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The Rise of Unassisted Childbirth

The Rise of Unassisted Childbirth

Pregnancy and childbirth are every day occurrences, and the medical care that mothers and their new-borns receive gets better and better all the time. Despite that, more and more people are opting for an unassisted childbirth, which can range from a homebirth with no medical practitioner present to a complete separation from the medical world, including no doctors, no midwives, no pregnancy check-ups, and no scans. It’s still relatively rare, but since the mid-1990s, the popularity of unassisted childbirth has been on the rise and it’s now at its highest since 1975[1]. Those who choose an unassisted birth, however, face the backlash of medical organisations all around the world who warn of the dangers of shunning medical advice and assistance. So why are more people opting for it, and is it really as dangerous as medical organisations claim it to be?


What is unassisted childbirth and why are people opting for it?

It’s worth noting that unassisted childbirth is different to a homebirth which includes an attending medical practitioner, be it a doctor, nurse, or midwife. Unassisted births are more about ‘going back to nature’ and are usually attended by a non-medical birthing partner or family and close friends only[2]. Also called ‘freebirth’, as coined by Pavrati Baker[3], the notion of unassisted childbirth grew out of the Natural Childbirth movement fronted by, among others, Grantly Dick, that promoted the idea of childbirth without medical intervention and in particular, without anaesthesia[4]. Dr. Amos Grunebaum, the director of obstetrics at the New York Presbyterian Hospital and Weill Cornell Medical College explains that homebirths have risen in popularity by 79% in recent years, and of those 140,000 homebirths per year, approximately one third of them are unassisted[5].

The arguments that pro-unassisted childbirthers make are surprisingly simple. The medical system is negative and sterile, many say, and an unassisted pregnancy and birth is more exciting, more loving[6]. Women have been giving birth since the dawn of human existence and all this medical intervention is relatively recent occurrence, others argue. If women could do it before, why not now? After all, childbirth is not a medical emergency – it’s not an illness or disease or injury – so why is a hospital required[7]? Marilyn A Moran, a proponent of unassisted childbirth argues that childbirth is an inherently private and sexual matter[8] and Laura Kaplan Shanley argues that “birth is sexual and spiritual, magical and miraculous – but not when it’s managed, controlled, and manipulated by the medical establishment”[9]. Ultimately, then, the desire for unassisted childbirth arises from a disillusionment with the medical world, and a desire to stay as natural as possible.


Do Big Moms Make Big Babies?

Do Big Moms Make Big Babies?

There are a lot of stories and old wives’ tales surrounding pregnancy and birth, and each and every possible factor of having a baby is subject of discussion. The potential size of your baby is no different, and whether or not you’ll have a large baby is a question on many people’s lips. Thanks to recent research though, that question can now be answered – at least for some people. Studies show that mothers who are overweight or obese during pregnancy are much more likely to have big babies than smaller mothers.

A recent co-operative review study between universities in the UK looked at research involving more than 30,000 women of European ancestry and their babies. The studies examined the mother’s body mass index (BMI), blood sugar levels, and blood pressure as well as the weight of the resulting babies. The results, published in the Journal of American Medical Association, demonstrated that not only will larger moms have larger babies, but moms with high blood sugar levels (whether overweight or not) will also have bigger babies. Conversely, moms with high blood pressure will have smaller babies[1].

Big Babies

The size of the average baby is around 6-7 pounds[2], but the amount of babies being born at 9.9 pounds or more has increased over the last ten years[3]. These are known as LGA babies, or ‘large for gestational age’. The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology suggests that overweight moms are twice as likely to have an LGA baby and obese moms are three times as likely. What’s more, a study by the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research shows that women who gain 40 pounds or more actually during the pregnancy are also twice as likely to have LGA babies[4], even if they started out with a healthy BMI. So the statistics show that this increase in baby size is there, but the questions we’re left with are why are babies getting bigger? And why does it matter?

Bigger Babies

The fact that babies are getting bigger is not only due to the size of the mother, of course. One of the most obvious reasons that babies are getting bigger is that we are getting healthier in terms of pregnancy development. Mothers generally don’t smoke and drink during pregnancy any longer, for example, and these factors influence the resulting size of the baby. That however would only explain a small growth, rather than why babies are increasingly being born LGA.