Forty years ago, Ina May Gaskin set out to transform the then-standard birthing experience at hospitals where doctors often used forceps and husbands were not allowed in the room. She and her friends set up a self-sustaining community in Tennessee called “The Farm,” so Ina May could teach women to deliver each other’s babies using age-old midwifery practices. As word of their social experiment spread, the community created a model of care for women and babies that changed a generation’s approach to childbirth.
An award-winning documentary about Ina May’s work in maternal health — Birth Story: Ina May Gaskin and the Farm Midwives — was released last April. (You can access the digital download of the film on birthstorymovie.com as well as on iTunes.) The directors describe the film beautifully:
“Today, as nearly one third of all US babies are born via C-section, [Ina May] fights to preserve her community’s hard-won knowledge. With incredible access to the midwives’ archival video collection, the film not only captures the unique sisterhood at The Farm Clinic — from its heyday into the present — but shows childbirth the way most people have never seen it — unadorned, unabashed, and awe-inspiring.”
We had a chance to interview Mary Wigmore who co-directed the film, along with Sara Lamm.
“We hope that the film helps lessen the cultural fear around the topic of childbirth, that it inspires women to connect with the awe-inspiring power of their bodies, and that it helps all of us think about what we can achieve when we work together in a community,” Mary says.
Here, Mary shares what she learned while making this inspiring documentary.
Honest: How did you hear about Ina May Gaskin?
Mary Wigmore: My friend and co-director Sara Lamm gave me a copy of Spiritual Midwifery when I was pregnant with my son. I loved the photographs of the pregnant hippies and their positive birth stories. I found the book made me feel excited and less afraid. I love that this book has been passed from woman to woman over and over again for nearly 40 years. Sara and I wanted to know more about Ina May and the Farm Midwives and we were surprised to find a film did not already exist so we decided to make it.
H: How long did it take to make this film?
MW: It took about 3 and half years. A true labor of love.
H: Do people live on “The Farm” or is it just a midwifery center?
MW: There are about 200 residents living on The Farm now. People come from all over the world to study with The Farm Midwives at The Midwifery Center and some travel there to have their babies with them of course.
H: What surprised you most while learning her story and making this film?
MW: I think what surprised me most was attending a birth. It was so sweet and so calm and I never imagined that a baby could be born like that. Truly beautiful and something I hope to witness again. Other surprises…Ina May is really funny, a great cook, speaks six languages, makes her own clothes and she’s also a technophile!
H: What is something every woman should know about childbirth?
MW: One of the most valuable things I learned is how important it is to surround yourself with a loving, supportive team of caregivers. Oxytocin, the love hormone, is released while laboring. Try to enjoy it!
H: What did Ina May offer at The Farm Clinic that typical hospitals of the time did not offer?
MW: In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, husbands were not allowed in the hospital room with their laboring wives. At The Farm, the partners were and still are an essential part of the support team for the mother.
The midwives create a loving supportive environment for the mother. They encourage her to let her body to do what it was built for. Fear is not part of the equation.
We wanted to show the midwife model of care so people can actually see and be inspired by the work these women do… even in very complicated births, they are so calm and sweet.
We want the film to be useful to anyone caring for pregnant women — doctors, childbirth educators, doulas, and families in any setting – home, birth center, or hospital.
H: How has your view of childbirth changed after making this film?
MW: I think of childbirth as a normal bodily function rather than a medical event now. I am so impressed by women’s bodies and what they can do. (Birth Story offers an opportunity to see birth with minimal intervention and unmedicated.)
H: How does Ina May feel about modern child birthing methods used by hospitals? Do women in labor on The Farm rely on hospital care if they encounter medical emergencies?
MW: Ina May has an ongoing and very respectful collaboration with many doctors who have taught her through the years. And she has a healthy respect for technology. The Farm also has a great relationship with a hospital that’s just 15 minutes away. They transfer immediately if necessary.
As far as improving the child birthing experience in hospitals, I would say Ina May would like to see more midwives in US hospitals, and wants to lessen the culture of fear and unnecessary interventions.
H: What do you think is the message Ina May wants to pass on to future generations?
1. Our bodies were built for birthing babies! “Your body is not a lemon!”
2. We need more midwives assisting births in the US.
3. When women work together, we can change the world.
Ina May inspires us because of her care and compassion for women. Her natural approach to pregnancy and childbirth has made her a thought leader in maternal health and midwifery. You can read more about Ina May here, and The Farm here.
Tell us about your birth experience and what amazed you about the process.
My husband and I welcomed four babies into the world last August. We already had a one-year-old son who was the love of our lives and is now a big brother to four more little loves. Although there’s a lot more on our to-do lists and life is hectic our world has changed in the best way! With the support of our friends, family, and each other, my husband and I are raising five little ones together.
Honest asked me to share what surprised me most about having multiples, and I guess it’s not really a surprise, or shouldn’t be, but I’m surprised that I barely have any time to sit down, or finish a cup of coffee, or eat lunch. I’m going practically nonstop from the time I wake up. Even on the days I have help! There’s just always something that needs to be done. Actually, there’s always lots of somethings to be done! I’m so glad we prepared ahead of time! Of course, you can never fully prepare for everything four babies require but planning was our best friend before the babies arrived.
I wrote a blog post in December about our experiencing having quads. In the more than five months since I had them, we’ve learned a lot. Below are some tips for parents expecting multiples, or anyone expecting.
For any soon-to-be parent of multiples, here is what I’ve learned:
You can read more about Kerry’s life with quads on her blog, Quads Make It Seven.
One of my biggest life-altering events was the birth of my two boys. If you feel anxiety about being a new parent, you’re not alone. Many new parents feel overwhelmed when it’s time to bring their new babies home from the hospital. As a nurse in the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles Newborn and Infant Critical Care Unit (NICCU), I am positioned to help give you the confidence in caring for your newborn. Continue reading for helpful newborn care tips!
Getting Started Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding is a team effort between you and your baby. One of the keys to successful breastfeeding is simply sitting up while you breastfeed—sit up in bed, in a comfortable armchair or in a rocking chair. Use pillows behind your back, under your elbow and on your lap to support the baby. Use a footstool to bring your knees up or use pillows under your knees if you are sitting up in bed. You should be relaxed with none of your muscles straining. Your baby should be lying on his side with his whole body facing you and his knees pulled in close to your body. There are a number of breastfeeding pillows to help, but you don’t necessarily need one of those to succeed.
Overcoming a Poor Latch During Breastfeeding
Getting your baby to latch onto your nipple properly helps promote successful breastfeeding. A poor latch (nipple is too shallow in your baby’s mouth) at the breast will cause discomfort and can make your nipples sore or cause them to crack and bleed. Here are some suggestions to help overcome poor latching:
Mary, my fellow RN Remedies blogger, talks about how to properly handle, store, and thaw your breast milk.
Curing a Stuffy Nose
Babies are born nose breathers, probably because that how they breathe during breastfeeding—mouth breathing begins later. If your newborn has a stuffy nose, not only does it interfere with breastfeeding but it can cause other respiratory issues. If your baby shows signs of a stuffy nose (e.g. nasal secretion around their nostrils, sneezing) here are some ways to help clear their nasal passage to promote better breathing. One of the most effective ways to remove blockage in their nose is to use a bulb syringe:
Your newborn’s nails grow quickly and will require a trim at least once per week. If you forget, you’ll be reminded by a small scratch on your arm or hand, or they may accidentally scratch themselves.
Safe Sleep for Your Newborn
Since 1992, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that infants sleep on their backs to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). SIDS is the sudden and unexplained death of a baby under 1 year of age. Even though there is no way to know which babies might die of SIDS, there are some things that you can do to make your baby safer:
It helps to educate anyone who cares for your baby about safe sleep for your baby. This RN Remedies blog post can help.
By Robert Giesler, BSN, RN, CPST, Pediatric Nurse, Newborn and Infant Critical Care Unit (NICCU) at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles
To read more of Robert’s pediatric health care tips, visit WeTreatKidsBetter.org!
Little ones have the sweetest smiles, but brushing their toothy (or toothless) grins doesn’t always leave them happy. Many toddlers run the other direction when you mention it’s time to brush their teeth. Or curious infants see their toothbrush as a teething toy and eat up their paste like a snack. But we all know that, no matter what, brushing our teeth is a must do.
In fact, The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends starting to clean your baby’s gums with a soft infant toothbrush or cloth and water as early as birth. As soon as he or she pops the first tooth, you can use a “smear” of toothpaste for brushing teeth (your toddlers can try a “pea-sized” amount). Of course, make sure to visit your dentist when your baby’s first tooth breaks through—and no later than the first birthday—so she can provide the best oral care plan and options for your family.
Naturally, we want to help you promote healthy teeth and habits at home too. So, we’re excited to introduce Honest Toothpaste and Honest Kid’s Toothpaste. Our fluoride-free and vegan formulas have absolutely no artificial sweeteners, flavors, or dyes—no questionable chemicals, ever! Adults can enjoy refreshing minty cleaning, while little ones will open wide for the yummy and safe-on-their-tummy strawberry flavor.
If your kiddos still need a little coaxing to brush those pearly whites (although we’re pretty sure they’ll love our natural toothpaste), you can lend a helping hand with these great tips from the AAPD…
And our Honest Community…
What are your teeth-brushing tidbits?
We recently received an inquiry asking us why we say our sunscreen is baby-safe when sunscreen isn’t recommended for babies under 6 months old. It’s a good question! And, with skin cancer on the rise, we felt it was important to help all parents in our community better understand infant sun safety.
Why babies are more vulnerable
Infants are at higher risk of UV damage and skin cancer because their skin is thinner and has lower melanin concentrations than an adult’s skin. According to the article UV protection and sunscreens: What to tell patients, what this means is that “UV penetrates more deeply into skin that is less able to absorb UV radiation.” The doctors who authored the article go on to say, “Animal studies suggest that the skin of children, especially infants, is immunologically immature and less able to respond to UV damage than adult skin. Therefore, extra care must be taken to protect children from UV exposure.”
The latest skin safety recommendations
Previously, the “extra care” recommendation was to keep babies under 6 months of age out of direct sun and covered by protective clothing. Sunscreen was not recommended at all for babies this young. But in the past few years, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has modified that recommendation. Now they say:
For babies younger than 6 months. Use sunscreen on small areas of the body, such as the face and the backs of the hands, if protective clothing and shade are not available.
Keeping babies out of the sun is still the safest way to protect their delicate, vulnerable skin from the harmful rays of the sun. That’s a fact. But public health officials now recognize that’s not always a possibility and that the safety of shade is relative to the situation. Consider this, even sitting in the shade of an umbrella at the beach cannot entirely protect you from UV rays. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Surfaces like snow, sand, pavement, and water reflect much of the UV radiation that reaches them. Because of this reflection, UV intensity can be deceptively high even in shaded areas.”
At those times, protective clothing can help close the gap and increase skin protection. But there’s inevitably still a little bit of skin exposed (e.g., face, hands, ears)—and that’s when a little bit of sunscreen might be necessary. When that’s the case, the consensus is generally that a broad-spectrum sunscreen made from physical barriers such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are the most effective and safest for baby’s sensitive skin.
Why physical barriers are better
In sun protection, there are two categories of active ingredients: chemical absorbers and physical barriers. Chemical absorbers, such as benzophenone, oxybenzone, and octocrylene, work by absorbing UV radiation before it affects or damages the skin. However, these ingredients are increasingly being linked to negative health impacts. (For example, benzophenone was recently added to California’s Prop 65 list as known to cause cancer, octocrylene is a “strong allergen linked to contact dermatitis in children,” and oxybenzone is a known contact allergen with links to endometriosis.)
The second category of active ingredients in sun protection is physical blockers, such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. When the sun hits these blockers it is reflected and bounces away from the skin (versus getting absorbed). These ingredients (unless they’ve been nano-sized – which ours have not been) are natural, generally not absorbed by the skin, and are far gentler on both our skin and the environment.
Honest Sunscreen does not contain chemical absorbers like oxybenzone or octocrylene. It contains only 1 active sunblock ingredient: zinc oxide.
Additional sun safety tips for infants
The FDA recommends keeping the following in mind this summer when outside with infants:
Keep your baby in the shade as much as possible. If you do use a small amount of sunscreen on your baby, don’t assume the child is well protected.
Make sure your child wears clothing that covers and protects sensitive skin. Use common sense; if you hold the fabric against your hand and it’s so sheer that you can see through it, it probably doesn’t offer enough protection.
Make sure your baby wears a hat that provides sufficient shade at all times.
Watch your baby carefully to make sure he or she doesn’t show warning signs of sunburn or dehydration. These include fussiness, redness, and excessive crying.
Hydrate! Give your baby formula, breast milk, or a small amount of water between feedings if you’re out in the sun for more than a few minutes. Don’t forget to use a cooler to store the liquids.
Take note of how much your baby is urinating. If it’s less than usual, it may be a sign of dehydration, and that more fluids are needed until the flow is back to normal.
If you do notice your baby is becoming sunburned, get out of the sun right away and apply cold compresses to the affected areas.
NOTE: Please consult your family health provider with any concerns about sun safety and using sunscreens on your children. The information in this blog post should not replace professional medical advice.