Has The Natural Birth Movement Become Too Obsessed With Moms’ Rights?

Natural Birth Movement


I consider myself a natural birth advocate.  I believe women have a right to choices in their care and in their birth.  The phrase, “All that matters is a healthy baby,” is one that I find sadly dismissive of the experience of the mother.  I am often reminded of the tragedy that ensues for both the mother and her child when a woman is treated as though she doesn’t matter and is merely a vehicle in the delivery of a child.


In reaction to this dismissal of the mother and her role in the birth process, we have the modern natural birth movement.  We work to ensure that women know that they do have choices and options outside the assembly line hospital/induction/epidural/cesarean section train wreck.


It is imperative that women realize that they have choices in childbirth.


Despite this importance, sometimes it seems as thought the natural birth movement has moved so far in support of the mother and her needs that we dismiss the child altogether.


I have seen people defend a woman’s right to smoke cigarettes during pregnancy.


I have had readers simply IRATE when I suggest that smoking marijuana during pregnancy is a bad choice for their baby.


I have seen countless people encourage alcohol consumption during pregnancy.


And that is just the beginning.  What it all comes down to, despite claims and excuses to the contrary, is that what mom wants, likes, or doesn’t want to stop doing just because she is pregnant, has somehow trumped anything else- even the safety of her child.


I love natural birth.  But one of the reasons I feel it is so important because it is usually best not just for mom, but for her BABY too.  To act as though all that matters is a healthy mother is just as silly and hurtful to others as acting as though all that matters is a healthy baby.  BOTH mother and baby matter.  BOTH mother and baby are connected and dependent upon the health and happiness of one another.


This connection, in which we sacrifice some of our own wants (and even some of what we considered needs) in order to do what is best for another, is the ESSENCE of motherhood.  If we can’t sometimes put the needs of our children before our own, how can we really call ourselves mothers?  To be a mother IS to sacrifice.  A mother finds joy in this giving, not oppression.


I hope that as a natural birth community we aren’t the other side of extremism.  If one camp is screaming, “All that matters is a healthy baby!” and the other camp is screaming, “All that matters is what mom wants!” then everybody loses.


Let us be a voice of reason in a selfish world.  Let us, as natural birth advocates, work not just for the safety, health, and happiness of ourselves, but of our children too.  Finding that middle road of balance, common sense, and thoughtfulness isn’t easy.  We are prone to “pick sides” and square off and replace people that matter with simple catch phrases.  But we must do better than that.


Mothers and their children are dependent on each other for so much.  Let us remember both of them in our journey towards better care in childbirth.


About Sarah Clark

Sarah Clark is a mother of four and a natural childbirth educator in Sonoma County.  She is also an instructor trainer for Birth Boot Camp, a company specializing in modern birth education for couples.  You can find her blogging at www.mamabirth.blogspot.com.

22 thoughts on “Has The Natural Birth Movement Become Too Obsessed With Moms’ Rights?”

  1. My main issue was that you seem to correlate those who believe natural birth is best for babies and mothers to those who say “It’s all about what mom wants” – and you tie it to a “natural birth movement” which is vague and yet aIl inclusive in a dangerous way. I don’t think that is reasonable. I think I get what you are trying to say, which is, let’s be cautious. But, your friend of a friend who smokes – is she representative of the natural birthers? That is what doesn’t make sense to me.

  2. I think there is a huge difference between supporting a mother and supporting her decision. My sister is a doula, and she has worked with mothers who smoked and drank, who elected to have cesareans against their doctor’s advice, and even one who ended up birthing unintentionally at home instead of checking in for her medically recommended cesarean. She gave those mothers the support that they needed. She made sure they had access to good information about the choices they were making, but she also made sure that they realized she valued them as people, even if they smoked right in front of her. She even received hostility from the nurses and doctors at the hospital for her client’s choice to have an unplanned, unattended homebirth, despite the fact that she didn’t advise it and wasn’t there when it happened. She just met them at the hospital.
    Anyway, the point of my comment is to say that I disagree with your ideas about the NCBC. I think we are about so much more than natural birth. I consider myself part of a group that cares about people, physically, mentally and emotionally. I support women who make the choices that are best fro them and their babies. Sometimes I disagree with those choices, but they are not mine to make. When a mother chooses an elective cesarean because of fears and anxiety about childbirth, I don’t tell her that she is wrong and is increasing risk to her baby. I try to help her see that childbirth can be beautiful and calm, but if she truly feels she has made the right decision for herself and her baby, I try to help her have the best experience under those circumstances. If a mother smokes, I help her to find information about smoking during pregnancy. I don’t cut her off or find her somehow unworthy of support in birth and motherhood. I don’t disassociate myself for fear of also being judged. People don’t find the strength to overcome problems like addiction from isolation and judgement. Plus, there are still lots of other things a mother can to help grow a healthy baby, even if she does not feel she can quit smoking. I hope this makes sense. I feel that the biggest problem we face in the NCBC is not ‘valuing the experience,’ but being elitist and judgmental. No one is perfect, and that’s not what we’re about.

  3. I defend a woman’s right to choose to have a glass of beer if she’s pregnant. Occasional consumption of small amounts of alcohol does not lead to adverse outcomes for babies. It really pisses me off that women are told not to do things that have no basis in science. I mean, having one glass of wine will not hurt your baby. Also, if women can’t quit smoking while pregnant, i’m not going to judge them and beat them up, or argue that they should be sent to jail. There are too many restricitons on pregnant women and as a reasonably intelligent feminist i believe that these are the result of a desire to control women (gasp! Could it be that our society still does that?!) and are not based on science. This is a feminist issue to me, and doesn’t have to do with the baby, though the baby is implicated. For the record, i don’t drink any alcohol while pregnant because i work in child protection and i know that a single beer could be used against me in the event that the government decided it wanted to take my child away, which i find totally and utterly despicable. We have gone too far the other way, demanding absolute purity of mothers, demanding nothing short than the revocation of their character in order to get society’s approval. It’s alarming and disgusting, and the lack of intelligent discourse on the matter makes me want to barf.

  4. Quote from above Guardian article: “Emily Oster wrote convincingly about the anti-intellectualism of this in her recent book, Expecting Better (“too much of many foods can be bad. If you have too many bananas, the excess potassium can be a real problem. But no doctor is going around saying ‘No amount of bananas has been proven safe!’.”) However, practical arguments against this kind of caution never quell it, because at its heart it is ideological; the goal of this hysterical, toxins-under-the-bed risk assessment is to erase bad luck as a peril of reproduction. A miscarriage, a stillbirth, a birth defect

  5. I agree with the other comments. It’s sad to read an article that focuses on negative aspects of a movement that is solely focused on positive birth experiences. It’s just unnecessary. As a writer, your time is better spent spreading the word on the real issues concerning natural birth. We need more of that.

  6. i’d like to call out the smarmy, repackaged morality tacked on the end of this article, where women are told yet again that motherhood (and, presumably, womanhood) is about sacrifice – and that sacrifice should be a pleasure.

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