There is so much fear and confusion around childbirth and the ability for a woman to have a natural labour, that its important to understand a little bit more about the process, why women are so afraid, and educate ourselves around this delicate topic.

There are over 5000 different species of mammals on the planet, all of which give birth naturally. Why is it then that the human doubts in their own bodies ability to give birth? The problem often is that so much fear has been instilled into women, mostly by what they are fed through the main stream media, books, movies and the medical profession.

We all want to provide the best possible maternity care we can. Believing that we are going the safest route, we hand over our birthing process to the specialized doctors. What is in fact a natural process and a rite of passage for both the woman and the baby, has now become a medical condition.

I do believe that many, not all doctors have the baby’s well being at heart. The problem often arises from the doctor’s point of view. They look at all the things that could go wrong during labour, as opposed to allowing the labour to progress without interference, knowing that nature and the body is intelligent and does it right.

In the animal kingdom, when a birthing female is even remotely threatened, she will break off the labour and continue at a later stage when she feels settled again. This is a result of adrenaline. Adrenaline stops or slows down labour.

When a labouring woman moves into a hospital environment, she is being transported from home, the familiar and safe environment, to the hospital and is exposing herself to all the viruses and bacteria of all other patients. In addition, the strong smell of chemicals and the interaction with strange people in a strange environment is unsettling to the mother, potentially slowing labour down.

The Cascade of Intervention

Many maternity care interventions have unintended side effects during labour, and often these effects are then the new problems that are ‘solved’ with further intervention, which in turn create even more problems.

This chain of events is known as the ‘Cascade of Intervention’, and can change the course of a woman’s labour in important ways. Yet women and their partners are often unaware that routine interventions can lead to a cascade of interventions and unwanted side effects. Let’s explore this a little further.

Doctors routinely put the mother on a drip, to hydrate her and to give her nutrients. This is mostly not necessary. To do this, they insert a large needle into her hand. When one observes women in labour, they often clasp their hands tightly on to something, almost as if to ground these powerful and painful contractions. This small intervention can severely interfere with her ability to labour properly, let alone the trauma of having someone insert a large needle into your hand.  This can lead to the production of extra adrenaline which in turn slows down labour. The woman also isn’t able to move with her contraction with this drip in tow either. She feels frustrated and a bit like a caged animal. In fact, doctors prefer you to lie down anyway, the most unnatural position to give birth as she has to push the baby out against gravity as opposed to letting gravity help her in a squatting position.

The next step, bearing in mind what’s happened so far, the doctor now lets you know, that you are not dilating 1cm every hour and hence the labour is failing to progress. According to whom? Each woman is unique and so is her labour. The woman is not a biological clock. The shock of a message like that is overwhelming, frightening and unsettling the mother even more, leading to more production of adrenaline hence more difficulty to progress. Doctors often make the woman lie down, strap her up to the fetal monitoring machine and tell the woman not move. How on earth does she do that while she has these contractions happening?

The most likely next step for the obstetrician to undertake, as the labour “fails to progress”, is to induce the mother by means of artificial hormone stimulation, mainly synthetic oxytocin and amniotomy, the breaking of the waters. This brings on the contractions so powerfully and with such small gaps between contractions, that the labouring woman is not able to cope with the pain as her natural endorphins that her body produces as a pain buffer isn’t strong enough anymore. It doesn’t give mom and baby any time to rest. The other factor that we need to consider is that the cervix is at that stage of labour not ready yet to give birth, namely a 10cm dilation. The doctors often try to force the labour to progress with a woman and a baby that are not yet ready for more advanced stages of labour.

The effects of this intervention, inevitably leads to the very controversial usage of pain killers. Pethidine is largely used for this. The only catch is that Pethidine has not been approved by the FDA and are not safe. They are highly contra indicative for pregnant women. Pethidine may have the following consequences:

  1. Slowing of maternal respiration and circulation
  2. Reduced Oxygen supply to baby
  3. Many infants require resuscitation at birth
  4. Causes increase in infant Cerebro spinal fluid pressure
  5. A severely narcotized newborn infant may be more prone to breathe fluid into the lungs as the drug has blunted or paralyzed his protective gag reflex.
  6. Has been shown to delay initiation of bonding and breastfeeding more than any other single drug.

The long term side effects of pethidine can affect the infant in the years to come with potential: Respiratory problems, impaired muscular, visual and neural development in the first week of life and early years, lower reading and spelling scores and difficulty in solving problems or performing tasks.

The other painkiller option is the epidural, inserting a needle and then catheter into the spinal column.  This may cause severe complication to the mother, namely spinal damage, Heart Attack, and maternal paralysis or even death (1 in 5000). These are high numbers! Do not let doctors fool you into believing these drugs and interventions are safe, because they are not! Less severe condition may include:

  1. Drop in maternal and fetal blood pressure
  2. 1 in 5 women will develop an ’epidural fever’
  3. Babies have to be observed for sepsis. Observation involves separation from the mother, several needle jabs, and usually a spinal tap; severely traumatizing the infant
  4. Relaxes the pelvic floor muscles so much, that the fetal head is often malpositioned
  5. Spinal headache if dura is pierced
  6. More likely to result in instrument delivery than natural birth
  7. More likely to result in Caesarean section than natural birth
  8. Point of injection may become infected
  9. Women may inadvertently be injured during positioning by caregivers since she has no sensation
  10. Chronic back postpartum
  11. Neuralgia and numbness
  12. Babies may have breathing difficulties
  13. Impacts breastfeeding

The mother has lost complete control of her labour, is unable to push which often results in the next intervention, episiotomy- the cutting of the woman’s genitals. This can cause the woman to be in pain for weeks sometimes months. Other side effects include: blood loss, more serious tears as a cut perineum is not as resistant to laceration as an intact one, infection, abscesses, permanent damage to the pelvic floor muscles, may result in inability to have orgasms, incontinence and fistulas.

After the episiotomy, it is common practice to use extraction instruments, either forceps or vacuum extraction to force the infant through the birth canal. This is often done forcibly and sometimes brutally. The impact of that is often severely traumatic damage to the infant’s head, eyes, nerves that lead to the face, eyes neck and arms. It will most likely cause the mother to tear more also. Suction may affect the membranes surrounding the brain of the infant if the vacuum cup is mistakenly applied over fontanelle of infant. Vacuum extraction is a strong predictor of early cessation of breastfeeding.

If all else fails. The final resort is a Caesarean section. The first thing to understand about Caesarean section is that it is a major surgical procedure and recovery time often takes months. C-section rates are climbing at an alarming rate in South Africa over 90% in the private sector, amongst the highest in the world. I believe the reason for this astronomically high C-section rates is, that it is a lot more expensive and the private sector mostly have medical aid to cover these fees. The doctor and the hospital and the pharmaceutical industry make more money in less time. That’s better business than waiting for a natural labour to commence without intervention. The reasons for a C-section may include:

  1. Failure to progress, ( the doctor wants to be at home in time for dinner)
  2. Fetal distress
  3. Cord Prolapse
  4. Uterine Rupture
  5. Placental Problems
  6. Abnormal presentation of Baby, cannot be delivered due to lack of obstetrical skill
  7. Failed induction of labour
  8. Failed Instrumental delivery
  9. pre-eclampsia
  10. multiple birth
  11. previous C-section

The possible effects of Caesarean section are many. Here to list but a few.

  1. Post surgery soreness and difficulty in bonding with infant as mother needs time to recover
  2. Unexpected adverse reaction to anaesthetic and other drugs
  3. Uncontrollable hemorrhage
  4. Infection
  5. Risk of injury to other organs
  6. Adhesions in scar tissue can cause chronic pain
  7. Bowel obstruction
  8. Infertility
  9. Placental Abnormalities in subsequent pregnancies
  10. Risk to baby of the drugs given to mother
  11. Risk of baby being accidentally cut
  12. Respiratory difficulties, no natural stimulation of lungs in birth canal
  13. Prematurity, if baby is delivered before initiating labour him or herself
  14. Baby 3 times more likely to develop asthma by adulthood
  15. Interrupts bonding between mother and infant
  16. Severe trauma to infant and the mother

Many of these interventions could be avoided in most births if we were able to allow the labour to progress in a safe environment where both baby and mother are supported and allowed their time. To opt out by electing a Caecarean Section without a proper labour and reason because it seems distasteful or the woman doesn’t want to stretch her vagina seems ludicrous in the face of the potential danger and risk she puts herself and her baby into. A natural labour makes the woman feel empowered and bonded with her child knowing that she did it and no one can take that away from her. A dis-empowered labour can often lead to post natal depression and the feeling of having been robbed of a truly magnificent process called birth.

This article serves to inform everybody, particularly birthing mothers about common medical birthing practices and their potentially devastating effects. It is not meant to instill fear, but rather to empower women to take charge of their own labour, to make informed choices and to provide what is best for both her and her baby.

In order to deal with that kind of trauma in infants and adults, I recommend a non invasive gentle yet powerful technique called Cranio Sacral Therapy, a sublimely gentle yet deep and nurturing modality that can resolve trauma to both mother and infant alike in a gently guided fashion. Massage, hold and caress your baby as much as possible to help them overcome the trauma.

I believe that if we are to change our condition as humanity, our physical, emotional and psychological well being, we have to begin with our babies and how we birth them into the world. Following natural birthing processes will lead to a more healthy untraumatized, happy society.

“The first reason why birth is so important has to do with the foundational experiences. The first thing that happens to people is usually the most formative, simply because they are the first. Touch a hot stove once, and your attitude about stoves is altered for life. Birth is foundational because it is one of the first experiences where the fully developed body and primitive ego are challenged.

Birth, like any foundation of a house, provides a structure on which everything else is built. Without a foundation there can be no structure. Birth and life are intimately connected. When people discover their birth patterns, it is common to hear them say ’Why that’s the way I live my life. How I live my life is a direct reflection of what happened during my birth.’”—Dr William Emmerson,PhD—

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