How the media can shape our decisions when it comes to labour

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 Photo: Getty Images

We all like to think that we make our choices in fair, reasoned and well-thought out ways. Not many of us would admit that we allowed the media to influence us in our life choices.

But researchers from Monash University and Queensland University of Technology have found that reading stories in the media can actually influence women's choices for childbirth.

The study found that when women read articles that promoted the benefits of a non-medicalised birth, they were more likely to consider it. 

Lead researcher, Kate Young, said, "Women's expectations and attitudes about birth are shaped by various sources of information long before they become pregnant, with one of the most popular being the media, and in particular, magazines."

Young said the findings support the need for change around how birth information is communicated, with less of a bias towards medicalised birth.

Young believes this change could help contribute to reducing the rates and dangers of unnecessary medical intervention for labouring women.

Medicalised births are classified as births where assistance such as pharmaceutical pain relief, forceps delivery and/or a C-section results.

Non-medicalised births are natural births, where no medical intervention or assistance is carried out. Home births fall into this category.

Midwife Karen Faulkner, who began her work career in the UK before moving to Australia, agrees that the media has a strong influence on women in terms of both birth and motherhood.

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"I was shocked when I arrived here at the high caesarian and medical intervention rate in normal pregnancy," she says. 

"When I worked as a midwife in the UK, 13 years ago, natural birth was the norm and caesarian sections were only 17 per cent in the hospital I worked at."

"But in the private system our caesarian rate is as high as 50 per cent of all births, and in the public system it's 40 per cent."

Faulkner believes that the media has normalised interventions such as C-sections and inductions, and thinks that this needs to change.

"Seeing more normal births on TV on programs such as One Born Every Minute and the UK Midwives TV program has raised the profile of natural birth in the UK," she says. 

"I think we need similar TV programs to raise the profile of natural births, home births and the work of midwives here in Australia."

Faulkner is also an advocate of promoting antenatal classes that prepare pregnant women properly for both birth and the journey after.

"I'd like to see this becoming part of government health policy to enable informed choice and education in relation to childbirth," she says.   

Associate Professor Steve Robson from the Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians also thinks the media plays a part in influencing women on issues such as parenting.

"In more recent times, I think that mainstream media has lessened in influence, whereas social media and blogs have become stronger," he says.

Prof Robson says that the problem with this kind of media is that there is very little balance presented. 

"People are exposed to incorrect information by certain groups who have an agenda to sell, but nothing they write has scientific or expert merit," he says. "A perfect example of this is the topical debate around immunisation."

However, when it comes to women making choices around birth, Prof Robson is not convinced about media's influence.

"A third of women in Australia are selecting private care in a private hospital, which suggests that that is a group of women and families who are more likely to want assistance in various ways," he says.

He also believes that a woman's birthing choices are really dependent on how she feels during labour, which can never be predicted.

"Women make choices where they are not coping with pain, and that's what's right for them at that time," he says.

Prof Robson says that no two pregnancies or women are the same, so it's important to understand their requirements and expectations during labour.  

From there the key is to ensure that everything is done safely, without any unnecessary complications.

"Australia is currently one of the safest places in the world to be born and have a baby, and that's because we get the balance right," he says.