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Welcome! I am a certified Birth Boot Camp instructor, teaching childbirth education classes in San Diego, CA. Please wander around my blog and feel free to contact me with any questions or comments that you might have.

Our mission: Birth Boot Camp is committed to training couples in natural birth and breastfeeding through accessible, contemporary education. Birth Boot Camp is for couples, moms AND dads. You’ll learn to work together to bring your baby into this world as a team.

Review: Pregnancy: The Beginner’s Guide

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Note #1:  My original review of Pregnancy: The Beginner’s Guide was written for San Francisco Book Review and appears on their website.  I have expanded that review for this post.

Note #2:  The opinions in this post are just that: my own opinions, for better or for worse.  No one paid me to write any of this.

Being pregnant is uncharted territory for first-time moms.  For those who are looking for solid information and reassurance, Pregnancy: The Beginner’s Guide is intended for women (and their partners) who are facing pregnancy for the first time.  This guide presents an abundance of information that will aid you in having a healthy pregnancy.

The bulk of the book is presented in a typical month-by-month format, with each month featuring pages on Mom’s Journey, Baby’s Journey, and Dad’s Survival Guide (I love that there is a section for dads in each month!), as well as other sections covering topics that differ from month to month.  For example, Month 1 has a spread regarding determining the due date, Month 6 talks about the trendy idea of having a “babymoon,” and Month 8 offers advice on writing a birth plan.

The format is cute and colorful, making this book a joy to page through. There are illustrations and photos included throughout, and nearly every page includes fun facts, statistics, or pieces of advice at the top of the page.  Some of my favorite factoids include:

  • Your baby’s temperature is about 32 degrees F (0.3 degrees C) higher than your body temperature.
  • Your uterus increases 700 times in size from conception to birth.
  • At birth, babies don’t have kneecaps.  They don’t develop until after six months.

After the month-by-month chapter comes a shorter section on labor, followed by one on first days with baby and some basic advice on baby care.  The section on labor is very short indeed, and will definitely not provide a first-time mom with everything she needs to know in order to have the kind of birth she wants.

“The more prepared you are, knowing what to expect and how you might deal with discomfort, the more likely you are to relax and have confidence in your ability to manage.”

My biggest concern with this book has to do with how some of the wording and topics included (or not included) reflect a leaning towards today’s typical hospital birth.  This is very much a “mainstream” pregnancy book.  There is not much mention of important choices that must be made during pregnancy; indeed, most of the book assumes you will be giving birth in a hospital, under the care of a traditional OB.  While that may be standard for most of America, it is still disappointing to only have the occasional mention of midwives and birth centers, which are becoming more and more popular as they become more well-known options.  Home birth does get an entire two-page spread, but with the immediate caveat that the idea is opposed by the AMA and ACOG.  With doulas becoming slowly more mainstream, I kept expecting them to get a section; there were several perfect opportunities to discuss a paid labor assistant, but the only mention of hiring a doula came as an aside on one of the Natural Birth pages.

I also didn’t like how sometimes passages were worded in such a way as to indicate that these decisions would be made by your caregiver, with you as the pregnant woman having no say.  I am a big fan of informed consent when it comes to medical decisions related to your pregnancy, and while I freely acknowledge that a woman’s doctor or midwife is more knowledgeable about the medical aspects of pregnancy, I can’t help but object to any suggestion that a woman will have no part in the decision making.  Statements like “If [a membrane sweep] doesn’t work [to induce labor], an induction will be arranged during which drugs will trigger contractions” imply that a woman can’t refuse an induction if your doctor wants you to have one.  Or how about the section on “Older Moms,” which discusses how your age can affect your pregnancy?  “During labor, medical interventions and cesareans are also more common.  Try to see this extra level of care as a bonus; you and your baby are in safe hands.”  Certainly, an “older” woman undergoing pregnancy may require closer monitoring in many ways, but I do not like the assumption that labor will naturally require more interventions simply because of a mama’s age.

I was somewhat perplexed by the attention given to ultrasounds; there are two full two-page spreads devoted to them, and they are mentioned frequently elsewhere.  It’s true that many caregivers, especially OBs, do expect women to get at least one or two (or often even more), but it’s also true that many women have perfectly healthy babies without getting a single ultrasound during pregnancy.  Sometimes health insurance is reluctant to pay for an ultrasound, especially if it is medically unnecessary.  I’m not trying to claim that ultrasound can provide valuable information to caregivers during pregnancy, because it can, I simply don’t understand why this book places such emphasis on getting scans done.

Some other topics touched on include nutrition, exercise, pain relief options, newborn essentials, and cesarean sections.  For the most part, this book is pretty well-written, and it covers a wide range of topics that “most” women will want to read about during their pregnancy.  If it leaves some topics out, or focuses on some I am not interested in, or words some sections in a way that I do not agree with, well, this is more of a problem for me and my personal bias toward natural birth than it would be for most pregnant women.  Pregnancy: The Beginner’s Guide is cute, informative, and a good starter guide for many women, especially those who are planning to have a typical hospital birth.  This is not, however, a “complete” pregnancy book by any means, and would be complemented nicely by additional reading and a good childbirth education class (like Birth Boot Camp!).  I don’t expect to be adding Pregnancy: The Beginner’s Guide to my list of recommended reading for pregnant women.  But it does cover a good many important topics in a friendly way, and it is sure to appeal to many women who aren’t sure where to start.

Review: Yoga Mama Yoga Baby

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Note #1:  My original review of Yoga Mama Yoga Baby was written for San Francisco Book Review and appears on their website.  I have expanded that review for this post.

Note #2:  The opinions in this post are just that: my own opinions, for better or for worse.  No one paid me to write any of this.

Prenatal yoga has become a very popular practice in recent years, and with good reason. Practicing yoga postures helps moms-to-be stretch, get gentle exercise, and prepare for labor. I have many friends who practiced yoga while pregnant and swear by it, and I was rather dependent on my yoga DVDs toward the end of my own pregnancy. But yoga, and its complimentary science Ayurveda, have so much more to offer!

Enter Yoga Mama Yoga Baby, in which author Margo Bachman helps expectant readers to further integrate these practices into their lives. For those who know little to nothing about it (like me), Bachman offers readers an introductory course in the science of Ayurveda, which can be translated to mean “the science/knowledge of life/longevity.” She provides basic self-assessments to determine your type, along with guidelines that can help you to subtly alter your diet to be more effective for your particular body type. Whether vata, pitta, or kapha, or some combination of more than one, you will find dietary advice that will help you feel more balanced. (Note that it’s just that – advice; Bachman emphasizes that those who are uncertain of anything presented in the book should consult with a qualified health care provider.)

“The holistic diet and lifestyle recommendations of yoga and Ayurveda begin with understanding your unique constitution and how to live in harmony with it. Self-knowledge and self-care are central principles of Ayurveda and are key to real, deep, and lasting healing and health.”

The heart of the book is a month-by-month breakdown of your pregnancy. There are brief chapters on each trimester, with very basic information on your baby’s development, your own physical changes, and how your emotions might be reacting to pregnancy at this point. There are also chapters devoted to each month of your pregnancy. Each chapter has a theme of sorts, and begins with Bachman’s thoughts on that particular idea (such as protection, nurturing, and opening the heart). Readers will enjoy the journaling exercises, which delve deeper into the chapter’s theme. Each chapter also presents ideas for appropriate asana practice, breathing techniques, guided meditations, and chants.

There is also a chapter on labor and birth: asanas, marma points (pressure points), aromatherapy, and more. This book is not a definitive source of tools to help get you through labor, but there are definitely some great ideas here that some readers may not have otherwise considered!

Bachman delves briefly into the postpartum period as well. She has advice for getting through those first few months, suggestions for writing your own birth story, and, of course, Ayurveda guidelines for postpartum diet. There are recipes here for making your own herbal sitz bath, something that I know I found very soothing when I was recovering from birth! She also offers a blend to make your own postpartum tea, which will definitely appeal to many. My son is 2 years old now, and I still periodically drink my (store-bought) postpartum tea. There are basic guidelines for baby massage and a gentle asana practice, complete with pictures, to help you adjust to your new role.

“Your adjustment period will last as long as it needs to for your particular family. Accepting this uniqueness is a key piece of your recuperation.”

And then there are the appendices, which readers will surely find themselves thumbing through again and again. There are natural, gentle remedies for the discomforts of pregnancy (including some that I have not seen suggested in any of my other pregnancy books) and a simple set of food guidelines. There is an appendix full of delicious-sounding recipes, not to mention others scattered throughout the rest of the book. There is an extensive list of herbs that pregnant women should avoid and basic tutorials for the use of essential oils.

I feel that there are sections in this book that will appeal to anyone interested in a mindful pregnancy, no matter what prior experience you have (or don’t have) with yoga and Ayurveda. This book probably won’t appeal to everyone, but there is definitely a growing audience for it.

Please Pass the Salt!

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One of my biggest pet peeves is the spread of misinformation, whether unintentional or deliberate.  Here’s a topic that has come up a couple of times recently with people I know: salt consumption during pregnancy.  A common train of thought seems to be that sodium causes fluid retention, which can lead to swelling, which is a possible sign of preeclampsia, and therefore pregnant women should cut all or most salt out of their diets.

This is, quite simply, not true.  Well, not entirely true, anyway.

Mamas, you need to be eating salt during your pregnancy.  But in natural ways; the need for sodium does not give you free rein to eat all of the fast food and processed packaged junk (most of which is completely loaded with salt) that you want.  Rather, most caregivers recommend that you salt your food to taste, preferably using the highest-quality salt you can find.  If you think your soup or your egg or your whatever needs a dash or two of salt at the table, then add some, by all means!

Here’s a simplified explanation.  Yes, salt does contribute to fluid retention.  However, this is necessary during pregnancy.  Most caregivers recognize that mild fluid retention in the feet and ankles is normal during pregnancy, even somewhat desirable, since it is a sign of your body having enough extra fluid.  (Note that while swelling in the feet and ankles is normal, swelling in the arms and face is not, and should be brought to the attention of your caregiver immediately.)  This extra bodily fluid is essential for your increased blood volume; while pregnant, you have about 40% more blood in your system, and limiting your sodium intake restricts this blood volume expansion.  Cutting back on salt will not lower your risk for preeclampsia; on the contrary, it seems increase your risk, according to some studies.  Additionally, you could be hampering your placenta’s growth and potentially hurting your baby.

One of the best explanations I’ve seen regarding salt during pregnancy comes from the Brewer Diet.  But every pregnancy book I own (and I own quite a few) that mentions salt specifically is in favor of including salt in your diet to taste.

From Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn by Penny Simkin:

“Experts know that gradual, moderate water retention in pregnancy is not only normal, but the extra fluid is necessary for an adequate volume of blood and amniotic fluid.  During pregnancy, consuming an adequate amount of salt helps maintain your fluid balance.  Feel free to salt your food to taste.”

From Eating Expectantly by Bridget Swinney:

“Sodium needs increase during pregnancy because of the extra fluid your body retains to cushion your baby… Some swelling is a normal part of pregnancy; cutting your sodium below what’s recommended won’t help and may hurt.”

From The Complete Book of Pregnancy & Childbirth by Sheila Kitzinger:

“It used to be thought that salt was dangerous in pregnancy and a cause of preeclampsia, but when a group of expectant mothers were given no-salt diets, they had more preeclampsia than a control group who had as much salt as they wished.”

From Heart & Hands by Elizabeth Davis:

“Contrary to popular opinion, salt is a necessary nutrient and should be used according to taste.”

From The Pregnancy Book by Dr. Sears (and also in the section “Satisfy With Salt” on AskDrSears.com):

“Unless advised by your health-care provider, you should not restrict your salt intake while pregnant.  Salt causes your body to retain fluid, of which you need more during pregnancy… Salt your food to taste.”

From YOU: Having a Baby by Michael F Roizen:

“Women may get cravings for salt because sodium is needed to balance their extra fluid volume during pregnancy.”

And lest you think that I only own weird, non-mainstream pregnancy books, it’s worth noting that even What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Heidi Murkoff says salt in moderation is good.  Even their website says “don’t blame salt for those puffy feet.”  Here’s what the book says:

“It’s believed that some increase in bodily fluids in pregnancy is necessary and normal, and a moderate amount of sodium is needed to maintain adequate fluid levels.  In fact, sodium deprivation can be harmful to the fetus.”

Your Pregnancy, Week by Week by Glade Curtis isn’t fully on board with the idea of salt to taste during pregnancy, but even they grudgingly admit that some is important.

“You do need some [salt] every day to help deal with your increased blood volume.”

So there you have it.

Were you concerned about salt during your pregnancy?

Review: The Healthy Pregnancy Book

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Note #1:  My original review of The Healthy Pregnancy Book was written for San Francisco Book Review and appears on their website.  I have expanded that review for this post.

Note #2:  The opinions in this post are just that: my own opinions, for better or for worse.  No one paid me to write any of this.

Countless numbers of people look to Bill & Martha Sears for advice about pregnancy, birth, and child rearing. The newest addition to the Sears Parenting Library is The Healthy Pregnancy Book, which replaces their previous pregnancy book (called simply The Pregnancy Book). This new volume contains almost everything you need to have a healthy pregnancy!

They start with some of the basics on healthy living while pregnant:

  • Food: how to eat (grazing and sipping are fantastic options) and what to eat (superfoods, important nutrients, organic foods, and more), plus a few recipes such as the Pregnancy Supersmoothie
  • Weight Gain: what’s healthy for different people, where the weight goes, and why gaining too much can be bad
  • Exercise: how it’s beneficial, precautions and types of exercise to avoid, types of exercise to try, and how exercise can lead to a better birth
  • Stress: why it’s bad for mom and baby, and how you can reduce it
  • Sleep: why pregnant women often don’t sleep well and why they need more, plus ways to help get more
  • Green Living and Lifestyle Changes: why tobacco, alcohol, and drugs should be avoided; concerns about caffeine; food chemicals to avoid; and personal care products that are better for mom and baby

The book then progresses to a month-by-month study of pregnancy.  Each month’s chapter talks about how baby is growing, how you may be feeling (physically and emotionally), and concerns; the concerns span everything from physical (spotting during early pregnancy, hemorrhoids) to lifestyle (traveling, thinking about maternity leave from work) to relationships (helping Dad be more engaged, mothering other youngsters while pregnant).

I love how the book brings up choice of care providers and birth places early on; so many “mainstream” pregnancy books take for granted that you will be birthing in a hospital with an OB, and if they mention midwives and birth centers (and homebirth!) it is in a little sidebar that can be easily overlooked.  But even as The Healthy Pregnancy Book advocates a more physiological style of care (often called the midwifery model of care), it is written in such a way as to appeal to readers across the spectrum, no matter what your plans are for birth (or even if you haven’t really thought about any plans at all).  The author team, along with Dr. Sears and his wife Martha, an RN, includes both an obstetrician and a midwife, to give readers a balanced perspective.  The book covers doulas, chiropractic care, prenatal testing, childbirth classes, delayed cord clamping, birth plans, VBAC, cesareans, and so much more.

Each chapter also contains pregnancy journal pages; if you’re interested in journaling but at a loss for what to write about, here are ideas!

There is an entire chapter devoted to how hormones affect labor and birth, which is pretty neat.  This chapter also includes information on how medical interventions (such as induction and epidurals) can affect the “hormonal symphony” that is birth, which is a fascinating contrast for those who have never thought about it before.

The chapter on the ninth month covers labor and birth itself (although the Sears’ The Birth Book covers that topic in much more depth).  Readers will learn about labor stages, labor/birth positions (with illustrations), ways to help your labor progress, and more.  Perhaps one of the best parts about this book is how up-to-date and evidence based most of the information is.  Mothers are encouraged to eat small amounts of food during labor if they desire (since recent studies have provided firm proof that hospital policies of “nothing by mouth” do not improve birth outcomes), to discuss whether electronic fetal monitoring should be continuous or intermittent, to consider delayed cord clamping if possible, to use “self-regulated pushing” instead of “staff-directed pushing,” to refuse an episiotomy without a valid medical reason, and to keep upright and mobile.  A chapter also touches on the immediate postpartum period and breastfeeding, with tips on healing yourself and easing your transition into motherhood.

Only after the information about a normal, healthy labor and birth does The Healthy Pregnancy Book turn its attention to special circumstances and medical complications.  I like that the book does not focus undue attention on everything that can go wrong; the focus on normalcy and what you can do to stay healthy is a breath of fresh air compared to so many other mainstream pregnancy books the seem to reiterate in every chapter the things that you should be concerned about and when to call your doctor.  These things are not left out of this book completely (and nor should they be), but are just put at the end where readers can easily find information about their particular situation.  And the well-organized index makes it easier to locate specifically what you are looking for!

I don’t think there will ever truly be a “complete” pregnancy book, as there are just so many little things that no book can cover it all.  That being said, The Healthy Pregnancy Book does a fine job of it anyway, and will definitely be going onto my recommended reading list.  With its friendly, conversational writing style, this book is sure to be well-received by expecting parents everywhere.

Meet the Birth Center: Birth Roots

Birth Roots is a freestanding birth center located at 236 F Street in Chula Vista, California.  Founded in January of 2010, Birth Roots is in a unique position to help women of San Diego’s South Bay region by providing them with a safe, out-of-hospital option for childbirth.

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Caregivers: Birth Roots is staffed with direct-entry midwives; the midwives have served extensive apprenticeships and are very well-trained, although they have not attended formal medical school.  Sarah and Darynée have 16 years of birth experience between them.  Both are Certified Professional Midwives (CPM) as well as California Licensed Midwives (LM).  Both practice the midwifery model of care, sometimes called the physiological model of care.

“We have encountered all common complications of labor and delivery, and several uncommon complications as well. We have supported women through home, birth center and hospital births, including vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC), breech, twin, and cesarean birth. We maintain certifications in Neonatal Resuscitation and adult, infant and child CPR.”

There are also several apprentice midwives at Birth Roots, at various stages of their training.

Home Birth: Birth Roots offers home birth services for women who are interested.

Labor/Delivery/Recovery Rooms: Birth Roots has one main birth room, equipped with a spacious birth tub and a comfortable bed.  There is a second birth room as well, on the off-chance that there is ever more than one women in labor at the same time.  (As of yet, that has not happened.)  But the midwives stress that women can labor wherever they so desire in the center; the large bathroom has seen more than one baby born there.

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Standard Care During Labor:  The midwives monitor both mother and baby once they arrive at the birth center; this includes vitals, fetal monitoring as necessary, and possibly vaginal exams.  Mothers are encouraged to eat and drink throughout labor if they desire.  For the most part, the midwives to try to be as unobtrusive as possible, letting mother labor however feels best to her.  There are not “standard” procedures such as women face in most hospitals; interventions may be performed if necessary, but always on a case-by-case basis.  And, as noted before, the midwives opt to try less invasive interventions first.  Birth will be attended by at least one of the midwives, plus at least one other assistant, usually one of the apprentice midwives.

Women can birth at the center anytime up to 42 weeks gestation.

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VBAC: Birth Roots does accept women desiring VBAC on a case-by-case basis.

Pain Management:  Freedom of movement, water (showers & deep tubs), and massage can help women cope with labor pain.  The midwives also offer emotional support and a wide range of other comfort measures to help women get through labor.  Medication (such as an epidural) is not available at the birth center.

Medical Equipment on Site:  Oxygen and IV fluids are kept on site, as well as medications to control postpartum bleeding.

Transfer Rate:  When I visited Birth Roots, I was unable to get a specific transfer rate; however, it was emphasized that the overall transfer rate is very low.  The midwives are very good at keeping things “on track” even during the prenatal period, and when labor deviates from a “normal” course, they are expert at using less invasive interventions (such as position changes or getting the mother to eat/drink) to get things flowing smoothly again.  I was given an estimated transfer rate of well below 10%, but this is not an exact number.  The most common reasons for transfer are exhaustion, a need for pain medication, or true failure to progress.

Newborn Procedures:  Immediate skin-to-skin is encouraged, and mom and baby are given as much uninterrupted time as possible after birth for bonding.  A complete newborn exam is performed by the midwives.

Postpartum Care:  Families generally stay at the birth center for 4-6 hours after the birth.  The mother is checked out fairly soon after the placenta has been delivered, and will be sutured if necessary.  During the first 24 hours, the midwives check in with a phone call to see how mom and baby are doing, although they will come for a visit if needed.  There is a home visit on day 2 and again after a week has passed.  The week 2 visit may be either at home or at the birth center, and a well-baby/well-mama checkup will follow at around 6 weeks.

Breastfeeding Support:  Both of the midwives are certified lactation consultants, and they are committed to helping get breastfeeding started before the new family leaves the birth center.  Additional breastfeeding support is available during postpartum appointments, and the midwives are only a phone call away whenever questions or concerns arise.

Accreditation:  Midwife Darynée Blount is one of the founding members of the National Association of Birth Centers of Color, to the birth center is certified by that organization.  Birth Roots is not, however, accredited by the Commission for the Accreditation of Birth Centers.

Fees & Insurance:  Birth Roots uses a sliding scale to determine fees.  They do accept some PPOs, but currently no HMOs, Medi-Cal, or Tricare.

Birth Roots obviously has a lot to offer to women in San Diego’s South Bay!  Go check out their website, www.birthrootsbabies.com, to learn more.

Looking for some personal stories?  I do not know anyone personally who has given birth at Birth Roots, but here are some stories and additional reading to start with.

Birth Roots Testamonials

Birth Roots Reviews on Yelp

Our Home Birth Story (attended by midwives from Birth Roots)

Eco-Friendly and Frugal Featured Local Business: Birth Roots

Have you given birth at Birth Roots, or at home with the help of their midwives?  Tell your story here!