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Archive for the ‘Natural Childbirth’ Category

Is home birth safe?

Most doctors in the US will say no, absolutely not. But is that really true? Here are a couple studies so that you may decide for yourself.

1. 2009 study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ)
Conclusion: “Planned homebirth attended by a registered midwife was associated with very low and comparable rates of perinatal death and reduced rates of obstetric intervention and other adverse perinatal outcomes compared with planned hospital birth attended by a midwife or physician.”
 Details: This is a very good study because it looked at only women who were low-risk; even the women who gave birth in the hospital would have qualified for a home birth if they had desired. Therefore, the study is not biased in favor of homebirth, but is as fair as humanly possible. For a planned home birth, rates of perinatal (baby) death per 1000 births was 0.35. For the planned hospital births with a midwife, rates of perinatal death per 1000 births was 0.57. For planned hospital births with a physician, rates of perinatal death were 0.64. Notably, the study finds that women who had planned home births were significantly less likely to have bad maternal (mother) outcomes, such as severe tearing or hemorrhage.

2. 2005 study published in the British Medical Journal
Conclusion: “Planned home birth for low risk women in North America using certified professional midwives was associated with lower rates of medical intervention but similar intrapartum and neonatal mortality to that of low risk hospital births in the United States.”
Details: This study looked at all of the planned home births in 2000, attended by Certified Professional Midwives in the US and Canada, in locations where home birth is not integrated into the healthcare system or well-accepted by most medical providers in the area.

3. The Maternal Mortality Rate in the U.S. is atrocious, for how medically advanced we think we are. 
Instead of having fewer mothers die in childbirth now as opposed to 20 years ago, the US has actually seen an increase in maternal deaths since 1990. This means that a woman in her twenties is more likely to die in childbirth than her mother was. As an industrialized country, we fall dismally behind countries such as Canada, Japan, and the Netherlands, all of which have midwives attending the majority of births. We rank 39, which means that 38 countries have better maternity survival rates than we do…and most of them are substantially better.

So what have we done wrong? Why are women more likely to die in childbirth than they were only 20 years ago? Could it be  due to the skyrocketing unnecessary medical interventions such as induction and cesareans? Could it be that maybe, with all our medical advances in case of emergency, we’re so on edge that doctors actually create the very circumstances they were trying to avoid? Could it be that most births are not medical emergencies, and that most women will give birth safely to healthy babies if left to their own timing, with a midwife who will offer support and appropriate medical care throughout this phenomenal life change?

Maybe. Maybe we’ve had it all wrong.

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Several weeks ago I wrote on medical methods of induction, many of which are no-nos if you’re wanting a natural birth. So now it’s time to write about natural induction (which, by the way, I now have plenty of experience with after my third daughter was two weeks later than planned. We were expecting a late-June baby, and ended up with a mid-July baby).

First, let me say this: it is best to let a healthy baby come when she or he is ready. If you are pushing your “due date” or it has already passed, then the best thing to do is just relax and allow the baby to begin labor when ready.  There are things you can do to speed up the process by a couple days, but if your baby is not ready to come, then baby won’t come unless you force the issue.

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Sex

Male sperm works to soften the cervix and causes contractions. Obviously this will not work if you are using condoms, but women more sexually active during late pregnancy tend to have babies come earlier than those who don’t, according to Ina May Gaskin, who is considered the nation’s leading midwife.

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Walking

The swaying motion of walking helps move the baby down and into the correct position for birth. If the baby is already low, the movement will start to press her head against the cervix, helping it to open and efface. It also keeps mama healthy, which is essential for a natural birth. Don’t walk until you’re exhausted because you’ll need energy for labor, but a good 30-minute walk every day will help the birth process.

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Sleep

Okay, this may sound counter-intuitive, but getting adequate sleep is important for a mother about to go into labor. If your body is worn out from miles of walking and too much sex (like there ever is such a thing!), then it will delay labor in an attempt to rest. If this is the case, then sleeping is the best thing you can do because you do not want to begin labor exhausted. Especially if you are a first-time mother. Get enough rest! It will make labor easier.

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Nipple Stimulation

Stimulating a pregnant woman’s nipples will contract the uterus. After giving birth, a nursing baby’s suckling helps the uterus contract back down quickly, thus reducing a woman’s risk of hemorrhage. Before the moment of birth, nipple stimulation helps start contractions or keep them going. For some women this is a sure-fire way to start labor. Oral stimulation is best, either from a nursing toddler or a spouse, but manual stimulation or using a breast pump work as well. Used in conjunction with intercourse, it is extremely effective. This also happens to be a great way to try to jumpstart a slowed labor in the hospital rather than using Pitocin or Cytotec.

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Massage

There are pressure points on a woman’s body that help initiate labor contractions. A massage therapist trained in what is safe for pregnancy and labor is a great person to see. Someone trained in acupuncture and acupressure would also know what to do. However, you don’t necessarily need a trained professional to do the massage. Although a professional will be more experienced, a friend or partner can firmly massage the following areas:

~Hand: massage the webbing between thumb and index finger.
~Ankles: massage the ankles all the way up to mid-calf, focusing on the inside of her leg, a couple inches above the ankle bone.
~Sacrum:  massage the lower back right between her hip bones, focusing on the two dimples just above the top of her buttocks crease.

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Homeopathics

There are a couple of homeopathic remedies that can encourage labor to begin. Most midwives will not distribute them prior to your “due date,” but check with your midwife or a naturopath to get some. The great thing about homeopathics is that they will not force a baby to come who is not ready. Using them will just give a baby who’s ready a little nudge to start labor. If they don’t work and just cause annoying contractions that do nothing productive, drinking a small cup of coffee will stop them. Caffeine counteracts homeopathics. Also, be warned that taking too much of a homeopathic will cause the reverse of the desired effect. I learned this the hard way with my third child when I accidentally stopped a batch of promising contractions by taking too many pills.

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Castor Oil

Okay, castor oil is disgusting. But it is a fairly fool-proof way of starting labor. It is a little more aggressive than any of the previous natural inductions listed. A tablespoon with breakfast should start some strong contractions that turn into labor. If you decide to try castor oil, make sure your care provider knows what you are doing so she can be ready for you. Be warned, castor oil is a laxative, so it will clean you out as well as get your baby out.

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Herbs

A good midwife or naturopath will be able to prescribe herbs to induce labor. These are similar to castor oil in that they are more aggressive than the first few methods listed. As with the homeopathics, I do not want to list particular herbs because it is something your care provider (who knows your medical history and situation) should recommend. If you are seeing a regular doctor who doesn’t know about herbs, try going to a naturopath or acupuncturist who works with pregnant women.

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Acupuncture

If you don’t mind needles, then seeing an acupuncturist may be a good way to start labor. When choosing a provider, however, make sure you go to someone with excellent references and experience in working on pregnant women. If you’re nervous about needles, as I am, many can also do acupressure and heat over various points to initiate labor.

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Sweeping the Membranes

This is apparently a fairly effective method of beginning labor within 24 hours. During a vaginal exam, the doctor or midwife can gently insert a finger into the cervix and swipe in a circular motion to stimulate contractions. This method does, however, carry a slight risk for breaking the bag of waters with a sweep that is not quite gentle enough. This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, except that having a broken bag of waters but no labor carries a risk of infection for your baby, and will necessitate medical induction within a day or so if labor does not begin.

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I recently read Born in the USA by Marsden Wagner, who is the former director of women and children’s health for the World Health Organization. He made a great observation on the essential difference between midwives and the majority of doctors when it comes to childbirth.

Doctors view birth as something that happens to a woman.

Midwives see birth as something a woman does.

Seemingly a minor difference, but it means everything for how women in labor are treated.

Midwives assist a laboring woman give birth. Everything they do is to provide support for the woman while she works to birth her baby, and they are there in case something should go wrong. Women are considered “clients,” not “patients” because they are not sick. They are simply pregnant.

On the other hand, doctors deliver a baby. They see women as patients with a condition that must be fixed. Namely, she is pregnant and she should not be pregnant anymore. The goal is to get the baby out as quickly as possible, generally through medical methods and by their own expertise. It is rare to see a doctor who is willing to allow a healthy labor to happen naturally without attempting to meddle. Doctors are expert meddlers. It’s really all about control. But labor cannot be controlled, and when doctors (or nurse-midwives) attempt to control the uncontrollable, they tend to end up doing things that are not necessary or beneficial for the mother or her baby.

Doctors should be backup for when a woman actually does need assistance, not the default option for every woman in every birth. We need support during pregnancy and birth. Not always a medical degree.

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Less than three weeks ago I gave birth to my third daughter. Exciting, right?! Well, I’m excited. She’s adorable and it was literally the perfect birth. Absolutely perfect. Once I finish writing my birth story I’ll post it for anyone who wants to read about a home birth. Anyway, since I’ve now had three natural births, one in a hospital and two at home, I think it’s time to write about pain management during labor.

Although the majority of women in the U.S. choose to get an epidural to block feeling, there are definite risks to the procedure, both for the mother and her baby. I don’t think anyone would disagree that a drug-free vaginal birth is by far the safest. Unfortunately, not many women believe that they are capable of a drug-free birth. Most, if not all of this is due to our cultural opinion of birth. Nearly everyone, from doctors to the media, treats labor and birth as a medical condition that requires medical intervention and a highly-specialized doctor present to “get the baby out.” However, a healthy woman, left to herself or with a trusted labor assistant, will also give birth, and generally much more quickly and peacefully.

With all that being said, let’s talk about labor pains.

Now, labor is a lot of work. It is hard work. And for good reason. During labor our bodies go through incredible physical and hormonal changes as the baby moves down the birth canal to be born. How many are in awe that a baby is able to fit through an opening that is so small? I know I am! With all the changes occurring within a laboring woman’s body, there is also a level of discomfort. Each woman experiences it differently; some refer to the sensation as an intense ache on her pubic bone, some women describe extreme pain.

Whatever experience you’ve had or heard stories about, there are ways to alleviate painful sensations during each contraction (also called a surge or rush by many natural childbirth books – I like those terms much better, don’t you? They describe labor much more accurately than contraction does. What a distant, medical word) – without drugs. Here are some ways to handle the surges:

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1. Relax

Seems counterintuitive, right? When we experience pain or discomfort our natural reaction is to tense up in a “fight or flight” mentality. Our adrenaline kicks in and we’re ready to react. Normally, this is a good thing. However, labor is not something we can escape from, and it is not something to fear. We are bringing new life into the world, and that is a wonderful thing! Tensing muscles during a surge will only make the pain worse. Our tendency is to tense up, then when that makes it more painful we tense up more, which creates even more pain. It turns into a vicious cycle in which a woman even begins to tense up in anticipation of the next contraction.

In order to break free of that cycle, it helps to relax our muscles, especially in the abdomen, butt/vaginal area, and jaw. If you’re having trouble relaxing those muscles, allowing your mouth to fall open in a “duh” expression helps open up the birth canal as it lessens tension in your vaginal muscles. I know, it sounds weird, but those two sets of muscles are connected. It is possible to relax all these muscles even while you’re using others, such as while standing or kneeling.

2. Breathe, Breathe

“Breathing” does not mean the short, “hee hee hoo hoo” breaths that classes like Lamaze teach (well, they used to, at least; maybe they’ve changed). Patterned breathing techniques like that are only used to try to distract a woman from her contractions. When I say “breathe,” I mean deep, full, belly breathing. The kind we all used to do as children, before our culture taught us to never let our bellies stick out. Breathe like an opera singer or a baby. With each breath use as much lung space as possible. If you do it correctly, your belly should rise with each breath, but your chest barely moves. Try to visualize sending air down into your vagina instead of your chest. Deep breathing takes more oxygen into your body, which alleviates pain. Focusing on the breathing is also calming and brings your focus inward as you “give in” to what your body is doing.

3. Set the Mood

Just as there is a certain ambience that creates a romantic mood, there is an ambience that is good for labor. There are exceptions, of course, but most women need dim lighting, a peaceful atmosphere, and a very few trusted people in the room with her. If laboring at home, you can set up candles, play music, and hand-pick who is allowed to be there. If at a hospital, it will probably take a little more effort, but it is possible. Some hospitals provide cd players and bedside lamps, but others don’t. Find out beforehand and, if they don’t, you can bring your own stereo or light if you desire. Having only a few trusted people is also nearly impossible at a hospital, but you can limit who enters the room and when. In this case, a spouse or friend may have to keep unwanted people out. Also, if a nurse is rude or makes you uncomfortable, you can tell them to leave. Remember: you are paying them to help you during labor. Don’t be afraid to request a different nurse.

4. Move Around

I’ve written before that lying flat on your back is the worst position to labor and birth in. It not only closes the pelvic opening so that the baby has a hard time getting out, but it also makes contractions much worse for the vast majority of women. Early in labor, walking is great because it helps the baby move down and into a good position for birth. Later in labor, moving around to find the most comfortable position will help alleviate pain. Also, your body will tell you if you’re in a bad position for the baby as she moves down toward birth. Listen to your body, and if you don’t feel like being in a certain position, move (between contractions!) to a different one. Here are a few positions women find comfortable during late labor:

-standing, leaning forward against someone
-kneeling on all fours
-kneeling and resting upper body on a couch or bed
-sitting on the toilet, an exercise ball, or a birth stool
-resting in a tub of warm water
-lying in a side-relaxation position (on your side, slightly leaned forward, with top leg propped on a pillow and another pillow under chest and head)

5. Visualization and Listening

Many women find exercises such as visualization or self-hypnosis to be very helpful for labor. Hypnobirthing is an entire childbirth class that helps a woman learn self-hypnosis. There is also a good book on Hypnobirthing if you are unable to find or afford a class. Other classes, such as for the Bradley Method, teach visualization exercises. One popular one is called The Rainbow Visualization. Have your birth support read it to you in a calm, low voice in the months leading up to the birth, and then during labor they can read the whole thing or just the parts you find most soothing. A familiar voice is a very calming thing to listen to during labor. Have someone tell you a story, or read poetry or passages in Scripture to you. You can even recite favorites to yourself.

6. Massage

Nearly every woman loves some type of massage. During labor there are certain places that, if massaged, make labor easier. A skilled doula or labor assistant will be able to try various things to discover if one feels particularly nice. But, you don’t have to have a trained professional do it. Whoever you choose to be with you during labor can do it. One of the universal labor massage areas is the sacrum. This is the part of the lower back that lies roughly between the hipbones, just above the tailbone. Many women find that pressure on this area during contractions and even during pushing feels good. If your birth partner is unsure, have them start out firm but not too hard, then if you want more pressure, ask for it. Other good places to massage are the hands (especially between the thumb and index finger), feet, and ankles.

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So, there you have it! During labor remember: relax and give in to labor – you can’t escape it so work with it!; breathe into your pelvis; set the mood; don’t be afraid to move around; listen to a soothing, calm voice; and utilize the hands of whoever is in the room with you!

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Not too long ago at a birthday party I talked to a mom of a brand-new little baby boy. Her fourth baby. She was telling me about her birth; that she was five days past her due date and the doctor decided she “had to” induce. So, this sweet lady went in and was given a magical little “miso pill,” as she called it. “It’s a tiny little white pill they stick next to your cervix to start labor. My baby was born at noon. They had to do that to get my third baby out too.”

I stood there talking to her, trying to act normal and fervently hoping my look of horror didn’t show. That little “miso” pill, as she called it, is none other than Misoprostol, the generic name for Cytotec, a drug used off-label that has caused the damage and death of myriads of laboring women and their babies. Of course, I wasn’t horrified at the mom. There is no way she could know that the doctor she trusted was essentially performing an experiment on her to start labor. I was shocked that the doctor (who also happened to be my childhood doctor, which made it even more disturbing) would knowingly put this mother at risk without giving her any information on the drug she administered.

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Miso was first used as an induction drug in the mid-1990s. FDA approved as an ulcer drug, this pill has never been tested or approved for use on pregnant women. In fact, in 2000, the manufacturing company sent out a letter to all obgyns and midwives, warning against the use of miso because it causes uterine rupture (the uterus detaches and breaks open) and can harm or kill both mother and baby. And yet, eleven years and many deaths and lawsuits later, doctors still use it.

Essentially, the pill is dangerous because it’s unstoppable. With other induction drugs, like Pitocin, Prepidil, or Cervidil, the source of the drugs can be removed or slowed if a woman’s uterus shows signs of hyperstimulation or the baby goes into distress. Those drugs aren’t foolproof, but they don’t have as many cases of infant or maternal mortality due to uterine rupture as does misoprostol. A “miso” tablet, once absorbed into the body, cannot be stopped. It is an all or nothing deal. Therefore, even if the contractions strain the uterus to the point of rupture, there is no way to reverse or slow down those contractions.

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Talking to that mother got me thinking… if you know something about a drug a woman is given for childbirth, what do you say? Should you just stay silent, even though you know it causes death, disability, or infertility? Is it even ethical to stay silent? Do you tell her that the drug is that dangerous? Do you tell her to research it, knowing that she probably won’t? What on earth do you do in a situation like that?

In my mind, it would be different if the information was well known and in the news, such as the dangers of smoking cigarettes or binge drinking or a mainly fast food diet. Then I wouldn’t say anything because I know she made a conscious, informed choice. But medical interventions or prescriptions are an entirely different ballgame. We tend to trust our doctors and what they give us, believing that they have done the research and will give us the most beneficial treatment. This is not always the case. Most women don’t even know the potential side effects of labor drugs until it is too late and they’ve experienced the damage.

Women like the one from the party are the reason I started this site. Every woman deserves the right to make an informed choice about what is done to her body, especially during one of the most normal and natural processes she experiences: bringing forth life.

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So, when are you due?

This is the most frequently asked question I’ve heard during all three of my pregnancies. I’m sure the same is true for most women. Everyone from close family and friends to strangers you meet in the checkout line want to know: when are you due? 

Having a general idea of when you can expect to have a baby is fine, but it gets pretty frustrating when you reach your “due date” and are still pregnant. Especially when you pass that date.

Well, I am at that point now. And I am tired of people acting as though it is an awful ordeal to be pregnant past my due date. Maybe I’m weird, but I am totally fine still having the baby inside instead of in my arms. Not that I don’t want to meet my baby, because I definitely do. I can’t wait to meet this new addition to our little family. However, I realize that a due date isn’t set in stone, it isn’t usually accurate, and a baby will come when a baby is ready. Unless you force it. The worst part of this very end of pregnancy isn’t the largeness, the heat (I hope I am never extremely pregnant in July again!), or the fact that I cannot sleep without pillows propping up my belly. Or even the brutal rounds of contractions I’ve had for the last month. The worst part is the pitying looks or comments when someone knows this baby is “late.” And pointing out the obvious with a question: so… no baby yet? 

People, it’s not late!

I wish we could just do away with due dates. Maybe it should be an estimated birth month instead. Or, in my case, an estimated birth window of late June/early July.

Let me tell you a little bit about due dates and why we really need to stop treating the calendar as our ultimate authority.

First, every baby is different. Just like no two people develop at the same pace, so no two babies develop at the exact same pace. The 40 weeks of gestation time is an estimate. Some babies arrive sooner, most babies arrive later. If a healthy mother is allowed to go into labor on her own, with no induction forced on her, the average length of pregnancy is 42 weeks and a couple days. If you think about it, when doctors induce at 40 weeks, or even 41 weeks, they are inducing many babies who are not ready to be born.

Second, the pregnancy calendar wheel is inherently flawed. All pregnancy wheel charts that determine when a woman’s official due date is are based on a fertility cycle of 28 days, with ovulation occurring 14 days after the beginning of the menstrual cycle. I’ll give you one guess as to why this is a problem. Yep, you got it. No two women are the same. Imagine that! And because no two women are the same, there is a large range of when conception actually occurs. Some women have closer to 20-day cycles, and some women have close to 40-day cycles. That is a big difference, and a huge range of possible conception dates. Also, menstrual cycles begin roughly 12-16 days after ovulation, so the ovulating-on-day-14 idea is fundamentally flawed as well. Even if the 40-week gestation was correct for every single baby, the simple fact that the actual date conception can vary between women so drastically would throw off the dates by a couple weeks either way!

So, if you are pregnant or know someone else who is, don’t get caught up in the dates! They are always an estimate, and just because a woman is past her due date doesn’t mean something is wrong with the baby or the woman. Your body knows what it’s doing. Take care of it with healthy food and exercise, and tell everyone your due date is two weeks later than it actually is. That’s what I’m considering doing next time!

References:

Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler
Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin
Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way by Susan McCutcheon et al.

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As I write this, I am one day away from my “golden date,” which means that I am one day away from being 37 weeks pregnant.  Why is that date so important to me? At exactly 37 weeks, I am “allowed” to have my baby at home with my wonderful midwife, rather than in the hospital with a staff that isn’t too fond of home birthers.

Last night, though, we had a bit of a scare. I had contractions all day. They were big, strong, and pushed down on my pelvis. Nothing I did to slow them down had much of an impact for long. Even after I went to bed I woke up probably 10-15 times with them. It was a rough night because I did not want to go to the hospital simply because I was two days before my magic date. Now, if there was something wrong with the baby, then that would be a different story and I’d have no problem going to the hospital if needed. But if I had to go just to satisfy a law that set an arbitrary day as safe, based on an estimated due date, then I would have been pretty upset.

Thankfully, the contractions didn’t morph into labor last night, so I am safe – for now.  Just make it to midnight tonight, little baby, then feel free to come whenever you decide you’re ready! …well, as long as it’s not more than two weeks after your “due date” because then we’d have to deal with more drama, but then about you being “late.”

Anyway, last night’s excitement got me thinking that maybe, just maybe, other pregnant mothers may have trouble with contracting too much, too early. I start contracting fairly early in my pregnancies, so have a lot of experience with slowing down unwanted contractions.

I’d like to share some tips on what usually helps my body calm down when my contractions start to cause concern.

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COMMON CAUSES

First, it may be a good idea to go over a few common factors that can bring on contractions (or what feels like cramping early in pregnancy).

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Dehydration

Lack of water is probably the most common cause of non-labor contractions. This is easily fixed by drinking several glasses of water or Red Raspberry Infusion. If you have chronic contraction problems then upping water intake throughout the day will help.

Stress

Large amounts of stress can start contractions. The best thing to do in this case is to relax and try to remove or resolve the cause of your anxiety.

Overexertion

Overdoing it is one of my main causes of contractions. If possible, the best thing to do is stop. Take it easy. Just lie down or take a warm bath and let your body recover. Also, try to avoid lifting heavy objects or doing too many physical activities in one day. Many times, if you overdo it one day, the next day is when your body pays for it.

(I am preaching to myself here. During my second pregnancy we lived on the third floor and had almost no furniture. When my nesting instincts kicked in, I went crazy trying to get the place ready. By far my most dim-witted idea was to drag two large dressers and a bookshelf up to our third-floor apartment while my husband was at work. So there I was, eight months pregnant, trying to pull these solid wood monstrosities up three flights of stairs all alone. I finally realized that I was being an idiot, and found a kind maintenance man in the apartment office to take them the rest of the way. Of course, that little venture took me quite a while to recover from.)

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MY CONTRACTION REMEDIES

Now that I’ve gone over a few causes of contractions, I’ll list my personal remedies for contractions that just won’t stop. As always, check with your midwife or doctor first before using any new herbs or tinctures.

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Rest and Relaxation

Yep, I said it before, but this is important. If your body is stressed, overexerted, or simply worn out from the day, this is the first thing you want to do. Either lay down or take a bath. Let your body recover. My favorite is taking a warm, candlelit bath with one or all of the following remedies:

Red Raspberry Leaf Infusion

As I have mentioned before, red raspberry leaf is arguably the herb for women’s reproductive health. It strengthens the uterus and packed with vital nutrients for childbearing years. Taking a large glass or two of this infusion will help reduce contractions. If dehydrated, it will hydrate you, and the vitamins will help make your contractions productive. Meaning, if your contractions aren’t doing anything productive, such as bringing a baby into the world during labor, then red raspberry will help stop them.

Cramp Bark

Cramp bark is an amazing little remedy. It is generally used to relieve menstrual cramping. However, since it does so by reducing uterine contractions, it also helps reduce contractions during pregnancy. I have not come across any warnings about its use, except an unverified caution against using it if you are sensitive to aspirin.

The best way to take cramp bark is as a tincture. You can easily find this at a health food store. Just drop the recommended dose into a large glass of water. I find the taste pleasant, but if you don’t care for it, put it into just a little water and take it like a shot.

St. John’s Wort

This is another herb that works best as a tincture. By the way, if you don’t know what a tincture is, it is a concentrated liquid of an herb. Each one comes in a small bottle with a dropper. Doses are generally measured by counting how many drops you add to your water or tea. St. John’s Wort is most frequently used to treat depression. It calms and uplifts a person’s mind, which is perfect if you’re experiencing contractions brought on by stress or anxiety.

Red Wine

Okay, so I hesitated to add this to the list… wait, no, that’s not true. I briefly considered hesitating to add this, but that didn’t last long.

Now, I know that alcohol of any kind is decried for pregnant women because of fetal alcohol syndrome. It’s quite a touchy subject here in the U.S. In fact, during my first pregnancy a nurse told me that any amount at any time during pregnancy could cause serious damage. But then she also told me not to worry about any alcohol I’d consumed early on before I knew I was pregnant because it wouldn’t harm the baby. And yet during those first couple months is when the baby is at highest risk for birth defects and miscarriage. Make sense to you? Me neither.

Anyway, wine has long been used medicinally, even during pregnancy, and is still consumed in other developed countries by pregnant women. I personally view it as much safer than any prescribed drugs that could stop early labor, but that is between you and your own care provider. I’ll just share what I’ve found to help.

I personally only use red wine as a last resort, and only in the second half of pregnancy. When the chance of miscarriage and developing birth defects is high, as it is in the first trimester, I don’t touch the stuff. However, if none of the previous remedies have lessened my contractions and I truly am concerned about going into early labor, I drink a very small glass of wine – roughly a quarter of a glass – with bready food (I’m a lightweight, so don’t feel comfortable having more than that). The wine helps relax muscles, including uterine muscles. It also reduces any stress or anxiety that could be causing contractions. When all else has failed, there have been a few times when that little glass of wine finally stops the contractions or cramping.

Remember, whether it’s alcohol or caffeine or sugar, whatever you consume your baby does as well. And your baby feels it more than you do. So, if you feel lightheaded from any wine because you had too much or took it on an empty stomach, then your baby is probably reeling inside.

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So, there you have it. A few tips or ideas that may help you lessen contractions, especially ones that could easily turn into preterm labor.

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Please remember that I am not a doctor, midwife, or scientist. I’m just sharing what I’ve learned, what I’ve used, and what helps me and other women I’ve talked to. All of these mentioned have been suggested to me by a midwife or doctor, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that each one is good for you as well.

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In preparation for the birth of our third baby, I have been rereading all of the birth books I found helpful during my first pregnancy, as well as others I didn’t manage to get to at that time. It’s been a few years since I read them, and especially after a difficult labor with my second daughter, I’ve been needing a little reassurance and guidance this time around.

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Since I’ve read several childbirth books in a relatively short period of time, I’d like to give you a little review of what I would consider to be the best natural childbirth book for women who only have time to read one book.

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Although I have discovered invaluable information in each book I’ve read, the winner has to be… drumroll… Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin.

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Here’s why:

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Most childbirth books tend to focus on one of two things: either the feelings of the birth experience and how to achieve a gentle birth through relaxation, or, instead, on the medical establishment and all of the interventions routinely performed on women. The first approach can leave a woman unprepared and uneducated in the face of a different birth than planned. Especially when complications arise. The second can unnecessarily frighten her and make her completely averse to doctors even in a true life-threatening situation, or it can train her to become an acquiescent patient in a hospital.

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Ina May’s book leans to neither extreme. She addresses both aspects thoroughly.

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Considered the nation’s leading midwife, Ina May Gaskin began her midwifery career in the hippie days, when everyone wanted a homebirth away from the “establishment.” She attended countless births over the years. Her wealth of knowledge and experience is truly incredible, and she has witnessed natural births that most traditionally-trained medical doctors and nurses have never seen or conceived of.

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The first part of the book is birth stories from many mothers who had natural births. This may not seem important, but in our culture of labor as a “medical emergency” and childbirth as “the worst pain you’ve ever experienced,” I think it is so important that pregnant women hear (or read, in this case) accounts of what a normal birth can look like. Each woman’s experience is different, but all of them fly in the face of the horror stories that everyone – from the media to veteran mothers – likes to inflict on a pregnant woman.

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In Part 2, Ms. Gaskin explains some history of birth in the last several thousand years, and how our society ended up with such a skewed perception of what giving birth is all about. She then talks about the process of labor, what’s happening in the body and mind, and even discusses nearly unheard of “orgasmic” or “pain free” birth. (Side note, there are unedited photographs of vaginas and women laboring or giving birth throughout the book, just so you know). Ina May explains how laboring in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people can lengthen or completely stop labor, and why an intimate setting with people you trust is the best place to bring new life into the world. She talks about this from both a biological and emotional standpoint. I should note that she discusses birth in both home and hospital settings.

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In the second part Ms. Gaskin also covers a myriad of tests and interventions normally performed or offered during pregnancy or labor, as well as VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) and tips for choosing a traditional caregiver, midwife, or doula. She also talks about birthing positions around the world, and has drawings of women in each.

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Throughout the book Ina May remains true to her earthy roots. She writes frankly and insightfully about birth and about the labor process. She is engaging and down-to-earth, and provides an incredible amount of information. This book now holds a permanent place on my shelf.  If I could only give one book about childbirth to any pregnant woman, Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth is the one I would choose.

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I apologize for the long time between posts. My husband currently works at a school around children, and brought home a nasty bug that has made the rounds in our household. I haven’t had time to do much. So, finally, here is a much overdue post.

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What is natural childbirth?

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Generally, women who choose to have a natural birth are those who view childbirth as a natural, normal process; one that doesn’t generally need outside intervention in order to have a healthy baby. They (or we) have confidence in the fact that our bodies are designed to birth new life, and we realize that women have been doing this for centuries without assistance, and in most places around the world they still do it that way.

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In the United States, this mindset is not normal by any means. We, as a country, have turned this normal process into a medical “condition” that requires a surgeon’s expertise (that is what an OB/GYN is, after all: a surgeon trained in the surgical repair or removal of female body parts). Women are taught to fear the prospect of labor, and are told to trust a surgeon to safely deliver their babies. Doctors frequently perform “emergency” cesareans and “save” the baby or mother from certain death. Of course, these “emergencies” mainly occur due to the doctor’s medical intervention in the first place, but more on that later.

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Natural childbirth does not rely primarily on surgeons, but on the woman’s own body. When I say “natural childbirth,” I mean a birth that is completely drug-free, during which the woman is allowed to labor and give birth in a position she chooses, rather than one that is forced upon her. In all situations, unless there is a real medical reason to have to perform a cesarean, a natural birth is many times safer for both the mother and baby than births that rely on drugs or other interventions (induction, forceps, suction). The reason for this is that drugs always have side effects, and many of them are not only unpleasant, but downright dangerous for mother or baby.

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The Purpose of this Blog

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In future posts I will be going over how to successfully have a natural birth, from nutrition during pregnancy to the best labor positions and relaxation techniques. I want to provide a myriad of resources to childbirth classes and reading material that may help you in your own birth journey. I will also cover each common intervention such as epidurals, induction via pitocin or cytotec, twilight drugs, forced removal of the baby vaginally, and cesareans. My goal is for women to go into labor knowing their options, knowing the risks and benefits associated with each drug, when that drug is likely to be used, and to have the ability to make decisions for themselves.

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What I desire for you

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I want you to know the truth, and then to make your own decision based on facts. Although I am, admittedly, an advocate for natural childbirth and firmly believe it is best and safest in the majority of cases, I don’t just want you to have a natural childbirth. Although I love homebirth, I don’t necessarily want you to have a homebirth. What I desire is that you have the information so that you are able to choose how to birth your baby with your eyes wide open, rather than out of fear or intimidation or ignorance. Whether that be with drugs or without, in a hospital, birth center, or at home, my goal is twofold: one, for you to know why you’re making the decisions you make and, two, not to fear childbirth but to welcome it as the miraculous event it truly is.

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You see it on TV, in movies, through the birth stories of other women: childbirth is awful! It is painful; so excruciating, in fact, that even the most mild-mannered woman will scream obscenities at her husband: I hate you! You did this to me!  Women scream and groan and ask for drugs as portrayed in the media. Probably the worst when I was pregnant with my first was all the horror stories older mothers felt compelled to relay. Their experiences were so painful and the baby wouldn’t come out and so they had to have an emergency c-section… I can imagine that anyone who has ever been pregnant knows what I’m talking about. You know, those stories that absolutely terrify you and make you wish you had never gotten pregnant!

Throughout the United States, childbirth is viewed as a horrible, painful ordeal that requires medical assistance. Although in 1900 over 95% of women gave birth at home, usually with a midwife in attendance, by 1960, roughly the same percentage of women were giving birth in hospitals with drugs. Why? Women were seen as incapable in both the act of childbirth and of assisting in childbirth as midwives. Also, obstetricians had sought to establish themselves as the only experts in the field for the majority of the early 20th century. So, in a very short time, childbirth moved out of the hands of women (both mothers and midwives) and into the hands of men. Doctors, instead of assisting and supporting a woman through the process of childbirth, turned it into a medical ordeal. They essentially used the “knock ‘em out, drag ‘em out” approach. Women were drugged, laid on a table with sheets covering everything except the vaginal opening, and their babies were extracted while they stayed in their drugged state. Unfortunately, that idea has continued in the American consciousness, although many midwives and doctors have fought for the right of women to take back childbirth as their own.

For much of history, women have given birth with the help of other women, usually older women who had already given birth to their own children. Unlike the current status of birth as a medical condition that always requires a doctor and hospital, birth was viewed as a natural process. And, in other countries around the world, it is viewed in the same light: normal. Childbirth is not something to fear. It is not an abnormal part of life. It is part of who we are as women. Biologically, we are perfectly capable of giving birth to a child without medical intervention.

Now, I’m not saying that no women ever need doctors during their pregnancies and births. In fact, some women really, truly do need medical intervention in order to safely have their babies. That is what doctors are for: to help those who actually need their knowledge. However, quite honestly, most women don’t. In fact, medical intervention tends to create more problems than it solves in a healthy mother.

A woman’s body is truly phenomenal. Life begins within our bodies, and is sustained while each new human being develops. When the baby is ready, our bodies begin to change and every little step falls into place – in perfect order – for a new life to be born. One midwife, while explaining the process to me, said that it is a miracle that the thousand things that must happen in order for a baby to be born do happen, in the exact order they need to, during the relatively short span of labor. Not to mention the previous months of preparation. And it truly is a miracle; a process that should inspire awe in all who witness birth.

So, pregnant women, do not be afraid! Your body was designed to give birth to babies. Your body adjusts and alters itself to accommodate the life growing inside, and your body inherently knows the perfect way to bring that new life into the world. There is so much to learn about childbirth, and how incredibly capable we truly are. And there is much you can do to prepare so that you are no longer assaulted by fear of the unknown or swayed by the fear of others.

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