Mothers should never have been made to feel like failures for shunning a 'natural birth'

The Royal College of Midwives has said women will no longer be told that they should have babies without medical intervention

Saturday 12 August 2017 17:36
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Virtually no branch of medicine since the age of the ancient apothecaries can be said to be wholly ‘natural’
Virtually no branch of medicine since the age of the ancient apothecaries can be said to be wholly ‘natural’

The motives that lay behind the Royal College of Midwives’ 12-year campaign for “natural birth” were sincere. Indeed as a body of professionals dedicated to their vocation, and experts in their field, their advice to mothers was respected and often followed. It stemmed in turn from a desire to hold the line against an over-medicalised society generally, where medications and procedures are sometimes deployed unnecessarily and counterproductively, even.

The over-lavish prescription of antibiotics is one example of overcautious medics having a perverse effect on health and resistance.

Childbirth, however, is different and the College’s previous advice strayed into a place where pregnant women began to feel as though they were failures if they wished or needed to have an epidural, be induced or undergo a caesarean section. A lot of silly and sloppy media comment about being “too posh to push” helped confuse matters. The bias against intervention was itself unhealthy.

Somewhere, the simple principle that the welfare of mother and baby comes first was thrown out with the bathwater, so to speak. Every woman has a right to choose what she needs for a safe delivery, and the right to avoid pain and distress or damage to her and her baby. That is only as “unnatural” as taking medication for high blood pressure, or having chemotherapy or anaesthetic for an operation.

Virtually no branch of medicine since the age of the ancient apothecaries can be said to be wholly “natural” and to stigmatise people who prefer modern medicine to avoid pain or danger to their baby was an error of judgement by the midwives – though it is fair to say theirs was a policy of encouragement rather than compulsion.

It may be no coincidence that the NHS, challenged as it is financially to make the best of its budgets, has quietly dropped homeopathy and herbal medicines. We are, mercifully, moving away from a fetishisation of the “natural” and valuing the astonishing achievements science has bestowed on humanity. The midwives have done the right thing for their charges.

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