Birthowl’s natural childbirth

Homebirth- how to convince friends and relatives

Question: My sister and I were discussing childbirth. She is very influenced by her friend, a nurse, to have an intrusive, medicalized birth. What kind of resources can I share with her to show her that a natural childbirth is a wonderful and safe birth choice?


Dr. Michel Odent: You might first explain to your sister and her friend that a natural childbirth is not a choice. This term can only be used in retrospect, when a woman has given birth without any drug and without any intervention. The environment where you give birth is the real choice. You must explain that your main objective is safety and that according to common sense an easy birth is safer than a difficult birth. So your priority is to make the birth as easy as possible thanks to an environment that can satisfy your basic needs when you are in labor.

Your basic needs are easy to explain in the current scientific context. Physiologists, scientists who study the body functions, tell us that adrenaline (the emergency hormone we release in particular when we are scared or when we are cold) makes difficult the release of oxytocin, the hormone necessary for effective uterine contractions. You can explain that you release a lot of adrenaline when you are in an unfamiliar and clinical environment. You can add that, in contrast, you can imagine yourself giving birth in a familiar environment, with – for example – nobody else around than an experienced, motherly, low profile and silent midwife knitting in a corner. It is probable that in such an environment your body will work well.

The second aspect of the safety preoccupation is: what to do if there is something wrong? In the age of the safe c-section and widespread cell-phones, there is usually an easy answer to this question, which should always be the second one.

Many health professionals need to learn to think in terms of ‘ratio of benefits to risks’. Where out of hospital births are concerned, they immediately ask: ‘what will you do if…’ instead of asking first: ‘how to make the birth as easy as possible’.

You are asking what kind of resources you can share. You might share data about the Dutch birth statistics. In Holland, where 82% of the midwives are independent primary care givers, about 31% of the births occur at home, and an autonomous midwife attends many of the hospital births. The rates of c-sections are around 10% for the whole country and more than 90% of the laboring women do not need an epidural anesthesia. The birth outcomes are much better than in the USA (number of babies alive and healthy at birth).

Do not recommend books about ‘natural childbirth’ because they are usually written for the converted. Instead you might suggest updated books focusing on one of the main aspects of industrialized childbirth, such as ‘The Caesarean. Free Association Books 2004’. In order to help your sister and friend to learn to think long term, you might indicate the ‘Primal Health Research Data Base‘ that is specialized in studies exploring the long term consequences of what happened at the beginning of our life. It appears that the way we are born has life long consequences and that, today, in spite of the safe caesarean, we have good reasons to try to rediscover the basic needs of women in labor and of newborn babies.

Michel Odent, M.D.

For several decades Michel Odent has been instrumental in influencing the history of childbirth and health research. As a practitioner he developed the maternity unit at Pithiviers Hospital in France in the 1960s and ’70s. He is familiarly known as the obstetrician who introduced the concept of birthing pools and home-like birthing rooms. His approach has been featured in eminent medical journals such as Lancet, and in TV documentaries such as the BBC film Birth Reborn. With six midwives he was in charge of about one thousand births a year and could achieve ideal statistics with low rates of intervention. After his hospital career he practiced home birth.

As a researcher he founded the Primal Health Research Center in London (UK), which focuses upon the long term consequences of early experiences. An overview of the Primal Health Research Data Bank clearly indicates that health is shaped during the primal period (from conception until the first birthday). It also suggests that the way we are born has long term consequences in terms of sociability, aggressiveness or, otherwise speaking, capacity to love.

Photo by Pierre-Olivier Mazoyer


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