Natural Childbirth – First World vs. Developing World

Birth in Nature: Natural Birth
In the past few days, I have had three friends forward on a post about a new trend in natural birth. Lifetime is starting production of a new show, Born into the Wild, featuring woman giving birth unassisted in the outdoors. Apparently, if you are an extremely devoted mother, you will forgo all medical intervention or assitance and deliver your child in the way in which nature intended.

Although I have not seen such extremes during my years as an ob/gyn physician, I have seen the process of childbirth become a competition as to who can do it in the most natural way – without pain meds, laboring at home as long as possible, refusing recommended immunizations for both mother and baby, to name only a few. While I do not believe that anyone should be forced to use pain medication if they do not want it, I also believe that a woman who choses not to use pain medicaiton is no better than the mother who felt the need to use some form of pain relief. Refusing recommended immunizations for both you and your child, for whatever reason, is in no way natural when you risk exposing your child or others to a preventable infectious disease.

Natural childbirth in the developing world would make for a much more dramatic show. Another blogger that I follow is currently reporting from Ethiopia. This is a quote from ThirdEyeMom “One of the main issues that is making maternal and newborn mortality rates difficult to tackle is the fact that over 80% of women in Ethiopia deliver at home with no trained help. These women give birth assisted by the community birth attendant, with a friend, a neighbor or even by themselves. The best way to save both maternal and newborn lives is to have women give birth assisted by a trained midwife at a health center. In fact the Ethiopian government is strongly encouraging all women to give birth at a health center but there are many obstacles in the way.” And yet we are spending thousands of dollars to produce a tv show that will encourage women in the US to do what the Ethiopian government is trying to prevent, because they see the alarming statistics everyday. One in every 67 women in Ethiopia dies in childbirth. If they start to hemorrhage there is not a nearby hospital nor transportation. If labor is obstructed (17% of all first births), they may develop a fistula (opening between bladder and vagina) as well as deliver a stillborn child.

Clearly, our American version of natural childbirth is a very different version compared to Ethiopia or anywhere else in the developing world. These women feel blessed to have the attendance of skilled providers and medicines that can save both their lives and the lives of their child if necessary. A recent case from my trip to Kenya exemplifies this point. Our group was teaching the Kenyan staff about cervical cancer screening and treatment when the on-call nurse midwife was suddenly called away to another part of the hospital. A few hours later we saw her while walking to lunch and asked whether the delivery had gone well. She gave us a rueful smile while relating the story. A woman had been laboring at home for 2 days and unable to deliver her baby, due to a breech presentation. She arrived at the hospital by motorcycle, exhausted and incoherent. The nurse had to perform many manipulations of the baby to finally deliver his limp body, but he responded to resuscitation efforts and both mom and baby were doing well.

Finally, don’t be too concerned about the women who may take the challenge and decide to participate in this new reality show. Just off camera and readily available, will be a team of medical experts ready to intervene for any difficulties in the NATURAL process of childbirth. Remember, this is “Born into the Wild”, not “Born into the Developing World”.

One thought on “Natural Childbirth – First World vs. Developing World

  1. thirdeyemom says:

    Thanks so much for including a link to my post. What I found in Ethiopia is that many mothers and newborns are dying during unassisted childbirth. When complications arise, there is no one there to help. There is fistula and oftentimes the baby dies inside the womb if the labor goes unobstructed for too long. Fortunately we do have access to hospitals here in the US and we don’t have to travel hours on foot while in labor. Yet there are still emergencies that can be prevented with trained help such as a midwife. The horrors we saw and uncovered were difficult but at least there is hope. I’m glad they are training more midwives in Ethiopia. Thanks again for reading my blog! 🙂

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