Speech Therapy

Podcast Episode #63: What is a Speech Therapist?

We’ve all heard of a speech therapist but what do they actually do?  In this episode, Courtney Joesel of Building Blocks Therapy Services tells us how speech and language services can benefit a child and why, if you notice signs of speech delay, it’s important to have your child seen earlier rather than later.  She gives us some things to watch out for as well as some tips to help our children with language development.  You can listen to this complete episode on iTunes or SoundCloud.

Alyssa:  Hello, welcome to Ask the Doulas.  I am Alyssa Veneklase, co-owner at Gold Coast.  Today, I am super excited to be talking to Courtney Joesel.  She is a speech and language pathologist at Building Blocks Therapy Services.  Hello!

Courtney:  Hello!

Alyssa:  So I loved talking to you the other day, and I want to learn more about what you do, but I think a lot of people probably don’t quite understand what a speech and language pathologist is.  I’ve heard of a speech therapist.  Is that different?

Courtney:  We are the same, but as history has progressed, we used to be people who would work on just the sounds, like in the early ‘70s, and it has really progressed to us being communication experts.  So that is not just the speech sounds that we hear with the R’s or the S’s.  We really address our overall gesture systems; how are we able to communicate our thoughts and ideas, our needs and our wants, and even the social communication, picking up on social cues and understanding all those different nuances and navigating the world around you.

Alyssa:  So when you say sounds in the ‘70s, it was literally like somebody who would have a lisp or — and that’s what they would seek out help for and that’s it?

Courtney:  Yeah.  I mean, there was more to it, but that was kind of the bulk of it, and we’ve really progressed our profession.  In the ‘70s, it was kind of like if the kid was missing their two front teeth, we can work on their S’s.  So we’ve really been able to hone in on our skills and show where we can really help benefit people in their everyday world.

Alyssa:  Do you see children and adults?

Courtney:  Speech therapists see children and adults, but I personally focus on pediatrics.  I focus on kids from around the twelve-month age all the way up to teens.

Alyssa:  So starting at twelve months or around a year?

Courtney:  Yeah, and that’s where you start to kind of see some of those disorders or patterns of communication starting to show that they might need a little bit of extra stimulus or some parent coaching on some ways to help.

Alyssa:  So up until a year — because a lot of people do the comparisons, right?  Like, oh, my four-month-old isn’t doing what my friend’s four-month-old is doing, or my nine-month-old isn’t saying words, but my friend’s nine-month-old is already saying four words.  Up until twelve months, then, is there really not a whole lot to worry about?

Courtney:  There are definitely some ways to watch and some signs to see how your child is progressing with their communication.  Starting at three months, you really start to see huge gains to be made.  Every kid, obviously, develops at their own rate, but the earlier that you do notice that there are some significant delays in various aspects, it takes less treatment for that to try to fix itself.

Alyssa:  So if a mom or dad at six months thinks they’re noticing major delays, would you see them or just talk to them and say wait until they’re twelve months?

Courtney:  I would talk to them and see what they’re noticing.  You know, around six months, you should start to be hearing them making different sounds, even taking turns with you with making those sounds.  It’s almost like you’re having a conversation with them, but they might just be blowing raspberries.  But that is something we’re looking for, and so if the kid isn’t attending to you or responding to certain things, that is an area of concern that we might want to go to the doctor and rule some things out, and we might just want to do an assessment just to see where they’re at to get a baseline and to see how they progress in the next four to six months.

Alyssa:  Okay.  So what’s significant about the twelve-month mark?  What can parents be looking for?

Courtney:  So twelve months, around that twelve to eighteen months, you should really see a huge boost in their communication, with their verbalizations or gestures.  Children that are using more gestures, we tend to see bigger gains in their communication along with those words.  You have to think about, when the child start walking and developing those motor patterns, we typically see their communication developing along that same plane, you know, that same line.  So if they’re walking and doing a lot more physical aspects, but you notice that, oh, they’re eighteen months and they don’t have a word, or they’re twelve months and they’re only going ta-ta-ta and not ba-di-da, all that, then that is an area that you might just want to talk to a speech therapist.  They’ll know the questions to ask to help you determine, like, hey, this might be something for us to look deeper into.

Alyssa:  So the saying “early walker, late talker” really doesn’t mean anything?

Courtney:  Well, there are late talkers.  Every child has their different sensory systems and how they learn, so some kids learn physically a little bit more and they’re able to navigate their world without using as much communication.  So they might be a little late talking, but always kind of look at those, you know, are they a late talker or is there a language delay overall?  And you start to see that around — you can really determine that around three years, but those children, if you wait until three years, and it really was a language delay versus just a late talker, then you missed out on a couple years.

Alyssa:  So how do you tell the difference?  How do you know?

Courtney:  So a lot of times, you look at their gestures, how they do communicate with you, the variety of sounds that they’re already using.  Are they using more behaviors to get what they want?  Just various aspects; we really have to look at the whole child in all these different situations, and a lot of times we can’t tell until three years old, but you don’t want to wait and see for a lot of those kids because then they’ve missed out on two years of specialized treatment.

Alyssa:  So a lot of it is you actually assessing and watching this child?

Courtney:  Yes.

Alyssa:  And you can see visual cues of communication, not just verbal cues?

Courtney:  Exactly.  You know, the communication system – we think of words and sounds, but there’s so much more to it and how the children pair all those different aspects together and can really help us see how they are able to get their needs and wants met.

Alyssa:  What would you tell parents who have a child around the twelve-month mark or older?  What do they need to look for?  How do they know?  Oftentimes, we say, oh, I need to stop this train of thought because I’m just comparing my child to others.  But deep down, you might really have this instinct that says, something’s not right here.  How do you they know that they need to call you?

Courtney:  Well, first, I think moms know best.  Moms know their own child, and I do believe a lot of times — not all doctors, but some doctors, do say wait and see; wait and see.  Or a parent says, you know, they’re not talking as much as I want, even around that 12-month.  And especially if it’s a boy, doctors will say, oh, let’s just wait.  Especially if it’s a boy; boys develop a little bit later.  But what you really want to look at is, how does that kid communicate?  Is it just he’s pretty silent and kind of waits for you to do things and isn’t kind of going out of his comfort zone?  We really want to see those kiddos trying to go a little bit out of their comfort zone and trying different sounds.  Practicing; you should be hearing a lot of different practicing of them, of adult language.  It’s not going to sound like our adult language, but we should be hearing some more jargon.  Those are things that you would like to see, even at the twelve or fourteen-month mark.  If you’re getting a lot of baby talk and they seem to be trying to say words, that would be an indication of, yeah, let’s give it a couple months.

Alyssa:  Because they’re trying and experimenting?

Courtney:  They’re trying and they’re experimenting.  Now, if you have a kid when you say something like, “More?  Do you want more banana?” and they’re just looking at you, around the twelve or fourteen-month mark, you should be getting a little bit more interaction from them.

Alyssa:  What about kids who have learned sign language?

Courtney:  I love sign language in kids.  I think the earlier you can start, the better.  I think it really helps them learn language because sign language is a form of communication.  That’s gestures.  That is communication, so they really start to learn that they can manipulate the world around them by using these gestures versus doing these overt behaviors of screaming and crying, and that they can control their environment.  And they go, hey, I get more Cheerios when I do this motion!  And then research has shown that kids who typically use sign language, it does support their language development.

Alyssa:  That’s one of the biggest pushbacks I get is, oh, I’ve heard that if they use sign language, they talk later.  And I haven’t noticed that personally.  My daughter learned sign langue.  We started a nine months, and at twelve months, it just happened.  All of a sudden, she knew all these words, and it was a life-saver.

Courtney:  Yeah, the way I try to compare it is, if I were to go to a country where I don’t know the language at all, you get anxiety.  You want to be able to tell somebody something!  I need to go to the bathroom!  And if you can’t communicate that with words, it gets really stressful, and you get tense and anxiety-ridden.  So just think about that with a nine or ten-month-old.  They have great thoughts and ideas, so they can get frustrated really easily knowing that I really want more of that banana, and she just took it away from me.  So if you give them a way to communicate that, and you start pairing it that when they sign more, you say, “Oh, you want more banana!”  that really starts stimulating their language.

Alyssa:  So is there anything else?

Courtney:  Well, just some tips as a child is developing, especially as they get to that twelve-month range, is that you want them to practice what you’re saying.  So if you talk in sentences that are about one word longer than what they’re already saying, it gives them more confidence to try to practice what you’re saying.  So if they’re starting to say “more,” you can say “more banana.”  And then by chance they might say “more banana” next time.  So that really helps to show them and give them the scaffolding or the steps to expand their language as they go on.

Alyssa: Keeping it within a realm that’s doable for them, and not saying, “Oh, you want more banana, please?”  That’s just way too long.

Courtney:  Exactly, and using more statements than questions.  Usually, you want to try to stick to a three to one ratio; three statements per one question.  That tends to stimulate their language a lot more.

Alyssa:  Excellent!  Well, if anyone has questions for you or things that they need to talk to you about their child, how do they reach you?

Courtney:  Well, I’m Building Blocks Therapy Services, and you can find me on my website and on Facebook.   You can also give me a phone call, 616-666-6396.

Alyssa:  And your office is located in Walker?

Courtney:  Yeah, it’s right off of Alpine across from the weather ball.

Alyssa:  That’s a good landmark!  Thanks for joining us today.


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Podcast Episode #62: Newborn Traumas

What is birth trauma and do all babies experience it?  How can you remedy it?  Dr. Annie and Dr. Rachel of Rise Wellness Chiropractic give us several examples of common birth traumas, what they mean, and how chiropractic care can help.  You can listen to this complete podcast episode on iTunes or SoundCloud.

Kristin:  Welcome to Ask the Doulas with Gold Coast Doulas.  This is Kristin, and I’m here with my business partner, Alyssa.

Alyssa:  Hello!

Kristin:  And we have Dr. Annie from Rise Wellness, as well as Dr. Rachel.  Today we are talking about birth trauma with babies and how a chiropractor can help them, especially since you have a focus on newborns.  So, Annie, tell us some different ways that you can help parents.

Dr. Annie:  Sure.  Well, first, I want to talk about what birth trauma means.  It’s not necessarily that all births are categorized as traumatic births, but let’s say there is a lot of pressure on the mom and the baby while the natural birth process is happening.  So even with a natural birth, there can still be some things that show up in little kiddos after.  But if there is any sort of birth trauma, if Mom has to get an epidural, that can affect the baby.  If there are risks of C-section, stuff like that, any of those red flags that are happening during labor, that can all lead to birth trauma, too.

Dr. Rachel:  You’re probably wondering why an epidural would even effect the baby and create more of a birth trauma.  What happens is when Mom gets an epidural, you can’t feel from the waist down, so we can’t feel when we’re supposed to push.  So what happens is that the baby’s head puts more pressure on the cervix that you can’t feel, and it can cause some birth injury in the cervical spine.  Minor, but it can still have effects later on.

Dr. Annie:  Yes.  And then they’re also more likely to need intervention at birth, too, so whether that’s help pulling the baby out by the head and neck or if that’s use of forceps or vacuum-assisted.  And all of those put a lot of pressure on the upper cervical spine of the baby, where the neck is, and your spinal cord goes through that area.  So that’s what we find in kiddos, even after a natural birth process, but especially in those instances where there’s been a lot of intervention.  We see a lot of upper cervical misalignment that affects the nervous system.  And so what we want is to take care of is correcting that misalignment so that they can develop the way that they’re supposed so that their bodies work.  A lot of people think of brachial plexus injuries in kids, when the shoulder gets stuck and there’s traction on the brachial plexus, but if there’s enough traction there to injure those nerves in the arm, there’s enough pressure just in a natural birth that can affect the whole nervous system through the neck.

Kristin:  We find with breastfeeding there can be some issues with the latch or a baby preferring one side to the other, and that could be, obviously, remedied by chiropractor care.  Maybe something happened during birth where they’re just having some issues with their neck and alignment and so on.

Dr. Rachel:  Yeah, that’s super common.  We see that.  That’s one of the first signs that there could have been upper cervical misalignment is if a baby prefers one side or one breast when they’re breastfeeding or if they have latching difficulty because that all has to do with how they can turn their head, how the muscles in their face are working, what position their jaw is in.  So we see that a lot, and when we do home visits, that’s often for a baby who’s head is turned to one side, and then we can correct that with a simple gentle adjustment, and then it’s amazing.  They breastfeed like a champ after that.

Dr. Annie:  I would say a big one, too, right now is the torticollis and the flat head.  I would say that’s later; you see that later, but it probably started with favoring nursing or with latching difficulty that didn’t get corrected.  They’re favoring, so they always want to turn to one side.  And then they hyper-develop those muscles on that side, and then just further down the road, it becomes harder and harder to correct.

Dr. Rachel:  That’s why we always say it’s good to get your babies checked.

Alyssa:  Maybe that’s why I’m so lumpy on this side!

Dr. Rachel:  It’s probably your parents’ fault!  I blame everything on my parents!

Alyssa:  I had no idea!

Dr. Rachel:  It all started with the birth!

Kristin:  And then, certainly, babies that are colicky or have other issues at birth can be helped by chiropractor care.  That’s an easy fix?

Dr. Annie:  Yeah.  And we’ll say this, just so people don’t think we’re crazy.  There was a study done by an MD, Gutman, and he found spinal injury present in 80% of infants examined shortly after birth.

Dr. Rachel:  Out of a thousand births.

Dr. Annie:  Yeah.  Causing interference to neurological and immune function.  So like I said, even just the natural birth process.  I mean, think about it.  If they’re pulling — what is it, 60 to 90 pounds of axial pressure, they say?  So even a natural delivery.  And just the whole process of babies going through.  The uterus contracting; that’s going to cause some sort of distress on that spine.

Dr. Rachel:  And we see that.  I mean, we see other things, too, in kiddos who ended up C-section.  Because they don’t go through the vaginal canal, they don’t get that compression, and so when they’re pulled out of the abdomen, they have a lot of those issues, too, but then their lungs aren’t cleared of fluid and stuff, so then they’re more likely to have allergies and asthma and stuff like that, too, because of those things never getting corrected.

Kristin:  So can you explain to our listeners what an adjustment for a newborn is like so they can rest assured that it’s very gentle?

Dr. Rachel:  Yes.  So the ICPA says you’re going to use the same amount of pressure that you would use to check the ripeness of a tomato.  So it is so gentle.  If you push your finger on your eyelid, the amount of pressure that you can just feel — that’s how much pressure we’re using to adjust a newborn, especially.

Dr. Annie:  We’re using our pinkies.  There’s no instrument; there’s no twisting, cracking, popping.

Kristin:  And I think that’s what people imagine is the cracking.  So it’s not like that?  And the fact that you do home visits is amazing, so people can come to your office here in East Town, and for certain cases with newborns, you’ll go to their homes.  That’s so wonderful!

Dr. Annie:  We do that with most of the moms that we’ve seen throughout their pregnancy.  As soon as their baby is born, they call us up and ask us to come over to their house and check the baby, please.

Kristin:  And do you also adjust the mom when you do these home visits?

Dr. Rachel:  We usually do.  I think almost every time.  And sometimes Dad, if Dad’s home.

Dr. Annie:  Yeah, exactly.  I mean, it’s important for the whole family.  Birth is stressful!  It’s stressful on everybody.  It’s stressful on the mom’s spinal mechanics and on her body, but emotionally stressful on both parents, too.

Dr. Rachel:  And on your body.  We see doulas after the birth!

Kristin:  You are so helpful to me after a birth because we have some recovery, as well, especially if it’s a physical birth, or even if it’s not as physical and my client’s sleeping with an epidural and I’m trying to get rest in a waiting room and kind of shoving myself into these strange positions on a chair to sleep.  I definitely recover faster and my immune system is much stronger as a result of chiropractic care, so I appreciate you both!  Thank you for explaining some of the remedies for different newborn traumas they experience.  How can we find you?

Dr. Annie:  You can find us on our website.  Or you can find us on Facebook and Instagram.  Both are @risewellnesschiro.  It’s probably the best way to find us and get in contact with us.

Kristin:  You’re still accepting new patients, correct?

Dr. Annie:  Yep!

Kristin:  Awesome.

Dr. Annie:  Oh, yeah, we’ll take all the babies!

Kristin:  Thank you so much for chatting with us, Dr. Annie and Dr. Rachel, and we will see you next time!

Dr. Annie:  Thanks for having us!


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Postpartum Wellness

Podcast Episode #61: Postpartum Wellness

Dr. Erica of Root Functional Medicine gives moms some tips about staying healthy through pregnancy and into the postpartum period.  We also talk about her upcoming Postpartum Wellness class on March 7.  You can listen to this complete podcast episode on iTunes or SoundCloud.

This podcast episode is sponsored by LifeFuel, providing healthy meal delivery in West Michigan. We love partnering with LifeFuel! 

Alyssa:  Hello!  Welcome to another episode of Ask the Doulas.  I am Alyssa Veneklase, co-owner of Gold Coast Doulas, and today I’m talking to Dr. Erica Armstrong of Root Functional Medicine.  Hello, Dr. Erica!  Welcome.

Dr. Erica:  Hello, thank you for having me!

Alyssa:  My business partner, Kristin, has been talking to you, but I want to know a little bit about Root Functional Medicine, and then we will talk about an event that we’re going to have together here in our space.  So tell me a little bit about what you do.

Dr. Erica:  So I am a functional medicine doctor.  My background was in family medicine for several years before I went through functional medicine training, and Kelsey, our dietician, and I created a specialty practice in functional medicine, the first of its kind in West Michigan, and we partner up to help patients really get to the root cause of why they’re not feeling well.  That’s kind of the basis of functional medicine; we look at people in a holistic sense and try to solve problems at the root, and a lot of the time, we do need to make nutritional changes, and so it just made perfect sense to partner up with a dietician to do that.

Alyssa:  So explain to me what a functional medicine doctor does versus a regular medical doctor.  How would you, in very simple terms, explain what functional medicine is?

Dr. Erica:  Sure, I would say there’s not a simple explanation other than it’s a different model of healthcare entirely.  Functional medicine isn’t the symptom, one diagnosis, one treatment, the typical path that gets rushed through.  It really is stepping back, looking at the entire picture since birth and even before birth of a patient because they’re not just a snapshot in time.  We look at their genetics.  We look at their microbiome.  We look at their nutrition and lifestyle and really plot everything on something called a functional medicine matrix, and we try to balance the imbalances.  And then we look at lab testing that’s simply not available in traditional labs to see how the body is actually functioning, and with that information, we can be much more preventative and not only help people stay away from disease but actually help them feel well.

Alyssa:  Yeah, I think of it as — you know how you go to a doctor within one medical system, and then you go to another one, and you’re answering the same questions all the time, but nobody seems to be talking together.  And functional medicine is like having all those specialties together talking to one another, so the heart specialist isn’t just looking at your heart.  The heart specialist should also be asking about nutrition and diet.  You know, it’s not just all these segmented pieces.

Dr. Erica:  Yeah, that’s absolutely right.  In traditional healthcare, we tend to silo things, but yes, if you have a heart issue, it doesn’t stop there.  There are other things that we need to look at, so it’s really putting the big picture together.

Alyssa:  So you and Kelsey — she does the dietician part of it?  We should have her on sometime, too, because I love talking about diet and sleep since I do sleep consults and food, especially for little ones.  Do you see children, as well?

Dr. Erica:  We do, yeah.  We can see all ages, and I do a lot of nutrition, too.  Just in functional medicine training, a vast majority of that is nutrition, but Kelsey does help a lot with specific diets and troubleshooting, and she has a lot of nutrition knowledge that she shares with patients, too.

Alyssa:  Let’s talk about this event and tell people what it is that you do to help pregnant women and what they can look forward to if they come to this event.

Dr. Erica:  Yeah, so even before pregnancy, really optimizing wellness and things like just trying to make sure they’re eating balanced, healthy meals is important, and then things to look out for in the postpartum period where we’re often sleep deprived and have higher cortisol levels and how to navigate and troubleshoot those areas, how to plan ahead for that.

Alyssa:  So this event we’re having is on March 7th from 6:30 to 8:00 PM and it’s going to be here in our office in the Kingsley Building.  Seating is limited because our office can only hold so many people.  It’s $35.00 per person, and we’re going to create a link and post it on Facebook and put it on our website.  Are we calling it How to Set Yourself Up for Success in the Postpartum Period?

Dr. Erica:  Yes!

Alyssa:  So we’re going to talk about good foods during pregnancy, what to watch out for, sleep deprivation and cortisol, like you just mentioned, tips for dealing with that, and then how to evaluate adrenals and thyroid, which I know is a common question for a lot of women, pregnant or not.

Dr. Erica:  Yes, we end up seeing a lot of thyroid disease coming after pregnancy, for a variety of reasons.  So how to test for that and assess it from a functional standpoint.

Alyssa:  And then we have — and you might need to help me with this; talk about some adaptogens in food?  What is that?

Dr. Erica:  So adaptogens just means that it helps your body adapt to situations, so certain things like mushrooms or ashwagandha, those are called adaptogens.  So if people are having a lot of high cortisol levels, actually eating that food helps because food can talk to your genes and tell your genes to turn on or off and produce more or less cortisol.  That’s a very scientific answer, sorry!

Alyssa:  No, I get it!  And then the last thing I have on here, “some supportive things to do such as basic ideas that can be forgotten during the postpartum period.”  What do you mean by that?

Dr. Erica:  So even just remembering to continue your prenatal vitamins.  Things can get so out of routine with a newborn baby that you forget to do simple things that can help you feel well.  We end up seeing a lot of nutritional deficiencies just after giving birth, especially vitamin D.  There’s a lot of vitamin D deficiency in general in West Michigan, but if you’re breastfeeding, you’re at more risk for that.  And then magnesium deficiency, which many of us are deficient in.  So just those two simple vitamins, we can test those levels, and people end up feeling a lot better when we replace those.

Alyssa:  So who would you say should come to this event?  Women who are pregnant, trying to conceive, postpartum, all of the above?

Dr. Erica:  I think all of the above, for sure, because we’re going to talk about a lot of general health tips, as well, as focusing on the postpartum period.

Alyssa:  Okay!  So again the event is called How to Set Yourself Up for Success in the Postpartum Period, but even if you’re pregnant, I always tell people to plan ahead.  So it’s good to learn this stuff so that you’re not in the  midst of all this chaos with a newborn at home, and going, oh, shoot.  If you know this stuff, you can plan ahead.  And again, that’s going to be on March 7th from 6:30 to 8:00 PM, so if you’re interested, you can go to our contact form and let us know you’re interested in the event.  I would still like to know a little bit more about your practice.  Where are you located?

Dr. Erica:  We’re located in downtown Grand Rapids, and we mainly see people in person, but we can also see people virtually throughout the state of Michigan via telemedicine, and some people will drive in for the first visit and then follow up virtually, as well.  We have different packages on our website.  You can either work with Kelsey in nutrition package or with me in functional medicine or with both of us in what we call the Get to the Root package in where we work together for at least three months and really help get to the root cause of feeling better.

Alyssa:  I love that you can do it virtually, especially for postpartum moms!

Dr. Erica:  Yes, it makes a lot of sense not to have to lug the baby in!

Alyssa:  Yeah, it’s the last thing you want to do!  You’re in your yoga pants; you don’t want to have to drive downtown and probably run in to somebody that you know with no makeup on and all that stuff.  It’s just a lot easier, especially if you have a newborn and toddlers at home to not have to leave.

Dr. Erica:  Yeah, and we can attach all the food plans and wellness plans right to the patient portal.

Alyssa:  That’s really convenient!  Well, if anyone is interested in getting ahold of you, what’s the easiest way?

Dr. Erica:  There’s a contact form right on our website.  And we’d be happy to answer your questions.  We’re also on Instagram and Facebook as Root Functional Medicine, and we post most of our updates there.

Alyssa:  And we’ll share the Facebook event, as well.  Again, it’s How to Set Yourself Up for Success in the Postpartum Period and it will be on March 7th from 6:30 to 8:00 PM here at the Gold Coast Doulas office.  Well, thank you, Dr. Erica!  Thanks for joining us!

Dr. Erica:  Thank you!

Alyssa:  And tell Kelsey we’ll have her on sometime, too.

Dr. Erica:  Sounds good!


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How ZENBands Became a Part of Pregnancy  

Gold Coast Doulas is pleased to announce a guest blog by Dr. Erin Stair on her headbands that are perfect for listening to HypnoBirthing scripts or childbirth playlists. I use them for listening to podcasts like “Ask the Doulas” with Gold Coast Doulas on Soundcloud and Itunes.

Erin is the creator of ZENBands, ZENTones, author of Manic Kingdom, and the founder of bloomingwellness.com. She writes all of the blogs at blooming wellness and interviews all of the guests, with the hopes of building an intersection between science and wellness. She is a graduate of West Point, where she was recruited to play soccer, and after the Army, went on to medical school, earned her medical degree, and then received the Global Health Leadership scholarship from New York University, which she used to earn her Masters of Public Health. She has a keen interest in population-level interventions for stress, depression, obesity, anxiety, and disease reduction in general, and for the last several years, has served as the chief of research for an international digital health company. She lives in New York City and is always working on her next book.  

I’ve always been very interested in noninvasive, natural anxiety-reducing techniques and how effective they are during stressful times. My interest led me into the world of sound therapy, particularly binaural beats, or what some call phantom beats. Many people listen to binaural beats to help reduce stress, anxiety, induce sleep and boost mood. The scientific body of evidence for binaural beats isn’t robust, but there is no shortage of anecdotal evidence, and I’m betting this will be a hotbed for future research. After talking to a few scientists and sound engineers, I began designing my own binaural arrangements ( ZENTones) including arranging different frequencies of sounds with sequences of tones. I held several focus groups during which volunteers, mainly veterans with PTSD, listened to the arrangements of sounds to see if various ones improved sleep quality, reduced anxiety or boosted mood. Many folks listened while lying down and a recurring theme in feedback sessions was that their headphones or earbuds were uncomfortable. Their ears hurt after lying down, and the headphones/earbuds were painful or too heavy. Their feedback was my inspiration for creating the ZENBand.

I wanted to create something simple, lightweight, eco-friendly, and portable that would help make listening to the ZENTones more comfortable. I also wanted to include tenets of color therapy in our design, since color significantly impacts mood. Hence, the ZENBand , a headband and speakers combo, was born. We use cotton for the bands for two reasons: Cotton is lightweight, and unlike many artificially-designed cooling fabrics, polyester and fleece, cotton does not contain microplastics. There are flat, lightweight, custom-made pillow speakers inside the band that can be removed and easily plug into phones, laptops or MP3 players. They truly feel like cushions for the ears. We also get them made in a variety of colors, so folks can find one that suits their mood. The speakers are purposely not noise-canceling, as we want people to be able to hear others around them, especially since a lot of folks wear them at night. You still want the ability to hear noises, alarms, kids crying or dogs barking. Furthermore, ZENBands can also act as eye masks to help keep out ambient light and reduce anxiety. Light can aggravate anxiety and stress.  Based on feedback, the next version coming out this Spring will be a little wider, to make it easier to pull the ZENBand over the eyes and optimize the relaxation response.

While most of our customers used the ZENTones and ZENBand for anxiety, travel, or sleep, one time I received a message from a woman who was pregnant and close to giving birth. She asked if I could expedite shipping, because she planned on wearing the ZENBand for hypnosis during labor. I wasn’t sure what she was talking about, but after receiving several more orders with a similar request, I started researching relaxation techniques for pregnant women. They included deep breathing exercises, pregnancy cards, prenatal yoga, positive affirmations, guided meditations and hypnosis. I even talked to Ob/Gyn doctors and midwives who mentioned noticing reduced anxiety and fear levels in women in labor who used one of the aforementioned anxiety reducing technique during pregnancy.

That was a few years back and now we get orders from pregnant women all over the world. We work with a lot of birth professionals and birth centers. Women have sent us photos of them in labor, wearing their ZENBands, and it’s pretty awesome. We love being part of the birth process, even if it’s just a tiny part in making women more comfortable. A lot of women write us and tell us that they love that the ZENBand allows them to listen to their relaxation scripts or birthing music while also keeping their hair and sweat out of their eyes. I should note that the ZENBand is not Bluetooth, as we feel more comfortable with reducing EMF exposure so close to one’s head, and we want to make sure that people always have access to their sounds/affirmations when they need them most. Bluetooth doesn’t always work well in every location, including hospital rooms. Also, phones can be a big distraction when it comes to relaxing. Phones can be a huge source of anxiety and listening sessions can be interrupted with incoming calls or the impulse to jump on Social Media or check your messages. To help eliminate those impulses, reduce anxiety and enhance relaxation, we recommend using the ZENBand with an old-fashioned Mp-3 player. It can be pleasantly refreshing and a much needed break from our phones.

To check out ZENBands and ZENTones, please visit us at bloomingwellness.com.  As a token of our appreciation, please use code ZEN for a first-time customer discount.

Erin Stair, MD, MPH, founder of Bloomingwellness.com

*Note: Gold Coast was not compensated for promoting this product. It is one we personally use and recommend.  


How ZENBands Became a Part of Pregnancy   Read More »

Postpartum Doula

What does non-judgmental support mean?

Author: Alyssa Veneklase, CD


I was recently asked if, since I’m a doula, I tell clients not to vaccinate and make them feel guilty if they don’t breastfeed.


If you had a doula that made you feel this way, I apologize on behalf of them. That is the opposite of what a doula is meant to be.

Since there’s obviously still a lot of confusion about the role of a doula, I will try to clear up most of the common misconceptions briefly and simply.

A birth doula is not a midwife. We do not deliver babies; we are there for the physical and emotional support of the mother and even the father.


You do not need to have an all-natural home birth to use a doula. We support women  no matter how and where they deliver.

We realize that breastfeeding doesn’t work for every mother and every circumstance. We are there for guidance and support of breastfeeding, pumping, and bottlefeeding (breast milk and formula).

When clients ask us for guidance regarding topics such as vaccines and circumcision, we offer resources, but never tell a client what they should do. We want our clients to make informed and educated decisions, but the decisions are all their own.

Bottom line, a doula is a non-judgmental support person. And by non-judgmental I mean we never judge a mother, father, or family based on the decisions they make.


Telling a client not to vaccinate their child would be judging those who do vaccinate.

Telling someone we won’t work with them because they have a scheduled c-section would be outright, in-your-face judgment.

Telling a client that she’s a bad mother because she can’t, or chooses not to, breastfeed is yes, full of judgment.

As a postpartum doula, I am passionate about supporting families, wherever they’re at in their journeys. I serve families who co-sleep for months and those who use a crib from day one. I serve families who breastfeed and those that bottlefeed formula.

I serve mothers who had all-natural deliveries, mothers who delivered early and their baby was in the NICU, and mothers who had scheduled c-sections. I serve families whether they vaccinated or not, circumcised or not.

I serve families where the mother goes back to work full-time after a few weeks, and families where the mother never goes back to work. I serve mothers with postpartum depression and I serve mothers who are the happiest they’ve ever been.

In every single scenario, the client knows I am there for them. I have no agenda of my own. It doesn’t matter what I did with my child or what “most people” do. I want each of my clients to feel confident that they’re making their own informed decisions. And I’m there for them, no matter what the decision is.

What does non-judgmental support mean? Read More »

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