal meet-and-greet with myself and two other Toronto area doulas – Jennifer Elliott and April Kowleski – after the film.
Directions for getting to and into the building:
CSI Annex is located on the West side of Bathurst St., just South of Lennox (about a block South of Bloor St.). We are directly South of the Bathurst St. Theatre (in the old yellow brick church).
The doors to the building lock at 5:30 pm, with the exception of the northernmost door, which remains unlocked until 7pm. That door is on the North side of the building, just a step or two from the sidewalk on Bathurst. That door allows for wheelchair access to the building and opens next to the elevator. If you prefer to take the stairs, they are also immediately inside that door. Go straight up to the 3rd floor and through the first door you see. The room will be right in front of you.
If you arrive at the building after 7pm and are unable to get in (or if you arrive before but get confused or lost about where to go), please call my cell phone at 647-408-4328 and I will let you in.
Please arrive before the screening is scheduled to start at 7:30 as I will be switching my phone to silent-mode for the duration of the film.

Embryonic Stem Cells – To Bank or Not To Bank? Part 2 (Periods!)

Following up on yesterday’s post about fetal blood and whether or not to bank what remains in the umbilical cord, allow the baby to receive the blood still contained within the placenta before clamping the cord or both, today’s post will explore the amazing discovery of stem cells within menstrual blood and their viability for treating illnesses of various kinds.

This incredible realization, presents an awesome opportunity to harvest and store stem cells in a way that is non-invasive, regularly available, easy to procure, cost-effective and free of the usual ethical concerns that plague stem cell research. In addition, the stem cells found in menstrual blood have been found to be highly proliferative – reproducing every 24 to 36 hours. While stem cells from ‘cord blood’ can be subcultured a maximum of 12 times, the stem cells found in menstrual blood have so far been subcultured up to 47 times. Also incredible to note is that the stem cells found in menstrual blood retain embryonic markers, meaning that they can morph into a wide variety of healthy cell types including heart, nerve, bone, cartilage and fat. When you think about the number of menstrual periods that the average woman will have in her lifetime (roughly, about 480), that is an incredible number of stem cells that could, theoretically, do an incredible amount of good. (Please note that the research I am drawing on – linked to above – was partially funded by a stem-cell storage company – clearly more research of a significantly more impartial nature is in order).

Continue reading

Embryonic Stem Cells – To Bank or Not to Bank? Part 1

This post is something of a follow-up to the post I published a little while ago about the benefits of requesting delayed cord clamping during the 3rd stage of labour. As I discussed in that post, premature clamping of the cord (the current standard practice in most North American hospitals) deprives the newborn of about 40% of his own blood volume and has been found to contribute to anaemia in babies weeks or months after birth. Since the concern about increased risk of jaundice in babies whose cords were allowed to finish pulsating before clamping has been discredited by the most recent and comprehensive research, there is really no argument against allowing the cord to pulsate from a health and safety perspective at the time of birth.

The one complicating factor that remains though, is the fact that some parents are now considering the option of banking their newborn’s ‘cord blood’ (the term is something of a misnomer, since cord blood is really just fetal blood that hasn’t had time to flow back into the baby – calling it “cord blood” implies that it is somehow different from other fetal blood, but really calling it this is akin to referring to “leg blood” or “arm blood”, which obviously doesn’t make sense) for the purpose of stem cell preservation. The idea behind this practice is that the stem cells found in fetal blood could be stored and harvested later in the event of an illness that is treatable with stem cells. Since finding a stem cell match in the general population can be difficult and often poses ethical problems, banking cord blood is often seen as an insurance policy in case of illness.

The problem is, banking cord blood is expensive and not always reliable as the stem cells contained within it have a limited shelf-life and transplant is not always guaranteed. Given what we know about the benefits (as well as ease and cost-effectiveness) of delayed cord clamping and taking into account that the chance of ever using the stem cells from banked cord blood at all is only about 1/2 700, if one had to choose between the two practices, it seems that delayed cord clamping would be the way to go in the vast majority of cases (possibly excepting those where a first degree relative has a familial illness that is treatable with stem cells). Recently though, some medical practitioners have begun to explore the possibility of both delaying cord clamping and collecting ‘cord blood’ for banking. At present all of the evidence is anecdotal, but practitioners are reporting that while they aren’t able to collect the usual 500mL, they are able to collect 150mL or more with patience and care. That is more than enough to be useful for stem cell harvesting and seems like a ‘best-of-both-worlds’ option for those families where banking is indicated (i.e. in cases of previously diagnosed familial illness in first degree relatives). For more info on this, check out this article from Lamaze International where the most recent research on delayed cord clamping and cord blood banking is discussed.

Another absolutely fascinating new discovery is the fact that menstrual blood contains embryonic stem cells too! Part two will focus on the relationship between our fears about birth and our anxieties regarding our periods. Maybe the stem cell discovery will encourage a more favourable perspective on menstruation and the female body in general.


“Should We Private Bank Our Baby’s Cord Blood?” Information That Can Help You Answer That Question


(Home)Birth. Is. Safe.

An important study was published recently on homebirth in the UK. The outcomes were very promising and should be reassuring to anyone planning a homebirth. Circumstances here in Ontario are, of course, different than in the UK but similar enough for the study’s findings to hold water for women here too, especially given that the findings echo a 2009 study of home births in Ontario from 2003-2006.

The Hackney Doula gives a great breakdown of the study’s findings and what they mean for women in various birth settings.The key findings of the study from the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit are here. The Ontario study can be found here.

The bottom line for me: birth is safe. For the vast majority of women and babies, birth is safe, no matter where you give birth provided that you have quality care provided by midwives or doctors. For most women, birth at home is safer (yes, you read that right, not ‘almost as safe’, not ‘as safe’, safer) than birth in an obstetrical ward. While the risk of ‘poor outcomes’ for babies (a term that applies to many things, some serious, some not) was found in the UK study to be slightly higher with home births than hospital births, the risk of a poor outcome of any kind remained less than 1% in either case – 0.53% for hospital births, 0.93% for home-births. In the Ontario study, findings for babies were more specific – pertaining only to mortality or serious morbidity. There was no difference found between the two groups (hospital/home) with regard to serious morbidity and mortality for newborns in that study.

There is simply no argument against home birth, provided you are a healthy woman, having a healthy pregnancy in a region where you have access to midwives experienced in and supportive of home birth. That doesn’t mean you have to or ought to choose it if it doesn’t feel right for you, but it does mean that women who do opt to birth at home mustn’t be judged or criticized for their choice.



Doula DVD

Well, there hasn’t been much time for blogging recently, which makes me a little sad. I’ve been working on something about birth as a feminist act that was intended to be for International Women’s Day (last Thursday, ahem). Obviously I’ve missed the boat on that, but hopefully I’ll have it ready soon.

In the meantime, I wanted to post some more information about the free film screening that I am hosting on March 28th at the Centre for Social Innovation (more on that here). I really hope to see a lot of friendly faces, new and old, at the screening. Please share the details widely and come out for the film if you can! There will be an informal meet-and-greet after the screening with myself and a couple of other Toronto-area doulas. Babies and children are welcome of course.

Even if you are not planning on having a baby any time soon, this film will give you a little peek into a side of birthing that you may not have seen before. I’d recommend it for anyone who ever plans to have a(nother) baby or who wants to be able to support and encourage  loved ones in their quests to have positive and empowering birth experiences.

This is the press release for the film:

Doula! The Ultimate Birth Companion is a 65 minute, intimate and emotionally charged documentary about doulas and their part in pregnancy, birth and the first few weeks. Made by UK film-maker Toni Harman (Credo, Real Birth Stories), Doula! launched in June 2010 and screenings are being organised in the UK, Europe, the US, Canada, Australia and Japan.

Through close-up documentary footage of three doula-supported births, Doula! captures the non-medical but highly practical and emotional support given to the mother before, during and after childbirth. This unique look into a doula supported birth is captured through two intimately filmed home water births and accompanied by a video diary shot by the parents of a home birth that ends in a hospital caesarean section.

Film-maker Toni Harman said “I was inspired to make Doula! by my own difficult birth experience two years ago that ended in an emergency caesarean. I wish I had known about doulas then as I’m sure I would have had a much more positive experience. The film has really opened my eyes about the amazing difference having a doula can make and I’m hoping the film will empower other women to have the birth they want, with the help of a doula.”

Doula! is supported by the UK’s non-profit doula organisation, Doula UK. Bridget Baker, Doula UK co-chair said, “Doula! shows how the calm accepting presence of a doula can enhance the whole experience of childbirth. From the practical to the emotional, we become aware of some of the work an intuitive doula can do. The film is a joyful and inspirational view of doulas at work.”

Spring Prenatal Classes at the Centre for Social Innovation

If you are expecting a baby this spring and are looking for prenatal education that works for you, you’re in luck! I am offering a full series of Prenatal Classes at the Centre for Social Innovation (Annex) in April and May 2012. This is a five-week series, Thursday evenings from 7:00-9:30 pm, beginning April 19th.

Now, you may be asking yourself, “why would I pay for prenatal classes when I can just attend the free ones at the hospital?” This is a great question and there are a number of excellent reasons.

1. While the information provided by public health prenatal classes is useful, these courses often omit a large quantity of information that is considered “alternative” or that is not routine at that particular hospital. For example, while my prenatal classes cover labour coping techniques ranging from massage and acupressure, to breathing and vocalizations,to hydrotherapy and heat, to epidurals and other forms of pain medications, a hospital class will generally only cover the epidural with any depth. Even if you plan to have an epidural, there are still many useful options available to you that won’t be explored in a standard hospital course. This is just an example of how hospitals tend to teach to the norm, rather than to what is possible. It’s understandable given the number of people they have to teach, but not exactly desirable if you want your birth experience to be as satisfying and positive as possible.

2. Public health courses tend to be two-day “crash courses”. This may seem ideal – get it all done with in one weekend! – but a course that is drawn out over a number of weeks will give you the chance to really get to know other couples in the class (start building up that new-parent social network now, before the baby arrives) and also opens up the possibilities for asking the questions that matter to you, even if they don’t occur to you until four days after class. You’ll also retain more of the information, as you’ll only need to digest two hours of material at a time, with time to reflect in between each class.

3. Many people report being frightened or discouraged by the content/approach of hospital prenatal classes. It is vital that you understand all of your options and what is happening to your/your partner’s body during labour and birth, but it is not helpful to hear horror stories or to be inundated with negative information. My classes provide clear and detailed, evidence-based information while focusing on the positives – helping you to feel informed and fully prepared, but also excited and optimistic, not afraid.

4. I tailor my courses to the participants in them. Upon registration I’ll send you a questionnaire that asks you about your pregnancy, your current level of knowledge, your interests and your hopes for the course. That way I can focus on areas of particular interest and reduce coverage of topics that people already understand.

Prenatal education is the first step to an empowering birth experience. Feeling like an active, informed decision-maker prior to and during your labour and childbirth is the key to birth satisfaction. Knowledge is essential for confidence and self-advocacy.

The cost for the entire series is $200.00 per couple. If you are interested in hiring a doula and would like to talk to me about the doula services I offer, I also provide package deals for doula clients who enrol in my prenatal classes.

Topics for the series include (but are not limited to):

-pain management and coping strategies for labour

-relationships and sexuality during pregnancy and in the postpartum period

-the physiology of labour and birth

-positioning for labour and birth


-newborn care

-nutrition and exercise

This course is ideal for people expecting to give birth between late May and August of 2012. Email me at to register or if you have any questions.