Birth Reborn: A Powerful Message from the Past

For my childbirth certification, I recently read Michel Odent’s Birth Reborn. What a unique and powerful book!

Not only is it an easy and quick read, the personal narrative style actually provides a wealth of vital information. Odent’s experience and voice, like Ina May Gaskin, supports a trust in women’s bodies and birth and encourages all of us to leave it all as undisturbedas possible.

Just in case you never get around to reading it…

I thought I’d share my book report so you can catch some of the surprising findings from his work.


How women give birth and how babies are born are powerfully tied to our views of nature, science, health, medicine, freedom and human–especially man-woman–relationships. (p. 118)

This quote from Dr. Michel Odent in Birth Reborn reflects my passion around the topic of birth. The vast reach of the power of the birth experience touches every aspect of life, as Odent recounts in his book on his experience and findings at Pithiviers. Some of his recommendations are now more readily available and practiced. However, knowing this was the second edition I was reading made it sobering to read how long we have known about certain practices and outcomes, and yet the practices continue and interventions increase.

Some information in the book surprised me. Little details seemed to make big difference. Smaller rooms could increase the feeling of privacy. (xvi) Oxytocin may cause forgetfulness possibly defending against pain. (14) Bedrest may not help in cases of preterm labor. (35) If baby’s hands are swaddled, suckling may occur later. (70) The book even included the ideas that rocking babies may aid in their body function (81-82), premature babies may exhibit slight advances in ability (86), and drugs in labor may lead to an increased predisposition to drug addiction later in life. None of these seems enormous on its own, but taken together the picture becomes clear: there are powerful natural (biological) forces at work in mothers and babies before, during and after birth.

Of course, Odent would leave these forces to themselves so that interventions and problems become less likely. Unfortunately, despite even more evidence since even the second edition of the book, the gap between science and practice (xiv) he urges the medical community to close seems to be at least as wide if not wider in the last few years. I consider his call to shift hospital births to birth centers or homebirths (xix-xx) as birth centers all around the country shut their doors and articles come out regularly in mainstream news about the rise in numbers of women having homebirths.

I found the introduction a reflection on the state of affairs from the first to the second edition, to be most potent. The focus on creating a sense of safety in labor (xv), unique to each woman, and the emphasis that tenderness must triumph over technique (43, 53)support the belief that midwives are “the prerequisite for good outcomes and low rates of intervention.” (xv) It makes sense that in an atmosphere of tenderness, electronic monitoring, never neutral (xiii), ultrasounds (33) and prenatals full of number-taking (32-36) don’t necessarily lead to good outcomes. I wondered, then, why do some midwives, even those who trust birth and women’s body, also seem concerned during prenatals and labor with numbers–weight, dilation and effacement, blood pressure, Doppler readings and more. It strangely led me to wonder what birth would look like if there wasn’t a fear of being sued.

All in all, I took much from this book. Odent’s findings made me question certain beliefs. If I truly believe that birth is natural and women should be free to follow their instincts (12), then what is my role as a birth educator? Do women even need to think about breathing or anatomy or anything before giving birth? On the other hand, this book confirmed my more subtle belief that community can play a role in supporting positive birth outcomes (26-29). In addition, Odent made me consider details I never thought about, such as when to go home from the hospital–perhaps not during crucial period when milk production shifts from colostrum to milk. (83) Even though I had heard many of the ideas Odent shares in this book, reading Birth Reborn has definitely had an impact on my belief and understanding of birth.

2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by carolcovin on February 22, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    Childbirth has indeed changed in the last sixty years, from “go to sleep, wake up with a baby” to using yoga instructors in preparation for childbirth. I found breathing exercises very helpful in labor the first time around, in 1968, yet, even though I took natural childbirth classes in 1979, breathing was no longer taught. I applaud many of the changes I’ve read about since then, but suggest breathing exercises be re-introduced.


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