Tuesday, 6 December 2011

#13 How much sex is enough?

FACT OF THE DAY: Having sex just once cannot make a baby according to some cultures - they believe that a couple needs to have sex repeatedly over a number of days or even weeks to create a foetus

Ok so before you get too excited, you may have gathered that we're talking conception here, rather than satisfaction...

Here I will be describing the “keep having sex every day until you’re sure you’re pregnant” approach, as followed by quite a number of cultures around the world.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

#12 Breastfeeding on the job

FACT OF THE DAY: Us ‘modern day mothers’ are not the only ones having to juggle breastfeeding with going back to work

Today I’m going to add to a previous post #8  about some superhuman Nepali women living in the foothills of the Himalayas who carry enormously heavy bundles of firewood during their pregnancies.(http://pregnancyandchildbirtharoundtheworld.blogspot.com/2011/11/8-no-such-thing-as-maternity-leave-in.html)

Equally impressive was the lengths the researcher (Catherine Panter-Brick) was prepared to go to, to see these women's breastfeeding habits were affected by their work and way of life. She spent a year in this village, keeping a minute by minute record of the activities of 58 village women, observing each of them for several days during 4 different seasons of the year. That’s dedication! (She is now Professor of Anthropology at Durham University, so I guess her dedication paid off).

I had naively thought that the difficulties of combining work and motherhood were new issues for women in the past 50 years. I somehow assumed that pre Women’s Lib, mothers stayed at home and looked after the children, and I probably thought that it was the same around the world. I hadn’t even really thought about the fact that women in other cultures have been ‘going back to work’ after having their babies for centuries (a necessity if their family are to have enough food to eat).

Next time you and your friends are discussing the difficulties of going back to work while breastfeeding, spare a thought for these Nepali women and feel reassured that your problem is as old as the hills.

So, among these Nepali women, how does a mother’s work affect her breastfeeding patterns?

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

#11 Would you have an affair to get pregnant?

FACT OF THE DAY: Without infertility treatment, in some cultures sleeping with someone else may be the only way to get pregnant. 

At first glance, sleeping with another man to get pregnant seems pretty extreme behaviour, doesn’t it?   However, imagine yourself in a scenario where the following is true;

1. Your marriage is an arranged marriage, rather than a love marriage

2. If you don’t get pregnant, it is very likely your husband will either divorce you or take a second wife

3. Having children and being a mother is literally the only acceptable way of life; not having children will mean you are a social outcast

4. Although women are generally blamed for infertility, you know your husband is the reason you aren't getting pregnant

5. There is no available infertility treatment for men

Under these circumstances what ‘resourceful’ woman wouldn’t consider the possibility of finding an alternative man to father her child!?

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

#10 Birth in Bangladesh

FACT OF THE DAY: Childbirth is thought to be so ‘polluting’ in rural Bangladesh that the ‘dai’ who helps with the birth only bothers to wash her hands after she has finished dealing with the newborn and birth fluids, not before.

Right, today I am going to tackle one of the big ones – childbirth.

I have been slightly putting this off as it certainly doesn’t make for light reading. I guess we got a hint at this from the terrible birthing statistics around the world in post #2.

But today, I am going to describe the childbirth experiences in rural Bangladesh.

If you are hoping for descriptions of a lovely natural birth, with nurturing traditional birthing customs that ensure the safe delivery of the baby, then I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed. If you are a fan of ‘natural birth’ you may find you’ve changed your mind after you’ve read this.

In fact, maybe this post should come with a health warning – not for the faint hearted, or anyone who is going to be giving birth soon.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

#9 Grass hut Caesareans

FACT OF THE DAY:  People in Uganda were performing successful Caesareans before they were done in Europe

Seeing as Caesarean sections are in the news at the moment I thought I’d add a Caesarean story to my blog today.
Caesarean or C-section, or just plain old section, I’m never quite sure what to call them (too many ‘a’s and ‘e’s for my spelling ability!).... The NICE (National Institute for Clinical Excellence) is now recommending that women in England and Wales are given the right to choose a C-section on the NHS, whereas currently C-sections are only performed if there is a medical need, or if you are prepared to pay for them privately.

This seems such a strange reversal of attitude, until now we couldn’t even have an epidural on demand with the NHS and they were encouraging us all to have intervention-free births, and now suddenly they are recommending C-sections on demand?

On a scale of natural to unnatural, C-sections are obviously the least ‘natural’ way to give birth. They are the ultimate way to escape the risks of childbirth that nature throws at us (discussed in post #2).

So have any other cultures around the world also come up with the idea of a C-section?

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

#8 Superhuman pregnant women

FACT OF THE DAY: A pregnant Nepalese woman was observed carrying 36kg of firewood back to her village the day before she gave birth

Wow, just absorb that fact.


Your average backpacker’s rucksack weighs around 25kg. A suitcase being checked in at the airport gets a 'heavy luggage' sticker to warn the baggage handlers if it weighs over 32kg. Yet here is a short, heavily pregnant woman, carrying 36kg on her back.

Makes me feel quite bad about the fuss I made about carrying the shopping in from the car, or getting an empty suitcase down from the loft when I was pregnant!


Tuesday, 1 November 2011

#7 Shameful pregnancy

FACT OF THE DAY: In many cultures women don’t, won’t or can’t tell anyone they are pregnant

Researching my previous post about the Gusii women (#6) who have anxiety filled pregnancies, I found out that shame is one of the emotions these women associate with pregnancy.

I wanted to know more. Shame? At first this seems such a strange emotion to be associated with pregnancy, especially as these are married women who really want to prove their fertility and have lots of children. Why should they feel shame?

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

#6 NOT announcing the good news of pregnancy

FACT OF THE DAY: Some Gusii women go through their whole pregnancy without taking about it to anyone 

In today’s post I am going back to the Gusii, who live in Kenya, that I talked about in my first post #1. The Gusii are the culture who, as I put it, are pregnant or breastfeeding for 30 years, and who prize large families.

Given how important it is to get pregnant regularly and have lots of children, you would think that each time a Gusii woman found she was pregnant she would be excited and happy, and proudly announcing her news. I was very surprised to read that this is not the case.

Gusii women rarely even tell their husband or children about their pregnancy, and never announce their pregnancy to anyone outside of their home. Apparently ‘to volunteer news would be regarded as crazy behaviour’.

Friday, 14 October 2011

#5 Getting a flat stomach after birth

FACT OF THE DAY: After giving birth in Malaysia, many women are massaged daily by their midwife and have their stomachs bound to help them regain their shape
As I found out researching a previous post (#3), not all birthing experiences around the world are that enviable.

However if I had to give birth somewhere outside of the Western world, from what I’ve read so far, a rural Malaysian village might be my choice. The traditional Malaysian midwives (called bidans) seem to take such gentle and nourishing care of the women they look after. Just the sort of ‘natural birth’ that we romanticise.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

#4 Holy cow - the environmental impact of bottle feeding

FACT OF THE DAY: Making cow’s milk formula for all the young babies in India would need an additional 114 million lactating cows. And that’s just India....

I love the fact that someone has worked this out. It’s such a different angle to look at the breastfeeding/bottle feeding question. After 6 months I used infant formula with all three of my children, but I’d never thought about formula from this point of view.

I mentioned this to my husband, and being a typical mathematician, he immediately tried to work out if they have got it right.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

#3 Childbirth - are our bodies designed for it?

FACT OF THE DAY: Walking and talking are the reasons why women risk their lives each time they give birth

It’s sometimes said that a picture can speak a thousand words. I think this is one of those pictures:

  DARK SOLID OVAL = size of baby’s head   
  WHITE OVAL = size of pelvic outlet

If I had to draw a picture of what labour felt like, I think it would look somethingvery like the circles on the far right. Ouch! 

Sunday, 25 September 2011

#2 Conception with two fathers, how does that work?

FACT OF THE DAY: In many Amazonian cultures, people believe that a child can be fathered by more than one man

This is such a brilliant find – I just love it. It’s so different, and as you will see, it seems like a very rare example of an occasion where women have got one over on the men.

I first came across a few passing comments to this belief in a book by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy and have now  managed to follow up some of her references to find out more.

It’s not a strange one-off, it is found far and wide throughout the Amazon in hunter-gatherer cultures living thousands of miles apart – for example the Bari and Yanamami of Venezuela, the Canela, Mehinaku and Awawete of Brazil, the Ache of Paraguay and the Matis of Peru.

The exact details differ depending on the specific group but the basics are the same – they believe that any men that a woman has sex with around the time of conception are that child’s fathers, plural!

Sunday, 18 September 2011

#1 Pregnant or breastfeeding for 30 years

FACT OF THE DAY: Some women hardly have a period their whole life because they are constantly pregnant or breastfeeding

I have been reading a book about a group of people called the Gusii who live in the Western highlands of Kenya where the rain falls abundantly and the soil is rich.  The book is written by a husband and wife team who spent many years living in Kenya getting to know the Gusii people. They were particularly interested in how the Gusii looked after their babies and brought up their children.