How to ‘spin’ your unborn baby, and other birthing techniques

It’s not with a stationary bike, midwives and doulas learn, as they gather at Jerusalem’s YMCA for two days of advanced training

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

The Jerusalem YMCA auditorium full of midwives, doulas and childbirth educators at the two-day Childbirth Conference (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)
The Jerusalem YMCA auditorium full of midwives, doulas and childbirth educators at the two-day Childbirth Conference (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

More than 600 midwives, doulas, childbirth educators and doctors gathered at Jerusalem’s YMCA this week to learn about new birthing techniques and pregnancy health at the fifth Childbirth Conference.

Organized by Jerusalem childbirth educator Rachelle Oseran and doula Amanda Goldman, the two-day conference was sold out, said Oseran.

“We’re blown away by how many midwives are coming,” said Goldman, noting that in the past the audience had been mostly made up of doulas. “They’re coming from Eilat to the Golan.”

The high attendance points to the effectiveness of the techniques, said Goldman, with local hospitals sending groups of midwives to the conference.

Rachelle Oseran, Jerusalem childbirth educator (Courtesy)

“It’s at the point that they’re worried about coverage at the hospital on these days,” said Oseran, who first established the conference.

The conference, held in English, was simultaneously translated into Hebrew and Arabic for the multicultural mix of mostly female professionals seated in the Y’s auditorium. Hundreds of women sat, rapt, some with infants in their arms, as American midwife Gail Tully demonstrated aspects of her birthing method, known as Spinning Babies, on a very pregnant member of the audience.

Rachel Shapiro (left), Gail Tully (center) and Tammy Ryan, a triumvirate of Spinning Babies experts (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

The idea behind spinning babies is to reduce medical intervention in births, including C-sections, explained Oseran.

Given that cervical dilation, the opening of the neck of the uterus, determines labor progress, the Spinning Babies technique looks at the descent of the baby, how high or low the baby is lying in the pelvis, and the balance, gravity and movement of the pregnant mother for an easier and shorter birth.

“What Gail came up with are techniques for the woman to do during pregnancy to facilitate the baby moving into the pelvis for optimal position,” said Oseran.

Anyone, including birthing partners, can learn the techniques on Tully’s Spinning Babies website, but there’s nothing quite like seeing Tully climb up on a bed onstage at the Y in order to gently bounce one woman’s 35-week pregnant belly with a long, tasseled scarf in a technique called Rebozo sifting.

“We’re taking the gravity away, just lifting gravity,” said Tully. “There’s no more vibration than you’d have driving down the road.”

Tully came up with spinning babies in 1998, and as of now there are six instructors worldwide certified to teach the method.

“Spinning babies is about physiology before force,” said Rachel Shapiro, a doula who trained to become a certified spinning baby practitioner after seeing Tully in action at an earlier conference. “What we’re seeing with millions of people feedback is baby is fixing its own position, we’re just giving balance and mom gets more comfort and ease.”

Shapiro, who lives in Jerusalem, holds seminars for doulas and midwives and has trained Bikur Holim Hospital and Shaare Zedek Medical Center practitioners. Those midwives have now started using it in their work in the hospitals, said Oseran.

“Not one day goes by where we don’t use these techniques,” said Oseran.

Doula Amanda Goldman (Courtesy)

“It gets translated directly to birthing women,” said Goldman. “These methods are now part of preparation for birthing mothers.”

The second day of the conference featured Rachel Reed, an Australian midwife and researcher who gave sessions on the pushing stages of labor.

Common practice in hospital labor wards directs women in how and when to push babies out.

“The hospital staff want to do no harm, but what is doing harm?” said Oseran. “Directed pushing can lead to perineum tears and more need for intervention. And then you call the doctor in to save the baby. It will be very interesting to see how the audience hears this and how open they are.”

Israel is much better than other countries in terms of using less medical intervention in births, said Oseran and Goldman, but midwives still must answer to protocols that are made by doctors, they noted.

Reed also presented research on MTHFR, a genetic mutation present in about 30 percent of the population, for whom folic acid can be toxic.

Almost all prenatal vitamins contain folic acid for healthy fetal development, but if a woman taking folic acid has MTHFR, her body will have difficulty processing it, which has been associated with multiple miscarriages and some birth defects.

Reed recommends taking methylfolate, which even women with MTHFR are able to process.

“You see it out there on Facebook groups,” said Oseran, “but many health professionals are not aware of the differences between folic acid and methylfolate.”

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