Sheryl Jesin

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Birth Matters! Part I

In March, I had the honor of attending a day long seminar at the University of Toronto given by Ina May Gaskin. Ina May is a world renowned midwife, called the “midwife of modern midwifery”. She has practiced midwifery for almost 40 years at the Farm Midwifery Centre in Tennessee. She is the author of some of my personal favorite books about birth and breastfeeding, including Spiritual Midwifery, Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding and her newest book, Birth Matters.

I first came across Ina May after my first son, Dylan, was born.   A few months after his birth, I was browsing the aisles of a local bookstore, and stumbled upon Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. I picked it up and flipped through the pages, and could not put it down!   I had never read a book about natural childbirth before, and found it so fascinating.  So many of the principles Ina May speaks about in the book rang true to me and helped shed light on my birth experience with Dylan.   The book inspired me to do things differently for my next birth – I knew after reading it that I wanted a midwife, rather than an OB, as my health care provider and I wanted to try and have a natural, drug free birth.   As mentioned in an earlier post, my second birth experience was fantastic, and I definitely owe a lot of that to Ina May!!

So when I heard that Ina May would be speaking in Toronto, I had to go!  Benjamin and I headed down to UofT very early that Saturday morning.  The seminar was all day – from 8:30-4:30 pm, which is a long time to be out with a 3 month old.  But I was determined to go.   I’m so glad that I did – Ina May is a wonderful speaker and is truly an inspiration!

Ina May Speaking

Ina May spoke on a number of different topics – breastfeeding, labour, birth and the post partum period.   She spoke so frankly, and so openly, sprinkled with humour and personal stories.  The day focused on many ideas from her new book Birth Matters.  

I love the opening of Birth Matters.   On page 1, Ina May tells us why we should care about birth:

Birth Matters.  It matters because it is the way we all begin our lives outside of our sources, our mothers’ bodies.  It’s the means through which we enter and feel our first impressions of the wider word.  For each mother, it is an event that shakes and shapes her to her innermost core.  Women’s perceptions about their bodies and their babies’ capabilities will be deeply influenced by the care their receive around the time of their birth.

My Signed Copy of Birth Matters

Ina May shared many positive birth stories.  So often, moms-to-be hear horror stories about pain or about something that went wrong, and not often enough do we share the positive stories!  Ina May says:

I have found it helpful, even necessary, to tell positive birth stories.   This is one of the best ways for women to learn the kids of things that may help or hinder labor and birth.  Stories teach in memorable ways.  In that sense, they are much more valuable than rote learning and memorization.

I agree!  I was really moved by the natural birth stories I had read in Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth.    Before reading that book, every birth story I heard involved an OB, a hospital and an epidural.   I was fascinated by all of the “regular” women in Ina May’s book who gave birth naturally.   If they could do it, why couldn’t I?

In addition to birth stories, Ina May spoke about the importance of birth images and watching videos and seeing pictures of birth.   Interestingly, Ina May showed a You Tube video – The Dramatic Struggle For Life.  It is a video of an elephant giving birth in an animal park in Bali.  (Just warning you that you have to sign in to prove you are over 18 – but it is well worth the effort!)  Ina May suggests that pregnant women view this video, along with other videos of large mammals giving birth.  It’s fascinating to see how birth happens naturally in nature.  Ina May points out how the elephant shifts her weight from foot to foot as she labours.  The elephant also opens her mouth when her baby begins to emerge from her body.   These are two things that humans can do to assist the birth process!  Being in a standing position and shifting weight from side to side helps the baby descend and be in the optimal position. (I definitely remember doing this during Benjamin’s birth. It wasn’t something that my midwives or doulas suggested, I just did it instinctually!)  Opening your mouth helps to relax your body and open up the cervix.  It’s amazing how similar we mammals are when it comes to birth.   The video also demonstrates how the mother figures out how to stimulate her baby to breathe – something she accomplishes without having taken a course in neonatal resuscitation.  Unbelievable really!  We have a lot to learn from this elephant.

I have more to say about Ina May and what I learned at her talk, but if I try to capture everything, I will never publish this blog post.   So consider this to be Part I…Part II (and possibly Part III and IV) to follow at a later date!


Top 10 Ways to Get Breastfeeding Off To a Good Start

Welcome to the March Carnival of Natural Parenting: Natural Parenting Top 10 Lists

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared Top 10 lists on a wide variety of aspects of attachment parenting and natural living. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


I am often asked by moms-to-be what they can do to prepare for breastfeeding during pregnancy and what they can do during the early days and weeks to ensure that they are able to breastfeed.   While breastfeeding is certainly natural, it is not always easy.   Here are my top 10 tips to help breastfeeding get off to a good start:

  1. Attend a La Leche League (LLL) meeting (or two, or three or four!) during pregnancy – Going to a meeting can be a great way to meet other breastfeeding moms who live near you.   You will hear what it’s really like in the early weeks, and you will learn from the experiences of other moms.  Your group leaders can also be a great resource to you once your baby is born – either via email or phone.
  2. Buy a good baby care or breastfeeding book – Two great books are Dr. Sears’ The Baby Book or LLL’s Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. I found both books full of really useful information about breastfeeding specifically and about taking care of a baby in general.  What I like best about both books is that they empower moms to trust their own mothering instincts and listen to their babies.
  3. Have minimal medical interventions during labour and delivery – Interventions such as c-sections, forceps or vacuum delivery, episiotimies, epidurals and IV lines can all lead to a more difficult recovery during the postnatal period for a mom.   In addition, a natural birth reduces the likelihood that the baby will have to be separated from the mom after birth.  This is very important, as immediate skin to skin contact for an hour after birth has been shown to increase the likelihood of successful breastfeeding.
  4. Hire a birth and/or post-partum doula – Having a doula at birth can enhance bonding between a mother and her baby. This can lead to more positive interactions between mom and baby and can assist in establishing a strong milk supply.   A post natal doula can assist with things that need to get done around the house so that a mom can rest and focus on feeding her baby.   Some doulas also have breastfeeding experience and can help if problems arise.
  5. Know where to go for help –  After birth, have phone numbers handy for your LLL leaders or an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant).
  6. Keep your baby skin to skin for the first hour and delay the new born exam – Babies are quietly alert during the first hour after birth.  Babies who are kept skin to skin for the first hour are likely to latch on, and likely to latch on well.  They also are more likely to have stable and normal heart rates, blood pressure and temperatures.  Studies have shown that babies who are kept skin to skin for the first hour are more likely to breastfeed exclusively longer.
  7. Keep visitors to a minimum during the first couple of weeks – Everyone wants to see a newborn, especially well-meaning family members.   However,  moms need their rest so that they can recover from birth and meet the demands of a new baby.  It’s best to keep visitors to a minimum so mom can focus on two things:  getting sleep and feeding the baby.   If visitors do come over, let them bring over a meal or two, or help around the house.
  8. Keep your baby close during the early weeks and feed often – Feeding your baby on demand is crucial during the first few weeks to establish a strong milk supply.  By keeping your baby close at all times, you can respond to early cues of hunger, rather than waiting for full out crying.  You can’t feed your baby too often, and the more you breastfeed, the more milk you will make for your baby.    C0-sleeping can be a great way to ensure your baby feeds often at night without disturbing your own sleep too much.
  9. Surround yourself with other moms that breastfeed – It’s great to have friends who are currently breastfeeding their babies, or who have breastfed in the past.   They can be a wonderful source of information and encouragement. Sometimes just hearing how someone else is dealing with an obstacle or problem can provide you with enough inspiration to overcome your own difficulties, should they arise.
  10. Don’t give up! The first few months are hard.  I think of the first three months as breastfeeding boot camp where you put in the hard work, and then after that you reap the benefits.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:


Oh, where to start?

The first post of my blog….what in the world do I start with?  How about with some books!

Since Dylan was born, I have developed a passion for reading parenting books.  Here are a few of my favourites for new parents:

The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (WAOB) is a great book that is a must read for all new moms.  It provides moms with extremely helpful information that isn’t found in a lot of other typical “baby” books written by baby “experts”.  Unfortunately, many other books have a lot of rigid rules about how often to feed a baby or how long, when and where a baby should sleep.  When new moms read these books and realize that their own babies don’t conform to the standards set out in the book, they often feel disappointed and frustrated with their babies.  What I like best about the WAOB is that it empowers new moms to trust their own mothering instincts and listen to their babies.   It has some tips and ideas for common problems that new moms experience, but these are often snippets written by other moms of things that worked for them, rather than rigid rules that a mom must follow.   The book provides a lot of useful information but at the same time reassures moms that they are the experts on their own babies.

The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp is another one of my favourites and was a lifesaver during the early months!  It provided me with numerous soothing tips for Dylan.  Dylan was a very fussy baby and it was (and sometimes still is) difficult to get him to sleep.  He has always been so alert, active and aware of his surroundings.  I never understood how friends would tell me how they would put their babies in a bassinet awake and they would drift off to dreamland.  Dylan had to be tightly swaddled, listening to white noise, bouncing on a yoga ball and nursing at the same time to fall asleep.  Crazy!  I was so thankful for Dr. Karp’s suggestions and explanations on why newborns often need to be swaddled, in motion, sucking and listening to white noise in order to fall asleep.  I like his description on how the first three months of a baby’s life is like the “fourth trimester” and conditions in the outside world often need to be similar to the womb in order for a baby to be happy.   It is a unique and smart way of looking at newborns.

The No Cry Sleep Solution (NCSS)  by Elizabeth Pantley has been an invaluable resource for me.  In fact, all of the books in the “No-Cry” Series are wonderful.    The NCSS provides gentle sleep solutions that work for breastfeeding and co-sleeping moms, which is rare to find in baby books related to sleep.  It also provides a great scientific description of how babies sleep and why it is normal for them to wake up a lot.  I like that it provides tips that can be customized to what feels right to a mom, instead of providing rigid rules that must be followed.  It is a great alternative to cry it out books that are unfortunately so popular.

A book that I would recommend to moms looking for something a little bit different beyond basic baby books is What Mothers Do, Especially when it looks like Nothing by Naomi Stadlen.  This book provides a great description of what moms do that I hadn’t thought of until I read the book.  For example, if a mom goes grocery shopping with her baby and then later her husband asks what she did, the mom will say: I went grocery shopping.  However, the mom also mothered her child at the grocery store.  She made sure he was happy by talking to him, singing to him or showing him things in the store.   She ensured that he was not hungry during the trip and fed him if necessary.  She taught him about grocery shopping perhaps by showing him food in the store or showing him how to pay for the food.  Basically, the mom did two jobs in one – she shopped and mothered.  However, no one, including the mom, thinks about or values the mothering aspect of the trip.  I have often been exhausted after a small trip to the grocery store with Dylan, and this book helped me to understand why – it is because I am doing two jobs in one all day long.  I am cooking, cleaning, driving, reading, talking, shopping etc but I am also mothering all day (and all night) long.  No wonder I am tired!   It reframed what I do on a daily basis and helped me see the real value in what moms do.

Have you read these books?  What do you think of them?  What are some of your favourites?