Despite flame retardant and other chemicals found in breast milk, breast is still best

Cross-posted at BlogHer

When I made the decision to breastfeed my children, I did so confident in the knowledge that I was doing the best thing for both their health and mine. After all, studies have consistently shown there are numerous health benefits to both mother and baby. What I didn’t consider was that by simply living in the United States, my breast milk might contain toxic chemicals like flame retardant, rocket fuel, Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs), and pesticides. Indeed over the past several years, studies have come out to show that these chemicals have been found in the breast milk of American women. Yes, when my dear son nurses, he is getting all of the nutrients a growing boy needs, as well as flame retardant, in my milk. Gulp.

A study of the breast milk of American women published by the Environmental Working Group in 2003 found “unexpectedly high levels” of chemical fire retardants in every participant tested.

The average level of bromine-based fire retardants in the milk of 20 first-time mothers was 75 times the average found in recent European studies. Milk from two study participants contained the highest levels of fire retardants ever reported in the United States, and milk from several of the mothers in EWG’s study had among the highest levels of these chemicals yet detected worldwide.

Unfortunately, this is only one of many studies showing a variety of toxins in breast milk.

While the news of these chemicals in breast milk is shocking and disturbing to most moms, doctors and experts agree that the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh the risks and breast is still best.

breastfeedingThe Environmental Working Group notes that for mothers who are concerned about their exposure to toxic chemicals, it may be even more important to breastfeed. “In fact, careful study of babies’ toxic exposures indicates that it might be even more important for mothers who are concerned about their exposure to toxic chemicals to breastfeed their babies.”

Several long-term studies have followed groups of babies exposed to PCBs in-utero and found that the breastfed babies appear to be less impacted by the chemical exposures than their bottle-fed counterparts.

After growing concerned about the results found in another study regarding Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) in U.S. mothers’ milk, Libby at The Toxic Sandbox began to wonder if it was wise to breastfeed. She called Dr. David Carpenter at the University Albany School of Public Health to get some answers.

Q: Given everything we know about PCBs and PBDEs, should we breastfeed our babies?

DR. CARPENTER: There is overwhelming evidence that breastfeeding has important benefits, improving immune function in the child, protecting against chronic diseases even when the child grows to adulthood, and promoting bonding between the mother and the child. While the presence of these contaminants in breast milk is not a good thing, under almost all circumstances breastfeeding has greater benefit than risk.

Tanya, a mother and lactivist who blogs at The Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog, had the opportunity to ask Dr. Kathleen Arcaro, an environmental toxicologist from the University of Massachusetts, about environmental toxics in breast milk.

Q: You also study environmental toxics in breast milk. Can you describe any trends you’re seeing in the concentrations of toxics in breast milk?

DR. KATHLEEN ARCARO: The good news is that the concentration of some lipophilic (fat-loving) environmental pollutants in breast milk is decreasing. For instance the level of many pesticides (DDT and its metabolites) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) has greatly decreased over the last 30 years. However, the levels of some other compounds used in household and personal care products including flame retardants and synthetic musks are increasing. In general, if a compound does not easily degrade, and accumulates in fatty tissue it is likely it will be in breast milk. But considering that the pollutants are widely distributed and therefore are in cow’s milk and formula, breast milk clearly remains the best food for most infants.

While the use of chemical fire retardants are widespread in the United States and are included in everything from furniture and mattresses, to computers and children’s pajamas, many have been banned in Europe and even in California, though “the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has set no safety standards or other regulations for their manufacture, use or disposal.”

Although the government is not placing any restrictions on the use of these chemicals yet, there are steps we can take to reduce our family’s exposure to these toxins.

Divine Caroline wrote a list of the top chemicals polluting our children and how to avoid them.

Amanda at Hippie Mommy quotes a study that show the levels of pesticides in vegetarian mothers’ breast milk is far less than average and advocates a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.

I think that anything that we can do to improve the quality of our breastmilk (and our personal health) is fantastic, and these statistics are another great reason to consider a vegetarian or vegan diet.

Stacy Malkan at Not Just a Pretty Face writes about Mary Brune, who, when she heard about the study that found rocket fuel in breast milk, “didn’t just get mad; she got together with other new mothers and launched a nationwide effort to get toxic chemicals out of breast milk – called Making Our Milk Safe (MOMS).”

Making Our Milk Safe is “working to build a massive movement of mothers and others who will step out from behind the changing table and speak out against the presence of toxins in our environment, our bodies, and breast milk.” MOMS works through promoting precaution, supporting progressive legislation, changing corporate behavior, and educating consumers. They also have a list of tips that women can do both before and during pregnancy to limit their exposure to toxins.

Like it or not, for now these chemicals are out there in our environment. We can do our best to avoid them, and to support legislation to ban them, but in the meantime we should rest assured that by breastfeeding, we are still doing what’s best for our children.

Photo credit: More4Kids

Many maternal deaths are preventable

I’m over at BlogHer today writing about Many African Maternal Deaths are Preventable, Bush Provides Malaria Relief. A recent study revealed that a surprisingly large number of deaths among pregnant women in developing nations are from infectious diseases such as malaria, as opposed to from pregnancy-related illnesses. The findings suggest that many of these deaths are preventable.

Check it out if you get a moment.

Helping African girls stay in school – one pad at a time?

Cross-posted at BlogHer

In 2007 FemCare, the Procter & Gamble (P&G) unit that makes Always pads and Tampax tampons, started a program called “Protecting Futures” to donate Always disposable sanitary pads to girls in southern Africa in hopes of keeping African girls in school. In Africa, where adequate menstrual supplies are generally nonexistent, it is not uncommon for girls to use newspapers, rags or camel skin to try contain their period. Rather than risk the embarrassment of bleeding through their clothes, many girls stay home from school during their cycle each month, which can lead to them falling behind in their studies and possibly dropping out of school altogether. Always, as well as Tampax currently have commercials encouraging people to buy their products to help these African girls stay in school. Two of the commercials can be viewed here.

In addition to donating disposable sanitary pads, P&G will donate fresh water; build bathrooms near the schools so the girls have access to privacy and incinerators to deal with the waste that will be generated from the disposable pads, packaging, etc.; start a health, hygiene and puberty education program; and provide the girls with healthcare.

What’s in it for P&G a New York Times article asks.

A great deal, marketing experts say. For one, girls who use free pads today can turn into paying customers when they grow out of the school programs. They could persuade their mothers and aunts to use the products.

“When you need to change a culture, it’s good strategy to start with the younger generation,” said Jill Avery, an assistant professor of marketing at the Simmons School of Management.

And the program sits well with the Kenyan government, which has cut tariffs on Procter’s sanitary pads. Lisa Jones Christensen, an assistant professor at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina, who is familiar with Procter’s philanthropy programs, says that Procter receives special treatment when its containers hit Kenya’s docks.

“No one is saying, ‘Just unload the pads, leave the boxes of Tide,’ ” she said. “This program is giving P&G a license to operate in Africa for all its products.”

There is a payback in the developed world, too. “The idea of keeping an African girl in school resonates strongly with our consumers,” Ms. Vaeth said.

They aren’t the only skeptics. A. at A Changing Life wonders what the girls will do once they no longer have access to the pads.

I started to wonder if Tampax or Always are really suited to a life of poverty or near-poverty in rural sub-Saharan Africa. The costs of continuing provision will be high and who will cover those costs when the girls leave school? How will they manage when the facilities provided at the school are no longer available to them? I can’t help feeling that there is little altruism in Procter & Gamble’s efforts, and that they are hoping to turn the girls into paying customers.

Vanessa at Green As A Thistle feels P&G “are missing the bigger picture.”

I mean, it’s great that they want to help girls out with this difficult time of the month and make sure they stay in school, but is the best way to do that with bleached wads of cotton and disposable plastic? It made me fret, I must say.

Maia at Touchingly Naive believes it is wrong to push Western products on these women and “to make women in developing countries believe (as we already believe) that they need Western pads and tampons instead of more sustainable and/or traditional solutions.”

What do you think? Does Procter & Gamble have any business getting involved here, whether it is in the name of education or not? Could they be causing more harm than good?

Goods for GirlsDeanna Duke of Crunchy Chicken took issue with the environmental impact of all of the disposable pads (and possible pollutants emitted from the incinerators) and, after mulling it over on her blog, decided to take action. She started Goods 4 Girls, a web site to organize the collection and distribution of new reusable menstrual pads to African girls.

Goods 4 Girls was started to seek out donors to sew or purchase new, reusable menstrual pads for donations to areas of Africa where these products are needed most. Providing reusable supplies not only provides a more environmentally friendly alternative for these young women (in areas of adequate water supply for washing), it reduces their dependence on outside aid organizations to continue providing for their monthly needs. Working in concert with aid and relief organizations, we identify areas of need and have the ability to distribute the donations where they are most needed.

Some might wonder why Goods 4 Girls is focusing on reusable menstrual pads rather than menstrual cups like the DivaCup or Keeper. Deanna says it is “because of potential hygiene issues, using a reusable menstrual product that gets inserted into the body requires additional education and “processing” such as cleaning the cup with boiled water. Additionally, we are culturally sensitive to potential taboos with young girls using an insertable product.” That and other questions are answered in the FAQ.

Goods 4 Girls has received positive responses from several organizations, but one of the primary ones they will be working with is located in Uganda. The relief organization had this to say about the current situation in their country:

The girls’ problems in South Africa are not different from those in Uganda, except that it is worse here. We recently watched a TV program which highlighted this problem in the villages to the extent that some children missed their end of year exams because of their inability to contain their menstrual outflows or had never even used a pad at all!

Your offer has come at the right time and we pledge our full support and cooperation in this endeavor. Our target areas are firstly and foremost the schools both in towns and villages, with the latter taking priority.

If you are interested in learning more about Goods 4 Girls and how you can help, I encourage you to read more here. To add a banner to your site and help spread the word, please see the contact page.

Midwives, home birth proven safe – contrary to ACOG’s false assertion

Today I’m writing over at BlogHer about the recent statement by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reiterating their stance opposing home birth and Certified Professional Midwives. The ACOG suggests that women are choosing to birth at home because it’s “fashionable” and “trendy” and accuse moms of placing the birth experience over the health of their baby. They say home birth is unsafe and fail to acknowledge rigorous scientific studies (and current practices in other countries) proving the contrary, that midwifery and home birth are safe practices. In other words, instead of being an advocate for women’s health (as they claim they are), they do a nice job of perpetuating FUD – Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt.

The truth is the ACOG is getting nervous because women are talking, thinking and questioning the status quo.

I hope you will head on over to BlogHer to read my thoughts and detailed research on this subject.

The Big Push for Midwives Campaign 2008

Cross-posted over at BlogHers Act.

Obama, Clinton, McCain, Romney, Paul and Huckabee aren’t the only ones hitting the campaign trail this winter. Thanks to a nonpartisan coalition of consumer advocates, The Big Push for Midwives – a campaign of a different variety, but equally as important – is pushing for the regulation and licensure of Certified Professional Midwives (CPMs) in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

Midwife with mother and babyAccording to The Chicago Tribune, “Certified professional midwives, who are lay practitioners specializing in home births, are banned in 26 states… They fall under a different legal classification than certified nurse-midwives, advanced practice nurses who are licensed in all 50 states and work mainly in hospitals.”

Why is this important?

We live in an age where surgical birth via cesarean section (which is full of risks to both the mother and the baby) is becoming more and more common, while physiological birth (where labor starts spontaneously, progresses spontaneously without drugs, and birth happens spontaneously) is almost unheard of in many hospitals. Yet many women want the option of a physiological birth with a trained care provider (midwife) in a birthing center or in their own home. However, because of current laws, that option is not always available.

I believe that all women deserve the right to choose a maternity care provider that is best for their needs which is why The Big Push for Midwives is so important.

The Big Push for Midwives is a nationally coordinated campaign to advocate for regulation and licensure of Certified Professional Midwives (CPMs) in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and to push back against the attempts of the American Medical Association Scope of Practice Partnership to deny American families access to legal midwifery care.

Our goals are to fully integrate the Midwives Model of Care into the health care systems of our states, to highlight the importance of family healthcare choices and to defend the ability of CPMs to provide legal and safe prenatal, birth and postpartum care to families in every state. Childbirth activists from the campaign’s participating states are pooling their collective resources and experience to coordinate and optimize advocacy efforts during 2008.

Amie Newman at RH Reality Check links midwifery and home birth with the rest of reproductive freedom, and believes that women should have the right to childbirth choices just as they do the right to abortion choices.

Hmmm. Sounds like reproductive justice to me. Substitute “abortion access” for “Midwives Model of Care,” “abortion providers” for “CPMs,” and “abortion care” for “prenatal, birth and postpartum care” and you can see how the underlying issues are essentially the same whether you’re talking about abortion rights or childbirth choices.

That is, whether we’re talking about provider choices for childbirth or access to abortion, it is not too much to ask that wherever women live in this nation, the options for reproductive health care are not effectively criminalized in some states and legal in others.

Jennifer Block at Pushed Birth notes that:

… the research data, as well as other countries that are caring for women and babies better than we are, show that midwives should be supporting normal labor and deliveries (the majority), while MDs should be caring for the complications, emergencies, and women with risk factors. This “division of labor” also happens to be far more cost-effective than our current system, which bleeds more cash for less care than any other in the world. The bottom line from a public health perspective: home-birth midwives should be legitimate care providers, not criminals.

Erika of Inspired Mama Musings headed out on her birthday of Jan. 24 with her two kids in tow to a peaceful protest at the capitol building in Idaho to support her local midwives, a cause that’s near and dear to her heart.

I am very fortunate and blessed to have had births attended by midwives and my hope is that the women and families of Idaho will always have that option.

Idaho is just one of 20 states that are introducing legislation or have legislation in the planning stages. Pennsylvania is another.

Annette of Natural Childhood also attended a rally supporting midwives at the capitol in Harrisburg, Penn., and included several pictures from the rally on her blog.

Our Bodies, Ourselves is also a supporter of The Big Push.

“This is the perfect time to insist that women in all communities have access to the option of midwifery care,” said Executive Director Judy Norsigian. “This would lower the number of unnecessary cesareans and enable many more women to enjoy the benefits of active support during labor and birth.”

Also worth noting is the book “Our Bodies, Ourselves: Pregnancy and Birth” is due out in March and includes information about the benefits of midwifery. And there’s a great article on the Our Bodies, Ourselves web site that compares and contrasts the type of care typically provided by midwives vs. that provided by obstetricians.

The Midwives Model of Care, based on the fact that pregnancy and birth are normal life processes, is a fundamentally different approach to pregnancy and childbirth and is in stark contrast to the standard Medical Model of Care. “The application of this woman-centered model of care has been proven to reduce the incidence of birth injury, trauma, and cesarean section.”

If you’re interested in advocating on behalf of licensing CPMs in your state, please check the list of state organizations and their various discussion lists and websites, where you can find out more information about how to get involved. If your state isn’t on this list and you’d like to get involved, you may email Katie Prown and she can point you to additional resources. You may also make a donation to The Big Push for Midwives Campaign.

Photo credit: Thanks to Homestyle Midwifery Care for this beautiful image.

Morning Sickness – beneficial to mother and baby?

Cross-posted today at BlogHer: BlogHers Act. As always, I welcome comments over there. Makes me feel loved special like someone is actually reading. 😉

Morning sicknessWhen I became pregnant with my first child after a 13-month long roller-coaster ride of trying to conceive (including two rounds of IUI – intrauterine insemination), I admit that at first I welcomed morning sickness with open arms. However it didn’t take long for the novelty to wear off and it became a sort of love-hate relationship. I loved the dry heaves I experienced every morning for the first trimester of my pregnancy for the reassurance they provided me that a life really was growing within me. But I also loathed the waves of nausea that lasted most of the day, especially when I needed to carry on with my 9 to 5 job, business as usual.

I think for most women, morning sickness is a mixed bag – a blessing and a curse if you will. It would be nice to know that those barfy feelings are somehow contributing to towards a healthy pregnancy, wouldn’t it?

I recently came upon a study (from 2000) that shows morning sickness does, in fact, serve an actual beneficial function for both mama and baby, which may be some consolation to the women currently in the throes of it. According to the study performed by Cornell University evolutionary biologists Samuel M. Flaxman and Paul W. Sherman, morning sickness, or what they report as NVP (nausea and vomiting in pregnancy), “is Mother Nature’s way of protecting both mother and fetus from food-born illness and also shielding the fetus from chemicals that can deform fetal organ at the most critical time in development.”

The analysis of hundreds of studies covering tens of thousands of pregnancies suggests that morning sickness and the aversion to potentially harmful foods is the body’s way of preserving wellness of the mother at a time when her immune system is naturally suppressed (to prevent rejection of the child that is developing in her uterus) and has reduced defenses against food-borne pathogens.

By creating food aversion, NVP also protects against toxins from microorganisms and other teratogenic (fetal organ-deforming) chemicals, Sherman says. “At that same time, in the first trimester of pregnancy, the cells of the tiny embryo are differentiating and starting to form structures. Those developing structures and organ systems — such as arms and legs, eyes and the central nervous system — at this critical stage of a new life could be adversely affected by the teratogenic phytochemicals in some food plants,” Sherman says. These chemicals are secondary compounds that plants make to defend themselves against disease and insects.

I’d like to think that if I were pregnant these findings would make me slightly more appreciative of my daily dry heaves. Of course that’s easy for me to say now since my cereal stays down every morning.

Steph at Adventures in Babywearing, on the other hand, who recently announced that she’s expecting baby number four, is dealing with morning sickness and would rather be in bed than keeping up with housework. Hey, I feel that way most days too and I’m not even pregnant. 😉

I am first of all, really excited about being preggy for the first time as a blogger. Kinda cool. Except that so far I do not even feel like sitting here at the computer. I’d rather be under the covers in my bed. And that’s pretty much where I’ve been. I am taking each chance that I actually feel well to catch up on housework that’s been neglected while I do nothing and try to get my mind off this stomach that is torturing my every waking moment. Poor hubby came out of the shower with an elephant hoody towel yesterday. So laundry is at the top of the list.

And Marie at Makes and Takes wants to know who named it morning sickness anyway?

I am sorry, but most pregnant people I know can say that “morning sickness” is not only in the morning. Who ever came up with that term should be tortured. … I am better now [with morning sickness] than at the beginning, but I think I have finally come to terms that it is never going away. And until my belly started to pop out, I was under the impression that I had a serious illness. Thankfully, there is a baby inside and eventually the “morning sickness” will have to end, at least come June.

Marie would probably appreciate this, also from the article.

Acknowledging what most women already know, Sherman points out that the term morning sickness, “is a complete misnomer…NVP doesn’t occur just in the morning but at any time during the waking hours, and it’s not a sickness in the pathological sense.” He adds that, “we should change the name to wellness insurance.”

Julie at Pinkmorning asks “Are you kidding me?” after discovering that the medicine she was prescribed to help with her morning sickness has side effects including nausea and vomiting! Now that’s just wrong.

so my doctor prescribed me some medicine to help ease my nausea since i haven’t been able to keep much down and at my thirteen week appointment my morning sickness had not yet started to subside. i was reading the information on this medicine and the side effects include: dizziness, drowsiness, dry mouth, nausea, blurred vision, and vomiting…are you kidding me?? so to help with my nausea, i was prescribed a medicine that has nausea and vomiting as side effects?? i found this laughable, but decided to give it a whirl anyway because i am so tired of feeling sick. my doctor said i should know within a few days if it was working or not. so a few days after taking it, i was sicker than i was before…throwing up multiple times at work and at home…i stopped taking it but have not started feeling better at all.

Poor Julie. That sounds so miserable. Hopefully she will start feeling better on her own very soon or perhaps find a natural remedy to make it a little more bearable.

There’s much more to the study than I’ve reported here, and it’s definitely worth a read if you are pregnant and dealing with NVP or know someone who is. It’s really quite fascinating the way a woman’s body can take care of her and her unborn child.

The biologists say that ultimately pregnant women should “listen to their bodies” when deciding what they should or should not eat. That’s sound advice on so many levels. I couldn’t agree more.

Photo credit: Jupiter Images

Birth doulas make a difference

“If a doula were a drug, it would be unethical not to use it.” — John H. Kennell, MD

If I could do my daughter’s birth all over again – a birth that, because of a pregnancy complication I developed (HELLP syndrome), included numerous interventions – I would have hired a doula. I’d done my birth homework and for some reason I didn’t think I needed one nor could afford one, but as I have since learned, having the right doula at your birth can be worth her weight in gold. I think if I had had a doula present at Ava’s birth, I would have come away from the experience feeling like I had been better informed (we were left in the dark about so many things) and more of an active participant in my labor instead of a passive recipient. But as the saying goes, live and learn. I have learned and now I will share what I’ve learned with you.

Doula (pronounced doo-la) is a Greek word meaning “woman’s servant.” Doulas are trained and experienced in childbirth, though they do not handle the medical aspects of it; those are reserved for a midwife or doctor. The role of a birth doula is to provide support for the woman and her partner during labor and birth. This support may include physical support such as suggesting different positions for laboring, giving massages or instructing the woman’s partner how to massage her, breathing with her, getting food and drinks for the woman and her partner, etc.; emotional support in the form of reassurance and comfort; as well as informational support such as explaining different medical options, risks and benefits, and possibly suggesting natural techniques to achieve the same results. It is often said that a doula mothers the mother.

The ‘Enjoy Birth’ blog has a post called “Get a birth doula” that explains the type of support a doula can offer including:

Resource for Comfort Measures: Having a doula is like having your very own talking birthing guide. Doulas know what can help during birth and how to do it. Your doula can either perform these comfort measures herself, or help your family or friends to support you with comfort measures. Your birth partners will feel more confident knowing that they are doing the right thing.
Constant Encourager: A doula not only encourages the mother to keep going, but she encourages the labor support to keep going as well. The process of labor can sometimes be long. A doula can keep you and your partner focused during the most intense part of labor.
Helps Explain Options: A doula is also a source of information about ways to handle your birth. Medical attendants don’t always have time to get into all the options available, and rarely give all the risks and benefits for the options they do give. A doula can help you understand what options are available, and what the pros and cons are. This can help you make better informed decisions.

There are many benefits to having a doula attend your birth.

Proven Benefits of Doula Care

Decreased medical intervention in labor*:

  • Reduces need for cesarean by 50%
  • Reduces length of labor by 25%
  • Reduces use of artificial oxytocin (pitocin) by 40%
  • Reduces pain medication use by 30%
  • Reduces the need for forceps by 40%
  • Reduces epidural requests by 60%

Six weeks after birth, mothers who had doulas were**:

  • Less anxious and depressed
  • Had more confidence with baby
  • More satisfied w/ partner (71% vs 30%)
  • More likely to be breastfeeding (52% vs. 29%)

*These statistics appear in A Doula Makes the Difference by Nugent in Mothering Magazine, March-April 1998.
**Statistics from What is a Doula?

Photo courtesy Tammra McCauley
Photo courtesy Tammra McCauley

I’ve heard countless stories from women I know – both in person and on the Internet – singing the praises of their birth doulas. Every one of them feels their birth experience was more positive as a direct result of the support offered by their doula.

Alma from Chicago Moms Blog reflects on her birth and the help she received from her doula – “her hero” – in her post Not Without My Doula.

“It (labor) was really hard, and I couldn’t have done it without the support of my doula, Tricia Fitzgerald. … her dedication and support was worth far more [than] the typical going rate for a doula.

She also squelches the myth that a doula tries to take the place of a woman’s husband or partner.

Doulas don’t monitor or deliver babies; they’re dedicated to mothering the mother, helping her achieve the birth experience she wants. And contrary to what some people think, your doula will not displace your husband. Rather, she just may keep you from cursing out your well-meaning partner who just can’t seem say the right thing or rub you the right way.”

I think it takes a very special kind of woman to be a doula and Leigh, a fairly new doula and mother of two young daughters, is definitely one of those special women. Leigh writes beautifully about each of the births she attends on her blog Mere Mortal Mama and I soak up every one of them. She seems to possess an ancient wisdom that allows her to be extremely in-tune with her clients. She is committed to helping them achieve the birth they desire. Here’s an excerpt from her most recent birth, that of a teen mother:

And then that moment comes; the moment when you notice the slight shift in energy of the room and know it is time to be fully present for your client. I glue myself next to the bedrail and remain over her for the duration of labor. I breathe in deeply with her and exhale slowly, offering the most hushed of encouraging words. We establish a pattern together quickly: we breathe, she cringes and tightens her brow a bit, I press a firm thumb on her forehead and smooth her brows, she relaxes and breathes out. I stroke her hair as the surges release; she lets out a cleansing breath. Our fingers entangle as she rests between the surges.

I whisper breathy words and phrases into her ear and have no idea where they are coming from. Upon speaking some of them, her head nods in barely perceptible understanding – her eyelids fluttering closed – and so I stick with those.

And it is those moments where ego and heart humbly meet, swollen like a balloon about to burst. Two women, in rhythm to the song of labor, swaying into words and sinking into breath; connected through the pulse of birth.

I believe that – “two women … connected through the pulse of labor” – sums up simply and perfectly what the experience of having a doula is meant to be. I think that all women and their partners should consider giving themselves the gift of a doula.

To learn more about doulas, including how to find one in your area and questions to ask when interviewing a doula, see the additional resources below.

Additional resources:
DONA (Doulas of North America) International – Learn more about doulas as well as find doulas in your area
CAPPA: Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association
How to hire a doula – Questions to ask
How Dads/Partners and Doulas can work together to support the birthing mother
Information about Postpartum Doulas who’s role is to help a woman through her postpartum period and to nurture the family

Cross-posted at BlogHer: BlogHers Act

add to sk*rt

Waterbirth International needs help to stay afloat

I’m writing over at BlogHer today about the financial crisis Waterbirth International is facing and what all of us can do to help. I hope you’ll take a look, do what you can, and consider spreading the word on your blogs, message boards, etc. The fact that this organization, that’s done so much over the past 20 years in the United States to make water birth a more accessible and acceptable option for women, is facing the very real possibility of closing it’s doors is truly heart breaking. There’s so much more they can accomplish if given the opportunity. Please check out the article. Thank you. 🙂

Also, more coming later today about my health. I had a doctor’s appointment yesterday to have some things checked out that had been bothering/worrying me. I got mostly good news, but I’ll explain more later.

High hopes for The Business of Being Born

Cross-posted at BlogHer: BlogHers Act.

It’s just over a month now until the release of The Business of Being Born to DVD a la Netflix* on Feb. 12, and I, for one, am counting the days. There are 36.

As a self-confessed “birth junkie,” I’ve been excited about this movie since I first learned about it back in May of 2007.

For anyone unfamiliar with the premise of the film and how it came about, here’s a little background. Actor Ricki Lake had two very different birth experiences (one in the hospital and one at home), and over the past several years considered becoming a midwife to help make a difference. However, after learning about the years of schooling and training involved, she felt that she could bring about more change by using her time, celebrity status (and her money) to make a documentary about birth. Lake recruited filmmaker Abby Epstein for the project.

The Business of Being Born explores the business aspect of birth and the way that American women have babies. The film includes a history of obstetrics, the history and function of midwives, footage of several natural births (including Ricki Lake’s home birth), interviews with people “on the street,” doctors, as well as birth advocates like Michel Odent, Ina May Gaskin, and Robbie Davis-Floyd, and more.

The film is about empowering women to know what their choices are when it comes to birth. As Ricki said in her interview with The Huffington Post, “I hope this film educates people and empowers them to really know their choices in childbirth. We do not want to make any woman feel bad about the outcome of her birth, or the choices she made (or will make).”

It is my hope that because this movie has the potential to appeal to all women and anyone who is concerned with women’s rights, it will reach the masses, not just the midwives and birth activists out there. I believe that having a choice when it comes to birth is a woman’s right. It is also a woman’s right to know what her options are, as well as have access to all of the information about what is healthiest for her AND for her baby.

While the media would often have us believe otherwise, birth is a normal, natural process, and in most cases women require minimal assistance and no intervention to give birth to a healthy baby. Of course there is always the exception, but I believe birth should be treated as normal until proven otherwise, not as a potential emergency waiting to happen.

While I haven’t yet had the opportunity to see the film even though it’s been shown a handful of times around me locally (always at my kids’ bedtime it seems), I have been enjoying reading reviews and observing the different perspectives the reviewers have based on their personal (and professional) backgrounds. Everyone seems to have an opinion on what they wish was or was not included in the film, but the overall consensus is that this is a wonderful film.

The Navelgazing Midwife had a unique perspective on the movie since she’s been a midwife for the past 15 years and a doula for 23 years and thus is much more observant of the intricacies of birth than a lay person may be. I enjoyed her “insider’s” point of view and critique. Despite disagreeing with some aspects of the film, overall, she was very pleased and concluded that “she (Ricki Lake) did a beautiful job and I am proud to call her our own. She knows her stuff.”

Another midwife, newer to the profession, from Belly Tales wrote “overall I thought the film was truly amazing; it brought tears to my eyes on several occasions. Rather than being far out on the left fringe as I had feared, I was actually blown away by how mainstream and accessible it was. It begins with the assumption that the audience knows absolutely nothing about birth and the business of birth in this country, and then moves on from there, using a simple and easy-to-understand, yet powerful and engrossing format and narrative.”

Tanya Lieberman, host of the Motherwear blog, Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and breastfeeding advocate, came away from the film believing change in the current birth system is definitely needed and said, “the only people who can change this trend is us.” She makes the point that to bring about change we need to vote with our feet, which is why she believes it’s so important that the masses see this movie – to realize that they have choices.

Despite the fact that I’ve read several articles and reviews about the film and consider myself fairly well-versed in the history of obstetrics and midwifery, I am still so excited to see it, especially for the beautiful footage of normal birth. I watched a lot of birth videos in preparation for my son’s home birth and got emotional just about every time a baby was born. I have a feeling I’ll be spending a lot of my time watching The Business of Being Born with a tissue in hand as well.

Birth is such an amazing, beautiful, raw and emotional event, and I truly hope that this movie will be seen not only by the “birth junkies” such as myself out there, but by the mainstream population – the couple who is newly expecting, the woman who is dissatisfied with a previous birth experience, the medical community, and anyone who is interested in learning about birth – as well. I think it has the potential to bring about change for the better. Change, that I believe, is so desperately needed.

Rest assured I will be writing about this film again once I’ve had the pleasure of viewing it. And I will add my own review, as a woman and birth junkie who has experienced both a hospital birth and a home birth, to the list. Until then, the countdown continues…

*While the film is not going to be released on DVD until Feb. 12, you may add it to your Netflix queue at any time.