Accessing research documents for free

I’ve read quite a bit of research while writing articles for this site. But accessing research documents for free can be an issue. I understand that the publications and authors deserve remuneration for their work, of course I do, but the simple fact is if you’re trying to research your birth and maternity care options, most individuals don’t have the budget to pay for journal access. Even if we did, every article that might be worth reading seems to be in a different journal!

A friendly librarian pointed me in the direction of an article she’d written with tips and tricks to access this information for free, so here is the benefit of her wisdom:

Get The Research.org

Get The Research owl logo

gettheresearch.org is a search engine that makes academic information both discoverable and easier to digest. You can use it instead of Google.

Get The Research flags each article with its “level of evidence” when they know it. Is the article just a report about a single incident (a “case study”) or a more trustworthy analysis combining the results of many studies (a “meta-analysis”)? Click on the tags above the article titles to learn more. They rank articles with higher levels of evidence higher in the search results to make them easier to find.

Advantages:

  • user friendly interface
  • evidence based quick overviews

Disadvantages:

  • new so there’s likely some bugs to iron out
  • it’s not clear what information is updated automatically

Open Knowledge Maps.org

Open Knowledge Maps logo

Open Knowledge Maps describes itself as “a charitable non-profit organisation dedicated to improving the visibility of scientific knowledge for science and society.”

It provides a visualisation tool, demonstrating topics and the relationships between them. Use it to get an overview of the most relevant areas of a topic and papers related to those concepts.

Advantages:

  • generates visualisations for your search terms
  • it has an option to visualise results of searches just from PubMed

Disadvantages:

  • still in development
  • it only analyses the first 100 papers based on relevance ranking

Open Access Button.org

Open Access Button logo - - accessing research documents for free

openaccessbutton.org allows you to search for an Open Access version of a paper using it’s URL (web address), DOI (permanent Digital Object Identifier) or title. It’s helpful with accessing research documents for free as you can use it when you’ve found a journal article you want to read, but the publisher tries to charge you to access it.

Advantages:

  • easy to use
  • no installing or configuring, unlike Unpaywall

Disadvantages:

  • it relies on academics submitting a copy of the article

Core.ac.uk

Core Logo

Core.ac.uk is a not-for-profit service delivered by The Open University and Jisc. Institutions store publications created by their academics and CORE allows these to be simultaneously searchable through a single interface. It can be used when you have a keyword search and want a more in-depth, systematic overview of a topic or problem.

Advantages:

  • search a lot of credible information, fast
  • there’s an API for text mining

Disadvantages:

  • you aren’t searching ALL the repositories that exist in the world. It’s possible you will miss a source

Directory of Open Access Journals

Directory of Open Access Journals logo

DOAJ is a community-curated online directory that indexes and provides access to high quality, open access, peer-reviewed journals. DOAJ is independent, and all DOAJ services are free of charge including being indexed in DOAJ. All data is freely available. It’s searchable by title or article. Can be used to follow a specific journal that consistently produces articles about a topic of interest.

Advantages:

  • all of the journals included are Open Access — no paywalls

Disadvantages:

  • there is a small chance of encountering a predatory (scam) journal – however, each journal does undergo over 40 checks before it is listed.

Directory of Open Access Books

Directory of Open Access Books Logo

All books listed in DOAB are freely accessible and therefore free to read, but this does not mean readers are free to do anything they like with these books. The usage rights of the books in DOAB are determined by the license. Please check the license if you want to re-use the contents of a book. Generally speaking, all books listed in DOAB are free to read and share for non-commercial use.

Advantages:

  • avoid annoying previews, this is the whole textbook, for free!

Disadvantages:

  • the idea of Open Access textbooks is still a fairly new movement, so there’s a limited selection.
  • you will have to buy the book if you want to own a complete physical copy of the material. Printing could infringe UK copyright law.

I’m sure this won’t always work to get you access to the article you want to read, but hopefully it will bring more research info easily within reach than before!

x Big Birtha

with thanks to Sheldon Korpet who wrote the article “How to access academic papers online, for free!” on which this post is based. Licensed under CC BY-NC 3.0.

Festive Fashion If You’re Plus-Size & Pregnant

Finding fashionable plus-size maternity wear can be a bit of a problem at the best of times, but it’s a nightmare before Christmas! So here are Big Birtha’s picks for festive fashion if you’re plus-size & pregnant.

One of the pluses of being pregnant and plus size is that you often don’t have to restrict yourself just to maternity ranges (whole article on this here). If it’s a loose style with plenty of fabric, give it a try, with the additional bonus that you’ll be able to use it after pregnancy too. Most of the clothes featured here aren’t from the maternity section, so don’t forget to check out the non-maternity lines!

The Killer Christmas Dress

I think this holly print vintage style dress by HellBunny is my favourite of everything I’ve found.

It’s not a maternity dress, but because the style flares out just under the bust line, there’s plenty of fabric at the front. Depending on the size and position of your bump it could be an option. It’s being sold by high street retailer Yours, so with free click and collect and free returns, you can just try it on when you collect and if it’s no good, return it!

Mrs Claus

Not one, but two options here! I have a slight reservation with the Yours one, in that it’s described as a ‘novelty’ dress. This makes me question the quality, but both reviewers have given it 5 stars. The Shein dress is significantly cheaper, but it does say the fabric has no stretch, and it doesn’t appear to be as full as the Yours dress, so if you’re quite far along, it may not be the option for you…

Metallic, Shimmer & Sequins

There’s a plethora of gorgeous shimmery dresses this season, and with plenty of fabric in the pleats, could be perfect for the office Christmas party this year with a bump, and still wearable next year.

(I’d say next year, without a bump, but let’s be realistic!)

Burgundy Satin Pleated Midi Dress

Burgundy Pleated Midi Dress

Metallic Maxi Dress

Black Metallic Maxi Dress

I think the glittery gold dress from Shein looks really opulent. It also comes in silver. Just steer clear of that one if you’re planning on wearing it for Christmas lunch, unless you want to invite comparisons with a foil-wrapped turkey!

As well as glorious shimmery sparkle, it seems to all be about the sequins this Christmas!

Green Sequin Tunic

Green Sequin Tunic

Metallic Collarless Jacket

Metallic Collarless Jacket

Gold Open Back Sequin Top

Open Back Sequin Top

Silver Sequin Wrap Dress

Silver Sequin Wrap Dress

The sequin wrap top with a peplum is an especially popular design this year – almost every site seems to have a version of this, in varying shades.

Christmas Jumpers!

There’s always a Christmas jumper day. But fear not – I’ve found some options here!

Christmas Pudding Sweater

Christmas Pudding Sweater

Jolly Holly Jumper

Jolly Holly Christmas Jumper

Tops & T-shirts

OK, maybe it’s just me, but I keep doing a double take on these ‘Santa Baby’ t-shirts.

I keep reading it as “Santa’s Baby”!

Christmas Pyjamas

For many people, Christmas is all about being snuggly in a cosy pair of pyjamas. If so, fear not – there are some festive maternity options which should see you comfy as you open your presents on Christmas morning.

Elf On The Way Maternity Pyjama Set

Elf On The Way Pyjamas

Maternity Pudding Pyjamas

Maternity Pudding Pyjamas

Whatever you’re doing and whatever you’re wearing, be comfortable! Don’t feel the pressure to try to do everything – Christmas can be exhausting! Take it easy, and let people look after you for once.

Big Birtha x

Pile of laundry by a washing machine, decorated with lights and star to look like a Christmas tree. Festive fashion if you're plus-size & pregnant

Fat Vaginas

I’m sorry. There’s no point beating around the bush. This happened yesterday, and now fat vaginas are on the agenda:

Milli Hill, author of Give Birth Like A Feminist, spoke on BBC Radio Scotland for a discussion about induction rates. With her was Dr Marco Gaudoin, brought in for the ‘expert’ perspective. However, it turns out that Dr Gaudoin’s expertise is in fertility, not obstetrics or gynaecology… which may explain why he said this:

‘With obesity you’ve got increased fat tissue in the birth canal, which makes the birth canal that much narrower, which makes it harder for the baby to squeeze through the birth canal. So you are more likely to end up with what is called an “obstructed labour”‘

Dr Marco Gaudoin, speaking on BBC Radio Scotland 12th November 2019

What’s worse was that this happened at the end of the interview! Milli had no opportunity to challenge the doctor on his statement, or ask for evidence.

Fat Vaginas – Fact or Myth?

It’s no surprise that Milli had never heard this before, because there is NO EVIDENCE for Dr Gaudolin’s words whatsoever. They echo a theory suggested in a research paper back in 1997, and no-one has provided any evidence for it since.

It’s just more fat shaming.

Fat Vaginas: a display of inside-out purses looking remarkably like a selection of vaginas.
Vaginas come in a plethora of different shapes and sizes… image courtesy of The Vagina Museum

Ugh. Makes me want to beat some people over the head repeatedly with a copy of Give Birth Like A Feminist. Shame it didn’t come out in hardback.

You’d really hope that a qualified doctor would stick to established, evidence-based information. Sadly (too often, in my experience) when some doctors feel under pressure, they dredge some half-truth they heard somewhere from the back of their mind and present it as fact, rather than admit they don’t know.

It’s why I recommend anyone embarking on a high BMI pregnancy journey do their research and ensure they’re informed.

I have spoken to countless midwives (who have extensive experience of actual vaginas giving birth) and most agree that with the right support, there is no reason why a high BMI pregnancy shouldn’t proceed as with any other. Indeed, most of them do.

What Happened Next?

On Twitter, plenty came forward to challenge the “expert’s” ill-informed and misogynistic statements.

Then to my surprise, for once, the print media responded positively to the story! This may be thanks to Milli Hill knowing the right people to approach, but it was a refreshing change! The resulting article was comprehensive and well written.

Screenshot of Grazia online article on fat vagina comments.

Then other media outlets picked up on the story, including the Sun, who got an actual expert in obstetrics and gynaecology to comment!

Dr Virginia Beckett, consultant obstetrician and spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists clarified that having an “obstructed labour” has nothing to do with “fat vaginas”. Which we knew, but it is nice that someone well qualified to address the issue has done so.

Screenshot of the Sun online article about fat vaginas

Next Up to fight our corner was the Daily Mail!?

Yes, really! Asking lots of people with much more experience and expertise… and me. So, yeah. That happened. I was tempted to be indecent and suggest that if our vaginas are so ‘restricted’, how lucky must our husbands and partners be? But I behaved myself. And contrary to my expectations, the journalist didn’t twist or change what I wrote at all, bar removing a paragraph that had already been covered by a previous interviewee. You can read what I wrote here:

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-7680527/Doctor-claims-obese-women-fatter-vaginas-likely-experience-obstructed-births.html

Jaw on floor.

The article came with the usual stock headless belly image, naturally! But as soon as I realised and offered an actual picture to replace it, it was quickly swapped.

Of course, the article goes on to report the bloody relative risk stats rather than the true percentages, as always. So there’s still a way to go, but feeling strangely positive at how this story has turned out, for once!

As I have said before and seem to need to keep saying; having a higher BMI while pregnant is associated with a slightly increased risk of some less desirable outcomes. But there is also evidence that the precautionary way high BMI labours are managed may contribute to this.

There is no evidence that fatter people have fatter vaginas. There is no evidence that having a fat vagina (if such a thing exists) is a cause of birth obstruction.

If you want to read more about how micromanaging our births can cause a spiral of negativity and interventions – see article I wrote on The Impact of Negativity on Labour and Birth.

‘Encouraged’ to delay contraceptive removal

Are you thinking about removing your long-acting contraceptive method (coil/implant) because you’d like to try for a baby? Did you make an appointment to have it removed, only to find instead you were ‘encouraged’ to delay contraceptive removal and lose weight? I’ve been hearing murmurs lately that this has started happening in the UK, and it’s taking people by surprise.

Researchers at Cardiff University and Cardiff and Vale NHS University Health Board are conducting a study and are really interested to find out from anyone who is or has been overweight and has used a contraceptive implant/coil/rod their thoughts about this.

If you complete their online survey you could also be in with a chance to win £100 worth of high street vouchers.

3 larger women smiling - ad for Plan-it study about being encouraged to delay contraceptive removal

The study has ethical approval and has the support of the National Institute for Health Research. It’s not very long, so isn’t too arduous to complete. There are lots of free text fields for you to voice your opinions!

The survey portal will be open until December. So if you have an opinon on the appropriateness of being encouraged to delay contraceptive removal, please act quickly! It’s important we don’t miss the opportunity to make our voices heard!

Click here to go to the survey (opens in a new window):

https://cardiff.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/plan-it