The Annual Sentinel for Health Awards honors TV shows in multiple categories for accurate portrayal of health messaging. After attending the ceremony last night, I was deeply inspired by the finalists and the dedication of their writers. Finalists included “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Private Practice,” “Parenthood,” and “Sesame Street,” among others.
One of the winning shows depicted a birth taking place in a developing nation. The laboring woman was giving birth in a vertical position—-as is the custom in cultures all over the world. It was amazing to see the American audience’s reaction; it was obvious that they weren’t accustomed to seeing this! There are many advantages to giving birth in this manner though, not the least of which is the aid of gravity.
The woman was being supported by a midwife, which is also common in many parts of the world, and they had come to a birth center to deliver the baby. When a western medical doctor entered the scene, a few issues surfaced which I’d like to highlight here.
While I applaud the show’s writers for approaching these crucial topics, there were a few myths operating which I’d like to expose:
Myth #1: C-Section is the safest way to go.
The United States has one of the highest maternal death rates—-AND one of the highest infant mortality rates—–among developed nations. And yet, we also have one of the highest rates of c-sections. The World Health Organization recommends limiting c-sections to under 10% of all births, and yet in some states, the rate here in the US is a whopping 40%.
Thank heavens we have this intervention when medically indicated, but research demonstrates that the unnecessary use of c-sections actually puts moms and babies at greater risk.
Myth #2: Doctors are more skilled than midwives.
Doctors are extremely skilled in what they are trained to do. Obstetricians are trained surgeons, for example, whereas midwives are not at all qualified to perform c-sections. However, trained midwives have great expertise in facilitating a healthy and safe birth for mother and baby, using natural means. Some of the techniques used by midwives are of great benefit, and actually reduce the need for more invasive intervention. Studies have shown that oftentimes, invasive interventions pose risks to mom and baby.
Therefore, in order to provide the best possible outcomes in birth, we need to bring the best of what midwives offer alongside the advances of modern medicine.
Myth #3: The umbilical cord should be cut immediately.
No, no, no!
There is a growing body of evidence indicating that cutting of the cord should be delayed until it stops pulsating, or at least 1-3 minutes. This is because a significant portion of the baby’s blood supply is still in the placenta immediately after birth, and the baby’s blood volume can increase by up to 20-60% with pulsation of the cord. Increased blood supply provides both oxygen and iron to the newborn child.
In summary, western medicine provides many benefits to new mothers and infants when it comes to emergency care. But birth is a natural process which often unfolds more smoothly without unnecessary interventions. Traditional cultures across the globe have developed extensive techniques for dealing with labor complications naturally. If doctors prioritize learning these methods, rather than resorting to out-dated protocol, it will help lower infant and maternal death rates in the US as well as enhance our ability to support safe birth practices in developing nations.