Selfish, scared women should stop having elective caesareans and trust their bodies to give birth naturally.
Doctors should also stop encouraging their patients to book in their births like a bikini wax just because it’s more convenient for them. The World Health Organisation is right to remind us once again that caesarean birth rates are too high and should be reduced.
Last week WHO suggested the ideal rate of caesarean births is between 10 and 15 per cent. This is a far cry from the current Australian rate of 30 per cent and up to 50 per cent in some private hospitals.
WHO experts warn the procedure should not be carried out just for personal preference because of the increased risk of causing disability or death.
Indeed, medical evidence shows caesarean births are linked to a greater risk of a mother dying in childbirth, picking up an infection, losing or rupturing her uterus, having a stillborn baby and needing to stay longer in hospital.
Caesarean births are also linked to greater risks for the baby, including type 1 diabetes, asthma, allergies, gastroenteritis, obesity and some cancers. In comparison, vaginal births are less risky, the time in hospital is less and the recovery is much simpler. So it doesn’t make any sense at all that so many women think a caesarean is the safer option.
Yet in a growing number of cases women would rather put their faith in medical science and subject themselves to an invasive, unnecessary medical procedure rather than trust in their own body’s natural ability to give birth.
In fact, I know some women who can’t stand the idea of giving birth naturally: they don’t fancy the uncertainty, pain, messiness and lack of dignity. They also believe a caesarean will help keep things nice down there: “Why muck up the driveway when the garage is already busted?” one friend of mine put it.
So they float the idea with their doctor, who is often quite happy to oblige, particularly if their patient has private health insurance. Money is a big factor in all of this — there’s a reason why wealthy women have caesars at twice the rate of other women.
Doctors are just as much to blame for our high caesarean birth rates. Many agree to caesareans because it makes things much easier from their perspective: no late night call-outs, no long labours and less chance of messy legal problems down the track. Sometimes women are even made to feel like a nuisance for wanting a natural birth.
The point missing in this entire debate is that a caesarean birth is major surgery that is linked to a greater risk of complication, illness and even death.
Caesarean births may suit many families’ busy lifestyles, but in many cases they are an unnecessary invasive medical procedure with serious side-effects and risks. Often women who choose caesareans don’t realise this. One recent Victorian study found 30 out of 32 women who had caesarean births experienced a range of unexpected negative physical health outcomes. This included leaky wounds, extended recovery times and loss of mobility.
Yes, natural labour is no picnic — even with lots of pain-relief drugs. However, a few hours of discomfort and loss of dignity is a small price to pay for a safe delivery. Now, I’ve written about this before, and the response always seems to be that whether a woman and her family choose to have a natural birth or a caesar is no one else’s business. I strongly disagree.
Not only are the high caesarean birth rates driving up private health insurance premiums, but patients are clogging up maternity hospitals, and producing a generation of mothers taking much longer than necessary to recover from giving birth.
In case you are wondering, I had one fairly traumatic natural birth followed by two caesareans for medical reasons. It’s to do with the shape of my pelvis, which I am sure you don’t want to know any more about. So I know first hand that there are some very good medical reasons women and their families choose caesarean births.
But I also know that having a caesarean birth is very clinical and alienating and that the doctors are in charge, not the mother. Ultimately, we need to find better systems to empower healthy women to give birth naturally, because it’s better for them and for the baby.
Studies have found women with midwife-led pregnancies giving birth in public hospitals are among those with the lowest rates of caesarean births. There have been some encouraging trials of this method of care, which could be extended further into the private sector.
We also need to educate women into trusting their bodies, and standing up to doctors who encourage them to undertake these unnecessary surgeries. It all comes down to women having faith in their healthy, natural bodies, which have been successfully designed to give birth over many thousands of years.
Published: April 13, 2015. By Susie O’Brien
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