America excels in high-tech medicine
When it comes to healthcare and medicine, America is the greatest country in the world. If you get into a car crash or have a heart attack, or need a life-saving surgery, then you are very grateful to have that happen in the US of A. However, this statement is not true if you are pregnant and healthy. It is well known that the US scores shamefully low on the two standards used worldwide to evaluate how well a country is doing in the area of childbirth – infant mortality and maternal mortality. And it’s not a mystery as to why this is the case. We know that the standard interventions performed on pregnant women in the hospital on low-risk, healthy moms and babies are not evidence based. Withholding food and fluids by mouth. Limiting movement and positioning in labor. Use of continuous fetal monitoring for low risk labors. Non-medically indicated inductions. Immediate cord clamping. Overuse of Pitocin for labor augmentation. All of these standard interventions can lead to perceived and real problems that trigger the cascade of events leading to an operative delivery – forceps, vacuum extraction, or cesarean (and occasionally a cesarean with forceps or vacuum delivery!).
Low-tech better for physiologic childbirth
When it comes to childbirth, high tech is not better than low tech. I have been privileged to attend many out of hospital births and many more in hospital births. Even a ‘normal’ birth in the hospital typically comes with continuous fetal monitoring and epidural. And unless it is the middle of the night and the lights are kept dimmed, the nurses use intermittent monitoring, the cord is left alone for at least 10-15 minutes, and the baby is kept on the mother AT ALL TIMES, no hospital birth worker has truly witnessed natural birth. There are many, many videos of home birth on the internet and it can be seen time and again the beauty and wonder of birth as it is meant to be.
Out-of-hospital birth should be first-line care for all low-risk childbirth
We have such great prenatal care standards, that any significant problem with the mom or the baby will most likely be detected prior to labor so that a baby that may need more high tech assistance can be born in a place where she can receive that assistance in a timely manner. It is so unlikely that a healthy mom and baby will have a major life-threatening problem during the birth process, that out of hospital birth and midwifery have been approved through legislation in most states. And statistics have proven that most transports from an out of hospital setting are done for non-emergent reasons. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have suggested that the out of hospital Birth Center should be the first level of care for healthy pregnant women. They recommend only moving up the chain to a hospital capable of performing a cesarean if there are risk criteria that have been demonstrated.
Low-tech interventions for childbirth
So that means in order to fix the problem, more doctors need to be trained in the low tech hand skills that are truly helpful to laboring women. These include Leopolds maneuvers (feeling the baby from the outside to determine it’s position), which, when performed properly, can assist the provider to be able to tell not only the baby’s position but if there is adequate fluid around the baby. Keeping hands out of the way other than to provide warm compresses during the actual birth. Turning a breech baby to avoid a breech delivery. Even being able to perform a breech delivery – these are skills that are slowly being lost to us because they are not being taught in medical schools. And delayed cord clamping is probably the single most important non-intervention that can be supported at a birth! We have been complacent, and have allowed an intervention – immediate clamping and cutting of the umbilical cord (that typically happens in the course of surgical birth) – to become standard of care for all births without studying the effects. It is part of the OB culture and doctors and CNMs are taught to do it without question. This is what happens when you put surgeons in charge of a physiological event.
Women’s complacency has really been the main cause of our loss of control over our bodies and our labors. It is time for us to stand up and reclaim our bodies, our labors, and our births. Support your local midwife, demand respect and evidence based care. Maintain a healthy lifestyle and prepare yourself for an out of hospital birth – it will transform your life!