Sunday, March 21, 2010

Wet Nursing

Would you nurse another woman's baby? We hear stories of heroic women during disasters breastfeeding two, three or even up to eight babies so they won't starve. Would you do it?

If, for some reason, you could not nurse your own baby, would you hire another woman to do it if you were financially capable of doing so? The benefits of breastfeeding are well known, and it seems that they continue to discover more good things about it every day.

With all the issues surrounding formula feeding like contaminants in the formula, recalls and other problems, wet nursing almost seems like a dream come true. Generations ago, wet nursing was popular. As described in Gabrielle Palmer's "The Politics of Breastfeeding," noblewomen used wet nurses because their families dictated that they must be ready to breed again and produce more heirs. Some women made a good living for their own families by wet nursing.

Judith Waterford, a wet nurse in the early 1800s, was written about by the medical community. She worked as a wet nurse for over 50 years, nursed six children of her own and was still able to produce milk at the ripe old age of 81. At her peak, it is said "she produced two quarts of breastmilk unfailing every day." She was sad to report at the age of 75 that she could not produce enough milk to feed more than one baby at a time. Can you imagine it?

How many of you would sign up to be a wet nurse if you could still nurse your own child at the same time? I freely admit that I would. I've nursed eight children of my own. They are all healthy and have grown well. If I could help support my family by providing the best baby food on earth to someone's child, I'd do it.

Maybe we should form a wet nursing co-op. Those of us who are confident in our nursing abilities could offer to nurse the children of those who for one reason or another cannot. Who benefits the most? The baby! Who suffers? The formula companies! They promise nutrition they cannot deliver, especially to those babies most at risk. If only we could figure out how to be paid for our efforts, everyone would benefit. Our families would have more income. Babies would be fed more nutritious food. Other parents could rest easy knowing their babies were getting the best even though they could not provide it themselves.

I know someone will bring up the problem of contagion. Any woman interested in wet nursing would have to have a health screen, of course. This should be a no-brainer. From what I read, some companies in California that offer nannies are also starting to offer wet nursing services. Is the wet nurse making a comeback?

What do you think? Please post comments below.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

VBAC Mamas, Unite!

I'm a proud VBAC mom. My first birth was a cesarean. Luckily, my next birth took place during the VBAC renaissance, and even though they were whispering in the corner about a repeat cesarean, it didn't happen. I had my first vaginal birth accompanied by a giant episiotomy. That didn't stop me, though. My next VBAC had no episiotomy. The VBAC after that, the doctor almost didn't make it in the room to catch in time. By that time, I'd had enough. My next four VBACs were at home with midwives. Seven successful VBACs.

Women today rarely get the opportunity to even try a VBAC. Hospitals ban them. Doctors trick women into thinking they can have one and then pull the rug out from under them late in their pregnancies. Yet the evidence shows that VBAC is still a safer route to go than repeat cesareans.

This week, the National Institute of Health (NIH) has had a panel meeting to discuss this very issue. I haven't had the opportunity to listen for myself yet, but I've been reading the comments posted by others, outlining the "Hurray!" moments and the "I can't believe they still ignore us" moments.

On the WebMD site, David DeNoon reports, "Hospitals and professional societies should end bans that that keep many women who've had a C-section from opting for a natural birth in later pregnancies, an NIH advisory panel today urged." This is definitely a welcome beginning.

Kenneth Lin, a family practice physician from Washington DC, writes about the obstetrical tendency to see zebras instead of horses. He writes, "If an Ob/Gyn is feeling uncertain about how well a patient's labor is progressing and has an inflated estimate of the probability that something might go wrong (the zebra), it's very hard to resist the temptation to eliminate the uncertainty by delivering the baby surgically, then and there." He ends his article positively with "a trial of VBAC is successful more than 75 percent of the time. It's a real shame that women in the U.S. are discouraged from attempting them more often."

All this sounds great. Maybe women will get more opportunities to have their own VBACs. Maybe the cesarean rate will go down. Maybe... but then we see the extra caution thrown in. "Only qualified candidates" and "eligible patients" are the phrases that begin to crop up. Isn't that part of the problem now? Obstetricians are removing almost every woman from being qualified or eligible. Let's just schedule that cesarean... what do you say? You can pick a convenient time (for the doctor!) and we'll have your baby out in no time!

Kind of defeats the whole purpose, doesn't it? The real result is shown clearly by Courtroom Mama on Jill's Unnecesarean blog. Apparently, on day one, two members of the panel, Dr. Anne Lyerly and Dr. Howard Minkoff stated without hesitation that a woman could not be operated on against her will. The next day, when Susan Jenkins, the attorney for the Big Push for Midwives campaign, asked questions about this, the panelists ended up skirting the issue.

Here is a portion of Courtroom Mama's transcript from her post. Read the full article at the link above to the Unnecesarean blog. SJ is Susan Jenkins. LM is Larry McCullough, the ethicist on the panel.

"SJ: Dr. McCullough, just one quick follow up question, if I may, on that. The conclusions that are reached in the draft, at least the draft opinion that we saw this morning, indicate that the position of the committee is that only where it is considered “medically reasonable”—whatever that means—would the woman have a right to refuse. And the definition of medically reasonable…well, there is no definition of medically reasonable.

LM: Well, actually, there is, and the concept is when the alternatives are roughly medically equivalent. What we said is that shared decision-making should be followed, where the physician refrains from making a recommendation and really helps the woman make a decision that reflects her values and preferences, which is the goal of the informed consent—

SJ: Right, and what if her values and preference is to say “no” at the end of all this?"

Ms. Jenkins was then reminded of the long queue of people wanting to ask questions. Just what is "medically reasonable"? According to who? Apparently not according to the mom in question. Informed consent seems to have just been dumped into the trash. Pregnant women obviously don't have the same rights to equality as other medical patients. 

While we all joke about "pregnancy brain" it isn't something that should remove our rights to bodily integrity and decision making once we check into the hospital or accept a doctor's care. All the talk the panel made earlier of "the doctor and woman should be making these decisions together" seems to have been to placate the masses of women hoping to have a vaginal birth. "Making decisions together" is just another euphemism for the doctor saying "Don't worry your pretty little head about it... we'll just cut that baby right out. You won't need to even break a sweat."

I think this panel brought up some great points. It has gotten articles about VBAC in major papers like the LA Times. But we can't stand idly by and let it turn into the same old line. VBAC mamas, unite! Let your voices ring out. Demand the right to birth your babies the way nature intended. Every baby deserves the best birth possible. Every mom deserves to give birth.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Breastfeeding Politics

I hate politics. All the arguing. No listening. Just dissension everywhere you look. This week Facebook was once again targeted for removing photos of breastfeeding. Why can't people consider breastfeeding as a normal part of life?

I started reading The Politics of Breastfeeding: When Breasts are Bad for Business today. It was written by Gabrielle Palmer. I've only finished chapter one and I am already nodding my head in agreement. The author states, "Women have had to prove (as it happens very successfully) that they are 'as good as' men, but men do not yet have to show that they are as good as women." This statement really hit hard. It's true.

Elsewhere in this chapter she discusses how the very men who are discovering the miraculous assets of breastmilk seem to demand that no woman should bring her nursing baby to work with her. Ewww. Come on. This is 2010. Certainly we can all get over the fact that our breasts make milk. They are built to do so. This milk is the best thing ever created to grow little humans. Nothing... NOTHING... can replace it. Artificial milk has a place in those rare times when breastmilk is not available, but the truth is that human babies should be fed human milk. Not soy milk. Not cow milk. HUMAN MILK.

I have often chuckled at the phrase I've seen on countless shirts on Cafepress: I make milk. What's your superpower?

It's true. This is a miraculous substance. I have nurtured eight children with this liquid abundance. They have grown healthy and strong. They are rarely ill. They have lots of energy. All of them old enough to get tall are taller than I am. Breastmilk really does a baby good, to paraphrase the old dairy council slogan.

So... what is your superpower? I make milk that grows healthy children. I make milk that nourishes them mentally, physically and emotionally. I am proud of this fact. I don't hide it.

Bah humbug on the politics. It should be enough that breastmilk nourishes the human race as it was designed to do.

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