Midwives Save Lives

May 22, 2013 at 10:50 pm

Midwives have been saving mothers and babies for thousands of years. Long before the words “hospital” and “obstetrician” even existed, midwives were passing down the skills and wisdom of their wise women, nurturing mothers and babies into life.

In one of humanity’s oldest and most well-read stories, midwives were saving lives. The first chapter of Exodus tells of two midwives (Puah and Shiphrah) who saved countless lives through their courage and compassion. When Pharaoh demanded that they kill all the male babies born to the Hebrew women in slavery, Puah and Shiphrah saved the boys instead. It is likely thanks to them that anyone knows and reveres the name of Moses. Midwives save lives.

My own faith’s history claims many brave midwives. In the late 1800’s, Emma Andersen Liljenquist attended a course in midwifery after Mormon church president Brigham Young had urged many women to receive medical training to meet the needs of the Utah’s growing families. (You can read more about Utah’s midwifery history here.) Emma recorded these experiences from her years as a midwife among Utah’s early settlers:

Improving your epidural birth

November 18, 2010 at 8:46 am

Back in August, a close friend from college specifically requested that I do some posts for women like her who plan to have epidurals. So I wrote the first in a supposed series of “Improving your epidural birth” posts, encouraging pregnant women to “hire wisely” when choosing a care provider.

This morning I got feeling bad that I haven’t written any more posts for that series, and I suddenly realized that I have! In fact, the vast majority of the posts I’ve written over the last six months are on topics that would be of interest to all women, not just those who choose to forgo pharmaceutical pain relief in childbirth. And scanning three+ years of posts on my old blog brought up many more.

So, with all of that in mind, I give you some of my best tips for improving your epidural birth (besides carefully choosing a care provider), gleaned from my blog (and other helpful sites) over the years.

1) Prepare your body for pregnancy.

The more I learn, the more I realize that the groundwork for a really wonderful birth experience must be laid long before labor begins. When you nourish and take care of yourself, your body will be stronger and better able to perform its vital functions in pregnancy and childbirth. A strong, healthy body is much less likely to suffer complications that can have a detrimental and traumatic impact on your birth experience.

Many of the same things that will best prepare your body for a healthy pregnancy will also improve your chances of conceiving—eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low on processed foods, maintaining a healthy weight, optimizing your body’s levels of key nutrients (vitamin d, magnesium, essential fatty acids, and folate).  Making these dietary and lifestyle changes habits before conception will make them much easier to maintain throughout the coming pregnancy and beyond. 

Preventing postpartum hemorrhage naturally

August 25, 2010 at 4:39 am

Childbirth involves blood loss. There’s no way around it. How much blood a woman loses is the potentially dangerous variable. Postpartum hemorrhage accounts for the majority of maternal deaths worldwide. Fortunately, in the United States where maternity care is more readily accessible, most postpartum hemorrhages are not fatal. But they do happen, regardless of where you give birth.

So what do we know about postpartum hemorrhage?

Who is most at risk of experiencing a postpartum hemorrhage soon after giving birth?

  • Women with pregnancy induced hypertension
  • Women who experience a prolonged second stage of labor
  • Women who are induced or have their labors augmented with Pitocin
  • Women whose babies are delivered via vacuum extraction
  • Women with “large for gestational age” infants

(Source: Obstetric risk factors and outcome of pregnancies complicated with early postpartum hemorrhage: A population-based study)

Pitocin’s untold impact

July 21, 2010 at 5:01 pm

Michel Odent, MD, founder of the Primal Health Research Centre, has spent decades studying the “primal period.” Odent defines the primal period—prenatal, birth, and the first year of life—as the time “when the basic adaptive systems—those involved in what we commonly call health—reach their maturity” (Source). Today’s Midwifery Today E-News shared a quote from Odent about synthetic oxytocin [Pitocin] and the potentially detrimental impact it can have on a fetus’s oxytocin receptors. Here’s an excerpt:

80% of the blood reaching the fetus via the umbilical vein goes directly to the inferior vena cava via the ductus venosus, bypassing the liver, and therefore immediately reaching the brain: it is all the more direct since the shunts (foramen ovale and ductus arteriosus) are not yet closed. . . . Furthermore, it appears that the permeability of the blood-brain barrier can increase in situations of oxidative stress—a situation that is common when drips of synthetic oxytocin are used during labor. We have, therefore, serious reasons to be concerned if we take into account the widely documented concept of “oxytocin-induced desensitization of the oxytocin receptors.” In other words, it is probable that, at a quasi-global level, we routinely interfere with the development of the oxytocin system of human beings at a critical phase for gene-environment interaction.

Oxytocin is the hormone of love and bonding and human connection. If the oxytocin system is damaged, or a child’s oxytocin receptors become desensitized, the ramifications are huge. As more and more scientists study oxytocin’s impact, we can see how crucial our body’s oxytocin systems can be for human life, love, and happiness.

On loving baby slime

July 2, 2010 at 4:08 pm

I’ve got this theory. I’m not going to suggest that I’m the first to come up with this. It’s only “new” in the sense that it’s “new” to me. I’d love to see it tested with some research on mothers and infants.

A few weeks ago I got thinking about the profoundly intense bond I developed with my son following my home birth. I had never experienced anything like it. Sure, I developed a deep love for my daughters, but it took much longer and came far less naturally. I have come up with many possible explanations for the intensity of the bond with my son…

No Pitocin to interfere
* More intense oxytocin rush being in a comfortable, private setting
* Immediate and prolonged skin-to-skin contact
* First feeding within 15 minutes of birth (I can’t remember exactly, but it was the first thing we did after holding him and delivering the placenta.)
* No hospital staff coming in and out of our room at all hours

As I was thinking, I realized another factor I hadn’t thought of before. My baby boy spent his first 20-ish hours of life still smelling of birth (it’s a sweet smell) with amniotic-fluid-and-vernix “gel” in his hair, and even bits of blood here and there (I should clarify that he was wiped with dry towels following his birth, so he wasn’t slimy). Sounds gross, but we didn’t really want to bathe him in the wee hours of the morning and didn’t get around to it until the next evening. Even then, we didn’t use any soap. Just rinsed his hair with water (not all the waxy vernix came out) and did a quick sponge bath. So I’d wager he still “smelled of birth” until the first shampoo eight days later. For over a week, my nose and brain were bathed in those primal smells.

Research indicates that babies are highly attuned to their mothers’ smells. They are imprinted on the smell of amniotic fluid, and the areola of the breast carries a very similar smell. In fact, an infant who is placed between his/her mother’s naked breasts immediately following birth (and left there), can find the nipple and latch on without any adult assistance. Just through his highly developed sense of smell and instincts! (If you’ve never watched this amazing process, you simply must. I found this YouTube video with the “breast crawl” in action. I am hoping to experience it with my next baby!) It has also been shown that infants are calmed and cry less when exposed to the smell of amniotic fluid.

What about mothers? When a mother gives birth (particularly without intervention), she experiences the highest oxytocin rush of her lifetime. When oxytocin is released, other processes are working behind-the-scenes as well. Oxytocin is tied to memory and smell. It is the “bonding” hormone in large part because humans become “bonded” to those with whom they experience surges of oxytocin. And the brain/body remembers those individuals largely through the olfactory triggers that are present when the oxytocin-surge-bonding takes place.

It is nearly standard practice to clean infants within a few hours of birth. And it is almost a given that Johnson’s baby shampoo will eliminate all but a trace of that amniotic-fluid-and-vernix coating babies come smothered in. If the smells of the womb and birth have a profound influence upon infants, why not mothers? Wouldn’t it make sense that biology/God/Mother Nature would also instill within her instinctual responses to those primal smells? In fact, an olfactory-oxytocin-maternal-instinct connection has been demonstrated with rats.

I’m now completely convinced that smell played a huge part in the rapid and intense bonding and maternal drive I experienced with my baby boy. Any future babies I have will spend at least as long smelling of birth. I don’t care how gross anyone thinks it is. Just try taking in a long breath of a freshly-born baby’s head and tell me it doesn’t smell good to your core. I’m in no hurry to wash it away. No hurry at all.

UPDATE 9/24/2013:

Yippee! Scientists are studying this phenomenon!

“The scent of a newborn baby really does tap right into the pleasure centers of a woman’s brain, whether the smell comes from her own baby or someone else’s, scientists have discovered. The new findings have been described in a study just published in Frontiers in Psychology” (Source).

Some related links:

New baby smell creates ‘very strong’ bond in mom’s brain, study finds
Tie between oxytocin and smell
Rub It In: Making the Case for the Benefits of Vernix Caseosa
Bonding Matters: The Chemistry of Attachment
Amniotic fluid smell
Optimal position for breastfeeding (lying down with baby on chest)

Little known facts about Pitocin and induction

July 1, 2010 at 8:26 am

This is an updated version one of the first blogposts I ever wrote, back on my old blog, in April of 2007.  It brought a lot of traffic to that blog, much the way my “Pitocin’s untold impact” post has brought a lot of traffic to this new website.  Apparently, lots of people want to find out more about Pitocin!  This is good.  I hope more and more research will give us further answers about the short and long-term effects of this powerful drug.  In the meantime, here are some of the things I’ve discovered in my own truth-seeking journey…

“Pitocin is the most abused drug in the world today.”
~Roberto Caldreyo-Barcia, MD
(former president of the International Federation of
Obstetricians and Gynecologists)

• Pitocin is not approved by the FDA for elective (patient or provider convenience) inductions or elective stimulation of labor (moving things along).

• Pitocin generally produces contractions that are much longer, more intense, and more painful than normal contractions.

• The intense contractions caused by Pitocin can abnormally restrict oxygen supply to the fetus. This decrease in oxygen can lead to fetal distress and, when prolonged, emergency C-section. Some providers even use this side effect to “Pit to distress” when they want a short-cut to a cesarean.

• Pitocin has the potential of causing tetanic contractions—contractions coming so frequently that they merge into one sustained contraction—which can result in premature separation of the placenta, uterine rupture, cervical tearing, excessive bleeding postpartum, as well as severely restricting oxygen supply to the fetus. Some of these complications are potentially fatal to mother and/or fetus.

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