To produce breast milk, mothers melt their own body fat. Are you with me? We literally dissolve parts of ourselves, starting with gluteal-femoral fat, aka our butts, and turn it into liquid to feed our babies.
Before and after giving birth to my daughter 10 months ago, I was inundated with urgent directives from well-meaning, very insistent health practitioners, parenting book authors, mommy bloggers, journalists, and opinionated strangers that "breast is best." The message was clear: In order to be a good mom, I had to breast-feed.
But breast-feeding is more than being a good mom. And breast milk is much more than food: It's potent medicine and, simultaneously, a powerful medium of communication between mothers and their babies. It's astonishing. And it should be—the recipe for mother's milk is one that female bodies have been developing for 300 million years.
Breast-feeding leads to better overall health outcomes for children, which is why the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that babies be exclusively breast-fed for a minimum of six months.
Those outcomes, though, are relative: A premature infant in the neonatal intensive-care unit or a baby growing up in a rural African village with a high rate of infectious disease and no access to clean water will benefit significantly more from breast milk over artificial milk, called formula, than a healthy, full-term baby born in a modern Seattle hospital.
We're also told that breast-feeding leads to babies with higher IQs and lower rates of childhood obesity than their formula-fed counterparts. I understand why people find this appealing, but I don't plan to raise my daughter to understand intelligence in terms of a single test score, or to measure health and beauty by body mass index.
More compelling to me are the straightforward facts about breast milk: It contains all the vitamins and nutrients a baby needs in the first six months of life (breast-fed babies don't even need to drink water, milk provides all the necessary hydration), and it has many germ- and disease-fighting substances that help protect a baby from illness. Oh, also: The nutritional and immunological components of breast milk change every day, according to the specific, individual needs of a baby.
Keep reading on The Stranger
It is understood around the world that women of color, specifically black women, face the most complex challenges in maternal, birth, and breastfeeding support. Maternal death, black infant mortality, and black breastfeeding rates at their peak, are still considerably low regarding initiation and continuation, although these rates have improved in comparison to numbers from the past. Black women in the United States are plagued with obstacles every day that help them to decide to quit breastfeeding and prevent them from continuing to nourish and nurture their children – our children. The obstacles are plenty, however the ones that stick out like a sore thumb are breastfeeding in slavery and the ignorance about it among the privileged, the way these horrific images of human bondage still affect the community of black breastfeeding mothers, and the evidence that the black breastfeeding mother has yet to be incorporated into modern breastfeeding literature in the form of positive breastfeeding media and imagery, which in turn alienates black women at the time of birth discouraging them from pursuing breastfeeding because they may be the only one in their family to ever do so.
I feel incredibly blessed to have completed my training with Ancient Song Doula Services. Chanel and Pat, the women who trained me, were not only warm and welcoming, but the dedication they show for their community is astounding.
That was the Facebook message I got from a friend on April 27th. I was pregnant, about 6 weeks along, and while I wasn't telling anyone, I wasn't exactly hiding it either. Well, at least not on Instagram.
I've always posted about birth, nursing, doulas, etc. because of my work as a doula. But I also started pinning best cloth diapers, best foods to eat, best ways to stave off morning sickness, best yoga and low-impact exercised to do while pregnant. I only told a few close friends, and of course my mother, but I was aching to let the entire world know.
Nearly one year of TTC had passed, and while we didn't try for 12 months straight, it felt like a miracle that we were finally pregnant after praying and pleading to G-d for our miracle.
Now I sit, at what would be the half way mark of my first pregnancy. My stomach is not swollen, I've not purchased any maternity wear and I'm not having a baby. The month-long miscarriage process was hell on earth and the month that has passed since then, while better, has not been a cake walk. I am feeling a bit more like myself; I laugh and smile easily now, I've started running again, and my G-d summer rosé is pretty amazing. Every once in a while I'll get sad; My first period was rough, as was the confusion of my fertility app. Did I have a miscarriage, it asked clearly confused I was marking a period again. Sympathy from an app, yay technology! My sadness doesn't come from seeing babies, which I thought would be the case, but from swollen bellies.
Perhaps it's because of my birth work experience that I don't blame myself for the miscarriage. Of course, in my darkest moments, I did wonder what I'd done wrong; Was it the glass of wine I had before realizing I was pregnant? Was it the feta cheese in that salad? Did the salad dressing have raw eggs in it? Maybe there's just something wrong with me and I'm not supposed to be a mother. Maybe it's because I made a registry and Jews don't do things like that.
It wasn't my fault. It happened. It happens to more women than most know. And it could happen again. For now it's about figuring out what my future will be like, how I can shape it, and remembering the lessons I've learned and continue to learn during this process.
Like my sister's death, my miscarriage has shaken my center. I'm no longer interested in simply existing in this life, I want to live it wholly and fully and without fear. Birth work, adding a nursing degree to my doula certification, is my driving motivation. And I also want to continue to be more vocal about pregnancy loss and miscarriage, even provide doula support for women who lose their pregnancies because while it's 100% necessary to have a doula by your side when you bring life into the world, it's possibly more important to have a doula by your side when you realize the life you were growing isn't.
My partner did the best she could when we lost our baby, but miscarriage is hard, possibly harder in different ways, on partners. Our doctors and nurses did a rather shitty job providing comfort. There were forced hugs, diagnostic works that lacked emotion, a need to remain professional, rather than personal when all I needed was someone to look me in the eyes, hold my hands, give me a hug and tell me how incredibly sorry they were for the loss of my child.
The first step in this journey is science. Lots of science courses in subjects I loathed as a lazy undergraduate. But as an adult woman who has seen glimpses of what life is like when you don't live it fully, I'm pretty confident that I can kick Chemistry (and bioChem, and Biology, and Anatomy)'s ass!
Since this time I've tried to doula for a client, but realized that it was still too raw, too soon, and not quite right. So I'll be blogging my thoughts, but not taking clients, possibly until after my EDD in December.
So thank you for reading, for support, and for understanding.
My sister was an addict, so the word "junkie" has always had negative connotations for me. It indicates that someone is powerless to a substance; whether it be drugs, food, alcohol, or anything else that is harmful or does harm.
So, to put "junkie" behind birth? It's just not for me.
I love birth. I remember my first birth like it was yesterday. I was with the mama for almost 48 hours, it was a long induction followed by a long labor followed by quick pushing. Her little one needed to be placed in the NICU for observation so I stayed with her even longer and visited her baby boy.
When I finally got home I was exhausted but alive. I even mentioned to my partner that I smelled like birth. It was then, that I knew I was hooked.
Hooked. There's another possible triggering word, a word with some negative connotations as well, and I used it.
I do have a strong desire to get back into birth work. The move to the Pacific Northwest has been a transitional one and while I have a full time job that is fulfilling me financially, it's not fulfilling me as a person. Only birth work has done that for me.
So am I addicted to birth work? Am I hooked on it? Am I "birth junkie"? I think not, I'm just a woman who wants to live to help other women experience the blissful pleasure that is birth.
Head over to Maiden to Mother to read an article by another doula and the term "birth junkie"
One of my favorite births was a birth where I didn't do much. I, of course, helped both the birthing mother and her husband by making suggestions, soothing her, encouraging her. But when she wanted a shower, she wanted her husband. When the waves and surges became too much, she needed and wanted her husband to hold her up. When she wanted to cry, it was her husband's voice who told her how beautiful she was, how strong she was, how amazing she was and what a great job she was doing.
In our postpartum visit I remarked that I felt like I didn't do all that much, and she countered that it was amazing and necessary for me to be there. She recalled my voice in her ear during the pushing, my voice encouraging her husband (and her) and my voice of comfort when papa when to fawn over his son while she birthed her placenta.
It's true that sometimes as doulas we take a secondary, albeit important and vital, role when there is a partner. And that's okay.
By Julie Byers
It is a hard thing for a doula to admit:
The best births are the ones at which I’m not needed.
Superfluous. Merely a concierge service. Standing around twiddling my thumbs or sitting in the corner knitting.
Truth? Sometimes I’m baffled by my work as a doula. I’m confused by the mystery that my presence makes an impact. Especially when I don’t *do* anything.
Take Julia’s birth. I left Julia’s birth feeling like her three year old did more than I did. I mean, really. What did I possibly offer to that family? And then later, Julia’s husband says I was worth every penny.
It made no sense.
Or Melissa’s birth. I fanned her. With a manilla folder. That’s about all I did. And then later, she says she couldn’t have done it without me.
It made no sense.
I read about the early studies on doula support. In those double-blind randomized controlled trials, the laboring women had no idea that the extra woman in the room was a doula. They’d never met her before. Yet, their birth outcomes were significantly better than the births that did not get the “extra person.”
It made no sense.
Nearly 8 years into this gig, I think I’m maybe beginning to understand how doulas work.
I’m reading an incredible book titled The Worst Is Over: What to Say When Every Moment Counts. I bought the book thinking it would help with my kids. Norah has an anxious tummy and Cedar is ever catapulting from high places. I never imagined how it might relate to my birth work. But, of course, women in childbirth are in an altered state of consciousness just like people who experience trauma. Childbirth is NOT trauma and not always even painful but the brain does go into an altered state. Women in childbirth are often dreamy, time becomes hazy, thoughts may be confusing, suggestions plant deeply. I already knew how important language is for birthing women but this book took it up 10 notches. And it taught me about pacers.
Read the rest on Julie's blog.
Careful observations document newborns’ instinctual behaviors
If you haven't seen the YouTube video of "breast crawl" I encourage you to go right now and watch!
Did you find one?
Hopefully so, and if you're like me you found it both breathtaking and incredibly awesome. Babies come out of the womb with the ability to search for what they're looking for; closeness to their Moms, food, and warmth.
Watching these videos and reading this article confirmed for me that when a babe is born, the first place it should go before "washing" before cord-clamping, before anything is directly to his Mama's chest. Weighing and all of that other "stuff" isn't necessary. Unless, of course the baby is in distress, the time between birth is precious, sacred and important time for Mom to look over her little bundle and for baby to get re-acquainted with Mom from the outside.
Blessings to all,
Back when I worked in a lab, I spent countless hours diligently watching fruit flies mate. It was a strange job — both extremely scandalous and extremely boring. But lots of scientists are also voyeurs, I swear. And those tedious observations were a good way to learn about instinctual behaviors.
So I was a little nostalgic when I came across a paper from scientists in Sweden. The researchers did their own careful observations on 28 of the most mysterious creatures on the planet: brand-spanking-new humans. Videos of babies in their first hour of life gave the researchers an unprecedented view of how newborns instinctually behave, when left to their own devices and nestled skin-to-skin on their mothers’ chests. I found the results, published in January 2011 in Acta Paediatrica, just as fascinating as the Drosophila courtship ritual.
Here are some key milestones in the first hour and 10 minutes of a newborn’s life, presented in median minutes:
Minute 0: Babies wail a robust, angry birth cry that helps wake up the lungs.
Minute 2: After all that wailing, babies spend less than a minute relaxing, holding perfectly still on their mothers’ chests. The authors speculate that this silent, still break might have evolved to keep babies hidden from predators.
Minute 2.5: As they start to wake up, newborns open their eyes for the first time. Babies gradually start moving their heads and mouths.
Minute 8: Babies become even more active, keeping their eyes open for five minutes or longer at a time. During this active phase, newborns seem to grow interested in eating, looking at their mothers’ faces and breasts, making sweet little “hungry” noises and moving their hands toward their mouths.
Minute 18: That was exhausting. Time for another rest.
Keep reading on Science News
Published on November 7, 2013 by Paul J. Zak in The Moral Molecule
Doctors, nurses, midwives and doulas all talk about oxytocin, the hormone that surges through the mother's body to induce contractions, to produce milk, and to somehow make the stresses, length, and discomfort of labor fade away when gazing down at the new child in your arms.
I found this article in Psychology Today really informative and hope you do, too.
The "love molecule," oxytocin, is the chemical foundation for trusting others. Activated by positive social interactions, it makes us care about others in tangible ways, and it motivates us to work together for a common purpose.
After a dozen years studying the role oxytocin plays in human behavior, I thought I'd share an answer to the question I am most often asked: How can I raise my levels? As the paperback version of The Moral Molecule hits the shelves, this seems an appropriate time to unveil my top 10 list.
But first, a short neuroscience digression: The effect of oxytocin, like other signaling chemicals in the brain, is more dependent on changes than on absolute levels. Oxytocin helps us respond appropriately to our socialenvironment by changing its amounts in the brain second by second. So, rather than focus on oxytocin levels that are near zero, for most people without a positive social interaction, the better question is how can oneincrease their level of oxytocin when interacting with others and thereby increase empathy and compassion towards them.
Another neuroscience digression: Because oxytocin is so ancient (a precursor can be traced back at least 400 million years to fish), natural selection has found ways to utilize it in both the brain and the body. Unlike almost every other neurochemical we make, animal studies have shown that the change in oxytocin after a social interaction as measured in blood reflects changes in oxytocin in the brain. Thus, if an activity causes a spike in oxytocin as measured in the blood, a corresponding spike is likely occurring in the brain. It is brain oxytocin that is most responsible for effects on behavior, and blood oxytocin gives us a window into what is occurring in the brain.
The ways to raise oxytocin listed below are based on measuring changes in oxytocin in blood in humans. Many are from my lab, but some come from other sources. Variations in protocols and the moderate sample sizes for human studies inhibit comparing the reported average changes in oxytocin across published works. Instead, I'm simply listing the ways to raise oxytocin in order of my personal favorites.
Keep Reading at Psychology Today.
To my mind, chemistry is the best indicator of whether or not a doula is the right match for you. When you're in a doula consultation something clicks; it may be the doulas sincerity, the way she looks you in the eye, the way she affirms your choices, the way she answers your questions or perhaps it's just a smile or laugh.
Finding the right doula is so vitally important, that I always suggest that parents and mothers think about whether or not they want to hire me for at least a day, rather than making the decision right away.
I found these tips from the Stir really helpful and hope you will, too.
By Judy Dutton
More and more women are turning to birth coaches, and with good reason. Some studies show using a doula reduces the length of labor, pain levels, and C-section rates up to 50 percent. "Many mothers refer to them as the women who have made their birthing experience a 'dreamy' one," says Giuditta Tornetta, a birth coach at JoyinBirthing.com.
A doula will give you the emotional support and information that most OB/GYNs -- and stressed-out husbands -- can't provide. "Basically a doula is there to help the mom get the birth she wants," says Stephanie Heintzeler, a doula atTheNewYorkDoula.com. But as with choosing your doctor, midwife, and pediatrician, it's important to choose a doula that's right for you.
Here's how ...
Keep reading on The Stir
Just over one week ago, my partner and I packed our new VW Passat and took an epic 7-day trek across the breathtakingly beautiful USA to our new home in Seattle, WA.
After some housing blips, we have settled into the "hip and trendy" (I guess?) neighborhood called Capitol Hill. I've been reaching out to doulas via Facebook trying to make some connections to organizations and individual doulas to serve as a back up doula to me, all the while exploring our new city.
To say that it's been an interesting transition is putting it lightly, but of course it reminds me of birth.
The journey was long and, at times, it felt like we'd never make it in one piece, but of course we did and now we look at one another in awe. After ten years living in NYC, we have a new city to explore, learn about and love.
If you're in Seattle and in need of a doula for your upcoming birth I would love to talk to you about my doula practice.
Hi there! I'm Erika Davis and I'm a doula working in the Seattle and South Puget Sound area.