Childbirth: Did our generation have it the toughest? 160



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A leading international obstetrician claims women risk being unable to give birth naturally or to breastfeed their babies in the future because there are too many medical interventions available.

In his book ‘Do We Need Midwives?’, the French doctor Michel Odent, who pioneered the use of birthing pools in hospitals, argues that childbirth has become so medicalised, with huge numbers of pregnant women given drugs and surgery in labour, that women are ultimately at risk of losing their ability to give birth unaided.

He argues there is already evidence that women are taking longer in labour than half a century ago, citing research which shows that women giving birth between 2002 and 2008 took 2½ hours longer in the first stage of labour than those who gave birth between 1959 and 1966.

“Women are losing the capacity to give birth and they are losing the capacity to breastfeed,” he says. “That is the primary phenomenon … the number of women who give birth to babies naturally is becoming insignificant”.

85 year-old Odent is critical of the rise in caesarean sections and the growing use of synthetic oxytocin.

More than one in four of all births in England in 2013-14 were by caesarean section, an increase of 0.7 points on the previous year. The rate of births induced using chemicals such as synthetic oxytocin rose 1.7 points to 25 per cent.

As a result of this trend, Odent believes women’s natural ability to produce oxytocin, which initiates labour and plays a crucial role in breastfeeding, is declining. “Evolution will eventually erase physiological functions that are underused,” he says.

“I believe that the human oxytocin system — oxytocin being the hormone of love, fundamental to birth and bonding, even in adulthood — is growing weaker. The future of the human capacity to give birth is at risk”.

Cast your memory back to when you gave birth to your children. Was there a bevvy of pain-relieving drugs on standby, synthetic oxytocin to get your labour started and the choice of a caesarean delivery pre-planned in the obstetrician’s office well before you even reached the hospital door?

A friend who gave birth to her baby in the late 1970s recalls the experience was bereft of comforts and niceties. “Put your feet up in the stirrups and don’t make a fuss,” she was told by the medical staff.

And that’s just the way it was. Childbirth was a natural thing which simply had to take its course. Only when there were serious complications which threatened both baby and mother did the option of a caesarean delivery come into play.

What do you think about the French obstetrician’s comments? Is childbirth getting harder? Or have women of childbearing age today forgotten that giving birth is not meant to be easy – it’s all about the triumph of the human body?

Starts at 60 Writers

The Starts at 60 writers team seek out interesting topics and write them especially for you.

  1. Our generation gave birth naturally unless an emergency arose. Generations before us had it really hard. There were so many women who died in childbirth. Todays mums plan the birth to the second. Personally their is nothing more fulfilling than giving birth naturally. I have had 4 children. All difficult births, 2 naturally and 2 caesars through complications. Tidays generation have it all planned out. Caesars booked in and they even now are freezing their eggs so they can work as long as possible before starting a family. I personally think I grew up in the luckiest generation. We were able to be stay at home Mums. Todays generation do not have that luxury. Harder, but better we had it.

  2. Luckily i had my children in a small country town. 5 children born between 1967 and 1978. No stirrups but certainly told to not make a fuss and get on with it! No elective caesars for convenience of mother. Although there was talk about one doctors patients having caesars for his convenience. Not all was good but somethings were. No epidurals available. No midwives but Doctors controlled childbirth. Some places in big hospitals gave routine drips, stirrups, episiotomies, oxytocin. Me I had none of these.

    5 REPLY
    • me neither was just put in room left and now and then came in to check i had my son the very hard way no mod tecs when i gave birth 50yrs young ones of today have no idea what it was like then they should thank there lucky stars i was left in labour for 2 1/2 days with none of the help avail today so yes u really need to compare then and now and thank yr lucky stars as some wouldnt have made it through like we did ,,,,,,,,,,,,,

    • i had to wait 3 months before the doctor would comfirm i was pregnent!!! they wouldn’t touch you till then

    • We had it hard but not as hard as previous generations who had no medical assistance at all. A neighbour was the midwife and no gas and air even.

  3. I had a caesarian, long before it was trendy, I had no choice, I spent 35 hours in labour before they called in a specialist and decided I had a deformed cervix. I was only 17 years old and terrified

    3 REPLY
  4. I had my babies from 1969 – 1975 . Each time a Dr in attendance . My first baby was a month overdue ! I’d been admitted to be induced , not necessary , I was the size of a house ! 4 and half hour labour , painful , he was all peeling and the placenta had deteriorated . So I was full of toxins . Dr said he never seen so much waste liquid when I had Geoff . I lost 2 and half stone in the hospital from the toximia before going home . Turns out that it was actually very serious for baby and I ! Sisters were also in attendance with the Dr. I’d hate to just have a midwife as they go today . Dr knows so much more .

  5. I Had 4 of my 5 children in the early 70 one in the 80 it was certainly a different experience than mums today have , but we wouldn’t want it any other way would we, there is more pain relief and better medical help making it a less stressful birth for mother and baby. !!

  6. Theer was pain relief or assistance only if it got to the point that you or baby was in great distress, otherwise you got on with it, mine were all natural births and I was not distressed enough to need any pain relief or other interventions, as soon as i gave birth I was feeling fantastic, apparently my births were what they called text book, however if they would have offered pain relief I would have jumped at it.

  7. I think in the way back when times had it worse of course, but yes, we werent told anything, no pre natal classes etc… and i had an internal heomarrage of the uterus and almost died, left with bulky uterus size of 3 month pregnancy… also had transfusions etc… if it was in earlier days I wouldnt be here to tell the story….should have had a caesarean to start.. I think the care given now is so so so much better.

    2 REPLY
    • Jennifer, sorry about your very bad experience. It must have been very frightening for you. When I was expecting my first, in May 1963, my doctor sent me to a physio, Marcelle Frame, who had not long before returned from France with the Lamaze method, which had been developed in Russia. She introduced it in Melbourne, with many grateful girls, as witness to its success, who started an association called ‘The Childbirth Education Association’ (CEA). Now there is plenty of help available. I feel so sad, how many women are having Caesars by choice, or convenience. They are missing out on the amazing, bonding experience, of giving birth naturally.

    • yes would have loved to have more children, miscarried next child then had to have hysterectomy due to bulky and torn uterus. I am lucky though I have a lovely son with lovely grand daughters and I do hope they have that wonderful experience.. I was also blessed to be at the births of both of them at my daughter in laws request and they were long labours, but you know what.. I am grateful for my experience and thank God to be here today.

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