'It's harmful': Mothers say it's time to stop talking about 'normal birth'

Natasha Lobban, with her baby Harriet.
Natasha Lobban, with her baby Harriet. Photo: Mark Jesser

New mother Natasha Lobban says the term "normal birth" needs to go.

The journalist gave birth to her daughter, Harriet, via a caesarean nine months ago.

She expected to give birth without medical intervention, but was forced to undergo an emergency procedure when her baby arrived eight weeks' prematurely.

Natasha and Dean Lobban after their baby's birth.
Natasha and Dean Lobban after their baby's birth. Photo: Mark Jesser

"You feel like you have to justify why you had a [caesarean]," she said.

"It's kind of like you get a big shiny star if you do [give birth without intervention], but most women don't."

The term has been thrown into the spotlight after midwives in the UK dropped it, saying it made women who needed caesareans or painkillers, such as epidurals, feel like failures.

This is at odds with Australian midwives, who say the term hasn't been flagged a problem here. 

However, Ms Lobban, from Eldorado, near Wangaratta in Victoria's north-east, called the term "absurd", saying it was inaccurate and potentially harmful.

"It makes me so mad, all the pressures that are put on women to do these things naturally."

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The UK Royal College of Midwives ended its decade-long campaign for normal births for one that supported all methods three years ago.

The British press only reported on the change last week, creating a storm of debate.

"There was a danger that if you just talk about 'normal' births ... it kind of sounds as if you're only interested in women who have a vaginal birth without intervention," Cathy Warwick, the college's chief executive, told The Times.

Professor Jenny Gamble, from the Australian College of Midwives, said media attention on the term was a "beat-up" and a "witch hunt".

In Australia, we have a 33 per cent caesarean section rate, in contrast with a World Health Organisation recommendation of no more than 15 per cent.

Meanwhile, no more than six per cent want one.

The Australian Medical Association recently changed its stance on breastfeeding to remove guilt or stigma for mothers who feed their babies formula.

But efforts to reduce pressure on new mothers does not extend to births.

NSW Health has the Towards Normal Birth policy in an aim to reduce the state's caesarean rate, and ACM Victoria had a seminar called Promoting Normal Birth at the start of August.

Professor Gamble said the real problem was women seeking intervention.

"The idea that we can't talk about intervention and the misuse of that within our healthcare system, and really start to provide an option for women to get what they say they want, and what the evidence says is better for them, that's a problem," she said.

Professor Gamble said promoting "normal birth" was the same as a dentist encouraging their patients to brush their teeth to avoid cavities.

"Should we just take the word 'normal' out of everything to do with having a baby? No. Normal is just a word, it's the load people put on it," she said.

Bernadette White,  from the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, disagreed, saying the term needed a rethink.

"If you're saying to women who are out there having babies this is what you should all aim to do, I don't think that's appropriate," Dr White said.

"It's not what some women would choose and that would mean an unacceptable risk, and for some women, a small proportion, it might make them feel like they're a failure if they don't have a normal birth."

Jan Ireland, director of private midwifery centre MAMA, which boasts a higher rate of vaginal births than in the public system, also supports a language change.

She said women who required intervention needed more inclusion in the decision making for their birth to prevent them feeling like failures.  

Ms Lobban said she felt like a winner because she and her baby were healthy.

"You want to be able to say you conceived naturally, I ate organic … I pushed out a baby in three hours with the help of a scented candle, but I've done the best by my daughter the whole way and I think that's the message that should be really pushed."