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Interview with Ina May Gaskin

November 3rd, 2008

For those of you who have yet to come across her, Ina May Gaskin is an extraordinary figure in the world of birth. Activist, author, innovator but primarily still a midwife, Ina May Gaskin is responsible for the begiinings of what we hope will be a slow but steady revolution in the way birth is treated in the US. Up against a system that is even more medicalised than the UK’s, the statistics at The Farm where Ina May works speak for themselves… 2006 their c-section rate was 1.4% compared to the ever-increasing national US average of 31.1%. Their postpartum haemmorage rate is 1.8% and over 90% of women in their care give birth at home. Whilst the environment these women live in might make them more attuned to their bodies, the real difference is that Ina May and her team of midwives fundamentally understand the process of birth, trust in a woman’s capacity and adopt a specifically non-interventionist but  very very supportive role. Here is a link to a recent interview that she gave  whilst on a tour of the UK - it is well worth a listen. Ina May Gaskin’s Book ‘ A Guide to Childbirth’ is also essential. This is a lady who knows what she is talking about, and has thousands of extraordinary birth stories to prove it.

Couples Workshop

October 21st, 2008

There is a couples workshop scheduled for Tuesday Nov 4th between 7.30-9.30. The cost of the course is £40 per couple and includes a booklet and drinks/nibbles etc. It is always a very relaxed but very popular affair, and especially good for partners as they come away with a real sense as to how they can be of greatest benefit during labour and crucially an understanding of the physiology of birth.

If you are interested, please pick up a bookings form in the next class of email me on

Birth and Bonding

September 22nd, 2008

Finally there is research to support what many instinctively felt, and others convincingly wrote about- that natural birth helps the bonding process.

Bonding in human beings is a complex process- partly instinctive and partly an acquired skill. Scientific research has shown that simple exposure to children can increase maternal feelings and capacity in a mother, and it is thanks to this multi-layered bonding in humans that mothers who adopt children can become very bonded to them. Similarly women who are not able to have a natural birth, for one reason or another, should not be alarmed. But our desire not to alarm should not cause a muddying of facts. For women to make informed choices regarding birth, when choice is available to them, they must understand the process and physiology of birth and its implications. Uninformed choices are not real choices.

At the point of birth a mother and her child, are literally flooded with hormones, the main one being oxytocin or the love hormone. This hormone helps to make the mother more reponsive to the child and vice versa, helping to create the foundations for a strong bond or attachment betwen them. For those that have a natural birth this a wonderful advantage of the process and one not to be ignored. It is not to say that mothers with intervention will not bond, but that it might take a little longer or prove a little more difficul and so they should simply be prepared for this. Equally, mothers who have had natural births should not necessarily expect to feel an immediate rush of love. Whilst many women who have a natural birth describe the love they feel for their child like an irrational onslaught, it is equally the case that many take their time despite the hormonal help. Bu like all things in life, if we can lay the appropriate foundations, it is going to make things an awful lot easier. At a time when family breakdown and teenage epidemics abound, the attachment between mother and child is ever more important. Psychologists can now point to direct links between early attachments and later mental health and resilience. Instead of brushing valid information under the carpet so as not to offend, it is essential that we bring information to light, to enable and encourage women to make choices that will be of great benefit to both them in their offspring, and not simply in the short term.

Summer Holidays

July 30th, 2008

Classes have now ended for the summer and will resume on Monday September 8th. Please email your interest for the class. I will respond to emails at the start of September. please be aware that the class is full for the first week but babies are due throughout September so I am happy to take wait-list places.

Wishing you a very happy rest of summer.

What you body knows

June 12th, 2008

A wonderful cranial osteopath by the name of Emma Westlake recently said to me ‘ Your body knows what to do’. This should be the mntra of every pregnant woman. ‘My body knows what to do’. Because it does. Even though our entire birth system- be it antenatal care, birth preparation classes or our cultural obsession with horror stories- suggests otherwise.

As much as we choose to focus on the rare abnormalities and the potential but unlikely risks, the truth is our bodies and instincts are extraordinary. When the natural process is left undisturbed, when a woman is left to be her own physical and mental master, then the vast majority will birth without help or complication. There are 6.5 billion people on the planet- most of whom have been born without access to modern medecine- proving the point that we are pretty good at this birth thing.

Whilst medical advance has ade up for where nature has lacked, the truth is a lot of the problems that have afflicted child- bearing in the past have been man-made- based on a lack of hygiene or nutrition and on the insistence on interfering.

We should be grateful for when doctors save us or our babies- of course we should- and as the grateful recipient of an emergency caesarean I do not make such a comment lightly. But intervention very often happens unnecessarily, or as a result of previous intervention and it is this that leads to a mistaken belief in the incompetence of nature. We have, sadly, made birth more abnormal than it needs to be, ensuring that both woemn do not believe in themselevs or their bodies any longer. Yet women have given birth in comas. You body knows what to do.

Birth Stories

June 4th, 2008

Why is it that when you announce that you are to have your appendix out, or a wisdom tooth pulled, everyone rallies around you with mutterings of support and casual ‘You’ll be all right’s, yet upon announcing that you are pregnant, you get relayed nothing but birth horror stories? Thirty-six hour labours, forceps deliveries, emergency dashes to the hospital. And turn on the television and any birth scene is depicted as traumatic, terrifying and torturous. If, as the writer Ben Okri says, nations are the stories that they tell themselves, is it any wonder that as few as 3% of births in this country are truly natural? Are stories of birth as at best an ordeal to be endured self- fulfilling prophecies? Is it possible that by continuously feeding ourselves stories of difficulty, we create the very thing we fear? Fear is one of the biggest impediments to labour and the more fear we cast, the more we make birth difficult for women. In many cultures, long births are unheard of and women never speak of the pain of labour. We need to recognise the extent to which birth is culturally conditioned and instead of simply accepting the stories, search a little deeper. When you try, it is equally not so difficult to find good, even amazing stories. Many many a woman has said to me that giving birth was simply the most extraordinary thing she had ever done and that she marvelled at her capacity to cope. These are the voices that need heard.

Postnatal Classes & Workshop

June 4th, 2008

New series of postnatal classes to start June 9th. Please contact me for further details or to book.

I will also be holding a rare couples workshop June 18th (tbc). Please let me know if you are interested. It is £35 per couple and has proved extremely popular in the past so booking is essential.

Home birth Safety - some clarification

April 7th, 2008

I have just had correspondance with Dr Phil Steers, Editor-in-Chief of the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, who was interviewed last week in response to the new publication on home birth. He kindly responded to several queries I had regarding the study, and so much of what he said was so useful in light of the current debate that I think it is important to pass on some of his wisdom. Firstly ,the statistics for the Netherlands, which I referred to in my last blog and which are still so often bandied about, are actually hopelessly out of date. In fact, it was some twenty years ago that the Netherlands had some of the best outcomes in the Western world. Now, as their home birth safety rates have not fallen in line with hospital rates, they now lie near the bottom of the league table, at 24 out of 25. Many a book and website needs updating it seems!!

Having said that, we should still not be so alarmed as to dismiss the idea of home birth altogether. Whilst on average one in four first time mothers need to be transferred during their labour, that does not mean that one in four come up against serious problems. Often the transfer is precautionary- because there are signs of foetal distress or labour might be stalling- and yet these are rectified with little or no intervention. Similarly, women who decide thay would like an epidural are included in these statistics. Whilst those in the transfer group face considerably more chance of things going wrong, Dr Steers emphasised that it is important to look at these bare-faced statistics in a much wider context. To question the safety and danger of home birth vs hospital births as absolutes is a futile exercise and misses several points. The first is that in either setting the risks of problems is low compared to several generations ago and the developing world. Secondly, risk is everywhere. We take a risk every time we walk out the door. When making dcisions about where it is best to birth, risks need to be weighed up against the benefits, and women- in conjunction - with their carers can then decide what is best for them. As Dr Steers said, ‘When you go for a home birth you might get the best, or the worst. The problem is, we are not good at predicting which’. No birth setting is perfect, and the right place for one woman will not necessarily be so for another. As the overall risks for women and babies are now very low, a woman’s personal sensibilities and her emotional preferences need to also be taken into account, especially when they are based on a good understanding of both the science and the physiological needs of a woman in labour. Whether it is the mother’s first or second birth should also be considered significant- for second time mothers who have had a previously successful spontaneous birth, the likelihood of transfer from a home birth is only 5%. As with many things, the choice as to where to give birth is a balancing act, but one that should be taken from a position of maximum knowledge. I reiterate it is always important to delve beneath the headlines, whoever might be writing them. Balance doesn’t often make for very good stories……..

The Safety of Home Births

April 7th, 2008

In the most recent issue of the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, an article was published suggesting that home births that encountered problems were less safe than hospital births. This was reported in recent articles in both The Telegraph and The Guardian. This is an important finding, not least because it refutes the previous research that concluded that planned home births were at least as safe as hospital births for low-risk pregnancies. It is essential hat we take heed of research such as this, and do not simply refute it because it is not smething hat we want to hear. We also need to be careful not to be reactionary and end up throwing the baby out with the bath water.  Studies like these do, and should prompt healthy debate and further research. And it is essential that we dig beneath the headlines ( note how different they were depending on the newspaper) and work out what the possible reasons for such findings might be. If the conclusion of the research was that home births by their very nature were inherently more risky, then how do we account for the birth outcome statistics in Holland- which are some of the best in the Western world- and thier unusually high home birth rate at around 30%. Equally how does Ina May Gaskin, famed for her birth practice on The Farm in Tennessee manages to have a c-section rate of only 1.4% and a transfer rate of only 13% inlcuding postpartem transfer, when her births are always at home or at her home-from-home centre. ( There is an interesting article on home birth safety on their website)

Instead of simply labelling home birth as dangerous, it is essential that we establish why, if the data is correct, it might be dangerous in some situations and not in others. And based on this, we need to make provisions for the minority who might still choose to birth at home, to ensure that being at home is made as safe as it can be. In scenarios such as these, scare-mogering headlines are not at all useful. What we need is to establish what the science is really telling us, and act accordingly.

Go gently

April 7th, 2008

A recent review of our dvd on amazon advised women to go to a class before doing yoga by dvd at home. Although she enjoyed the dvd and gave it a good review, she found that her pelvis had begun to hurt a little after the practice. I can not emphasise enough how important it is to be easy on yourself with yoga for pregnancy. During pregnancy a hormone called relaxin is produced by the body that works to soften the ligaments in preparation for birth. Whilst this is ultimately beneficial, as it helps the pelvis to open for birth, it also means that you need to exercise caution when doing any exercise as the potential for over-stretching is there. I always say in my classes, and on the inside of my yoga dvd, it is essential that you work gently and well within your comfort zone. Before starting yoga practice, with a teacher or at home, seek advice from your midwife. For the vast majority of poeple, gentle yoga will be a help not a hinderence during pregnancy, but only so long as you are not already suffering from sdp or dsp, and that you do not get over-excited by your potential newfound flexibility and push yourself accordingly.

The beauty of yoga is that it does not require you to push yourself hard or to be in outlandish positions to be effective. You can do moderated or simplified versions of each pose - with your legs together and knees bent etc- and still the physical benefits of improved posture, circulation, a stronger more aligned pelvis and spine and better breathing. Additionally, the benefits of yoga are not simply physical but also mental. The time to focus on your breath, your baby and yourself is essential- and in our fast paced world somewhat rare. It is also necessary during birth to allow the back part of your mind, that primal instinctive brain that tends to take a back-seat in day to day living, to come to the fore and play its essential role during birth- and the best way to aid that process is with gentle yoga practice before the birth.

So in all ways during pregnancy, be gentle on yourself and allow both your body and your mind to release and relax slowly and with ease. And if you find that even gentle practice causes you any pain at all, then please discontinue doing yoga and speak to your midwife.