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Thread: Childbirth page

  1. #1
    Lewis's Avatar
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    Childbirth

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    Maybe some anthropological material anyone has on childbirth could be collected in a thread. It seems like it might be an interesting topic.

    My understanding has always been that it was relatively easy in hunter-gatherer societies. I have seen accounts that describe women dropping out when the people were on the move, giving birth, picking their baby up, and catching up again. But I can't at the moment locate any source that describes anything like that.

    I think the subject is interesting, because it seems now to have become so relatively difficult. Witness the recent story of overweight pregnant women in the UK being given metformin (sic) for the following reason:

    Metformin will be given to half of the expectant mothers taking part in the trial, from 12 weeks into their pregnancy, with the other half receiving a placebo . It is hoped the treatment will prevent the birth of overweight babies and bring down the need to carry out caesarean sections as well as pre-eclampsia
    I alo recently recall comments by Dr. Shanahan in Deep Nutrition to the effect that a diet high in sugar and vegetable oils interferes with hormone signalling, so that the bones of a woman's pelvis may not grow as wide as they should. She says that now only some 10% of women have the "hourglass" figure, although that is what is biologically normal. And this, again, would lead to the need for increased Caesarean sections.

    Now in nature one assumes that conception, pregnancy, and childbirth must go fairly smoothly. If a caribou needed a hospital, a range of expensive machines, pethidine, and surgeons standing by to deliver by surgery if needful, there'd be no caribou. (Farm animals, of course, might well need a vet, or at least the farmer to assist -- one farmer I heard of who put, IIRC, Charolais bulls to Jersey cows -- used a block and tackle to aid the delivery of the calves.)

    Surely, matters must once have been much easier in humans -- before, perhaps, dietary changes. Changes in the way people use themselves (so called "postural" changes) might also be relevant: e.g., do they sit by squatting or using chairs?

    Presumably, birth was not always easy even for women from fairly traditional societies. The birth of Sacagawea's first son, related in Lewis and Clark's journals didn't go particularly smoothly. However, a few mouthfuls of ground-up rattlesnake seems to have done the trick, if only by means of the placebo effect. And, as I recall she was up and around again and undertaking a pretty gruelling journey soon after. The reference is here:

    Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition Online* February 11, 1805*



    I thought a quick trawl through the Old Testament of the Bible might also be interesting. There you have the self-understaning of a society that transitioned from herding to agriculture. Herding, in Vilhjalmur Stefansson's opinion, is functionally pretty much equivalent in dietary terms to hunting and gathering.

    (In this respect, note that there was always a tension there with the Israelites tending to adopt the religious practices of the surrounding agricultural peoples and getting rebuked by the prophets for doing so. See 2 Kings 23, where the priests of Baal are put down and the houses of temple prostitutes that had been attached to the Temple in Jerusalem torn down. Or see the public contest between Elijah and the priests of Baal in 1 Kings 18 for control of the weather -- something that an agricultural god really ought to be able to control.)

    So ... there are references to midwives in the Book of Exodus -- for example:

    And the midwives said unto Pharaoh, Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwives come in unto them. Exod. 1:19
    There is also the reference to childbirth in the myth of the expulsion from the garden: "... in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children ..." And I wonder whether what we have there is quite an old story here that was re-interpreted at a later date by the Ancient Israelites in the light of their current experience. Is this a view of childbirth that a agricultural people might have?

    Interestingly, if one does a search across the text of the Bible (the Authorized Version or 1611 -- known in the U.S. as the King James Version) for the phrase "in pain" every single Old Testament reference is to childbirth:

    Search: in pain



    Anyway, has anyone else got any references from the literature, particularly in respect of childbirth among hunter-gathererers or animal herders?

  2. #2
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    It seems you might find a few favorite books of mine interesting to read. Pushed (by Jennifer Block) and Ina May's Guide to Childbirth (Ina May Gaskin). They aren't centered on history quite so far back as you speak of, but there is some fascinating information on the history of childbirth and childbirth in a range of cultures. The latter is of course geared especially towards women preparing to birth, but there is so much science and history there as well.
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    There's a book floating around called Birth Among Primitive Peoples. It's online, I believe.

    It is very euro-white centric and so the language is. . . very old fashioned. perhaps offensive to our ears/eyes. but, it is very interesting.

  4. #4
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    very interesting stuff here

  5. #5
    Lewis's Avatar
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    Thanks to everyone.

    So we have:

    Amazon.com: Ina May's Guide to Childbirth (9780553381153): Ina May Gaskin: Books

    and

    Amazon.com: Pushed: The Painful Truth About Childbirth and Modern Maternity Care (9780738211664): Jennifer Block: Books



    I just Googled "Birth Among Primitive Peoples" and found this:

    Link

    That was a tantalizing snippet. It does seem to confirm that several writers have offered evidence that there is "easy birth among primitive people".

    Engelmann and Witkowski seem to be two people who've written ethnographic studies on birth -- from what I could see mostly on birth positions. I think Engelmann's book is probably the book mentioned in post #3, but I couldn't find it online.

    Ah, Englemann's book looks to be called Labor Among Primitive Peoples. Here 'tis:

    Labor Among Primitive Peoples

  6. #6
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    I posted this on its own thread which seems to have sunk!
    If she only agreed with me/us about what an "ancestral" diet is she'd be right on point!
    Lots of interesting info comparing hormone levels between societies, covers more than just childbirth.

  7. #7
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    This is a topic I can go on at length about (I have extremely strong opinions about it) so I'll try to make this short.

    The problem lies less with nutrition and babies growing too large (though I am sure gestational diabetes is more prevalent in first world countries) and more with the practices in hospitals that are done largely to avoid malpractice but result in poorer outcomes for mothers. Parents who feel their baby was saved by a cesarean are not as likely to look back at what might have led them there in the first place.

    Inducing before the mother's body is ready, giving birth in unfamilar territory, epidurals that prohibit changing position (no squatting with an epidural!), pushing while in a prone position... All of these are parts of the cascade of interventions that can lead right into the operating room.

    Don't get me wrong, I think cesareans have their place! My third child was 9.5lbs and nearly 43 weeks and stubbornly posterior, and without surgical intervention she (and I) might not have made it. My second child was also a c-section (my first) that probably didn't have to happen, which was why we tried everything we could for a VBAC with #3.

    Homebirth and birth center births overall have better outcomes than hospital births when matching groups of low-risk women. Less infant mortality, less maternal mortality, less infection, etc. etc.

    It's not just the nutrition. It's the environment the women are giving birth in!

    Btw, Ina May Gaskin's Spiritual Midwifery, especially the first unrevised version, is an awesome read. Hippie women giving birth under trees, in campers and buses, unafraid... Really great stuff.

  8. #8
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    It is a fascinating subject. I tried for a natural bith, but after my 4kg boy was pulled out via cesaran, part of his head had tried to get through my small pelvis.. me.. large boned, .. pelvis is normal size, but not on the inside. I'm hourglass, but he and I would be dead if not for modern medicine. Which means its not a genetic defect.. previous mothers would have died. Unless their babies were really small. So perhaps it is a moders dietary problem? I think its called disproprtionalte ..I can't remember exactly what its called. Caused by previous generarations having inadequate nutrition?

  9. #9
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    I had really big babies (8lb15oz and 10lb) at home with no drugs, and I've got to say that it's really only the size of the heads that makes any difference at all. Once that skull passes through, any rolls of fat are a breeze.

  10. #10
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    I had a 10 lb 1 oz baby by vaginal delivery with an epidural that didn't work and a doctor who didn't get there in time. My daughter did suffer a broken collarbone, which required no treatment. So I would be suspicious of arguments that childbirth is getting more difficult because babies are too big--it is just another form of fat hysteria. It might have been better if I had known to eat lower carb, but my daughter was 99% percentile for height and 70% percentile for weight all her childhood. I would rather have the best possible nourishment for the fetus than be careful about weight gain.

    Sometimes modern medicine saves lives, but a midwife trained in natural methods (such as squatting or at least lying on the left side) and a woman willing to face some pain using techniques such as Lamaze can make many births simple.
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