Monday, January 07, 2013

Labour is tough enough without the National Childbirth Trust

Kirstie Allsopp, the host of UK TV show Location, Location, Location, has discovered that the National Child Trust (”NCT”) is politicised,dogmatic and scary.  One of the NCT’s tutors has demanded that Allsopp be sued for describing the NCT as politicised, dogmatic and scary, which rather proves the point.

My youngest is now five, but I can remember all the NCT propaganda that we were subjected to.  We were assured that home births are the natural way to deliver a child and that anything other than breast milk for your new born is a sin.  But like Kirstie Allsopp, my wife endured two emergency caesareans.  Both our children were delivered by a surgeon in an operating theatre.  We had a friend who was determined to give birth at home.  She too ended up in an ambulance with her child emerging into this world through an incision in her abdomen rather than the more conventional orifice.  Thankfully, she gave up on the home birth malarkey for her next two children.  Experience is a wonderful school.

It is not often talked about, but labour can be sheer agony over a long period of time.  I’m not talking about “stubbing your toe and hopping around” agony.  It’s more like a red hot poker in your nether regions... for hours and hours and hours.  When you have seen what childbirth is like, the NCT leaflets no longer seem wrong-headed.  They become downright sinister.  The advice, to “welcome” contractions and that “pain is progress”, sounds like the preaching from a sect of flagellants.  But far worse is the way that mothers who have had caesareans or epidurals feel like failures, as if they haven’t given birth properly.  Worse follows once the baby is safely delivered, with massive pressure to breast feed.  Again, if this isn’t suitable for a particular mother, they feel like they have betrayed their child.  Breast milk remains slightly better than the artificial alternatives, especially for the first few months, but not by enough to get very stressed about.  

Where there are no complications, home births are fine.  It’s also true that delivering a baby at home is likely to be a less stressful for the mother.  But it’s impossible to know in advance that a labour will go smoothly.  Depriving the baby of oxygen for just a few minutes can lead to irreparable brain damage and that doesn’t seem to be a risk worth taking.  So, I would discourage home births even though the scientific literature remains inconclusive on their safety.  Certainly, I have little time for the earth-mothers who seem to think that “natural” birth is intrinsically better than taking advantage of modern medicine.

Luckily, the traumatic experience of giving birth almost always has a very happy ending.  Welcoming new life to the world is such a great reward that women are willing to go through labour all over again.  For that, men should be very grateful, while silently giving thanks that we don’t have to go through it ourselves. 

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Anonymous said...

We were fortunate enough to be part of a group led by a woman who subscribed wholeheartedly to the "'natural' is best" philosophy of the NCT for herself but who retained a totally non-judgmental and graciously informative attitude to individual choice and the realities of potentially traumatic medical intervention. The class, compared to the woefully inadequate NHS stuff, was a real resource for informing us of all of the options as well as the mechanics of what was going to happen and what might happen. Reducing the fear of the unknown in the midst of already painful childbirth has to be a good thing!
The chance to build a network of parents in the same situation as us was also a lifesaver, and we're still in touch with many of the people in our class, some of whom have become our closest friends. I'd still recommend the NCT to friends, while making it clear that they're biased and a resource to use rather than a master to follow blindly.

Anonymous said...

I would agree with a lot of this, but the idea that breast milk is only 'slightly better' is more questionable. Nutritionally the benefits are more slight, but the immune system are more substantial.

Smokering said...

The benefits of breastmilk are hardly slight. Using formula results in a higher risk of diabetes, obesity, breast cancer (for mother and daughter), lower IQ, several childhood cancers, diarrhea (which can be dangerous in young babies) and a host of other ills. Certainly there are cases when breastfeeding is not possible, and in those cases the mothers should be supported, not shamed; but denying the nutritional and immunological superiority of breastmilk is simply wrong.

As for homebirth, it seems to vary by country. Where I live (NZ), midwives are well integrated into the medical care system, and many do homebirths, birthing centre births and hospital births. The statistics show that homebirth is just as safe, despite the truism that labour can go south at any time. Presumably this is due to the medical benefits of homebirth/risks of hospital birth compensating for that principle. (For instance, epidurals not being available in a HB means that epidural-related complications, ie the need for syntocinon to compensate for decreased contractions, with the related risk of fetal oxygen deprivation and higher C-section rates. Similarly, HB babies don't meet hospital superbugs.)