Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Ideal Birth

Do you ever wonder if the natural birth community over-idealise the drug-free natural vaginal birth? The reason I say this is that as a home-birthing mama, I've lately begun to feel some of my own performance anxiety when I read other people's drug-free labour tales. And I'm not the only one: Betsy B. Honest has written a brilliant blog post on birth performance anxiety.

I like to do well at whatever I try; maybe it's because my parents praised me too much (or maybe not enough). It seems faintly ridiculous that anyone should feel pressure to "do well" at birth. Yet I think I speak for more than just myself when I say that we do feel this pressure to have the "right" kind of birth. I used gas and air to help me deal with the most painful part of the first stage of my labour; does that mean I am in any way inferior to someone who manages without any pain relief at all? I don't think so. But the natural birthing community does celebrate the drug-free home birth above all other ways of birthing. They don't mean to say that other ways are less good, but that is perhaps the message that they give.

A "good" birth is one on which the mother and baby are healthy, alert, unharmed and happy. This is physically best for the baby, enables the mother to recover quickly and gives them the best possible chance of establishing breastfeeding successfully. A drug-free home birth certainly achieves this, but it is not the only way. Sometimes mothers feel safer in hospitals and sometimes it is best that they are there just in case something goes wrong. Sometimes the judicious and timely use of pain medication may enable a mother to have the birth she desires. I am not ignoring the fact that the use of pain relief can trigger a "spiral of intervention", but sometimes it can help rather than hinder. Here is a lovely birth story of a lady who says that without pain relief and hypnobirthing to help her through a long and difficult back labour, she believes she would have ended up having a c-section.

Do you remember a couple of years ago when the press blamed the pressure to breastfeed on a woman's suicide? It was a typical piece of media sensationalism but the truth is that breastfeeding difficulties (not pressure to breastfeed) can contribute to the emergence of post-natal depression. A traumatic birth can equally lead to PND. I wonder if a failure of the childbirth experience to live up to the longed-for "ideal" can also contribute to depression?

All I am saying is that if we raise women's expectations of birth too high, they are more likely to be disappointed with their real-life experiences. Midwives tell us to expect the unexpected, and though I believe strongly that women should prepare and plan for a natural birth, it is also necessary to understand that sometimes things don't go to plan. Painful and dangerous childbirth is a consequence of our babies' large heads and our bipedalism, and it is only our large intelligent brains that have allowed us to develop methods to overcome the dangers inherent in human childbirth and reduce the maternal death rate. So I think it is wrong to assume that all interventions are automatically "unnatural". I am sure that humans have been looking for ways to ease our babies' paths into the world for as long as we have been on the earth.

Perhaps all I really want to say is that the drug-free home birthing experience is great if that's what you want, but that other satisfying birth experiences should be valued equally highly. Anything that is healthy for mother and baby should be celebrated.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Brain Fry

I was going to write something deep and meaningful about the over-idealisation of natural birth or perhaps my increasing understanding of my body's slow return to postpartum fertility.

But my brain is fried, so maybe you can help me answer life's really important questions, like:

Why am I wearing two pair of knickers? (OK, the answer is that Cave Baby offered me a pair when I had already put my pants on, and she said "Bum bum" so authoritatively that I had no choice but to put them on. Then I forgot and put my tights on top).

How do you keep a coat on a toddler who has learnt to take it off?

Is it a bad idea to let my toddler play with open boxes of breakfast cereal just so I can do the washing up?

And does the fact that I cleaned the living room yesterday have any bearing on the answer to the previous question?

Is singing the "Baa baa baa, baa Babybel" jingle all around the supermarket a sign of madness, or is it acceptable for those with small children?

Eating crisps with a fork: can anyone explain why?

Maybe you'll get something more coherent later in the week. Maybe not. Ta ta!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Male Perspective on Co-Sleeping

I told Cave Father about the co-sleeping essay contest and asked him to write something for the fathers' category. To my surprise, he really liked the idea and he dashed these paragraphs off in ten minutes while I was getting Cave Baby to sleep. What I love about his essay is the way his acceptance and enjoyment of co-sleeping comes through loud and clear. He's normally a man of few words, and even when pushed he doesn't really say too much about our parenting choices. We try to make joint decisions, but, if I'm honest, it's usually more a case of me making the decisions and then checking that he doesn't object.

So, for your reading pleasure, here are Cave Father's thoughts on co-sleeping.
I don't think about co-sleeping much. It's just something that we do. After a few weeks of sleepless nights we figured out that our daughter didn't like the idea of sleeping on her own in an empty cot. Shame we didn't figure it out straight away.

Not many people agree with us. Friends and family are convinced that we are crazy. After a while though you find out that a lot of them ended up co-sleeping to various degrees. Why are they ashamed of it? I think it's great. You don't have to get up in the middle of the night to comfort your baby when she is teething. No need for Mum to stay awake half the night breast-feeding, just manoeuvre baby to the boob and she will happily suck away until full. First thing in the morning when you are dreading the idea of going to work you can play with baby instead from the comfort of a warm bed.

Bed time becomes fun instead of something to fear. She even wants to go to bed - well, sometimes. But at least if it is one of those difficult evenings when the baby energy levels seem never ending, all you have to do is go to bed, turn off the lights and 20 minutes later she will be asleep. OK, sex is a bit tricky but I guess that is why they invented the sofa!

By the way, when he talks about manoeuvring the baby to the breast in the middle of the night, that's him doing the manoeuvring! Sometimes I sleep so deeply that I don't stir when Cave Baby cries and it is him that wakes up, puts her on the breast and sees that she settles back down. Now that is a real benefit of co-sleeping!

You can read my co-sleeping essay here and enter one of your own by clicking here.

What does your partner think about co-sleeping?

Monday, March 22, 2010

My Co-Sleeping Essay

I finally got round to writing my entry for the co-sleeping essay competition. So here, in 247 words, are my thoughts on how we intended to use a crib, and chose not to.

Our moses basket was dressed in soft beige velvet sprinkled with applique teddy bears. It sat on a wooden stand that my partner had lovingly crafted. A handsome pine crib stood in the nursery waiting expectantly for its owner to be born. We had scarcely given a thought to how we would care for our first baby, let alone where she would sleep. But we knew that other babies slept in cribs so that is where we expected ours to go.

How wrong we were! After less than 24 hours of life it became clear that our little girl was determined to teach us a thing or two about nighttime parenting. There was no way she was sleeping in that basket! It took us just three nights to discover that the only way she would be prepared to sleep - and to let us sleep - was nestled in bed beside her mummy.

Like many parents, we were initially worried that we were doing the wrong thing by sleeping with our baby. But we soon realised that we were in fact giving her exactly what she needed: warmth, comfort, protection and the opportunity to feed whenever she wanted. What was even better was that I got to sleep through the night without getting up once, and my partner got to wake up to his daughter's beautiful smile each morning.

Eighteen months later we are still sharing peaceful, happy nights with our little one in our new, kingsize bed.

You can read Cave Father's perspective on co-sleeping by clicking here.

The closing date for the competition is 23rd March so there is still time to enter your own essay - click here for entry details.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Parental Pat on the Back

Every parent needs a pat on the back every so often. And if nobody else is going to give you one, you may as well give it to yourself. We are all our own harshest critics, but if you can find it within yourself to feel good about one little thing each day, then you are probably doing a much better job than you realise.

This sounds like a good idea for a meme doesn't it? I may or may not repeat this at regular or irregular intervals; let's just see what happens.

Here is my pat on the back for today. This morning I took Cave Baby to buy new shoes. Sounds easy? It would have been, had I not made the mistake a month ago of taking her to buy shoes when she was feeling poorly. The mere sight of the shoe measuring lady turned her into a screaming animal. We left without shoes but with a new found fear of foot measurers.

So, on to today. I had waited long enough since shoe-gate that I thought she might have forgotten all about it. Not so. Once again the crying started the minute the innocent-looking measuring device was produced. I thought we could maybe Face The Fear And Do It Anyway so I encouraged the lady to measure her feet despite the crying. We got a rough idea of her size, but she was left thoroughly traumatised by the event. Not wanting to give up, I let the lady fetch some shoes while I did my best to calm her down. We tried a bit of nursing first (I'll get my boobs out anywhere nowadays). That got her quiet until the new shoes appeared. Shoe trying was definitely not going to happen with her in that state, so I pulled out all the tactics at my disposal: carrying her around the shop, talking to old ladies, looking in the mirrors, bouncing on the chairs, taking her outside - you know the drill. Eventually, after a good 20 minutes, I managed to get her to sit on my knee, near the new shoes, without bursting into tears.

We continued to persevere, and after another 10 minutes I managed to get shoes on her and get her to walk in them! It was slow going, but my baby managed to try on about four pairs without complaining. And much to my horror, she took a shine to the garish purple patent ones with lights that flash when you walk.

So why am I proud of this? Well I could have given up again, but we managed to navigate this little shoe buying storm and by the end of the visit she didn't want to leave the shop. It may have taken an hour, but I guided her through an event which, to her, was frightening. She's delighted with her new shoes and I hope that next time she will remember that there is a reward at the end of the process. And did I buy her the tasteful brown pair with funky pink stitching? Did I heck. I went for the yucky purple patent flashy ones. They're for her, not me, and I respect her wishes.

Just think for a minute, and I bet you can come up with something parenting-related that you did this week that you're proud of. I'd love it if you told me in the comments, and it might just make you feel good too!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Do You Love Co-Sleeping?

If you've been here before, you'll know I don't post product reviews and giveaways and I don't plug other websites just because they have asked me to. But I thought I'd make an exception for a co-sleeping essay competition that I was emailed about. If you love co-sleeping, and you love to tell everyone about it, then this could be for you.

A company called Humanity Organics has compiled a book of parents' positive co-sleeping experiences called Are You Co-Sleeping? Me Too!. They are looking to add a short introduction to each of the book's seven chapters and you, my friends, have the opportunity to write these introductions.

The good news is that if they pick you, you win a co-sleeping aid thingy. (By the way I checked it out, and it is not one of those baby positioner things that actually separate you from your baby. It is essentially a large, thick sheet with a roll of foam attached to one side so you can put it on your bed, lie on it and the foam stops the baby falling out of bed. Actually it looks like quite a good idea, and they are not giving me ANYTHING free to make me say that.)

Essays must be no more than 250 words long and should be on one of the following subjects:

1. Oppression or negativity you received (Mother-in-law, parents, media, doctors, general society).
2. How bed-sharing enriched your parenting experience.
3. How bed-sharing helped breastfeeding (extended duration, adverse physical limitations, etc.).
4. How they got better sleep.
5. A Dad's perspective, written by a Dad.
6. How it saved your child's life.
7. How you intended to use a crib, and chose not to.

The bad news is that you only have until 20th March. But since they only emailed me today, maybe they're short of entries! To enter you just write your essay and submit it here.

I'll take the "How you intended to use a crib and chose not to" one! Best of luck.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Thoughts on Childbirth

I am sitting on front of "One Born Every Minute", a documentary series on childbirth. It's the first time I have seen it and I quite literally cannot watch the babies being born without crying. It was the same when I was pregnant; give me good births, bad births, high definition or grainy Youtube footage and I'll cry. I thought the crying might have stopped since I gave birth myself but it evidently hasn't.

I don't know how some ladies manage to watch birth video after birth video when they are pregnant. For me, they are just too loaded with emotion. Even having been there and done that once, it still scares the hell out of me. And I had a good experience! The day after I gave birth I thought "I want to do that again!", but 18 months later the fear has returned. How much did it hurt me? Did I make as much noise as the ladies on television? Did my labour hurt more or less than theirs? Would things go as well if I did it again? Would I breathe through my contractions more calmly or would I shout the house down all over again?

Television has also provided lots of birth footage via "Lambing Live", a bizarre show in which springy haired wildlife presenter Kate Humble delivers spring lambs live on air (if any sheep are cooperative enough to coincide their labours with the one hour broadcasting slot). What strikes me about this programme is how much the farmers know about natural birth. If things are progressing as normal, they leave the sheep alone to get on with her labour. When the lambs are born they place them in front of the sheep so she can lick them clean. They know how important it is for bonding that the lamb is given to its mum immediately after birth. They quietly watch on to check that suckling takes place soon after birth and they see it as essential that each lamb gets a bellyfull of colostrum before they go to sleep. If a lamb does not suckle spontaneously, they help it to latch on, and if that does not work then they milk the sheep and give the colostrum to her lamb through a feeding tube. Nursing is valued highly because it produces stronger, healthier lambs and is cheaper and less labour intensive than bottle feeding.

All of these practices are equally important in human births. But during the twentieth century we managed to convince ourselves that unnatural practices like keeping babies in hospital nurseries and formula feeding were beneficial. We went so far away from what is natural and instinctive that expensive academic research was required in order to persuade us that skin-to-skin contact is good, and mother's milk is far better than any artificial alternative. What a waste of time and money, when farmers could have set us straight all along!

Now be honest - do you cry at birth videos too? And are you as scared as me?

Photo from

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing

You can be as convinced of the benefits of natural parenting as you like, but don't you sometimes have moments when you wonder if things really will turn out all right? When little worries about being different start to snowball into bigger worries, and you need a boost to make you feel good about your choices? I just read a book that has given me that shot in the arm I needed. It's called Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing an was written by a lady called Sheila Kippley back in the late 1960s.

I've written before about how I am concerned about my continuing infertility following childbirth. I gave birth 18 months ago and have yet to see the return of my periods. So I went looking for more information on breastfeeding amenorrhea (absence of menstruation) and found this book that was recommended by La Leche League.

The book did not give me any more information on the biological mechanisms that are keeping me in amenorrhea. But what it did brilliantly was reassure me that my experience is completely normal for a mother following the "seven standards of ecological breastfeeding". More than this, it reminded me, on almost every page, that I am doing a good thing by giving my time, my love and my milk without restriction to my daughter.

So what are the seven standards? They are:
  1. Breastfeed exclusively for the first six months, giving no water, juice or food;

  2. Allow your baby to suckle for comfort as well as nutrition and do not restrict its time at the breast;

  3. Don't use bottles or dummies;

  4. Sleep with your baby at night;

  5. Lie down with your baby to get it to sleep for a nap during the day;

  6. Nurse frequently day and night and do not schedule feedings;

  7. Avoid separation from your baby.

This programme is 99% effective in avoiding pregnancy for the first six months postpartum. After this, there is a 6% chance that a nursing mother will become pregnant before having a period. When menstruation resumes, infertility may still persist for several months. Most women can expect to go without periods for some time between nine and twenty months postpartum.

The figure of 14.6 months as the average length of amenorrhea originates from this book, and actually refers to mothers who are following the seven standards. The actual time you spend without periods can vary according to your body chemistry, age (older women go longer) and how much your baby likes sucking. I am unintentionally following the seven standards, I am 31 and I have a high needs baby who really likes suckling, so I guess it's no wonder that I'm coming in a little above average.

A thing many natural parenting books suffer from is the need to constantly justify why natural practices are good. Nobody ever questioned Gina Ford as to why it was good for a baby to sleep through the night at 6 weeks, but it seems that extended breastfeeding and co-sleeping need to be explained repeatedly. This book gets around this problem very neatly because it is actually about child spacing. It basically says, "If you want as long as possible without periods, this is what you do. Oh and by the way, this is a really good way to bring up your child." Science justifies the advice, but experience shows that it is a wonderful way to meet a child's emotional and physical needs. A long amenorrhea is clearly nature's way of allowing a woman's body to prepare for the next pregnancy, while giving her child as much time as possible with its mother before it has to compete for attention with the next baby. Evolution has made us this way because it helps us to survive, and this in itself is a good justification for following a natural parenting approach.

The book made me realise how much our attitudes towards natural parenting have changed in 40 years, but also how far we still have to go until these healthy practices are fully accepted by society. Some bits are quite shocking, like doctors advising that babies should be given cereals at two weeks of age, and the author recalling how her breasts were bound tightly after birth. I am glad that breastfeeding in public has become a little more acceptable and that doctors now "allow" us to give birth naturally, but we still have a long way to go in convincing mothers that babies do not need food before six months and that breastfeeding beyond a year is a good idea.

What I did not like about the book was its Catholic undercurrent. I'm not religious and I don't buy a book on breastfeeding in order to be lectured about the evils of contraception. The religious bits could put a lot of people off the book, but I'm glad I read it because I've been walking about on a bit of a cloud of happiness ever since I picked it up. I'm happy because I know I'm not the first person to be totally attached to my baby, to breastfeed her to sleep every day and every night and to want to stay with her all the time. Even if I sometimes have a hard time explaining to other people why I bring up my baby like this, I know that lots of mums have done it before me and raved about it.

Forty years ago, mothers were saying exactly the same things about natural parenting as we are now, and that really comforts me and gives me a stronger conviction that I am doing the right thing after all.

Do you know what I mean about needing a boost every so often to convince you that you're doing the best for your child? Can you recommend a book that gave you the shot in the arm that you needed? Have you experienced a long amenorrhea? All comments gratefully received!