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Men, Stay Out of the Labor Room

Should men -- that logical, charge-taking, squeamish half of the human race -- be present when their mates give birth to their children?

This opinion piece flies in the face of modern thinking and all the work women and men have done in the past 50 years to move toward equality not only in the workplace, but at home. If it were written by anyone else, I'd sniff at it and leave it.

But "A top obstetrician on why men should NEVER be at the birth of their child" was written by Michel Odent, who was one of the first people to begin speaking out against the way medical birthing practices can break the bond between mother and baby -- and therefore someone I respect immensely.

Odent makes some very good points about how the presence of the father-to-be can keep a woman from going into that oxytocin-driven state where her body "knows" how to give birth.

First, a labouring woman needs to be protected against any stimulation of the thinking part of her brain - the neocortex - for labour to proceed with any degree of ease.

This part of the brain needs to take a back seat and allow the primal "unthinking" part of the brain connected to basic vital functions to take over.

A woman in labour needs to be in a private world where she doesn't have to think or talk.

Yet, motivated by a desire to "share the experience", the man asks questions and offers words of reassurance and advice.

In doing so, he denies his partner the quiet mind that she needs.

The second reason is that the father's release of the stress hormone adrenaline as he watches his partner labour causes her anxiety, and prevents her from relaxing.
This needs to be said. I can certainly see how feeling she needs to share the experience with her partner could distract a woman.

But Odent ignores another option: What about teaching the father ways to behave that don't activate the laboring woman's neocortex? A man can share the experience just by being there, as well as by offering loving touch in the form of massage, caresses and even sexual stimulation, which can help bring on labor.

Odent seems to feel that men are incapable of this, as well as often too put off by the messiness and blood. I'd like to think that the majority of men, if it were explained to them, would be willing and able to enter with their women into that primal, sensual state that can make birth an oceanic experience.

Should we deny them that opportunity?