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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Parenting

The gentle birthing way

Posted: 21 Mar 2014 02:00 AM PDT

A group of women is passionately advocating for women to take control of their childbirth experience.

FOUNDED in 2008, The Gentle Birthing Group Malaysia (GBG) started out as a support network for mothers who want a gentle birth – drug-free and natural birthing options. 

"There isn't enough information out there and women didn't know they have choices," says Nadine Ghows, one of the co-founders of GBG. The group is run by a bunch of passionate childbirth advocates-cum-homemakers.

"Because of our healthcare system and years of brainwashing – horror stories of births or inaccurate portrayals on the media, many people view medical interventions as the norm in childbirth," adds the certified hypnobirthing practitioner and childbirth educator in training. "But childbirth can actually be empowering and gratifying."

Aside from raising awareness, GBG also pushes for mothers to ask and tell care providers what they want, adds childbirth advocate Chrissy Steinhardt.

"The more women ask, the more people are going to sit up and listen. And we are seeing more women asking the right questions and having hypnobirthing in hospitals," adds Steinhardt, also a certified hypnobirthing educator. Through Facebook, GBG disseminates information and encourages mothers to post questions and share their birthing experiences.

"Most people go to our Facebook for the interaction, they want to know that another mother is going through the same thing as them and welcome the support," explains Ghows.

"Free of trauma" is another way to define gentle birthing, Steinhardt said.

"A gentle birth doesn't have to be natural birth, it can be a C-section if it's done with respect to the baby and the mother makes the decision. If she's happy with a medicalised birth (epidural, episiotomy and the whole works), it's her choice," she adds. "But when it's not her choice, the interventions can result in post-traumatic disorder."

The group engages the medical fraternity through dialogues and forums, and organises events and talks for the public. GBG recently teamed up with Ibu Family Resource Group (a membership-based NGO that provides pregnancy and baby wellness support and playgroups) to organise a childbirth forum and talks by experts in conjunction with International Women's Day 2014. 

"We also want to raise awareness among the medical community by posing questions like: why are women not satisfied with their birth experience? And why people are wanting to birth at home?" Steinhardt adds. 

Birthing at home

Following the case of a maternal death during an unassisted home birth last November, GBG drew some flak for "promoting" home births on its Facebook.

"We have discussions on birth preparation – be it at home or the hospital – on our Facebook, in the spirit of informed choice," explains Ghows. "But we constantly remind parents that our official stance is we do not promote or support unassisted births at home. Perhaps we were not strict enough in barring people from posting unassisted birth stories."

GBG has since disallowed posting of unassisted home birth stories on their Facebook.

"Personally, as a childbirth educator, when people come to me saying they want a homebirth, I always tell them there are lots of research to back up home birth safety with a certified midwife," says Ghows. But there's no research to back up unassisted birth. You make your choice."

Despite the two recent maternal deaths (another unassisted home birth death occurr in December last year), Ghows thinks there will still be women who will opt for home births. "If we don't provide the option to birth at home for women, they are either going to have to choose between the devil and the deep blue sea. They feel they have no choice," she asserts.

Hence, the next big step for GBG is to push for midwifery care in Malaysia. 

"We need to advocate for midwife-led birthing centres and not just about making hospitals more birth-friendly," says Ghows. "What is important now is for us to be the bridge between mothers and care providers, to keep the dialogues going and advocate for more birth options."

For more info, go to The Gentle Birthing Group Malaysia Facebook page or drop them an e-mail at mygentlebirth@gmail.com

Related stories:

Home birth: Weighing the risks
The experiences of the three women

Get a healthy start

Posted: 20 Mar 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Don't let the morning rush get in the way of a good breakfast.

THE South East Asia Nutrition Survey (Seanuts) of 16,744 children in four countries − Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia − showed that almost one in 10 children in urban areas in Malaysia are showing signs of under-nutrition based on their weight to age ratio; the percentage of rural children is only slightly lower.

The study, conducted from May 2010 to October 2011 in six regions across the country, also revealed that one in 10 children in Malaysia are stunted for their age, a symptom that may be irreversible and is most commonly seen to be due to a lack of proper dietary habits. On the other hand, nearly one in five children are facing the issue of over-nutrition.

In Malaysia, almost one in two children are low on Vitamin D, based on the Recommended Nutrient Intakes (RNI) for Malaysia as stipulated by the Malaysian Ministry of Health. There is also widespread calcium under-nutrition among Malaysia's children; about half the children are not consuming enough calcium through their daily dietary intake. Calcium and Vitamin D are commonly known to be essential for proper physical development and the healthy formation of bones in children.

Nestle's Milo is keen to do their part in raising healthy children by educating parents on Positive Energy, which can be attained by eating right and keeping active.

Knowledge about what makes good nutritional meals is key to raising healthy children, said Nestle's Executive Director-Dairy Business Unit Manager Ho Hau Chieh.

Ho adds that it is vital for children to eat well-balanced meals as it's important for their physical, mental and emotional development.

"From age five, children will participate in strenuous activities, make friends and begin to shape their lives. Therefore, it is important for a parent to offer their children the appropriate amount of nutrients in their daily diets.

"However, what has been a growing concern in our society is that kids are still going to school with empty stomachs," said Ho, adding most households have ignored the saying 'breakfast is the most important meal of the day' because of time constraints.

"Parents' main concern in the morning is to beat the traffic so they could get their kids to school on time, and be punctual for work. This leaves them with little time to prepare a hearty breakfast.

"But imagine a scenario where a child gets to school and has only 10 to 15 minutes to spare before the bell rings. The child usually does not have time to queue and have a proper breakfast before school starts. Most children probably have to wait till recess, which is a good two to three hours into school time and probably a good five hours from the time they wake up, for their first meal of the day. They would have gone hungry for a few hours, leading to lethargy and poor concentration in class," explained Ho.

It is not only important to feed children breakfast, stressed Ho, but also vital for parents to know the right ratios and food components their children require to grow into healthy adults.

"The five key nutrients parents need to provide in their children's diets are fat, carbohydrates, calories, protein and vitamins.

"If children are offered an excess or shortage of any of these nutrients, it can lead to fatigue, malnourishment, obesity and more," said Ho.

Discovering what is lacking in your children's daily requirements is the first step in developing healthy eating habits and lifestyles, said senior nutritionist Nurul Iliani Ahmad.

"If time constraint is one of the challenges of feeding your family well-balanced meals, look for a simpler solutions. Malaysians are fond of fried noodles and rice. Adding vegetables, meat and eggs can turn these dishes into proper meals with all the required nutrients," said Nurul Iliani.

She also emphasised the importance of including children in food preparations.

"One thing I have noticed about children is that they are curious about what goes into their stomachs. Try and involve your children in your daily cooking activities. List the ingredients you use in your meals and explain how they can help their body develop," offered Nurul Iliani.

Introducing children to a variety of food is also a good way to encourage them to eat better.

"Parents don't always have to deny children their favourite dishes. Everything can be consumed in moderation.

"If your children insist on having fried chicken, offer it to them but also insist they have a portion of vegetables to achieve balance," said the 29-year-old nutritionist who is familiar with children's eating habits.

However, Nurul Iliani also pointed out that every parent must equip themselves with the right kind of knowledge when it comes to feeding their family.

"It is important for parents to be aware of the ratios of nutrients their children need to consume per day. The recommended contribution of macronutrients (i.e. carbohydrate, fat and protein) to total daily energy intake should be within the following ratio: 55-70% of carbohydrate, 20-30% of fat and 10-15% of protein.

"When grocery shopping, always have this thought in mind, so you end up taking home the right kind of food types," she said.

Parents also need to show examples of good eating habits, so their children can follow suit. "Eating healthily is just part of the journey to a healthy household. Grab those running shoes and encourage your kids to go for a run in the park, or play their favourite outdoor games with them," encouraged Nurul Iliani.

Keeping them safe

Posted: 20 Mar 2014 09:00 AM PDT

In the third of six articles in a series on child safety, we look at how parents can teach their children to protect themselves.

WHEN homemaker Ummi Maryam's eldest son was eight, he missed his school bus but no one realised he was in trouble for another four hours.

Luckily, Ummi's son stayed put and waited for his mother in school.

"He stayed at the school compound from 2pm till 6pm not knowing that he needed to give me a call. He was hungry and tired and when a teacher approached him, he said that he was waiting for his mum.

"I was working then so I only found out about it when I went to pick him up at the daycare and he wasn't there. I was so shocked and upset that the daycare did not even call me to check up on him – they figured he was sick and was just absent from school. From then on, I made sure that all my children knew that they need to inform a trustworthy adult whenever they are in trouble."

That scary episode was also a wake up call for Ummi to not take her children's safety for granted. She realised it's all too easy to lose track of her five children's whereabouts "especially when we do not have the luxury to watch over them 24/7".

Since then, she has been actively teaching her five children – aged between three and 16 – about safety, taking the time to sit down and talk to them about the things they need to watch out for as well as on how to protect themselves.

"I find that the most effective time to get the children serious about safety is when there is a case of missing or kidnapped children in the news. I'll read the stories to them and take the opportunity to stress on the importance of staying safe in case the same thing happened to them – it's more effective than telling them what not to do because they may not be able to identify with the situation," says Ummi, 46.

She is well aware of the challenges of watching over her brood of five, and takes precautions, such as avoiding crowded areas.

"We don't have a maid so we usually have to bring everybody along whenever there's an outing. We prefer smaller shopping malls as opposed to the big ones – there are less chances of getting lost in the crowd. Even so, we hold onto the kids at all times. We also like making shopping lists so we don't waste time going from one shop to another and risk overlooking the children when we're busy looking for things."

As a safety precaution, her older children are always equipped with a cellphone so that they can be contacted whenever there are changes in plans.

"We don't usually let the children go out alone. My second son used to cycle to tuition class when he was 12 but it's always with a group of friends whose parents I'm in contact with. When it comes to picking the children up from school, we've been carpooling with two other families for the past three years. The children know the designated waiting area and that no matter what, they are only supposed to be picked up by these three sets of parents.

"Remember, you are responsible for your child's safety – not the teachers or neighbours and definitely not the police. Don't take things for granted, even with the older kids.

"Start early and repeat, repeat, repeat. You may sound like a broken record but it's better to be safe than sorry," says Ummi.

Staying vigilant

Not many parents take teaching their children about safety as seriously as Ummi's family.

Equipping children with basic safety precautions is of the utmost importance and yet many parents glaze over the topic, says Vijaya Baskar, programme co-ordinator of Protect and Save the Children, a non-profit association that carries out child safety programmes and focuses on the prevention, intervention and treatment of child sexual abuse.

"A lot of parents do not teach their children basic safety measures in their homes as well as in the public. It can be something as basic as knowing their parents' details like full names, contact numbers and address. Such details are important during emergencies, like when a child is lost," he adds.

According to Parents.com, the preschooling age is the best time to introduce these facts. In an article entitled Before Starting Preschool: What Your Kids Should Know, it highlights that children can be taught to memorise phone numbers once they are of schooling age, and that parents can try teaching this by demonstrating how to dial the number on a toy phone and saying the numbers out loud. Pinning an information note card to their clothing or bag will also help.

Mother-of-four Huang Paik Ling made sure her children memorised her and her husband's full names and telephone numbers when they turned four.

"When a child is separated from his parents, there is nothing worse than not knowing how to locate them.

"When we are out, we also pair the children using a 'buddy system' and remind them they are to look after one another," says the general manager of a bank.

Her children, aged two to eight, have also been taught to be wary of strangers.

"If they are ever approached by a stranger when either parent is not around, they know not to make any eye contact nor respond or accept anything that is being offered. We even told them that if someone tries to grab or hold onto them in public, they should scream or shout 'Fire' simply to attract the attention of passers-by."

When it comes to young children, parents have to be specific in giving clear and simple instructions in various scenarios, Huang advises.

"For instance, it can be about being lost in a shopping mall. Show examples of how a situation can go terribly wrong so that they are aware of the consequences and don't think that you are nagging just for the sake of it."

While it is important to make sure safety precautions are ingrained in children, parents also have to keep a watchful eye over their young.

"It's not advisable for parents to leave their children unattended anytime, anywhere – even at home. Being the children that they are, they have short attention spans and memories, and may just forget the safety rules. All it takes is a few seconds for your child to be taken away," says Huang.

"We strongly suggest that parents spend time with their children every day, even just to talk and chit chat, and listen to their experiences at school or with their friends and teachers. This would help build the confidence the child has in his parents and enhance his self-esteem. It would also reinforce to the child that he can share anything he finds uncomfortable or disturbing with their parents," adds Vijaya.

This Child Safety Awareness campaign is brought to you by RHB Banking Group in collaboration with The Star.

Related story:

Stranger danger

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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