Friday, November 17, 2006

The painful childbirth movement

There is a big difference between childbirth without interventions and "natural childbirth". Childbirth without interventions is a choice in modern societies, and the only option in most places around the world. On any given day, the majority of women in the world are giving birth without interventions, and many of them would eagerly change places with their first world sisters.

The natural childbirth movement pays lip service to the notion of childbirth without interventions, but the resemblence stops there. There is no good reason for the disingenousness, and occasional dishonesty, that characterizes the natural childbirth movement.

It starts with the very name. Calling it "natural" childbirth is purely a marketing ploy. It is a blatant attempt to co-opt the generally favorable public opinion of all things natural. However, natural childbirth bears little if any relationship to childbirth in nature, and as such, does not deserve to call itself natural.

Natural childbirth as practiced in first world countries virtually always involves prenatal care, blood pressure monitoring , urine dipsticks for protein and sugar, listening to the fetal heartrate, routine weights, measurement of hematocrit, blood type, Rh status, checking for evidence of previous exposure to viral diseases and sexually transmitted diseases, a prescribed diet, prenatal vitamins, etc. etc. etc. None of these things occur in nature; they are not natural. So pregnancy, as managed in the natural childbirth movement (and make no mistake, it is managed) bears absolutely no relationship to pregnancy in nature.

Let's take a look at labor and delivery then. That's not natural either. It always involves the use of technology such as blood pressure measurement and fetal heartrate monitoring. Most midwives carry medication and resucitation equipment, decidely non-natural. In fact, there really isn't much about childbirth that is natural, either. There are only two things that hark back to nature in the natural childbirth movement, the decision to forgo pain medication and the refusal to have an episiotomy. In the case, of the perineum, the expectation is always that any significant tears will be repaired with sutures, so that's not natural either.

Essentially, the movement that touts itself (falsely) as the "natural" childbirth movement is really the childbirth with pain and without episiotomy movement. Calling yourself the "painful childbirth movement" doesn't really sound that great. Natural childbirth sounds so much better. Truth in advertising doesn't count, it's all about marketing.

The problem doesn't end there, though. Not only is the designation "natural" childbirth movement disingenuous, proponents of the movement claim benefits that do not even exist. There is no scientific evidence that painful childbirth is better, healthier or superior in any way.

If you want to have childbirth without pain medication, go right ahead. Many women do it and I have done it myself. Just don't call it "natural" childbirth, because it has nothing to do with childbirth in nature.

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