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Welcoming All Families Series: Welcoming Women of Size In Your Birth Classes

November 6th, 2012 by avatar

Continuing along in our occasional series on “Welcoming All Families” to our childbirth classes, this two part guest post is written by Pam Vireday,  creator of the Well-Rounded Mama blog.  Are your childbirth classes friendly to women of size?  What special accomodations and resources do larger-sized mothers-to-be need if any? In today’s post, Pam discusses a check list of items that you might consider when teaching childbirth classes and on Thursday, Pam shares how to promote in your classes optimum outcomes at the births of these mothers.- Sharon Muza, S&S Community Manager

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MatthiasKabel GFDL www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html Wikimedia Commons

Although the exact numbers vary according to the source used, it is no secret that many women of childbearing age are “overweight” or “obese”* by government standards.  This means that, sooner or later, most doulas, childbirth educators and health care providers will have women of size as clients or patients.

Many birth professionals are unsure of how to address the unique needs of this group. At a time when the media messages around obesity and pregnancy are almost uniformly negative and scare-mongering, it is important that birth professionals create a place for women of size to discuss their unique concerns without judgment.

Terminology*

Research shows that many larger people find the terms “obese” and “overweight” stigmatizing. Although size-acceptance activists prefer the word “fat,” some people cannot hear this term neutrally, and euphemisms like “fluffy” can feel patronizing.

Birth professionals are encouraged to notice and adopt the terminology used by clients for themselves. Until then, use more neutral terms like “plus-sized” or “women of size.” (Further discussion of the relative merits of various terms can be found here.)

Create a Safe Space

Most larger women have been negatively judged by others for their weight, and the disapproval is never stronger than when they consider pregnancy. Women of size need a non-judgmental space where they can feel free to discuss their concerns for pregnancy without being shamed, lectured to, or made to feel like “bad mothers.”

Your job as a birth professional is to create this safe place. Examine your own biases about weight, eating, and health.  Question your assumptions and engage with each woman as an individual. Utilize reflective listening, assist them in researching special issues, and neutrally explore proactive behaviors that might help address their concerns.

Make Sure Facilities Are Size-Friendly

Ask yourself ─ are your facilities friendly to larger bodies?  Do you have armless chairs? Seating that is easy to get up from?  Restrooms that accommodate larger people?  Comfortable facilities set the tone for a space that is welcoming to all sizes.

Remember that getting up and down from the floor can be difficult for many women in pregnancy, not just heavier women.  Have a few low stools around that women can use to help boost themselves up.  Also be sure your birth balls are appropriate for heavier women; a little higher and a little more heavy-duty balls can be helpful.

Address Special Equipment Needs

The correct blood pressure cuff size is vital for larger people.  A too-small cuff can artificially inflate blood pressure readings and result in unnecessary intervention.

According to guidelines from the American Heart Association, people with upper arm circumferences above about 13.4 inches (34 cm) need a “large adult” cuff, while those with a circumference above about 17.3 inches (44 cm) need a “thigh” cuff.  If in doubt, measure the client’s arm and cross-check it against the reference range printed on the BP cuff.

Some care providers resist using larger cuffs, so women or their support people may need to be quite assertive about utilizing the correct cuff size.

Discuss Breastfeeding When Well-Endowed

Some high-BMI women are quite well-endowed. This can present special challenges in breastfeeding, yet many women receive no information on how to meet these challenges. Cover a variety of nursing positions and techniques, including the football hold, which may be more useful for well-endowed women.

Have Additional Resources Available for Women of Size

A consistent problem for women of size is the difficulty in finding resources for their specific needs. For example, finding maternity clothes or a nursing bra in a larger size can be a major problem. Many women appreciate having a list of companies that specialize in plus-size maternity products.

Address Potential Risks and Complications

While the possibility of complications must be acknowledged, remind women that having a risk factor for a complication does not inevitably mean developing that complication. An individual’s outcome cannot be predicted by risk factors alone. Treat women of size like any other pregnant woman by expecting normalcy as much as possible.

Share websites that examine weight-related research with a neutral, critical eye, which acknowledge that complications are possible and promote proactive prevention, but which also point out that larger women can and do have normal, healthy pregnancies and births.

Find Positive Images and Stories of Women of Size

photo courtesy of Diaz Family

Media images of heavy people in our society are highly stigmatizing.  Most pictures of fat people are headless (dehumanizing them), unflattering (focusing on bellies or behinds in tight clothes), or reinforce stereotypical behavior (eating junk food or being sedentary).

Media discussions of pregnancy and obesity focus only on the risks for complications, tell apocryphal stories of worst possible outcomes as if they are commonplace, or compare fat pregnancy to child abuse.

Books that focus on obesity and pregnancy pay lip service to being size-friendly, but contain a preponderance of negative stories, highly-interventive births, and scare tactics about complications.  As one doula reviewer on Amazon wrote, “More time was spent telling me how much more likely I am to have a cesarean than to tell me how I can best avoid one.”

It’s very important to counteract these negative messages and images with positive ones.  Direct your client to websites which have plenty of positive images of women of size pregnant, giving birth, and breastfeeding (see list below).  Connect them with a community of like-minded women if they are interested.

Respect Patient Autonomy

Different people will look at the same information with differing values and make varying choices.  The same is true for women of size.  Some will respond to information about obesity-related risks by choosing a more-interventive childbirth model, and some will respond by choosing a less-interventive model.  Neither choice is right or wrong. Respect each person’s right to choose for themselves.

 

“All in all I think I just want to be treated the same as anyone else. Give me the information, not opinions, not value judgments. Let me decide what to do with it. Give me all the information, not what you perceive or decide I need. Treat me as thinking adult. Treat me with respect. Don’t belittle me, and do not treat me with kid gloves either.” Lexi Diaz, plus-sized mother of four.

Do you do anything different when women of size attend your classes?  Do you feel like your classes already accomodate any special needs they might bring? Do your visual aids and resource lists include pictures of women of size and resources designed for their needs?  Do you feel that any woman of size attending your class feels welcome or alone?  What have been your experiences with larger sized women taking your classes or being your client or patient.  Let us know your experiences in the comments section and share additional resources if you would like.  Read on Thursday, when Pam shares how CBEs can help women have optimum outcomes at their births.- SM

Plus-Sized Resources

Plus-Sized Pregnancy Information

www.wellroundedmama.blogspot.com
www.plus-size-pregnancy.org
http://www.facebook.com/theamplemother
www.plussizebirth.com
www.facebook.com/plussizemommymemoirs
http://pregnancy.about.com/od/plussizepregnanc/Plus_Size_Pregnancy.htm
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Plus-Maternity-Australia/107067319323331
www.fertilityplus.org
http://community.babycenter.com/groups/a425315/plus_size_and_pregnant

Finding Maternity Clothing in Plus Sizes

Plus-Size Maternity Clothing FAQ – help for finding maternity clothing, nursing clothing, nursing bras, and maternity-related products in plus sizes, both in the U.S. and abroad
http://plus-size-pregnancy.org/BBWBabyCarriers.html – help for finding baby carriers and slings in plus sizes
www.plusmaternity.com.au – resources on plus-sized maternity and nursing clothing in Australia
http://plussizebirth.com/2012/04/babywearing-for-the-plus-size-mom.htm – info on finding baby carriers for plus sizes

Positive Images of Plus-Sized Pregnant Women

*Do not use any of these photos without asking permission first

Plus-Sized Pregnancy Photo Gallery – series of blog posts with many pictures of plus-sized pregnancy and birth
Plus-Sized Pregnancy Breastfeeding Gallery – pictures of women of size breastfeeding
http://plussizebirth.com/gallery- gallery of plus-sized baby bumps, birth pictures, breastfeeding pictures, and babywearing pictures
http://oneyawn.blogspot.com/2012/06/belly-pictures-baby-number-three.html – belly diary of a plus-sized mom, week to week in pregnancy
http://www.facebook.com/theamplemother/photos_stream – plus-sized pregnancy photos
http://birthislife.blogspot.com/2012/08/nursing-portrait-session.html – lovely breastfeeding photos of a woman of size
http://www.yaleruddcenter.org/press/image_gallery.aspx – free for educational purposes with attribution to the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity (no pregnancy images)

Birth Stories of Plus-Sized Women

http://www.plus-size-pregnancy.org/BBWBirthStories/bbwstrindex.html – stories with a wide range of outcomes and experiences
http://www.plus-size-pregnancy.org/BBWBirthStories/bbwvagnlstories.htm – stories of normal vaginal births in women of size
http://www.plus-size-pregnancy.org/BBWBirthStories/bbwspecvagstories.htm – stories of normal vaginal births in women of size despite special circumstances

About Pam Vireday

Painting by Mary Cassatt, 1844-1926. (public domain) Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Pamela Vireday is a childbirth educator, writer, woman of size, and mother to four children. She has been collecting the stories of women of size and writing about childbirth research for 17 years. She writes at www.wellroundedmama.blogspot.com and www.plus-size-pregnancy.org.

 

 

 

Breastfeeding, Cesarean Birth, Childbirth Education, Evidence Based Medicine, Guest Posts, Healthy Birth Practices, Healthy Care Practices, informed Consent, Maternal Obesity, Maternal Quality Improvement, Maternity Care, Series: Welcoming All Families , , , , , , , , ,

Delivery By Cesarean Section And Risk Of Obesity In Preschool Age Children; Research Review

June 21st, 2012 by avatar

Today’s guest post is written by Dr. Mark Sloan, pediatrician and author of Birth Day: A Pediatrician Explores the Science, the History and the Wonder of Childbirth.  Dr. Sloan takes a look at the study released in May, 2012 examing the relationship between Cesarean deliveries and obesity in preschoolers. – SM

I don’t recall learning much about childhood obesity in my early-1980s pediatric residency. This was partly due to the fact that obesity wasn’t all that common—only about 7% of kids fell into that category at the time—and partly because the solution seemed obvious, and not quite worthy of medical attention. “Join a baseball team, kid,” my senior resident once told an overweight boy with asthma. “And you,” he said, pointing an accusatory finger at the boy’s mother. “Stop buying cookies, okay?”

Creative Commons photo by LouLou-Nico

One thing I did learn a lot about in residency, though, was cesarean section. The U.S. cesarean rate topped 20% for the first time, up from 6% just a decade earlier.  I spent a steadily increasing amount of time in operating rooms, waiting for an obstetrician to hand me a baby.

We all thought the rise in cesareans was a good thing—think of the lives saved, the brain damage avoided, we told ourselves.  If anyone had suggested cesarean birth might be creating long-term health problems for those “saved” babies, we would have scoffed. And had anyone suggested that it might lead to a lifetime of obesity, we’d have laughed them right out of the hospital.

But here we have it: The cesarean rate is now 50% higher than it was in 1980. (Hamilton BE, Martin JA, & Ventura SJ. 2011)  The rate of childhood obesity has tripled. (Ogden C. & Carroll M., 2010) Is this just a coincidence?

Theories abound as to the cause of the childhood obesity epidemic. It’s all those sodas and sports drinks laden with high fructose corn syrup. Or it’s sugary, fatty, super-sized fast food. Or video games, the loss of Physical Education at school, bad parenting, unsafe neighborhoods, too little sleep, too much schoolwork, or all of the above. Just about any variable you can think of has been scrutinized for obesogenic potential.

And now, thanks to Dr. Susanna Huh and her research team at Harvard University, we can add cesarean section to the list of suspects.

Creative Commons photo

Huh’s team studied 1,255 mother-child pairs recruited between 1999 and 2002 as part of Project Viva, a longitudinal prebirth cohort of mothers and babies in eastern Massachusetts. A trained research assistant conducted in-person visits with the mothers during pregnancy, and with mothers and babies shortly after delivery, and at 6 months and 3 years after birth. At each visit the children’s length, weight and skin-fold thicknesses were assessed.

Their results: Children born by cesarean section were twice as likely to be obese at 3 years of age than those born vaginally. (Huh, SY, Rifas-Shiman, SI, Zera, CA, Edwards, JWR, Oken, E, Weiss, ST, & Gillman, MW, 2012) This relationship held up even after adjusting for factors like the mother’s weight, ethnicity, age, education, and parity, and the baby’s gender, gestational age, and birth weight.

The Huh study wasn’t designed to look at the reasons for the increased risk of obesity associated with cesarean birth, but the Harvard team suggested several possibilities:

  1. The most likely culprit is the known alteration of the gut microbiota—the sum total of all the micro-organisms found in the healthy human bowel—caused by cesarean birth. The microbiota of vaginally-born babies is populated by bacteria acquired from the birth canal and maternal rectum. In cesarean-born babies, who do not traverse the birth canal, the microbiota is dominated by bacteria from the skin and the hospital environment. In general, cesarean-born babies have an abnormal gut microbiota: too many carbohydrate-loving Firmicutes bacteria and too few obesity-preventing Bacteroidetes species, compared with the microbiota found in vaginally-born babies. This same gut microbiota profile is associated with obesity in adults; the link between the two appears to be low-level bowel inflammation triggered by the abnormal microbiota, which alters how food is absorbed  from the gut and processed within the body.
  2. The second possibility is that cesarean birth is just a stand-in for something else that’s happening at the same time. In discussing their findings, Huh and colleagues speculate about antibiotics routinely given to women during the course of a cesarean. Antibiotics given during pregnancy may temporarily alter the newborn gut microbiota, but research results are mixed as to whether this is a significant, lasting effect.
  3.  It’s possible that all of this has nothing to do with the gut microbiota. There are maternal and placental hormones, and immune and inflammatory factors, surging in a mother’s (and baby’s) bloodstream during labor. These, obviously, are missing to some extent if she never completes labor, and are largely absent if a cesarean is performed before labor starts. The lack of a normal maternal stress response to labor could adversely impact the development of the newborn immune system, theoretically leading to the gut inflammation associated with obesity.
  4.  Differences in mode of feeding may be involved as well. The study’s cesarean babies breast-fed for a significantly shorter time than did the vaginally-born babies. Though the authors don’t comment on this, early weaning is also associated with alterations of the infant gut microbiota.

My best guess: the cesarean-obesity link is likely a big mash-up of all of these, plus other factors no one has yet even dreamed of. Further research by Dr. Huh’s team and many others in the coming months and years will hopefully clarify the picture.

In the meantime, the risk of future obesity is one more factor maternity care providers and their pregnant clients should weigh before deciding on how a baby will be born.

Would you be likely to share this connection between mode of delivery and childhood obesity with  your students when teaching about benefits and risks of cesarean section?  Do you think if more families knew about this connection, they might make different choices surrounding the labor and birth of their baby and avoid interventions likely to increase their risk of a cesarean birth.  Is this information just one more thing that blames mothers for things that are out of their control?  Please share your thoughts in our comment section. -SM

References

Hamilton BE, Martin JA, Ventura SJ. Births: Preliminary data for 2010. National vital statistics reports; vol 60 no 2. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2011.

 Huh, Susanna Y, Rifas-Shiman, Sheryl L, Zera, Chloe A, Edwards, Janet W Rich, Oken, Emily, Weiss, Scott T, & Gillman, Matthew W. (2012). Delivery by caesarean section and risk of obesity in preschool age children: a prospective cohort study. Archives of Disease in Childhood. doi: 10.1136/archdischild-2011-301141

Ogden Cynthia, & Carroll Margaret, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (2010). Prevalence of obesity among children and adolescents: United states, trends 1963-1965 through 2007-2008. Retrieved from CDC/National Center for Health Statistics website: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hestat/obesity_child_07_08/obesity_child_07_08.htm

About Mark Sloan

Mark Sloan has been a pediatrician and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics for more than 25 years. Dr. Sloan graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1975, received his medical degree from the University of Illinois, Chicago, in 1979, and completed his pediatric training at the University of Michigan. Since 1982 he has practiced with the Permanente Medical Group in Sacramento and Santa Rosa, California, where he was Chief of Pediatrics from 1997 to 2002. He is an Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Community and Family Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Sloan’s first book, Birth Day: A Pediatrician Explores the Science, the History and the Wonder of Childbirth was published in 2009 by Ballantine Books. His writing has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Francisco Examiner, and Notre Dame Magazine, among other publications. Dr. Sloan can be reached through his blog.

Babies, Cesarean Birth, Childbirth Education, Guest Posts, New Research, Research , , , , , , , ,