Monday, 29 November 2010

A seasonal tale of Baring Gifts!

My father- God rest his soul was very old fashioned, indeed I would even say he embodied the Victorian model of the Patriarch presiding over his family, especially his daughters, and he had five of them! He never cooked a meal in his life- boiling an egg was as far as he got to using the cooker, and it wasn’t until he was quite old that I ever saw him using a vacuum cleaner or duster- he definitely was not a New Man, but then again he was born in 1910!

But, there was one area that he was very modern about in his outlook, and that was breastfeeding. As each new infant made their entrance into the world he would wonder at the miracle of birth and life, and he took great delight in watching these new babies feeding at the breast, he certainly had no misunderstandings of what breasts were for and felt no embarrassment at seeing them being used for that purpose.
My mother had breastfed all her babies and I was fortunate enough to remember her feeding my baby brother Mark and showing me how the milk came out, my older sisters breastfed their babies, and so when it was my turn there was no question about how I was going to feed my infants. By the time I had my first baby I was also a qualified midwife and understood the rudiments of breastfeeding and how to latch a baby on to the breast, although it was still very different doing it yourself to showing someone else how to do it!
I know that there are studies to show that women who have observed breast feeding by their mothers, aunts and family friends are far more likely to breastfeed themselves, and it is sad that in this modern age, breasts are still seen as sexual objects to be hidden away or fully exposed on page three- there doesn’t seem to be any middle ground. Breast feeding is the most natural thing in the world to do- I don’t really need to highlight the reasons why it is the best feed you can give your baby- suffice to say it is 100% natural, it has not gone through a mechanised process in its manufacture, it arrives at the correct temperature, at the right time when it is needed, it has an unlimited supply, it gives all the right amount of fats, proteins, antibodies, - the list is endless.
So the question is: why if it is so good are there still so few continuing to breastfeed past 6 – 8 weeks post birth? Recent statistics from the Department of Health show that there are huge regional variations; the North East Strategic Health Authority shows that 56.9% of new mothers initiate breast feeding compared to 72.7% in London’s Strategic Health Authority. Some six to eight weeks later the overall figure of mothers continuing to breastfeed has dropped to 46.2%! So what happens to them in those 6-8 weeks?
I suppose that many women are under pressure to return to work and it maybe seen as simpler to change over their method of feeding to formula, but I suspect there are also a group of women who have really tried to breastfeed and for whatever reasons can’t manage it for any longer, probably due to lack of support and information, and then I suspect that there are also many women out there who still feel uncomfortable about baring their breasts in public places and they really want to get back into some sort of routine and normality.
There are many fantastic organisations who give one to one support on breastfeeding, and there are others who continue to campaign for better understanding and acceptance of breastfeeding- the list is below,

So, in trying to get the message across that breastfeeding is normal, and women can still be attractive (see link below) we are planning on producing a seasonal music video and we’re looking for volunteers- Any offers?!/pages/Sexy-Sassy-Breastfeeding-women/165351283504143?v=info

And maybe we could have more of these?

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

More Midwives?

There has been a lot of back tracking recently; last year the opposition stated that we needed 3000 extra midwives, and this year- now that they are in power, they state that the recent baby boom is over and stabilising, so the extra midwives are no longer needed! Well, what happened to the statements made in 2007 when it was declared that over 5000 extra midwives were needed, or in 2005 when the figure was 10,000? Did an extra 7000 midwives miraculously appear in the following years? I think not.

Figures are massaged and changed like the blowing of the wind, and the people to suffer go on in silence- the midwives who are over worked, stressed and underpaid keep silent, because in these cash strapped times they don’t want to rock the boat and lose their jobs, and the mothers and their partners are silent because they can’t shout any louder as there are so many others clamouring for attention and money.

Midwifery schools are reducing their numbers for training, and return to practice midwives are being told that in some regions the health authorities will no longer fund their re-training programme. The result of this will be that many midwives who have taken a career break will not be returning.

So, what will happen in our maternity units, birth centres and homes around the country when women go into labour and there aren’t enough midwives to assist them?
Answer: There will be more women giving birth alone; there will be more birth injuries, more parents suing for compensation after mismanaged labours and births, more cases of post traumatic stress disorder, more post natal illness, more post natal depression, more suicides. As for midwives more will leave the profession and we will end up needing more midwives
This is a foolish short term stance that our government is taking- at some point when the figures for compensation get too great they will have to encourage more people to become midwives.

If you feel strongly that something needs to be done please sign the petition:

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Watching your own birthing experience and Alfred Hitchcock type appearances

The legendary feature film director Alfred Hitchcock often made fleeting cameo appearances in his own films; film buffs and critics would watch avidly and study his films carefully to find his Hitchcock moment. When I went to film Amy’s birth I hadn’t envisaged a Hitchcock moment, but fate took a hand and I was given, not a fleeting moment but a starring role.
Amy had not realised that her labour was so advanced and had delayed calling Virginia her midwife who set off to Amy’s house with green lights flashing, like a scene from a Hollywood action movie. I had arrived first and realised the birth was imminent- I spoke to Virginia on her hands free phone and she said she was only minutes away. I suddenly realised that the baby’s head was almost out, luckily as well as being a film maker I was a midwife with over ten years experience. With just a couple of pushes baby Honey Safia made her entrance into the world caught by me, the film director, just as Virginia rushed into the room.
Virginia was relieved that the birth had been straightforward and after a few checks on mother and baby was satisfied that all was well.

Last week I took Amy’s birth diary to show her. I always find it a bit daunting when showing women their Birth Diary. Will they like the edited version of their story? Will it be a moving experience for them, and will it give them a different perspective on the labour and birth? Amy was thrilled and I was relieved. It is now up on the site and ready to view and my Hitchcock moment is on the site for all to see.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Too much alcohol and pregnancy don't mix

I have just read in my paper that a neonatologist from our local hospital is applying for a government grant to research the impact of drinking during pregnancy on unborn babies. Those involved in infant and child health are reporting an increased incidence of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). Government statistics state that over 24% of the population now drink well in excess of the recommended units of alcohol per week. When I qualified as a midwife in the early 1980’s I had never heard of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome; it was something only a paediatrician would come across, and rarely, but today I suspect every paediatrician in the country can cite cases of it.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is the most common cause of abnormalities in babies and children, it produces a multitude of symptoms and signs from facial abnormalities, organ defects, growth retardation, mental and intellectual disability and behavioural problems to name but a few-It is 100% preventable.
Coming from both a television media and midwifery background I can see both cause and effect; I remember from the late 1990’s onwards, broadcasters revelled in programmes which explored the salacious lives of holiday reps and holiday makers, highlighting the antics of those who had drunk too much and seeing this as entertaining television. These types of programmes continue to be made because they are cheap. The problem with this type of programming is that it gives young and impressionable people the idea that they can only have a good time if they get drunk and disorderly, that this is the norm and it is expected of them on a Friday and Saturday night. If they can’t remember what happened the next day, even better. For women and their partners planning a pregnancy this activity is hard to stop and they continue into their pregnancies.
The cost of all this drunken activity is to be seen in our A&E, maternity, neonatal and paediatric wards, with adults suffering from the effects of too much alcohol, infants showing signs of withdrawal from alcohol, and young children developing signs of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
The answer is that anyone planning to make a baby should cut right down on their alcohol intake- and that includes their partners too, as alcohol affects sperm quality. Once you know you are pregnant the best advice is to cut out alcohol completely- different paediatricians and neonatologists have different views on this, so the safest option is complete abstinence, fortunately for many women they find they go off alcohol anyway. The most important period for abstinence is in the first three months when the fetus is developing rapidly.
So, in the light of the recent government spending review, I do hope that this neonatologist gets his funding, as we are in the middle of an epidemic of alcohol related problems

Monday, 11 October 2010

Causes of rising caearean rates?

I read an article on the BBC news site about ‘too posh to push’ being a total myth, and women overall are not demanding elective caesarean sections, but being advised to have a caesarean section when a pregnancy or labour deviates from normal, and yet the caesarean section rate is rising year on year. So, the question is, who decides what is normal and what is not? I think that there is a strong element of ‘if in doubt cut it out’ but women are not being given all the information to make a truly informed choice, and obstetricians are only too aware of litigation should a labour and birth not proceed as planned.
There is also the possibility of health professionals affecting how information is given to women during pregnancy and how that information is received- I remember a few years ago reading an article which discussed Queen Charlotte’s Professor Nicholas Fisk’s anonymous survey of 282 male and female obstetricians working in the NHS across London. Some 31 percent of female obstetricians and 8 percent of male obstetricians would request a caesarean section for themselves or their partners in the absence of any medical need. I think this is really sad as it shows that these professionals don’t have confidence in their own bodies to deal with a natural process. Some of their reasons for requesting caesarean section are cited as wishing to prevent perineal injury and stress incontinence, but they don’t consider the injury incurred by a caesarean section cutting through abdominal wall, muscle and uterus as potentially dangerous too. I have met women who still have stress incontinence even though their babies were born by caesarean section, so that argument doesn’t cut the mustard with me.
There is also the alarming increase in diabetes and obesity sweeping this country- I remember talking to a midwife who ran a clinic for diabetics- ten years ago she would see one or two clients a week, now she has whole clinics of twenty or more a couple of times a week. The ultimate result in this astronomical rise contributes heavily to the rising caesarean section rate.
Then, there is the spectre of thousands of job cuts within the NHS which were predicted earlier this year. The government promises that front line services will not be cut or affected, but, for example if you take away clerical support staff out of a ward, then the only people left to do the paperwork are nurses and midwives, and they are already drowning in a sea of paper and technology.
And then, only a few days ago several hospital trusts announced that maternity units were going to close- where will the women go who would have had their babies in these units? The answer is that they will have to go to larger hospitals where the staff are already hard pushed to provide a safe and adequate level of care.
There are many situations where, during labour or in the last weeks of pregnancy signs appear that all is not well, and the woman and her unborn baby will need extra monitoring. I suspect that in the light of further cuts to our NHS services, many of these women will be offered a caesarean section rather than the maternity unit facing an investigation into inadequate care after the event. Sadly I believe that our current overall statistic of 24% caesarean section rate will continue to rise, and the unusual birth experience will be that of normality.

So, what is the solution to the problem? I believe there is a multi faceted answer- firstly women must take responsibility for themselves, they must become healthier and eat a balanced diet, cut out alcohol and stop smoking all long before they decide to get pregnant, they should ensure that they are well informed about their pregnancy and birth by attending ante natal classes, and finding out as much information as they can through different media including the internet, joining discussion forums will help in broadening their views, and will lead to them being better prepared for labour and parenthood.
Our government must stick to its promises and save our NHS from any further cuts- yes there are ways of becoming more efficient but women will still need a good midwife to have a great birth experience. vaginal birth after caesarean gestational diabetes video

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Hamburgers or Ice-creams?

We've had some great days down here on the South Coast, the weather at times has been gorgeous, but it has been a long time coming, and those long dark days of winter are now fading into memory, so it may not seem surprising for me to start talking about hamburgers and ice creams. The Barbecue season is upon us and every day I see people cooking on their disposable barbecues down on the beach.
The thing is, I'm not talking about food at all- a couple of weeks ago I went to film Lara having a 4D scan- she was 29 weeks pregnant and had booked in to have a private detailed 4D scan of her baby, this is the second time I have filmed one of Lara's pregnancies, see Lara's previous story under GroupB strep and induction of labour, and it always makes me happy that parents call me back to film for a second or even third time, and I will be following Lara's birth story for the next few weeks and it will appear on later in the year. For the scan, Lara brought along her husband Rob and Jake- now 4- doesn't time fly?
So where do hamburgers and ice-creams come in to this I hear you say? As the sonographer smeared the gel over Lara's tummy and placed the probe over where the baby lay, one of the images that came into view was a hamburger! Lara chuckled as the scan revealed what she already suspected, "yes, it's definitely a hamburger" cried Lara as the sonographer moved the probe over Lara's bump. I'd never heard this expression before or what it meant. Well, when they scan to see the sex of the baby, if the area looks like a hamburger it's a girl and if it looks like an ice-cream it's a boy- simple really when you understand the terminology!

Tuesday, 25 May 2010


Yes, I know, the British summer is usually disappointing and that's why it always catches us unawares. It feels like only about six weeks ago that we were walking the South Downs (Devils Dyke to be precise) in three feet of snow!

It's been a perishing spring and suddenly without any warning it's summer and we've all got burnt! On Sunday I spent an hour in the garden (maybe two) and my back is now a deep burnt orange. I forgot to put the suncream on and really, genuinely believed there was no need, so I feel for the mother whose baby was found by community officers on Brighton beach and is now recovering in hospital

It seems to me that we seem to 'catch'the sun an awful lot quicker than when I was younger and so all parents need to be extra vigilant when it comes to looking after their babies and young children and protecting them from the sun. I remember many years ago when my family were very young and we went on Euro Camp to France The sun shone and we had a wonderful time except that my son who is fair skinned got sunburnt- even though I smothered him in sunscreen and covered him up in T- shirt and shorts. That evening he complained of feeling hot and sunburnt and I put caladryl on his back- (not sure why I didn't use Calamine!) The instructions said not to put it on broken skin, which it wasn't, but within seconds he was screaming and we had to run to the communal showers to cool him down. The next day his back had calmed down but he retained a butterfly like mark on his back which scabbed over just like a true burn. I worry to this day about the damage that might have done and pray he never gets melanoma. So, I suppose the moral of this tale is that you have to be extra extra vigilant when taking your babies and young children into the sunshine. Keep them covered with T-shirts, shorts and sun protective swimwear . Use at least factor 30 sunscreen and smother your babies and children in it. Keep your babies in the shade and use umbrellas and hats at all times. Remember, their skin is a lot more sensitive than an adult's, but the effects of sunburn can last a lifetime

Sunday, 9 May 2010

A clear view of birth

I haven't written my blog for sometime now and thought I ought to get on with it really! Last Monday I visited independent midwife Virginia Howes in order to film her Howes Birth Mirror
Virginia is entering a Barclays Bank competition to see if she can win the prize money in order to promote her product further afield. I think the mirror is a great invention as in the past I have filmed many waterbirths where midwives have used a conventional mirror- the downside of a conventional mirror is that it usually has an edge on it (perfect for bacteria to thrive) and is made of glass- probably something best avoided. Virginia's new mirror is made of polished steel- no sharp edges, unbreakable, and it can be sterilised in an autoclave. to view her product visit this link I for one am backing it, as it is a fantastic, simple product and will be perfect for all those women wishing to get a clear view as their baby is being born.