Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Why Natural Birth Isn't Beneficial...

Say, what??!! Isn't this blog titled, "Natural Birth In Kitsap"? Aren't you a propenent of natural birth?
Why, yes. Yes, I am.
What I want to share with you is something that has been spreading in the breastfeeding world for some time now, and I think needs to also spread to the birth world.
Natural birth does not hold benefits. It holds normalities.
As mammals, this is the normal way we were intended to birth babies. Moving, private, peaceful, freedom. As humans, this is the normal way we were intended to birth babies. Supported, loved, nurtured, unmedicated.
Natural birth doesn't add anything to the birth experience. It is the way the birth experience was intended to be. It doesn't benefit the baby. It doesn't benefit the mother. It doesn't bring short-term, nor long-term benefits. It is where we set our human standard. Anything other than this is deviating from the way we were inteded to be. Not birthing naturally brings risks.
Just as with breastfeeding, our bodies have a specific way to work. We have a specific birthing function, a specific feeding function. It is a correlation between the mother and the baby.
Any time we alter from that course, we increase risks of things going wrong, and causing harm.
Often times we are told that our bodies are not good enough. That, even though we are mammals, whose very defination is one who "gives birth" and "nurses their young", our bodies cannot do. We need help from man-made products. "Supplements".
We supplement with membrane sweeps, cervical ripenings, artificial oxytocin. Supplements lead to less of us, more of them, until we find ourselves unable to produce at all. Unable to produce milk, unable to produce contractions.
We are told our nipples are the wrong shape, our uteri are the wrong shape, our pelvises are the wrong shape. Our bodies will harm our babies. They tell us this, and they are wrong.
We are told that natural birth is dangerous, that it is impossible, that it is unrealistic, and that we are just trying to martyr ourselves. When did normal become such a big deal? When did we get so detached from ourselves that we can't fathom our bodies functioning in normal ways?
We have set the standard at medicated birth, just as our society has set the standard at artificially-fed infants. We have tests and procedures that are necessary for medical births, that have become routine and "normal". We have nurses trained to help medicated mothers but unaware of what to do for a naturally birthing one. We have doctors who have been trained to interfere and do so with such regularity, that we have to specifically state over and over that for *this* birth, we want to be left alone.
Shouldn't it all be the other way around?
Shouldn't we be wondering at the dangers of medicated birth? Of interfering with the natural bodily functions? Shouldn't we base our studies, not on how natural birth might lower risks, but how interference may increase risks? Shouldn't the burden of proof be placed on deviating from normal, rather than deviating from medicalized?
Why are we looking for studies and statistics which prove the worth of natural birth? Do we look for studies and statistics which prove the worth of natural breathing, natural urination, natural eating? Why don't we hear studies talking about the benefits of NOT catheterizing everyone? Or NOT putting everyone on a ventilator. Or NOT giving everyone a feeding tube? Wouldn't that be a ridiculous world to live in where everyone was made to believe that they could not eat, breathe or urinate without medical intervention?
And yet, with birth, we find a huge discrepency. A normal bodily function that is overseen by doctors, nurses, medications and machines. We are told that we can't do it naturally. And medicalized birth becomes the norm.
We need to stop setting the birth standard at medicalized birth. Any deviation from the normal way the body functions should be backed by a true medical reason. We should not be laughed at, rolled eyes at, scoffed at, annoyed at, or ridiculed for wanting to do what is normal. Normal should be supported and accepted. It should not be rare. It should not be so hard to attain. It should not be something we have to battle for!
The health benefits, bonding benefits, breastfeeding benefits, etc. associated with natural birth are not benefits at all. They are what every mother and baby were intended to have. They are the standard. And, yet, how many know this? How many are choosing risk because they believe that risk is normal?

Natural birth is not beneficial. Natural birth is normal.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A World of Safety Nets

“Differing definitions of safety also play a part. Doctors often feel unconcerned about side effects – even life-threatening side effects – provided they know what they will do to treat them and that the life-threatening ones occur reasonably rarely. So, two doctors writing for their colleagues can say reassuringly: “These [epidural] complications should not cause fatalities if trained personnel and adequate resuscitation facilities are available.” Loose translation: If a laboring woman develops a life-threatening complication from an epidural, she or her baby won’t die of it provided hospital staff are on the ball.”
From, The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth by Henci Goer, page 127

“What has happened in the rich world is that, while removing the ideal food and feeding method, there has been progress in the elimination of other immediate risks. It is important to remember that it is still only a minority of the world’s population that can be artificially fed from birth without getting ill or dying.”
From, The Politics of Breastfeeding by Gabrielle Palmer

While these two quotes talk about two different things – medicated birth and artificial feeding – they are essentially saying the same thing about the world we currently live in. That those of us in first world countries live in societies filled with safety nets. And while that’s great for us, the rest of the world cannot manage to live the same way and afford the same healthy outcomes.

The switch from births happening at homes to hospitals and the rise of artificial milk for babies has followed a similar trend. They were at first disastrous. Dangerous. Doctors in hospitals and artificial baby food makers did not really know what they were doing. It was all trial and error, and many mothers and babies died as a result. With the awareness of germ theory, sanitation, and clean water sources, births in hospitals and artificial feedings improved. As the western world improved in wealth, it also began to take risks with its health. As long as they had a way of fixing the mistakes, it was okay to risk making them.

But living in a world of safety nets is a precarious world to live in. Walking a tightrope is risky, especially if there is not a safety net below. But even with the safety net, you will need to deal with the consequences of walking in a way that our bodies were not intended to walk. The feet of tightrope walkers tend to have many broken bones. Bodies react when we force them to do something outside of what they were intended to do.

When we interfere with the natural processes of labor, there will be reactions. Most doctors see these reactions as perfectly acceptable, since they tend to have plenty of safety nets set up in place – epidurals, pitocin, cesarean sections, drugs to bring blood pressure back up, resuscitation devices, and epinephrine. We believe that taking risks with our bodies while in labor is safe because we have become so accustomed to the safety nets. We have begun to forget what normal is meant to look like, and only what it’s like in a life of safety nets.

The same goes with artificial baby foods. A mother’s body is meant to breastfeed her baby, and a baby’s body is meant to breastfeed from it’s mother. When we alter this normal process, there are reactions. We have come to believe that ear infections, upper respiratory infections, and digestive problems are normal for infants because they happen so often. But these are reactions to altering the normal state of being. And this is only acceptable in our society because we have so many safety nets set in place. We have clean water to mix with formula. We have unbelievably easy access to fuel with which to heat the milk. We have easy access to transportation if our child becomes ill, and many hospitals, clinics and health care providers to offer care for our sick children. All of these are safety nets. Without such easy access to these things, feeding our babies with anything other than breastmilk would be dangerous.

But this alternate form of normal is acceptable in our society because a world of safety nets has become the new normal. And while I do not wish for these safety nets to stop existing – I am very thankful for them, actually! – I do wish that we would understand that safety nets are meant to protect us in case of emergency, not as a daily way of life. Normal labors should not routinely need to be induced or augmented. One third or our women should not need to have their babies removed from their bodies for them. Breasts should not be seen as so easily unable to provide nourishment. Ear infections and upper respiratory infections should not be common childhood ailments.

It does not take moving to a third world country to begin to understand the effects of a life based on alternatives without safety nets. What would we do in our comfy, wealthy society if these safety nets were suddenly sparse? It sounds unlikely, but all you need to do is consider Florida after the 2004 Hurricane Charley. Or the Gulf Coast after 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. We are not a country immune to natural disasters. And these disasters could easily wipe out all of our safety nets from beneath our feet.

In order for a medicalized birth to be above dangerous, there are many safety nets that need to be in place. Electricity, clean water, access to medications, availability of trained physicians, anesthesiologists, and surgeons. This may seem standard to many, but when hurricanes barrel through, earthquakes topple down, tsunamis wash away, or volcanos erupt around and upset all of this, we find that those must-have inductions and must-have cesareans become less urgent. We find that women can labor without being numbed, and that babies can come out without all the gadgets and gizmos set up in a hospital. And many see it as a tragedy that, because of a natural disaster, these women had to birth in a normal way!

In order for artificial feeding to be above dangerous, there are also many safety nets that need to be in place. How long does it take to boil water in order for it to be sterile? How many times must a mother do this in a 24 hour period for a formula-fed infant? How many gallons of water must she carry to her home? How much wood or other fuel source does it take to heat up the water for formula or for cleaning the bottles and nipples? How far is it to the nearest health care clinic, and how long would it take her to walk there with a sick child? How available is a health care provider in an emergency situation? During Hurricane Katrina, this is what formula feeding parents had to consider. In most of the world, this is what all parents have to consider.

I hear over and over again that formula feeding is perfectly safe ), and that breastfeeding really is not much better than formula feeding. What arrogance we have in our society! To take away the immunities and healthy digestive system our babies were intended to have, and replace it with a safety net of doctor’s trips, antibiotics, special hypoallergenic formulas, inhalers, insulin, etc. just because that is what is now normal, does not mean that it is safe. We can only claim it’s safety because we have all of the safety nets in place to catch our children when they fall. Those safety nets would not be as necessary if we followed the natural order our bodies and our babies’ bodies were intended to follow.

In our country, we have the ability to choose whether we want to have a natural or medicalized birth. We have the ability to choose whether we want to breastfeed or formula feed. But just because these choices are available, it doesn’t mean that they hold the same level of safety. At any moment we could be in a situation where our safety nets fail.