Friday, March 14, 2008

Childbirth education misleads women

Here's a newsflash: Childbirth educators routinely mislead women about the pain of labor. A new study is receiving attention in Britain.

According to The Independent:
A review of 32 studies of women's experiences of childbirth has revealed that hope too often triumphs over reality. The experiences of most women differ markedly from their expectations, which can lead to disappointment when labour does not go according to plan.

"Childbirth is one of the most painful events that a woman is likely to experience... A woman's lack of knowledge about the risks and benefits of the various methods of pain relief can heighten anxiety," say the researchers from Newcastle University's Department of Public Health.

Joanne Lally, who led the investigation, said antenatal education programmes needed to adopt a more honest approach. "Women should go into labour with hopes of what they want it to be but they should also be realistic about what it is likely to be," she said. "If they want a natural labour that is fantastic and they should be supported in that. But if the pain gets too much and the decisions are taken out of their control that is when it goes wrong and they can end up feeling disappointed. Women need to be fully equipped beforehand with the information to make decisions."
Interestingly, the researchers found that women's attitudes toward the pain depended not on the amount of pain, but on their self rated ability to cope with the pain. Women who considered that they coped well with the pain were just as likely to underestimate it beforehand as other women. Mary Newburn, head of policy at the National Childbirth Trust, unwittingly confirms this finding:
If women are provided with good support they may be able to cope with the pain and have a good experience and emerge triumphant.
For Newburn, the actual pain that women experience is irrelevant; refusing pain medications, and "triumphing" is the point.

The paper confirms my observations about childbirth education: childbirth educators routinely mislead women about the pain of childbirth. They do so in order to socialize women into believing that refusing pain medication is an achievement. They do not decrease the number of women who find childbirth to be far more painful than they expected. They do increase the number of women who have failed to live up to their unrealistic and self serving view of labor pain and pain medication.

Childbirth educators do precisely what they condemn doctors for doing. They paint of rosy picture of the path they wish the patient to pursue. They present a distorted view of the risks and benefits of interventions. They exert not so subtle pressure through guilt and disappointment when patients do not follow their advice. Then they have the gall to claim that they are "empowering" women by making them feel bad about themselves.

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