Another View of "Christmas Miracle" Baby

Many of us had an oxytocin moment contemplating the despair and joy experienced by Mike Hermanstorfer, the Colorado Springs man whose wife and baby died in childbirth, but were revived.

Jasmine Jafferali points out that the focus on this ultimate happy outcome overshadows the fact that the bad part of the story is an all-too-common scenario: 

Knowing the side effects of both pitocin and the epidural, Hermanstorfer's history of having unmedicated births, she probably experienced a dropped heartrate from the pitocin which may have caused her cardiac arrest upon administering the epidural. We all like the story of hearing "miracles" and they do happen, however, we have to know a little more about modern medicine and the side effects and dangers of modern drugs.

She details the known side effects of epidural drugs and Pitocin (the artificial oxytocin used to speed labor) on mother and baby. Her tacit conclusion is that while it's a miracle this mom and baby survived, it's a tragedy that so many are injured in hospital births. 

Maybe this miracle never needed to happen.

The Case for Harm from Pitocin in Labor

Christof Plothe is a doctor of osteopathy who works at a pediatric clinic in Alzy, Germany.

His paper, in press for 2010 publication in the International Journal of Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Medicine, reviews the scientific literature on oxytocin in relation to bonding between mother and child, and then examines studies showing effects of oxytocin or Pitocin (a synthetic brand) used during labor.

Plothe writes,

"For over 50 years Oxytocin has been used in modern obstetrics during  birth. Whilst the physiological aspects of the hormone have been  studied intensely the psychological mechanisms of its function have  only started to be known since the nineties of the last century. I  have been working with newborns for over a decade now and observed  fundamental differences after the oxytocin related births in the  babies, later in the adolescents and even in the adults. The  article is a summary of the contemporary research  of Oxytocin and hypothesizes that Oxytocin can have a lifelong   imprinting on the psyche when used during the delivery. 

He has observed that some children seem "oxytocin-imbalanced." These kids may be insecure, have difficulty with school work, and problems with relationships within the family. Plothe has been treating some with oxytocin, and found that such symptoms improved or even disappeared.

He calls for more studies and discussion among health professionals and researchers to try to determine how much modern birth practices may have lifelong consequences.

You can read the entire paper here: The perinatal application of oxytocin and its potential influence on the human psyche.

Odent Tells Men to Butt Out of Childbirth -- Again

I really respect Michael Odent for helping to spread the word about the importance of natural childbirth. But I find it hard to accept his reasoning that men shouldn't feel pressured to be present for the birth of their babies.

Odent made these statements more than a year ago, and he's still at it. In advance of an address at the Royal College of Midwives' conference next month, Odent is continuing to say that not only should men not feel that they should be there, they probably shouldn't be there even if they want to.

He told The Observer,

"The ideal birth environment involves no men in general. Having been involved for more than 50 years in childbirths in homes and hospitals in France, England and Africa, the best environment I know for an easy birth is when there is nobody around the woman in labour apart from a silent, low-profile and experienced midwife – and no doctor and no husband, nobody else."

Odent also told The Observer's Denis Campbell that seeing a woman in childbirth can ruin the man's sexual attraction for her. This is so disappointing. As we understand the connection between sex, love for a mate, childbirth and love for one's children, we see how oxytocin is central to each of these experiences. Therefore, they're really all part of the same thing, one big wheel of love within the family. Why would you want to leave a father out of part of this?

Certainly, a laboring woman needs to feel secure and safe. And, unfortunately, sometimes we don't feel really safe and secure with our mates. This is tragic, and if you're bringing a baby into this situation, it might be better for the man not to be there. 

But I think Odent goes way too far in saying that men have no place in the labor room.

What Babies Want

Whatbabies want ... is so simple. So, why aren't we giving it to them?

What Babies Want is a new film by Debby Takikawa, founder and director of the non-profit organization, Beginnings Inc.

Here's the synopsis:

This timely and heart-opening film brings together ground-breaking information about what babies truly are, what they know, and how we can support them to be their best as they develop and grow. The experiences we have at our births sets up our perceptive neurology and influences the way we perceive the events of our lives. These early interactions shape our human ability to learn, to trust, and to develop relationships as we grow older.

In fact, these early experiences are shaping the brain and its neurochemical responses. There's strong scientific evidence that the bath of chemicals bathing the baby's brain during labor and birth are designed to jumpstart our ability to bond with others. So it makes sense that the use of artificial oxytocin and anesthetic, isolation of the baby after birth, rough handling, anxiety and fear might set the receptors in a baby's brain in an unhealthy way.

Please help spread the word about this very important film!

Takikawa also produced and directed Reducing Infant Mortality, which you can watch free online.

Here's a link to the trailer for What Babies Want; you will need Quicktime:

Canadians Want to Get Birthing Mothers Upright

I reported before on a study by Ellen Hodnett that found that replacing hospital beds with couches or regular beds encouraged women in labor to move around and let gravity help push the baby out. The pressure of the baby's head on the cervix when the woman is upright also induces the spurts of oxytocin that create contractions to move the baby down the birth canal.

This article by Sharon Kirkey of CanWest Media examines this and other practices that hospitals can use to reduce the rising number of C-sections there.

According to the article, The Key to Changing C-Section Trend,

The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada says 20 per cent fewer caesarean sections could be performed if doctors and hospitals followed guidelines aimed at lowering unnecessary surgeries.

In rooms where a regular bed with comfy cushions replaced the hospital bed in the center of the room,

In the end, women in the ambient labour room used significantly less artificial oxytocin to speed up slow labours -- a 28 per cent drop in infusions compared to women in the standard hospital rooms.

Make Breastfeeding Part of Healthcare Reform

One very simple thing could reduce healthcare costs while making generations of healthier -- and smarter -- people: Increasing education and support for breastfeeding.

Deborah Pascali-Bonaro, director of the amazing documentary Orgasmic Birth, posted info from Making Pregnancy Safer, a World Health Organization initiative. The bottom line:

A 2001 study from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) found that the US could save $3.6 billion a year if breastfeeding rates rose to the levels recommended by the federal government, based on an assessment of just a small fraction of disease in infants. If this analysis were adjusted using the more accurate breastfeeding data now available, adjusted for inflation and raised to the medically recommended rates, the true figure would be over $14 billion per year. If the costs of childhood obesity, maternal diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease were factored in, the true cost would likely be several times that figure.

Documented health benefits for mothers as well, many of which are likely the result of an increase in oxytocin flowing through the veins, include reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes post-menopause for breastfeeding moms.

The Oxytocin Clock

Mother Mouse and Baby
Originally uploaded by danedude.

Bora Zivkovic, who blogs as Coturnix at A Blog Around the Clock, has a very interesting and informative post about a study of the relationship between oxytocin and the timing of labor and birth in mice.

Coturnix ponders the implications of Oxytocin in the Circadian Timing of Birth by Jeffrey Roizen, Christina E. Luedke, Erik D. Herzog and Louis J. Muglia. In the study at Washington University School of Medicine, the researchers compared onset of labor and birth of young in normal (wild-type) mice and oxytocin-deficient mice. When they shifted the light cycle in the lab, the oxytocin-deficient mice gave birth at random times, while there was no change in when the normal mice gave birth.

Coturnix kindly explains:

In wildtype mice, those in which oxytocin is present, the births were clustered around a single time of day. However, the phase-shifting of the light cycle did not phase-shift the timing of birth! And it also did not shift the timing of oxytocin release either. This means that the circadian rhythm of oxytocin release is driven by a pacemaker that is separate and independent from the pacemaker governing the locomotor activity. The location of this pacemaker is yet to be elucidated, but it could be a subset of cell in the SCN, or a yet-unknown clock located in the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus, or in the posterior pituitary itself. Anyway, the results support the hypothesis that oxytocin is in some way involved in the timing of birth.

Of course, in hospital births of humans, oxytocin is used very directly to shift the onset of labor and actual childbirth.

Getting Rid of Hospital Bed Better for Birth

Removing the hospital bed from rooms where women give birth reduced the use of artificial oxytocin by 28 percent in a University of Toronto study.

Just like Chekhov's gun on the wall, it seems if there's a hospital bed pretty much filling the room, the laboring woman is much more likely to stay in it -- and her doctors and nurses are also likely to focus their efforts there, according to the article in Eureka Alert.

In the study led by Ellen Hodnett and published in Birth, researchers replaced the hospital bed with a standard double bed with large, comfortable cushions. They dimmed the lights and played soothing ambient sounds, such as ocean waves.

According to the article,

"The intent was to allow the women the ability to move about freely during their labour, to permit close contact with their support people, and to promote feelings of calm and confidence," says Hodnett.

The room's furnishings encouraged women to get comfortable, instead of just lying on their backs -- considered by many to be the absolute worst position in which to give birth. In the alternative rooms, more than 65 percent of women who used them said they spent less than half the labor period in the bed, compared to 13 percent of women in standard rooms.

Hospitals Use Too Much Oxytocin During Labor

An Ohio study found that, as the use of oxytocin (or Pitocin) to speed up labor was reduced, medical outcomes for mothers and babies improved.

According to Elsevier Global Medical News, Boonshoft School of Medicine at Wright State University in Dayton nearly halved its number of emergency C-sections in a three-year period by reducing its use of oxytocin.

Many hospitals try to keep labor on a predetermined schedule by giving a steady drip of oxytocin that's increased, also according to an arbitrary schedule.

“More and more data are showing us that we are using too much oxytocin too often,” Dr. [Gary] Ventolini, professor and chair of obstetrics and gynecology at the university, said in an interview.

In normal, unmedicalized labor, a woman's body releases oxytocin in bursts. These bursts gradually push the baby down the birth canal. Because the pressure on the baby from the uterine walls  is not constant, there's less of a chance of the baby's brain being starved of oxygen.

Some people also think that the excessive oxytocin flooding the baby's body via the placenta and umbilical cord can create an allergic reaction to oxytocin, or, in another theory, set the oxytocin receptors in the baby's brain to an abnormally low sensitivity. Either of these could result in autism spectrum disorder.

Video: Pitocin, Hospital Birth and Brain Damage

This video explains how pitocin administered during labor can reduce the amount of oxygen in the placenta. Medical professionals who are monitoring the fetus don't look at the birth as a continuous process, leading to problems like cerebral palsy. Scary stuff. It's from a law firm that evidently specializes in suing for such. But still, worth hearing.