Feeling very inspired and honored to have spent the day listening to and learning from the wonderful Dr Sarah Buckley today at BINI Birth, about our hormonal reproductive design for life in relation to birth. Amazing day spent surrounded with like minded people learning more about my life passions-good times!
A little behind the game on this one, but I do love this sketch by Jim Gaffigan about kids and homebirth…
I learnt something very interesting today, which I had never considered before. The window of opportunity for introducing new foods to infants is limited. It best time usually ranges from around 4-6 months to around 12-14 months. This, interestingly, corresponds to the time at which they begin to sit up with support to when the begin walking and running around freely on their own. This is an evolutionary protective mechanism so that once kids are up and running all over the place they become suspicious of unfamiliar fruits, vegetables and meats. This is a good thing because, lets face it-we can’t keep an eye on our kids every second of the day. This protective mechanism is designed so that if we were still ‘in the wild’, it would (hopefully) protect our kids from picking up and eating something which could potentially be poisonous. As this time frame is limited, it is so important to introduce infants to a wide range of colorful foods. According to Dr Greene, ‘if you let them sample something enough times…they can more easily acquire a taste for it than at any other period in life’. It is important to make the most of this nutritional window. Introducing infants to a rainbow of colorful tasty fruits and vegetables, whole grains and varied textures, rather than bland processed flavors, will set them on the right path for healthy eating through in to adult life.
I came across an article earlier this week on Honest.com titled, ‘What’s Inside Disposable Diapers?’, which discusses, as you may have guessed, the contents of your average disposable diaper. They revealed that disposable diaper companies have no obligation to state on their packaging what the ‘ingredients’ of their diapers are. Which to me is quite shocking. Why would you not want to tell your customers what is inside your brand?-Maybe because they are full of all kinds of nasties which may be off putting to your consumers?
After a certain amount of their own research, they found that disposable diapers contain:
- Sodium Polyacrylate (SAP) – which is the gooey gel stuff at the bottom of the diaper which soaks up all the liquids, known to be a skin irritant. This substance is banned in many countries, except the U.S. It is a similar substance used in tampons which was linked to Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS).
- Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) – disposable diapers emit these compounds which have a possible link to asthma.
- Fragrances and Lotions – made using phthlates, which have been linked to developmental and reproductive toxicity.
- Toxic Pollutants – which can cause hormonal problems.
- Synthetic Dyes –researchers suggest that exposure to synthetic dyes causes 20% of all diaper rash.
- The Bleaching Process itself produces dioxins, known to be one of the biggest carcinogenics known.
With potential skin irritants, diaper rash, toxic shock syndrome, asthma, reproductive, developmental and hormonal disturbances and carcinogenics, why are we exposing our baby’s butts to all these substances? At the risk of sounding even more ‘crunchy’ than usual, I feel very satisfied with my decision to cloth diaper. Not only do you reduce your baby’s exposure to these chemicals, but you also save money in the process!
Did you know that cloth diapering is about one tenth the cost of disposables?
I decided to go with both Fuzibunz and Charlie Banana cloth diapers. They are the perfect combination of both eco-friendly and ultra cute! I decided to go with the ‘One Size’ rather than the sized variety, as it saves changing sizes as your baby grows. They both come with pockets and removable washable inserts. The Charlie Bananas also come with the option of using a disposable insert for those times when washing poopy diapers isn’t always possible, or for example, when traveling.
Obviously, cloth diapering is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, which is why I also love Honest diapers. If you are going to use disposable diapers, I would recommend using ones like this! The Honest Company have developed a range of safe, eco-friendly disposable diapers. They have created them using plant-based materials, making them naturally biodegradable. They state they do not contain: chlorine, perfumes, phthlates, lotions, optical brighteners, PVC, heavy metals or oganotins (MBT, DBT, TBT).
“We believe our babies (and planet) deserve much better diapers”
What will you choose?
I have come to realize over the last couple of months, that I am in fact, a ‘Crunchy Mama’.
It never really dawned on my before. I thought everyone was in to this kind of stuff. However as I’ve sat across the table from unsuspecting family members and friends, watching their horrified faces and raised eyebrows as I go on about my plans for a totally natural birth and encapsulating my placenta, or my desire to cloth diaper and take my baby to work…it got me thinking, that perhaps not everyone is as crunchy as me!
But that’s ok. I’m fine with being a crunchy mama. In fact I am rather enjoying it! I smile secretly to myself as I’m telling my holistic tales while the other person wishes they had never bothered to ask which hospital I’ll be birthing at!
Oh well, I love living in California and embracing this lifestyle!
36 weeks on, and my life is about to change.
Over the weekend a few of my friends threw me a Blessing Way Ceremony, and I have been on a natural high ever since. For those of you who are wondering what a Blessing Way is, it is a traditional Native American ceremony, similar to a baby shower in some ways, but it’s focus celebrates a woman’s rite of passage into motherhood, rather than the focus being on the baby and gifts. A Blessing Way ceremony creates a sacred space where a mama-to-be can draw strength from female friends and family, and share in the joys and challenges of motherhood and birthing which lie before her.
One of the traditions of the ceremony is to have each guest bring a single bead or charm to be threaded on to a necklace. The guest brings a bead which either has meaning to them, or is symbolic of strength, courage, wisdom, motherhood or the baby etc… to bring good luck to the mother. The mother then threads all the beads on to a necklace and wears it during labor to bring her strength, courage, good luck, love and support drawn from all the women who are special in her life.
As I stood before my friends and family this weekend, in a place which isn’t my home, where I am away from many of my friends and family, I felt incredibly honored and lucky to have found such a beautiful, loving and supportive group of women in my life.
I felt an enormous sense of pride and confidence in the path that lies before me. It made me think of all the thousands of women before me who’s feet have worn the path ahead. And although my path may take a slightly different route to theirs, somehow, we all end up at the same destination – Motherhood.
I felt proud to be a woman. Knowing that my body has an amazing innate capability to perform this miracle without instruction. The whole day cast aside the odd fleeting nagging voice I’ve been hearing recently, which I’m sure we have all heard from time to time-the ‘what if’, and the ‘I can’t’, and replaced it with something much stronger, louder and more powerful…
This week I was lucky enough to be able to go to the premiere of the new Business of Being Born documentary, More Business of Being Born, at the Laemmle’s Royal Theater in Los Angeles. As a Midwife, I believe that the first ‘Business of Being Born’ documentary has done a lot to open the eyes of the masses, and educate people about modern childbirth and the maternity system, not just in the States, but around the world. It discusses the huge and somewhat controversial (to some people) topic of homebirth, natural birth, cesarean birth, obstetric care, aswell as Midwives and Doulas-which to the average American, are professions most people had never heard of. I think it has played a huge part in educating people in a topic that they wouldn’t have ordinarily thought about. Most women of childbearing age today, only consider birth once they become pregnant. It is no longer something which is talked about amongst family and friends, or witnessed before becoming pregnant. Since birth left the home around 50 years ago, birth has become shamed, hushed and secret. Something that takes place in a hospital bed, behind closed doors, in private, so that no-one can hear you. As a society we are overwhelmed with images and stories in the media of dramatic, medicalized, traumatic births with emergencies around every corner, where women are passive participants in their care, following the doctor’s every order. These are the only images of birth we ever see. The ones which make the news, or bring in the ratings. This is our only perspective. These births are fictional! We need some reality, and not ‘Reality TV’, but REAL birth stories from REAL families.
I have certainly noticed in the 3 years since the first documentary came out, the awareness of these issues has greatly increased. Many of our clients come to us having watched it, saying that this was the catalyst which launched them in to looking at different alternatives to mainstream obstetric care, or that it made them realize they did have options, or it was recommended to them from a friend or colleague. The birth world in America, and in California especially is changing, and Ricki Lake and her team, have helped to put those wheels in motion.
The new Business of Being Born documentary is a series of 4 mini documentaries, covering various topics which felt needed further explanation. Although the first documentary was extremely informative, it still left people with questions such as, ‘What’s the difference between a Midwife and a Doula?’. Producers Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein hope that this follow-up series will help to fill in a few more gaps. They cover conversations with Ina May Gaskin (America’s leading Midwife), celebrity mothers talking about their birth experiences, Doulas, birth centres, Cesarean and VBACs (vaginal birth after cesarean).
At the premiere we watched only the second in the series, ‘Special Deliveries’, which includes an hour’s worth of testimonials from Christy Turlington Burns, Cindy Crawford, Alyson Hannigan, Melissa Joan Hart, Gisele Bundchen, and Alanis Morissette, all of whom describe a wide range of birth experiences, including some tellingly unhappy ones. Their voices fuse into a compelling chorus of maternal will and desire. None of them paint a picture of labor and birth as an easy ride, but they are honest and open about their emotions and their journey.
Even as a Midwife, I found it hugely inspiring to watch. It ignited my passion behind creating an alternative for women and their families. There is a greater issue behind all of this. It is not just all about homebirth, or natural birth, or the hospital. It’s about choice. Something we all have the right to.
‘So if you’re thinking of having a baby, do what more and more people are doing. See The Business of Being Born (and More Business of Being Born). And decide what to do for yourself’.
-‘Even in the midst of tears and pain, liquid gold flows forth‘
An inspiring and courageous story of Jennifer Coias from Brazil, who so tragically lost her baby due to stillbirth at 35 weeks, who in the face of everything, as a way of honoring her son Jude, is giving the amazing gift of breast milk to donate to other babies in need. She is still only 9 days post partum, and has been pumping around the clock with an old, used, broken pump held together by a bungee cord!
Through heart-felt donations from individuals, including a couple of mothers who had lost babies of their own, intactivists Jennifer had worked with in the past (the Barefoot Intactivist, among others), and a gift from The International Breastfeeding Symbol Store, they were able to secure a quality pump for Jennifer, as well as a few much needed breast shields and supplies.
The pump is currently on its way via flight (with a friend) to Brazil and we all hope it will be in Jennifer’s hands soon.
Truly, she is the epitome of all that World Milksharing Week represents: liquid love bottled for any baby and mother in need.
Despite the invention and development of many new technologies over the years, our bodies function in exactly the same ways as our ancestor’s did (virtually none of whom had any access to any birth technologies). Babies are still made the same way and women still have the same anatomy.
Despite what we are led to believe, our bodies work pretty well. They work in the same way they have done for millions of years. Our bodies have the same innate level of wisdom and survival features that they always have. The same ones that have allowed our species to successfully exist on this planet for hundreds of generations. When you really think about it, Mother Nature came up with a pretty fantastic design (although it may not seem like it) for pregnancy, labor and birth. When it all unfolds naturally, the concoction of hormones, emotions, reflexes and innate behaviors that evolve from both the mother and the baby, paint the most perfect picture.
Picture taken from http://www.wildheartwisdom.com
Unfortunately in our modern times we tend to paint our own version of this picture, which sadly, isn’t quite so beautiful!
Many of the routine procedures we practice in maternity units every day (many of which seem unrelated to breastfeeding), interfere with a mother’s own ability to produce the appropriate level of hormones before, during and after birth to facilitate a great start in breastfeeding.
You are probably already aware that the epidural is the most common form of pain relief in the United States. What you may not be aware of, are its unwanted side effects that can have an impact on getting a good start on breastfeeding. Before a woman can have an epidural it is necessary for her to start IV fluids, as one of the most common side effects of the epidural is a sudden drop in maternal blood pressure. The IV fluids need to be in place so that if this does happen, your blood pressure can be quickly recovered, otherwise this can result in a lack of blood and (therefore oxygen) being transported to your baby.
IV fluids can result in swollen breasts, making it difficult for your baby to be able to latch on correctly when feeding. If your baby is not latched on correctly, not only will that that cause damage to the delicate tissues of the nipple causing painful breastfeeding, your baby will not be getting an adequate amount of milk needed for them to grow and thrive.
Another common side effect of the epidural is the ‘epidural fever’. Women opting for epidural anesthesia are 5 times more likely to develop a fever during labor, than women with unmedicated births. This type of fever cannot be distinguished from a fever caused by a dangerous interuterine infection, which means it is likely to result in your baby being subjected to an array of blood draws, tests, evaluations, possible antibiotics, and even a lumbar puncture immediately after birth, which can be frightening. Prolonged separation and likely admissions to NICU, can prove challenging when breastfeeding. When you are separated, it is difficult to pick up on cues from your baby to know when they need feeding. In the normal scenario, a mother’s natural instinct is to stare, touch, listen to and smell and kiss her newborn baby (in the animal kingdom, mothers will also lick their newborns). We do all of these things for a reason. We use all of our senses to maximize the bonding experience. This experience heightens the levels of breastfeeding hormones Oxytocin (known as the hormone of love) and Prolactin (known as the mothering hormone) in order for us to get ready for feeding.
Oxytocin is also the hormone which causes the uterus to contract during labor. Oxytocin levels gradually increase throughout labor, and are at an all time high at the time of birth, which contributes to the euphoria and receptiveness that a mother feels towards her baby, usually after an unmedicated birth. A woman’s Oxytocin levels in the first moments after birth will be the highest she will ever experience in her life. This peak, is triggered by sensations of stretching of the birth canal as the baby is born, which does not occur when an epidural is in place. There is evidence to suggest that epidurals (and other pain medications, and planned cesarean sections) interfere with the normal bonding process, which in turn plays its part on the initiation of breastfeeding. Dr Michel Odent is a retired French Obstetrician and has written extensively on the hormones of birth.
Interruptions during the ‘Golden Hour’
The first hour after birth is often referred to as the ‘Golden Hour’. You may not know that what you and others around you do in that very first hour of your baby’s life can have a significant—even lifelong—impact on the bond you have with your baby.
Unfortunately in some maternity settings it is still common practice to see policies and procedures focus mainly on the medical side of a newborn’s health, putting the nature-nurture side second. Obviously some babies will need some medical attention after birth, but in the majority of cases this is not so. In times gone by, the following scenario was very common-the doctor hands the baby to a nurse who takes the baby to a warming table, examines him, administers immunization shots, injections or medications, takes him over to the sink for a good scrub down, puts on a diaper, swaddles the baby in a blanket and then takes the baby over to the proud parents so they can finally hold their new bundle of joy.We now know better, but this out of date approach still exists in some settings.
This initial hour is essential for optimal bonding and imprinting. Once the baby is born, they should be put directly on to the mother’s chest. This initial skin to skin contact helps to calm the baby and regulates their own heartbeat, breathing and temperature. For the mother, the work of labor generates changes in her brain chemistry that increase her desire for nurturing. Skin-to-skin contact with baby and suckling at the breast releases mothering hormones that are the basis for a mother’s intuition. The baby should be able to find the breast for themselves within the first hour. Research has shown that breastfeeding within the first hour improves infant survival and prolongs the duration of exclusive breastfeeding. This is also one of the Baby Friendly ’10 Steps to Successful Breastfeeding’. It is advisable to put off any routine procedures such as weighing the baby, examinations, the bath and immunizations for as long as possible, or at least after the ‘Golden Hour’. In some hospitals this may not be possible due to time pressures. Remember that you are entitled to decline anything you do not wish your baby to have.
Painting by Katie M. Berggren
Imagine stepping out of the bath naked in a big open room without a towel-You would feel cold very quickly. This is effectively what happens to babies when they are born, so it is important that they are dried off to prevent them loosing too much heat and dropping their temperature. Some babies (especially small or premature babies) have a hard time maintaining their temperature in the first 24 hours of life. Exposing your baby the the bath too early can be too much for some babies, and can cause them to drop their temperature too low. Babies have an immature thermo-regulation (temperature control) system, which can become easily off balanced. If a baby becomes too cold, they will have no interest in feeding. If a baby’s temperature becomes very low they can develop hypothermia, which is cause for concern.
Giving a baby a bath before they have had chance to get a really good breastfeed, can also interrupt Mother Nature’s design. Using soaps or fragranced baby wash products, washes away that yummy newborn smell. Mother Nature made newborns smell so perfect so that mother’s could use their senses to enhance the bonding and breastfeeding experience by increasing her levels of Oxytocin. The smell of the amniotic fluid on the baby helps with imprinting and bonding for both Mom and Dad.
On the flip side of the coin, a mother getting up to shower before the baby has has a good feed, can also interfere with breastfeeding initiation. Using body wash or soap on her breasts washes away some of that primal smell and attraction for the newborn. It makes finding the breast and the nipple harder for the baby because the smell of the milk is no longer as strong. If you do want to get up to shower before you have had chance to breastfeed your baby, I would encourage you not to use any soaps or lotion on your breasts.
Circumcision & Immunizations
The practice of circumcising newborn boys is still widespread in the United States. However, there is no compelling evidence to support routine circumcision. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) now states that circumcision cannot be justified on medical grounds. The British Medical Association (BMA), ‘considers that the evidence concerning health benefit from non-therapeutic circumcision is insufficient for this alone to be a justification for doing it’.
It is important to note that this surgical procedure is not always done with a local anesthetic, and even if it is, the experience is usually both painful and extremely frightening for your baby. This experience causes high levels of stress hormones in the baby, which increases their heart rate, and initiates their ‘fight or flight’ response. This suppresses the high levels of Oxytocin that normally trigger their innate impulses to seek the breast.
If you are planning for your baby to be circumcised, I would encourage you to postpone this procedure until breastfeeding is well established. Sometimes painful and frightening experiences too soon after birth, can cause sensitive newborns to become too tense and distrustful to be able to feed at the breast.
The same goes for immunizations. With Moms being discharged earlier and earlier from hospital, it is common place for these procedures to happen very early after birth. Immunizations and injections are nearly always painful for the newborn, even if they are only momentarily, and they can still be frightening, depending on the nature in which they are performed.
(Lack of) Rooming-In
Baby Friendly step 7, involves practicing 24 hour ‘Rooming-in’. This means that you and your baby share the same room, instead of the baby being separated and put in a hospital nursery and brought to you for feeds. Around 50 years ago central nurseries used to be common practice, allowing mothers to rest after the birth, while nurses and doctors kept an eye on the baby. Although this sounds like a great idea, Dr Marsden-Wagner called this practice, ‘the biggest pediatric mistake of the last 100 years’. There are a number of problems associated with this practice-mix up of babies, interference with the development of a mother’s self confidence in caring for her baby, increased anxiety from the mother (leading to less sleep in fact), possible delay in a mother’s milk ‘coming in’, as well as interference with successful breastfeeding and depriving a mother the chance to bond with her baby. Having your baby placed in a nursery, inevitably means less skin to skin contact between mother and baby, which results in less Prolactin (hormone needed to produce milk) which in turn results in less milk production. It also increases the likelihood of well-intentioned (but ignorant) care providers giving your baby supplementary formula milk to keep the baby quiet while you rest, which again results in less Prolactin and less milk. Your milk supply works on a supply and demand basis. If you look at the extreme, at a mother who has no desire or intention to breastfeed, she will not put her baby to her breast to feed. Over time her body realizes that there is no demand for the milk, her Prolactin levels will decrease and her body will not supply any milk. The more times your baby is put to the breast and the more they suckle (even if they are not feeding at the time), the more this tells your body that the baby needs more milk (the demand is increased), which results in a greater milk supply.
Rooming-in allows you to have as much skin to skin contact with your baby as possible, and it means you can breastfeed as many times as you like-the way nature intended. Your baby will be more content and will cry less knowing you are close by, and actually you will get more rest and sleep, because having your baby beside you will stimulate higher levels of stress-reducing hormones, which will help you sleep better.
Note Baby Friendly states 24hour Rooming-in. Despite recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAD) some hospitals still do not offer Rooming-in, or will offer ‘modified Rooming-in’, where your baby will spend most of the time during the day with you, and will be taken to the nursery during the night.
The optimal breastfeeding environment will offer you uninterrupted time, privacy and respect for both you and your baby after birth, and will provide support to help you solve and overcome any problems which may occur.
Wherever you choose to give birth, I would encourage you to ask your care providers what their normal birth practices are.
Painting by Katie M. Berggren
- The Baby Friendly Way (smiffybaby.com)
- Birth Practices Which Interfere With Breastfeeding (smiffybaby.com)
- Breastfeeding Resource for all Mothers (smiffybaby.com)