25 Oct

Book Review: Why Doulas Matter, by Maddie McMahon

I love that near the beginning of Why Doulas Matter, MM points out that “on one level, doulas do not matter.” The invisible but steadfast presence of a doula, and how much difference she can make to the experience of birth, is the most important lesson this book can teach you.

This is a book about what doulas do and how they do it, and it also tells you what they are thinking about while they’re doing it. Maddie’s voice comes through very clearly, and unlike other books in the Why It Matters series, this one is far more personal than political. One exception to this is her mini-rant about the politics of breastfeeding, where the most passionate passion of a very passionate woman is clearly revealed.

Why Doulas Matter contains much useful information about birth and breastfeeding, woven into chapters about labour, meeting your baby, breastfeeding, and the postnatal period. One thing I felt was missing was a little more history of women supporting women during childbirth, setting the question of why doulas matter in the context of the 21st Century western world.

This book would be particularly useful for people thinking about what sort of support they might need during and after birth, whether or not that support comes from a doula. It would also be useful for both new and experienced doulas who want to reflect on their role. It answers all the questions you might have about doulas, and much more.

[Disclaimer: I was sent a free review copy of Why Doulas Matter by the publishers Pinter & Martin. You can get a copy here, with 10% discount using the offer code SPROGCAST at the checkout].

19 Oct

Book Review: The Food of Love, by Kate Evans

The Food of Love is a fun breastfeeding guide full of Kate Evan’s clever pictures and even fuller with words. I think it is aimed at mums-to-be and new mums, but I think it’s also widely enjoyed by people working with new parents.

There is a lot to like about this book. Most of the cartoons are funny (some of them are a bit judgey), and it is jammed with a huge amount of well-researched information. Evans positions herself firmly at the Attachment Parenting end of the spectrum, and is more than capable of backing up her position with evidence. Unfortunately she doesn’t, always, which relegates a lot of her bold statements to opinion. The book would be much stronger if it was better referenced.

In the early chapters, Evans covers the basics of how breastfeeding works, using cartoons to demonstrate very clearly the mechanics of breastfeeding as well as a lot of the interesting sciencey stuff about breastmilk. The section on hand expressing is excellent; the section on positioning is surprisingly prescriptive – I’m sure laid-back Kate didn’t always sit bolt upright to breastfeed.

Evans’ passion and enthusiasm for breastfeeding comes across on page after page of often rather stream-of-consciousness text, as though she has scribbled down everything she can think of about breastfeeding, and when she runs out of that she goes on to talk about parenting in general, sleep, postnatal depression, relationship stuff, and toddler discipline. It’s a really useful general parenting book in that respect and could probably reach a wider market if sold as such.

I enjoyed the lovely bit on the evolutionary context of attachment theory, again illustrated with amusing drawings. Occasionally she follows a fairly idealistic opinion section with a contrasting realistic cartoon, for example the starfish baby in the middle of the bed showing the reality of co-sleeping for many parents.

We have the obligatory dip into alternative medicine (which if it worked would be called medicine), which is a shame when she’s so clear and comprehensive on brain chemistry and other sciencey stuff. The recommendation of homeopathic belladonna as a treatment for mastitis is a highway to a breast abscess.

The chapter offering solutions to common breastfeeding problems includes some excellent flowcharts (pp131-132), however the solutions offered are a bit garbled in places and there is no signposting to reputable breastfeeding support organisations such as NCT or ABM, nor any discussion of breastfeeding support groups (which surely would lend themselves well as subjects for caricature).

In summary, I loved parts of this book but not all of it. I probably would give it to a new parent, but not universally; I think some people might be more receptive to it than others. I’d love to see it repackaged as a general parenting book as it’s so good on attachment parenting. And I can strongly recommend Kate’s blog!

01 Apr

Dean & Claire’s first week of parenthood

This follows Dean’s birth story, here.

Day One.
I’m back in at 10am, Claire has got 1 hours sleep but looks great on it even if she doesn’t feel it. Alexander has had his first attempt at breastfeeding and it’s not going well. Claire is frustrated at not being able to get the right position and when she does he latches on, takes a few sucks and falls asleep. Blowing on his face, tickling his tummy or pinching his feet wake him for a few more gulps and then he’s back in the world of nod.

This is how it’s been all night and we are slightly concerned, but the midwives are ok with it. In fact, listening to other conversations around the ward this seems to be a common theme. Read More

13 Mar


Today I met with my mentor Maddie McMahon, and after an interview which took place over a pleasant lunch, I am now a Recognised Doula. Here’s an explanation of Mentored and Recognised Doulas from the Doula UK website:

Mentored doulas
A Mentored Doula has completed a Doula UK approved Preparation Course and is involved in Doula UK’s Recognition Process. This means that she has a Mentor providing support and supervision within a framework for reflective practice until she has gained sufficient experience to become a Recognised Doula. A Mentored Doula’s fees reflect her previous and current experience, her expenses and the going rate in her area.

Recognised doulas
A Recognised Doula has been evaluated by a Doula UK Doula Mentor at the end of the Recognition Process, as having sufficient experience to practise without on-going mentoring. Doula UK nevertheless continues to provide support for all its members.

25 Feb

What I’m Really Thinking

I’ve always assumed The Guardian’s What I’m Really Thinking column is meant to be a caricature, not something to be offended by. I know that last week’s anonymous piece by ‘The Child-Free Friend’ is not meant to represent the views of all childless people, and I admit that ten years ago I could have written it myself. I can quite smugly tell you that now I’m no longer childless, I finally have some empathy with parents, but that’s not to say that I speak fluently the language of child, that I find all babies beautiful, or that I ever want to change a nappy [unpaid!] again. I’m sure I’m not the only parent in the world who doesn’t really notice other people’s children until they make an annoying noise. That’s why I’m a doula, not a childminder; doulas care for mothers.

The writer is of the opinion that since parenthood is self-inflicted, parents deserve exactly zero amount of sympathy, even from a friend who claims to “care about you and your life,” when they express sadness at missing pre-parenthood freedoms. How can she possibly complain about the relentless demands of parenting, when this is what she signed up for? I’m sure you don’t have to offer to babysit for a night, to try to imagine that however much you love your child, there are always going to be times when you long guiltily for a night out that doesn’t take months of planning, an uninterrupted lie-in, or even just five minutes when nobody is asking anything of you. These are the things parents aren’t allowed to say, and because we aren’t allowed to say it, it comes as a shock to many new parents, to find that the child has no off-switch, our leisure time can no longer be filled by going to the gym or watching a Lord of the Rings triple bill, and the money drain never stops. So she didn’t sign up for it, exactly. A huge amount of doula work and breastfeeding support is about helping when reality doesn’t meet expectations.

As for your friend thinking that your life choices are less sincere, enduring or fulfilling, I had to laugh at how a paragraph about feeling judged could be so judgemental. This is why I knew that the writer didn’t stand for all childless people, because choosing to be childless is just one of many lifestyle choices, and most of us tend to think that the things we choose are better than the things other people choose. And most lifestyles are not simple binary choices.

It’s just as hard for parents to hold on to their non-parent friends as the other way around. It’s hard to have a conversation when part of your brain is permanently allocated to childcare, especially when you’re aware that the person you’re chatting with doesn’t like your snot-encrusted marmalade-fingered darling, is bored by their latest achievements, and just doesn’t get how your priorities are different now. And we’re tired. All the time. Like when you’re jetlagged or you’ve been working hard to meet a deadline or you’ve run a marathon, and those are lifestyle choices too, and you would expect some understanding.

Motherhood is pretty complex, and many non-parents seem to perceive it only at a very superficial level. We’re all childless before we have kids, we’ve all stood in your shoes. Now why don’t you try and stand in mine?

21 Feb

Support, Advice, and Parental Instinct

As a breastfeeding counsellor, I am sometimes asked why my antenatal classes do not go into great detail about problem solving when things go wrong. The pat answer to this, of course, is that every new family is unique, and I can’t possibly account for all the possible scenarios. I’m also wary of introducing a lot of potential pitfalls, and therefore undermining my own work to show that breastfeeding can be a straightforward experience, and that being well-prepared with an understanding of how it works is more useful than being armed with copious detail about problems that may not occur.

This is a dilemma for me, because to be realistic about breastfeeding as experienced by the majority of new mothers in the UK, I have to acknowledge that there are challenges. So one of my main objectives is to raise awareness of the huge amount of support available to new parents. If time permits, we compile a list, and the group is always impressed by how many people they can think of who might be able to help them over the first few weeks of their babies’ lives. Here are some of the ideas I usually see:

The real trick, though, is in figuring out which of these are sources of trustworthy information (or practical help); and which are, probably with the best intentions in the world, recycling myths and misinformation, or unhelpfully comparing your baby with theirs. But each of these different sources of support has its function, whether it’s sympathy and a cup of tea, the loan of a dvd box set to while away a marathon feeding session, or reassuring confirmation that what you and your baby are going through at any particular stage, is completely normal.

It can also take courage not to follow advice that does not feel right, especially when it comes from a figure of authority. So another of my objectives, both antenatally and postnatally, is to empower new parents to have confidence in their own parenting. We are among the first generations of parents to raise our children in isolation form the extended family, and there are huge commercial interests in undermining parental instincts.

It’s tough being a new parent in the 21st century, but remember that there are reliable sources of help, many of which are under-utilised. So don’t feel you have to struggle on alone, but do pick your support carefully.

Originally written as a guest post for the liberating blog, Free Your Parenting.