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Apr 19 13

From flat whites to feeding…

by Ann Charles
Flat white coffee with heart shape made of milk on top

I knew I had officially turned into a London media wanker when I heard myself uttering the following in a coffee shop:

“I’d like a decaff soy flat white, please.  Extra hot.”

Whilst I’m sure the Barista had …opinions on this coffee choice, she put on her professional smile, looked at the cup to ask my name (I resisted the temptation to give her something comedy – I’d embarrassed myself enough) and moved on to the next order.

Y’see, her job was to give me what I’d asked for.  Without judgement.

And my job was to take responsibility for my choice.  And then put cinnamon on top of it (they always leave you to do that last bit, don’t they?)

Ask for what you want

I was reminded of this story when I was reading another account of ‘awful’ breastfeeding support.

My general birth geekery means I sit between a number of worlds – websites and email lists with experienced feeding support workers and books and blogs with Mums working it all out.

Both groups get upset and frustrated.  I think there’s a bit of a communication misfire going on.

A common story in the newer Mum world is, “I had some problems with breastfeeding and I wanted some breastfeeding support so I went to get some breastfeeding support and they only told me about breastfeeding.  What awful people, I ended up using formula and no one told me about it and I’m very sad.”

(I’m not trying to be make light of this kind of trauma – a rocky feeding relationship is really difficult for everyone, which is why the topic ignites such passion.)

The feeding supporters are more like, “I had a Mum come to see me and she’d been sent all round the houses by different people telling her nonsense and I listened to her story and my heart broke at what she’d been through.  She asked for some help with breastfeeding so we had a chat through her options and I suggested a few different positions she could try.  I hope things are working out for her.”

Breastfeeding baristas

Simply put, the Mum had asked the barista for a latte.  She’d got a latte.  The barista thought that what she wanted was a latte, so she made the best latte that she could.

But what was actually happening was that the Mum had heard that lattes were quite good but wasn’t sure if a macchiato would have been better.  Or maybe an espresso.  Grande or tall?  In a paper cup or a mug?

Ordering coffee is bloody confusing and everyone seems to have an opinion of the best way of doing it.

And aren’t these baristas meant to be coffee experts?!  Why didn’t they tell me about caramel shots?!…

If you can order a coffee, you can ask for help

If you know what you want, take a deep breath, look the barista in the eye and order the decaff soy flat white, extra hot.  They’ll give it to you.  It’s their job.

If you’re not so sure, ask your barista to explain the options.  They’d be delighted to help and show off their extensive knowledge.

You wouldn’t expect someone in a coffee shop to hand you an orange juice if you’d just ordered a Viennese with an extra shot.

And a breastfeeding counsellor wouldn’t expect to start giving you information on bottle feeding if you’d just asked her for advice on getting a better latch.

Moral of the story: if you’d like a cappuccino, don’t order a latte.  And if you’d like to chat through the pros and cons of formula feeding with a (breast)feeding counsellor, you need to tell them because they are not psychic!

And then, for heaven’s sake, sit down with them afterwards and have a nice cup of tea.  Coffee’s just too damn complicated.

Have you had a session with a breastfeeding counsellor?  Are you a breastfeeding counsellor?  What is your top piece of advice for being as clear as possible with what you’d like to find out?  Please leave a comment with your example so we can share the knowledge and reduce frustration!

I write (breast)feeding counsellor because despite their name, feeding support workers and volunteers will have knowledge of breast and bottle feeding.  The role titles can be a bit confusing but there’s a guide to the different kinds of feeding supporter here.

Picture credit: Damian Cugley

Apr 12 13

5 Ways That Water Can Make Birth Brilliant

by Ann Charles
Black and white photo of a hand held open under a running tap over a silver sink

Wat-er Wonderful World – here are five ways you can use water to support pregnancy and birth.

1.    Go swimming in it

Exercise can make you feel better, keep you fit and the buoyancy of water can help if you are feeling more like a whale than normal (I’m sure you look gorgeous).

Plus there might be an exercise class like Aquanatal where you can meet other pregnant Mums.

Having a support network and feeling part of a community are also good for our overall wellbeing, so double-win.

2.    Relax in it

I’ll admit a bias here.  I’m doing some training to be a Watsu® practitioner.  ‘Watsu®’ is ‘Water-Shiatsu’ but it basically means ‘lie in a nice warm pool while someone holds you in their arms and gently floats you about for an hour until you are so relaxed you don’t even know what your name is’.

Stress-busting and excellent for pregnant Mums – sounds like something to start dropping hints about as a potential present… (contact me if you’d like more info.)

3.    Use it for pain relief

There is great evidence that relaxing in warm water during labour reduces perceptions of pain.  You can use a special birthing pool to labour in or if space is tight, hop in the shower.  Some women also choose to give birth in the pool (it’s OK, the baby won’t start breathing until she/he hits the air, so won’t drown).

You can hire birth pools for use at home and many hospitals and birth centres now have pools on site.

For more information on waterbirth, check out Waterbith International’s information pages.

Some women also find that visualising a picture of crashing waves can help during contractions.  Even in the mind, water can still work wonders!

4.    Get your flannel out

A cheap and easy tip for labour?  Buy some low-cost flannels before the day.  Prime your birth companion to dip them in some cold water to put on your forehead or the back of your neck if you suddenly start feeling really hot.  Nice and refreshing (and it will make your partner feel useful).

5.    Drink it!

Obvious, but easy to forget.  Even though some American hospitals still ban women from eating and drinking in labour, the evidence suggests that you need to drink normally.  You wouldn’t run a marathon without a sip of water and giving birth is hard work.

If you are giving birth in a hospital, these can be very hot and stuffy places to be – this alone is dehydrating.  Try taking some bottles of water with you, which you can refill (your birth partner will probably need their own supplies as well).

An advantage of drinking water in labour?  It means you need to wee!  This is great, as not only does it make sure you move every so often to head to the bathroom, it also stops your bladder from becoming full.  Every little bit of space helps to get the baby out.

References and further geekery:

Wellbeing: MIND – Physical_activity

Action For Happines – 10 steps

Waterbirth evidence: Evidence Based Birth’s Waterbirth research sheet

Visualising waves: Byrom, S.  (2011).  Catching Babies: A Midwife’s Tale.  Ebook: Headline Publishing Group.

Morgan, M.  (2005).  Hypnobirthing.  London: Souvenir Press.

Eating and drinking in labour: Cochrane review

NCT roundup

Empty bladder: Gaskin, I. (2002).  Spiritual Midwifery.  Summertown: Book Publishing Company.

Thanks to gagilas for the photo of the tap.

Did you try any of the above suggestions in labour?  Which one worked best?  Please share your experience in the comments below!

Apr 5 13

Why knitted breasts just don’t do it for me

by Ann Charles
Knitted breasts - one pink, the other brown

This post might be quite controversial.

But I have to admit a secret to you.

I have a real thing about knitted breasts.

Not in a pervy way.

I just don’t get why we’re still using them to teach parents about breastfeeding.

Obsession with knitted goods

It’s not just knitted breasts.  Go to an average antenatal class, and parents will also be greeted by an enthusiastic course leader waving about a knitted vagina, amongst other woollen offerings.

You can also buy knitted uteri and even a ‘knappy‘.  Yep, knitted poo, people!

(I have a secret admiration for this.  Someone sat down, worked out how to do a pattern and even looked up the colour charts for the right poo levels.  That’s dedication to the cause of ante-knittal education.)

1970s retro

They have their place, of course.  Pretend boobs can be a great visual tool for demonstrating a baby’s latch, and knitted ‘vaginas’ can show how the cervix draws up during labour in a fairly non-disgusting way.

Plus it’s normally better to use a prop than for a course leader to point at their own bodily anatomy.

But we have iPads nowadays.  Are knitted goods really the most effective way to get the message across?

The ‘heritage of knitting and birth’

I mentioned my reservations about woolly teaching aids to a Midwife, once.  She got all offended and went on about the ‘heritage of knitting and birth’.  (This can be summed up as: Midwives knitting during labour is an age-old tradition which keeps their hands busy and reassures labouring women that all is well, whilst allowing the birth attendant to keep a gentle eye on the woman.  Plus you get a hat for the baby at the end.)

I have nothing against knitting.  My mother has a bit of a track record with making gorgeous baby cardigans for friends with newborns.  I would be delighted if a Midwife brought a knitting bag with her during labour.

My point is that the world of pregnancy and birth is pretty alien to most people.  It can be frightening to face the prospect of transforming from being an individual or a couple with high levels of control over their lives to full-time parents.  We’ve lost touch with what it takes to bring up a child – and many professional people don’t encounter knitted products in their every day lives.  Surely there is a slightly cooler way of explaining the amazing-ness of our bodies without resorting to handicrafts*?

Rite of passage

I am prepared to be told I have got this horribly wrong.  I am prepared to change my mind.

However, right now I can’t help but think that it’s just a massive rite-of-passage conspiracy into parenthood.

I bet those antenatal teachers have got loads of ways of explaining how women’s bodies work.

But bring out something weird and act like it’s totally normal?  That’s the way to get the group to bond.

Have I cracked it?

What’s the weirdest prop you’ve come across at an antenatal class?  Please put it in the comment below and explain how (or if) it helped.  And then feel free to share the post so we can gather more randomness!

Original photo by vinzcha.

*Yes yes, I know handicrafts are cool again.  I’m just jealous because I’m rubbish at them.

Mar 29 13

Midwifery on TV

by Ann Charles
Television by Andy Beez

It’s been a week of birth being featured in the media.

As it’s heading for the long Easter weekend, here’s a quick selection of some of the coverage you may have missed (with some links for catching up).

Home Delivery

Homebirth was in the spotlight last week as ITV’s Home Delivery followed Midwife Virginia Howes as she cared for three different couples preparing to give birth at home.

I loved this programme so much I watched it twice.  It’s rare to see normal (intervention-free) birth on mainstream television and the families were so generous in allowing access to the cameras.

There were some lovely moments – the mother explaining to her son what the sieve was for in a waterbirth; the husband who adored his wife and was so tender and protective towards her.

People often think that homebirthers are taking a ‘risk’, but the programme also demonstrated that when things don’t go as planned (a baby having trouble starting to breathe) that the Midwife is still on hand to help and have additional medical assistance on standby.

I also loved the moment when Virginia was saying that she wasn’t sure if she could see the baby’s head.  “It is the head!” said the Mum.

A timely reminder that women are the experts in their own bodies.

Home Delivery is available to watch on ITV Player for the next few days – and if you liked the programme and want more like it, you can email a request to ITV’s viewer services.

Midwives on the March

Virginia Howes is an Independent Midwife, so the airing of Home Delivery was topical in a week where Midwives, parents, Doulas and other birth supporters were marching on parliament to demonstrate against the ending of Independent Midwifery.

The protest sparked a debate on the English language service of The Voice of Russia.

OK, I say ‘debate’.  It was pretty one-sided, but interesting nonetheless.

You can hear the programme online – it’s about half an hour long.

Virginia was also featured as part of an item on BBC Radio 5 live’s Bump Club (26th March edition) – it starts at about 10’40” in.

Mothers and experts discussed Midwifery care and agreed that continuity of care is an important factor in pregnancy and birth – although it’s becoming rarer on the NHS.

Delightful Doulas

Continuity of care is something important to Doulas – and may be the secret of their success!

The 21st-28th March is also World Doula Week, which meant that Doula UK got a lot of coverage on social media.

(Doulas are birth supporters who provide emotional – but not medical – support to women in labour and in the period after a baby is born).

There were numerous videos posted to YouTube from clients explaining how a Doula had helped them.

Doula UK has also announced a partnership with Hestia, a charity for women who have suffered domestic violence.

Women involved in the project spoke to Jenni Murray on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour.  I learned a lot from the feature – including that women who are pregnant are more at risk from domestic violence.  It’s awful to think about but good to know that Doulas in London are going to be able to offer their services for free to women in this situation if needed.

The World Doula Week celebrations continued on Facebook, with numerous posts about the work Doulas do and an active hashtag on Twitter – #DUKWDW.

So all in all, this Birth Geek has been in media heaven!

Thanks to Andy Beez for the picture of the television.

Did you catch any of the coverage?  How important is the image of birth in conveying information to parents?  Have your say in the comments below!

Mar 22 13

Birth Geeking with the next generation

by Ann Charles
Kemi and Ann

I’ve had an amazing evening tonight.

I got to meet one of my birthy heroes, and share her knowledge with some young people who are very special to me.

I’ve been a leader with Girlguiding for almost 12 years.

As well as being a fantastic organisation for young women, Girlguiding – through the international umbrella body, WAGGGS (World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts) – runs activities with international development themes as a focus.

A theme for this year is maternal and child health.  My Guide group has done some activities looking at the different provisions for pregnant women in first and third world countries.  One of our challenges was to speak to a Midwife.

Step forward Kemi, the amazing woman behind Invisible Midwives.  I thoroughly recommend her posts on Facebook.

Being an all round lovely (and brave) person, Kemi kindly agreed to come along to my Guide meeting to have a chat to the 10-14 year olds.

We warned the parents and Guides in advance, as per guiding policy.  Although we did have to reschedule our first planned session, as Kemi had to catch a baby that day (what a wonderful reason)!

Junior Red Tent

What followed was a wonderful chat.  Kemi explained a bit about what she did and how women’s bodies work to get the baby out.  We all had a bit of a giggle the first time someone used the word ‘vagina’.

We moved on to birthing positions.  ‘What would be the worst position in which to give birth?’, we asked.  “Standing on your head,” replied a smart ten year-old.

The girls decided they thought Louis XIV was a bit cruel.  I can’t see any of them being told to lie on their backs so the King could watch them give birth

The older girls worked out that standing up would be a good position for having a baby, as gravity would help you.  We moved onto waterbirth – why wouldn’t the baby drown?  The benefits of delayed cord-clamping and needing to do your own research soon followed.

A ‘real, live pregnant lady’!

We were also honoured to be joined by a Mother of one of the Guides, who handily is pregnant at the moment.  She very kindly allowed Kemi to help some of the Guides feel the baby in her tummy, and Kemi demonstrated how to find the heartbeat.  We all got to hear the difference between the ‘whoosh whoosh’ sound of the placenta and the ‘clip clop’ of the baby’s heartbeat.


To round things off, Kemi showed a video of a waterbirth.  We had a chat about the noises women make in labour, and the difference between effort and pain.  The waterbirth happened to be at home, so this prompted a discussion about homebirth.  Kemi suggested to the girls that wherever they decide to give birth in the future (should they choose to have children), they need to:

“Surround yourself with people that love you.”


Ultimate feminists

As the ‘ultimate feminist’ organisation, I’m proud that we are able to talk to the girls in this way.  There’s something special about being a girl-only space.  We made it very clear that we don’t expect any of the girls to have children – unless they want to!  But I hope that after tonight they will have a few positive images in their mind, should they ever decide to take that step when they are older.  Much older!

It’s OK, next week we plan to make giant towers out of newspaper and eat chocolate until we’re sick.  So it’ll be pretty much back to normal.

Although I am starting to write the syllabus for a ‘Red Tent‘ badge in my head…

Have you ever done birth education with teen/tweenagers?  How did it go?  Please let me know by leaving a comment below!

Mar 15 13

Some really useful information on where to give birth…

by Ann Charles
BirthChoiceUK screenshot

Last week, a friend on Facebook posted a link to the BirthChoiceUK website.  I’d not heard of this resource before, so clicked through and had a look.

It’s amazing.

A team of lovely people has been going through all the statistics for each hospital and midwifery centre that provides birth facilities on the NHS and has created sets of data which you can sort by local area or hospital facility.

They’ve also put in the national statistics for information, and some details on how they gathered their data.

This would be really useful information if you are currently the proud owner of a bump as it allows you to get a sense of how medicalised the birthing environment in your local establishment is likely to be*.

It’s also great if you’re just a bit nosey.

Above average interventions

Being in the latter category, I eagerly put in the details of my nearest hospital, and discovered that the caesarean rate was 36.3%.

Wait – 36.3%?  That means over one in every three women giving birth there ends up with major abdominal surgery.

(Now don’t get me wrong – caesareans can be amazing, life-saving operations and we are so blessed to have free access to skilled practitioners of that operation in the UK.  But 1/3 of all births ending up in this operation is very high).

Hang on, I thought – what if this is a teaching hospital and gets more of the ‘high-risk’ cases in the area?  Perhaps a fairer thing to check would be the instrumental delivery rate (how many mothers and babies needed a bit of help to complete the last bit of birth – e.g. by using forceps, which are a kind of salad tong designed for helping babies out, or ventouse, which is a suction cup applied to the baby’s head).


Compare that with a hospital a few miles away (the only one in the area to achieve full Baby Friendly status).  Their instrumental delivery rate is 12.8%.  Go a few miles in a different direction, and you get a hospital with instrumental delivery at 7.1%.

Although you probably won’t choose your place of birth by numbers alone, this kind of stuff is useful to know.

What’s the ideal?

Clearly, there are going to be variations in the numbers of interventions used (hospitals specialising in higher risk people will need to use more medical procedures than Midwife-led units specialising in ‘low risk’ pregnancies).  But what are the ‘ideal’ numbers against which each unit should be measured?  How do we know what’s ‘too high’ or ‘too low’ (gut instinct aside)?

The numbers that most people use as a benchmark are those devised by the World Health Organisation (WHO).  They wrote a report in the 1980s which said that countries should aim for a caesarean rate of not higher than 10-15%.

However, in 2009, WHO has said that it doesn’t think we should use these numbers any more, although countries can ‘continue to use a range of 5-15%’ (unless they choose their own number).  So maybe our gut instincts aren’t such a bad idea after all…

(The idea of a minimum percentage is that if your country’s medical intervention rate was zero, that would be bad, as it would mean you didn’t have any medical facilities for specialised help where it was needed.  I can’t find any research for ‘ideal’ numbers of instrumental deliveries, but if you know more, please leave a comment below).

Birth outside of hospital

Where do you find information on the statistics if you are not intending to give birth in a hospital setting?  The BirthChoiceUK website has details for facilities run by Midwives (these will have very low caesarean rates listed as if you needed an operation, you’d be transferred to a hospital).  It also has home birth stats by area (click the ‘Go to detailed statistics menu’ button in the region maternity statistics list).

If you are planning a home birth and want some additional numbers, then the Birthplace Study provides a useful comparison of birth outcomes at home, in Midwife-run facilities not at home, and in hospital.  One of its findings was that women will have fewer interventions if they birth at home than in hospital.  The study compared women with a similar risk profile (low) so that there was a smoothing of the results to ensure a more even comparison between birth location and outcomes.

I’m not aware of any statistics for Community Midwifery teams around the country, but you could always ring your local Midwives and ask them for their stats.  Independent Midwives may also be able to give you their own statistical information if asked.

Other birth stats

As with community teams, if you are intending to give birth in a private hospital (or you are in America), contact them directly and ask for the numbers – by individual doctor if necessary.  For extra geek points, have a look at the statistics of The Farm Midwifery Center in Tennessee, run by the world-famous Midwife, Ina May Gaskin.  Their results have often been used to highlight the advantages of continuous, one-to-one care in helping to ensure good outcomes for mother and baby.

Numbers overwhelm

The above is just a bit of geeky enthusiasm to show you some possible places to find out more details about the birth establishments in your area.  You can’t really compare academic studies with personal lists, or one hospital directly with another, as there will always be particular reasons why the numbers fall a certain way.  I posted the details in case they are useful – your own local tours, chats to parents in the area and gut instinct will let you know where you want to give birth.  And your baby may just decide to turn up somewhere unexpected anyway!

*There’s nothing wrong with having a more medicalised birth, if that’s what you want or need.  It’s just good to know what kind of ‘vibe’ your local birth facilities are likely to have before you make a shortlist of places to visit.

Quick challenge: look up the stats for your local birth facility and post your gut instinct [polite!] reaction in the comments below.  I look forward to hearing from you!

Mar 8 13

Independent Midwifery – the end of choice?

by Ann Charles
Pregnant belly with four hands hugging it

As you may already know, Independent Midwives may no longer be able to practise after October 2013.

This is because there are some rules coming into force which means it will be compulsory for all healthcare professionals to have Professional Indemnity Insurance (PII).

Due to the costs involved, nobody has been willing to insure Independent Midwives, so this effectively means that once the rules change, the option to have a self-employed Midwife during labour will no longer be available to women in the UK.

The background to all of this is explained in a way much better than I can do on the Birthrights website.

Um, Ann – what the hell is an Independent Midwife?

Glad you asked!  An Independent Midwife (IM) is someone who is qualified and registered as a Midwife but is self-employed.  Most Midwives in the UK work for the NHS, and there are some private Midwives who work for other companies (e.g. private maternity hospitals).  An IM works outside of both of those models (although some also do cover work elsewhere).

IMs have the same registration and supervision standards as any other Midwife; the only difference is that they are their own boss when it comes to doing the tax returns!  Although in theory they can provide any type of Midwifery care, a lot of IMs are very focussed on women-centred models with the emphasis on normality.  They tend to specialise in home births and there are several who have become expert in breech (bottom or feet-first) and vaginal twin/triplet birth.  It’s becoming harder to find this expertise within the NHS.

Right, lovely.  So – why the fuss?

There’s a shortage of Midwives in the UK at present.  Forcing IMs to have insurance which is impossible to obtain will mean that they can no longer be hired by women for support during labour.  Although there is some insurance available for antenatal and post-natal work, it is unlikely that as many women will hire IMs if they aren’t able to have them as their Midwife in labour.  So this makes it likely that many IMs will leave the profession at a time when the country already needs more trained maternity staff.

In addition, there are some concerns that even if insurance were available, healthcare professionals might have to comply with the terms of the insurance.  So there’s an ideological point about whether or not private companies should be allowed to dictate what can and can’t be done by a qualified healthcare practitioner.

Hypothetical example: a healthcare professional is allowed to offer Miracle Treatment X by her professional governing body.  However, no insurance provider will cover Miracle Treatment X if it is done on a Wednesday.  Can the healthcare professional offer Miracle Treatment X on Wednesdays?

If the answer is ‘no’, then that’s a restriction on the treatment choices available to the public.

(I have not been able to unpick the wording to be able to tell if the regulations mean a healthcare professional has to have insurance, or whether they have to have insurance and abide by the coverage of the insurance.  If you know the answer, please leave a comment below!)

But what’s wrong with NHS Midwives?

Nothing!  There are wonderful Midwives working in the NHS.  However, if a woman wants to have dedicated one-to-one care, or has a birth type that the NHS finds hard to support, then they currently have a choice – to book with an IM.  If IMs vanish, then we lose another option for how to ‘do’ Midwifery in the UK.

But isn’t having insurance a good thing?  What if something went wrong?

There is an argument which says that having insurance is a good idea.  At present, if there’s an incident which leaves a child or parent with severe injuries or disabilities, you would not be able to sue an IM backed by an insurance provider for compensation, because s/he wouldn’t have one.

IMs currently inform their clients of their lack of insurance.  If a client were to sue, then the IM’s own house and property would be on the line.  It could be argued that this provides a better level of protection than conventional insurance – the Midwife’s entirely worldly goods are at stake if anything goes wrong.  However, any compensation awarded may not total as much as an insurance company payout and a family might be less comfortable with suing an individual v suing an individual covered by an insurance firm.

I have an opinion on this.  What do I do?

There are several options:

1)   Complete the Department of Health consultation on the introduction of mandatory insurance for healthcare professionals.

Tip: If you are only commenting on Midwifery, there’s a button on one of the earlier questions which allows you to flag up that your comments should be read with Midwifery specifically in mind.  The form also seems to hide the questions right at the bottom on some pages.  To make sure you don’t miss a question, ignore all the ‘next’ buttons until you have scrolled right to the bottom of each page.

2)   Write to your MP.

3)   For those who wish to show their support of Independent Midwives, there is a ‘Peaceful Protest’ being organised on the 25th March 2013 in London.

4)   Consider adding your name to the e-petition requesting that the government provides a way to meet the insurance requirement for IMs.

5)   Talk to your contacts in the insurance industry – are there any firms who could be persuaded to provide cover?

6)   Talk to any very rich people you know – can anyone start an insurance fund?

I am not advising you to have an opinion one way or the other but if you wish to take part in the consultation, the deadline is the 17th May 2013.

If you’d like to see an Independent Midwife in action, then watch ITV’s Home Delivery at 9pm on Thursday, 21st March 2013.

The photo used in this article is by Joelle Inge-Messerschmidt.

What do you think? Should insurance for Independent Midwives be compulsory?  Have I missed an important detail on the background to all this?  Please have your say in the comments below!

Mar 1 13

Colostrum on the radio

by Ann Charles
Superfood for Babies front cover (Save the Children)

A couple of weeks ago, Save the Children published a report into ways to prevent infant death.  It focussed on the developing world and one of its main recommendations was that mothers should be encouraged to feed their babies colostrum (the first type of breastmilk that mothers make).

In some countries, feeding colostrum is culturally taboo and the authors think that babies die as a result.  The report outlined some barriers that women face in being able to get the correct information about feeding choices and covered additional suggestions such as improved maternity leave.

I know this because I read it.  The whole thing.  It was very thought-provoking and included interesting snippets about how firefighters and postal service workers are involved to support breastfeeding in Brazil.  Honestly!

Media review

Judging from some of the reaction in the UK, however, I wonder how many people ploughed through those 75 pages.  Most of the commentary here focussed on a small section of the report recommending that the existing warnings on breast milk substitutes (aka formula) be made large enough to cover one third of the tin.  The rest of the coverage then emphasised how much ‘guilt’ UK-based bottle-feeding women might have if they read reports about the health benefits of breastfeeding (I wonder if they’d missed the sections about how it was focussing on the global context or listing several reasons why women might have difficulties in being able to be correctly supported to breastfeed?)*

Loquacious Lactator wrote a summary of the coverage, contrasting the Daily Mail’s focus on ‘cigarette-style health warnings’ with the coverage of the Telegraph, which featured a story of a UK-based mother who had had feeding issues.

LL also pointed out that the Guardian seemed to be one of the few places that had put the story into its international context.


Pink Radio - picture from LoopZilla

Picture by LoopZilla

There’s one piece of coverage that I didn’t see get much mention, and I’d really like to flag it up.

Mike Thomson from the BBC did an excellent report which was broadcast on Radio 4’s Today programme.  A longer version of it can be found here:  I feel it puts the Save the Children findings into real context, as it focuses on a village in South Sudan and uses personal accounts to show several sides to the story.

Cue a blogpost change of tack:

I’ll be honest.  I’m a radio person.  As much as I’m a birth geek, I’m also a radio geek.  I’ve worked in the industry for over a decade and this kind of audio is the reason I’m addicted to it.  So forgive me for a bit of background as to why I think this report is so well crafted, never mind the content (it’s no wonder that Mike has won so many Radio Academy Sony Awards):

1)   The sound takes you there.  Notice the rich use of atmos (atmospheric sound) under each section of interview.  He lets it breathe.  The listener is given time to imagine themselves in each new location before the voices begin.

2)   Descriptive links.  He tells you what he can see in a way that brings the scene straight to your brain.  ‘Under a giant tree…’ – you’re there!

3)   Hearing real people.  Reading reports is all very well, but a bit abstract.  Real stories – told by human voices, from their own viewpoint, really helps to build a picture of empathy and understanding.  There’s nothing like seeing something with your own eyes, and a well crafted radio report is like tagging along with the person covering the story.  If you can’t be there yourself, being ‘shown’ by someone else is the next best thing.

4)   Inclusion of other viewpoints, told from first-hand witnesses.  We hear why some people locally in South Sudan don’t agree with the suggestions to feed colostrum.

5)   There is one question in the report that is utterly powerful.  I can’t put my finger on why, but it’s the section that has had me listening to this audio again and again, and thinking about it in the shower and then coming back to it a few days later.  Mike asks a woman who is against the feeding of colostrum if any of her children made it to adulthood.  “Three of them died,” she said.  And then there’s a pause.

If you haven’t listened yet, I urge you to take six and a half minutes and do so now!

(Disclosure:  I work for the same organisation that Mike does but I was not involved in the coverage in any way.  I slightly preferred the shorter version which went out on Today as it was a bit tighter.  I’m not writing on behalf of my employer or any organisation, not responsible for external links, yadayada.  Please keep any comments kind.  Thank you.)

(*The lack of support for western women needing to formula-feed is a separate issue, for which see Birth, Boobs and Bad Advice or Fearless Formula Feeder.)

What do you think?  Radio geeks – what’s your take on Mike’s report?  Birth geeks – how did you find the overall coverage?  Did you read the Save the Children report in full?  Please let me know in the comments below!

Feb 22 13

Changing the world

by Ann Charles
WAGGGS World Thinking Day 2013 logo

Happy World Thinking Day!

I thought the 22nd February was an apt time to start this blog, as it’s the date where members of The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) celebrate Girl Guiding and Scouting and pledge to take action for the world.

Being the Birth Geek and also an active Guide leader with Girlguiding UK, this seemed like the perfect day to start posting.

Why?  Well, this year’s theme for World Thinking Day is twofold: Reducing child mortality, and Improving maternal health.

It makes perfect sense.  As one of the largest international organisations for girls and young women, these issues will affect all of WAGGGS’s members and their communities around the world.

In fact, with ten million members worldwide, WAGGGS is considered such a force for good that it has representation on the United Nations.

Yep, you read that right.  Your local Brownies and Guides are doing activities and projects to assist the UN.

Pretty cool.

The topics of maternal health and reduced child mortality go hand in hand.  Improve a mother’s health and ante/postnatal care and the chances of her children surviving are vastly increased.  In fact, these two topics are part of the web of actions that form the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs): the UN’s vision for improving the world by 2015.

To celebrate World Thinking Day, Brownies, Guides and Girl Scouts all over the world will have celebration events.  As well as thinking about their guiding friends in other countries (and, if they are anything like my Guides, eating lots of chocolate), they will also take part in activities to learn about the focus MDGs.

For example. at our local World Thinking Day party, the 5-7 year olds played a game where they covered their hands in glitter and shook hands with as many people as possible.  The glitter represented germs to show how easily disease could spread.  They they had to time how long it would take to wash all the glitter off with soap and water, and had a chat about the importance of washing your hands and what might happen if you lived in a country where there wasn’t great sanitation.

Brilliant.  Fun, memorable, and you get to run round with glitter whilst learning about international issues.  What’s not to like?

If you would like to see the kind of activities girls and young women around the world will be trying as part of this year’s World Thinking Day, the resource packs can be found here: (Child Mortality pack) and here: (Maternal health).

Changing the world: so simple, a five year-old can do it.

Inspired to join in?  Please let me know which activity you tried from the pack and what you learned from it in the comments below!