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Stop saying a ‘healthy baby’ is ALL that matters

A healthy baby is not all that matters. Mothers matter too.

Recently released is an Australian-wide study of over 1 million births examining theoutcomes of births according to the place where women birthed. This year also saw the release of the book ‘Give Birth Like a Feminist — your body, your baby, your choices, by the founder of the Positive Birth Movement Milli Hill. She aims to start a conversation about women’s birthing rights and putting birth on the women’s rights agenda.

Valuing the mother doesn’t mean de-valuing baby

It’s a pretty safe assumption that all mothers care about and have THE most vested interest in the health and well-being of their baby. Of course, for most of us, the thing of primary importance in our birth is that our baby is healthy and well. I think suggesting anything other than this is borderline insulting.

Saying that you also matter and you are interested and/or concerned about your well-being and health does not equate with you suddenly not caring about or prioritizing your baby’s well-being and health.

The phrase “a healthy baby is all that matters” can be used either to denigrate, silence, or ridicule pregnant women. Particularly when they do any research into or preparation for their births. It is also used to dismiss, undermine, or invalidate a woman’s pain and trauma when she talks about her experience post-birth.

There is also the aspect of this that Hill highlights, when she says the unspoken message in the “all that matters is a healthy baby” is that “women do not matter.”

The health of a baby is of primary importance. But it’s not ALL that matters. Mothers matter too.

You matter.

A healthy mother is linked to a healthy baby

If we are so concerned with highlighting the health and well-being of a baby, we would see the mother’s health and well-being as critical to that of her baby. The interconnection and importance of the mother-baby dyad means we should be focussing of the well-being of both mother and baby, and this means a focus on how she birthed.

I think we’re slowly coming to accept the idea of ‘if Mum is not okay, then baby is not okay’ as part of the move to shine a light on postnatal depression and mental health issues that can impact this importance mother-baby connection.

But we need to be going one step further.

We need to connect the birth process with these mental health issues, and therefore focus on the importance of birth because of this, as well as support post-birthin processing and talking about labour. Not to dismiss the birth experience or minimalize it because ‘you have to get the baby out one way or another and all that matters is a healthy baby’.

The leading cause of maternal death

Do you know what the leading cause of maternal death is after a woman has a baby? Suicide.

This is drawn from data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, where if we look at causes of death of women during pregnancy or within 42 days after the end of a pregnancy, suicide is A leading cause along with haemorrhage and heart disease. But if late maternal death is included — so looking at the first 12 months rather than first month — then suicide is THE leading cause.

Similarly in the UK and Ireland, maternal suicide is the 3rd largest cause of maternal deaths during pregnancy or in the 42 days post birth, but is the leading cause of direct deaths within the year post birth.

Shockingly, there is no similar data availableon suicide rates in pregnancy and early motherhood in the USA. A research reportfrom Columbia University highlighted this gap as being because there is no national registry or database of suicide and overdose deaths that record pregnancy status.

Birth trauma leading to PTSD, leaving work and marriage breakdowns

Part of the findings of the latest Australian researchhas found that 1 in 3 women experience birth trauma and 1 in 10 emerge from childbirth with post-traumatic stress disorder. These figures are clearly alarming.

These have enormous repercussions not just for the individual woman, but for her baby and their relationship, and the debilitating impact of birth trauma and PTSD has also been found to contribute to women leaving their paid work, as well as contributing to marriage breakdowns.

So the way women birth matters. It is an experience that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. Witnessing the first breath of your baby is significant. 

HOW babies are born into this world have psychosocial and physiological impacts — on both mothers and the babies.

Our culture and our medical systems need to stop disregarding and dismissing all of this by distilling the experience of a birth down in meaning only according to whether the baby was healthy or not.

The way we frame and understand trauma is critical

Whether women birth in a bath at home or through an elective c-section, the way they are treated, respected, spoken to, is so important.

The way we FRAME and understand their trauma is critical.

A leading researcher on birth trauma and outcomes is Professor Hannah Dahlen. She likens women who suffer PTSD from their birth with the suffering of war veterans. She says when young men come back from war with PTSD we counsel them, support them, and offer psychological support. We certainly don’t send them back to the place that caused their trauma.

Whereas for women who experience this in birth — they’re ushered in and out of the system with little regard.

As Professor Dahlensays “If we don’t get it right for the hand that rocks the cradle (mothers), we as a society are going to see the implications of the repercussions.”


Expert author: Dr Sophie Brock

Dr Sophie Brock talks all things motherhood: sociologically and personally. Find more through her podcast + https://drsophiebrock.com/.

This article was republished with permission. You can view the original article here.

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