Tracy Donegan is founder and president of GentleBirth. She is also a medically trained midwife, positive birth expert and published author. She lives in sunny California with her beautiful family and has recently published a brand new book. We had the pleasure of speaking to Tracy about her new book "Mindful Pregnancy".
What inspired you to write Mindful Pregnancy? Was it always in the pipe-line?
Honestly - I had no plans to write another book and then in January of last year Penguin approached me with some ideas and I fell in love with their vision for this book. When I held the first copy in my hands I couldn’t get over how beautiful it was. The editor and illustrator did such an amazing job. It’s one of those books I wish I’d had when I was pregnant with my two – it’s one of those books you’ll keep forever.
Do you recommend following Mindful Pregnancy alongside the Gentle Birth app?
The app definitely compliments the exercises in the book. For me I find guided mindfulness and hypnobirthing to be a lot easier than trying to read it from the book and then practice it.
"For someone who is already using the app it’ll just add to your knowledge as it combines simple yoga and nutrition for every trimester (and a little for the 4th trimester too that so many pregnancy books tend to leave out)"
As a practicing midwife were you always interested in natural remedies and techniques?
Absolutely, and as a mum too. Most expectant mums prefer to try complimentary/natural therapies in pregnancy if it’s a reasonable alternative to medication. We’re very conscious about what we put in our body in pregnancy. But of course sometimes medication makes sense and can make a pregnancy more positive. It’s also really important to keep in mind that ‘natural’ isn’t always a safe option so it was important to me to get evidence based information to parents with a more gentle rather than preachy approach. We’ve enough pregnancy police already!
What kind of differences can exercise and healthy food make to a pregnancy and birth experience?
Nutrition is the cornerstone to a healthy pregnancy – healthy foods are the building blocks of our children so it makes sense to choose healthy foods whenever possible. Poor diet is associated with more complications such as excess weight gain, blood pressure issues, there’s even some research suggesting having too much sugar in our diet in pregnancy may contribute to more pain in labor. Exercise is so important too not just physically but because exercise releases endorphins (happy hormones) which can be so helpful for a mum experiencing antenatal anxiety or depression.
"Labour is an athletic event so the healthier you are the more likely you’ll cope well with labour and have a quicker recovery"
Is mindful pregnancy aimed at new mums or will it benefit those who have been pregnant before?
I think it appeals to both especially as there’s nothing else like it that combines this kind of holistic approach in one book.
Can I follow this book if I have no experience with mindfulness or yoga?
Yes absolutely. I intentionally created short exercises for complete beginners so no experience is necessary. I always encourage mums to go at their own pace and listen to their body and talk to their midwife if they find any of the hypnobirthing or mindfulness exercises make them feel uncomfortable. Whenever possible go to a yoga class in your community – not just for the benefits of the exercise but to meet other mums to be, connecting with other mums can be a great source of reassurance and you’ll get lots of inspiring uplifting support from your yoga teacher.
What advice would you give to a mother who has had a traumatic birth and is fearful of doing it again as a consequence?
I would first suggest mum talks to a birth trauma specialist (her partner may need support too). Regular talk therapy counseling can in fact make the trauma worse when you are repeatedly activating the traumatic memories. Some hospitals offer a birth debriefing session also called a birth reflections meeting which may also be helpful in understanding what happened and what can be done to try to avoid the trauma being repeated.
"Sadly in Ireland a large percentage of birth trauma isn’t caused by unexpected medical events but how a mum was treated in labour"
so in those cases a homebirth may be an option to consider and if that’s not an option I would meet with the Director of Midwifery and hire a birth doula to support you through your pregnancy, labour and birth. The GentleBirth app includes a hypnobirthing session for birth trauma which may be helpful but if things don’t improve or a mum finds the session to be triggering then I would recommend seeing a specialist.
How important is it for you that mothers feel empowered through pregnancy and giving birth?
Women are experiencing levels of anxiety and fear in pregnancy like never before and birth is often portrayed as something to be really afraid of. We’re living in very interesting times and I believe that if we can change the way mums experience this incredible time in their lives and have positive birth experiences it will have a ripple effect on society…more gentle births will lead to more gentle parenting…which leads to kinder humans and we definitely need a generation of kinder humans on our planet at the moment. When you have a positive birth it changes you profoundly, we’re more confident as mothers, we trust our instincts more. When birth leaves you feeling like you could move mountains you are unstoppable - I want to help as many women as possible tap into THAT kind of superpower – and hopefully this book will help them to do that.
The book is available on Amazon.co.uk