The Associate Professor in Midwifery at Nottingham University has caused a furore over the last few days by suggesting pain during childbirth is a rite of passage, helps strengthen the bond between mother and child and that women should forgoe epidurals as they increase the risk of intervention.
The Daily Mail quoted him saying, “A large number of women want to avoid pain, but more should be prepared to withstand it. Pain in labour is a purposeful, useful thing which has a number of benefits, such as preparing a mother for the responsibility of nurturing a newborn baby.” He also said, “emerging evidence shows that normal labour and birth prime the bonding areas of the mother’s brain more than Caesarean or pain-free birth.”
Much of the focus has been on the Associate Professor’s sex – Dr Denis Walsh is a midwife and a man – rather than the evidence behind his research. Published in Evidence Based Midwifery Dr Denis Walsh has claimed epidural rates are already too high and are rising.
His terminology has rightly been called into question by Maureen Freeley in Comment is Free in The Guardian. She has asked “Even if this man had a degree in anthropology, I’d want to question his terms. And what the hell does he know about Bonding with Baby?” She goes on to argue this most recent commentary on childbirth is typical, “As is so often the case in discussions about motherhood, it is laden with moral assumptions.”
The Times’ Alpha Mummy blog points out “his attitude that pain prepares women for motherhood sounds a bit old Testament to me.” The Alpha Mummy team go on to argue that yes, childbirth is a natural process, but so is infant mortality. They also make the interesting point the tables appear to have turned on the assumption The Man was trying to push interventionist approaches to childbirth on women, but now things are going in a different direction.
In the good old-fashioned name of balance the papers have been providing other expert opinions on the matter, many of which are surprisingly blunt in suggesting Dr Walsh’s analysis is lacking.”He’s exaggerating the risks of epidurals. They aren’t overused. In the main they’re a good thing and almost always necessary.” says Dr Justin Clark, an ObGyn based at Birmingham Women’s Hospital in The Telegraph.
Our very own Dr Maggie Blott, mother and head of the Royal College of Obstetricians warned the BBC, “Do not under-estimate the pain of having a baby – it is a very, very intense and painful experience. If it is happening hour after hour in a very prolonged labour it is very tiring and wears people down and I think epidurals are very useful in that situation.” She was backed up in her comments by Cathy Warwick, general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives who said, “At the moment it is very easy for most women to ask for an epidural, and if they want one they definitely should get one.”
For a more irreverent look at the realities of obtaining an epidural on the NHS, have a look at Zoe William’s brilliant Anti-Natal column in the Guardian here.