#28 History of Obstetrics

In my recent conversation with Neil Haley, we talked about the history of obstetrics. Modern day obstetrics dates back to about 1750 when male doctors, in the beginning brought in by wealthy families, started delivering babies. These male obstetricians brought with them a bag of instruments and put the laboring mothers on their backs so they could easily see the delivery.

In most ways, the practice of obstetrics hasn’t changed much in 300 years except to become more technical and less personal. In the 1962, Dr. Michel Odent took a position in a French community hospital. He was trained as a surgeon and initially was only called to labor and delivery when a woman needed a surgical procedure. Midwives oversaw the labor and deliveries in the hospital he worked at in France.

In 1984, Dr. Odent published a book, Birth Reborn, describing what he had observed mothers need during labor and delivery. He came to understand that laboring women need dark, quiet, warm, secure, private places to delivery their babies.

What Women Need In Labor and Delivery

As my conversation with Neil continues, we also talked about what women need in labor and delivery.

As mammals, humans need a dark, warm, private, and safe place where they can feel comfortable. While deer can comfortably birth their babies in the forest, if threatened, their labor stops and they run, only to resume labor when they once again feel safe. Modern obstetrics, however, places laboring women in the hospital with IVs and bright lights. Even though women know that they should feel safe in the hospital, they often become anxious with all the unfamiliar faces going in and out of the room and providing care.

Advocating for Less Intrusive Labors

Little has changed in obstetrics over the past 300 years except for the increased use of technology. We do more electronic monitoring, more inductions, more c-sections, more episiotomies, and more IV fluids. All these intrusions prevent women from having what they need most in labor and delivery: quiet, darkness, familiar faces, warmth, and security.

Many of these technological invasions offer no benefit. In fact, it’s been shown that continuous fetal monitoring with electronic devices increases both the expense and the c-section rate in deliveries.

Decide the kind of labor you want and let your obstetrician know what you prefer in your labor and delivery. Some women want the induction and epidural, but if you prefer a more natural labor and delivery, by all means talk this over with your obstetrician before you go to the hospital in labor..

For more information you are invited to watch my conversation with Neil Haley here.