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What Do You Know About Childbirth? Maybe Less Than You Think

Are you getting basic information about birth?

A Canadian study is making the media rounds: Apparently too many women are going into birth having no idea about the basic risks and benefits of various procedures. An LA Times headline reads, “Pregnant women show an amazing lack of knowledge about childbirth options, study shows.The Stir says, cleverly, “Most Pregnant Women Don’t Know Squat About Childbirth.”

The study, published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada, surveyed over 1000 pregnant women, many of whom were well educated. The women were asked basic questions about procedures used in birth. The conclusion: “Regardless of the type of care provider they attended, many women reported uncertainty about the benefits and risks of common procedures used at childbirth. ”

So, what’s up? It seems that during pregnancy you can’t get AWAY from information about birth. Maybe it’s just me and the world I blog in, but still I am amazed that given the swirl of information pregnant women are sucked into, they can’t be shot out the other side without a basic understanding of benefits and risks of epidurals and c-sections. Is it because we’re all dumb? No. FAR FROM IT.I think the headlines should probably read: “Women Are Given Aren’t Given Good Information About Birth.”

Some thoughts:

  • Though the US articles I’ve read on this study seem to be painting this as a universal situation, but the study was done in Canada with Canadian women.  So it may not be totally useful to look at this and think about our situation in the US. Though I fear the results of such a survey may be the same or even worse here.
  • Our doctors and midwives need to spend more time with us on the basic risks and benefits of common procedures DURING PRENATAL VISITS, not just in labor during mid-horrific contraction. Oh, by the way here’s the 4 page consent form for the epidural. Huh? And, if they don’t want to or can’t spend the time talking through these things, they should refer women to childbirth classes or a very thorough book that covers this material.
  • It’s your job to look for information as much as it’s theirs to give it. When you’re getting new info from your doctor or midwife (we’re doing a glucose test… we’re planning an induction… we’re putting you on this monitor) ask: What are the benefits? What are the risks? What are the alternatives?  What if we do nothing? What if we wait 20 minutes? This is not confrontational, it’s you being engaged. Apparently doctors give better care to engaged patients. If you’re not getting thorough, meaningful answers and understanding from your care-provider. Switch.
  • Anyone educating women about their choices–whether a care-provider, childbirth educator, blogger– needs to try his or her very best to put the risks and benefits out there in as neutral/nonjudgmental a way as possible. I’ve seen so many incidents where women are berated for wanting an epidural– “do you know the risks!?!” Well, there are risks to epidurals. But there are also benefits. And all of this *depends* on the situation. You can get an epidural that may increase the chances for a c-section or reduce it. EMPOWER WOMEN TO KNOW WTF IS GOING ON AND HER CHOICES ABOUT HOW TO RESPOND. (Check out childbirthconnection.com for this approach.)

But here’s a quote from the LA Times piece that gave me serious pause: “The researchers published a related study in May in the journal Birth that showed younger obstetricians were much more likely to favor the routine use of epidurals and expressed more concerns about the safety of vaginal birth compared with older obstetricians. The younger obstetricians seemed to view C-sections as the preferred option for childbirth, the authors noted. In the United States, efforts have begun to reduce C-section rates. About one-third of all U.S. women have a surgical birth.” How the heck are women supposed to know the risks of procedures if their care-providers don’t?

Which brings me back to… What do you know about childbirth? Do you feel informed?

photo: Daquella Manera/Flickr

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