Women risk losing ability to give birth naturally, says controversial French doctor

Posted: 29/05/2015


A leading expert in the field of obstetrics has recently expressed his views on women’s ability to give birth naturally, suggesting that there is now an over-reliance on the use of caesarean sections and drugs. 

Dr Michael Odent, a renowned French obstetrician, made the remarks in his new book entitled ‘Do We Need Midwives?’. In this publication, he encourages midwives to do more to promote natural births. It is his view that there is now a dependency on remedies and non-natural treatments, such as epidural pain relieving injections and hormones, to induce labour. He has criticised the increased use of oxytocin to speed the process of labour, citing the fact that it is a naturally occurring hormone and that giving it to women via a drip may suppress their ability to produce it themselves. Dr Odent describes oxytocin as the ‘hormone of love…fundamental to birth and bonding’ and he believes that the oxytocin system will grow weaker if the current practice continues. 

Dr Odent suggests that creating a relaxing environment may help the labour process and reduce the requirement for pain relieving drugs. He goes as far as saying that this could be achieved by midwives ‘sitting in the corner, knitting’ while a woman is in labour. 

Of particular note and some concern to the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches is Dr Odent’s comment that midwives should ‘protect patients from doctors who are keen to intervene’. The team represents many families of babies who have suffered severe neurological injury at birth. Quite often the baby in question has been (negligently) damaged as a result of a failure to act or intervene at an early enough stage in labour, either by members of the midwifery or obstetric teams. These families would be likely to feel that developments in medicine designed to make labour safer and less traumatic for both mother and baby should be embraced, and if anything, enhanced. 

Dr Odent has formed an opinion out of a desire to ensure that giving birth remains as natural a process as possible. There may be a case to suggest that the more ‘efficient’ our bodies are, the less complications may arise during labour necessitating intervention, and that we should attempt to avoid the weakening of the body’s natural systems from an evolutionary perspective. This is a fair suggestion, but patient safety and choice must remain the paramount concerns. 

How much credence Dr Odent’s views will receive is as yet unknown. As Soo Downe, Professor in Midwifery Studies at the University of Central Lancashire, told the Sunday Times recently, “Odent has in the past said things that seem preposterous, but a few years later are borne out by the evidence.”


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