Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Truth--and Myths--About Home Births

When I told my women friends that my older son's first baby--and my first grandchild--would be born at home, most of them looked shocked. They immediately voiced fears, saying that they thought it was much safer to have the baby in a hospital because things can go wrong, and in that case, an operating room would be immediately accessible.

It didn't change their minds when I told them that this was a low-risk pregnancy, that my son's girlfriend had been healthy throughout, and that everything showed that the baby--a boy--was doing well. Nor were their minds changed when I said she would have a birth assistant (a certified doula) to help her through the labor, and then a highly experienced midwife to deliver him.

Well, he was born a week ago today, and came into the world with eyes open wide, pink and healthy and calm.

I know exactly how he looked because I saw him within moments of his birth. All four of his grandparents, his uncle and aunt, were there at home waiting. We suffered along with Nicole as we listened to her cry and yell during the last throes of childbirth. But once we heard his cry, we ran upstairs, applauded, cried, hugged and poured champagne. I'll never forget that morning.

Baby Henry began nursing like a champ immediately, and has been calm and content ever since. When he wakes up to nurse, his eyelids flutter and he frowns as if all that light is still a shock to him.

And then I remember the hospital nurseries with fluorescent lights glaring, 24 hours a day. No wonder the nurseries are usually ringing with the howls of the newborns!

So the outcome for my grandson was perfect. The midwives--a second one came at the end to help--called it a beautiful birth. They should know. For one of them it was the 251st. birth she had attended.

The birth assistant, by the way, was with Nicole throughout her labor, coaching her on changing positions, massaging her, using aroma therapy, accupressure, a birth chair, etc. to help her.

But what of my friends' fears? Justified or not?


Here's the evidence, culled from the best and most recent study of home births. It comes from a study of 7,600 births in the U.S. and Canada, published in the British Medical Journal in 2005, that were planned to occur at home with certified midwives attending. All of the births studied were low-risk, meaning that the mothers were healthy, with no chronic health problems, and that all pre-birth exams showed the babies in good health as well. The outcomes of the home births were compared to low-risk births that occurred in hospitals.

  • Infant mortality was 1.7 per 1,000 births, a rate as low as occurs in hospitals with low-risk births.
  • Medical interventions occurred at less than half the rate as in hospitals. For example, only 2.1% of the women at home suffered an episiotomy, compared to 33%--yes, one in three--in the hospital. Only 3.7% of the women at home ended up delivering by caesarean section, compared to 19% in the hospital.
  • None of the mothers died. Some of the women--12%--were transferred to a hospital when problems developed. If a woman is within 20 minutes of a hospital, she is likely to be under care in an operating room as quickly as a woman who labors in the hospital. That's because it takes some time to mobilize the equipment and staff needed, and that mobilization can get started just as quickly with a phone call from home.
The study concluded: "Planned home birth for low risk women in North America using certified professional midwives was associated with lower rates of medical intervention but similar (infant)...mortality to that of low risk hospital births in the United States."

The bonus, of course, in this era of soaring health costs, is that a home birth is far less expensive than one that takes place in a hospital.

Meanwhile, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists continues to oppose home births while infant and maternal mortality rates for the U.S. continue to be far worse than those in other western countries where medical interventions, like cesaereans, occur far less often.

Which leads me to believe that opposition to home births is rooted in the desire of the medical establishment to protect their income stream, and not out of concern about the safety of women and babies.

Yet, American women are so frightened of childbirth at home that less than 1% choose to stay out of the hospital. A pity. For them, their families and babies.##

Monday, August 10, 2009

Good News about Global Warming: Kleenex To Be Made From Sustainable Wood

With good news about global warming in short supply, it's heartening to learn that Kimberly-Clarke has agreed to stop destroying forests to make Kleenex and its other disposable paper products.

This announcement came to me from Greenpeace which has been waging a long campaign they dubbed "Kleercut" to bring public pressure to bear against the manufacturer. Forests are major absorbers of carbon dioxide, and it's imperative that we harvest timber only in ways that sustain them. The success of Greenpeace reinforces my feeling that despite the continuing obstacles and nay-sayers, we now have a critical mass of people in the U.S. who understand the urgency of global warming.

Most people who know me would never call me Pollyanna, but it certainly is true that my view is affected by the people I work with and socialize with, my chosen people, if you will. And my people, along with millions like us in the U.S. and around the world, are engaged in all manner of personal life-style changes to live more gently on the earth, as well as being deeply involved in local, national and global efforts to preserve our beautiful green planet.

The changes range from people picking up after their dogs (helping to prevent bacterial contamination of the bays around here) to doing veggie barbecues instead of grilling that predictable steak (thereby helping to cut carbon dioxide emissions that come from raising so many cattle). All these changes come out of a deep understanding of the interconnectedness of all life.

In the case of Kleenex, good people, mobilized through Greenpeace and other organizations like the National Resources Defense Council, have brought public opinion to bear on Kimberly-Clarke, resulting in this announcement from Greenpeace:

"Kimberly-Clark has set a goal of obtaining 100 percent of the wood fiber for its products — including its flagship brand, Kleenex — from environmentally responsible sources. By the end of 2011, the company will no longer use any pulp from the Boreal Forest unless it is Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified. The policy also prevents the company from cutting endangered forests, and increases the company’s use of FSC-certified pulp and recycled fiber globally. (The statement continues:)

With this announcement, Kimberly-Clark, the largest tissue company in the world, becomes a sustainability leader. Now it’s time for Georgia-Pacific and Procter & Gamble, Kimberly-Clark’s main competitors, to create their own policies to protect ancient forests."

Kudos to Kimberly-Clark!

But for a minimum of 18 months, if they are as good as their word, Kleenex and other Kimberly-Clark products may still be made from unsustainable cutting of the boreal forests, a term which refers to the evergreen forests of the northern hemisphere that lie between the tundra and the forests of trees that lose their leaves in winter.

Until then, and maybe after, I'll continue to buy Marcal toilet paper and tissues because they've been using only recycled paper for years to make their products . (For a list of sustainably produced paper products, go to the NRDC's web site.)

Of course, my optimism about the future won't stop me from writing letters to President Obama, calling members of Congress, and using my buying power to prod manufacturers to see the world green. But I do take heart from the Greenpeace success.

If we don't let ourselves be discouraged, we can pass on a beautiful world to our children and generations beyond.