By Laura Gotti Tedeschi

Obstetrician Michel Odent, who has been in charge of about 15,000 hospital births in France, warns on the New Scientist of this month that the culture around childbirth is robbing women of their capacity to give birth unassisted. Most women today need to be assisted in hospitals by midwives, doctors and partners which may well be a consequence of the increasing medicalization of pregnancy.

“From what we know about childbirth before the Neolithic revolution, it seems that women […] would isolate themselves to give birth”, says Dr. Odent, “Today, labouring women are culturally conditioned to think that they are unable to give birth by themselves, that a partner or an expert must be there”.

But in his opinion women are more likely to “let go” with no one watching them and they feel less inhibited if giving birth in a dark environment rather than in a typical bright delivery room. “The best situation”, Dr. Odent says to the New Scientist, “is when the woman in labour is not disturbed too much. A good example is a woman giving birth in a small, dark, warm room with just one midwife sitting silently in the corner”.

What about the new phenomenon of allowing men in the delivery room when a woman is in labour? Dr. Odent explains that in animal kingdom, mammals don’t invite their sexual partner when they give birth. The risk, in fact, is that it is more likely to inhibit women’s activity rather than support it. The French Obstetrician explains that, “When the man is partecipating in the birth, his behaviour and the way he talks often creates a situation that boosts neocortical activity”.

Odent obviously is not advising women in labour on what they should do, but given his experience as a childbirth specialist, simply noting situations that derive from common sense and that are likely to make birth easier.

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