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Birthlight Womb to World Conference 2014 Review

Creating community around birth: communication that makes a difference

Saturday 13 September 2014

Birthlight's 'Womb to World' conference 2014 was a great success and we'd like to thank the wonderful, inspirational speakers and attendees that made the day a really valuable one with lots of great discussions and connections made.

From the 2008 NICE guidelines to recent initiatives such as 1001 Days, the link between maternity care services and community support has often been mentioned but rarely implemented. Birthlight stems from community grassroots in Cambridge. Since the 1980s our aim has been to facilitate positive interactions between pregnant women, new mothers and new families, and care providers both in hospitals and in the community. We are now a wider circle ‘creating community’ in many different parts of the world. Our methods have evolved and improved but our ethos is unchanged. Scientific research has generated a great deal of evidence about the long-term implications of happy experiences of pregnancy, birth and early years for new families in society. The aim of the day conference was to explore a few simple and practical ways to enhance communication between maternity professionals and new families, both before and after babies are born.

Our next International Conference (4 years after ‘Light on Parenting’ in London ) will be on WATER! It’s already planned and booked on 21-23 September 2016 at Girton College, Cambridge (did you know the College has a very nice indoor pool?)… So please keep these dates free in your long-term diary as it will be a very special event indeed of interest to all not just the Aquatic teachers.  More and more, it’s time to realize how our land based somatic practices have translated as innovative aquatic practices for prenatal and postnatal support and an internationally acclaimed method for introducing babies to water and the joy of swimming. But what came first? We could equally see it as water practices inspired from Amazonian parents frolicking with their little ones in pools and rivers have contributed to the development of the interactive moves and body-based communication we promote between parents and their babies on land.

Conference blog kindly provided by Kicki Hansard, a doula and speaker at the conference. Kicki is shown in the photo above (on the left with Sheena Byrom and Lesley Page)

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of speaking at the Birthlight Conference in Cambridge and I got to share the stage with some very inspirational women.  The theme of the day was “Creating community around birth: communication that makes a difference” and each speaker contributed with some wonderful studies, thoughts and experiences with an audience of around 70 birth workers.

After Francoise Freedman, founder of Birthlight, opened the conference, Alison Baum from Best Beginnings spoke about her journey of becoming involved in supporting new parents as they embark on motherhood.  There are some wonderful resources on their website and they have just released a brand new app for parents called Baby Buddy and I know they would love some feedback on the functions from both parents and birth workers.  You can download the app here.

Emma Eaton, a PhD student from Canada shared with us the research that she has done into “What’s a good birth?” The study was carried out here in the UK and it has some very interesting findings, most of which were no surprise to the audience.  There seems to be a mismatched between what women think is a 'good birth' and what health professionals classify as 'good'.

Next on stage was Sheena Byrom, a midwife who over her long career has been involved in changing and improving births for both mothers, families and the birth professionals themselves.  Sheena shared with us how she used to work as a newly qualified midwife and how things have improved with being able to use research and evidenced based practices when working with women.  

After a short break, we heard from Obstetrician Amali Lokugamage and she presented the research that her and her colleagues did about how evidence based the RCOG’s guidelines are and the findings shocked some of the audience.  Only 9%-12% of their guidelines are based on grade A evidence which leaves the majority of guidelines based on what is believed to be best rather than some solid research behind it.

It was lovely to next see Lesley Page, the President of the RCM who told us about her recent travels and her delight in seeing the new cohorts of midwives coming through, full of enthusiasm and with a view to work differently and more like the true meaning of the old English word midwif, with woman.

We stopped here after a brief discussion for lunch and then, as a debutant, it was my turn to talk about Compassionate Communication.  What I was hoping to get across was that it is within the women themselves that the change has to begin, with the support of doulas, yoga teachers and all other birth workers.  Our role, I feel, is to help the women find their own voice and get confident enough to take responsibility for their own way of birthing and parenting.  Birth workers also need to be mindful of their use of words and language so that they connect empathetically with a woman’s needs.  

Emily Hills gave us a real insight into the experiences of a premature baby and how together with the team at Barnet Hospital, she’s been able to make some important changes to improve the way preemies and their families are supported and cared for.

This was followed by Joanna Hawthorne from the Brazelton Centre who informed us about courses and workshops for birth workers and parents to learn to read their baby's cues and behaviour.  The more awareness we have of babies' behaviour from birth, the better we can meet their needs and communicate with them, increasing bonding and long term health of the whole family.

All the way from Australia, we had Elly Taylor who is a Relationship Counsellor and she spoke about her new book Becoming Us and how communication between new parents can be difficult and the huge impact having a baby has on a woman’s life.  An interesting study that she mentioned was the findings earlier this year that many women suffer postnatal depression when their child is 4 years old.

The day was ended with an interactive session with David Savva where he gave us some ideas on how to make friends with the camera when you are being filmed.  Communicating messages through films and social media, we all agreed, seems to be the way to connect all the birth workers and women in the world who wants to make a difference!

It was a very informative day and a great opportunity for networking and creating new friendships.  A conference with some great speakers at a very reasonable price.  I think if you didn't attend this year, you should definitely look out for the Birthlight conference next year, usually held in September!  

Thank you Francoise for inviting me!

Kicki Hansard

Birth Bliss Doula Services

Some of the feedback from the conference...

My profound thanks for the amazingly packed day that was the 'womb to world conference'! My first one! I found it enlightening, surprising, sometimes shocking, but ultimately inspiring, encouraging and motivating! Grateful that there are so many thoughtful and inspiring people, seeking improvements for birth, babies, parents, families and healthcare professionals! Thank you! (a doula)

Had a wonderful day at the Conference meeting up with old friends and making new ones. Thank you to everyone involved. (birthlight teacher)

Thoroughly enjoyable and valuable day. A lot of good information to support my current practice (a midwife)

An excellent panel of speakers

I love the birthlight conferences and always absorb so much, leave feeling inspired and motivated  and so grateful to be in company of so many wonderful and empowering women. the only disappointment is the lack of attendance of health care professionals practising midwives and obstetricians.  (a doula)

Quality of speakers was excellent (birthlight teacher)

Did not keep to time but that can be hard! Very interesting day, excellent talk and lovely atmosphere.

The only thing I could say is : so glorious people, so little time!!! I could have listened to each and any of them of ages (birthlight teacher)

A wonderful, friendly, inspiring day, thank you! Looking forward to next one.

Was a wonderful supportive , nurturing environment. I felt safe and able to chat to like-minded maternity workers. Wonderful presentations. (a midwife)

Time keeping was not good but the variety of the speakers was good and interesting. It may have been better to have fewer speakers and more time for questions (a doula)

I had forgotten how valuable attending a conference. My threads were loosely flying away in the wind and each speakers weaves these threads into a substantial beautiful material and give me the impetus to forge forward