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Community Support and Breastfeeding {Make a Difference}

Community Support and Breastfeeding {Make a Difference}

(Editor’s note: this was originally posted in 2013.)

I would like to start this post with a story.

Imagine a mother – a fresh new mother – with a baby just barely 24 hours old. She drives to another city the day after her birth for her first post-birth checkup with her midwife. After leaving the appointment she and her husband decide to stop for lunch. It is late afternoon, so they have their pick of places as none are crowded. A Red Lobster is calling mom’s name – she is famished after the long work of labor the day before and seafood just sounds heavenly. And maybe a little indulgent too!

Mom, Dad, and newborn are seated right away and order their food. Mom orders crab legs (her favorite!) since baby is sleeping peacefully in his wrap against her chest. Surely he will stay asleep long enough for her to shell the crab and eat. (More experienced moms are probably giggling right now!)

The food comes out, hot and steaming. On cue, baby wakes up and wants to nurse. Mom stares longingly at her plate, knowing she can’t bother with it right now because it takes two hands to get this newborn latched and stable for the whole feed. Dad offers to help her but mom declines – at least one of them should get a hot meal after all.

The server comes out to check that everything is going well. She sees mom’s predicament and says she will be right back. She comes back, with gloves on, and starts to shell all of the mother’s crab legs for her. All the while she talks to the couple about her children, her nursing experiences, and how great it is to see a young mother breastfeeding. She also shares stories of many cold meals because of the uncanny ability of babies to wake just when dinner comes out.

She finishes shelling the still steaming crab and gives the plate to mom. Mom figures out how to support baby’s head with the wrap so she can slide one hand out to eat her still hot dinner! Mom and dad get full bellies with hot food, and so does baby. What could have ended in mom sadly eating stone-cold crab legs instead has a happy ending.

That mother was me. I have *never* forgotten that server’s support and love in that moment, and I never will. One mother, reaching out to another giving simple and practical support. That one encounter gave me the pride and hope and confidence to nurse in public in the years that followed. That one encounter helped my husband to feel 100% comfortable with nursing in public as well – knowing that people would not always be rude to his wife. While we have had rude encounters, I can always look back to this first one and radiate with joy.

The support of the community can make a huge difference for mothers who take the journey through breastfeeding. In fact, in studies and interviews women tend to rate social support as more important than professional support on the duration of their breastfeeding experience 5. Why is this?

The answer is simple – we spend far more time in the world at large than sitting in a professional’s office. We need support from our partners, family, and community at large. We need to feel supported by other mothers. When a person feels like they are doing something alone – no matter what it is – they are far less likely to succeed or meet goals. Emotionally, we feel more able to succeed with social support.

The United States has some of the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the world among developed nations, and when you look at the rates of exclusive breastfeeding it becomes especially dismal. While about 75% of woman initiate breastfeeding – this is a very large category and a bit misleading. This includes one attempt in the first days of life. While this is great (so many mothers attempting to breastfeed!), it gives false hope as the total rates of breastfeeding. In 2007, at 6 months of age the rate of exclusive breastfeeding was only 13% 1. Lets keep in mind that six months of nothing but breastmilk is the current recommendation from every major group with an interest in infant health (this includes the AAP and WHO). What is happening to cause a drop from 75% of women attempting to breastfeed, to only 13% succeeding at 6 months?

The simple answer for most cases – lack of proper support. Study after study shows that our support network is vital to breastfeeding success. For most women, one caring and helpful IBCLC cannot undo the “work” of a society that does not really support breastfeeding. While it is possible for a woman to physically or psychologically be unable to breastfeed that sub-section of woman is statistically small – most certainly not 87% of woman or the human race would not have made it very far.

The Surgeon General put out a “Call to Action” in 2011, urging America to support breastfeeding. Much of the document focuses on increasing community support across the board – from the family unit, to the care provider, to society as a whole. Some highlights from the document include:

“Women with friends who have breastfed successfully are more likely to choose to breastfeed. On the other hand, negative attitudes of family and friends can pose a barrier to breastfeeding. Some mothers say that they do not ask for help from their family and friends because of the contradictory information they receive from these sources.” (pg 22)

What this little gem tells us is that mother’s who DO succeed in breastfeeding need to talk about it. We need to share our wonderful experience – it actually encourages other mother’s to more seriously consider breastfeeding in the first place. This also tells us that hearing conflicting and outdated information from “well meaning” family and friends is NOT helpful. (Big surprise there, right?)

Now, there is a whole section on Embarrassment. Yes, in the great nation of America, the Surgeon General actually has to address embarrassment as a barrier to breastfeeding.

“A study that analyzed data from a national public opinion survey conducted in 2001 found that only 43% of U.S. adults believed that women should have the right to breastfeed in public places. Restaurant and shopping center managers have reported that they would either discourage breastfeeding anywhere in their facilities or would suggest that breastfeeding mothers move to an area that was more secluded. When they have breastfed in public places, many mothers have been asked to stop breastfeeding or to leave. Such situations make women feel embarrassed and fearful of being stigmatized by people around them when they breastfeed. Embarrassment remains a formidable barrier to breastfeeding in the United States and closely related to the disapproval of breastfeeding in public. Embarrassment about breastfeeding is not limited to public settings however. Women may find themselves excluded from social interactions when they are breastfeeding because others are reluctant to be in the same room while they breastfeed. For many women, the feeling of embarrassment restricts their activites and is cited as a reason for choosing to feed supplementary formula or to give up breastfeeding altogether.” (pg 23)

This section goes on more but let me pause here. No matter how you choose to feed your child, I hope that above statement leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Only 43% of adults feel that a mother should feed her baby in public. Lets not even give the cop out of breastfeeding and “modesty”. This statistic literally translates to mean that 57% of Americans are uncomfortable with a baby being fed in public in a normal way. Only 28% in this particular study believed that breastfeeding should be portrayed on television 4.

Then we see proof that managers and business owners do ask women to leave if they breastfeed and refuse to move or stop. We see this in the news from time to time, but many people think it is rare. Is it really going to be a rare occurrence when over half of all Americans are uncomfortable seeing normal infant feeding? It also goes on to say that we are not just talking about public situations, that last section literally means that within their own homes and social units, women are being made to feel uncomfortable because they breastfeed. What woman is likely to keep breastfeeding if she doesn’t even have acceptance in her own home or social group?

To continue with the “Embarrassment” section:

” In American culture, breasts have often been regarded primarily as sexual objects, while their nurturing function is downplayed. Although focusing on the sexuality of female breasts is common in mass media, visual images of breastfeeding are rare, and a mother may never have seen a woman breastfeeding. As shown in both quantitative and qualitative studies, the perception of breasts as sexual objects may lead women to feel uncomfortable about breastfeeding in public. As a result, women may feel the need to conceal breastfeeding, but they have difficulty finding comfortable and accessible breastfeeding facilities in public places.” (pg 23)

This section speaks to how our breasts are viewed. First and foremost in our culture they are viewed as sexual. This context of breasts as primarily sexual is actually not the predominate view in the world as a whole by the way 3. This portion also speaks to an issue that comes up more and more with social media – the posting and viewing of breastfeeding photos. These studies and surveys prove that women need to see breastfeeding. The more you see it, the more normal it becomes.

Our sexual view of breasts did not just evolve from thin air – it evolved through a constant presence of sexual images of breasts in our culture. Simply put, the more we can promote and share the non-sexual view of breasts, the less sexual our breasts will become in the culture as a whole. I, for one, would be very happy to see that happen – not only for breastfeeding rates but also for the self-worth of women in general.

In the last sentence, the Surgeon General notes that even though women may feel compelled to hide breastfeeding because of these pressures, there is no where to hide! Our society seems to insist that we breastfeed “somewhere else” but where exactly is this wonderful place we are supposed to hide? Very few places, especially outside of large cities, have breastfeeding spaces. When was the last time you saw a breastfeeding room at your local grocery?

In the section of the document about ways to help increase breastfeeding rates, special attention is given to educating the fathers/partners and grandmothers. Studies show that lack of support from those two sources can lead to shortened breastfeeding (or never starting). There is also special attention given to strengthening and supporting woman-to-woman support groups, such as local La Leche Leagues or other community breastfeeding groups. Those two actions in our communities would be especially helpful to low-income women, where studies show that social support and acceptance are paramount to breastfeeding success 2.

Now I would like to switch gears. We know that community support can make a difference, but we hear little about it. Normally, we only see stories of mothers being harrassed for feeding their babies. If positive stories and experiences with breastfeeding can make a difference in breastfeeding rates, then we need to share them. I reached out to our support group and got many stories and photos, all about positive experiences with nursing in public!

“The first time I ever breastfed in public was last summer when my daughter was 8 months old. My family and I were on vacation in Austin, TX and we were on a tour in some underground natural caverns.  We were at a resting area and I chose a rock to sit on and started nursing her.  I was so nervous that someone would give me a dirty look or say something rude, but a woman came up to me and thanked me for nursing my baby.  That one little comment gave me the confidence I needed to keep nursing her in public and I have been doing so ever since.” – Jennifer

breastfeeding

“Over Memorial Day weekend there is a big festival by the beach where we live, so my husband and I invited our folks to join us and our 2 month old daughter. It was HOT with very little shade! My daughter was getting fussy so I sat down on a bench behind one of the vender’s who had an umbrella up. My mom, who is easily embarrassed, kept trying to give me a cover but I told her no and proceeded to nurse my baby. The vender turns around to see me nursing my daughter and says, “Good for you! Not enough mother’s breastfeed any more! Keep doing what’s best for your kid.”‘ – Beverly

breastfeeding

“We took a vacation to Vegas with our daughter. We had just finished a limousine ride, and walked back into our hotel. I sat in the lobby and started to breastfeed my little girl. A lady came by and told me breastfeeding is the most beautiful thing in the world! I wish I had taken a picture with her. It was such a positive experience for me.” – Krystal

Below is Brianna nursing at Disneyland. Just a fun fact, from a former Cast Member – Disney Cast Members are instructed specifically in training about the importance of nursing in public and that it is 100% legal and acceptable for women to do so anywhere in the parks or property. Some companies do care!

breastfeeding at Disneyland

Below is Katelyn nursing her son at the aquarium, her supportive husband at her side!

breastfeeding

If you have a positive nursing in public experience, please share it with us! And remember that the “other person” in these stories is someone just like you. Just one person reaching out to another and saying “Good Job” – it can literally change a mother’s whole outlook on breastfeeding. Next time you see a mother nursing in public – no matter how she chooses to do it – give her a smile or even better, a kind word.

References

  1. U.S Department of Health and Human Services. The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding. Washington, DC: U.S Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Surgeon General; 2011.
  2. Pugh, L., Milligan, R., Frick, K., Spatz, D., & Bronner, Y. (2002). Breastfeeding Duration, Costs, and Benefits of a Support Program for Low-Income Breastfeeding Women. Birth: Issues In Perinatal Care, 29(2), 95-100. doi:10.1046/j.1523-536X.2002.00169.x
  3. Wolf, J. H. (2008). Got milk? Not in public!. International Breastfeeding Journal, 31-3. doi:10.1186/1746-4358-3-11
  4. Pettis, C. T., & Miller, M. K. (2007). PROMOTING BREAST-FEEDING THROUGH SOCIAL CHANGE. Women’s Policy Journal Of Harvard, 439-47.
  5. McInnes RJ, Chambers JA. (2008). Supporting Breastfeeding Mothers: Qualitative Synthesis. J Adv Nurs. 2008 May; 62(4):407-27. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2648.2008.04618.x.

The Harshe Podcast – Episode #20: Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby

The Harshe Podcast – Episode #20: Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby

January and Brandon talk about sex! January talks about the importance of communication and explains all the things a new mom struggles with that prevents sex from happening and Brandon gives the male point of view on how to cope with the agonizing sexual drought. Also, Brandon tries to figure out January’s favorite position but she’s too pissed about the lone baby sock no one is picking up in the corner of the hall!

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How to Do You, Boo with January Harshe” has opened up registration for Dallas, Detroit, and Minneapolis on BWFConference.com. If you struggle with body image, self love, self care, too little time, or too little money, you are not alone. Join January for an afternoon of information, instruction, and inspiration that has taken her many years to learn, implement, and successfully apply to her own life. 

To receive a $100 discount code on one of these special events, simply DM January on Instagram at @januaryharshe to get it. These events are only open to the first 20 people and they will fill up fast. Reserve your seat today!

My Three-Year Postpartum

My Three-Year Postpartum

By Billie Criswell

I was overjoyed when I became pregnant at 28 years old, and gave birth just before my 29th birthday. My pregnancy was planned, and was fairly uneventful. Because I had struggled with anxiety throughout my 20s, I prepared for postpartum, which in hindsight, sounds funny because who can really prepare for postpartum? But I did what I thought was my due diligence…I attended regular therapy sessions. I prepared my one-line birth plan: no interventions. I lined up my placenta encapsulation. I hired my doula. I had a plan for accepting help from my “Grandma dream team,” compromised of my mom and my mother-in-law, who supplied us with food and help for two full weeks.

I had an unmedicated, vaginal birth in the hospital. It was pretty routine except for a couple of things. Unbeknownst to me, a doctor or midwife in the rotating practice wrote in my chart that my baby was breech (she was not) and there was confusion about me getting a c-section. The second thing happened while I was pushing. Out of nowhere, the midwife who was attending asked the nurses to bring a mirror. I asked them not to. She nodded and insisted, “bring in the mirror.” Seeing myself giving birth in a mirror felt very violating. It was distracting, and disturbing as though I was having an out of body experience and being forced to watch something that I found traumatizing.

But all of that behind me, I left the hospital and came home. I was exhausted after having been awake for 36 hours straight, but I was well cared for by everyone around me. In those first days, I felt disconnected from everything. Trying to catch up on sleep, learning to breastfeed, and adjust to caring for an infant is pretty haze-inducing. I took the placenta pills. When people asked me how I felt, I responded with “good.”

I got to know my baby, who loved me above all people and never wanted to be put down. EVER. We adapted. We co-slept. We had a sling, and an Ergo baby carrier. Little did I know that I would literally be carrying my child around for the next 10 months (she is the most attached child I have ever, ever met.)

After two and a half weeks, it was time for my husband to go back to work, time for my mother and mother-in-law to go back to cooking for their own families. And that morning, as I kissed my husband goodbye, I was feeling a bit excited to be alone with my baby for the first time. She was asleep, and I took a breath, sat down, ready to admire her until she woke up. And that was when it happened… I felt a hot wave rush over me, and I thought I was going to pass out. The room was spinning. I panicked. I grabbed the baby and got into bed, thinking I was surely about to die. I was experiencing what would be the first of several months of panic attacks.

I was terrified to be alone with my baby, afraid that I would drop her, or that I would faint while carrying her and kill her. I was afraid that the walls were closing in. I was afraid of everything, all of the time. I had these horrible visions of bad things that could happen to her. She would be sitting in her bouncer, and I would be cutting carrots and suddenly be horrified that I could cut off her finger, even though she was ten feet away. I felt crazy.

I knew that something was really wrong in my mind, and so when she was a few months old, I told my primary care doctor about how I was feeling. She flippantly looked at me and said “Well stop breastfeeding, you’ll feel better. And by the way, if you have any more kids, this will only get worse for you.” I went home and cried for five days straight. I didn’t want to give up breastfeeding…it was the one thing I was doing with success. So I dug in my heels, and decided that I would continue breastfeeding, consequences be damned.

I attended regular therapy sessions. My therapist knew that I was struggling, but I don’t think that even she knew the extent of the pain I was in mentally. I think the anxiety had become so bad that I didn’t know how to properly express how bad it was. I coped by always scheduling a visit with a friend or family member while my husband was at work or school (he was finishing his degree at the time.) And crying when I was alone, wondering if I was a bad mother, whether I would ever feel normal again, and hiding some of the darkest moments away.

When my daughter was six months old that everything really came to a head when I had this strange pain in my groin and a rash on my back. I had become so stressed and riddled with anxiety that I had gotten shingles. It was probably the best thing that happened to me postpartum. On doctor’s orders, I had to lay down, rest, and keep myself from being too stressed. This was when I finally began laying down with my daughter for naps. I began resting, and knowing that I had those two hours each day to lay down, helped tremendously. It also gave me an unspoken permission to actually ask for help from those around me.

The fog slowly began to lift. Then, around the 8 or 9 month mark when I was arbitrarily surfing Facebook, I came across an article about postpartum depression and anxiety. It talked about how people who had been sexually abused or assaulted were more likely to feel violated by childbirth and had higher instances of postpartum depression and anxiety. I had no idea.

Suddenly everything clicked. In all the preparations I made, in all those OB/GYN appointments I had, not one person ever asked me if I had been the victim of sexual abuse or assault—not even my therapist knew to ask. Even though I had the birth I “wanted,” I still felt so traumatized and I finally understood why. In those moments of realization, it was as though I could finally come out the other side. A huge burden lifted off me, as if all at once.

Since then, I’ve still had my ups and downs… breastfeeding was a huge culprit as well in the hormonal cocktail that spikes my anxiety. I breastfed my daughter until she was 3 1/2, and when I weaned her, the anxiety was once again palpable. Now, having weaned her, I feel like my postpartum period has FINALLY, at long last, come to a close. It’s been an often dark place for me, but understanding where the sense of trauma comes from really helps.

I have been lucky. I reached out, and I had a number of people who came to my aid. My family, and a few close friends really hung in there with me and, on numerous occasions, dropped everything to come and literally sit beside me as I struggled. My husband has been a major support for me in both my mental health and my extended breastfeeding. The journey has been hard, and full of love.

Coming through this period of my life has changed me. It’s made me more able to acknowledge when I need help, and it’s made me more thankful for my moments with my daughter where I feel like myself. Postpartum anxiety robbed me of a precious time with my newborn. Guilt is motherfucker and she doesn’t go easy. But just like the initial trauma of sexual abuse, the birth trauma wasn’t my fault, and the postpartum anxiety wasn’t my fault.

The Harshe Podcast – Episode #13: January’s Juicing Journey!

The Harshe Podcast – Episode #13: January’s Juicing Journey!

January talks about her recent gallbladder health scare and how she has been healing it…by juicing! Brandon also discusses how juicing has helped him add muscle and strength GAINZ in the gym! This podcast episode is too legit to quit!

Subscribe to the Harshe Podcast on iTunes!

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Click here to download Episode #13: January’s Juicing Journey!

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Get a limited edition, custom, hand-made unicorn holiday ornament at Self Love Generation right now! January and Brandon have a feeling this ornament will be the first in a yearly tradition of holiday ornaments at Self Love Generation! Also, Birth Without Fear coffee mugs and sports bras are nearly sold out, so get one, or both, today!

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January and Brandon will only be holding one (1) Birth Without Fear Conference in the United States next year in… Portland, OR! It will be in September 2018 and tickets go on sale December 1, 2017 at bwfconference.com!

The Harshe Podcast – Episode #10: Q & A Volume One

The Harshe Podcast – Episode #10: Q & A Volume One

January and Brandon answer your questions! They talk about everything from their current favorite songs (hint: not the new Taylor Swift song) and chiropractic (since Brandon is a chiropractor, of course) to religion (hint: not Mormonism) and using toilet paper from the top or bottom (hint: this is an important answer)!

Subscribe to the Harshe Podcast on iTunes!

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Click here to download Episode #10: Q & A Volume One!

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To get grape HFX Hydration Factor from MRM to put in your lemonade and relive your childhood with your very own Purplesaurus Rex Kool-Aid flavor, click here and use the code “HARSHE” when you check out!

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We have added Birth Without Fear coffee mugs and sports bras to Self Love Generation! Both of these items are limited edition , so order one quick! Don’t forget to grab a Birth Without Fear logo T-shirt or a Team No Sleep raglan shirt while you’re at it! Stay tuned for free shipping on dad shirts and You Do You Boo shirts next week!

The Harshe Podcast – Episode #7: Homeless and Pregnant

The Harshe Podcast – Episode #7: Homeless and Pregnant

January and Brandon tell the birth story of baby #5 aka The Bull! They recount the multiple moves, financial hardships, and sheer stress surrounding The Bull’s pregnancy. Somehow they survived the stress of that time period and moved on, but at the time it didn’t feel like it. Also, a trip down memory lane with… Moviefone!

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Click here to download Episode #7: Homeless and Pregnant!

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We are having a Labor Day sale at Self Love Generation! Our classic Birth Without Fear logo, “i don’t babysit. I PARENT.”, and “You Do You Boo” unicorn T-shirts are back, along with a re-imagining of our popular “Team NO Sleep” raglan shirt, as well as a “You Do You Boo” rainbow unicorn lanyard that Brandon loves are all 20% off through Labor Day!

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Join January in 2017 at a Find Your Village event near you! January will be in Atlanta, GA on September 9th, and Nashville on September 23rd! Make sure to get your tickets because this is the last year January will be holding Find Your Village events!

PPD, PTSD and Antenatal Depression: Nutrition and Research…What Helps?

PPD, PTSD and Antenatal Depression: Nutrition and Research…What Helps?

Postpartum depression, antenatal depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder related to birth are multi-faceted, complicated illnesses that can be caused by a number of different things.  While some experts propose that these things have physical causes, others report psychological factors as the main cause.  And others, like myself (although I would not consider myself an expert), believe it could be a little of each.

Either way, all of us agree that the effects of these conditions are detrimental and should be prevented as much as possible. One research team noted that postpartum depression “is a serious mental health problem for women” and that “it’s consequences have serious implications for the welfare of the family and the development of the child.” (O’Hara and Swain,1996, p. 37)

In another report:

“Postpartum depression has a long term effect on mental health since it may increase the risk of continuing or recurrent depression. Postpartum depression has also been associated with adverse effects on early infant development, especially among socially disadvantaged children. Serious consequences for the child include increased risk of accidents, sudden infant death syndrome, and an overall higher frequency of hospital admissions.”

PPD has far-reaching effects on not just a woman but her entire family and society in general.  And even worse, 1 to 2 of every 1000 women experience postpartum psychosis.  (Stanton & Gallant, 1995; Noncas & Cohen, 1998)

While numbers differ, most studies indicate the number of PPD cases is between 8 and 15%.  However, a study by researchers Stanton & Gallant showed at least 26% of moms experience at least mild depression.

The percentage of women experiencing postpartum depression can differ dramatically by country as well.  That is why studies show rates of postnatal depression that are much larger and much smaller.  Either way, we know this is sadly a growing trend.

Because no one knows a woman’s body as well as she knows it herself, I think it is best to present as much of the scientific evidence available on this topic to women and let them pinpoint, prevent, and even possibly reverse the triggers that led to their own experiences with postpartum depression.

Consequently, the following information is a collection of strictly unbiased scientific studies and their outcomes.  I encourage every mom to consider each one and how it might help her and her family’s health during pregnancy, birth, and beyond, as well as other women in her community.

Essential Fatty Acid Deficiency

According to one study, women with low DHA levels are 6 times more likely to suffer from postpartum depression.  “Study results quantified women with lower omega-3 PUFA levels as being six times more likely to be depressed antenatally, compared to women who had higher omega-3 PUFA levels.”

As a nutrition counselor, I often see the effects of essential fatty acid deficiencies.  Most common is a deficiency of omega 3 fatty acids related to the improper ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 in our food supply, which is what the study above showed.  For instance, vegetable oils (corn, canola, soybean, etc.) are very high in omega 6 and low in omega 3’s, leading to a deficiency of omega 3’s.  At least 70% of our food supply contains one or more of these types of oils.

Sixty percent of our brain is made up of fats.  When a growing baby in utero does not obtain the necessary fats from mother’s diet for proper brain development, the necessary fats will come out of mother’s stores in the brain.  This is a common cause of not only PPD but also postpartum “brain fog” and children with ADHD.

EFA deficiency does not have to wait until delivery to affect a mother in the form of depression or brain fog, sometimes resulting in antenatal depression as well.

To correct/prevent this, vegetable oils (and foods containing them) should be eliminated as much as possible and exchanged for healthy oils such olive oil and coconut oil.  Foods that are also high in these essential fatty acids are fish, walnuts, flaxseed, and chia seeds.  I recommend that pregnant women take a cod liver oil supplement for good brain health in both mom and baby.

Thyroid Health

Women with thyroid dysfunction had a higher incidence of depression.”

In this study, researchers found that the more severe the mother’s thyroid dysfunction, the more severe her postpartum depression was.  Like PPD, postpartum thyroiditis is a growing health concern and one that I often encounter in my profession.  Symptoms include low breastmilk production, extreme fatigue (more than from having a newborn baby!), and depression.

Pregnancy can have a taxing effect on a woman’s thryoid, the butterfly-shaped gland in the neck.  Coincidentally, so do things in our food and water supply.  Soy/soybean oil and fluoride in drinking water are two of the most damaging to our thyroid health.  Avoiding foods with soy/soybean oil in them and drinking non-fluoridated water, as well as eating 1-2 Brazil nuts/day for selenium (which has a protective effect on the thyroid), will go a long way in helping support a woman’s thyroid during pregnancy.

Labor & Delivery Circumstances

One particular study found that cesarean delivery increased the rate of postpartum depression or postpartum PTSD:

“A significantly higher incidence of postnatal depression was found among subjects who had undergone Caesarean section than in those who had a vaginal delivery. The excess of cases of postnatal depression among the Caesarean subjects appeared to consist of a milder illness which started sooner after delivery. Following Caesarean section, there was a significant association between postnatal depression and general, but not regional, anaesthesia.”

Alternately, a study by Missouri Western State University found that while women having home births and/or who were attended to by a midwife, the location and type (cesarean or vaginal) was not so much the factor leading to postpartum depression as was the amount of control and satisfaction a woman felt she had with her baby’s birth.  Overall, they found that the more support a woman had during labor and postpartum, as well as the more control she had over her own labor and delivery, the less likely she was to suffer from postpartum depression.

Bottle-Feeding

“According to a new theory being proposed by University of Albany evolutionary psychologist Gordon Gallup and his colleagues, the decision to bottle-feed is tantamount, in the mother’s psyche, to mourning the loss of the child. At least, that’s how a woman’s body seems to respond to the absence of a suckling infant at its breasts in the wake of a successful childbirth.”

The authors of this study believe that “the absence or early cessation of breastfeeding would have been occasioned by miscarriage, loss, or death of a child. We contend, therefore, that at the level of her basic biology a mother’s decision to bottle feed unknowingly simulates child loss.”

Of course, not all women are able to breastfeed.  For those that are, this is good reason to avoid bottle-feeding strictly for ease.  For those that choose to bottle-feed or need to bottle-feed based on certain circumstances, we can still reap the benefits of frequent skin-to-skin contact with baby to increase psychological health of both mom and baby.

Lack of Postpartum Community Care

Traditional cultures took (and continue to take) a very different approach towards a woman’s postpartum period.  In a report from 1983, researchers Stern and Kruckman found that postpartum depression was virtually non-existent in traditional cultures.  These cultures had many practices to value new mothers and their babies by the way they took care of them and encouraged a period of rest and pampering.  While these cultures differed in the way they valued the postpartum period, they all shared five protective social structures.  They can be seen here (http://www.breastfeeding.com/helpme/cultures.html) and include a distinct postpartum period that is set aside and treated differently than any other time of life, social seclusion and mandated rest, and functional assistance.

In contrast, mothers in industrialized countries are encouraged to be as productive as possible and to entertain guests who come to see the baby.  There is an inherent expectation for mothers in America to get back to life as normal as quickly as possible.  Mother-focused support is extremely limited in industrialized countries and, according to Stern and Kruckman, is a main cause of postpartum depression.

Additional Factors

A very large study of  Scandanavian women and postpartum depression discovered additional factors leading to PPD:

-Psychological distress in late pregnancy
-Perceived social isolation during pregnancy
-Positive history of prepregnant psychiatric disease (either by family members or the mother herself)

This study shows the importance of avoiding any unnecessary stressful situations whenever possible during pregnancy.  It also confirms that women with either a family history or personal history of depression.  Correcting any underlying imbalances and/or nutritional deficiencies related to depression either before or during pregnancy will benefit both the mother and baby.

(For more information on some of the possible causes of depression and some natural remedies, go to Healthy Families for God’s article here.)

Postpartum and/or antenatal depression, as well as PTSD related to childbirth, are definitely complicated illnesses.  Hopefully, with this information, moms will be able to experience more of the joy and excitement of bringing a new life into this world!  To support women in your community, share this article with them.  Together, we can work to create a more supportive postpartum period for mothers the way traditional cultures have done for centuries!

Sara Jo Poff is a personal nutrition counselor, wellness educator, and the founder of Healthy Families for God.  Her mission is to help people overcome health traps and the food habits that cause them in order to live an abundant, joyful life living out their God-given purpose.  Sara Jo also started Circle of Elephants, an effort to protect pregnant women from medical injustice in America.  But before these pursuits, her priority is as a wife, a homeschooling, cloth-diapering, extended breastfeeding, Jesus-seeking mom to five children, ages 2 to 16.  For more information, check her out at http://healthyfamiliesforgod.com/.

*Photography by Katsoulis Photography. He also has an extensive 200 page guide on the subject of Pregnancy Photography that has just been published for the iPad that can be found here.

 


Dealing With Cesarean Scars

Dealing With Cesarean Scars

Rebecca shares a beautiful reflection on her c-section scarring.

I don’t actively go out of my way to look at my scar. I don’t hide its existence, but I just don’t fuss over it either. It is there, under a little flap on my tummy, hiding until I straighten myself out to peer at it in the mirror.

I didn’t always look this way. My tummy was once flat, though anyone who had only just met me in the last 4 years would be forgiven for thinking otherwise.

I recently enjoyed reading some stories of old friends experiencing success in their careers, unhindered by children and able to progress to the peak of their industries. I get more time to read about these things on Facebook while I feed my 4-month old as I put her to sleep, lying on my side and stroking her hair as she drifts off.

I wouldn’t exchange her, or my son, for any success in the world; and so I can say confidently and clearly that I have only happiness for these people. There are no “what ifs” or “maybes”. There is only joy and excitement.

Are you waiting for the “But…”? It’s not there. If I learned anything from having children, it’s that comparing success is a dangerous road, which inevitably leads to hurt for one or both parties.

So I stood up tonight and actively looked at my scar for the first time after having my daughter. It’s been four months. It’s still red, and is joined by the little skin flap and array of stretch marks that appeared three years ago after having my son through the same scar.

Both of my children were born by “elective cesarean”, though to say it was an elective choice is a lie. My son was born through a cut in my stomach after 36 hours of labor with no progression. I was given the option to continue labor, but after being told the safest option was to wheel into surgery, I agreed with the doctor’s suggestion and jumped on the trolley towards the surgery room.

People like to tell you when swapping birth stories (sometimes dangerous ground to tread) that they always have a friend who pushed through 36-hour labors, and against the odds had a vaginal birth that was “the most amazing experience a person could have”. Every time I hear these stories I have to remind myself that I chose what was right for me. My son’s birth involved me lying paralyzed on a surgery table, discussing kindergarten options with the surgery nurse whose son was about to enter school. Then my body started thrashing in what I later found out was shock from blood loss. Then the doctors did some stuff, and then I held my son. Then they weighed him, and I held him again while my husband cried with joy and I just made gulping sounds of joy in a greyish state. It’s not the almighty experience that vaginal birth stories have led me to believe.

My son is now 3. He is witty, cheeky, clever and naughty. I have never been more euphoric than when we sit and talk about his day for the single minute that he can stand to sit before running off again to play or explore everything in his environment. He is simply everything and all I could ever dream he could be.

He likes my tummy. He thinks the stretch marks make an excellent road for his mini trains and seems to assume they are ‘”pretty” before he will become socially programmed to be repulsed by them (I dread the day and work with everything in my power to prevent it).

He was recently diagnosed with asthma. My friend, who loves and is loved by my children, let me in on some medical facts she learned from her midwife mama: “Did you know cesarean babies are 90% more likely to get asthma due to not getting their lungs squeezed in the birth canal?” She asked. She didn’t mean for it to hurt; and if she knew, she would have been devastated. But it’s not uncommon for people to assume you were just totally cool to have a c-section and that it was all sweet.

Did my birth decision cause my son to end up hospitalized and struggling to breathe because I chose to be wheeled into that surgery?

My daughter came out of the same scar. They reopened it for her. She was breech and I had an “incompetent pelvis” (what a name!), which made it hard for her to engage and come down the canal naturally. So again, I “chose” to get on the trolley. I “chose” to get a syringe in my spine. I “chose” to risk going into shock again and needing a blood transfusion, and I chose what was medically deemed the safest way to bring my daughter into the world with the extenuating circumstances. If the doctor said that my leg was in the way and could risk my child’s safety during childbirth, you could bet your bottom dollar I would be hopping out of that hospital with my kids.

So tonight I stared at my scar. I took a photo of it. I marveled that this little cut bought my children into the world and made my life complete. I called in my husband to look too. He said what I was thinking without me saying a word – “Can you believe you bought our children into the world through that scar? It’s one of my favorite parts of you.”

I started going to the gym. I would like my tummy to be less wide and a little flatter. No matter how many crunches, sit-ups or planks I do, those stretch marks will stay. No amount of shea oil will wipe away my scar. I love it and I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world, because it made my world complete.

Sweet Ellie-Boy

Sweet Ellie-Boy

We discovered we were pregnant with you in November of 2014. Your sister was to be turning two years old then and although we had been determined for her to be an only child, we were excited to be bringing you into the world.

Our joyousness was quickly squashed by fears from the outcome of our last pregnancy. I was diagnosed with postpartum depression. I had a rough time for the first eight months of your sister’s life. I had insane amounts of anxiety and insomnia as a result. Once I found myself again, I vowed to avoid pregnancy for all eternity!

Then, you came along. I tried my hardest to ignore the feelings and fears in the beginning of my pregnancy. It took so much work, but I finally let go and let God. I told your daddy that this time was going to be different. I was going to do everything opposite of what I did with your sister’s birth.

I started off with my regular OB/GYN, but decided if I truly wanted to have an easier delivery and postpartum journey I would need to change everything. Plus, my OB made fun of me for wanting to encapsulate my placenta and guaranteed me I would have PPD. I placed a call to the only birth center I knew of in the area and made my first appointment with a midwife at 18 weeks pregnant.

My midwife assured me I had made the right choice and I agreed. I knew I had, because I was overcome with a strength I never knew existed within me. I had the most wonderful midwife and the most supportive family.

I ordered books about natural birth and devoured them quickly. After I finished each one I was filled with immense amounts of courage knowing thousands of women had done it this way before me. Your daddy and I practiced daily on techniques and talked about our hopes and dreams of how your birth would go.

My pregnancy flew by and before I knew it I was 37 weeks pregnant. We were so excited we made it this far and knew meeting you was just around the corner. At 38 weeks I started trying everything I could to meet you earlier. If it was on Google, I did it. Walking, bouncing, stretching, adjustments, acupressure, labor cookies, and labor tea to name a few! Everyone was so excited to meet you.

My 40 week appointment came and went. I avoided vaginal checks, but was getting anxious to know how far along I was. I was also nervous I would go way past my due date and need a hospital induction. I was determined more than ever to get you going! Finally, at 40 weeks and five days I started having regular contractions.

The day started out like any other day. Your sister and I enjoyed breakfast together and hung out at home. I remember feeling incredibly tired that day and sad. I was sad that you hadn’t arrived yet, sad that these were the last few days I was getting with your sister, sad I might end up in the hospital. Daddy was working late, so your sister and I watched movies and built animals and boats with K’nex. Daddy got home with dinner and your sister and I took a bubble bath together.

That evening, after we put sissy to bed, I started feeling cramps. We lay on the couch together and watched TV. Your daddy fell asleep on the couch, but I couldn’t take my mind off of the contractions I was now having. I tried walking and going to the bathroom, but they didn’t stop. They were about seven to ten minutes apart and not painful, so I just tried to relax.

Over the next hour I had some more intense contractions. I got so excited I woke your daddy up by jumping on top of him. We decided to go to bed and get some sleep, knowing this might be the last good sleep we would get for a while!

ellie2

I couldn’t sleep. I stared at the ceiling and kept checking the time on my phone. I finally decided to time my contractions since they were about five to seven minutes apart at this point. I got up and went to the restroom and called my mom. Afterwards, I decided to call my midwife to let her know what was going on. She told us to labor at home for a while until my contractions were three to four minutes apart.

I started to run a bath, but the contractions were getting intense. They were getting painful and I couldn’t talk through them any longer. We continued to time my contractions which were finally three to four minutes apart. We called my midwife again who told us to come on in to the center. We called family to come to the house to stay with your sister and called our parents to meet us at the birth center.

About 20 minutes later we were finally on our way. Your daddy was speeding down the road so fast that a policeman pulled us over. We told him where we were headed and he waived us on our way! I had contractions every two to three minutes during that car ride. We finally made it and got ourselves set up in our birthing room. For the first time in my entire pregnancy I was finally checked. My midwife told me I was five centimeters dilated with a bulging bag of waters! I was elated to find out I was halfway done. The hardest part was still to come.

ellie3

I labored on a birthing ball for a good hour, holding on to your daddy’s neck. The midwife pressed my hips together to relieve some pressure. The lights were dimmed and I could hear my calming playlist in the background. I stood up to walk around the room and suddenly felt nauseous. I knew I was transitioning to the final phase before I would meet you! Your Nana held peppermint oil underneath my nose to help relieve the nausea and your Mimi replaced cold rags on my head.

ellie4

I finally got in the tub and labored in different positions. Contractions were coming nonstop and were incredibly painful. The water helped to relax me and breathing techniques helped take the edge off of the pain. My instincts took over and my body decided it was time to push. All of a sudden my water broke with what felt like a miniature explosion! I rolled over onto my bottom and decided it was time to get you out!

ellie

Your daddy held my hand while your nana sat behind me holding my other hand. I squeezed your Nana’s hand so hard I tore the tendons in her hand! I felt a big contraction coming and I pushed! Out came your head! I asked daddy what color your hair was, but he couldn’t see yet. One more push and out slid the rest of your body.

ellie5

Next thing I knew you were on my chest – all blue and beautiful! You were born on August 11, 2015 at 3:26AM, weighing 7 lbs. 11oz. and 19.5 inches long. Our labor was a total of six hours long! We cuddled, took a sitz bath and cuddled some more! A new day began with a new beautiful baby boy! We named you Elliot, but you’re our sweet little Ellie-boy!

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