Last week, I woke up to a text from my friend who had just seen Nike’s "Toughest Athlete" ad and loved it. Of course I had to watch it. I thought, Oh, this is a sexy version of the Lamaze 6 Healthy Birth Practices! These evidence-based recommendations show how to ease the birthing process, and are the cornerstone of every birth class that I teach. And now, I'm adding Nike's video to the virtual childbirth classes I teach!
I think the ad is beautifully done. In it are several elite athletes who are either pregnant, breastfeeding/chestfeeding or excelling at their sport postpartum.
Glamour magazine calls the ad empowering. To my eyes, this ad is radical, perhaps without even intending to be. I read the ad also as a visual guide for how to have a physiologic birth (birth "that is powered by the innate human capacity" -MANA), given that birthing people, and athletes in particular, already know how to push their bodies to unimaginable limits.
Could Nike be telling us to trust OUR bodies? Is Nike saying that we have our instincts are good and we should use them?
The ad begins and ends with a pregnant person experiencing early labor contractions while in a workout studio. She’s leaning on a mirrored wall and holding her belly. While breathing with her contraction, she’s wondering if she can “be a mother” or if she has what it takes to do this labor.
The belief that Nike is challenging is that labor is scary and unpredictable; that no amount of training and preparation can prepare you for the agony to come. The narrator, who sounds a lot like a birth coach, tells the person who feels doubtful that they have what it takes to give birth, to be a mother/parent; that they can do hard things! And in fact, they have already excelled at doing hard things!
Here’s how the Lamaze 6 Healthy Birth Practices (HBP for short) line up with Nike's sexier rewrites:
Nike: Can you be an athlete? You?
Nike: Someone who moves
Lamaze HBP # 2: Walk, move around and change positions throughout labor
Nike: Someone who gets it done, no matter what
Lamaze HBP # 3: Bring a loved one, friend or doula, for continuous support (we get it done with our village!)
Nike: Someone who listens to her body
Lamaze HBP # 1: Let labor begin on its own
Nike: Someone who defies gravity
Lamaze HBP # 5: Avoid giving birth on your back
Nike: Someone who deals with the pain, hits her limit and pushes past it.
Lamaze HBP # 4: Avoid interventions that are not medically necessary
Nike: Pushing, pushing, pushing
Lamaze HBP # 5: Follow your body’s urges to push
Nike: Someone who earns every single win
Lamaze HBP # 6: Keep mother and baby together; it’s best for mother, baby and breastfeeding (it's your baby - you get to keep your prize!)
Nike: You, you, you.
Lamaze HBP 1-6: These birth practices are to instill confidence in YOU, the person giving birth!
Nike: So, can you be an athlete? If you aren’t, no one is.
Me: Heck yeah you can!
About Naima Beckles, LCCE
Naima is an experienced doula and childbirth educator with a deep understanding of grief and loss. In 2014, she co-founded For Your Birth, an intentionally diverse doula agency that centered the experiences of Black and queer birthing people. Through the years, she has supported hundreds of expectant parents as a doula and agency director, and many more as an instructor. When the pandemic hit, she deepened studies with The Institute For The Study of Birth Breath and Death and started to think more about loss, grief, fear, anxiety, and the childbearing years.
She helps clients celebrate their pregnancies, prepare for their births, and hold space for the losses that came before. She also helps hold space for the grief surrounding infertility. Increasingly, she holds space for clients who are Black women and fearful of giving birth within a racist medical system that threatens their lives.
TagsHealthy Birth Practices Birth in the media Lamaze Healthy Birth Practices Nike