What do organic farming and ‘natural’ childbirth have in common? Both are making a comeback after food and childbirth have been thoroughly industrialized by obstetricians and big agribusiness. That’s good news.
Yet both organic farming and ‘natural’ childbirth suffer from a common misconception. Let me explain.
People know that synthetic nitrogen fertilizer and toxic pesticides are not good things to use on food. They think of organic agriculture as the absence of harmful substances, and that is more or less what the national organic rules require: organic farmers don’t use synthetic fertilizer, genetically engineered foods, toxic chemicals, antibiotics, and hormones. That’s good.
But the key to organic farming – as it was always practiced for ten thousand years, and as it was explicitly reintroduced by Rudolph Steiner, among others, in the 1920s – is soil fertility. What does that mean? First you look after soil health – including organic matter, minerals, and billions of microflora and microfauna – and the result is healthy plants, health animals, nutritious foods, and healthy people. You get healthy soil by adding compost, manure, and minerals such as calcium, by rotational grazing, and by crop rotation.
The common understanding of ‘natural’ childbirth is similar. Mothers who want to do it the ‘natural’ way are keen not to use drugs – either synthetic hormones to induce the baby sooner than it’s ready or painkillers for numbness. That’s good, because giving babies synthetic hormones, opiates, and cocaine-derived drugs is linked to health trouble down the line.
But the absence of drugs is not equivalent to a fully natural birth. What obstetricians, midwives, and mothers must do is meet the physiological needs of mother and baby. When they do, mother and baby will produce the hormones and endorphins they need for a quick, comfortable, and safe birth.
How do you meet the physiological needs of mother and baby? First, by exercise and good nutrition; active women have easier births, and every mother needs plenty of protein and fish oil. Second, by giving the mother privacy, darkness, warmth, and freedom to labor in any positition she chooses. (On her back in stirrups is usually the worst choice.) Third, by letting the baby’s hormones determine when the baby is ready to be born. Fourth, by leaving mother and baby alone in a dark, warm, private place, skin to skin, right after the baby arrives – no whisking away to be weighed and bathed and swaddled. These things ensure that the hormones of mother and baby – especially oxytocin, the hormone of love – will help prevent the ‘normal’ risks of childbirth: pain, tearing, exhaustion, bleeding, newborn weight loss, and trouble nursing.
All you need to know about oxytocin – which causes contractions for birth, causes breasts to let down milk, and causes the uterus to contract after birth to prevent hemorraghing – is that oxytocin has an enemy: adrenaline. When you’re full of adrenaline, your body can’t produce oxytocin. What pumps mothers full of adrenaline? Stress. Cold. Bright lights. Noise. Crowds. Cameras. Pressure. What’s not stressful? Warmth, quiet, privacy, darkness.
Come to think of it, a seed in bed of soil also needs warmth and darkness to germinate. We ignore plant and animal needs at our peril.