JOYFUL NEWS! Julian was born on October 24, 2006. He is healthy and handsome and I'm feeling great. It was a long and difficult labor with some surprises he was born by Cesarean section - which I'll tell you about sometime. I am a lucky mother and very grateful to the many people who helped him to be born. This essay, on the very topic of medical intervention in childbirth, was written in September; I'm leaving it unedited, along with this blog on elective Cesareans written 12 days before Julian was born. Meanwhile, I keep updating the Reading List for Mothers and Babies which now includes products for mothers and babies I like.
If you've decided to eat traditional rather than industrial food, perhaps you will also be interested in a traditional rather than an industrial birth. I'm expecting my first baby in October, so real birth is on my mind.
I was a lucky baby: born at home without drugs or cuts or surgery or other interference, I stayed close to my mother and drank breast milk for a long time.
My mother thinks she was lucky, too.
You can have a lucky baby and be a lucky mother. You need to be informed about the difference between traditional and industrial birth.
The analogy between real and industrial food and real and industrial birth is striking. Typical industrial food tries to replace the nutrients and flavor of real food. Fake butter made from corn oil must be made creamy and yellow. Soy 'bacon' bits must be made crunchy and savory. But industrial food never has the flavor or nutrients of real food.
Industrial birth substitutes tests, exams, drugs, and scalpels for the hormones and other features of a real birth that make it safe, healthy, and satisfying.
Industrial birth starts in pregnancy, with ultrasounds to 'check on' the baby. Amniocentesis may also be used. My shorthand feeling about such tests is that if you were meant to see your baby, your belly would be made of glass. A more scientific response would include the fact that these invasive tests don't improve health outcomes for mother or baby.
Ultrasound may show that the baby is breech - one of several positions in which the baby is not head down. Head down is ideal. Even though the baby may have 2 or 3 months to move head down, there are many non-invasive ways to get the baby into the proper position, and only 5% of babies are breech at birth, in modern ob-gyn circles, much worry for mother ensues. She is warned: she may need a Cesarean if the baby doesn't turn! More ultrasounds are scheduled.
Industrial birth involves a 'due date' and more worry if the baby doesn't arrive on the schedule set by the doctor - 40 weeks from the day of your last period (if you remember it at all). As an exact prediction, the 'due date' is not very useful. An astounding 95% of babies are not born on the due date. But 90% of babies are born within 10 days of 40 weeks. Happily, babies born at 38 or 42 weeks are, on the whole, perfectly healthy. The medical risk of 'post-maturity' is probably exaggerated.
If the baby doesn't respect the 'due date,' industrial birth calls for drugs to force labor to begin - induction. It is not clear precisely how natural labor starts, but the maturation of the baby's lungs is one known signal. When the baby's tiny, never-before-used lungs are ready for their first breath of air, the baby emits a hormone to start contractions. Chemical induction rushes the baby. It also hammers the mother's unprepared pelvic floor.
Moreover, giving the mother fake hormones stops her body from producing the hormones she and the baby need for a fast, gentle, and safe birth. Her natural oxytocin is inhibited by the synthetic oxytocin used to force labor. Oxytocin is not only the hormone of a swift birth; it is also the hormone of love, which creates the mother-baby bond. (You see it elsewhere, too, in romantic bonding and orgasm. Oxytocin is good stuff.)
These interventions typically come with an electronic fetal monitor, again to 'check on' the baby. Unfortunately, electronic fetal monitoring may not improve outcomes for mother and baby. It does have one clear proven effect: it increases the number of Cesarean sections. It appears the monitor inhibits the hormones mother and baby need for a gentle and swift birth.
If the baby is still struggling to be born, forceps and vacuum extraction may be employed. If the lack of the mother's own natural hormones to relax her pelvic
muscles has caused her skin to tear, she may be cut open with scissors or a knife - an episiotomy. If forceps, a vacuum on the baby's head, and episiotomy don't work, practitioners of industrial birth take over totally: they will cut through the mother's skin, stomach muscles, and uterus, and pull the baby out.
The obstetrician, surgeon, and midwife Dr. Michel Odent calls the Cesarean a 'magnificent rescue operation.' The Cesarean section has saved the lives of mothers and babies at risk, and for that we are grateful. But many Cesarean sections are the result of the chemical, medical, and mechanical interventions of industrial birth. When mothers and babies are undisturbed, they have an excellent chance of a healthy and safe birth. Surgery to extract a baby in trouble would then be viewed properly - as an emergency measure, only for mothers and babies who need it.
A Cesarean section also has inherent risks. The September 2006 issue of Birth: Issues in Perinatal Care reported on a large US study, which found that more than twice as many babies died after an elective (ie planned or chosen, for non- medical reasons) c-section compared with vaginal birth. Quite apart from the natural and vital hormones the mother and baby miss out on during real birth, choosing a Cesarean is a bad idea if mother and baby are low-risk.
After the baby is born, industrial birth still interferes. The baby has only one point of reference - its mother's womb, voice, and smell. The baby finds itself in a strange new world and wants very badly to be near its mother, preferably near her breasts and face, the better to smell her, hear her voice, and look into her eyes. The mother, who is meeting her baby for the first time after many months of mystery, wants this too. Yet the baby is whisked away for baths, procedures, tests. Longing for skin-to-skin contact and to stare at each other without cameras and other distractions, mother and baby suffer needlessly.
In real birth, mother and baby are left alone in a quiet, dark, warm place. All the hormones they need will spring into action - allowing them to bond, for breastfeeding to start easily, and for the mother to deliver the placenta without excess bleeding - after the umbilical cord has given the baby its last, life-giving dose of blood, nutrients, and oxygen. The final insult of industrial birth, of course, is industrial milk: formula made of non-fat milk powder or soy protein, vegetable oil, and corn syrup. The mother is uniquely equipped to feed her baby real food and the baby uniquely equipped to digest breast milk. Formula is inferior. It is a pity that work and family policies fail to support mothers who nurse and that formula for the babies who simply cannot have breast milk is not better. (It should contain long-chain omega-3 fats, for the baby's brain, but they're not legally required.)
There is an alternative to industrial birth. At prenatal visits, my midwife doesn't do much. She takes my blood pressure and measures my belly. We talk about my health, my state of mind, and the baby. That's it. As for the birth, I am preparing physically and mentally, so that I'm as ready as I can be to let the baby's hormones and mine do what they need to do. That's all.
All being well, the baby will be born right here at home, like I was. Wish us luck.
Meanwhile, here is a reading list to get you started on real birth. On childbirth, I'm a layman - and, until this baby comes, inexperienced, too! Perhaps, like me, you will want to know the facts and see the studies before you make up your mind about how to have your baby. These are the experts.
Reading List for Mothers and Babys
Eat Real Food & Feed Your Baby the Same
(Even raw milk cheese?)
•Real Food: What to Eat & Why
•Nurse Your Baby
•Weston A. Price Foundation (See Children's Health)
Get Physical Exercise
•Exercising Through Your Pregnancy by Dr. James F. Clapp_This comprehensive book is packed with research showing that women who exercise have shorter, easier labor and quicker recovery. Babies do well, too.
•Yoga for Two with Mary Barnes. Yoga is superb for strength, flexibility, breathing, and equanimity during birth. Barnes understands the psychology and phsysiology of pregnancy and labor.
Learn the Facts About Real Birth
•New York Guide to a Healthy Birth by Choices in Childbirth - FREE PDF
•The Complete Book of Pregnancy and Childbirth by Sheila Kitzinger
•Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering by Dr Sarah Buckley
•Birth Reborn by Dr Michel Odent Why undisturbed birth is best for mother and baby.
•Mothering Magazine. Terrific magazine on pregnancy, birth, nursing & mothering. (I've found some great products from the ads, too. For nursing, Glamour Mom tanks and Danish wool breast pads - far better than the cotton ones I tried.)
Touch, Carry & Wear Your Baby
•The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff. Your baby wants to be near your heart, face, eyes, and breasts - not flat on his back in a stroller, staring up at the sky.
•Three in a Bed by Deborah Jackson_Intimacy, easier nursing, and getting more sleep are good reasons to sleep with your baby.
•Diaper Free! by Ingrid Bauer. Newborn babies can let you know when they need to go and you can learn to understand what they're telling you. (We are catching quite a few pees already. Julian will cry before he has to pee - even on waking from a nap.) Toilet independence comes much sooner this way. It's also called 'elimination communication.' For more information, see The EC Store.
Wear Your Baby!
The best way to touch your baby is to wear your baby. Babies who are carried near your body are more calm and content, sleep more peacefully, nurse better, gain weight better, enjoy better digestion, and develop better. There are hundreds of slings and other baby carriers. (I have four, which is not too many.) Look up the January-February 2007 issue of Mothering Magazine.
•Loving Hands: The Traditional Art of Baby Massage by Frederick Leboyer A lovely book about Indian baby massage with gorgeous photos and full of practical advice. Written by the French master of baby desires.
Appreciate Baby Psychology
•Babies Remember Birth by David Chamberlain
Birth can be traumatic or gentle. Understand the difference.
•The Aware Baby by Aletha Solter
Understand why your baby needs to cry - and how to comfort her.
•Baby Signs by Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn
Talk to your baby before your baby can talk.
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