Natural childbirth movement 'denies women choice'

Those who want Caesareans or pain relief are being discouraged from asking for them, say campaigners

Campaigners will issue a stern warning tomorrow that childbirth has become a political football, with the Government pandering to the natural birth lobby and so denying women the freedom to have elective Caesareans and pain relief.

At a meeting with Kevin Barron MP, chair of the Commons Health Select Committee, the Birth Trauma Association (BTA) and other support groups will call for urgent action to ensure women are given a real choice of treatment. The campaigners accuse the Government of having allowed childbirth to be dominated by policies which suit some groups of women to the detriment of others, and are calling on ministers to create an inclusive maternity policy.

"We have swung from the extreme of over-medicalisation to the opposite of natural childbirth, rather than allowing women to have an informed choice," said Maureen Treadwell, co-founder of the BTA.

The battle lines are being drawn as some people within maternity services attempt to turn back the clock and reduce the number of Caesarean sections, currently a quarter of the 700,000 deliveries each year in the UK.

Louise Silverton, the outgoing general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), said last month that the current Caesarean rate of 170,000 deliveries a year was "unacceptably and needlessly high". Only 9 per cent of women had a Caesarean section in the UK 30 years ago and Ms Silverton wants Britain to aim for no more than 15 per cent, in line with World Health Organisation recommendations. She criticised the pattern of women under 40 who are not prepared to deal with the agony of childbirth which, she believes, is driven by celebrity culture.

But campaigners argue that women are being short-changed by the new drive towards "natural" births with no pain relief and are suffering needlessly as a result. They claim that women carrying large babies of more than 4.5kg are not being offered enough choice and that this policy is leading to severe injuries of the colon.

"Childbirth has become a political football where women are often discouraged from having the sort of birth that they want in order to fulfil someone's idea of a 'normal' birth. Women don't want to have to go into childbirth and have to fight for pain relief," said Ms Treadwell. "There is a hidden agenda here, one that will result in women being made to feel failures just for asking for pain relief or other forms of medical intervention."

But RCM general secretary Professor Cathy Warwick said she saw no evidence that women were being pushed into particular choices. "We would certainly support reducing the number of epidurals and we want women to have pain relief based on informed choices," she said. "The final choice should be with the woman. If a woman remains determined, after proper discussion, it is my understanding she would be offered a Caesarean section."

Professor Warwick denied there was an obsession among midwives with "normal" births. "Too much intervention is leading to morbidity in women and babies, but we don't want obsession with normality to lead to women and babies suffering. Just because a baby is big does not automatically mean the mother should have a Caesarean section," she said.

Sheila Kitzinger, the natural-birth campaigner, said women were being duped into medical interventions by marketing. "I think the language of 'choice' derives from marketing, but it has now taken over in childbirth, and women have come to feel they can simply choose the product they prefer," she said. "Women can be vulnerable if it is their first baby, and they can be pushed into feeling that epidurals and Caesarean sections – both heavily marketed – are superior products."

A Department of Health spokesman said, "A doctor has to take responsibility for the clinical risks involved in a Caesarean section so the doctor could refuse, but would not do so without giving the mother a chance to get a second medical opinion."

To have your say on this or any other issue visit

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

    £28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

    £16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

    Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

    £16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

    Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

    £17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

    Day In a Page

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk