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
food + drink
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
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: Operations Manager / Section Manager - Airport Security

    £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a critical role within the secur...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45-55k

    £20000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The company is an established, ...

    Recruitment Genius: E-Commerce Manager - Fashion Accessories

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

    Recruitment Genius: Accounts Senior / Assistant Manager

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Exciting new position available at an independ...

    Day In a Page

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn