Simplifying Birth

Written by renowned French Obsetrician Michel Odent who has revolutionised the face of Natural, Instinctual Birth in our modern drug prone world.

When I was in charge of the maternity unit of the Pithiviers, France, my main objective was to improve the birth environment in order to facilitate the physiological processes. This is how the midwives, a group of mothers and I proceeded to transform one of the conventional delivery rooms into a small home-like birthing room—a small square nest. This room has since been imitated in different maternity hospitals. Most of our visitors did not realize the importance of the size of the room, which should be as small as possible. They did not understand the reality and nature of the nesting instinct.

Another of the aims was to enable the mother-to-be to gain familiarity with the birthing place. It is obviously easier to satisfy the need for privacy in a familiar place. It is not enough to have had a guided tour of the facilities. In order to become really familiar with a place, you have to be there often and keep returning to do something. And it is better if you are doing something pleasant…. We found an answer that was perfectly adapted to our maternity unit. Once a week, the pregnant women and the staff would be given the opportunity to meet and sing around the piano. What could be easier or more pleasant? It was not expensive. Somebody found that you could buy 12 second-hand pianos for the price of one electronic fetal monitor….

In order to rediscover the basic needs of laboring women we might express a simple rule of thumb: where labor, delivery and birth are concerned, what is specifically human must be eliminated and the mammalian needs must be met. The first step should be to get rid of the aftermath of all the beliefs (inseparable from rituals) that have disturbed for millennia the physiological processes in all known cultural milieus. The belief that colostrom is harmful is a typical example. Such beliefs conferred an evolutionary advantage as long as the basic strategy for survival of most human groups was to dominate Nature and to dominate other human groups. It was an advantage to develop the human potential for aggression. Today humanity urgently needs to invent new strategies for survival. In order to develop respect for Mother Earth and to unify our global village, the priority is to develop a capacity to love rather than potential for aggression. So all the beliefs and rituals that disturb the physiological processes are losing their evolutionary advantage.

Let us add that a reduction in the activity of the neocortex is the most important aspect of birth physiology and that the neocortex is that part of the brain that is so highly developed among humans. All inhibitions during the birth process originate in the neocortex. That is why the spectacular development of the neocortex is our specific handicap in childbirth. When the activity of the neocortex is reduced, the laboring woman is as if “on another planet,” cutting herself off from our world.

She can become almost as instinctive as other mammals. This leads us to understand that the laboring woman needs to be protected against any sort of neocortical stimulation.

Language, which is specifically human, is one of the most powerful stimulants of that part of the brain that is highly developed in our species. Not feeling observed and feeling secure both tend to reduce cortical activity; they are basic needs during the parturition of mammals.

I am amazed by the countless pleas I see for the humanization of childbirth. Today childbirth needs to be “mammalianized.”

Michel Odent