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Book Review
Mothering Magazine’s Having a Baby, Naturally
The Mothering Magazine Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth

By Peggy O’Mara
Atria Books, 2003
Reviewed by Ann Calandro
Waxhaw NC USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 40 No. 1, February-March 2004, p. 11.

The American way of birth is far from natural.

Mothers in search of books to guide them through pregnancy and birth discover plenty of books to support a medically managed way of birth, if that is their goal. But, there are other choices. In Mothering Magazine’s Having a Baby, Naturally, Peggy O’Mara, longtime editor of Mothering Magazine, shares ideas for empowering expectant mothers to achieve memorable, healthy pregnancies and births without relying on drugs and controlling caregivers and some of the interventions that mothers have come to expect as a part of normal pregnancy and childbirth. By knowing more about routine intervention, mothers may decide to question them.

Birth has not always been induced for convenience, medicated, and controlled by hospital staff and physicians. Birth can be joyous, triumphant, and a positive life-changing experience. And now there is a book telling women just that. In Having A Baby, Naturally, O’Mara approaches pregnancy as a beautiful season in a woman’s life. This book begins with a discussion of how to make informed birth choices. Women are sometimes told that a certain doctor or hospital "allows" mothers some choices during labor. According to O’Mara, informed women make choices and "allow" health care providers to assist them in their choices.

In this book, O’Mara guides mothers through pregnancy trimester by trimester. In the first trimester, mothers choose where they would like to give birth by determining which environment is safest for the individual woman. Next, it is time to choose a birth attendant. Will the pregnant mother choose a midwife, an obstetrician, or a family physician? O’Mara gives suggestions for questions to ask when interviewing these all important people. Expectant mothers learn about eating wisely in the first three months as their baby’s major organ systems are forming. Tips are shared for dealing with nausea and fatigue in natural ways. O’Mara discusses other topics as well. Is ultrasound necessary? Is it safe? What is a doula? What are the differences among childbirth education classes? How do pregnant women prepare for breastfeeding? How do they deal with fear of birth? The second and third trimesters are explained as well.

As mothers travel through this book, they learn how to choose healthy foods and exercise for pregnancy. Tidbits about the use of herbs, essential oils, and homeopathic remedies are scattered throughout. There are little boxes of useful information called "higher ground," "body wise," and "natural soothers." These are little nooks and crannies of information that a wise mother might share with her daughter.

O’Mara discusses attachment parenting, baby-wearing, and co-sleeping in a positive way. Newborns are very immature and need to be held a lot. How wonderful that these ideas are introduced early, before the little one arrives. It is a lucky baby whose mother reads and absorbs the loving attitudes shared on these pages. LLL is woven throughout the pages as well. It is taken for granted that mothers will breastfeed and will attend LLL meetings.

The advice in Having A Baby, Naturally doesn’t end after the baby is born. O’Mara honestly discusses becoming a new parent. She emphasizes that postpartum feelings of worry and dismay are normal, and that communication is the key to family growth and harmony. However, baby blues are not glossed over. O’Mara also addresses the decision of whether or not to return to work. Can maternity leave be prolonged? What are the advantages and disadvantages of staying home or working? The book also contains whole chapters just for fathers titled "Preparing for Fatherhood," "The Pregnant Father," and "Balancing Work and Family." Like LLL meetings, mothers will want to take the parts of this book that they can use and leave parts of it behind. Some of the ideas will seem foreign to mothers who are not used to alternative herbs, meditation, and aromatherapy.

Unfortunately, a significant amount of the information in the breastfeeding section is incorrect. O’Mara states that wet diapers are important in the first days after birth to assure all is going well. In fact, bowel movements are a much better indicator. Babies can be losing weight and having a lot of wet diapers; however, if they are having a lot of bowel movements they are probably gaining weight. O’Mara also recommends putting vitamin E on the nipples but this practice is no longer recommended (although it does work) due to possible overdose of vitamin E.

There is also a variety of new phototherapy methods not listed in the book and all of them are more humane than the old patched eyes, naked baby type of therapy included. Further, O’Mara states nursing babies must put the whole areola in his or her mouth, and that just wouldn’t be possible for many mothers. For hypoglycemia in infants, the first choice is breastfeeding, the second choice is feeding pumped human milk, and the third choice of physicians is formula. Medical professionals rarely use glucose water as O’Mara describes. Finally, O’Mara recommends honey as a treatment for sore nipples on page 85, and just a short time later accurately says honey should not be given to babies under a year due to the risk of botulism.

Because of these and other errors concerning breastfeeding that appear in Mothering Magazine’s Having A Baby, Naturally, mothers should be encouraged to read THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING for more accurate breastfeeding information.

However, the rest of the book is a joy to read. Much of the information I have gleaned from many years of experience, reading, and attending conferences is condensed into this one volume.

Ann Calandro, RNC, IBCLC, has been a Leader for 26 years. She lives with her husband and has four children and one grandchild in Waxhaw, North Carolina, USA.

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