Archives

Guest Post: How childhood stress can affect female fertility

cropAugust 2015 048

Related to my Tuesday Tidbits post from earlier this week, this guest post touches on the relationship between childhood stress and later female fertility.

How childhood stress can affect female fertility

“Early life events may impact later reproductive strategies.”

Can events you endured as a child really impact your ability to have children yourself? New research in the Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology examines the mechanism by which adverse experiences in childhood impact female fertility.

In their paper ‘Adverse childhood event experiences, fertility difficulties and menstrual cycle characteristics’, Marni B. Jacobs et al. explore the hypothesis that negative experiences in childhood can result in menstrual cycle irregularities, which consequently impact fertility. They relate their hypothesis to life-history theory, which talks of balancing the preservation of one’s health and the production of offspring that will survive to reproduce themselves, and theorise that “early life stressors may predispose an individual to adaptively suppress fertility when situations are less than optimal, leading to periods of fertility difficulties even following previous births.”

The study examined data from 774 women of reproductive age, 195 of whom were pregnant. It analysed fertility difficulties, menstrual cycle irregularities and adverse childhood experiences, through a mixture of in-person interviews and take-home questionnaires.

Following their research, the team came to the conclusion that those women who had experienced negative events at a young age – such as “abuse, neglect, household dysfunction or parental substance abuse” – were more likely to have faced fertility difficulties and abnormal absences of menstruation lasting three months or more, and also took a longer time to get pregnant. Their research also suggests that certain harmful events in childhood can potentially have a greater impact on fertility than others.

Adverse childhood event experiences, fertility difficulties and menstrual cycle characteristics by Marni B. Jacobs, Renee D. Boynton-Jarrett & Emily W. Harville published by Taylor & Francis.

* Read the full article online

Tuesday Tidbits: Parental Leave

centeredmamaI’m teaching Introduction to Human Services right now. In this class, I emphasize systems theory and the complex, dynamic interplay between people and the environment. I cannot stop being a birth activist, nor can I stop being a social worker, so of course, one of the examples I use in class is adequate parental leave. Yes, parental leave. We talk about maternity leave more often in the U.S., but I consider it practically criminal that so many workplaces expect fathers to return to work within a few days after a baby’s birth. This isn’t fair to babies, mothers, fathers, or to workplaces or communities. As I explain to my students, we place people into abnormal situations and expect them to cope normally. When they don’t cope “normally,” we decide they have a disorder and need some medication or possibly parenting classes (or even removal of children). I also make sure to share this quote: It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society (Krishnamurti).

For Natasha Long, who was back three weeks after her third child, Jayden, was born in 2012, the worst part was missing out on bonding time with her son.

Long, who was 29 at the time, was determined to make sure Jayden got breast milk. But the factory where she worked, ACCO Office Supplies in Booneville, Mississippi, didn’t have a lactation room. So when she was on breaks, she had to run out to her truck. She sat in the cab, worried that someone might see her, and pumped, while tears rolled down her face and over the plastic suction cups attached to her breasts.

Long cried because she wanted to be holding her baby rather than sitting in the parking lot of a factory in her old Yukon Denali. But exhaustion clearly also played a role in her emotional state. Her job was simple—to place stickers with the company logo on the bottom right-hand corner of plastic binders and then box up the binders. But the shifts were long—from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.—and she put in four or five a week. Because the factory was an hour’s drive from her home in Okalona, Mississippi, Long had only 10 hours left in the day to do everything else, including tend to her three children, spend time with Jayden’s father, and sleep. By the time she got back in the evening, her children, who were being looked after by her father during the day, were on their way to bed. To pump breast milk before leaving for work, she had to get up at 4 a.m.

After just a few days of this crazed schedule, Long began to develop strange symptoms, including a headache that never seemed to go away and a choking sensation that left her feeling breathless. She started biting her fingernails to the quick—something she’d never done before—and crying a lot. “I felt like I was alone,” says Long. “I wanted to fall off the face of the earth.” Long had never been depressed. But when she went to the doctor, he surmised that her physical symptoms were rooted in her mental state, which was itself rooted in her schedule. When her doctor said he thought she was depressed, Long worried that if child welfare authorities found out, they might take her children away. She had seen other people’s children put in foster care. But when her doctor prescribed her antidepressants, she took them.

Source: The Real War on Families: Why the U.S. Needs Paid Leave Now – In These Times

The issue here is not women’s inability to cope, it is that society’s expectations are disordered.

Here is another good article about the perils of no paid leave in the U.S.:

“I was in the car with my candidate with my brand new baby, a first-time mom, and I was driving to a fundraising meeting to shake somebody down for some cash,” Spradlin said. “I mean, I’m still bleeding. So I’m like, well, what pants do I fit into that are black, just in case I bleed through them. And these are not reasonable ways to behave. I mean, postpartum hemorrhage is a true and real cause of death of women.”

Spradlin is now a lactation consultant, a health-care professional who helps women having trouble breastfeeding. Too often, she said, “trouble breastfeeding” is really just a symptom of a deeper problem—a system that denies too many women the chance to heal and bond with their babies because they can’t afford to take more unpaid time off of work…

Source: Bleeding Wounds and Breastfeeding Hell: The Costs of No Paid Maternity Leave in America

I’ve mentioned several times before that in my ten years in breastfeeding support, I’ve more often marveled that a woman continues to breastfeed, than I’ve wondered why she doesn’t.

I feel like almost every woman I meet or every one I speak to online is seeking community. We’re looking for the “tribe,” we’re looking for the village. We don’t want to do this alone.

The truth is, creating a village sometimes just isn’t possible and there have been many times as a mom a “break” isn’t realistic. Balance, thriving, creating time for you — sometimes, those helpful tidbits tossed out to drowning moms just make me feel like yet another thing I’m failing at…

Source: To the Mom Without a Village – Babble

The problem I note with self-care advice to “ask for help,” is that most people are in similar situations–it is hard to ask for help when the people you ask, also need help!

As we muddle our way through our own home-based life, often “too busy” and “too chaotic” and “not enough time,” I absolutely loved this article about messy importance of the every-day, the real, and the complicated:

…Joy will be there waiting when we’ve adequately tidied our lives, is simply another disempowering cultural story. A story that has an entire generation of humans (and particularly mothers) feeling bad about ourselves, scrambling to “keep up,” and futilely spending billions in attempts to find solace…

Source: Revolution from Home » Blog Archive Life Is Meant to Be Messy (You’re Not Doing It Wrong)11998990_1661958487349700_7935437715757927025_n

 

Talk Books: Q & A with Jenny Kitzinger

cropAugust 2015 048“These hands are big enough to save the world, and small enough to rock a child to sleep.”

–Zelda Brown

Childbirth education pioneer and feminist icon, Sheila Kitzinger has five daughters. After reading and reviewing Sheila’s passionate, beautiful, inspiring memoir: A Passion for Birth, published shortly before her death this spring, I did a short interview with her daughter, Jenny Kitzinger…

  1. How has your own work been influenced by your mother?

I grew up knowing that the ‘personal was political’ – including issues such as birth, marriage and death – and believing that nothing was taboo or closed off for discussion.

My early work on AIDS, and then on child sexual abuse, as well as my most recent work on the treatment of patients in long-term coma, has all been fundamentally influenced by my mother’s approach to life and work.

  1. What was it like to grow up with a birth activism “celebrity”?

To me my mother was just normal – so I took for granted her passion, determination and impact on the world, and the privilege we had as children of meeting lots of interesting people from the world of women’s rights, politics, and the arts.

  1. I was struck by the focus on humanitarian work in Kitzinger’s memoir. Do you have any childhood memories of these experiences and their influence? Are you still involved in cause-oriented work as an adult?

We often had people staying who needed support – it was lovely to meet the different people who came into our home – and to see the practical support and nurture my mother offered them. Sheila was also clear that the personal was political and that alongside supporting individuals it was necessary to learn from them and work alongside them to tackle root causes of problems.

My sister Tess was centrally involved in support for refugees – a cause also close to my father’s heart (he came over to England as a refugee in 1939). I was involved in setting up one of the first incest survivors refuges. Polly was also active in disability rights, advocating for people with mental illness. Our oldest sister, Celia, is a leading campaigner for sexual equality and equal marriage.

Since my sister, Polly’s car crash in 2009, Celia and I have worked together to examine the treatment of people with catastrophic brain injuries, including rights at the end-of-life. Although we are both full professor, and publish academically, we are committed to making work accessible to families, health care practitioners and policy makers. That is why we designed an online support and information resource about the vegetative and minimally conscious state.

  1. How many times did you hear birth stories around the dinner table?

We are a loud and talkative family. We would often discuss childbirth issues around the dinner table – alongside topics such as sex. This was fine at home, but I think when we went out to eat in restaurants I am not sure next door tables always enjoyed either the content of our lively debates, or the volume of the conversation as we became engrossed in family debate and everyone spoke at once!

  1. What do you feel like is your mother’s most enduring legacy?

The transformation of assumptions about childbirth – alongside a broader contribution to respecting women’s experience and supporting their rights to have choice and control over their own healthcare decisions.

Sheila

A Passion for Birth, My Life: anthropology, family and feminism by Sheila Kitzinger

(Pinter & Martin)

Sign up for the Brigid’s Grove Newsletter for resources, monthly freebies, + art and workshop announcements.

Talk Books: Touching Bellies, Touching Lives

touchingbelliesEvery so often I end up reading a book that is nothing like I was expecting and yet is totally amazing. Touching Bellies, Touching Lives is one of those books. Subtitled “Midwives of Southern Mexico Tell Their Stories,” I was expecting a collection of birth stories from Mexican midwives. While there are birth stories, and everyone knows that I love birth stories, this book is so much more than a birth story collection. It is a personal pilgrimage, a preservation of the legacy of midwives, an examination of cultural birth practices, and a sobering first-hand account of the declining culture of traditional midwifery in Mexico. Many people may have the misconception that in Mexico or other South American cultures, midwifery is commonplace and maybe even flourishing. In Touching Bellies, we come to understand that Western medical practices are encroaching at a steady pace and that many midwives are elderly, retiring, and not being replaced. A steady theme runs throughout of women going to midwives for “belly massage,” but going to “modern” facilities to have their babies (unfortunately, they’ve imported some U.S. 1950’s-style practices in terms of birth position, birthing alone with no husbands allowed, and being treated dismissively in labor. This is along with a cesarean rate over 40% and up to 70% much in some cities).

The author, Judy Gabriel, takes multiple trips to Mexico on her quest to document the lives and stories of Mexican midwives (most of whom are age 65 and many of whom do not live to see the end of the book). She photographs the midwives and, with some hurdles with language barriers, listens to their stories–asking about the first birth they attended as well as any births that were problematic for them. She returns to them bearing hearing aids, dresses, and photos of family members from the United States. She travels through rough terrain and to distant villages on her quest to listen and learn from these midwives. I was completely absorbed by Judy’s dedication to her mission and her personal insights and life lessons as she travels and learns.

The “belly massage” practice for which Touching Bellies gains its title was endlessly fascinating to me (and to Judy, the author) with midwives regularly helping position the baby, release tight muscles, and ease aches and pains through a gentle process of abdominal massage and fetal manipulation. This aspect of midwifery care was so pervasive that when Judy would ask in a village where the midwives are, many people would not understand and say that they don’t know what she is talking about. When she asks for the woman who massages the bellies of pregnant women, everyone knows where to tell her to go.

In this quote, a 75-year-old midwife tells the story of helping a woman who is in premature labor. The doctors have tried to stop her contractions without avail and now say she must have a cesarean and the baby will most likely die:

“…The mother-in-law said, ‘This woman knows more than you doctors. You may have gone to the university, but, excuse me, for you doctors it is always puro cuchillo, puro cuchillo [just knives, just knives]. Leave the midwife to work in peace, and you’ll see what can be done without knives.’

So I did my work. I rocked the girl in a rebozo and massaged her belly, moving the baby up. The contractions stopped.

The doctors asked, ‘How did you do that?’

I said, ‘You were standing right there watching. I did it in front of you. I’m not hiding anything. You saw me rock her; you saw me massage her.’

‘Is that all you had to do?” they asked.

I said, ‘Yes, that’s all I had to do. What else would I have to do?’

(The baby survived and was born at full-term six weeks later.)

The dedicated care for women, in touching their bellies, touches their lives. Almost all of the midwives in the book have access to nurturing touch and almost no other resources available and yet almost all of them report never losing a baby or a mother in childbirth.

I absolutely loved reading Touching Bellies, Touching Lives. It is an extremely interesting, thought-provoking, and thoroughly fascinating journey. The information about the gradual decline and near-extinction of midwifery in Mexico is sobering, but the book does end on a hopeful note.

You can read more about the book here as well as see some of the interesting documentary-style photographs of the midwives from the book (one of the points of Judy’s travels was to photograph the midwives and share pictures of their families in the U.S. with them and vice versa). The book itself is available via Amazon.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes.

Tuesday Tidbits: How to Make Life Easier as a New Parent

11825867_1652717638273785_2485010122977810992_n

In all my years as a birthworker, I still find that one of the most overlooked topics in childbirth preparation is adequate preparation for postpartum—those early weeks, or months, with a new baby. In my personal life, I experienced a difficult postpartum adjustment with my first baby, an easier one with my second baby, and two delightful, nurturing babymoons with my last two babies. Years after training as a postpartum doula, good postpartum care remains one of my passions, so I really enjoyed this post from a mother of five. Her feelings of rushing to get back to “normal” feel very familiar even though almost twelve years have passed since my first, tender, postpartum adjustment:

“I remember coming home from going out for the afternoon with Hero at 7 days postpartum. After we got back to our tiny apartment I came down with a fever. I was probably wearing the cutest non-comfortable outfit I could squeeze into. I probably didn’t think that 7 days after giving birth required anything of me other than “getting back to normal.” Life went on, and I urged it faster. In fact, that’s the way I parented, too. Smile, laugh, roll over, sit, crawl, walk, run, milestone, milestone, grow, grow, grow…

When I think back on my postpartum times (for the most part) I remember being exhausted, being emotional, being upset at Kirby for not doing enough, feeling fragile, feeling sad, and feeling weak. And then I got pregnant with Peter… And by the time I had him, I had interacted with enough wise mothers who had screwed up enough to know better and they told me what to do and I listened. After five babies I could finally say I did it right. I’m not saying you have to do it like me. Maybe you’ve already got your postpartum flow down and you need no such advice. In that case, a w e s o m e…”

Now I realize that some moms can just go, and they are happier that way! I get that. But it took me too long to realize that that’s not me. And I don’t want you to spend too much time thinking that should be you if it isn’t. Don’t spend four days, don’t spend four weeks, and certainly don’t spend 4 entire babies feeling like a shell of a person trying to figure it out…

The Fike Life: How to postpartum like a boss.

Unlike my early memories of my first son’s life, rather than looking back with sense of regret and fatigue, I look back on the weeks postpartum with Tanner (fourth and final full-term baby) with a tinge of wistfulness for the sweet, delicate, care-full time we spent together, nestled in bed in milky, marveling wonder. The author of the post above describes it as a “little sacred space,” and that is exactly how I feel. It also needs to be fiercely protected.

I look at that one week postpartum as a little sacred space that I will never get back. It’s a space where, for the most part, it’s just that brand new baby and me. And I’m selfish about it. And not sorry. Life will keep plummeting forward rapidly and I won’t ever stop it. But I can have a week with a floppy new baby on my chest in my bed and I’ll take it. And I’ll protect it.

AND IF THAT DOESNT TUG AT YOU MOTHERLY HEARTSTRINGS KNOW THIS… (super practical advice I got from my midwife with Peter)

When you have a baby you are recovering from an injury that is deeply internal. Your blood needs to stay concentrated there to bring essential nutrients to heal your organs and make you strong again. When you get up and walk around, your blood abandons your core and flows into your extremities, which can massively prolong your recovery. Stay rested and keep yourself down as much as you can. Just think of your organs! They need you!

via The Fike Life: How to postpartum like a boss.

It isn’t just the weeks following a new baby’s birth that matter, the first hour matters too and can set the tone for the rest of the postpartum journey:

…The way your baby is cared for and nurtured immediately after birth significantly impacts their transition from the womb to life outside.

In a culture that commonly separates mothers and babies for routine procedures such as cleaning, weighing and measuring, most babies are missing that critical time of being skin to skin with their mothers, which has short and long term consequences for all.

As these procedures are not necessary to maintain or enhance the wellbeing of either mother or baby, there is no reason why they cannot be delayed beyond the first critical hour.

via 7 Huge Benefits of An Undisturbed First Hour After Birth | BellyBelly.

Why doesn’t this uninterrupted hour and subsequent caring postpartum support happen for all new families? One reason is related to the “treatment intensity” of the US birth culture:

The questions you post in your article are good ones: Are midwives safer than doctors? How can homes be safer than hospitals and what implications does this study have for the US?

It’s a super knotty issue and it shouldn’t be about the superiority of midwives over doctors or homes over hospitals. The debate we should be having is over “treatment intensity” in childbirth and when enough is enough. The concern is that patients can be harmed by doing too much and by doing too little–in the US I worry that we cause avoidable harm by always erring on the side of too much.

via An Unexpected Opinion on Home Birth | Every Mother Counts.

Another is related to routine hospital practices that are not evidence based:

1. Start with giving the birthing woman antibiotics in high doses so that the baby develops candida (thrush) and colic. Then mix in a lot of stitches, either to repair the perineum or the lower belly/uterus.

2. Separate the mother and newborn. Make the mother walk a long distance (with her stitched body) to be able to see/feed her newborn…

via 6 Point Recipe for Making New Parenthood as Difficult as Possible | Wise Woman Way of Birth | by Gloria Lemay.

On a related note, we find that breastfeeding gets off to a better start when birth is undisturbed. We also find that decisions about breastfeeding may be made months before the baby is actually born:

…Recently, a nurse contacted me asking for ideas for teaching an early pregnancy breastfeeding class. I think this is a great idea, since mothers’ decisions about breastfeeding are often made before the baby is conceived and if not then, during the first trimester.

via Breastfeeding Class Resources | Talk Birth.

11800191_1651989138346635_1607714063463262593_nIt isn’t just postpartum during which we need these reminders about the “cycle of care.” The cycle of care of young children can be largely invisible, both to those around us and to ourselves. I’ve taken some time this week to appreciate my investment in my baby and cut myself a little slack on the other things I always want to “get done.” Brain-building is important work too!

Speaking of said baby, who has been taking his first steps this week at nine months old, I was amused this week to come across one of my older posts on family size decisions, in which I decreed my doneness with my childbearing years. Instead of embarrassing, I find the post oddly affirming or reinforcing that at some level I really did know that we weren’t quite “done,” there was still space in our family (and our hearts!) and there really was one more baby “out there” for us.

We decided we’d make the final, ultimate decision after she turned two, because too much longer after that point would make more of an age gap than we’d want. I posted on Facebook asking how do people know they’re “done.” I had an expectation of having some kind of blinding epiphany and a deep knowing that our family is complete, as I’ve had so many other people describe: “I just knew, our family was complete.” I didn’t have that knowing though—I vacillated day to day. What if I never know for sure, I fretted. Perhaps this sense of wistfulness and possibility with continue forever—maybe it is simply normal. One more. No, finished. But…ONE more?! And, I have a space in my heart that knows with great confidence that four (living) children would be the ultimate maximum for us. I definitely do not want more than four…so, does that mean there still is one more “out there” for us?

via Driveway Revelations (on Family Size) | Talk Birth.

However, I also find it to be true that four is most definitely the ultimate maximum. We laughed earlier this week remembering that a couple of weeks after Tanner was born I kept saying that I thought maybe we’d picked the wrong name for him. Mark asked me what I thought it should be and I said I kept thinking that maybe it should have been “Max.” While we joked at the time that this was because he is Maximus Babius, I only now caught on to the unintended double joke that he has definitely pushed our family size to our “max”!

Other tidbits:

I got this book about midwives in Mexico to review and have been zooming through it. It is SO good!

We’ve been working on new sculptures!

11850648_10207522285005258_4065455347313524959_o

(read more: Sneak Peek: Pregnant Mama – Brigid’s Grove)

We’ve added some new Moon Wisdom/First Moon bundles to our shop:

11825154_1650996815112534_7593072070926503121_nAnd, our new blessing cards came in. We were printing these on regular printer paper and are excited to have nice, professional cards instead!

11800234_1650792701799612_305310151573875723_nWe also still have five spaces left in the Red Tent Initiation program beginning at the end of the month:

Sign up for the Brigid’s Grove Newsletter for resources, monthly freebies, + art and workshop announcements.

And, as is our tradition, in honor of World Breastfeeding Week and National Breastfeeding Month, you can get 10% off items in our shop throughout August: WBW10OFF.

Talk Books: A Passion for Birth

Sheila

“We are only now beginning to discover the long term destructive effects on human beings and families of treated women as if they were containers to be opened and relieved of their contents.”

–Sheila Kitzinger

Sheila Kitzinger’s new autobiography, A Passion for Birth, is an absolute treasure. One of the most long-term and pivotal influences in the world of birth activism, I have quoted her work more times than I can count. In fact, I judge the quality of a book by the number of pages I dog-ear to return to. I turned down the corners of so many pages in A Passion for Birth, that it will take me a year’s worth of blog posts to share all the provocative quotes that caught my attention! While Sheila always included a personal flavor in her other books, this book is truly about her, her life, her passions, her family, her activism, her work. Interwoven throughout is the social justice oriented thread of her absolutely devoted dedication to women, feminism, and childbirth activism. Her book is very real, relatable, and readable as well as often charming. She doesn’t hold back from treading into controversial waters, however, and she is straightforward and unapologetic even when writing about topics that can be divisive in the birth world.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover the full-color series of photos in the center insert to the book, they range from Kitzinger’s childhood, a homebirth picture of the birth of one of her daughters, and ending with a poignant photo of Sheila’s casket, decorated by her family, resting easily on some chairs in the dining room of home she so loved.

An internationally recognized author and expert, Kitzinger was an anthropologist and one of the first professional people to acknowledge that women’s birth wisdom, stories, and experiences are worthy of study and attention. Spanning an impressive career of more than fifty years, Kitzinger’s anthropological and activist work was undertaken at a global level and her clear and unwavering commitment to social justice work and activism is a thread running strongly throughout her entire autobiography. The book takes us from Sheila writing and studying while sitting in a playpen in her yard (an effort to have a work area undisturbed by her five children!) to traveling with her family to Jamaica to study the birth customs and stories of the women there. Her identity as an anthropologist is clearly reflected in the cross-cultural birth experiences she surveys and describes and the autobiography includes lots of travel! It also includes homey touches like favorite recipes and descriptions of family traditions as well as stories of her own four homebirths, including that of twin daughters. I found myself wanting more content about her life with children, her life as a mother, which, while acknowledged and integrated through the text, was curiously absent from much of the narrative’s exploration. I was also curious to know more about the accident and serious brain injury experienced by her daughter Polly, which was mentioned somewhat incidentally (though it clearly had a significant impact on the family), as was the passing mention in a photo caption referencing her husband Uwe’s eye removal surgery.

Highly recommended to anyone with an interest in birth work, birth activism, feminist studies, women’s health, or anthropology, A Passion for Birth was compelling, inspirational, funny, straightforward, assertive, honest, candid, wry and dedicated.

“The way we give birth is an expression of culture. It can be spontaneous and instinctual, but it is still patterned by the society in which we live.”

–Sheila Kitzinger

Stay tuned for an ongoing series of themed posts based on additional content and thought-provoking quotes!

In a pioneering career spanning more than 50 years she campaigned for and oversaw a radical change in maternity care, placing women’s rights and choices at the very heart of childbirth. Her passion, research and knowledge of childbirth have had enormous impact on millions of women worldwide.

A Passion for Birth | Sheila Kitzinger | Pinter & Martin Publishers.

Publishing and purchasing details: 

Author: Sheila KitzingerSheila
Published: 7 May 2015
Binding: hardback
Format: 240 x 160 mm
Pages: 384
Illustrations: colour and b/w photographs
Pinter & Martin edition available: worldwide
Translation rights: Pinter & Martin

Also available from: Amazon.co.uk | Wordery | The Hive | Waterstones | Foyles | Mail Bookshop | Amazon.com

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes.

Sign up for the Brigid’s Grove Newsletter for resources, monthly freebies, + art and workshop announcements.

Tuesday Tidbits: Does Breastfeeding Really Matter?

August 2015 060Does breastfeeding really matter? Or, is it just one possible way to feed a baby?

Breastfeeding matters. It matters for women, babies, families, workplaces, society, and the whole world.

But, is breastfeeding hard?

It is true that in the early weeks many women experience difficulties with breastfeeding. Coupled with the lack of support many women also experience from partners, in-laws, extended family members, and employers, they may stop breastfeeding long before they originally hoped and planned. Is that breastfeeding’s fault though? Is it inherently difficult? No, but it turns out that our prevalent images of breastfeeding may contribute to difficulties with latch and milk flow. Laid-back breastfeeding (nursing the baby draped across your body tummy to tummy rather than sitting upright with the baby in the crook of your arm) may be the answer to many early breastfeeding challenges:

In the commonly used cradle, cross-cradle, and football/rugby holds, mothers and babies must fight the effects of gravity to get babies to breast level and keep their fronts touching. If gaps form between them (which can happen easily with gravity pulling baby’s body down and away), this disorients baby, which can lead to latching struggles. The pull of gravity makes it impossible for a newborn to use his inborn responses to get to his food source and feed. For baby, it is like trying to climb Mount Everest. Instead of mothers and babies working together as breastfeeding partners, mothers must do all of the work. Instead of being able to relax while baby helps, most mothers sit hunched over, tense, and struggling.To complicate things further, in these positions, gravity can transform the same inborn feeding responses that should be helping babies into barriers to breastfeeding. Head bobbing becomes head butting. Arm and leg movements meant to move babies to the breast become pushing and kicking. Mothers struggling to manage their babies’ arms and legs in these upright breastfeeding holds have often told me: “I don’t think I have enough hands to breastfeed.”

How Natural Breastfeeding Can Help

In Natural Breastfeeding positions, baby rests tummy down on mother’s body, ensuring the full frontal contact that activates his GPS. Baby’s weight pushes the pressure buttons on his front, which improves his coordination for easier feeding. Natural Breastfeeding makes it possible for babies to be the active breastfeeding partners that nature intended. But it’s not just good for babies. Mothers can relax completely and rest while baby feeds, often with both hands free. And gravity helps baby take the breast deeply, so there’s no need to micromanage baby’s latch.

via Many Moms May Have Been Taught to Breastfeed Incorrectly: Surprising New Research – Mothering.

I learned about laid-back breastfeeding before my third child was born. It made a huge difference in her ability to latch well and nurse comfortably (I then didn’t discover she had an upper lip tie until she had dental work at two!) It also made a dramatic difference for my last baby, who was my easiest, most comfortable, almost-painless-from-the-start, early breastfeeding experience (they all got easy with time and I nursed each for three years, but the early weeks were more challenging with the first three compared to the last!)

August 2015 034
Isn’t modern formula close to breastmilk though?

No! Breastmilk is a living substance, customized to your specific baby. It is amazing how many unique things breastmilk can do!

Vitamins and minerals that we all know are present only represent a very small proportion of what’s in our milk. There is a huge range of other components. Components, for instance, that dispose of harmful bacteria in different ways. By absorbing them, engulfing them, destroying them, lining the gut and preventing them from entering our baby’s blood stream, preventing them from using our baby’s iron stores to grow (pathogens need iron to thrive), etc…

And these are targeted responses to specific pathogens, because our baby’s saliva goes into our blood stream and informs us of anything harmful they have been exposed to in the last few hours. Our body immediately produces the exact antibodies for that specific infection, and feeds it back to our babies via our milk within the hour.

via The composition of Human milk | Breastfeeding Thoughts.

Notice I do not say that breastmilk is “perfect.” What it is, is normal. It is the species-specific, biological appropriate food for human babies.

I’ve heard that our bodies make different kinds of milk and you have to be careful to separate the foremilk from the hindmilk though? Doesn’t that mean I’ll need to pump to make sure my baby is getting enough of the cream?

If you have pumped and put your milk in the fridge, you have noticed the same phenomenon. As the milk cools, the fattier, more opaque milk rises to the top and the bottom portion of the milk appears thinner, more translucent. Perhaps you would call this milk more “watery.” But, it isn’t watery. It doesn’t lack nutrients. It is just lower in fat.

Breastfeeding moms read a lot about foremilk and hind milk and for lack of a better term, obsess about it. I talk about this with moms way more than I care to. Why?

Because, in my opinion, this is a completely nonsensical and irrelevant topic 99% of the time.

We don’t know the fat concentration of your milk when the baby first starts nursing, nor do we know the rate at which the milk gets fattier.

via Balanced Breastfeeding – “The Good Milk” Foremilk/Hindmilk.

What about postpartum depression? One of my friends said that her doctor told her to wean because of depression.

While this is a common recommendation, it is not evidence-based. In fact, breastfeeding helps protect mothers’ August 2015 001 mental health by mediating the effects of stress:

Research over the past decade has shown that breastfeeding and depression intersect in some interesting and surprising ways. All of this work has shown something that makes sense. Breastfeeding does not deplete mothers, nor does it cause depression.

Breastfeeding problems certainly can do both of these things—all the more reason why women need good support and accurate information. But it does not make sense for something so critical to the survival of our species to be harmful for mothers. And it is not.

Breastfeeding and stress

One of the initial areas of research was in examining the role of breastfeeding in turning off the stress response. Of particular importance was breastfeeding’s role in lessening mothers’ levels of inflammation (which is part of the stress response). The molecules that cause inflammation can lead to depression. When inflammation levels are high, people are more likely to get depressed. When inflammation levels are lower, the risk of depression goes down. The great thing is that breastfeeding is specifically anti-inflammatory. This is one way that breastfeeding protects women’s health throughout their lives. It lowers their risk of depression. It also lowers their risk of diseases such as heart disease and diabetes…

via Mothers’ Mental Health and Breastfeeding – Breastfeeding Today.

Side note: why is depression such a risk for mothers anyway?

…When you consider the isolation, lack of support, history of abuse or other trauma, and, particularly in the U.S., the need for mothers to return to work almost immediately following the birth, the increase in depression rates is hardly surprising…

via Mothers’ Mental Health and Breastfeeding – Breastfeeding Today.

What about the sleepless nights everyone talks about? I want my partner to be able to feed the baby at night so I can get more sleep.

Similar to mental health, research has actually found that nursing mothers get more sleep, not less.

And, on a related note, many people share the misconception that it is normal and desirable for a breastfed baby to “grow out” of needing to nurse during the night. This actually depends on multiple factors, primarily the storage capacity of a mother’s breast:

In other words, if you are a mother with an average or small breast storage capacity [which is unrelated to breast size], night feedings may need to continue for many months in order for your milk production to stay stable and for your baby to thrive. Also, because your baby has access to less milk at each feeding, night feedings may be crucial for him to get enough milk overall. Again, what’s important is not how much milk a baby receives at each individual feeding, but how much milk he consumes in a 24-hour day. If a mother with a small storage capacity uses sleep training strategies to force her baby to go for longer stretches between feedings, this may slow her milk production and compromise her baby’s weight gain.

via Do Older Babies Need Night Feedings? — Nancy Mohrbacher.

Am I creating a bad habit by allowing baby to breastfeed to sleep? April 2015 090

Your child’s desire to nurse to sleep is very normal and not a bad habit you’ve fostered. Don’t be afraid to nurse your baby to sleep or fear that you are perpetuating a bad habit. Baby often will seek the breast when sleepy or over-stimulated because it’s a comforting and familiar place to him. To associate the breast with wanting to relax enough to go to sleep makes perfect sense. As adults, we also do things to relax ourselves so we can go to sleep: we read, watch TV, get something warm to drink or a snack, deep breathe, get all snug under the covers, etc. Breastfeeding does the same thing for your baby.

via KellyMom.com : Breastfeeding to Sleep and Other Comfort Nursing.

You may find that nighttime nursing is surprisingly peaceful and undisturbed. I remember finding my first baby often puzzling during the day, but at night, it felt like we were in perfect harmony…

…So we feast together in the darkness.
Till we are both full-filled.
Me. You.
You. Me.
Youme.

via A Poem for World Breastfeeding Week 2015 #WBW – The Story Witch.

Breastfeeding matters. It is woven through our lives and through the interlocking systems of society. It has important impacts on physical, mental, and emotional health for both you and your baby. In fact, breastfeeding is a type of “shero’s journey,” one that impacts a mother and her child through the rest of their lives:

Breastfeeding is the day in and day fabric of connection. It is a huge physical and emotional investment, the continued devotion of one’s body to one’s baby. Breastfeeding support may not as exciting or thrilling as birthwork for me, but it is so very REAL and so very needed, and part of the nitty-gritty reality of individual mother’s complicated lives as they find their feet on the motherhood road. It really matters.

In what ways has breastfeeding been a hero’s journey for you?

via Breastfeeding as a (s)hero’s journey? | Talk Birth.

Breastfeeding Blessing Pocket Altar (mini birth altar, medicine bundle, doula, midwife, mother blessing, lactation, nursing)Sign up for the Brigid’s Grove Newsletter for resources, monthly freebies, + art and workshop announcements.

And, as is our tradition, in honor of World Breastfeeding Week and National Breastfeeding Month, you can get 10% off items in our shop throughout August: WBW10OFF.