New Mama Musings

Friday, July 29, 2005

And Now for Something Completely Different...

By the way, when I told my husband I was working on a blog entry about toxic chemicals in our environment, he responded, "BORRRR-ing! Get back to the funny anecdotes."

I think I just did.

Contamination Investigation

Returning to the topic of choices my husband and I are making, I need to say a few things about environmental toxins. You were hoping I would, weren't you?

It had been in the back of my mind for a long time to look into the things we were breathing, consuming, and soaking in through our skin. I was aware of a few things -- the hormones in meat, the chlorine in city water, the chemical offgassing of new carpeting -- but frankly, the whole thing seemed a bit too overwhelming to take on.

Still, when I got pregnant I started researching in earnest and have begun to make some changes. For example:

We put a water filter on the shower I use and bought one for the tub the baby will be bathing in. The chlorine in water can be absorbed into our bodies not only through consumption, but by soaking it into our skin and inhaling it into our lungs. Chlorine combines with other chemicals to create cancer-causing agents. It can also contribute to asthma and other allergic disorders.

We chose an organic, chemical-free crib mattress and sheets for the baby, figuring that the air around the mattress is what he will be breathing the majority of his early life. A typical mattress is made with polyurethane foam and treated with flame retardants such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), which can interfere with hormone function. Stain and water repellents are applied too; these include Teflon, which DuPont has been fined over for covering up its health and environmental effects, and Scotchguard, which DuPont has already had to reformulate once. No wonder the incidence of SIDS has decreased since the campaign to put babies down to sleep on their backs instead of their stomachs.

Another big cause for concern is the plastic used to make baby bottles, water bottles and other food storage containers. In a recent study researchers found that the chemical, bisphenol A (or BPA), causes genetic damage in mice. So although I plan on exclusively breastfeeding, I purchased a few glass baby bottles for those times I may choose to pump and leave the baby with his daddy. I'm also slowly moving toward storing leftovers in glass mason jars and I've purchased a stainless steel water bottle for my eight cups a day.

An exhaustive study into the toxins found in newborn babies by the Environmental Working Group can be found here. In it the authors state: "Of the 287 chemicals we detected in umbilical cord blood, we know that 180 cause cancer in humans or animals, 217 are toxic to the brain and nervous system, and 208 cause birth defects or abnormal development in animal tests." It's pretty scary that this poisoning takes place before the baby even leaves the womb.

I realize that I can't shield my family from all or maybe even most of the chemical contaminants in our environment. But I do think we can reduce our risk of cancer and other health problems by making informed decisions about what to eat, drink, wear, sleep on, clean with, and store our food in.

And while it's too expensive and overwhelming to make all the changes I'd like to make at once, I hope to make better choices the next time we need to replace things. My goal is to pass this awareness on to the baby so that living consciously becomes a no-brainer for future generations.

Monday, July 25, 2005

My 31-Week Ultrasound Photos

I know this is old news, but I just figured out how to upload photos onto my blog and thought I'd share these images of the baby's face.

Some say he looks like he's smiling; my nineteen-year-old niece says it reminds her of the bathtub scene in "What Lies Beneath." To each his or her own, I guess.

I personally thought it was incredible that we could get a glimpse of the baby's face way before he was born. Not long now...

What I'm Getting Right

I've made it to almost 39 weeks (on Wednesday) feeling pretty good physically, emotionally and mentally. Some of this is luck of the draw (i.e., no morning sickness), but some of my success I attribute to my being proactive about my health.

One of the best decisions I made was to start seeing a chiropractor from the very beginning of my pregnancy. I had never been to one before, and although I'm generally pretty open-minded, I secretly wondered how much credibility this profession really had. I mean, my overall-wearing, weedwacker-haircut sporting eighth-grade lockermate went on to be a chiropractor.

But then I read an article about a doctor in my area who worked with children and pregnant women, and thinking about the back problems I've had on and off since childhood I figured I'd give it a shot.

I explained to her that when I was in sixth grade I slipped and fell smack on my tailbone -- twice -- and ever since have had periods of pain that seize up my entire torso for hours or a day at a time. These episodes had pretty much gone away, but I was worried that the pregnancy would bring them back.

Around that same time period I was screened for scoliosis, and although I passed the screening a doctor did say that one of my vertebrae was slightly twisted. He basically sent me on my way with a sheet of back exercises to do -- which I never did because, well, I was twelve, and I couldn't figure out if I was doing them right.

My chiropractor said she thinks maybe I did have a very mild case of scoliosis, but that they either didn't pick up on it or didn't label it as such because there's not much they can do for a mild case. Her examination revealed that one of my shoulders was higher than the other and that my body was off-balance -- something I'd suspected for a while.

I've been seeing her every few weeks since the beginning of my pregnancy (and now, toward the end, every week) and I will urge every pregnant woman I know to go see her. The few back pains I've had (and nothing has been truly severe) have always been resolved after an adjustment. I plan on continuing to see her after the birth, and to bring the baby in right away as well.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Drunk Talk

Yesterday my husband, our friend John and I were leaving a wedding reception when we passed an apparently inebriated woman smoking in the lobby. She took one look at me and said with a snort, "Good LUCK!"

When we got outside John said, "Yeah, good luck with the lung cancer, lady!"

Really. I mean, what was that all about?

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Baby Dreams

Last night I dreamed the baby was here. He seemed so real -- breastfeeding, gazing at us, even pooping. ;)

I think my susceptible mind whipped this up because my husband and I had seen a very new baby at Target the previous evening. Or maybe it's because right before bed we both watched in amazement as my entire abdomen undulated and heaved.

I can't wait to meet my special little guy, although I told him yesterday to hang in there at least one more week so I can get some more stuff done. We'll see if he's the type to listen to Mommy.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Copy of My Birth Plan

Birth Plan for New Mama

Due Date: August 3, 2005

To my Health Care Providers:

This baby is the first for me and the fourth for my husband. I intend to birth as naturally as possible. These are my preferences:

• My husband and my doula will be with me during the birth.
• I would like to utilize the birthing tub if possible.
• I would prefer anyone entering the room to speak softly and not talk or perform any procedures during contractions.

• I prefer to have no IV.

Pain Relief
• I will ask for pain medications if I need them.
• I want to be able to walk around and move as I wish during labor.

• I prefer the baby be monitored intermittently using a Doppler.

Second Stage Labor
• As long as the baby and I are healthy, I prefer to have no time limits on pushing.
• I would like to be encouraged to try whatever position feels right at the time.

• I prefer to tear rather than have an episiotomy.
• To help prevent tearing I would like to have my husband/my doula/the nurse apply hot compresses and oil and encourage me to push gently for slower crowning.

The Delivery
• I would like to be allowed to choose the position in which I give birth.
• I would like to touch my baby’s head as it crowns.
• I prefer to have the lights dimmed for delivery.
• I prefer to push instinctively; I do not wish to be told how or when to push.
• As long as the baby is healthy, I would like him placed skin-to-skin on my abdomen with a warm blanket over him immediately following the birth.

Immediately After Delivery
• I would prefer that the umbilical cord stop pulsating before it is cut by my husband.
• I would prefer that the placenta be born spontaneously without the use of pitocin and/or manual extraction.

Newborn Procedures
• Please delay routine newborn procedures until after the bonding and breastfeeding period.
• I do not wish to be separated from my baby. I would like to have my baby room in and be with me at all times. If my baby must be taken from me to receive medical treatment, my husband will accompany the baby at all times.
• Please do not bathe my baby.
• Please do not administer eye ointment to my baby.
• Please do not administer vitamin K to my baby.
• Please do not give my baby the Hepatitis B vaccination.
• We decline routine PKU testing at the hospital and have made other arrangements for this procedure at a later date this week.

• My baby is to be exclusively breastfed. I would like to see a lactation consultant as soon as possible for further recommendations and guidance.
• Do not offer my baby the following without my consent: formula, pacifiers, any artificial nipples, or sugar water.

• We plan on cloth diapering our baby from the very beginning and will be providing our own diapers. Please do not put disposables on him.


New Mama

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Diaper Butt

This entry is a risky one, since it's only my intention to exclusively cloth diaper this baby. I've already received a few comments and looks that ultimately imply, "You poor naive thing, thinking you won't use disposables." So let me say at the outset that I realize I may change my tune after the baby comes.

But I really don't think so. My reasons for wanting to cloth diaper are four-fold and impassioned. Here they are:

1. The environment. The usual response to the argument that cloth diapers are better for the environment is, "Yeah, but cloth uses so much water to get clean, I figure it's a toss up."

What people are neglecting to consider are the resources that go into making disposable diapers -- approximately 3.4 billion gallons of oil and 250,000 trees a year. Water is also required in the manufacturing process.

Washing cloth diapers at home, on the other hand, uses the same amount of water as flushing a toilet five or six times a day -- which is how often my child will be going to the bathroom once he's toilet-trained.

But the main problem with disposable diapers is the "disposable" part. They don't biodegrade well, even the ones that claim to, and 3.3 million tons -- 18 billion diapers -- go straight into landfills each year. They are the third largest source of solid waste in our landfills.

And although the packaging on disposables instructs parents to dump fecal matter out of the diapers, I don't know of anyone who actually does this. Thus over 100 intestinal viruses are brought to the landfill where they seep into the groundwater and attract insects which carry and transmit diseases.

2. Cost. It's estimated that disposables cost $1500 to $2500 over the course of diapering a baby. Using cloth can cost as little as $400, depending on what type of diapering system you choose. And as I mentioned earlier, the water it takes to wash them is about the same as what a toilet-trained child would use in flushing.

Yeah, I'm cheap. But in this case the thrifty angle is just a bonus.

3. Health. There are some seriously bad chemicals in disposable diapers. Dioxin, a by-product of the paper-bleaching process, can cause reproductive or developmental defects and cancer.

Also, sodium polyacrylate, the gel that makes disposables so absorbent, is the same substance that was linked to toxic shock syndrome with tampon use. If you wouldn't use it one-fourth of the time near your reproductive organs, why would use it all the time next to your baby's?

In addition, the perfumes and other chemicals (tolune, xylene, ethylbenzene, styrene, and isopropylbenzene, among others) used in disposables have been linked to asthma. Ever since I switched to all-natural cleaning and beauty products, I've been extra-aware of how perfume-y most mainstream products are. Disposable diapers bowl me over, and that's before a baby soils them.

Disposables also contain polyethylene and polypropylene, plastics thought to possibly cause cancer in humans. The data on that is limited, but only recently have researchers discovered a link between phthalates, used to make plastics softer and to hold fragrance and color in beauty products, with reproductive abnormalities in baby boys. So I'm not holding my breath that just because something is on the market, it's safe. But maybe if you use disposables you should be holding your breath.

4. Convenience. Stick with me here. With cloth diapers you don't ever have to run to the store at the last minute when you realize you're almost out. And as those of you with newborns know, there really is no "running to the store."

Also, cloth diapers have come a long way since your grandmother's time. You can still go the inexpensive route and use what are called prefolds, but now there's a cool product out called a Snappi that replaces those intimidating pins. Or you could use fitted diapers, which have stretchy legholes and come with snap closures.

And for covers you're no longer stuck with stiff plastic pull-ons -- they now make pliable covers that snap or velcro shut for a custom fit. There are even cute dyed wool covers that breathe.

If you really want to make things easy, you can use all-in-one diapers that require no more steps to put on than a disposable. Pocket diapers are similar, but they have a slot inside where you can add extra inserts according to your absorbancy needs.

So mock me if you must, but I've done my homework. I hope to be washing poopy diapers for years to come.


U.S. Food and Drug Administration website

Children's Health Environmental Coalition:

Mothering Magazine:

The Royal Women's Hospital website:

Thursday, July 07, 2005

The Circumcision Decision

When my husband and I first found out we were expecting I hoped it was a girl so I wouldn't have to face the circumcision decision. For my husband the decision was already made -- of course a baby boy would be circumcised, just like he was and just like his two teenage sons were. I wasn't so sure but honestly knew very little about the subject.

But we are having a boy. And I very nearly just let my husband's decision stand, since, after all, he is the guy in this relationship.

However I needed to do a little research first, and in my quest for information I became more and more convinced that I would not let this happen to my son. As I shared the articles and photos with my husband his resolve started to slip, and finally he agreed not to circumcise.

So, this is what I learned:

1. Circumcision has a questionable history in this country. It started in America during the Victorian period as a method for curtailing masturbation but did not become common until the Cold War, the same era in which childbirth became medicalized and breastfeeding was discouraged.

2. The foreskin has an actual function. In babies it's attached to the glans and helps keep it clean. It also helps protect and lubricate the glans throughout a man's life. And during sex the foreskin enables the penis to slip back and forth non-abrasively.

3. There are risks associated with circumcision. These include infection, scarring, tight erections, surgical mistakes, and loss of sensitivity.

4. Circumcision is not just a little snip. It removes a great deal of skin relative to the size of a newborn penis. The procedure actually removes the entire covering of the penis -- what we see as the shaft in a circumcised penis is not normally seen at all naturally.

5. Circumcision is extremely painful. Even when babies are given anesthesia the injection itself hurts and the medication is not always given time to kick in. Then there's the time it takes for the wound to heal, during which babies are rarely given anything for the pain.

6. Circumcision is traumatic. The baby is strapped down to a board, his genitals are scrubbed, his foreskin is slit, an instrument is inserted and the foreskin is ripped off. Even if the pain medication is totally effective, I can't rule out the trauma the baby must feel being trapped and tugged at, not understanding what is happening or when/if it will end.

7. The pain and trauma of circumcision have long-lasting effects on an infant, despite the belief that the infant won't remember the procedure. Studies have found that pain affects feeding behavior and mother-child bonding. Common sense tells me that even if I don't remember events from my childhood -- and I personally remember very little -- it is those events that shaped my psyche and helped dictate the person I am today. And isn't a mother's instinct to soothe a crying baby and keep him from pain and harm? Why then is the pain and trauma of circumcision written off with a "he won't remember it"?

8. Circumcision is not the norm. Only about ten to fifteen percent of the world's men are circumcised; the vast majority of those are Muslim. It's virtually unheard of in Europe. You might be surprised by some of the celebrities who are uncircumcised; I personally couldn't resist pointing out to my husband that his hero David Bowie was among them.

9. The uncircumcised penis requires no special care. During the boy's first few years of life the foreskin and the glans are attached; the connecting tissue dissolves over time. In fact, the penis is best left alone and should never be forcibly retracted. Once a boy discovers that his foreskin can be retracted without pain he merely needs to rinse under the fold with warm water. That's it.

10. Even mainstream medical organizations are moving away from recommending routine circumcision. And that's saying a lot.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The Truth Shall Make You Odd

Those of you who know me know that I rarely make a decision without first doing some research. It's important to me to do everything right -- "right" stemming from my most educated viewpoint combined with common sense. And in my mind there are no more important decisions to be made than those having to do with pregnancy, childbirth, and the care of a helpless newborn.

So in that vein I thought I would do a series of blog entries sharing some of the decisions my husband and I have made -- along with the information to back them up. I realize that my thinking is far from mainstream, but then I never put much stock in mainstream thinking. As Flannery O'Connor is rumored to have said, "You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd."

First subject: why we're not going to be circumcising our baby. Stay tuned.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Love Hurts

A word of caution:

If you are someone who normally does not like to draw attention to herself, do not -- I repeat -- do NOT attend the world's largest music festival at eight months pregnant wearing a shirt that says "Love Hurts" across the belly.

Apparently I was quite the spectacle.