Why is it that so many physicians seem to think that birth is a surgical solution to a nine-month disease? Although good medical care is so important for the health of the mother and infant in high risk situations, physicians intervene too often in the birthing process, turning normal deliveries into medical emergencies.
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) commonly asserts that its members deserve credit for the decline in infant and maternal death rates during the past century. ACOG however doesn't readily acknowledge that most of the countries with the lowest infant mortality rates have the largest numbers of midwives who provide home births and rarely utilize technological interventions. Despite spending more money per person on health care than any other country, the U.S. ranks 18th in infant mortality according to 1984 statistics. (1) It is startling to learn that not only are all Scandanavian countriesahead of the U.S. in having lower infant mortality rates, but so are Ireland, Spain, and East Germany.
Despite the various shortcomings of modern obstetrical care, the present regime is an improvement over the way physicians delivered babies in the 1800s. In the 1870s women were commonly given regular doses of quinine before birth to prevent fever, plus a powerful cathartic to "cleanse their body," then ergot to induce labor, and morphine to lessen any after pains. (2) The use of these powerful drugs increased, rather than lowered, instances of infant and maternal mortality during childbirth.
With the fear of germs so prominent at the turn of the century, hospitals did all they could to eradicate infectious organisms. Nurses washed women's head with kerosene, ether, and ammonia. They sometimes shaved pubic hair because they thought that it harbored germs. And they performed enemas on women in labor every 12 hours and gave continual douches of saline solutions to which whisky and bichloride of mercury were added. (3) The increased effort to protect the mother and infant led to interventions and manipulations of the birthing process that made giving birth both traumatic and dangerous. Describing the 19th century obstetrician, historians Richard and Dorothy Wertz have also unfortunately characterized the 20th century obstetrician:
"Doctors were on the lookout for trouble in birth. That seemed to them to be their primary purpose. They found a lot of trouble--so much, in fact, that they came to think that every birth was a potential disaster and that it was best to prepare each woman for the worst eventualities. In line with that perception, doctors increased their control over the patients during labor and delivery, rendering them more powerless to experience or participate in birth. Women acceded to the doctors' increasing control because they also believed that their methods would make birth safer." (4)
The underlying assumption of obstetricians has tended to be that women need technological interventions in order to have a healthy and safe pregnancy and birth. Although some medical interventions are certainly of great value, there is general consensus that birth has become over-medicalized. Some of this overmedicalization is the result of doctors doing all they can to prevent malpractice suits,* and some of it is the result of doctors assuming that more medical interventions improve the chances of having a healthy mother and infant.
[* It is rare for physicians to be sued for over-utilizing medical interventions, but it is common for suits to arise after a doctor waits before intervention. Dr. David Rubsamen, a physician, attorney and insurance company consultant, notes, "It's very uncommon for an obstetrician to be sued because he did an unnecessary Caesarean section. But cases where the charge is that you waited 45 minutes too long, are very common." (5)]
There is now increasing concern about the use of any drugs during pregnancy since the fetus inevitably receives doses of these drugs which can disturb its development. Research has shown that drugs during labor and delivery can have short- as well as long-term effects on infants. (6) Even the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Drugs has recommended that doctors "use the smallest possible amount of medications when it is needed, and to discuss the benefits and side effects with the mother preferably in advance of the birth." (7)
Obstetricians have contended that the various interventions are necessary for a safe birth. No one can doubt that certain medical interventions can reduce complications and be lifesaving at times. Problems however result when conventional drugs and modern technology are utilized in normal or relatively normal childbirth. Obstetricians have ignored the fact that those countries which have utilized the least medical interventions during birth have tended to have the best childbirth statistics. Whereas 85% of women having hospital delivery in the U.S. have had an episiotomy, only 8% of Dutch women and only 3% of Swedish women receive them. (8) Whereas 25-33% of women in the U.S. are aided in birth by a forceps delivery, only about 5% of European women receive this treatment. (9) And whereas over 20% of American women who have hospital births have a caesarean section, the World Health Organization has conservatively estimated that "there is no justification for any region to have a rate higher than 10-15%." (10)
Of particular concern, it has been determined that one intervention leads to another, each one increasing health risks to the mother and infant. Drug use during pregnancy causes potential health problems for the fetus and increases the chances of fetal distress syndrome which may require cesarean section. Amniotomy (the deliberate breaking of the bag of waters surrounding the baby) helps induce labor, and as the result of it the fetus loses the cushion of even pressure that protects it during contractions and lessens compression again the head.
The lithotomy position, in which a woman lies on her back with her feet spread in stirrups is generally convenient for the doctor but is an uncomfortable and inefficient position for women during delivery.* The lithotomy position leads to slower progress of labor, increases chances of the doctor recommending methods to induce and augment labor, often leads to the use of forceps and episiotomy for delivery, and raises blood pressure which may decrease the amount of oxygen to the fetus, leading to the greater need for caesarian section.
[* One survey noted that 95% of women prefer an upright position during labor and delivery. (11)]
The administration of analgesia and anesthesias to diminish pain during labor decreases the strength and frequency of contractions, usually requiring the use of drugs to augment labor and forceps to aid delivery. These drugs may also lower the mother's blood pressure which could threaten the life of the fetus. The drugs also prevent the woman from actually feeling how hard she is pushing the baby against her perineum, which may lead to stretching or tearing it. Physicians then must reduce this latter risk with further intervention by doing an episiotomy.
Doing an episiotomy requires local anesthesia which has the above mentioned risks associated with it. An episiotomy enables the physician to use forceps to speed up delivery, though there are additional risks from its application, including hemorrhage within the head and damage to the nerves of the face and arms. There is also an increased threat of severe lacerations of the mother's perineum when forceps and episiotomies are used.
All the above mentioned interventions increase the chances of needing a caesarean section. The Canadian Medical Association Journal estimated that there are 26 times more maternal deaths from caesarean section than from normal delivery. (12) Even when women who had been diagnosed with serious pre-existing disease weren't counted, the death rate for women undergoing a caesarean was still 10 times greater.
Since a caesarean section is major surgery which may require a general anesthesia, the mother is unable to breastfeed her infant immediately after birth. And because the mother usually needs to take further medications after this operation, she ultimately is also feeding these drugs to her infant through her breastmilk.
Women who are prescribed medications during or after labor, or at any time when they are breastfeeding, are also providing trace amounts of these drugs in their milk. Even though only relatively small amounts of these drugs appear in the milk, the young infant's liver, kidneys, immune system, and general defenses haven't matured enough to metabolize and detoxify these drugs effectively. The results may be minor, or in some cases, they can be significant.
Drug use during pregnancy can have even more traumatic effects on the new life that is developing in the woman's body. Thalidomide, an infamous drug which was prescribed to pregnant women in the 1960s and which caused serious birth defects, forced the Federal Drug Administration to require more adequate testing of drugs prior to the availability on the open market. Still, many commonly used drugs can have damaging effects on the fetus, especially when incompatible drugs are utilized together. One expert has estimated that the average pregnant woman in 1980 received four different prescriptions. (13) It is thus no wonder that even conservative statistics now reveal that 12% of babies born in the U.S. have a serious, often incurable mental or physical health disorder. (14)*
[* Drug use during pregnancy is one significant reason for many birth defects, though genetic disposition and exposure to various toxic substances and radiation will also influence the amount of birth defects.]
There is finally general consensus that drug use during pregnancy, labor, and lactation should be kept to a minimum. However, most physicians in the United States are not aware of specific alternatives to their conventional drugs and thus often have to rely upon them as the primary course of treatment for sick, pregnant, or lactating women. It is a sad fact that American physicians do not know much about homeopathy, and therefore, they do not know that these medicines can be instrumental in diminishing various symptoms of pregnancy, reducing risks of problems in labor, and healing pains, discomforts, or diseases of women who are breastfeeding. Since homeopathic medicines are generally safe, they can provide much benefit and little harm. A growing number of American physicians are finally learning about and using homeopathic medicines. Our children will thank us for this.
Homeopathic Medicines in Pregnancy
The relative safety of the homeopathic medicines make them invaluable in pregnancy, labor, and postpartum. "There's nothing safer." says Ananda Zaren, a nurse, midwife, and homeopath in Santa Barbara, California, who has used homeopathic medicines in hundreds of births. Besides being safe, the medicines are quite effective in treating various common problems of pregnancy. Zaren adds, "The medicines help strengthen the woman physically and psychologically." Homeopaths have been known to joke that pregnancy is an excellent time to receive homeopathic care since two people (the mother and the fetus) get a remedy for the price of one. The medicines not only improve the health of the mother, they also benefit the fetus. Although no formal statistical analysis has yet been carried out, homeopaths have commonly observed that the children born from women who have received homeopathic care during pregnancy seem healthier than others. Homeopaths make this conjecture by comparing the children of women from previous pregnancies without homeopathic medicines with the offspring of later pregnancies in which the mothers have received the medicines.
It is generally known that the health of the woman greatly affects the health of the fetus. Since pregnancy can be particularly stressful to a woman's body, women often experience exacerbations of previous health problems or various new symptoms. Some of these common symptoms and conditions are nausea, abdominal gas, vaginal infections, bladder infections, herpes, insomnia, anemia, backaches, breast swelling and swelling in general, constipation, hemorrhoids, leg cramps, skin eruptions, and varicose veins.