A Short History of How Obstetricians Replaced Midwives

A midwife measures the height of the mother's fundus at about 26 weeks to determine the probable gestational age of the fetus Author:eyeliam (licensed under the Creative Commons At tribution 2.0 Generic license)

Why do women give birth lying on their back?

Sounds like some sort of a stupid riddle, right? We all know that (at least in movies and most hospitals) women always give birth on their back (while screaming their lungs out and cursing the guy whose sperm led to the unfortunate event). The actual answer might surprise some of you. In most medical institutions women give birth on their back because it’s the position which is most comfortable for the attending doctor! A women lying on her back with her legs in stirrups gives the doctor an easy access to where the action is. Significantly, the majority of doctors examining the birthing woman will have gained all their knowledge about birth from books and hospitals and may have absolutely no idea that this position can be the most painful and inappropriate for birth (gravity, anyone?).

Currently, the average American obstetrician is male (in 2001 only 38% of obstetricians were female), has only seen medicated childbirth, and firmly believes that birth is a life-threatening condition and not a natural process. Ahem …they’re wrong! For comparison’s sake: according to The National Geographic, the lifetime risk of dying of heart disease is 1 in 5, cancer is 1 in 7, in a motor vehicle it’s 1 in 84 and due to a fall is 1 in 214! Pregnancy is far behind all these. The lifetime risk of a woman dying from childbirth  is 1 in 3,750 in North America! (That calculation includes dying of complications during pregnancy, birth, or abortion, not just birth itself.) You don’t need to be a math whiz to see that’s pretty slim. What’s more, it’s even lower in Europe, e.g. in Sweden (1 in 11,400 according to the UN) and the Netherlands (1 in 7,100 according to the UN).

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