12 Dec

Book Review: The Expectant Dad’s Handbook, by Dean Beaumont

This book came out a few years ago to accompany Dean Beaumont’s DaddyNatal antenatal course for men. It covers pregnancy, labour and birth, and life after birth, in a chatty but intelligent style, while keeping the focus firmly on the partner’s role in supporting the new mother or mother-to-be. I like Beaumont’s approach of describing the situation and the options available, and then exploring what the partner can do to give support.

As with all such books, the first chapter I looked at was the one on breastfeeding. Unlike the birth chapters, Beaumont gives no ‘how it works’ information, which is disappointing given that I often find the men in an antenatal session to be fascinated by the science. In a scant five pages, there is a little too much focus on how dads can get it wrong, and of course the inevitable suggestion that they can help out by giving a bottle, with little exploration of the complications that this can introduce. Formula feeding doesn’t get so much as a sidelong glance.

However, this is the weakest part of the book, and in fact the information on labour and on life with a new baby is thorough and evidence-based. I would recommend this book to an Expectant Dad, but I’d also suggest something a bit more comprehensive on feeding, alongside.

23 Nov

Book Review: Beautiful Birth, by Suzanne Yates

This is a nice book, a keeper for sure. Beautiful Birth is an attractive, slim volume with an immediate appeal to anyone looking for practical techniques for coping with childbirth.

It has two main sections. The first section covers breathing and visualisation, positions for labour, and massage. It gives an uncomplicated rationale for why these things are helpful, and a step by step approach to practicing them during pregnancy, and using them during labour. It does include a little more chinese medicine and shiatsu than I would normally be comfortable with, but actually the book is so useful that for once I’m not going to make snarky comments about that.

The second section is on preparing for birth, and is a straightforward explanation of what happens and how a woman can use the coping techniques from the first section, to help herself have a positive experience. Its approach to planning the birth is about connecting with yourself and reflecting on what kind of environment and support feels best. It touches on decision making when things don’t go to plan, and very briefly on the “fourth stage” of labour, meeting the baby.

I think most pregnant women could find something useful in Beautiful Birth, whatever kind of birth they are expecting; it’s never unhelpful to have some strategies for bringing calm. It’s a shame the pictures are not more ethnically diverse, but I would generally recommend this book.

[Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy by the publishers. You can get hold of it here, with a 10% discount at the checkout using the code SPROGCAST]

16 Nov

Book Review: Trust Your Body Trust Your Baby, by Rosie Newman

Rosie Newman’s book aims to inspire confidence and trust in a mother’s own instincts, through pregnancy and birth, feeding and mothering. It is a book for women who need help with the paradigm shift of becoming a new parent. One of the things that really comes across is the value of surrounding oneself with like-minded, positive people. Newman is well-read and draws extensively on the literature of attachment parenting and straightforward birth.

Trust Your Body Trust Your Baby is sensibly structured with a logical progression, starting with a practical chapter on preparation for the baby’s arrival. The birth chapter gives an interesting history of obstetrics, an explanation of the role of hormones, and a valiant attempt to convey the reality of labour.

The following chapters cover life after birth: establishing breastfeeding, sleep, attachment, and the emotional and psychological adjustment. All of this is extremely good stuff that I would recommend to new parents; it is well-referenced and although it comes from a firm base in attachment parenting, and includes a great deal of Newman’s own experience, it is written with empathy and compassion for both the mother and the baby.

The last chapter is on elimination communication, and might make some new parents wonder if this really is the book for them, or whether it is too far from the mainstream. My clients tend to think The Baby Whisperer is a “a bit of a hippie,” so I’m conscious of wanting books like this to be accessible. Of course there is a huge part of me that really doesn’t want to pull any punches, too.

I was writing this review at a very quiet breastfeeding drop-in. Two mothers came in and we were talking about the conflict between trusting your instincts as a mother, and coping with the pressures of modern life, lack of sleep, lack of support, and the weight of expectations that babies should behave in a certain way by a certain age (both babies were 3 months old and not behaving in a certain way at all). So I gave one of them the book; may it help her find her way.

[Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from the publishers. You can get your own copy here, and a 10% discount using the code SPROGCAST at the checkout].

29 Aug

Book Review: Growing Up Pregnant, by Deirdre Curley

I sat up in bed and admired all the women in the room. All of us had different birth stories, and we each realised how lucky we were to have healthy babies. Although we were all at different stages in our lives, we were all going to be going through the exact same transition into motherhood. (p184)

Deirdre Curley is pregnant and 19. She is surrounded by a supportive family and a loving partner. She really wants to be an actress, and she isn’t at all sure she wants to be a mum.

In Growing Up Pregnant, she tells the story, not just of pregnancy and birth, but all the things that bring her to this point. And then in detail she takes us through the months of her pregnancy, and the reader witnesses her maturing from good-time girl to “the most beautiful pregnant lady” one waitress has ever seen. When she and her partner make up their minds that they will be parents, they commit to the changes they need to make, even when it’s hard to adjust to the loss of old pleasures and still-partying friends. It’s so interesting to read about their mixed feelings as they adjust to this new lifestyle, and the strength and positivity they bring to it is admirable.

Deirdre pauses between each trimester to give a little rundown of what a pregnant woman might be experiencing, how her baby is developing, and any preparation she might consider doing. This includes the most down-to-earth “what to buy” lists of any pregnancy book I have read. She refrains from too much specific detail about pregnancy and birth, but gives a useful overview that would be relevant to a pregnant woman of any age.

This is a properly grounded book, both reflective and informative, and does as good a job as any (and better than most) of getting across what it’s really like to be pregnant and to have a baby. Although the focus is on pregnancy as a young mum, most of the feelings Deirdre expresses are pretty universal: what is happening to me? Will my body ever be the same again? Can I rely on the support of my partner? Am I going to be a good enough mum? Women twice her age think the same things.

I enjoyed taking this journey with Deirdre and her partner Gary, as they put down roots and prepare for the baby. The birth itself is well-written, and early motherhood is covered with both wistfulness and joy. It is a very realistic description and I would certainly recommend this book to pregnant women, whatever their age.

[Disclaimer: I was sent a free review copy of Growing Up Pregnant. You can order yours from Pinter & Martin, with a 10% discount at the checkout if you use the code SPROGCAST]

09 Jun

Book Review: The Happy Birth Book, by Beverley Turner with Pam Wild

Beverley Turner’s Happy Birth Book was originally conceived as a handbook for people attending her high-end antenatal courses, and covers a huge range of topics in alphabetical order, so that readers may dip in or look up the thing they’re interested in. Hitting the same market at the same time as Clemmie Hooper (and with a matching cover image) and Milli Hill, Turner’s book lands somewhere between the two, closer in tone to Hooper, but in content to Hill. All three focus on active birth, but while Clemmie digresses into shopping lists, Milli and Bev are both encouraging women to get informed and assert their rights in the birthplace.

The Happy Birth Book is good for instructive diagrams, pithy descriptions (she’s especially good on labour), and a few moments of truly gritty realism which made me laugh out loud. There is a lot of ‘Bev’ and therefore a lot of opinion, and rather too much alternative therapy for my personal taste. I wasn’t too impressed by the breastfeeding information, which tends to give the impression that babies can be fed on a regular timetable, that mothers should eat well to maintain a good milk supply, and that breasts need time to fill up between feeds, none of which is scientifically accurate.

The A-Z approach doesn’t feel to me like the most intuitive way to organise the subject matter, and certainly going from skincare to stillbirth to stretch marks is a bit of a bumpy ride. On the other hand, it does make it – as intended – a book you can dip in and out of, and have to hand for extra information as needed. With its cheery, direct tone, it’s a good alternative for readers who might find the more comprehensive Positive Birth Book a bit too dense, and definitely more empowering than most of the mainstream birth books out there.

[Disclaimer: I was sent a free review copy by the author, and also had a lovely chat with her for the July episode of Sprogcast]

22 Apr

Andy’s Birth Story

It was that strange time of year between Christmas and New Years, my Wife Amanda had just hit 38 weeks so we decided it was time to get absolutely everything organised for our pending arrival, putting away the christmas decorations and getting all the clobber out we had bought for the baby. After relaxing in front the TV my wife called out my name from the downstairs toilet. Subconsciously thinking about the spider I had seen by the front door a few days prior, thinking I was going to rescue her from an Arachnid, I was met by a worried looking wife saying ‘I think my waters have just broken.’ My first thought was our baby had taken us getting organised as a hint we were ready for him/her to come out already! You could have had given me 100 guesses at that point and I would have not guessed that’s why she had called my name.

A quick call and trip to the Maternity block confirmed everything was starting to happen, then knowing we would be parents within the next 24 hours or so was very surreal indeed, I always knew it was going to happen at some stage but not right now! To this stage Mandy hadn’t really had major pains, just light period type of cramps; being a Brit I thought a cup of Tea would make things more comfortable, but by the time I got up to the bedroom contractions had already started. We tracked contractions via a mobile phone app and after 2 hours of contractions (1 less severe hour and 1 10/10 pain score hour), following directions from labor ward to stay at home until we’ve had 2 hours of severe contractions, I remembered a warm bath could be of comfort. As soon as my wife’s ass touched the water she said she felt like she needed to push. Trying to control the nervous wobble in my voice speaking to the triage midwife, remembering being told previously if my wife needs to push at home to call an ambulance, I was asked if I felt my wife could get up there in time, now the thought of a home birth scared the crap out of me tbh so I agreed to get up there sharpish! Walking back in the bathroom to tell Mand the plan, saw what I thought a leg hanging out which fortunately turned out to be a bit of blood and mucus I guess.

After a rapid 3am drive in –3° conditions perhaps ignoring the odd red light or 5, with Mandy hanging off the headrest and interior handle, really really wanting to push, we arrived outside maternity. Mand was wearing my dressing gown and her favorite K Swiss which she had always said she didn’t want to arrive looking like a scruff bag, I also smacked my head on the tailgate due to cold gas struts not fully opening the boot as quickly, I will admit to shouting a few choice phases, glad nobody else was outside as we looked a right pair turning up!

A quick assessment back in the same room as we were in 6 hours previously showed that Mand was 6 cms at this stage, and we were moved to a labor room where we discussed pain relief. Due to Mand having a phobia of vomiting and being concerned Entonox might cause Nausea we discussed all options and agreed to try gas and air with a few contractions to see how it felt. Well after a rather large contraction and Mandy nearly sucking the thing off the wall, she found out it wasn’t so bad but the urge to push was too great. After another ‘inspection’ she had gone from 6 to 10cm in about 30 minutes, although Mandy would admit to having a few cheeky pushes when being told not to! So around 03:30 she was told she could start pushing. Our Midwife, Katy was fantastic and once she had found a position Mand could push in comfortably, forgetting the Entonox and really really concentrating on breathing and relaxation techniques we had learnt about in our NCT classes, made for a very focused and controlled experience. Mand had her head buried in my chest for most of the contractions completely in a zone of breathing and pushing, meaning Katy would tell me what she needed to do and I would in turn communicate with Mand. Keeping breathing slow and controlled, and taking huge breaths to push with seemed to work extremely well and in between visualising walking the dogs, our wedding on the beach or other happy or memorable moments. I remember the guy coming in to visit us in session 5 of NCT saying you might feel like a spare part with doctors, Nurses etc coming in and out but that couldn’t have been further from the truth for us!

After a very quick 40 minutes, our beautiful, perfectly formed healthy Baby Boy was born, the emotion is unrivalled, unexplainable and certainly won’t fade with memory. Seeing my wife holding our son was simply the most emotional, surreal, beautiful thing I have ever experienced. Cutting the cord I was a little nervous as didn’t want to miss and cut his leg off. After having cuddles for a while, he was checked over and weighed, we dressed him together in absolute awe of how tiny our little guy was! On leaving the labour ward it seemed a little strange just to walk out, I will admit to being the type of person that puts the towels straight and leave the room/bed tidy in hotels but it looked like a scene out of the Saw movies, thanks you RBH cleaning staff! We spent a while on Marsh Ward which allowed a few visitors before heading home early evening to start our new lives together, which the first night pretty much went, check on the baby when he made a noise and check on the baby when he didn’t make a noise!

21 Mar

Book Review: The Positive Birth Book, by Milli Hill

This is an interesting and extremely thorough manual for birth, written by Positive Birth Movement founder Milli Hill, whose passion for improving childbirth shines out of every page.

The obvious comparison is with ‘How to Grow a Baby and Push It Out,’ being published around the same time and for a similar audience. But The Positive Birth Book is much less yummy mummy guidebook and more thinking woman’s handbook, with comprehensive chapters looking in depth at the decisions to make during pregnancy, the experience of labour, different kinds of support, ways of working with pain, and a lot less shopping.

Hill takes a strong evidence-based position, referring extensively to NICE guidelines, and with contributions from other very respectable authorities including Birthrights’ Rebecca Schiller and ABM Chair Emma Pickett. Usually I skip through the personal anecdotes, but they have been used really effectively in this book, breaking up an otherwise non-stop march of densely factual information.

A particular strength of The Positive Birth Book is the chapter describing what labour is “really like.” A tricky subject to cover, given all the possible individual experiences, and inevitably it’s a long chapter with some idiosyncratic but accurate descriptions. Hill goes on to argue the case for writing a birth plan, and she’s right that the process involves some engagement with the subject rather than washing one’s hands of any involvement in what might unfold. This is a difficult case to make, knowing that so many women struggle to come to terms with disappointment and grief when birth doesn’t meet their expectations. There is a good case for providing information and some decision-making strategies, which this book also does. A cute ‘visual birth plan’ tool is also offered.

A final chapter provides a taster of post-birth existence, touching on the fourth trimester concept, some basic but happily accurate information about breastfeeding, and postnatal feelings and changes. Here Hill signposts rather than going into much detail, since this would go beyond the remit of this already very detailed book.

I know that much inspiration and information for The Positive Birth Book was crowd-sourced, and the results have been articulately curated by Milli Hill into a really wonderful resource for pregnant women who are keen to do their research and take ownership of their birth experience.

[Disclaimer: I was sent a free review copy of The Positive Birth Book. You can get it from Pinter & Martin, with a 10% discount if you use the code SPROGCAST at the checkout.]

16 Mar

Book Review: Why Hypnobirthing Matters, by Katrina Berry

This interesting little book explores the development of hypnobirthing as an approach to childbirth, from its origins in the thinking of Grantley Dick-Read, to its modern usage in situations from freebirth to caesarean and beyond. Author Katrina Berry points out what a useful coping technique it can be for early parenthood and for life in general.

The book goes on to explain how hypnobirthing works, and its relevance for birth partners and midwives. It does not claim it as the province of one particular type of birth, but does emphasise its role in increasing the likelihood of a straightforward birth, and offers information to empower women to make their own choices in any situation.

It finishes with a useful comparison of the different hypnobirthing tribes, in their own voices. This gives a real flavour of the slight changes in perspective from one programme to another.

Parents-to-be or practitioners with an interest in hypnobirthing can use this book to learn about what it is, and then decide which path will help them on their own journey.

[Disclaimer: I was given a free review copy of this book by the publisher Pinter & Martin. You can buy it here, with a 10% discount using the code SPROGCAST at checkout.]

24 Feb

Book Review: How to grow a baby and push it out, by Clemmie Hooper

Clemmie Hooper is the new Mark Harris: the midwife all the talk shows want, popular on social media, and with a new, slightly different book about pregnancy and birth. Sorry Mark.

How to grow a baby and push it out‘ is a colourful, cheery book, with lots of pictures (mainly of Clemmie herself looking pregnant and glamorous). With a heavy emphasis on what to buy and how best to treat yourself (“Find a really, really lux hotel to stay in.” p101) and an assumption that you will “buy friends” by doing NCT classes, this really is the yummy mummy’s handbook.

I would have quite liked this book during my pregnancy ten years ago. In between the slightly vapid chapters about shopping, it covers a lot of topics, including how to massage your perineum, what to consider when choosing a place to give birth, and different options for coping with pain. With its bite-sized chapters and clear explanations, it is more accessible and less gloomy than the book I did have, ‘What to expect when you’re expecting.’

Reading it now, I would like to see more on consent and informed choice; Clemmie is in a good position to talk about building that kind of trusting relationship with Health Professionals, but at the end of the day she is working within a medical model, and that’s what comes across. The information given about breastfeeding is scant and inadequate, starting with a list of its benefits, omitting any discussion of how it works, conveying the message that it is always difficult and usually painful, and then admonishing readers not to pay attention to pressure about how long to do it for. This could have been done so much better.

I liked the positive tone of the book, although in places the chumminess gets annoying; and I liked the focus on active birth, and the signposting (other than in the breastfeeding section) for readers who would like to explore the many topics in greater depth. It’s a nice starting point for mums-to-be who like a guidebook, but doesn’t really replace good quality antenatal education, where there will be more for partners, and lots of opportunities to discuss what might happen and how you might feel, rather than just be passively told about it all.

15 Dec

Book review: Nobody Told Me, by Hollie McNish

Like many people, the first I knew of Hollie McNish was her poem Embarrassed on YouTube, which suddenly appeared everywhere I looked. I loved the poem for what it said (“I spent the first feeding months of her beautiful life/Feeling nervous and awkward and wanting everything right.“). I loved her delivery and I loved her: she just looked like an ordinary person I could hang out with, and I can see why she became such a poster girl for the ordinary experience of breastfeeding.

Nobody Told Me isn’t just a collection of poems, it’s the journal of Hollie’s transition from pregnancy through to three years, and somehow in her honesty she manages to convey both her own unique experience, and the universality of early motherhood. The reader witnesses the bleakness of the early days: terror, tinged with wonder; and her growth as a mother, into enjoyment of toddlerhood, and finally a recognition of all she has achieved.

Reading Nobody Told Me repeatedly made me weep, as I recognised with real feeling the floundering, bleeding, and nighttime feeding; the absolute reliance on an amazing supportive bloke; and the guilt-ridden enjoyment of a night away from home.

Hollie’s focus grows from the personal to the political (and this felt familiar too), as she experiences social judgement on all fronts, and also fights conventional stereotypes and lack of diversity. People comment on her child’s mixed race, tell her she’s too young to have a child or should be married, and find her overly strident when she objects to all the characters in storybooks being “he” by default. She’s so right, and we should all be rebelling against this – as a poet she is in a position to articulate this nonsense and say it loud.

Hollie McNish is so articulate and her poems hit the nail on the head over and over again. This would be a fantastic book for someone expecting a baby; for me, it’s almost a memoir.