A User-Friendly, No BS Guide to the Top 5 Pregnancy & Baby Controversies

When I first had a baby I was desperate for someone to give me the 101 on the hot-button parenting issues. I felt in over my head. I had no idea who to believe. I couldn’t shake the vitriol and emotion away from the core issues. I wanted a sense of what people were *really* fighting over when comments would rage about natural birth or formula.

Now that I’m a hardened mother and birth and parenting educator of some several/many years I have a much better visual on the what’s at stake. These battles can get totally out of hand and sometimes ludicrous but the issues are important. We’re dealing with women’s bodies, health, autonomy, feminism… the words “mommy wars” belittle.

So in the spirit of helping newer parents, I’ve taken the top pregnancy and birth flame war freak-out topics and boiled them down to a few simple sentences and discussion points. I always welcome debate but sometimes a girl just needs some unbiased info, yo. Here’s a shot.

  • Circumcise Vs. Not Circumcise 1 of 5
    Circumcise Vs. Not Circumcise
    The medical community tells us we're on our own with this one. From a health POV, there's no medical reason to perform or not perform a circumcision. This is largely a religious, cultural, personal choice which is probably why it's so controversial. The non-circumcised population in the US is on the rise-- about 60% of US boys are circumcised.

    Advocates for and against circumcision can exhibit intense passion and occasionally intense intolerance, which can quickly undermine whatever argument is being made. TheAAP's policy states: "To make an informed choice, parents of all male infants should be given accurate and unbiased information and be provided the opportunity to discuss this decision."

    Easier said than done. Be brave. Read both sides of the debate, open your mind and make what is ultimately a personal choice.

    Photo: UCLA Nationwide Inpatient Survey, 2004
  • Bottle Vs. Breast 2 of 5
    Bottle Vs. Breast
    Breast milk is "best" for the baby on a strict ingredients-only analysis. But what's best for your baby includes more than a list of ingredients. Life for a new mother is complex and only you can know what's going to be "best" for all involved.

    Breastfeeding advocates can be forceful because, despite health recommendations, our society hasn't been entirely supportive of breastfeeding. Feminists who defend breastfeeding are sick of women's bodies always being the problem.

    Women who feed formula feel pressure and guilt from the breastfeeding camp who seem to always be talking about how breastmilk ... is best. Feminists who defend formula do not want to see women's options restricted because of their innate ability nurture-- being a woman extends beyond our ability to gestate and feed children.

    Moms should be educated about their choices and then supported entirely in whatever option they go for.

    Photo: Nerissa Ring/Flickr
  • Epidural Vs. No Epidural 3 of 5
    Epidural Vs. No Epidural
    An epidural is just one way to cope with pain in labor. And all women need to cope in labor. The stereotype is that if you go without one you're a martyr, but women who don't get epidurals have tons of other coping tools in play. We also hear that getting an epidural is wimpy but that doesn't make sense-- you're still giving birth. Some argue that the hassle of getting an epidural-- being tethered to so many machines, etc-- is harder than being able to give birth with no meds. Others can't imagine why you wouldn't take medication for something as painful as a tough labor. There are pros and cons to the various approaches and then there is your situation: Pain medication can be all a hospital has to offer in terms of coping tools. And routine monitoring (which can require lying on your back) can make it harder to cope in non-medical ways. Women who want to go "natural" have to do a fair amount of work to make that doable in a hospital. Epidurals come with risks that can be understated by doctors or over-stated by natural birth advocates. Generally speaking, the longer you wait to get one the fewer the risks which can include a longer pushing phase, increased risk of pelvic floor trauma and a maternal fever. Whether you want one or not, learn about how they work, what they do and weigh the benefits and the risks for yourself. Also of note: Studies show that a positive birth experience has less to do with epidural or no epidural and more with how mom was treated during labor.

    Photo: Jeff Samp/Flickr Photo: Jeff Samp/Flickr
  • Home Vs. Hospital 4 of 5
    Home Vs. Hospital
    Some studies show that planned home birth can be as safe a hospital birth under very specific circumstances: a low-risk pregnancy, fast access to excellent hospital back-up and the care of a highly qualified midwife. Still ACOG does not endorse home birth. Medical authorities in the UK and Canada are more supportive. Research on home birth is complicated and flawed so debates get mired in data very quickly-- each side throwing out stats madly. Home birth advocates can go too far when they make claims such as, "home birth is the only feminist choice" or "it's the most empowering birth" or "the body always knows what to do." These statements don't take into account the circumstances of many women's pregnancies/births. The body sometimes doesn't know what to do and thank goodness for tools and technology that can help.

    Anti-home birth zealots can stand to make more of an effort to understand the complaints women have with current hospital practices and have more respect for a process that most often works without interventions.

    The fact is, in the US we need to see improvements in both hospitals and homes.

    Photo: Shulz/Flickr
  • Crib Sleep Vs. Co-Sleep 5 of 5
    Crib Sleep Vs. Co-Sleep
    Unsafe co-sleeping situations have led to fatal accidents which are categorized as SIDS. But sleeping near or with mothers (in safe sleeping environments) has been shown to reduce SIDS. The American Academy of Pediatrics says the safest sleep set-up is for baby to be in the room with mom, but not in the same bed.

    Sadly for new parents, the conversation about where a baby sleeps quickly devolves into a subtly terrifying back-and-forth about SIDS. Wherever your baby sleeps, make sure it conforms to safe sleeping recommendations but otherwise do whatever seems to get everyone the most sleep.

    Photo: Torbein/Flickr


Ceridwen Morris (CCE) is a childbirth educator and the co-author of the pregnancy and birth guide From The Hips. Follow her blogging on Facebook.

Article Posted 4 years Ago

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