Interview with Leboyer

My neighbour popped by for a cuppa and to let me know that Frederick Leboyer was interviewed on Radio 4 today.   You can listen again on Woman’s Hour (31 May).   For those of you who haven’t heard of him, he is a French obstetrician and his book, Birth without Violence, was first published in 1975.

At 92 years of age, he is still very outspoken around his views as to how birth should be, and it makes for fascinating listening.  I’m not suggesting I agree with it all, but what comes across for me is his humility and respect for women (he says in the interview that everything he learned about birth he learned from women!).  He is also obviously in awe of the mystery of birth, saying that birth needs to be understood intuitively.  To me it is very refreshing to hear this view coming from someone medically trained.  He also focuses on how it is so important to address the mother’s fear when she is birthing, and for her to be able to acknowledge whatever her fears are…to look them in the eye.  [This is something I would always cover in birth preparation workshops, as there are so many stories as to how fear can really hold a woman back in labour.  It is by turning towards these fears...and by this I don't mean letting them take you over, but even the very fact of acknowledging them...that one can fully surrender to the process of birth.]

It’s only about ten minutes long, so I definitely recommend having a listen.

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Human body

Wow, I watched this amazing show on iPlayer the other day (  If you have the chance to check it out, please do!

They show the voyage of the sperm to the egg with lovely and detailed imagery.  Something about the seeing difference in size between the sperm and the egg was magical for me.  I also seeing how when the embryo moves towards cell differentiation and starts to form into a baby, it starts out by being mainly heart.  What is it that is so incredible about that?!!

Anyway, I really loved watching the whole coming to being of a baby.  As a biology student, I studied and read about all this stuff in tremendous detail, but what moved me to such a state of awe was seeing it filmed in this way…I came to appreciate it on a whole new level!

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Latest on Breastfeeding…

Just as I was writing the previous two entries, a friend emailed me the link to a BBC news story on breastfeeding.  According to the study, children breastfeed for a minimum of 4 months are less likely to develop behavioural problems.

The authors acknowledge that they don’t know whether it is the breast milk itself (perhaps due to the high levels of essential fatty acids in mother’s milk that are important for brain development), or some other factor (breastfeeding mothers tend to be older and better educated; breastfeeding mothers tend to interact with their children more).

What I found most interesting about this article, though, wasn’t the content but rather what I gleaned from reading the numerous responses to the article in the comments section.  People are not commenting on the article itself and the factual information within it, but rather defending their choices to breastfeed or not to breastfeed.  Those who bottle-fed are frustrated about being made to feel guilty for their choice, whereas those who breastfeed are vindicated by theirs.   It is such an emotive issue!

My experience of working with and being around pregnant and new mums has given me the insight that there is always a back story, and one never knows what a woman is holding within her from her own experience when she makes the choices she makes.  So I’m curious as to how we, as a culture, can promote and especially normalise breastfeeding without alienating, or guilt-tripping, mums who, for whatever reason, decide to bottle-feed.  Years ago, a woman who breastfed in public may have been subject to insulting remarks or gazes (indeed, some women still experience this today!) It would be a great shame for a cultural shift which sees a bottle-feeding mother experience the same level of harsh criticism!

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“Morning” Sickness

Another interesting radio show on Radio 4 Case Notes, this time about morning sickness (2/3/2011).  I was really interested to hear that we know so little about morning sickness, even though is is something that so many pregnant mum!  Also, the term “morning sickness” is really a bit misleading.  Many women experience the symptoms throughout the day!

Morning sickness can really interfere with our lives, and it often occurs at a time where we may not have shared the news of our pregnancies with friends or colleagues, which can make things a bit awkward.  Also, people can be really quick to jump in with “fix its”, so pregnant women can be bombarded with suggestions for how to cope (more on coping methods below).

As acknowledged in the radio show , women are often told that it is just something they have to get through, that they just have to put up with, which can be demoralising and may leave a woman feeling helpless and frustrated.  Women who experience intense or prolonged sickness may also struggle to bond with their baby in the womb.  In some cases, where sickness is so intense, mums may fear getting pregnant again, as they worry they will have to go through it all over again!

On the other side of the coin, many women feel comforted by their morning sickness, as it makes them “feel pregnant”.

So what do we know about it?

  • It typically begins between 4 and 6 weeks of pregnancy, with the most severe symptoms occurring around week 9.  Often it disappears by about week 12 or 13 (though for some unfortunate women, they may experience sickness throughout their pregnancy);
  • Symptoms can include nausea on its own, or nausea with vomiting;
  • There is no link between the incidence of sickness and whether the baby is male or female;
  • External triggers often make symptoms worse, such as smells.

That seems to be all we know for certain, and it’s not much more than most pregnant women could tell you themselves!  What actually causes it is still in the realm of theory:

  • The timing of sickness corresponds with the placental production of the hormone HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin).  Hormonal production peaks at 10 weeks, and falls off between 14 and 16 weeks.  Women carrying twins often experience increased sickness, which may be the result of 2 placentas;
  • The sickness may be connected with an immunosuppression reaction (basically, suppression of the immune system to prevent mum’s immune system rejecting the baby).

And for those of you who are still in need of suggestions for how to cope, here are a few ideas below you might like to try.

  • Munching on dry biscuits/crackers may help with nausea;
  • Getting more rest;
  • Drinking ginger tea/eating ginger biscuits;
  • Eating little and often;
  • Fresh air and light exercise;
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, fatty and spicy food;
  • A vitamin B complex supplement (check with your doctor/midwife/herbalist before taking supplements);
  • Peppermint tea;
  • Homeopathic remedies can be helpful…need to consult a qualified homeopath to discuss; and
  • Complementary therapies (reflexology, craniosacral therapy, etc.)

Do you know of any other suggestions that mums to be might like to try?  Leave a comment below!

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A Gut Feeling!

Hi all,

I listened to a very interesting radio show on Radio 4 recently, related to health and gut bacteria (9/3/2011, 16.30).  The show was focusing on the importance of a balance between good and bat gut bacteria, and a technique called faecal transplanting (which you may or may not be interested in!), but there was some interesting information at the beginning of the show about how birth and breastfeeding are important in establishing this balance in baby.  Here are some of the key points related to this:

  • Babies are born with no bacteria…their guts are sterile and their immune and digestive systems are immature…but they are exposed to bacteria in the birth canal and some faecal bacteria from the mother when emerging;
  • Diverse adult bacteria takes about 2 years to develop;
  • Bacteria ferment the carbohydrates in milk to get energy.  They are also “educating” the immune system so it can react to or deal with infectious bacteria and proteins in food;
  • Babies born by Caesarean Section get a different bacterial flora, and thus there is a risk factor for increased levels of allergy later on;
  • Breastfeeding is also a major factor in setting up good bacteria!  There is stuff in mother’s milk which helps with the growth of lactic acid style bacteria (friendly bacteria).  There are also anti-bacterial agents in breast milk.

Happy listening!

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