Canadian doctors warn against 'freebirthing'
Published Thursday, June 21, 2007 2:27PM EDT
The small but troubling faction of "do-it-yourself" childbirth advocates who encourage unassisted childbirth are courting danger, warns the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada.
"Freebirthing" is the practice of giving birth at home, without the help of obstetricians, nurses or even midwives or doulas.
Those who promote unattended delivery, called "freebirth," say the practice offers mothers-to-be a natural way of welcoming their child into the world, free from drugs, machinery and medical intervention.
They also note that "freebirth" allows a woman to listen to her own body's signals rather than coaching from an outsider.
But the SOGC, meeting in Ottawa for its annual clinical meeting, says the practice is dangerous. They note that more than 500,000 women around the world die each year from complications during childbirth -- a sobering statistic, they say, "for what is deemed one of the most natural of life events."
Even in developed countries, where expectant mothers typically receive full prenatal care, as many as 15 per cent of all births involve potentially fatal complications, the SOGC says.
"Unassisted childbirth is unsafe − period," says Dr. Vyta Senikas, SOGC's associate executive vice-president.
Dr. Donald Davis, outgoing president of the SOGC, agrees.
"Whether you choose a registered midwife for a home birth or trained healthcare professionals in a hospital setting, having a skilled attendant's experience and knowledge at the mother's side can be the difference between life and death," he says.
Mandy Johnson, from Lethbridge, Alta., plans to have a home birth, attended only by her husband. She says she has done the research, has a birthing kit ready and a back-up plan for emergencies for her July 25 expected due date.
Johnson says she's looking forward to not feeling rushed during labour, as she did when her two daughters were born in hospital.
"They want to get you out of the delivery room and speed up the process that should be left to nature," she told CTV News.
Johnson says she considered a midwife but decided her family couldn't afford the midwife's $3,000 fees.
No one knows how many Canadians are choosing to give birth unattended; neither federal nor provincial governments collect statistics on unassisted childbirth. The rate is likely lower than home births attended by registered midwives, which accounted for just 1.5 per cent of all deliveries in British Columbia and Ontario in 2005 and 2006.
Senikas says the people advocating "freebirthing" are tragically uninformed and are promoting high-risk, dangerous behaviour disguised as sound medical advice.
"You have to look at the source. These are not trained and educated medical professionals," Senikas says.
Dr. John Crippen, a doctor in the U.K. who writes an award-winning blog, has reacted angrily to freebirth. saying "giving birth is the most dangerous thing that most woman will do during their life."
He believes that if a baby were to die of an avoidable cause during a "freebirth," the mother should be charged with manslaughter. He also argues that babies permanently injured during an unassisted birth should have the right to sue.
"Should a mother not take reasonable care to protect the baby when she gives birth? And if she does not take reasonable care -- and the standard should be objective not subjective -- why should a baby who has sustained avoidable brain damage due to the mother's negligence not take action against his mother?" he says in his blog.
Mary Siever, a Lethbridge mom who has had three unassisted births, says she is not surprised that doctors oppose freebirthing.
"They're focused on the pathological, not the natural and the normal," she says. "Doctors are entitled to their opinions and it's not going to stop women who are interested in unassisted birth; it's not going to change anything."