Category Archives: Breastfeeding

What Not to Ask Your Doula

There are many lists and resource guides about what to ask your prospective doula when you interview her. I’ve even included a post here about asking whether or not your doula can help you apply for reimbursement from your insurance company for her services. I can’t say that I’ve seen any lists advising parents what not to ask their doula, however. I’m happy to have the honor (grin).

Every woman comes to her birth filled with experienes that have gotten her to this point. Because of her experiences, she expects her birth, and conversely, her birth team, to pan out in a particular fashion. Birth plans are an important part of birth that are often overlooked, and I can’t think of one doula that I know that doesn’t promote them in some way. Women also want the members of their birth team to have a certain level of experience, whether professional, personal or both. For some women, that means being surrounded solely by other women. For others, it means hiring a doula that has attended a certain amount of births. Still, there are many women who prefer to hire a doula that has labored and given birth herself. These are all valid desires. Birth is an extremely vulnerable situation, and a woman absolutely deserves to have her needs met during labor.

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Part of our training as doulas includes effective communication. We learn to be aware of our facial expressions so we don’t offend clients as they share personal information. We learn to be active listeners so that, even if we have given birth ourselves, we allow our clients to have their own experiences. We even learn to keep our own tempers under control when something happens that would, under different circumstances, drive us crazy.

So, why this post? It’s been my experience that women who are TTC form bonds and support each other through the turmoil. However, it’s also been my experience that women with successful pregancies sometimes forget (and rightfully so!) the ups and downs they’ve shared with their sisters in the struggle for what, for some, has been years. Pregnant women have graduated TTC college, and have every right to enjoy their pregnancies with other pregnant women. Along with that, they have every right to want a doula who has experienced pregnancy and labor herself. But mamas, please consider the following.

A childless doula may not have children because she simply doesn’t want any. The doula you’re interviewing may not be able to conceive. The lovely woman sitting across from you at the coffee house as you feel out her qualifications may be overcoming the heartache of a miscarriage. She may be a single woman who wants children, but can’t afford artificial insemination or IVF. The woman who scores high in every area on your checklist except for whether or not she has children may have given birth to a baby that didn’t survive.

Does this mean you should stop caring about whether or not your doula has children? Absolutely not! Your desires are yours, and you deserve to have your needs met by all means. Do continue to ask ask, “Do you have chidren?,” as you interview. Please do not ask, “So, why don’t you have kids?” It may seem like a harmless question, but it’s one that could have devastating effects on a doula who planned to have a lovely afternoon chatting with you.

Hold that Baby!

Every year I spend the month of July in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil with my religious family. When it comes to birth related news, Brazil is often criticized because of the country’s frighteningly high cesarean birth rate. Unfortunately, there’s far less press around child rearing and the amazing jobs many women do when it comes to breastfeeding regardless of socio-economic status.

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No matter where I am, pregnant women and families with small children catch my attention. However, for the first time I noticed women in transit with their babies. One rainy evening my godsister and her husband arrive at the temple with their 20 month old sleeping son. My sister is not wearing a sling, or baby carrrier. She hasn’t pushed him along in a stroller during their nearly 2-hour commute to the temple. My sister is carrying her son wrapped in a blanket in her arms. It was a strange sight for me.

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Most women in the United States use a wrap or sling to hold their baby while they’re active. Many use a car seat when they’re out shopping for groceries. It’s impossible to go to a park and not see a myriad of strollers that stand out among the greenery. So what’s the deal? Are strollers, slings and wraps too expensive for the average Bazilian woman? Not any more than for the average North American woman. There’s something quite cultural about holding one’s baby and sitting them on the lap rather than letting them rest in a swing, bouncer, car seat or play pen.

Could it be that Brazilian mothers have more intimate relationships with their babies than we do? Far be from me to make that assertion! However, it’s worth noting that Brazilian mothers are afforded longer maternity leaves than their North American sisters. A few months definitely help mother and child bond and grow into each other. Not to mention the time with which mom can devote to breastfeeding if she chooses. In the wake of World Breasfeeding Week, there are advertisements everywhere reinforcing the powerful message that breast is best for both mother and child(ren).

In the U.S. we seem to be thrilled by the next new thing. Moby wraps are suddenly all the rage when indigenous women around the world have been using fabric to carry their babies from the beginning of time. Right in line with our drive-thru microwave culture, we’re interested in the quick fix. Wearing your baby is definitely better than not, but does wearing your baby mean you’re interacting with your baby? Is wearing your baby the same as holding your baby?

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African-American Women and Breastfeeding

I’ve read the standard books on breastfeeding that outline the benefits to both mother and baby. My most recent read is Black Woman’s Guide to Breastfeeding by Katherine Barber. Barber writes an amazing guide that details why it’s so important for Black women to breastfeed.

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Barber states, “African American infants are twice as likely to die before their first birthdays as white infants…have the highest rate of asthma, severe asthma, and mortality caused by asthma than any other race…have a 20 percent higher occurrence of childhood obesity than white children…[that] African American women are 2.2 times more likely to die from breast cancer…[and] are 30 percent more likely to die from ovarian cancer than white women.”

So, what do these stats have to do with breastfeeding? The numbers drastically decrease when mothers share what nature intended for their children. Before downloading this book for my Kindle on Amazon.com, I read through some of the reviews. One woman threw her two cents in by explaining that this book promotes separatism, because all moms need support when it comes to breastfeeding, not just Black women. This reviewer was quickly schooled, thankfully, by other moms who explained that African American women do, in fact, have special needs when it comes to breastfeeding.

Almost half of African American mothers choose not to breastfeed their children, and the health repercussions of such a decision usually aren’t discussed in mainstream breastfeeding books. Often, women choose against breastfeeding because they’re afraid of pain or discomfort, have been convinced that formula is just as good as mother’s milk, or a host of other reasons that attest to being unaware of both the benefits associated with breastfeeding and the risks of not doing the same.

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In addition to being a great resource that breaks down why it’s so important that Black women breastfeed themselves, this is a book that belongs on every reading list for birth workers throughout the United States. As birth workers, we must understand the challenges that Black women face when it comes to breastfeeding, and be armed with facts that help us inform mamas about the benefits of breastfeeding. If you haven’t read Black Woman’s Guide to Breastfeeding yet, what are you waiting for?

Breastfeeding Beneficial for Brain Development

For “Breast is Best” enthusiasts, this Australian study is nothing new.  However, for those still sitting on the fence about the benefits of breastfeeding, here’s further evidence that highlights why formula just doesn’t measure up.

According to an Australian study that followed 1,038 breastfed babies, boys performed better on standardized assessments testing skills in mathematics, reading, writing and spelling at age 10.  The youngsters were from a controlled family group for mother’s age, education, marital status, family income and other factors; they were exclusively breastfed for 6 months, attributing to their superior performance in all 4 academic skills.

Although exclusive breastfeeding had no effect on girls’ academic performance in this particular trial (we’ve always known that females are naturally intelligent, no?), the study, “add[s] to the strong evidence that breast-feeding as long as possible is beneficial for child health,” said Dr. Oddy, lead author and associate professor of nutrition at the University of Western Australia.

Read more here from The New York Times

The Importance of Breastfeeding: a Traditional Yoruba POV

In planning my childbirth education classes, I’ve been reading every book that I can get my hands on.  One of the few books I’m reading at the moment is Ikunle Abiyamo by Ṣ. Ṣolagbade Popoọla and Fakunle Oyesanya.

When it comes to traditional African practices, we often get the “what” but not the “why.”  The what, in this instance, is breastfeeding.  We know that many African mothers breastfeed until their children are toddlers.  We know that the research and recommendations tell us to exclusively breastfeed our babies for their first six months of life, and to continue to at least their first birthday when possible.  We know about the developmental and nutritional benefits to babies who are breastfed.  What better arguments could be made?

…Ifá says that a child who fails to suck the mother’s breastmilk will find it extremely difficult, if not totally impossible, to have the type of spiritual elevations comparable to those of his/her colleagues who had the benefit of sucking their mothers’ breastmilk – 172

This is written negatively, so let’s flip it and make it plain and simple: Ifá says that a child who is fed breast milk will find spiritual elevation with ease.  I think that’s amazing!

So what?  For starters, families raising their children following Yoruba traditional religion (and variants, Lukumi, Candomble, etc…) take the spiritual lives of their children very seriously from the moment they are born.  Mothers may undergo rituals to ensure the well being of the baby while still in the womb.  Some families will whisper prayers into the baby’s ear welcoming her into the world for having traversed a safe passage (from Orun to Aye, Heaven to Earth).  Some families will consult with a priest through divination to have a better understanding of the child’s destiny and to choose a name that befits the child.  We want the best for our children, and that includes what’s best for them spiritually.

It’s no mistake that sexual intercourse is discouraged in Yorubaland (and probably elsewhere) for as long as a mother nurses; we don’t engage in sexual activity when we’re involved in spiritual work.  Our vital life force energy (aṣè) changes, it shifts and divides when we share intimacy, so the aṣè must be preserved and enhanced to be effective.

Yoruba traditionalists (and variants) have quite the challenge maintaining an ancient lifestyle in our modern world.  After all, Yoruba traditional religion isn’t just “what you do on Sunday,” it’s how we live everyday.  Sometimes we forget that our bodies truly are our temples, and how important our spiritual energy is in everything we say and do.

Now what? Formula boasts of being able to be nutritionally just as good as mother’s milk.  Until they can figure out the chemical makeup of spiritual enhancement, I’m not convinced.