Controversial obstetrician asks, do we need midwives?

First it was fathers, then it was doctors and now some want midwives to get out of the delivery room.

One of the world’s oldest professions has come in to question by one of the world’s leading obstetricians, Michel Odent.

In an interview with the NZ Herald, Dr Odent talked about his new book ‘Do We Need Midwives’, which is about how detrimental modern midwives have become to the birthing process.

This is an incredibly controversial view considering many of us know, or even were, a midwife. It’s a beloved profession with many mothers preferring to have a doula or midwife at the business end than a male doctor.

The 84-year-old London-based Frenchman said that woman are losing the ability to give birth unaided and draws on his experience as the head of a Paris maternity unit.

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Dr Odent is in fact a promoter of water births and breast feeding, however when it comes to midwives, he believes their making it harder for women to give birth, by doing the work.

He made headlines years ago by suggesting fathers should not to be present at births (they disturb the focus and emotional equilibrium the mother needs, he argues) and that women should not be given drugs.

But, before we dismiss him as out of touch, Michel provocatively says, “When I ask ‘Do we need midwives?’, it is a real question,” he says. “If all births are medicalised, what sort of a midwife will we need?”

Ideally, women would give birth in a dark, warm room with just a midwife. The process would be calm and relaxing, unlike the frantic scene we’ve come to know in a bright, hectic labour ward.

We are undermining a natural process, says Dr Odent, and as a result there are too many Caesarians i.e. a “neutralisation of natural selection”.

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As brash as that sounds, he continued and explains, “I am not against Caesarians. I have performed over 1,000 of them. But I am taking a long-term view of how increased medicalisation will affect humankind, and the rational result is that some day the most common way for humans to be born will be by Caesarian. We need to look ahead and understand the consequences”.

“In previous centuries, women who were capable of giving birth had lots of children. Women who weren’t died in labour,” he continued.

“Thanks to the miracles of modern medicine and reproductive science, most women who want two babies can have them. Similarly, women who once might have had a great many babies can now stop at two; this is wonderful for the women concerned but it logically has an overall impact”.


It’s a lot to take in and think about, so does he have a point? Should midwives only exist in optimal settings? What was your birth/s like?