Valerie Gommon Midwife’s Blog

Natural Childbirth : The medicalisation of birth

Posted on: July 16, 2009

What is the definition of Natural Childbirth?  A hospital might say that a woman whose labour was induced and who had an epidural was a normal birth; others might say that induction, augmentation, analgesia, episiotomies etc do not constitute a normal birth!

A more radical definition of a natural birth might be a labour that starts spontaneously between 37 and 42 weeks gestation, and progresses to a vaginal birth without any intervention or pharmacological drugs.

Natural childbirth has been given a bad press – women choosing natural childbirth have been described as “hippy types” and indeed there has been an item in the press this week about a midwife who suggested that women would do better to avoid epidurals that has caused considerable outrage!

Pregnancy and childbirth are normal life events, not medical condition; a woman’s body is perfectly designed to give birth.

Of course some pregnancies and labours will need medical help – but the vast majority of women will go through their pregnancy and birth without problems and this process works best when interference is kept to a minimum.

For example anything we do to interfere with this natural processes has consequences – if mother and baby are well I am suggesting that we (the medical profession) should not interfere!

One example of this is the huge number of women whose labours are induced – why?  In some areas women are induced at 41 weeks (interestingly in France a normal pregnancy is defined as 41 weeks!).

Induction is not an easy option.  It is usually quite a lengthy process which makes the mother tired.  It is also usually more painful and the mother is therefore more likely to need pain relief, possibly an epidural … the mother is then less mobile … making it harder for the baby to find a way through the pelvis and consequently she is more likely to need the help of a ventouse or forceps, or even a caesarean section.

We all know that although caesareans are very safe in this country, it is still far safer for both mother and baby if the baby is born vaginally.  A caesarean section is major abdominal surgery which will take weeks and months to fully recover from – and the mother will have a demanding baby to care for too!  Babies born by caesarean also have many more problems, and are far more likely to need to receive Special Care.  There are also implications for future pregnancies – so, although fantastic if needed, caesarean sections are far from ideal.  The World Health Organisation recommends a 5 – 10% caesarean section rate, but our rate is approaching 30%, and I believe 90% at The Portland private maternity hospital!

This interference in birth has been called a “cascade of intervention”, because we do a) we have to do b) and because we do c) d) is also necessary this is also described as “iatrogenic” or hospital induced.  Whatever we do has consequences, for example a woman with an epidural will need more careful monitoring, she will need an IV drip and also a catheter – so you can see this spiral effect, because we do this, we have to do that and so on …

I believe there are several factors that lead to this escalation of intervention in childbirth:

Our cultural conditioning, fear, poor health habits and medical intervention in normal birth (perhaps because of fear of litigation) that make birth difficult often requiring more intervention, including surgery.

With good preparation, much intervention can be avoided – women who have a midwife they know and trust are less likely to need analgesia.  With good preparation they should be in optimal health for the birth – complementary therapies they may have experienced acupuncture, homoepathy, osteopathy or any number of helpful treatments during their pregnancy which will help align their body and prepare them for birth.  They may also have practised relaxation or hypnosis techniques all of which can be hugely beneficial.  There is also much a woman can do to help herself: mobilization, relaxation, support, the use of water …

The satisfaction that a woman feels when she has successfully given birth is amazing – it is empowering and is a fantastic start to the parenting journey, and of course breastfeeding is so much easier when you haven’t got a caesarean section wound on your abdomen.

If things didn’t work out this way for you, remember that you did the very best you could at the time.  Some labours do need help and some mothers and babies wouldn’t survive without the help of our medical colleagues.  If this has raised questions or distress for you I am more than happy to speak to you please do feel free to email me info@3shiresmidwife.co.uk

A difficult or traumatic birth experience has long-lasting implications for both the mother and sometimes her child.  We don’t have many babies in our lifetime and it is important to get things as right as we possibly can!

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4 Responses to "Natural Childbirth : The medicalisation of birth"

Having babies is a big and very important decision. It should be planned well. There are many women who fear of getting pregnant. Some of the fears are scared of losing their freedom, losing their job, scared of taking responsibility, loosing figure. Some think they don’t have enough money to have a child. But one can over come out of it by managing everything properly.

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