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Ronnie Falcao, LM MS, a homebirth midwife in Mountain View, CA


Midwives Support Unmedicated Birth Because It's Better for the Baby

Easy Steps to a Safer Pregnancy - View e-book or Download PDF - FREE!
An interactive resource for moms on easy steps they can take to reduce exposure to chemical toxins during pregnancy.

Other excellent resources about avoiding toxins during pregnancy

These are easy to read and understand and are beautifully presented.

I am sorry if we haven't explained ourselves well enough to the lay people on the list; I am also saddened to see the writer immediately jump to the conclusion that we strive for a drug-free birth out of some kind of malicious ego-gratification and as part of a power struggle with mainstream medicine (a very male viewpoint, I might add).

Would you like to know the real reason we prefer unmedicated births?

The truth is that it is much better for babies to go through the birth process without medication.

Labor and birth are stressful for the baby (in a physiological sense, I am not commenting on whatever psychological stress birth may engender). With each contraction, the amount of blood flowing through the placenta and umbilical cord is reduced dramatically. This means that during contractions the baby is getting very little oxygen. In between the contractions, the baby makes up for this deficit, assuming the placenta is functioning well. For a healthy full term baby and a healthy mom the normal physiologic stress of labor is not a problem. The baby has "reserves" of oxygen (in a similar way to how long distance runners use up their reserves of energy producing molecules) which allow it to weather the stress of labor.

The whole purpose of monitoring the baby during labor is to determine whether or not the baby is tolerating labor; is it running out of reserves? is it functioning well despite the stress? The fetal heart rate tells us how the baby is responding to the normal oxygen deficit of labor.

What does this have to do with drugs?

Well, drugs not only interfere with the ability to ascertain the baby's well being through monitoring, but also affect the baby's ability to withstand the stress of labor. All the narcotics (Morphine, Demerol, Stadol) cause the baby's heart rate to show a "non-reactive" pattern to the fetal heart rate. (Hint: Reactivity is good) Professionals in the birth field are aware of this and take it into account in managing a laboring woman and her intake of narcotics. For example, if the baby's heart rate was already non-reactive, most people would not give narcotics, because you then couldn't distinguish between the drug effect and the physiological state of the baby (well, you could do a scalp PH, but that is an invasive procedure). Once the mother gets narcotics, mostly we would not be concerned that the heart rate became non-reactive, because we know it is an effect of the medication.

So, that's one reason to avoid narcotics in labor. Also, if the mother is given too much narcotic or given it too soon before birth, the baby can be born with respiratory depression, in other words the baby is too knocked out to care whether s/he breathes or not. This can be reversed with a drug called narcan, but again, you are getting into a whole mess of interventions.

OK, so narcotics are bad, what's wrong with epidurals? There is much controversy about this issue, but epidurals seem to prolong labor, make pushing more difficult, lead to more cesareans and forceps deliveries, raise the mom's temperature (so we think she has an infection and give her and the baby antibiotics and sometimes the baby is separated from the parents for three days in the ICU while they rule out sepsis, an overwhelming infection), drop the mom's blood pressure immediately after administration (which causes a major drop in blood flow to the placenta and can cause fetal distress, leading to an emergency cesarean), and make it difficult for the baby to latch on during breast feeding for the first few days of life.

I used to work in a hospital where just about every woman had an epidural. Now very few of my clients have them. I see a big difference in how vigorous the babies are right after they are born. I can't tell you how many babies in the hospital just lay there when their mothers tried to breast feed. This caused the mothers much distress, as you can imagine. Now that I see mostly unmedicated moms and babies, I rarely see a listless baby refusing to nurse. And the populations are very similar, except my current clients chose a birthcenter and are mostly committed to a drug-free birth.

Since I am the one responsible if something goes wrong, I would much rather (in the rare instances when this is necessary) resuscitate an unmedicated baby than one that has narcotics on board. It is quite simply much easier.

In short, if the mother can get through labor without drugs, both she and her baby will be better off. She reduces her risk of cesarean, being given unnecessary antibiotics, having metal instruments placed in her vagina to deliver the baby (forceps), being separated from her baby during the first hours/days of life, and having problems breastfeeding.

If non-pharmacological methods are not working or the woman does not want to go through labor without medication, I think most of us are more than happy to give appropriate drugs, if we are absolutely sure that is what the woman wants.

As far as this case goes, it is baffling to me that medication was refused when they had stated in their birth plan that they wanted the option. I can't comment on what this midwife's motivation might be. I know that I am not invested in drug-free births, however, most of my clients are fiercely opposed to using medication at any time, especially in labor, and it is sometimes a challenge to get them all the way through to the end without them. Some of my clients ask for drugs towards the end of labor. By that time it is generally too late (because the baby will be born soon) and afterwards they are always happy I didn't listen to them (although I often feel pretty anxious about telling a woman in so much pain that I will not relieve it for her).

As to out of hospital births, for most women and babies, labor and birth outside of the hospital is the safest option and leads to the best outcomes.

For further reading on these subjects, I suggest you pick up a copy of Henci Goer's Obstetrical Myths vs Research Realities.

And please think kindly of us poor hard working midwives. There really is no conspiracy to force our will on unsuspecting women. I could easily give all my clients an epidural and go to sleep while they labor, instead of staying up all night, having them scream in my ear, pull on my neck, grab my clothes, etc. (I am not describing a typical labor, just some isolated incidents over the past few weeks) I don't need to sit with a woman for hours, telling her what a good job she is doing, rubbing her back, encouraging new positions, etc in order to prove that I am all-knowing and superior or to prove that hospitals are dangerous and mostly unnecessary for normal labor and birth. I do it because that is what my clients want. And it is, IMHO, what is best for all involved (except of course the sleep deprived midwife).

This Web page is referenced from other pages containing related information about Bonding and Birth Trauma and Birth Joy and Pain


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