The Oldest Profession
No, it's not the profession that first pops into our minds that we've been jokingly told is the oldest one. Historically, it was the midwife, delivering babies at home, that deserved this recognition.
In most cultures throughout history, women have always given birth at home. The majority of women around the world still give birth to their babies in non-hospital settings. This is partly due to culture and a desire to be in a familiar, safe environment. In many areas birth is viewed as an integral part of family life.
With the advent of the Western concept of modern medicine, birth fell into the realm of a medical procedure. Childbirth became viewed as pathological rather than natural. Unnecessary, and often dangerous or unproven medical techniques and interventions became commonplace. Pain was alleviated pharmacologically and women were left alone for long periods of time. One study found that a woman with a low-risk delivery giving birth to her first child in a teaching hospital could be attended by as many as 16 people during 6 hours of labor and still be left alone for most of the time. Routine, though unfamiliar, procedures, the presence of strangers and being left alone during labor and/or delivery caused stress. Stress can interfere with the course of birth by prolonging it and setting off what has been described as a "cascade of intervention".
Western medical management caused the birthing process became segregated from mainstream family life. Human touch was taken out. Many were led to believe that the only safe birth was a hospital birth. Though doctors and their hospitals took credit for improved infant mortality statistics, in reality it was better nutrition, hygiene and disease control that improved outcomes.
The 1990s became a time of maternity awareness, a time when people were concerned with making the entire pregnancy and birth experience a family experience. Today, a carefully monitored homebirth, with women who have been helped to stay low-risk through nutrition and good prenatal care, has been proven to be very safe and successful.
Is midwifery safe? Every published study without exception shows midwives and homebirths to be safer than doctors and hospitals in low-risk pregnancies.
Are hospitals safe? According to the United Nations Statistical Office, the United States ranks 18th among industrialized nations for healthy births, at 10.7 infant deaths per 1000. Hospitals have never been proven a safe place to have a baby. Some members of the medical community have recently acknowledged that having a homebirth decreases the mother's and baby's chances of contracting an infection. The mother is used to the bacteria in her own environment and has built up immunities to it. This is passed on to the baby through the colostrum. Even when women are segregated in maternity wards, infections are much more commonplace after hospital births than homebirths.