Animal vs. Human Birth
The protocols in the world of animal husbandry to protect an offspring at the time of birth—no strangers, dimmed lights, freedom of movement, familiar environment, unlimited nourishment, respectful quiet, no disruptions—are done without hesitation because to do otherwise invites “unexplained distress” or sudden demise of the offspring.
These thoughtful conditions are the norm, along with careful observation to determine when to use the technological expertise in true emergencies. When I have veterinarians or farmers in my childbirth education classes, they always start to smile and nod when I tell this story. These are givens—instinctive givens, even, for animals of all descriptions!
Yet what are the “givens” for the human who births not in a barn, but in a “modern and advanced” hospital? In many cases, 100% the opposite! Usually a minimum of a dozen strangers pass through the world of the laboring mother in her first 12 hours in the hospital—security officer, triage secretary, admission clerk, triage nurse, resident and/or doctor on call, admitting nurse, first shift nurse, break nurse, additional nurse at delivery, doctor or midwife plus possibly students, anesthesiologist, pediatrician, etc. Bright lights in the triage and labor rooms are challenging to dim. Mothers are tethered to monitors or IV poles and are moved through a bright hall with unfamiliar sounds to a new room in a building devoted to illness/trauma that most have visited once briefly if at all. They receive poor quality “clear liquids only.” They are exposed to voices of others in the hall or chatting by the attendants during contractions and endless disruptions throughout! But then, do we ever find that we have an offspring experience “unexplained distress?” Of course, and at frightening rates! Yet, oddly, many of these disruptions are promoted as minor inconveniences or necessary to “protect” the baby.
Curiously, while veterinarians commonly have to defend interventions in light of the additional cost and the risks associated with interfering with nature, providers caring for human mothers within the medical system more commonly are forced to defend why they did NOT intervene! Consider the high rates of inductions, epidurals, artificial rupture of membranes, immediate cord cutting, cesareans and the vigorous defense necessary to fight for anything different, especially if time is involved (time to go into labor, to progress, to push, to allow the cord to stop pulsation or to get “done” bonding). Interventions are considered to be the ultimate protection from litigation in human care, yet they contribute mightily to the high rates of distress in mothers and babies!
In animal husbandry, the first line of defense for protecting the unborn is to protect and nurture the nutritional needs and comfort of the birthing female. In the case of institutionalized birth for
humans, however, in spite of evidence to the contrary, the norm is to act as if the nutritional needs and the comfort of the birthing mothers are of concern to, at most, the public relations department! It’s an affront to common sense that as a society we are currently more accepting of the needs of foaling mares, whelping poodles and high-producing cows than of our birthing humans. From the high rates of fetal distress, meconium staining and breastfeeding problems, the consequences are clearly devastating to our infants, just as any decent horseman would predict.
— Beth Barbeau
Excerpted from “Safer Birth in a Barn?,” Midwifery Today
Watch this great clip of an Orangutan giving birth. She is just instinctively in the zone. 🙂