Book: The functions of the orgasms, by Michel Odent

functionsOfTheOrgasmsSmTitle: The functions of the orgasms: The highways to transcendence
Michel Odent
Source: Veddma library
Available online

In this book, the French obstetrician Michel Odent discusses the importance of the “cocktails of love hormones” present during sex, birth, and breastfeeding and the effects of “scientification of love”: interference with those hormones created by birth interventions, anesthesiology, and pharmacology. One of the key questions the author poses is “How long will the human race be able to survive without love?”

The author discusses three types of climaxes (“ladders” in Greek) in human sexual life: sexual orgasm, the fetus ejection reflex that is present during natural birth, and the milk ejection reflex that is central to breastfeeding. He discusses similarities of the different types of climaxes as well as the similarities between orgasmic states and other ecstatic states.

Any orgasmic state can be interrupted, which is what frequently happens in the current medical system of birth management, triggering adrenaline-oxytocin antagonism. This comes from the lack of understanding of birth physiology by the medical establishment and results in additional interventions required for the baby to be born. The labouring woman “needs to feel secure, without being observed, in a place that is sufficiently warm”. Failure to provide the appropriate environment for labour interferes with fetus ejection reflex.

The real climax in labour is reached when the mother is bonding with the baby, right after birth. This is often interrupted by the perceived need for activity around the baby: noise, separation of the baby from the mother, measurements, and disregard of mother’s need for privacy. Oxytocin – the hormone central to pleasure and bonding – is known as “shy hormone”. Little is understood of the ecstatic state associated with childbirth, as it is best achieved when the woman is not being observed or interrupted.

From a biological standpoint, only two players are needed during the birth: the mother and the baby. The presence of the third person who assists/”delivers” the baby is not a basic need. There is a myriad of invasive perinatal beliefs and rituals in many cultures, many of which result in socialization of birth and interference in mother-baby bonding in the immediate postpartum.

Throughout history, birth was largely influenced by shamanic and religious traditions, yet often indirectly. Socialization of birth has brought it under the control of a male-centric institution, which instead of focusing on women’s need in labour concerns itself with elimination of pain and fear. Local birth initiatives have been attempting to bring the focus back where it belongs: on the needs of the woman.

The author discusses differences and similarities of male and female orgasms and the hormones that rule them: oxytocin, natural morphines, adrenaline, and other “informational substances”. The effects of these hormones have been studied, including research using brain imaging.

Michael Odent explores the orgasmic/ecstatic states as paths to transcendence, from the Epic of Gilgamesh to present day’s emerging awareness of transcendent sex. Sexuality has been highly controlled via cultural means, such as female and male genital mutilation (infibulation, clitoridectomy, circumcision, castration), arranged marriages, treating a wife as property, repression of adolescent sexual drive, sexual taboos, repercussions for virginity loss in women before marriage, discouragement of extramarital affairs, and so on. This has had a stifling effects on exploration and understanding of natural paths to transcendence. Falling in love has been treated as pathological (expressed by such terms as “madly in love”, “love foolishness”, etc.). Mystical emotions have been associated with celibacy and virginity. Infatuation presents a challenge to institutionalized control, as it has unpredictable timing and irrational expression. Falling in love is still a complex scientific topic in need of further study.

As oxytocin is released during breastfeeding, the “milky way” is another pathway to transcendence to be explored. Cultural milieus interfere with this pathway as well, from denying the baby colostrum (by claiming it “dirty” or requiring a permission of a male relative for the mother to breastfeed the baby, or denying breastfeeding before baptism at age 2-3 days), to social taboos around breastfeeding in public or breastfeeding for longer than an arbitrarily designated period of time. Religious taboos existed for intercourse during the lactation period, often putting women under pressure to stop breastfeeding in order to resume their “marriage duties”. Institutionalized medicine interfered through labour interventions, interruption of bonding time, incessant nead to “measure” how much milk is going into the baby, and thus often encouraging or necessitating feeding with artificial milk.

The author believes that instead of promoting breastfeeding, we should be focusing on why breastfeeding is difficult, he suggests to question: “How does the capacity to breastfeed develop?” and seeing how we are interfering with it.

The comparison in male and female sexuality thus reveals that while men have only the genital ladder to explore, women additionally have access to the birth ladder and the “milky way”. Research shows that women are physiologically better equipped than men to reach high intensity genital orgasms. The author delves into the physiological differences that explain this phenomenon.

The following discussion of the highways to transcendence is fascinating. The ecstatic states need ability to escape from space and time reality (which explains the “labourland”). The author touches upon transcendent emotional states and hard-wired emotional states, re-thinking the common beliefs about human sexuality, and his new vision of birth environment. He looks at the connection of culturally controlled sexuality and culturally controlled childbirth to culturally controlled pathways to transcendence.

There is a short entertaining review of legendary orgasms, and two scenarios of the future of love: a pessimistic one based on our interference with sexuality, birth, and breastfeeding, and an optimistic one which necessitates evaluation of practices of obstetrics and midwifery, quality and duration of breastfeeding, and reversing the current cultural conditioning. This includes changing the language we use to describe sex and birth. We do, however, have to work within the current system and steer it “towards the light”, as it cannot be changed overnight.

The epilogue is a tongue-in-cheek letter for a wedding night preparation, describing all the details that would need to be perfect in order for the night to go well. It mimics a birth plan, and discusses timings, place, need for privacy, the presence of other “helpers” and so on. It shows how ridiculous it is to need to specify such things for a sexual encounter, yet the current system interferes with birth so much that women need to state such obvious requirements as the need for privacy in labour, lest it be ignored.

I would highly recommend this book – it explores the ideas rarely brought to light and touches on ultimately the most important questions of human purpose and capacity to love.

Birthday Weekend

This weekend has been far from boring. I spent most of the day Saturday putting together a few snacks and playing with the kids, which was followed by a few people coming to share in my birthday. After the celebrations and late night clean-up on Saturday, Sunday was more relaxed. I have managed to indulge in several of my favourite activities.

I have slept in until 9:30 and then connected with a friend to pass on a braided fertility necklace to her. She has discovered it is my birthday from social media, and has brought me an unexpected gift of soaps: cucumber and calendula, lavender and tea tree, and oatmeal. I love Easter European traditions of giving birthday gifts. My love also gave me two clever gifts: a Dali melting clock, and a Canon lens collection cup.

We had leftovers for breakfast, and headed to Ikea for the breastfeeding event happening in the sofa section. The goal was to thank Ikea for their great breastfeeding and baby-friendly practices and highlight the importance of public breastfeeding, since it has a significant impact on mothers breastfeeding to term. I also wish other businesses took notice of what Ikea is doing to implement family-friendly practices, and followed suit. It is surprising how many “family-oriented” establishments lack such simple accommodations as a changing table (especially in men’s washrooms) or a place to safely put a baby down (when a baby is not yet able to sit up on their own, but is not confined to a bucket car seat).

The atmosphere at Ikea was great: I have chatted with a few friends, CTV was there to cover the story, we have spoken to Ottawa Citizen, and ended up participating in an ad hoc focus group for a Carleton breastfeeding research study, which lasted for a while after the official event was over. My older child was rather enjoying the play area during that time.

Afterwards, I have cuddled my babies to sleep at home, and took a break with a lager and some smoked salmon for lunch. During their nap time, I have spent some time puzzling and listening to The Wheel of Time – The Shadow Rising – in other words, in my zen state.

Getting close, md

After a break to feed the baby and rock her back to sleep, it was time to pull out my newly-arrived gemstones and play. I have just found beautiful beads of lapis lazuli and blue-white chalcedony, and combined with turquoise, amethyst, moonstone, and rose quartz, they have made three new pregnancy tracking necklaces and two new fertility/cycle tracking bracelets. In a few days, I will make them available for purchase on Etsy.

Gemstones, md

Lapis chalcedony fertility and pregnancy tracking necklaces and bracelets, design, md

Lapis chalcedony fertility and pregnancy tracking necklaces and bracelets, mdWhen the children were up, we brought out the leftovers and a large 100-piece United Kingdom puzzle (the largest my oldest has ever attempted). We sat on the floor with food and drinks, doing the puzzle and listening to some music. That was a lovely quiet way to spend the evening. We stayed up later than usual, the kids had their baths, and there was more cuddling them to sleep. After all was peaceful and quiet, my love and I had some time to ourselves. A wonderful way to spend my birthday, I must say.

Lessons learned by the 6 month mark

I have not written much on procreation since my one-month postpartum post. The primary reason for it is that I am, naturally, very busy taking care of the baby and trying to keep all my projects going while at the same time working part-time. However, it is also very hard to decide what deserves to be a subject of a post without being a reiteration of the information widely available in baby books. And so, I decided to write now, as I’m nearing 6 months postpartum, about my experiences and how they might differ from what I would have expected if I fully trusted the baby books.

Alaric in stroller on River Walk, closeup, 5 months and 28 days oldMany books talk about “baby” as a creature that behaves in a certain way from birth to a year. Very few are making a distinction based on the age of the baby measured in months. When they talk about breastfeeding, the advice and descriptions of it are usually generic for any infant. Yet I found that the way my baby fed in the first (approximately) three months is quite different from the way he feeds now. Same goes for interactions, reactions to the outside world, and so on. Without knowing this difference based on the age, the changes observed in the infant’s behaviour would leave one uncertain in their approach to baby care.

Breastfeeding and distractions

During the first three months of his life, my baby could breastfeed for 20-30 minutes on end, snoozing satisfied against my breast. We started breastfeeding lying down within the first month and both found it the most comfortable. Later on, right around the three-month mark, he became more distracted by other things: play of light on the curtains, the cat passing by, sounds outside; and would not be content suckling for a long time. Now he also pulls away from the breast to smile at me and babble. He still seems to find breastfeeding the most comforting way to fall asleep, but it appears to be harder for him to fall asleep in general, since the big bright world around him is waiting to be explored.

Patience and meeting needs

In the first two months, the baby was crying loudly when he needed attention. We were very responsive: when his cries were demanding (as opposed to him lying in his crib upon awakening, cooing to himself) we attended to his needs right away, be that hunger, sleepiness, need for change or comfort. He would stop crying once his needs were met. He also started smiling socially early on, especially when we would talk or sing to him. Now, he has more patience when his needs are about to be attended to: he quiets down. He seems to understand when we acknowledge his distress and he stops complaining as he waits for what steps might be taken to rectify the discomfort. It seems, he connects certain places in the house with comfort: he stops crying when being carried to the change table (or if I bring a diaper to where he is) if he needs a change; when being put down on the bed with me lying down next to him if he is hungry; when being carried around and sung to if he is sleepy.

The baby also does not cry as much. He cries when scared or in pain, but if all he needs is a change or if he is bored, he complains instead by making sad noises, as if saying: I need some attention here, something is not right. Only if you repeatedly ignored his request, would he turn it into a demand made with shrilling noises or crying.

Interactions and entertainment

Alaric with socks off, looking at camera, 5 months and 27 days oldThe baby’s array of interactions is growing: he smiles when sung to and played with, laughs when tickled or talked to in a silly voice, gets scared of loud noises and sometimes from what appears to be a bad dream. He is excited when photos are being taken and sometimes smiles at the camera being pointed at him or at the sound of the shutter clicks. He likes the sound of a phone dialing a number and listens attentively to the one-sided conversation, sometimes attempting to participate. He is experimenting with a range of motion, trying to roll from his tummy to his back and vice versa, and trying to crawl (although not very successfully at this point).

For a few weeks, he appeared to be very concentrated on observing his hands and what they can do: grasping things, swatting at moving objects, banging on surfaces, pinching people, looking at his fingers and palms in wonder. Now, for about two weeks, he is exploring what his feet can do. The socks come off as soon as they are put on, he grabs his feet, moves them around, and tries to stick one into his mouth. He is behaving much more like a little human than like a scared blind puppy.

The baby loves being entertained in the past three-four months. He is listening attentively and looking at a book being read aloud to him, listening to the songs we sing, recognizing certain songs by the first line or by the melody and smiling in recognition. I have been also listening to some lectures, and he quiets down and listens attentively along with me.

Tummy time and toys

Alaric eating sobaka, smiling, 4 months and 19 days oldHe loves his tummy time: he is able to stay on his tummy without getting tired a lot longer than in the first couple of months, and usually expresses discomfort only when something else is uncomfortable: like when he is wet. Otherwise he can be on his tummy for long stretches of time, rolling over, wriggling around, and exploring toys and hands for much longer periods of time.

At first he looked at toys in passing, and did not play with them for long. Now he actively reaches for toys, can explore them for a long time, and greets his favourites with rapid leg movements and grasping hand gestures in excitement to grab the toy. He also does get bored with toys or activities and expresses it by throwing the toy away or complaining.

Plane flights and social occasions

We have taken his first airplane flight from Ottawa to Winnipeg to attend a family wedding when the baby was 5 months old. He took the flight quite well. I breastfed on take-off and landing, and my husband walked with him up and down the isle when the baby got uncomfortable, sleepy, or bored. The plane had a changing table (we flew by WestJet) in the bathroom at the back, which was quite tiny, but served its purpose. The baby seemed to be scared of the engine noise upon take-off the first time, so that he clung to me and looked at me with wide-open eyes. The breast and my reassuring tone seemed to have worked to calm him down, and he soon settled to sleep.

The wedding itself ended up being more stressful for the baby and myself than the airplane flight. The baby was bored and overwhelmed by so many people, so all he wanted to do was to be carried. We had a bouncy chair for him with toys, but he barely looked at them and demanded to be picked up. The loud music prevented him from sleeping which caused him to grow more and more upset. Sitting still was boring. Clapping after a slide show came unexpected and scared him. Even feeding would not get him more comfortable. My husband and I have carried him in the sling for the entire wedding, and came out of it quite drained.

A few times we hosted a get-together at our place and invited a few guests (from 1 to 17 people on different occasions). Those gatherings that occurred in the first three month were a trial on us. The baby would not settle down (unless people were quiet enough to let him sleep, which rarely happened) and we ended up taking turns attending to his needs instead of enjoying the company.

Alaric asleep on Kent at Connor's pub, face, 5 months and 28 days oldA few recent parties have turned out better: he was more involved in the proceedings, interacting with people, listening to conversations and music, and, when he was tired, being able to sleep in his own crib (noise levels allowing). So, in our case, it would have been better to limit the socializing in the early months to one or two people at a time, doing it later in the evening when the baby was mostly asleep, and with the people trying not to make too much noise. Living far away from family, however, limited our options, as we had to adjust to the times and numbers in which people could visit.

Starting in the early months and up until now, the best way to socialize with other adults has been going out for lunch. The baby is generally in a better mood earlier in the day, willing to take in new surroundings and interact with people, and does not mind sitting on our lap or lying next to us on the table and listening to the conversation. Sometimes we have to eat in turn, but that is not too hard to do during lunch as the portions are not huge and the lunch does not last for hours. And sometimes he just falls asleep on his papa and peacefully snoozes through a large portion of the outing.

Overall, the baby is now more comfortable in this new body of his, the respiratory and digestive systems are adjusted to the world outside the womb, and he knows that his needs will be attended to. Thus he is more willing to venture from his comfortable place at my side to explore the outside world, knowing that he can always retreat if the universe springs something too overwhelming on him.

Самоучитель для продвинутых родителей, by Милана Касакина

Book: Самоучитель для продвинутых родителей: Счастливый дитёнок - без запар и пелёнок.Title: Самоучитель для продвинутых родителей: Счастливый дитёнок – без запар и пелёнок.
Милана Касакина
Source: Veddma library

Notes: The books carries on with the metaphor of a child being a “device” you acquire and this book serving as a manual to learn to operate that device. The metaphor is somewhat poor and the author over-stretches it by using computer user jargon everywhere possible, whether it is appropriate or not. It also involves a discussion of a child as a financial project. The fact that the book starts with that and brings up material reasons for having a child leaves a bad taste: as if most people who are planning or wanting to have children look at them primarily as a financial burden or a way to gain materially.

The author makes several swooping generalizations that make it hard to take the book seriously and undermine the sensible statements. Among those generalizations are:
– all illness in babies is because of the parents (the example here is author’s ears hurting in childhood because her parents were arguing all the time causing this psychological illness);
– babies should never cry (aside from pure communication that gets attended to immediately) – if they do it is the parents’ fault;
– babies must and do love being in the sling all the time;
– babies fall asleep easiest when placed right next to the mother in bed (have you ever tried it with a baby that wants to play/kick/talk or cannot fall asleep and gets increasingly cranky because of it?);
– everyone (except for those genetically disposed to obesity) recovers their pre-birth weight easily in about 2 months without fitness or diet (several models are brought up as examples); and so on.

Add to that the constant equating of a woman in the family with the housewife role (cooking and cleaning) and the man with the breadwinner role, as well as the overall style of the book being that of Internet writing (with capitals for emphasis, deliberate misspellings of words, smiley faces, etc.) and the book ends up resembling a blog full of ramblings by one woman, radical in her approach and preaching a narrow set of values.

The author also regards the practice of women working for years on their dowry as a very sensible way for a young bride to behave and the dowry being the primary factor in selecting a wife. She lovingly discusses the marriage as arrangement between the parents of the couple, and the family being the “mafia” that always stands behind its members and in which everyone helps everyone, working together for the good of the entire family. She revels in the families with many children, describing how great it is when brothers and sisters help each other in life and their parents in old age. This, she claims, is the only way to have a functional family. Although, somehow, when praising a family for having 10+ children, nothing is said about what the mother’s life is turned into, with constant housework and childrearing. That, apparently, is a minor point not worth mentioning.

Putting aside the statements mentioned above and the writing style, the book does cover some good parenting practices: breastfeeding, baby-wearing, co-sleeping, not constantly saying “no” to the child, exposing them to nature, teaching them about responsibility and self-reliance, not being obsessed with hygiene by sterilizing everything, not using pacifiers, not lying to the child, and not overloading them with educational material to raise a genius.

Overall, not a great book: it would be OK as an online series of articles, but to be a good book, it would need more information about the author’s background except for separate anecdotes of her childhood, more research, better justifications of particular practices than “it’s the only (or the best) way”, useful references (as opposed to “google it”), and of course the literary style needs work.


Early on in my pregnancy, when my doula asked me whether I was planning to breastfeed, I was baffled by this question. Being raised in Russia, I did not understand what was being asked. I am having a baby, the baby needs to be nourished, that’s what the breasts are for, hence – yes, of course I would be breastfeeding.

After reading more literature regarding postpartum, I realized that in North America formula is for some reason considered a viable alternative to breastfeeding (and not just an emergency measure), and breast- versus formula-feeding is a hot political topic. Leaving out serious medical conditions (of which there are very few) that would prevent a woman from breastfeeding, most alleged benefits of formula-feeding presented in literature were “being able to tell how much your baby consumes” and “convenience for the woman”. The first sounds like an argument from the same way of reasoning as that encouraging incessant weighing of the woman during pregnancy, as if weight is the main gauge of the baby’s or the mother’s health. This information can be obtained from the number of wet and poopy diapers put forth by the baby. The second one never made sense to me: how can you weigh your baby’s health and optimal nutrition which are extremely important to the baby’s well-being against such a petty thing as convenience? Pregnancy is not exactly a convenient affair, yet we understand and bear the limitations placed on the woman to ensure the health of the offspring. Labour is not a very pleasant or convenient experience either, yet we go through it and endure needed interventions for the sake of a healthy baby. Now that the baby is born, suddenly our convenience takes precedence and their nutrition is a secondary consideration?

I will leave out the discussion of the benefits of breast milk, the inferiority of the formula, and the unethical practices of formula-producing corporations such as Nestle – enough information sources exhaustively cover these facts. I will also omit detailed descriptions of common issues such as engorgement, blocked ducts, mastitis, and tongue-tie, as they are described in detail in “Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding” which I highly recommend to have on hand to look up this information if and when it becomes necessary. I will cover a few tips to which I arrived through my experience and found helpful.

Tongue tie is a condition that can interfere with breastfeeding. A baby with a tongue tie has a hard time latching on and effectively getting milk. It is easily fixable with a simple procedure, but getting a doctor to perform it might prove a challenge. I cover it in Tongue Tie and Breastfeeding. There are many opinions regarding alcohol consumption while breastfeeding – my research and references to many sources are covered in Alcohol and Breastfeeding.

Correct latch is extremely important in breastfeeding, to ensure that mother’s nipples do not get sore, and that the baby can effectively draw milk from the breast. A number of educational videos are available at the Dr. Jack Newman’s site, showing babies from several hours old to several days old latching on. They also illustrate finger feeding, cup feeding, using a lactation aid, and a tongue tie release.

If you find yourself having a plugged milk duct or mastitis, look into echinacea as soon as possible: used in the first 24 hours it might prevent the infection (see “Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding” for detailed instructions). After that, if infection is developing, antibiotics might be necessary. Dr. Jack Newman recommends taking soy lecithin as a preventative measure against plugged ducts: “It may do this by decreasing the viscosity (stickiness) of the milk, by increasing the percentage of polyunsaturated fatty acids in the milk.  It is safe, inexpensive, and seems to work in some cases.  The dose is 1200 mg four times a day.”

Useful aids for breastfeeding include:

  1. Nursing bras (I am quite happy with Bravado ones) of which you will need several, since at least one of them is going to be in the wash at any given time.
  2. Breastfeeding pads – I have tried the organic cotton ones, and although they are environmentally friendly and all, they turned out to be extremely ineffective as they (a) tend to shift around, and (b) are soaked with milk in a very short period of time. I found that disposables work much better – they absorb the milk effectively, last longer, and are held in place better. I have settled on the Lansinoh pads. My doula also mentioned Johnson and Johnson as her pads of choice.
  3. Lanolin ointment for nipples, which can be applied after a feeding and does not have to be removed before the next feeding as it is safe for the baby (such as Lansinoh lanolin recommended by La Leche League). In the case of cracked or sore nipples, expressing some breastmilk, applying it to the nipples, letting them air-dry and then applying lanolin can help them heal.
  4. Breastfeeding cushion (such as Boppy) makes it much easier to breastfeed when sitting. Without it, you might need several normal pillows to achieve a comfortable position that does not put a strain on your back and arms. Considering that a baby breastfeeds every two to three hours on average, being comfortable during that time is crucial if you are to be able to perform any other tasks.

Learning to breastfeed lying down is one of the most useful things I have learned. It is easier on the back and arms, and allows the baby to easily drift to sleep after a feeding. During night-time feedings, neither the mother nor the baby has to fully wake up to feed. Combined with co-sleeping, some people find it the most comfortable way to breastfeed.

Breastfeeding in public

When breastfeeding in public, you have rights which include the right to breastfeed in any place where you are allowed to be with your baby, and not being required to cover up. These rights are protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. There is a card you can carry with you to show to those people not educated on the subject that try to infringe on your rights.

Some people say that covering up is a matter of manners. Those people do not understand the issues that might be encountered by large-breasted women for whom it might be hard to fully cover up, by babies that will refuse to breastfeed with a “breastfeeding burka” covering them and separating them from their mother’s face, by babies that have trouble latching on and women not being able to guide them in a latch due to lack of visibility, by babies that pull away if the there is too much milk, and other possible breastfeeding issues. Let these people try eating their dinner under a blanket and see how they enjoy it. Same goes for those suggesting that you feed your baby in a bathroom – let them take their food there.

There are those who say that a woman should pump and bring a bottle to a public place instead of breastfeeding in public. However, a baby being in an unfamiliar place might want the comfort of the mother as well as food, and the bottle will not provide that. Would you rather endure a crying baby than a small amount of boob mostly covered by the baby’s head anyway? There are those who think that a breastfeeding woman should stay home or go out only without the baby. This implies having a second person at home watching the baby (which is rarely possible for those of us who do not have relatives living in the same city), the baby being fed on schedule (as opposed to on-demand), or the woman only being able to go out in no more than 2 hour increments, between feedings. These people can place themselves under a house arrest. Breastfeeding women need to be able to go out and share the world with their children, not be confined to four walls.

Magazine covers and scantily-clad women walking around show a lot more breast and thigh than breastfeeding women ever do, yet no one seems to object much. If the society finds that acceptable, it can survive an occasional reminder of humans being mammals.

Alcohol and breastfeeding

The issue of alcohol consumption while breastfeeding is one of the most debatable ones and it is hard to find reliable information on it. However, I was able to dig out the following:

There is a rough calculator of the length of time that alcohol will be present in breast milk, depending on the number of drinks and the mother’s body weight. As a general guideline, it takes as long for alcohol to clear the milk as it does for the blood alcohol level to subside. Alcohol taken with food takes longer to clear out of the system. Motherisk provides a reference table that can be used for the calculation as well.

Motherisk also has a good article on drinking alcohol while breastfeeding, including references to several studies on the subject. They state that “Because alcohol elimination follows zero-order kinetics, drinking water, resting, or ‘pumping and dumping’ breast milk will not accelerate elimination. Unlike urine, which stores substances in the bladder, alcohol is not trapped in breast milk, but is constantly removed as it diffuses back into the bloodstream.” It takes longer to process high-alcohol drinks as opposed to beer or wine. The amount of alcohol passed to the baby through breast milk is around 2% of the entire alcohol content consumed by the mother, much less than the amount passed through the placenta in a pregnant woman.

The statement that alcohol increases milk production and stimulates let-down due to relaxing the mother appears to be a myth. Beer might increase prolactin levels and milk production, however this appears to not be due to ethanol, but possibly to barley. Thus non-alcoholic beer should do the trick as well. One study suggested that there was a 23% reduction in breast milk production due to alcohol consumption.

American Academy of Pediatrics provides a listing of drugs and their effect on breast milk.

La Leche League states that consumption of one drink or less per day has not been shown to have a negative effect on the baby. Excessive alcohol consumption is harmful to the baby and should be avoided.

Dr. Jack Newman says: “Reasonable alcohol intake should not be discouraged at all.  As is the case with most drugs, very little alcohol comes out in the milk.  The mother can take some alcohol and continue breastfeeding as she normally does.  Prohibiting alcohol is another way we make life unnecessarily restrictive for breastfeeding mothers.”

So, it appears that drinking one drink or less per day shortly after a feeding and waiting the appropriate amount of time (depending on the mother’s body weight) before the next feeding is the best approach if the mother does not want to avoid alcohol altogether.

If you are dealing with substance addiction, the Desert Hope resource page provides many studies and resources designed to help understand the basics of addiction and to offer guidance to help women safely stop drug and alcohol use.

Tongue-tie and breastfeeding

The first issue I had to face was that my baby was born with a tongue-tie. This is a (often genetic) condition where the frenulum (the little piece of skin attaching the tongue to the bottom of the mouth) is too short and does not allow the baby to fully stick the tongue out. In severe cases, the tongue looks upside-down-heart-shaped and can prevent the person from being able to perform motions many of us take for granted, such as licking an ice-cream cone. In moderate and severe cases, the tongue-tie can interfere with breastfeeding by impeding the latch, and can lead to speech impediments later in life. In our case, the tongue-tie was moderate, but it did prevent the baby latching on correctly which lead to significant nipple soreness.

Tongue-tie can be fixed with a simple procedure: all that a doctor has to do is to clip the frenulum to allow for the tongue to extend further. The procedure is not painful as the part that needs to be clipped does not contain capillaries, and it takes less than a minute. Unfortunately, in Ontario, midwives do not have a right to perform this procedure (even though they can perform perineum stitching after labour which is much more involved), and doctors refuse to do it. Yes, you read that correctly. They can, the majority just chooses not to. One of the orthodontic surgeons, to whom we were referred as a specialist on the issue, told us that we should not do anything about the issue for a year! Add to this a virtual impossibility of finding a GP or a pediatrician for the baby (as most Ottawa doctors are not taking new patients), and you are stuck with a tongue-tied hungry baby who cannot effectively breastfeed.

I will spare you the detailed description of a range of emotions I went through while dealing with this frustrating artificial problem that could so easily be solved if people were reasonable. I had to pump first colostrum and then milk, and finger-feed the baby with a suringe. We got lucky: after a letter written by my midwife to a pediatrician at one of the hospitals, the hospital nurse called us (after we have called every place we could, had a lactation consultant visit, and went to a breastfeeding drop-in with a three-day old baby). She was very understanding since, as it happens, her baby had had a tongue-tie as well and she knew what we were going through, so she was able to get us an appointment the next day to see the pediatrician. The procedure did take less than a minute and the baby didn’t even cry – he was more uncomfortable with being held still than with the clipping itself. We were able to start breastfeeding effectively the same day. A video of a tongue tie release is available at Dr. Jack Newman’s site.

A tongue-tie can only be fixed by clipping. It is not painful and the baby can breastfeed right after the procedure. Without fixing the issue, the baby might not ever be able to latch correctly. Many doctors who are not educated about breastfeeding dismiss it as a minor issue easily fixable with bottle-feeding. Let them pump every two to three hours or feed their baby inferior food in the form of formula, and then maybe they will come to understand the issues involved. Alas, many are still ignorant of the issues surrounding the so-perceived feeding “choices”. If you find yourself in this frustrating situation, persevere to try finding a doctor to perform the procedure. Enlist the help of a lactation consultant if possible. I was told that some women drive to Toronto from Ottawa (5-6 hour drive) shortly after giving birth with a tiny infant, so they can get a tongue-tie clipped at the Jack Newman’s clinic, as that is easier than trying to find a doctor in Ottawa who would be able to do it without booking the appointment months in the future. Clearly, there is an issue here that needs resolution.

There is a comprehensive site at that has loads of information on tongue-tie and its implications. Dispelling Breastfeeding Myths blog has another wonderful blog post on the politics of tongue tie.

First month baby care – lessons learned

He turned the stiff pages in horrified fascination. They opened into another world, a world of quite stupefying problems… It was amazing, he decided after reading a few pages, that a swamp dragon ever survived to see a second sunrise. Even walking across a room must be reckoned a biological triumph… They lived on a chemical knife-edge the whole time. One misplaced hiccup and they were geography… Omnivores or not, what they must really live on was their nerves, flapping apologetically through the world in mortal fear of their own digestive system. [Terry Pratchett, “Guards! Guards!”]

Below are a few tips at which I have arrived via research and experimentation. These strategies have helped me, although there is no guarantee all of them will work with your baby. Do check with your doctor or midwife if you have any concerns.

Addressing the baby’s needs

As long as you can meet the baby’s needs before his signals escalate to an ear-piercing cry, you can keep your baby happy and yourself sane. The key to address the baby’s crying is to try a change of state. If he is unhappy about something within his current environment, we have to change it to get him comfortable again. Checking whether he needs to be changed, burped, fed, held, rocked, or be in a different position is relatively simple, as long as you remember that the fact that you just changed him 2 minutes ago does not mean you should skip the possibility of him needing a change again.

If none of these work, there are some other tricky possibilities: for instance, the baby might have painful gas and not be able to get rid of it (burping sometimes helps, but might not). The gas problem stems from the digestive system being immature during the so-called fourth trimester (the first 3 months of the baby’s life), and just like a swamp dragon from the Discworld, the baby is bound to have all kinds of digestive issues often with explosive results. Trying to burp the baby, change his position, or rock him might resolve the immediate discomfort. Another thing that seems to work at times is a belly massage going in clockwise circles (to follow the direction of the intestines). If you have a bouncer seat, the vibration mode might also help dislodge those painful gas bubbles.

If the baby is overstimulted or exhausted (which can happen when he is in an unfamiliar environment, surrounded by new/loud/unexpected sounds or voices, too wound up after a bath, a play session, or any other energy-releasing activity), he wants to rest, but might not be able to get to sleep on his own. At this point, you can try holding and rocking him, or feeding him (as this provides comfort and allows him to fall asleep next to mom’s body with its familiar breathing and heart-beating sounds). Anything can interrupt the fragile state of being almost asleep, such as an inopportune phone call or a bout of hiccups. The baby is suddenly wide awake again, tired, and angry at not being able to rest. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to get him back to the sleepy state besides retrying rocking or feeding again. This can keep going in cycles as there are many unexpected distractions, external (such as a door bell) and internal (such as a painful gas bubble), that can jerk the baby awake again. It might be possible to stop hiccups by breastfeeding the baby. To get him back to sleep, you can try rocking him, singing to him, or going for a walk (fresh air sometimes helps) if the weather allows.

Getting things done

They say that when you are taking care of a baby, you can try planning one not baby-related thing  to accomplish in a day, and if by the end of the day you are half way through it, you should consider it a success. This is especially true with high needs babies that require constant attention and are not happy when you put them down for even a moment, day or night.

In our case, some days I’m able to do more than others, but that depends directly on the baby being happy and cooperating, something over which I only have a limited amount of control. Here are a few productivity tips I have learned so far:

  1. Break up the activities into pieces that can be done in 10 or 15 minute increments, and can safely be interrupted and left half-done. Return to them when you have another 10 minutes.
  2. Involve the baby in the activity you are doing: for instance, you can sing a song while sorting laundry or put the baby close to you when doing yoga, so he can observe your movements. This will prevent him from getting bored.
  3. Have several projects set up and ready to be worked on: for instance, I have a belly cast set up in the basement that needs decorating, together with paints for it so I can paint a piece of the decoration whenever I have a few minutes; I have several books started which are strategically placed around the house to allow me to grab one when I’m feeding the baby or having a snack; I have a puzzle opened and set up on the table so I can put a few pieces in; the laundry bin is handy and all the dirty things are consistently put into it, so I can throw it into the washer at any time of day or night, etc.
  4. Have a to-do list with your projects broken down in small sub-tasks. A glance at the list will allow you to quickly pick a sub-task that can be done within the time you have available with the noise level you can allow for (in case the baby is asleep you might have to avoid the extremely noisy activities). This list will also serve as a reminder of the tasks that need doing, since it is too easy to forget things when you are existing in a constantly-interrupted state.
  5. Keep running shopping lists (by store) so you can quickly grab those and go whenever an opportunity arises to get to a particular store.
  6. Combine tasks that can be performed in close proximity to each other (such as in the basement, or in the kitchen) – it will save you time.
  7. Put things that need recurring attention to wherever they are easiest to remember. For instance, I have the infant vitamin D drops by the bed, so that when I feed the baby there I remember to give him his vitamin. If I had it stashed away in a medicine cabinet, I would rarely remember the vitamin or have a chance to retrieve it before a feeding.
  8. Don’t pick up the baby at the first peep – when a baby wakes up he often is content babbling to himself for a few minutes, which might allow you to get whatever you are doing to an acceptable state before attending to the baby’s needs.
  9. When you have a few minutes, do what is important to you first. If you cannot comfortably exist without a daily shower and your teeth being brushed, do it first so that you feel on top of things. If you are annoyed by clutter in your home, put things away, wash dishes, clean up – do whatever makes you feel more comfortable. If you would rather rest, exercise, read, watch a movie (be prepared to pause at any moment), do that, and do it guilt-free. The main goal is a happy parent and a happy baby (the latter is greatly affected by the former), so you should do whatever gets you there.

Book: How to Have Your Second Child First, by Kelly Colburn and Rob Sorensen

Title: How to Have Your Second Child First: 100 Things That Would Have Been Good to Know the First Time Around
Author: Kelly Colburn and Rob Sorensen
Veddma library
Available online

Notes: Second time parents have to juggle responsibilities of taking care of more than one child at the same time. This naturally cuts down on the amount of attention given to each child compared to constantly attending to the needs of a single offspring. Thus this book encourages the first time parents to relax the strict rules and expectations of how the child should be brought up, rest more, not to sweat the small stuff, and not to hover too much over their first child.

This book is full of tips from second time parents outlining the areas of childcare where shortcuts can be taken, as well as tricks that will help parents in social situations. Among other things, the authors cover:

  • sleep and night time noises,
  • breastfeeding issues,
  • support system,
  • sterilizing baby equipment,
  • combining laundry,
  • food, rest, and relaxation for grown-ups,
  • being able to party,
  • parental comfort zone,
  • dealing with tantrums,
  • baby classes,
  • the witching hour,
  • everything being a stage that will pass,
  • bathing and playing with the baby,
  • dealing with lack of productivity and “not doing anything all day”,
  • not overpacking for outings,
  • dealing with relatives and relationship issues,
  • trusting your instincts,
  • experimenting,
  • discipline,
  • TV and licensed characters exposure,
  • solid food introduction,
  • baby toys and childproofing,
  • accomplishing things while the baby is awake,
  • dining out,
  • traveling by air,
  • and keeping a sense of humour.

The book is packed with useful advice aimed at lowering the parents’ stress level and allowing them to enjoy parenthood the first time around.

Book: Green Baby, by Susannah Marriott

Book: Green BabyTitle: Green Baby
Author: Susannah Marriott
Source: Midwifery Collective
Available online

Notes: This book is packed with generic statements, statistical quotes, and once in a  while some useful tips regarding baby-related cleaning, diet, diapering, toy selection, etc. Each section starts with a description of the most significant ecological problems regarding a particular area of parenting, and goes on to more specific suggestions on what constitutes “light” to “heavy” green choices.

Clothing: the author suggests hemp, bamboo, wool, and organic cotton as best fabrics. For washing clothing, use 40°C for most loads, cold water for woolens and delicates, and 60°C for heavily soiled items. Line-dry the clothing in the sun when possible (yeah, that works well in Canada in winter).

Food: eat organic whenever possible to avoid pesticides and other additives. Start baby on finger foods instead of purees: less likely to be fussy eaters as they learn to cope with texture and taste of real foods instead of sweet bland purees. Try food cut in a “french fry” manner for easy grasping: steamed broccoli or carrot, roast squash or a hunk of “real” bread perhaps smeared with some hummus or avocado. Eat as a family – no TV, no books or toys, eat the same food as your child.

To make a puree:

  1. Wash produce, scrubbing well with a specially designated brush, peel all non-organic orchard fruit and root vegetables, remove seeds or pits, or core fruit;
  2. Steam for a few minutes until quite soft but not falling apart, or simmer in a scant amount of water;
  3. Grind with the hand-powered mill;
  4. Spoon enough for one meal into the baby bowl, adding milk or cooking water if necessary;
  5. Store remainder in the fridge in lidded glass jars for up to two days or freeze immediately in a non-plastic ice-cube tray (label with date, use within 6 months).

Organic must-haves:

  • dairy foods – fat-soluble toxins accumulate in them easily;
  • meat – free of non-therapeutic antibiotics and growth-promoting hormones;
  • fruit – isn’t waxed or dosed with fungicides after harvesting;
  • salad leaves – non-organic lettuces are sprayed with lots of pesticides, washed salads are chlorine-rinsed;
  • oily fish – wild salmon and organically farmed salmon and trout contain fewer PCBs;
  • sugary foods – normally sugar beets are heavily sprayed and sugar can production is very polluting;
  • bread – free from flour- and dough- improving artificial chemicals and bleaching agents;
  • whole grain – free from pesticides.

Ingredients to avoid:

  • soy – may be GM without being labelled as such, unsustainable production;
  • sweeteners – saccharin is listed as an “anticipated carcinogen”, aspartame can be neurotoxic; high-fructose corn syrup has been linked to diabetes;
  • trans-fats (“partially hydrogenated fats”) – no nutritional value, associated with heart disease;
  • synthetic dyes (especially FD&C Yellow No. 5, FD&C Yellow No. 6, and FD&C Red No. 40) – when mixed with the preservative sodium benzoate these are linked to hyperactivity in children;
  • preservatives – are associated with health risks: BHA, BHT, sodium nitrite, sodium nitrite, potassium nitrate, sulfur dioxide, sodium sulfite, sodium metabisulfite, potassium metabisulfite, MSG.

Superfoods for breastfeeding:

  • fruit and vegetables (more than 5 a day) – green leafy, orange, red, yellow;
  • oily fish (twice a week) – smaller fish with fewer toxins: sardines, herring, anchovies;
  • whole grains (organic loaves, organic oats, spelt);
  • dairy produce (especially yogurt) – organic, free from hormones.

Dirty dozen” when it comes to pesticides (better to buy organic):

  1. peaches,
  2. apples,
  3. bell peppers,
  4. celery,
  5. nectarines,
  6. strawberries,
  7. cherries,
  8. lettuce,
  9. grapes,
  10. pears,
  11. spinach,
  12. potatoes.

Easy crops to grow on your own:

  • tumbling cherry tomatoes in hanging baskets;
  • potatoes or garlic in half-barrels;
  • carrots in large pots;
  • lettuces and green onions in a window box;
  • blueberry bushes in pots of ericaceous soil;
  • soil-planted apple trees native to the region;
  • basil raised from seed on a window sill (incredibly difficult to keep alive to my knowledge);
  • alfalfa sprouts in a jar.

Cleaning products to toss:

  • cleaning fluids containing glycol ethers, terpenes, or limonenes (pine or citrus scents) – they create toxic air conditions in confined space;
  • air fresheners – babies exposed to them are more prone to ear infections and diarrhea;
  • chlorinated ingredients – chlorine reacts with organic materials to create compounds hazardous to the environment;
  • anti-pest products – likely to contain pesticides;
  • antimicrobials – don’t clean better than soap and water, banned in some hospitals as it is feared they lead to superbugs;
  • aerosols – neuro- and reproductive toxins and respiratory irritants are blasted directly into the respiratory tract.

Green cleaners:

  • white vinegar – dilute with water to make a wipe for surfaces, glass, and tiles, or use full-strength to unclog showers and sinks;
  • lemon juice – degreases and bleaches cutting boards and surfaces;
  • salt – scouring baked-on food or washing dishes;
  • spices – simmer a handful to scent your home (cinnamon sticks, cloves, fresh ginger root, cardamom seeds, star anise, slices of lemon, lime, orange);
  • bicarbonate of soda – mix into a paste for sinks and tubs or sprinkle into the toilet bowl, add white vinegar, and scrub;
  • microfiber miracle cloths – dampen and rub: need no solvent or detergents to clean grease and stubborn stains, wash in the washing machine when dirty;
  • wet-dusting solution – mop with liquid Castile soap, then rinse with water plus 10 drops essential oil of grapefruit;
  • raise a plant – many broad-leaved house plants neutralize airborne toxins like formaldehyde and benzene;
  • shake and vac – sprinkle bicarbonate of soda over carpet, leave for a couple of hours, then vacuum;
  • toilet-seat spray – add 10 drops of antibacterial tea tree essential oil to water in a mister, shake, then spritz.

Washing the baby – “topping and tailing”:

  1. Undress baby to the waist, wipe face and around neck creases with a damp, warm washcloth, dry with a warmed towel. Wipe each eye from centre outward with moistened cotton balls, repeat on nostrils if necessary.
  2. If baby’s hair needs freshening up, dampen the washcloth and wipe from the front of the head to the nape of the neck, pat dry with a warm towel.
  3. Wipe the baby’s hands and under arms with the washcloth, pat dry. If baby has areas of dry skin, rub on some organic olive oil. Clothe the upper body.
  4. Undress baby from the waist down. Moisten another washcloth, wipe the bottom from front to back. Pat dry with a towel then rub a little of the olive oil on any areas of diaper rash. Put on a clean diaper and dress the baby.

Natural soothing strategies:

  • darkness during the night and outdoor light in the day;
  • constant noise or music rather than silence;
  • swaddling;
  • ambient temperature (20°C) with bedding of one sheet and two layers of blanket;
  • daytime naps;
  • a set bedtime;
  • bedtime routine teaches a baby to anticipate sleep;
  • put baby to bed still awake so they learn to drift off without you and be able to do that at night.

Toys: Clean toys with the child so they learn the importance of taking care of their things. Avoid battery-powered toys (hard to recycle) and electrical toys that guide the child to press buttons or have right/wrong answers (may discourage creativity, undermine basic motor skills, and shorten attention span). Only plastic that can be recycled is marked with “2”, “4”, and “5”. The rest cannot be recycled and will spoil all the other plastic in the same batch.

Green toys:

  • Lego – indestructible, free of phthalates, no-PVC policy;
  • Playmobil – no-PVC policy;
  • Käthe Kruse dolls – handcrafted form wood, can be repaired;
  • Brio train set – choose wood, but all Brio products are PVC-free;
  • IKEA toys – PVC-free, free from iffy woods and dyes;
  • wooden dollhouse, fort, or puppet theatre – collecting the accessories and dolls separately adds to the adventure;
  • metal construction toys – durable and can be added to.

Key features of green books:

  • FSC certification – paper has been sourced from responsibly managed forests;
  • greener inks – soy- and vegetable-based;
  • water-based glues – safer;
  • less bleaching – processed chlorine-free (PCF), which substitute oxygen-based compounds instead;
  • avoid plastic – tend to be made from nonrenewable petrochemicals made flexible with phthalates.

To stay safe in the sun, avoid sunscreen (penetrates the skin) as opposed to sunblock (usually contains zinc or titanium dioxide that sit on the skin’s surface deflecting the UV rays, usually turns skin white). The best alternative is a wide-brimmed hat and coverup breathable clothing. Hemp is naturally UV-resistant. Give the child sun-protective fruit and vegetables (red, orange, yellow). Use a sunshade, and plan outdoor play before 11am and after 4pm when the sun is less strong.

Ways to make pregnancy more comfortable

During pregnancy, one of the things you learn is to listen to and appreciate demands of your body. When a pregnant woman is hungry – she is starving, when she needs to sleep – she can fall into an exhausted sleep in most unlikely times and places, even if that is usually very uncharacteristic of her. Such basic urges become extreme, and if you ignore them they can wreck havoc with your body. So, try to sleep as much as your body demands and eat whenever you need to, don’t postpone your meals or rest.

Swimming or immersing yourself in water – helps against water retention, numbness, takes weight off the pelvis, can help the baby move into the head-down position, and just feels wonderful for all the lightness and buoyancy the water provides.

Walking helps with digestion and blood circulation. If your legs retain water (which occurs frequently in the third trimester) walking can help. I found walking to the beach (about 25 minutes), swimming (25 minutes to an hour), and walking back (another 25 minutes) to be a winning combination, but that was possible due to my close proximity to one of the Ottawa beaches and the later part of my pregnancy taking place during the summer. This routine can be modified to walk to a pool and back, assuming there is one near you.

Sleep – the first trimester is usually when the woman is the most tired. I used to collapse on the couch after work and sleep, although I normally can rarely nap during the day. The last trimester sometimes brings insomnia or restless sleep, due to all the discomforts of the pregnancy and worrying dreams that unfortunately replace all the sexually-charged dreams that are often present in the first and second trimesters. Babies also love to wait until you are lying down to start kicking, since you are not lulling them to sleep with motion. Sleep when you can where you can – you need all the energy to grow this new life.

Drink water – lots and lots of it. Drink before getting thirsty – thirst is a late sign of dehydration. Dehydration brings with it all kinds of nasty consequences: exhaustion, indigestion, and even contractions that can lead to premature labour. So drink lots of water.

Ginger candy – some people swear by them in that they help with morning sickness. I was not able to thoroughly test that since I managed to avoid this pregnancy bonus feature for the most part, but I found ginger candy generally helpful against nausea caused by motion sickness.

Bananas – wonderful fruit in general, containing fiber that helps with digestion and vitamin B6 that helps alleviate insomnia and fatigue. But one of the best things about bananas during pregnancy is that they also contain lots of potassium, which might help prevent leg cramps. During pregnancy leg cramps are a regular occurrence in many women, and short of “don’t cross your legs” and “don’t point your toes”, plus the usual suggestions of not sitting for a long period of time (great if you work at a desk), walking and taking a bath, no useful tips are offered to help with those. Another thing that helps with cramps is a calf stretch – sitting on the floor or lying down with your legs straight, flex your feet and push into the heels.

Update 2014: Later research shows that bananas have only half of potassium found in green vegetables (broccoli, avocados, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, and pumpkin), making the latter a better option, since bananas also have lots of sugar.

Cranberry juice – pure, 100% cranberry juice helps prevent urinary tract infections, which can spring up during pregnancy. It is hard to find pure cranberry juice in grocery stores in Ottawa – most of them sell cocktails or juice blends, both of which are full of sugar and the latter normally contains more apple juice than any other. The best pure cranberry juice I found is Just Juice – it needs to be diluted with water. It contains no added sugar and tends to be quite refreshing in summer.

Probiotics – good quality probiotics help digestion tremendously. Those sold in the drug stores, however, tend to be somewhat inferior to “professional-quality” probiotics (that include multiple species of microorganisms) which you can only get through health professionals or specialty health stores. I was recommended the Ther-Biotic Complete from Klaire Labs. Check with your health professional on their recommendation.

Papaya, pineapple, unbleached almonds, and not drinking water when eating are all good ways to help prevent heartburn. Papaya is also a good source of potassium. With the growing uterus pushing all the organs out of the way, which leaves little room for stomach, heartburn is a common issue during pregnancy. Eating smaller meals and sleeping with your head elevated also sometimes help.

The modified yoga Cat pose (the back has to be kept straight when not arched up) works wonders: it takes the weight of the uterus off the pelvis and the back. Used during pregnancy it can act as a way to relax and give yourself a chance to rest from the baby’s weight. This pose is also helpful in labour as pain relief as well as to allow the baby to shift out of the pelvis and using gravity acquire a different position that can be easier on the woman’s back.

Prenatal massage – helps with sore and tired muscles, leg cramps, back pain, and just feels wonderful. You would have to find a place that offers prenatal massage – they have special training in what is safe in pregnancy, as well as table inserts that allow you to lie on your belly during the massage. I have had several sessions throughout my pregnancy, including the one to fix my back when I managed to take a fall down the stairs in my first trimester, and I found them very helpful in alleviating various discomforts and aches.

Living in Canada, most of us don’t get enough vitamin D due to lack of sunlight. During pregnancy, the recommendation is 40 minutes of sunlight a day. A vitamin D supplement might also be helpful – consult with your health care provider.

Prenatal vitamins are highly recommended by every health practitioner and every book I have come across. In addition to taking folate (NOT folic acid) prior to pregnancy and during it to prevent neural tube defects in the developing fetus, some of the most crucial elements are included in prenatal vitamins, such as calcium (you are building the baby’s bones and if you don’t take in enough calcium it will be taken from your own bones) and iron (used in hemoglobin production and the formation of placenta). Many women exhibit iron deficiency during pregnancy, which can have serious consequences such as anemia.

Kegel exercises have been claimed to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, which would have many beneficial effects: preparing your muscles for labour, postpartum return of pelvic tone, prevention of incontinence, and so on. Later investigation is showing that kegels are not effective for this purpose and are working the pelvic floor muscles in ways that tighten them, making them inflexible. Katy Bowman elaborates on biomechanics of the pelvic floor muscles and effective ways to work them. Deep regular squatting is a better way.

Eat lots of fruit – in addition to all the wonderful vitamins and minerals that you get from fruit, they also contain fiber which helps your digestive system.

Yogurt – helps prevent thrush (yeast infections) which sometimes spring up in pregnancy due to the sugar spike in vaginal flora. It can also be aggravated by synthetic or tight clothing, as well as by antibiotics (which you might be taking at some point during the pregnancy to treat some other condition). Wearing skirts (as opposed to pants) and cotton underwear (as opposed to nylon) help air circulation and can aid in keeping thrush under control.

Belly breathing is a technique where you breathe into your belly (not your chest) by flexing the diaphragm (not the rib cage). It helps to oxygenate and relax the body, which aids in relieving anxiety and stress.

In the last trimester some health practitioners recommend taking raspberry tea or a raspberry-leaf derived supplement (such as Rubus Idaeus) to tone the uterus and prepare it for labour. Do make sure you consult with your health practitioner before using this: some women find that their Braxton-Hicks contractions increase in frequency and intensity which might lead to preterm labour.

Witch hazel can help with perineum soreness or hemorrhoids. It can be used as part of a sitz bath (1/4 cup dissolved in warm water) or by soaking a sanitary pad. Before labour it is also recommended to soak a few maxi pads in witch hazel and freeze them, to use for postpartum perineal healing.

Calamine lotion can help with skin rashes that some women experience during pregnancy, due to uncomfortable clothing, heat, and carrying extra weight around.

Get a doula. A good doula is a source of all kinds of wonderful tips and tricks to make your pregnancy more comfortable. A doula also prepares you for labour by teaching you about pain relief techniques, labour progression, possible complications, and so on. A doula does not enforce any particular philosophy – you can have natural or medicated labour, at home or at a hospital, and the doula will be there to support you in whatever decisions you make. A labour doula is someone you get to know during your pregnancy and who would stay with you throughout your entire labour (as opposed to the doctor that would show up for 10 minutes only to deliver the baby, or a nurse that will stay only until the shift change and whose philosophy can significantly affect the progress of your labour). Postpartum doulas come to your place and can help solve breastfeeding problems, assist with baby care, and much more. To learn more about the roles and responsibilities of doulas, check out DONA International. I found my doula through Mothercraft – an organization in Ottawa that matches you with a doula and charges you on a sliding scale according to your income level, which makes it affordable for anyone, including low income families, to benefit from doula care.

Seriously look into midwifery care – it is much more personal, your appointments are longer, the care is based on informed choice (read: you have a say in what happens to you and your baby), and in Ontario you get 6 weeks of postpartum care, first week of which midwives can come to your home. Midwifery care is covered by provincial health insurance. Midwives in general have much better outcomes when it comes to labour induction and augmentation, Caesarean rates, and many other factors. Birth at home or a birth centre is ideal if you have no complications during pregnancy, but even in a hospital, midwives are a better choice for an uncomplicated delivery. If you are in Ontario and need more information on midwifery care, visit Consumers Supporting Midwifery Care.

Pregnancy and labour resources

I have read through quite a few books and articles on pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, co-sleeping, babywearing, and so on. Not all of them I found helpful. Below is the list of those resources that provided me with the most useful information in the most usable form.


Ina May's Guide to ChildbirthIna May’s Guide to Childbirth, by Ina May Gaskin – the first part of the book is a collection of birth stories of women that have given birth on The Farm in Tennessee. The Farm is a community founded by Ina May, her husband, and several others in 1971, where one of the founding principles was giving women freedom to organize their own system of birth care. The midwives at The Farm have been consistently having lower intervention and Caesarean rates than the national average, and they have conducted single deliveries, twin deliveries, and various types of breech deliveries. The second part of the book covers the essentials of pregnancy and birth.

Spiritual MidwiferySpiritual Midwifery, by Ina May Gaskin – this is an earlier book written by Ina May in 1975. It also starts with birth stories. The second part of the book covers female anatomy and physiology as it pertains to childbirth and has more in-depth notes on psychology, energy levels, birth complications, multiple deliveries, and required supplies.

Birthing from WithinBirthing from Within, by Pam England and Rob Horowitz – this book explores attitudes towards labour, their expression in art, dealing with pain in labour, and covers tips for fathers and birth companions.

Ina May's Guide to BreastfeedingIna May’s Guide to Breastfeeding, by Ina May Gaskin – Ina May shares her experience on breastfeeding initiation, common issues and their correction, sleeping arrangements, breastfeeding multiples, shared nursing, and the need to recover the nursing culture in the Western society.

Baby LoveBaby Love: A Tradition of Calm Parenting, by Maud Bryt – a wonderfully calm and logical book by a Holland author, that makes common baby-caring tasks seem easy and stress-free. Here you can find tips on breastfeeding, diaper change, dressing the baby for a particular weather, introducing solids, sleeping and bathing routines, and swaddling the baby.


Relaxation, Rhythm, RitualRelaxation, Rhythm, & Ritual: The 3 Rs of Childbirth, by Penny Simkin – this film consists of scenes of contractions from 10 separate women, each illustrating a way of creating their relaxation, rhythm, and ritual in labour.

Business of Being BornThe Business of Being Born, by Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein – this film takes a look at the sorry state of the obstetrical care in USA, specifically as it relates to childbirth. It covers the demonization of the midwives in the early 20th century, the move of the birth into the hospital, the big business approach to birth care, the currently-present domino effect of interventions and drugs administered at the hospitals, and the alternative – birth with the midwives, and specifically the home birth.

Comfort Measures for ChildbirthComfort Measures for Childbirth, by Penny Simkin – this DVD illustrates many labour pain relief measures, as well as techniques to change a position of a baby when the progress of labour has slowed down. Each technique is explained in detail and illustrated by expectant couples. Penny Simkin also explains what happens to the pelvic bones when a particular position is used, showing how it would help the baby shift or turn.

Birth as We Know ItBirth as We Know It, by Elena Tonetti-Vladimirova – the author was one of the creators of a Black Sea birth camp in Russia in 1980s, where women came a few months before pregnancy and learned relaxation techniques. The film includes footage of women giving birth in the Black Sea, as well as having water birth at home. It provides an insight into the power of the female body and conscious childbirth. In addition to the breech, twin, home birth, and water birth, the film includes a self-assisted birth by a midwife Tanya Sargunas.