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Editor’s note: Genevieve Howland, aka Mama Natural, is taking her mission to the next level with a beautiful new book that is out this month, The Mama Natural Week-By-Week Guide to Pregnancy & Childbirth. She was kind enough to share the post below. ❤️
I believe in the wisdom in how traditional cultures approached life—from food, to activity, to rest, and yes, to birth! We can learn a lot about having a healthy pregnancy and childbirth from these cultures.
Unfortunately, birth has become a medicalized process here in the US; pregnancy is labeled a medical “condition” rather than a normal biological process. From the moment they get their due date calculator results, many women are led to believe that their bodies aren’t equipped to birth babies, and that they’ll need help (read: interventions) each step of the way.
Here are six myths around pregnancy and childbirth that many people still believe.
Myth #1: What you eat doesn’t matter too much (just take your prenatal!)
A lot of doctors will stress the importance of taking your prenatal vitamin to ensure good nutrition instead of focusing on a nutrient-dense diet. They’ll also focus more on the quantity of your food (an additional 300 and 500 calories each day in your second and third trimesters respectively) over the quality of your food.
You may also hear recommendations to decrease or minimize your fat intake (hello, fats nourish baby’s brain, eyes, nervous system as well as mom’s!) and increase your consumption of “enriched whole grains” to boost your folic acid intake. Problem is, nearly half (if not more) of U.S. women have some sort of MTHFR mutation, which means they cannot properly digest folic acid.
Fact is, the types of food you eat matter. Choose real, nourishing food (not protein powders or bars, frozen meals, and other processed food) along with a food-based prenatal. Also, watch out for hot bars like at Whole Foods. These foods are typically loaded with unhealthy fats!
Myth #2: It doesn’t matter how baby comes into the world
With a 33% c-section rate, U.S. doctors are clearly not educating their patients about the benefits of natural, vaginal birth.
The World Health Organization likes to see a 10-15% c-section rate (and this includes high risk births like triplets!) for the health of baby and mom. Midwives and their patients understand the benefits of natural delivery as the national c-section rate in birth center births is only 6%.
Benefits of natural childbirth
The truth is vaginal birth has amazing benefits and is part of nature’s design. As baby makes his way down the birth canal, some very important things take place:
- the amniotic fluid gets squeezed from his lungs as he’s pushed through his mother’s body.
- he also “picks up” beneficial bacteria via skin contact and swallowing from the vaginal cavity. This protective bacteria also coats his skin and helps to inoculate the microbiome.
- if not medicated, the intensity of birth triggers mom’s brain to release large amounts of oxytocin, which is a natural pain killer and bonding hormone.
Consequences of c-sections
Babies who are born via c-section just don’t get these same benefits and this can have lifelong consequences. Science is backing this up too! Studies show that babies who are born via c-section are more prone to:
- inflammatory bowel disease
- juvenile arthritis
- diabetes and obesity, later in life
- even leukemia!
Here’s more info on cesarean dangers to babies’ long term health.
Please know that I’m not condemning c-section mamas. After all, I’m a c-section baby! Cesareans save the lives of moms and babies. The emerging practice of gentle cesarean can help “naturalize” the experience (and boost baby’s gut health too!)
Myth #3: It’s best to cut the umbilical cord right after birth
Many ob-gyns will cut your baby’s umbilical cord right after birth as a standard of care in their practice, even though in most cases there is no medical benefit in doing so. Alternatively, they may push fetal cord blood banking.
Dr. Tonse Raju, a perinatology specialist at NIH’s National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, says:
“Unfortunately, the value of immediate clamping has never been shown.”
Benefits of delayed cord clamping
In contrast, delaying cord clamping for 1-5 minutes, or until the cord stops pulsating, has been shown to:
- supplies up to 1/3 of baby’s blood, which he gets back through delayed cord clamping
- supports respiratory function and in premature babies, reduces the risk of eventual blood transfusion
- boost newborn’s iron stores for up to 6 months post-birth, right around the time iron-rich solid foods (like pureed meat not iron-fortified rice cereal) can be added to his diet
- improves fine motor skills and social/learning development later in life
Myth #4: Supplementing with formula is fine in first week of life
Colostrum is specifically designed to seal baby’s gut and give him the immunity he needs as he faces the new world. Even a small amount of baby formula can disrupt this process and lead to digestive issues and food sensitivities.
Interesting to note: according to some lactation consultants, colostrum’s work is so important that it’s actually better for baby to have exclusive colostrum in the first several days of life and then switch permanently to formula than it is to supplement during those early days and then continue with exclusive breastfeeding for a year or more.
Of course, in some circumstances, it’s necessary to supplement with formula early on for the health of baby. In those cases, a healthy homemade formula is preferable to any commercial brands. But, when at all possible, breastmilk, and particularly colostrum, should be given exclusively to build a healthy immune system.
Myth #5: Baby should be cleaned, wrapped and warmed immediately after birth
I remember the nurse at my daughter’s birth couldn’t wait to wipe off the vernix, that waxy, cheese-like stuff that covers a newborn’s skin. But instead of wiping it off, we should be rubbing it in.
Benefits of vernix
Vernix has many benefits. It:
- Protects baby from pathogens
- Is a skin cleanser and antioxidant
- Protects from meconium exposure
- Helps insulate baby and keep her warm
- Smells like breastmilk to help mom and baby bond
After birth, it’s ideal for baby to be placed skin-to-skin with mom to help regulate baby’s temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure—and to rub in the vernix. No need for incubators!
Benefits of skin-to-skin contact
Other benefits of being skin-to-skin include:
- Baby will often prompt breastfeeding by crawling to the breast
- Mom and baby are flooded with oxytocin or the “feel good” and bonding hormone
- It supports baby’s microbiome by avoiding colonization by other people or hospital germs
Myth #6: A hospital birth education class is adequate
If you want a natural childbirth, a hospital class is probably not the way to go.
Hospital birth classes usually teach you how to be a good patient versus how to actually have a natural childbirth.
BTW, it’s completely possible to have a natural childbirth in a hospital. It’s where most natural births happen!
There are many fantastic natural birth courses out there to choose from but the important thing is to get educated outside of the hospital. (Obviously, if you have a home or birth center birth, this will be a given!)
Want to help change the birth culture in our country?
I’ve just published the first week-by-week pregnancy guide from a natural perspective. Featuring insights from a certified nurse midwife (who happened to deliver both of my children), as well as a registered nurse and doula, the book is packed with helpful info on:
- Natural remedies for common pregnancy symptoms
- When to get a prenatal ultrasound (and when not to)
- Sex during pregnancy
- The truth about epidurals
- How to naturalize a surgical birth
- Natural pain relief during labor
- What to do during every stage of labor
- How to recover naturally
- And so much more
This book is evidence-based, empowering and entertaining. ???? (No boring text books over here!) If pregnancy is in your future, or if you know anyone who’s pregnant, please consider picking up a copy.
Even if you aren’t pregnant…
Consider purchasing the book and…
- Donating to your local library or church
- Giving to your ob-gyn at your next wellness visit
- Passing along at a La Leche meeting or baby carrying group
- Sharing with a pre-med student
- Keeping in your home library to loan out as needed
Together, we can help change the face of birth in the U.S.
Thank you for your support!
How about you?
What myths around pregnancy and childbirth were you told?