Dr Michel Odent’s afternoon talk on 11th July, at Il Kino in Berlin was focused on childbirth in the scientific context and answered several important questions, the main one being -How does modern medicine impact on a woman’s ability to give birth in an way that is optimal for mother and baby?
He summarised research from the last several years covering levels of different hormones in the blood of babies born by c-section without labour onset, compared with those born vaginally or by c-section after the onset of labour. The differences could be detrimental to children born to mothers who do not experience the onset of labour in many ways, for example, due to an absence of the positive stressors (noradrenaline), babies can suffer from respiratory issue and their sense of smell isn’t triggered correctly (which can in turn be problematic for estalishing breastfeeding).
He also touched upon the microbial aspect of birth- the clean and sterile environment in which a scheduled cesarean section takes place does not lend itself to the healthy colonisation of the thousands of microbes that are required to shape baby’s immune system.
Finally, Dr. Odent spoke about the ‘ideal’ birth, in which a woman is in a small, warm, dark room, where an experienced midwife sits in the corner and knits. There is a physiological reason why each of these factors is ideal and Dr Odent took us through them.
He then went on to tell us why this is a utopic view of birth from a medical perspective because of the dogma that has taken over the birthing process and how specialisation within the sciences regarding birthing sees us only concentrating on individual factors, as opposed to taking a holistic view.
The audience was invited to ask questions. The first was as to whether inducing labour prior to a planned cesarean section would be a valid method in the future. Dr. Odent stated that he has previously, where possible, allowed labour to start before his planned c-sections, which is an optimal way of doing things. Any artificial method of labour induction isn’t optimal, since we believe that the completion of the maturation of baby’s lungs is the trigger that tells the body to get the birthing process underway and lung maturation cannot be hurried along by outside influences. He also noted that a change in categorisation of c-sections is needed. Currently there is no difference between an emergency c-section and an elective c-section after onset of labour.
Another questions that was answered in an interesting way was related to Dr. Odent’s ‘ideal’ birth scenario: Does a birthing partner/husband/doula belong in the room too? According to his experience, it was only in the 70’s that partners started to enter hospital birthing suites. This went hand-in-hand with the industrialisation of chldbirth. The odd request to have a husband/partner at the birth quickly turned into dogma and now in 2015, we would probably raise an eyebrow if a friend told us that her husband or partner was not at the birth of their child. It was hoped that by introducing the father into the birth scenario, that divorce rates would decrease, along with instances of emergency c-section due to failure to progress in labour (the industrialised, impersonal environment probably led to a sharp increase in the procedure, I expect)
The impact of birth on the partner of a birthing woman is not a widely researched topic but it is an interesting one. During the course of Dr. Odent’s career, especially in the later years after home births, he asked the women how their partners/husbands were doing in the days, weeks and months after the birth. Many times, the partner had gotten ill and sometimes extremely ill (e.g. appendicitis, gallstones) and on very few occasions, there were cases of postpartum death in men. Of course, Dr. Odent recognises that this is anecdotal evidence but theorised that witnessing a partner giving birth is a situation of extreme stress and the after-effects are lasting. This may also have an impact on sexual attraction in the time after the birth.
The talk was fascinating and I would definitely recommend seeing Dr Odent speak if given the opportunity. His lighthearted humour and appealing French accent are only the tip of the iceberg of this amazingly talented and experienced man, who even with his 85 years still has so much to share with us regarding the subject of birth and the many facets surrounding this.
Camalo Gaskin’s next Birthtobirth Talk, in the form of a film named ‘Let’s Ruin it With Babies’ will be coming soon. Check our her website http://birthtobirth.com/ for further information