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Laboring On Birth Transition in the United States - Book Review

Touted as the first "feminist sociological analysis of birth in the United States", Laboring On can fit into the Women's Studies, Sociology, Midwifery and Health sections of your library. 

Together Wendy Simonds, Barbara Katz Rothman and Bari Meltzer Norman explore American birth practices and delve, in an easy to read manner, into the varying and conflicting perspectives of OB/GYNS, Midwives, CNMs and Doulas.

Throughout the book the authors focus on the medical model as separating mom from baby and doing what is best to prevent lawsuits, Nurse Midwives mostly having to compromise their ideals in order to work under the medical model of birth, Midwives needing to balance being the most knowledgeable of birth yet having the least rights of all practitioners and Doulas as championing the way in hospitals.

Interviews with medical professionals are printed verbatim, then analysed in Laboring On, which helps the reader find the nuances of doctor's language and the defeat in the voices of the Certified Nurse Midwives working in hospitals. 

This book provides a strong insight into the politics of birth and why America's maternity wards are in the shape they are in today.


Breast is the Best, Even if You’re Three - Guest Writer Series

The following article, written by Colleen Mahon-Haft, is an informative piece on extended breastfeeding. Welcome Colleen to Healing Midiwfery!

Last year a Delta Airlines employee asked a nursing mother to put a blanket on her child’s head, because she said seeing the toddler nurse was“weird” and made her uncomfortable. The flight attendant reacted in this manner simply because extended nursing, when a baby nurses past a year old, is not the norm in United States culture. As a result, virtually any mother of a nursing toddler can recall dirty looks she has received while nursing in public and is likely to have horror stories of more confrontational judgments from strangers, like the mother on the plane.


Mothers in the US generally wean before twelve months, most at six months or earlier.  A mere 14% of mothers still nurse their babies at seven months of age (Le Leche League International 1997).  However, breast milk is the optimal food not only during infancy but also into toddler-hood, and if more mothers were aware of the benefits of extended nursing, they would not look at it as “weird” and would be proud to offer their baby the best nutrition possible.  U.S. culture, many American doctors, and the mainstream media discourage extended breastfeeding, in the process attaching shame and embarrassment to a natural feeding process that is extremely beneficial to the child’s well being.  

A child can only absorb 10% of the iron from cow’s milk, while 50% of the iron from breast milk’s can be absorbed (Eiger and Olds 1999).  Additionally, “human milk contains living cells, hormones, active enzymes, immunoglobulins and compounds with unique structures that cannot be replicated in infant formula" (Benson, Masor March 1994).   For this reason, when both mother and baby are healthy, the Food and Drug Administration, the Center for Disease Control, and the World Health Organization all advise nursing for a year or longer, as long as mother and baby are comfortable.

 Beyond the nutrient content of breast milk, extended nursing also provides a crucial boost to children’s immature immune systems. Until the age of six a child's immune system isn't functioning at adult level, which leads parents to shield them from sick neighbors, bundle them up during the winter, and make sure they don’t leave the house with a wet head.  Still, by nursing for a limited time, many mothers pass up the opportunity to directly provide young children with what it needs to fight off a cold or the flu. The composition of mother’s milk provides infants and toddlers with vitamin E, which is crucial for immune system development, along with enzymes, proteins and already developed antibodies that are essential to developing and maintaining good health. For this reason, breastfeeding has been directly associated with fewer infant illnesses, and extended breastfeeding subsequently with fewer toddler illnesses (Gluiuk 1996).

Not only does extended nursing have great health benefits, it also plays an important role in mother/child bonding and later social bonding. Extended breastfeeding gives mothers and toddlers special time to be together, experiencing each other’s closeness. Getting a toddler to slow down can be challenging, so the time spent nursing is needed and enjoyed. Oxytocin and Prolactin are released into the mother’s body during nursing,  Both hormones have been referred to as the "love hormones" or the "bonding hormones.”  Those hormones provide a sense of calm to the mother, promoting bonding and creating desire for further contact with the child.  

Adversaries to extended nursing suggest that extended nursing makes weaning more difficult and leads children to be overly dependent, therefore advocating that mother’s force their babies to wean on a set time frame.  In reality, forced weaning can be a frustrating experience for both, as it requires fighting biological instincts to continue nursing. On the other hand, child-led weaning tends to be much easier on the mother and toddler as all children will eventually give up the breast when they feel the cues to do so.  Often, they will set their own time frames, such as “when I’m four” or “after Santa comes.” 

There is evidence that child-led weaning is beneficial for the social development of children. Dr. William Sears (The Breastfeeding Book 2000), having studied the long-term impacts of the weaning process on thousands of children, reports that “children who had timely weanings… are more independent, gravitate to people more than things, are easier to discipline, experience less anger, radiate trust.… [After] studying the long-term effects of long-term breastfeeding, the most secure... and happy children we have seen are those who have not been weaned before their time” (Sears 2000).  Thus, despite what opponents of extended breastfeeding suggest, research on childhood development shows that toddlers who nurse will not be clingy and overly  dependent, and are actually likely to be more trusting, independent, and happier than children who are force-weaned.

Additionally, extended nursing benefits children in ways that extend all the way to school age. One study found that school age children who were breastfed as infants and toddlers have I.Q. scores averaging seven to ten points higher than formula-fed infants (Dr. Sears 2000). Breastfed babies and toddlers also have the privilege of receiving high levels of DHA (docasahexaenoic acid), which is a brain boosting fat, found in cold water fish and in seaweed.  DHA is essential for the proper development of the nervous system and vision (Memmler’s 2005). DHA levels are highest in babies who are breastfed the longest. The cognitive development of babies fed formula does not equal that of those who are breastfed (Dr. Sears 2000).  

Mothers who nurse their babies into toddler-hood are doing themselves and their little ones a great service physically, socially, intellectually and emotionally.  They are providing comfort and nourishment that will affect the children their entire lives. Breastfeeding is also a life-affirming act of love. If you have ever observed an older baby or toddler nursing, you can see that there is something almost magical, something very special about the mother/ child bond.  With such strong evidence of the positive effects of extended nursing, the pattern of limited breastfeeding in the United States is puzzling. 


Royal Bottoms - A Review of Cloth Diapers

Royal Bottoms, a local Portland, Oregon company, is a mom owned and sustainable cloth diaper company. And these aren't your ordinary cloth diapers.

Raya, the mom, owner and talent behind the beautiful designs ensures that each order is made to your exact specifications and needs. Her Royal Bottoms blog as well as her website have lovely photos of each design, so you can find something for your needs.

Royal Bottoms recommends that parents start with 20 cloth diapers for a newborn. Although that sounds like a lot, Raya says that "when you take into account a one-size diaper will last until he or she is potty-trained it makes a lot of sense."

What about poop in the washer? Raya has this to say, "A lot of people worry about putting feces in their washer. But in the first six months of life when a baby is breastfeed that poop is 100% water soluble and will leave no trace in the washer. Then when the child starts eating solid foods you can use biodegradable rice paper liners and plop those off in the toilet before washing. Most of the time everything just shakes right off and whatever is left is fine to wash. Trust me, it's not as scary as it sounds."

Looking for sustainable clothing, wetbags, wipes? You can definitely find it at Royal Bottoms as well. Each wetbag is handcrafted at home by Raya and is used to hold the smells and moisture of dirty diapers until laundry day.

Here is what I love best about this company: the education. Raya takes the time to teach you how to begin the path of cloth diapering, and her products make it a much easier and safer task than the old school cloth diapers you had to fold and pin. And they look so cool on little babies.

Note to shoppers: Royal Bottoms is holding a sale on bumGenius diapers, 6-15% off for diapers that rarely go on sale. Contact Raya while supplies last.


Birth Poetry by Stephanie Elliott

This exaggerated hip swing, 
The rocking of my own cradle;
Relaxin relaxes my joints into soft sensual submission, 
Allowing me to open, open, open.

How did I get here?
Oxytocic orgasm, 
Estrogen and Progesterone, mounting, mounting, mounting,
Leaving me cry, cry, crying, over spilt milk. 

How did I know I was here? 
HCG whispered it in my ear
Two blue lines, in parallel
The tell tale sign, that every woman anticipates and fears.

Oxytocin awakes me at 2am, 
I feel the pulling
The downward force 
My body is moving
...without my permission.

Still, it says yes, and asks for more.
More oxytocin... more....
More pain, more force.

The hours go by...
I pace and dance 
With my relaxin hip swing.

I feel the baby drop down



Prostaglandins are massaging my cervix, 
Softer, thinner, 
Creating gentle passage for my child.

Down and through he slides...

Just when I think I can take no more, 
When I can do no more to birth my child.
Endorphin release...

Things get less sharp...
The sights, the sounds, the pain.
Suddenly it is just me 
And this child... Working together, a team.

Finally the time is coming
Rushes of oxytocin are overwhelming
I feel a rush of urgency and fear

Noradrenaline is telling me to get this baby out...

So I push... 
My heart pounds and I push....

                                                And I push...
And the child bursts forth, and lies before me...
Shakes its head and begins to scream.

I feel something come over me,
Something I never knew I could feel
Overwhelming love, intoxicating....

I hold my child on my chest,
He slowly bobs towards my breast.
I watch him with tears in my eyes. 
Prolactin and oxytocin bring me so close to my child.

These hormones have made me a mother today.


Upcoming Submission Requests

After the holidays, I'll be posting calls for the following submissions:

January: Birth Art
March: Personal Birth Narratives
May: Birth Rituals

If you would like to submit now, feel free to contact me.


Upcoming Articles

Healing Midwifery is pleased to announce the upcoming articles:

January: Bedsharing
February: Reiki Healing
March: Waterbirth
April: Creative Expression

Article suggestions are always welcome.


Resource List

Inspired by being snowed in for a full week out here in Portland, I've started putting together a resource binder for women who need information about getting pregnant, pregnancy, birth, infants, sleep, feeding, yoga, health, nutrition ---- all sorts of topics.

Very excited about this! Now I just need to come up with a cool name other than Community Resource Binder for Women. Any suggestions?


Getting the Best Eats During Pregnancy - December Article

There are heaps of nutrition articles on the Internet that can make a mother-to-be feel overwhelmed. If you’ve read any three, you can already surmise that there’s no special nutrition formula for your diet.

Consider the following to be general guidelines on how to eat an appropriate diet while pregnant. You’ll also find easy recipes that follow standard pregnancy nutritional guidelines. For more specific information, always check with your Midwife or caregiver. She knows your situation best and can provide the most accurate information specific to your needs.

Eating healthy, whether vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, etc., is almost always possible as long as it is well-planned and approved by your Midwife or caregiver. Don’t stress about how or what you are eating on a daily basis, but instead look at your diet over the course of a week to ensure it is balanced.

Over a seven day period, ask yourself if you’ve eaten enough greens, protein, fiber, fat and vitamins to satisfy your nutritional needs. If it’s hard to keep track, consider using a food journal for a week. If you feel you’ve been lacking something, plan how you will make changes and start again the next day. Each day is a new time to begin feeding you and your baby the way that is best for both of you.

Whenever possible, buy organic. This will ensure you are getting the best produce, dairy products, meat and snacks you can without harvesting them from your backyard.

When selecting fish, always check with your Midwife or caregiver to ensure it is safe for you to eat fish, and then chose varieties that are fresh rather than farmed for optimal nutrition.

For meat, select hormone and antibiotic free and grass fed to ensure the best cut of meat for you and your baby. The less synthetic hormones and medicine you have moving through your system, the better off you are.

Below are some nutrients that are vital to you and your baby’s wellbeing during pregnancy, followed by fast and easy recipes.

Folic Acid
Folic acid is a B vitamin that helps prevent abnormalities of the brain, spinal cord and neural tube. Ingesting 1 milligram a day during pregnancy, either through foods or supplements is essential to your baby’s well-being.

Organic leafy green vegetables (think kale, mustard greens, chard), root vegetables, organic citrus fruits, organic beans and fortified organic orange juice are great natural sources. Nutritional Yeast is also a nice way to add B vitamins to your diet. Sprinkle on popcorn or on dishes where you would normally use cheese. 

Calcium is another big one during your pregnant and breastfeeding months. Your skeletal, circulatory, muscular and nervous systems rely on calcium for day-to-day functioning. Add in a pregnancy and your body is thirsty for this nutrient. If you don’t provide enough calcium through the food you eat or your pre-natal supplement, then your body is going to take what it needs from your bones and teeth.

At least 1,000 milligrams per day is necessary, and more usually won’t hurt.

Again, organic leafy greens come into play here, as well as organic dairy and soy products, salmon (check with your Midwife) and yogurt.

The importance of protein cannot be stressed enough during pregnancy. Many Midwives and natural caregivers believe that protein can prevent serious pregnancy-related disorders. It is critical for your baby’s growth and your body’s ability to maintain a healthy environment.

At least 80 grams of protein per day is mandatory during pregnancy. Think 3 ounces of organic chicken breast (27g), 1 cup of organic cottage cheese (28g), 2 tablespoons of organic peanut butter (8g), 1 egg (6g).

All organic lean meat, poultry, fish and eggs are easy protein sources. For vegan and vegetarian diets look towards organic tofu, beans, TVP (textured vegetable protein) and nuts. 

Feeling tired? Your body requires iron to deliver oxygen to your body’s tissues. Your blood volume nearly doubles during pregnancy, which means you need around 30 milligrams of iron daily to ensure your tissues are able to receive enough oxygen.

Look to lean organic red meat, beans, spinach, dried fruit and nuts for your daily iron requirements.

Easy Recipes for Your Pleasure & Health

Roasted Root Veggies & Friends
This easy, veggie-friendly meal contains folic acid, fiber, vitamins and minerals aplenty plus it’s gluten-free and vegan, and makes a great cold snack, a nice side dish or even a main meal. Remember to purchase organic whenever possible.

Sweet Potatoes
Red or Yellow Pepper
Salt & Pepper
Olive or Coconut Oil

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees
Wash and cube veggies
Spread in baking dish, coat with oil and season as desired
Bake for 45 minutes, turning every 20 minutes

Yummy Sautéed Greens
Rich in all the good stuff like calcium, magnesium, fiber and vitamins A, C, and E, this gluten-free, vegan dish is a great side dish for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Handful (4-5 leaves per person) dark leafy greens (Chard, Kale, Mustard Greens, Bok Choy)
Apple Cider Vinegar
Slivered Almonds

Wash greens
Tear greens into bite-size pieces, composting the stems
Heat enough water to cover greens in wok
Add greens when water is lightly boiling
Stir and cook until tender (2-3 minutes)
Drain water
Add ACV as you would a dressing
Toss with almonds and enjoy

Midwife’s Breakfast
This protein packed breakfast will carry you through your morning. It contains protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals and can be made vegan. It’s also great with some sautéed greens sprinkled on top.

Steel-cut Irish Oats
Milk Product of Choice

Cook oatmeal per product directions – use milk product for extra protein
Add cheese over oatmeal in your bowl
Cover cheese with cooked egg, prepared to your liking
Garnish with half an avocado (and sautéed greens if desired)
Sprinkle with almonds

Beef/Bison or Tofu Stir Fry
This quick dinner that you can put together at the last minute is packed with lean protein. It can also be made vegetarian with the addition of tofu or tempeh. 

Organic Lean Steak
Snow Peas
Green Beans
Bok Choy
Olive Oil
Soy Sauce

Wash and cut veggies
Coat protein in a little olive oil
Heat wok
Stir-fry the protein
Add vegetables to the wok and stir-fry for 1-2 minutes
Combine vegetables with soy sauce
Return protein to wok, toss to combine

Feeling confident about your diet is about understanding, both academically and intuitively, what you and your baby needs to grow strong and healthy. Rather than micromanaging your diet at every meal, take a step back and evaluate your eating over a longer period. Add in your emotional state and energy level and make decisions from that place as to what you should be eating. And of course, your Midwife is a great resource.