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The birth of your child deserves special care and attention. Natural pregnancy and natural childbirth are precursors to a happy, health child.
"Nature's pretty good. We shouldn't be so critical." – Ina May Gaskin (Happy Healthy Child DVD series)
With skyrocketing cesarean section rates reaching between 30-50% in most major hospitals, infant and maternal mortality on the rise, and autism, obesity and other chronic health conditions reaching epidemic proportions in children, it is more important than ever that we understand that the way women care for themselves prenatally, the way babies enter this world and their earliest experiences have long-lasting implications on their happiness and health.
Nature's Head Start Program
We now know that pregnancy is not a "grace period" before parenting begins; in fact, it is more accurate to think of it as "Nature's Head Start Program." A pregnant woman's emotional and physical well-being during her pregnancy has a deep, long-lasting impact on her developing fetus. According to perinatal psychologist Dr. Thomas Verny,
"In the second trimester, the unborn child is a sensing, feeling, and conscious human being."
Children are even developing their tastes and preferences for particular foods based on what is being eaten by their mother while they are in utero. Researchers at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia have demonstrated that a fetus will swallow more amniotic fluid if the mother has eaten something sweet, rather than bitter, indicating that a "sweet tooth" can be developed even before birth. Eating the standard American high-fat, high-sugar diet during pregnancy has also been found to have the potential to program a mother's baby for future diabetes, even if she herself is not obese or diabetic, says a University of Illinois study published in the Journal of Physiology.
Cell biologist, Bruce Lipton, also notes that:
"it is important to recognize that a mother's thoughts, beliefs and attitudes are turned into chemistry that controls the physiology of her body, and when she is carrying a child, her thoughts and her beliefs and attitudes are not only affecting her physiology, they are also affecting the physiology of her child. If a mother is happy, her fetus is happy because the same chemistry of emotions are crossing through the placenta and affecting the fetus. If the mother is scared or stressed, the same stress hormones cross and impact the fetus."
It is essential that pregnant women are given support and encouraged to strive to limit unnecessary stress. It may not be the best time to plan a big move or house remodeling or start a new business venture. Babies really don't care if you have designed the perfect nursery or if you have all the latest baby gear - all they truly need and want is you.
Pregnancy is a great time to explore various modalities such as yoga, meditation, chiropractic care, acupuncture, cranial sacral treatments and massage – any care received at this time is really a two-for-one deal.
View the trailer for Healthy Happy Child: A Holistic Approach HERE
Following Nature's Design for Birth
Last year, a report from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine came out with game-changing new guidelines in an attempt to reduce the cesarean section rates in the U.S. In the last 15 years, this number has soared 60% and now accounts for one-third of all deliveries; to put this into perspective, this rate was between 4-5% in 1965 and the World Health Organization recommends that it should not exceed between 10-15%.
The report states that:
"the rapid increase in cesarean birth rates from 1996 to 2011 without clear evidence of concomitant decreases in maternal or neonatal morbidity or mortality raises significant concern that cesarean delivery is overused."
Why is this important? Nature has spent thousands and thousands of years perfecting this process and the common drugs and interventions which have been introduced into the modern birth process are in many ways an untested experiment. America has the worst maternal death rate of any industrialized nation, and this number has doubled in the past 25 years despite spending more than $98 billion a year on hospitalizations for pregnancy and childbirth. There are very real complications that a woman and a newborn face because of unnecessary cesareans. This major abdominal surgery triples the death rate for new mothers, and increases the likelihood of infection, hemorrhaging, injury to organs, adhesions, extended hospital stays and reactions to medications.
If a woman schedules a cesarean without going into labor, there is a much higher risk of her baby being born prematurely and experiencing associated complications such as spending time in neonatal intensive care, respiratory issues, exposure to numerous drugs, infections leading to early antibiotic use (which harms the natural gut flora), and problems with breastfeeding, to name a few.
There is also the intricate hormonal exchange that unfolds between a mother and her baby during normal birth which is impeded by many of the common interventions. The hormone oxytocin is one of several crucial hormones released from the brain into the body during labor. Oxytocin causes the rhythmic contractions of labor and is so powerful that it is often referred to as the "love hormone." Dr. Sarah Buckley, an expert on this and other powerful birth hormones says,
"It is a hormone of calm and connection, a hormone of joy and bliss and ecstasy. The synthetic version of this is called Pitocin and it is widespread in modern maternity care and although it is chemically equivalent, when it is injected into the body, it does not cross back into the brain so it doesn't have any of the same beneficial psycho-emotional effects. We don't know what the long-term effect missing out on this hormone might have on a mother or her baby."
Interventions such as cesarean deliveries can, of course, be life saving and are important and essential. However, we need to respect that when they are overused, as is happening today, the impact can be detrimental. If the goal is to have a safe, satisfying and natural birth experience, expectant parents should:
- Put together a birth team that will support their desired birth vision. If you want to have a natural birth, it is imperative that you find a doctor or midwife who supports natural birth. If a doctor has a 50% cesarean section rate and you choose him/her to deliver your baby, then you have a 50% chance of having this major surgery. Be sure to ask lots of questions and if your provider doesn't want to answer your questions, it's probably best to keep looking.
- Hire a doula who will be with you during your labor to offer continuous one-on-one support. Doulas have been proven in many large studies to be one of the most effective ways of helping a woman achieve a positive birth experience, avoid a cesarean section, shorten labor and decrease the desire/need for pain medication. To learn more about the benefits of doula support, check out this Happy Healthy Child video excerpt (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pieV43UMQ-M).
- Explore various places to birth. Although it is still a very small fraction of the U.S. population (about 1%) who are choosing to birth at home, these numbers are growing markedly and there have been numerous large studies showing the safety of homebirth in low risk women. Birth centers can be a great option as well. The best place to birth is where you feel private, comfortable, safe, unobserved and secure; this is essential to natural, physiologic, mammalian birth.
- Learn about the many time-tested, practical tips and tools available for managing and overcoming the intensity of labor without drugs or surgery. Learning to connect with your breath and make deep sounds helps facilitate labor. We also know that things such as water (both tubs and showers), birth balls, massage, aromatherapy, acupressure all help significantly. Movement is also essential. As Dr. Christiane Northrup highlights,
"What do you think is the worst position in which to move your bowels? Lying flat on your back on a bed. That would be stupid, right? You wouldn't have gravity working for you and you decrease the diameter of the pelvis (by up to 25%)."
We need to be upright and moving to help facilitate the baby's journey through the birth canal.
- Research the many common interventions used in modern hospital-based births and always question why an intervention is being suggested. Unfortunately, much of the routine treatment of birth is not based on scientific evidence and often one intervention leads to another. One example is continuous electronic fetal monitoring; this practice has never been proven to improve outcomes and has been shown to increase the rates of cesarean section.
- Drink and eat as desired. Be aware that another common recommendation that is not supported by scientific evidence is for laboring women not to eat and drink. Birthing a child is most likely the hardest and potentially longest endurance event a woman will ever go through. It makes no sense to deprive the body of much needed fluid and nutrients during such a physically challenging activity. Most women are given IV fluids during labor but we know that this can often dilute our hormones and is unnecessary when a women drinks as needed.
- Avoid an elective induction. There has been a huge increase in the number of elective inductions over the past 15 to 20 years. Dr. Aviva Romm states that "a normal human gestation, even by the standards of ACOG, is at the end of 42 weeks. However, if you look at data on when OBs choose to induce, it is actually closer to the end of the 40th week." Due dates were historically viewed as an estimate. "Women aren't clocks. It's nothing like, bang, 40 weeks, now we have to get the baby out because suddenly a mother becomes dangerous to her baby." "This is just nonsense," states world-famous midwife Ina May Gaskin. "Why would we expect that every baby would develop at the exact same rate?" Often if a woman is not ready to go into labor, the induction will fail leading to an otherwise unnecessary cesarean section.
- Educate yourself. It is important, first and foremost, to trust that the body that grew your baby is also perfectly designed and capable of birthing your baby, the vast majority of the time. Although we live in a time where there is an abundance of information available about pregnancy, birth and parenting, much of it is fear-based, medically focused and not based on up-to-date research. Less than 30% of expectant couples are taking childbirth education classes and many are not getting to the stack of books they had planned to read. Because the media's goal is to keep people's attention, the vast majority of images and stories that we hear/see/read about pregnancy and birth are extremely dramatic and negative. Unfortunately, many parents-to-be are entering this time in their lives feeling fearful, anxious and unprepared, and many are not having the experiences that they had hoped for. Knowledge is power and when we understand nature's design for birth, we gain confidence in our body's ability to birth. Explore all of your options in order to make the best choices for you and your baby.
Think about how much time and money you spend preparing for your wedding – "Your big day." You research different venues, try on dresses, map out seating arrangements, earmark money for a cake and music. Doesn't the birth of your child deserve this same amount of care, attention and preparation, or more? This is big. This is your child's "big day" – their birth day.
If our goal is to raise happy, healthy human beings then we as parents and practitioners need to understand there is no time more critical in a child's life than their early experiences.
If you are pregnant, hoping to become pregnant, or work in any capacity with parents-to-be, please take a moment to check out Happy Healthy Child: A Holistic Approach a highly acclaimed childbirth education series that explores all of these topics and more.
The hard work of researching and compiling the most crucial information has been done for you.
For this week only, GMI.com subscribers will receive an exclusive 25% discount off of the entire 4-part series using the discount code GMI (case sensitive).
"Happy Healthy Child is a beautifully made series that I highly recommend to EVERYONE who is interested in humankind. Every pregnant woman and those who love her need to watch this amazingly beautiful and informative series!"
-Dr. Christiane Northrup (MD, FACOG)