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Book Review; Birth and Breastfeeding by Michel Odent.

Book Review

By Eva Greenslade

Birth and Breastfeeding. Rediscovering the needs of women during pregnancy and childbirth. By Michel Odent.

I chose this book because I knew very little of Michel Odent’s work but what I had read I found really interesting and I connected deeply.

I find when reading this book that it isn’t every body’s school of thought in modern western society, as it covers many topics we do not all practice and as parents or medical staff are not often taught by the professions around us. Although Michel says he likes to research and look into differing perspectives he clearly has strong views that come across which in his mind are the only way forward to help humanity go forth.

This book very much focuses on allowing time and space for our natural intuition and instincts to evolve. It is not an easy read in all chapters but not one to dip in and out of as each chapter flows on from the next well. If you are passionate or interested in the subject, you will love it and personally, I think all parents and medical staff should read this book even if just to expand our minds and allow more questions on life and practises to come forth.

The book speaks more of theories around childbirth and the first year, as well as the parental relationship and impact on a new human life, rather than being a practical guide as some books with similar titles are.

Michel’s main theme throughout the book is concerning the importance of allowing mum and baby time to just ‘be’ together. He states during labour mum should be left alone with no external stimulation or distraction from other people – often including her partner. Michel writes a great sentence in the beginning of the book relating to the length of labour –

‘Aphoristically we might say ‘ The length of labour is proportional to the number of people around.’

Michel speaks of how we have evolved from women birthing alone, to now in modern day birthing in front of people including a medical man. He explains birth has become something to be ‘repaired’ rather than the natural process that needs the time and space for birth to occur. Michel suggests that birthing in front of people is often the cause of ‘issues’ that arise and therefore in turn needing medical interventions. He describes women often needing a quiet dark space just as other mammals, to relax and allow her natural processes to occur bringing forth the natural hormones which allow her labour to surge, knowing she is safe and in no danger. Michel mentions also how being in this state of quiet mind, her consciousness shifts allowing her to remove herself from the process and in turn bringing on the hormones to allow stronger surges, enabling a smoother, stronger, quicker natural process of instinct and intuition.

Michel speaks also of how our relationships and society influence all areas of raising children, from the sex that creates them to child birth, and the choice of and the length of breastfeeding. He speaks of the effects polygamy and monogamy have on breastfeeding and divorce rates in different cultures around the world.

One of my favourites topics he speaks of is that of ‘Oxytocin’ the shy hormone of love. Shy because it needs a quiet private space to come forth and flood the body. It is the hormone involved in all manner of areas relating to babies, love making, orgasm, conception, birth, and breastfeeding.

Michel says that without the natural flow of this hormone labour will often not happen or it will not be easy, as the flow will be disrupted and adrenaline take its place to give the primitive woman time to run, but when in hospital this occurs often after a change of environment like a hospital transfer, it becomes a serious medical issue, leading to a series of medical interventions including for example forceps or caesarean section. Michel’s research leads him to believe that if these women had been in familiar surroundings, left in peace and quiet in a dark space with positive encouragement the majority of these women would have peaceful unassisted natural births.

In the final paragraph of the final chapter Michel poses a question that in my mind allows the reader to really expand their mind and explore their own intuition…

‘What kind of family is the most appropriate to meet the basic needs of the baby of the human mammal?’

Just as the book has come to an end Michel wrote a piece called Lullaby and here is an extract I find a most powerful explanation in a nutshell really of what I feel the point of his book is:

‘To give birth to her baby, the mother needs privacy. She needs to feel unobserved. The newborn baby needs the skin of the mother, the smell of the mother, the breasts of the mother. These are all needs that we hold in common with the other mammal, but which humans have learnt to neglect, to ignore or even deny’

Michel then goes on to write a short postscript of five ‘what if’ bullet points. These in my mind create a more powerful thought that the previous pages. I will write them too and leave them in your mind as my review comes to an end….

What if the many scientific reasons to rediscover the basic needs of labouring women become widely digested and assimilated by the emergent global village?

What if childbirth enters a new phase – the post industrialization phase – of its history?

What if maternal qualities become the main criterion for the selection of aspiring midwives?

The need to feel safe without feeling observed of judged is satisfied by the proximity of a mother- figure.

What if obstetrics becomes a medical discipline

at the service of women and midwives?

What if the caesarean section recovers its status of a wonderful rescue operation, while obstetric forceps find their place only in the museums? 

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