A review of the Evening Talk on Wednesday 18th January 2017 with Sinead Mitchell.

Weaving the Lost Wisdom of Child-bearing Years in the Counselling Room – ‘it takes a village to raise a child’

This talk focused on the kind of support that really benefits women before and particularly during and after pregnancy, as well as some of the positive and negative impacts on the developing foetus before and during birth. Sinead covered some of the physical and mental health issues that can arise as a result of the type of birth (e.g. Natural or Caesarean). A key focus of the talk was how pregnant women definitely benefit from having support – whether from family, friends, a midwife, a doula (this is a nonmedical person who provides emotional support and assistance during pregnancy) or a support group.

Sinead is an active member of the Positive Birth Movement in Portsmouth. They are a national and international organisation who believe that every woman deserves a positive birth. This means she has freedom of choice, access to accurate information and is in control. The Positive Birth Movement is woman-centred and as such respects a woman’s right to choose where and how she has her baby.

Some of the negative impacts of an unhappy pregnant mum were discussed. She could be unhappy because of a domineering partner or an unwanted pregnancy. Cortisol is then produced, it is an inhibitor of foetal growth, even if the placenta can to a certain extent moderate this effect via an enzyme that transforms the active cortisol into inactive cortisone.  There are lifelong consequences for the child. Apparently 100% of depressed teenagers have depressed mothers – 60% of these depressed mothers were depressed during pregnancy.

Sinead then highlighted the benefits for mother and baby of having a natural birth. Oxytocin needs to be present to allow all the other birthing hormones to kick in. Prolactin, which aids lactation, is activated when the baby is squeezed through the birth canal.  The nervous system of the baby matures from the stroking of its back as it comes down the birth canal, if this doesn’t happen (e.g. caesarean birth) there is an increased risk of autism for the baby – the risk is higher for an elective caesarean than emergency caesarean. Other factors that may increase the risk of autism are induction of labour, deep forceps delivery and birth under anaesthesia.

There is fluid in the baby’s lungs which gets squeezed out when born naturally. This is why babies born by caesarean can have their lungs full of mucus. Are women told the risks of having an elective caesarean? As well as medical risks there is the increased risk of separation and loss of immediate skin to skin contact and a decrease or absence of oxytocin for bonding and love and prolactin to initiate lactation.

The next section of the talk covered mental health issues related to maternity and birth. 12% of women suffer a depressive illness / anxiety as a result. Some of the risk factors for this are a lack of support from family and friends, unplanned pregnancy, premature baby or history of mental health. Things that are good body support and have helped expectant mothers feel relaxed and therefore have a better chance of a natural birth, or reposition the pelvis to allow the foetus freer movement for birthing, are a good diet with sources of B vitamins, magnesium and avoiding sugar. Other treatments can help like acupuncture, aromatherapy, homeopathy or seeing a herbalist, and plenty of rest if possible too. Above all seeking out the help of a support group will be beneficial.

Note that any previous episode of psychosis puts a mum to be at a higher risk of postpartum psychosis, and that postpartum psychosis is a medical emergency.

The last section briefly covered right at the end was about the benefits of breastfeeding and co-sleeping with baby. Babies should be in the same room as parents for as long as possible. Any form of allowing a baby to ‘cry alone’ has been proven to raise their stress hormone cortisol with associated negative long term effects (because baby ‘learns to be ignored’). And finally of course how tough parenting is!

Thank you Sinead for a really interesting evening.

Graham Shavick