When I talk about birth (a topic that I am very passionate about and talk about a lot!) I get a lot of comments which tell me that the health of the birth is, surprisingly, a low priority for women.
“All that matters is a healthy baby”
“I don’t care how baby is born as long as we are both alive at the end”
“I’m happy to have whatever interventions the doctor wants to do”
These comments all suggest to me that birth doesn’t matter and that women believe the health status of a birth is defined by whether or not everyone is alive at the end.
I prefer to take a more holistic view of health.
We really need to move away from this idea that just being alive equals health. I certainly did not feel healthy while I was recovering from caesarean surgery, taking pain medication around the clock and on a course of antibiotics for an infection.
I didn’t feel healthy as I bawled my eyes out reliving the trauma that was my baby’s arrival into the world. My baby wasn’t healthy with her IV antibiotics and feeding tube. And our birth wasn’t healthy with the lack of natural hormonal physiology, constant bullying, drugs, stress and fear. Yet I was told that I should just be grateful for our health?!
I did not feel healthy here. Author's own image
So how do we move towards a more holistic view of the health of birth?
1) Start acknowledging that birth involves more than just a baby. Birth involves the woman and the birthing process that takes her across the threshold into motherhood. The triad falls apart if one of these is not healthy.
2) Remember that healthy babies deserve healthy mothers. A healthy baby that is left with no mother due to suicide, mental health issues or complications following birth is NOT a good outcome.
3) A healthy birth will often lead to both a healthy baby AND a healthy mother.
A healthy birth will generally lead to a healthy baby. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
There is a lot of emerging evidence around the importance of the birth process for the health of babies and their mothers. We know that the hormonal process of birth impacts on the levels of hormones, particularly endorphins, in breastmilk, which in turn can impact on breastfeeding behaviour of newborns. Induction with syntocinon or a pre-labour caesarean can impact negatively on the hormonal physiology, and therefore the heath, of the birth. Both Michel Odent and Dr Sarah Buckley have published research on this topic.
We also know that babies are exposed to lots of different bacteria as they come down the birth canal. We now know that exposure to this bacteria can be important for baby’s future health and wellbeing. If you would like to learn more I recommend a quick google search of “seeding the microbiome”.
There are many health benefits to vaginal birth. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Birth also impacts on women’s mental health and a birth that involves respect and compassion where the mother feels supported and safe will lead to better mental health outcomes for mothers. A healthy birth can help build women up to be informed, empowered and confident mothers.
We really need to start ensuring that women know that it’s not just the baby that matters. Mothers matter and birth matters. And when these two aspects are healthy it is far more likely that baby will be too.