Thursday, August 30, 2012

Natural Nipple Creams

This post is in response to an excellent inquiry made by a friend. She wanted to know what I thought about lanolin, coconut oil, or shea butter as a natural nipple cream. I wasn't sure how to answer, so this blog is my researched response!

First I would like to recommend good 'ole Breastmilk for nipple care. You can rub a little breastmilk on the nipples and allow them to air dry. For many women this is all they need for normal nipple care.

Also, remember that you DO NOT need to use any soap on your nipples! This will only increase dryness and decrease your own natural and protective oils.

As for some other commonly used natural products...

Lanolin, which means "wool oil", is a yellowish and waxy secretion from the sebaceous glands of woolly animals; most commonly from sheep. Lanolin is collected from the sheep's wool when it is pressed between rollers and squeezed out.

While scouring the internet I found some mothers wondering and discussing about thrush and lanolin use. It seems as though lanolin may increase the incidence of thrush, OR, if you have thrush (or the baby) don't use it because it may sustain the infection. Lanolin doesn't have anti-bacterial/fungal properties (like coconut oil) so this may be why infection occurs; mothers may not always have clean hands when applying nipple cream and bacteria could be introduced. This is one of the most commonly used nipple creams and is handed out by many hospitals and lactation consultants, but personally I think the plant based alternatives may be better and I found this report from Medline Plus for lanolin poisoning (which is not likely, but obviously possible). 

As for coconut oil, this stuff is AMAZING!!! A plant based oil with antifungal, antibacterial, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, SPF(5), and moisturizing properties and it can be safely used on or consumed by almost anyone (allergic reactions are rare, if they do occur they are often mild). Some critics remind that this is still a saturated fat and consumption needs to be limited, however others herald the incredible plethora of health benefits... here are a few articles that give more information on some little known uses for coconut oil, as well as an excellent summary of the history, uses, and research findings for this increasingly popular nut. Can also be used on babies as a diaper cream! This is my personal choice for best cream because if you find that you need a cream (breastmilk isn't quite enough), then you may need the bacteria and fungal fighting properties that coconut oil provides.

  Finally, shea butter. From the nut of the Shea Tree, found in Africa, shea butter is a highly nourishing moisturizer which can be used for a great variety of skin and hair related issues; as well as for cooking and baking. There are a number of vitamins, minerals, and other excellent compounds found in shea butter, it has an SPF of 6 and it appears to have anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties as well. Seeing as how it comes from a nut, some people with nut allergies may experience a minor reaction. Seems like an excellent moisturizer and prevention/treatment for stretch marks!

SO, to answer the original inquiry about which may be best to use as a nipple cream. Personally, I would not use lanolin because there are two alternatives that are plant based rather than animal based (however if someone has a nut allergy or a history of nut allergy then perhaps lanolin can be an alternative).

Breastmilk is my first choice of "nipple creams", but based on what I've learned in creating this post I think I will have both coconut oil and shea butter to use for any skin care need that arises! If you need something that helps manage bacteria or fungal issues such as yeast, then use coconut oil, for extra moisture you can use shea butter - The best of both worlds! I am definitely going to use shea butter to help prevent and treat my future stretch marks! :)

Please share your experience with any of the above OR other creams in the comments below :)

Also, I always recommend buying products that are pure, organic, and sustainably produced. Shea butter comes from Africa, so please buy from a company that supports this continent and the incredible people that live there!

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you are having breastfeeding issues or PAIN while nursing then please contact a lactation consultant in your area or your local La Leche League and they can help! Breastfeeding should not be painful!

This IS NOT medical advice. Talk to your doctor, midwife, herbalist, nutritionist, or other health provider if you have questions or concerns.

Happy Nursing!
~Wisdom and Birth

Monday, August 27, 2012

Childbirth and Your Pelvic Health ~ Guest Post!

The following is written by Elizabeth Carrollton about pelvic health during pregnancy and the postpartum period. She addresses some common issues, excellent ways to prevent pelvic floor related problems, and brings awareness to some major issues with surgical treatment using transvaginal mesh. Thank you Elizabeth for all you do to improve maternal health and safety!! 

Childbirth is the biggest risk factor for pelvic floor problems like pelvic organ prolapse (POP) and stress urinary incontinence (SUI). Half of all women who have had at least one child will develop POP to some degree, and SUI occurs in about a quarter of childbearing women. However, paying attention to your pelvic health during pregnancy and after childbirth can help reduce your risk of developing these disorders.

Why Pelvic Health Matters
Healthy, strong pelvic muscles serve a lot of important functions in the body, such as enhancing sexual sensation, making childbirth easier, holding pelvic organs securely in place, supporting the spine, contributing to balance and movement, and aiding in urinary and bowel function. On the other hand, weak pelvic floor muscles can be the source of quite a few problems, like lower back pain, difficult labor and delivery, sexual dysfunction and pelvic support problems.
Among the most common pelvic support problems encountered by women are stress urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse. SUI occurs when pelvic floor muscles have become too weak to hold back urine flow, allowing leakage when a woman coughs, laughs or exercises. It can also be an early sign of POP, which happens when the pelvic floor becomes so stretched or weakened that it cannot support pelvic organs properly, such as the bladder, rectum and uterus, allowing them to drop down within the pelvic cavity to place pressure on the vagina.
The pelvic floor weakness that is at the root of both of these pelvic support problems is most often caused by the strain of childbirth, but obesity, heavy lifting, straining due to constipation and chronic coughing can also contribute. Estrogen loss during menopause causes muscles and tissues to become less elastic, which can cause further weakening of the pelvic floor.

Maintaining Pelvic Floor Strength and Flexibility
Pelvic health problems often can be avoided by keeping the muscles of the pelvic floor strong and flexible. Pelvic floor exercise is essential in meeting that goal, done regularly throughout life, but especially during pregnancy, after delivery and during the years that lead up to menopause. Seeing a fitness professional can help you devise a good exercise routine for pelvic health.
Maintaining a healthy body weight is also important, since being overweight places excess pressure on pelvic muscles. Good nutrition matters, too, since a well-balanced diet provides the nutrients your muscles need to maintain health and proper function. If you've already developed POP or SUI, these measures can also help reduce symptoms in many cases.

Words of Caution on POP, SUI and Transvaginal Mesh
Some women will develop pelvic organ prolapse or stress urinary incontinence despite their best efforts toward prevention, and in severe cases, surgery may be necessary to provide relief. It is important for any woman who is considering surgery to know that procedures that use transvaginal mesh implants or bladder slings in SUI or POP repair have been associated with serious complications in thousands of women.
Among the most common problems reported are mesh erosion, mesh protrusion through vaginal tissues, mesh shrinkage, organ perforation and infection. Filing a vaginal mesh lawsuit is a route several women have taken, due to these severe complications.  Most cases of POP and SUI can be resolved without mesh, so be sure to ask your doctor about traditional POP or SUI procedures that do not use mesh implants.

Elizabeth Carrollton writes about defective medical devices and dangerous drugs for

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Empowered Birth Awareness Week

Empowered Birth Awareness Week is quickly approaching and I am continuing my efforts to draw attention to Evidence-Based Maternity Care and safe birth choices for all women.

Birth is an event we all share. I have heard before, that the status of a country, government, or people can be judged off how they treat their most vulnerable, in this case the United States and the American people fare poorly in regards to how our mothers and infants are treated during Birth.

Our modern maternity care system has seen some positive changes, but there is still so much room for growth. Most importantly we need hospitals and Birth professionals to be accountable for the care they provide and women deserve Evidence-Based Care.The long-term effects of obstetrical interventions are finally being realized and we need to change the face of medically managed birth!


Here are a few ideas that you can do to support Evidence-Based Maternity Care:

  • Check out Improving Birth to find a "Rally for Change" in your area, or to start one of your own!
  • Create your own expression or interpretation of Empowered Birth and share online - artwork, video, photo (YouTube, Facebook, Pintrest)
Here is some of my Birth artwork :)

  • Change your Facebook picture to something birth related (you can use one of the images from this post!) or maybe an image of you/ your family during or after birth

  • Ask a woman you know (mother, sister, friend) to share her birth story with you

  • Watch a movie you haven't seen to learn more about Birth such as: Orgasmic Birth, The Business of Being Born and More Business of Being Born

  • If you are pregnant, learn about a different option for your birth, something you hadn't known about before, such as having a doula, birthing at a birth center, having a VBAC...
*You could use both of these to ask for Evidence-Based Care in your local hospital!*

Share more ideas in the 'comments' section below or tell about what you will do/did for Empowered Birth Awareness Week!!!

~Wisdom and Birth

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Unassisted Childbirth, sometimes the only 'Choice'?

Unassisted Childbirth (UC) refers to birth in which the mother delivers without professional assistance (such as from a midwife or OB) and has also been referred to as 'freebirth'; this does not mean the mother and her partner have not prepared for labor and birth, just that they do not have a licensed professional present when the baby is born.

Some women labor and deliver completely alone while others may be emotionally and physically supported by their partner, a friend/family member or a doula. There are a multitude of reasons why women choose to birth unassisted and some women choose to do so because this is the best choice for them, but for too many women, they have to have a UC in order to have their baby at home.

In the U.S., 99% of births occur in the hospital, however the numbers of women choosing home birth are growing. Most home-births in the U.S are attended by midwives, however, many states still have laws that prohibit midwives from attending home-births and the women that choose to stay at home must birth unassisted. Furthermore, many mothers that plan to have an unassisted childbirth are choosing to do so because one or more of their previous births entailed a negative or traumatic hospital birth experience, such as a c-section and they are looking to avoid this experience again.

Take the rather common example of a woman who has had one (or more) c-section deliveries and the doctors in her area tell her they will not 'permit' a VBAC (vaginal birth after a cesarean), so if she delivers in the hospital, the baby will be delivered by major abdominal surgery. This woman may choose to have a home birth, but if she lives in one of 10 states that still has regulations against midwifery practice outside of hospitals, then she will have to consider delivering at home, unassisted by a licensed professional.

Women will choose to deliver unassisted for many different reasons and all women deserve the right to choose, but there must be access to safe birth choices for all women and midwife attended birth is a safe option! When so many women are confronted with a choice between major abdominal surgery (just to have a baby!) or birth alone without the oversight of a caring and knowledgeable professional, such as a midwife, I wonder... what kind of choice is that?

In addition, childbirth as a rite of passage entails that some women will feel safe and empowered to birth alone, we should not take this away from them. For many of these women their birth will open them to a new depth of respect for themselves and love for their family. In the event that complications do arise and these mothers decide they need medical assistance, they should be treated with the dignity and respect as any other patient.

A post from Self-Directed Childbirth, describes a beautiful example of an unassisted childbirth in a hospital, which gives me confidence that the medical model of birth is slowly shifting and women will continue to have greater access to a multitude of choices in childbirth and respect when they decide what is best for them and their baby. However, this is not what is normally experienced and more women than before are considering birthing alone in order to avoid the interference frequently caused by medical birth professionals, sometimes even from midwives! 

There are a number of safe birth options for women to choose from and we should not discourage or punish mothers who have a desire to birth their babies at home, even without assistance. In particular, however, we need to ensure that all mothers who choose home birth have the legal choice to be attended by a midwife. Trying to prevent home birth by outlawing midwifery practice outside of hospitals will only force some women into delivering unassisted at home. This could lead to injuries or deaths that are completely preventable in our developed health care system. Instead we should look to the other successful and empowered models, such as that in the UK, where laws require midwives to attend women wherever they choose to labor, no matter the location.

I envision a system where women that choose to deliver in a hospital can still have access to the privacy and respect that is found most often in home-births and women that choose to deliver at home can do so in any state with the support of a trained professional midwife. Women are not looking to endanger themselves or their children, rather they are looking to have the most fulfilling birth experience as both a woman and mother.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Documentary about VBAC - "Trial of Labor"

The location where you give birth is so important. What the people around you believe about birth will affect your experience. Obstetricians are surgeons and they are trained in a model that believes birth must be managed because it is wrought with danger. The midwifery model believes in the strength and robust nature of women's bodies and the midwife is present to encourage and support this natural, physiologic process.

Too many women are birthing in a model where their bodies are seen as defective. Too many women are having C-sections and then being denied the opportunity to have a VBAC for subsequent births.

In this new documentary Trial of Labor (click for their website), mothers share their stories about a previous C-Section and their desire to do it differently the second (or third) time. This women were not prepared for birth the first time around and they are determined to do it differently this time!

As a doula, I have provided labor support to two mothers who had successful VBAC's (Vaginal Birth After a Cesarean); one of these was a home birth with a midwife and the other was a hospital birth with an OB. 

This film needs donations to support the final development... please consider donating (even $1) to help makes this excellent idea a reality!!! (click here for the website)

They also talk about the importance of having a doula :)

Friday, August 3, 2012

When a Mother Chooses NOT to Breastfeed...

There are so many choices that mothers make which will be debated over, questioned, and even attacked by strangers, coworkers, friends, and even family. How a woman chooses to give birth and feed her child is of particular interest and debate, especially in recent years.

Not only is it World Breastfeeding Week and I wanted to highlight a topic, but I just received the 'Birth Plan' for my next doula client and she explicitly states that she does NOT want to breastfeed and does not want any lactation counselors to come talk to her while in the hospital. I knew about this decision from our prenatal appointment, but as a passionate advocate for Breastfeeding, I was motivated to educate her and maybe change her mind with information and positive encouragement/support. I didn't fully accept her decision until I saw it in print... so I had to hang my doula hat for a moment and try to understand.  

We ALL know that 'Breast is Best', but do we know that formula IS NOT the second best alternative to mothers breast milk? When it comes to infant feeding, the hierarchy is as follows...

1. Feeding Baby at the Mother's Breast
2. Mother's own Expressed Milk (pump and bottle feed milk)
3. Another Mother's Expressed Milk (milk bank, donated milk)
4. Formula (not all formulas are equal, some are worse than others!)

Human milk can come from milk banks such as Human Milk Banking Association of North America where milk has a price and sometimes it is a little costly, but donors are screened and receive blood tests and the milk is pasteurized to kill bacteria (this does decrease some good properties of the milk, but only slightly). These banks need many more donations of human milk to meet growing need, but rigorous tests to be a donor, milk collection standards, and the cost deter many women. This milk is being used more and more for premature infants and the high standards/safety of the milk is an appropriate prevention strategy and is likely beneficial to these fragile babies.

Women have also shared milk and nursed other women's babies throughout human history. There are informal and formal networks for  milk sharing among women, one such example is Human Milk for Human Babies.There are some concerns about the spread of disease among informal breast milk sharing.

When marketed, formula appears to be 'almost' as good as mother's breast milk... but this isn't even remotely true! Formula can be contaminated with dangerous chemicals and powdered formula IS NOT sterile. Formula just isn't the 'almost' that so many parents are led to believe it is.

Some thoughts about the safety of formula-
  • Formula can be RECALLED due to contamination!! (In the photo to the left, the formula was recalled due to contamination from pieces of bugs and larvae)
  •  Formula can become contaminated during any step of the collection and manufacturing process as well as while being used in your home
  •  Contamination can occur from many sources and in severe cases can lead to death. Such examples include: Enterobacter sakazakii and other microorganisms in powdered formula, additives such as melamine and mercury, as well as from the water being used to mix the formula, improperly cleaned bottles and nipples, plastic can contain Bisphenol A, etc...
  • Most parents do not PREPARE powdered formula correctly to kill microorganisms such as E. sakazakii and many do not use formula as instructed (such as throwing unfinished formula away after feeding).
Powdered formula needs to be heated to at least 158 degrees F (to kill bacteria and microorganisms that can be IN the FORMULA) - then it can be cooled and fed to baby immediately, or refrigerated for no more than 24 hours, HOWEVER, this is rarely done by parents in the U.S. and even formula companies and WIC do not have updated recommendations for how to properly prepare formula.

Here is a link to the Health Department in the UK that describes how to properly prepare powdered formula.

Also, in comparison to feeding the baby at the breast, when bottles are used babies tend to be overfed and parents tend to hold the baby less during feedings (ie. prop up bottles). 
So back to mothers choosing not to breastfeed. As with many decisions made for a new baby, choosing not to breastfeed would be a very difficult decision to make; even though there is still a lack of respect and support for breastfeeding in the U.S., choosing NOT to breastfeed is fiercely protested by many, many others. I look forward to a day when Breastfeeding is the norm again and very, very few women feel uncomfortable or 'wrong' about breastfeeding and breastmilk. Until then, there needs to be more support for mothers who choose to breastfeed, access to donated and affordable human milk, accurate information about infant formula and proper preparation, and an environment supportive of women's rights to choose!

and remember...

Normal Feeding! 

~Wisdom and Birth