Giving life safely

PHOTO: Giving life safely

Birthing - bringing another child into the world - is perhaps the most sacred and miraculous of all human physiological functions and life experiences.

But it is not a miracle that does not come with risks to the mother's own life, and the newborn's, if complications occur. Before the advent of modern medicine, maternal and infant mortality rates were much higher across the world.

In Malaysia, 66 infants out of every 1,000 live births in 1960 died. By 2009, with the availability of and access to medical care, this figure had been reduced to 5.7 for every 1,000 births.

Maternal mortality - the death of a woman during pregnancy or childbirth - declined from 500 in every 100,000 live births in the 1950s to 30 per 100,000 in 2005.

But with medical care and intervention, there are pockets of mothers around the world who feel that their childbirth experience has been overmedicalised.

They feel many instances of epidural administration, episiotomy and Caesarean were not necessary.

In some developed countries like the Netherlands for example, it has been reported that one out of four live births occur at home.

In Wales, United Kingdom, home birth had been actively promoted since 2002.

Proponents of home birth in Malaysia say it is about freedom of choice -- a mother has the right to choose the best birthing environment for herself and her child.

They claim that women who give birth at home tend to recover faster after delivery and are less likely to develop post-partum depression.

Research into home births foundtwo key factors underlie a successful home birth: a mother with low obstetric risks, and a seamless transfer to expert medical care in case of emergencies.

The former depends on individual health, but as for the latter -- even medical professionals here are not confident that emergency care would arrive on time.

One other key factor, is the assistance of properly trained and experienced midwives during birthing -- professionals who can provide medical emergency care like resuscitating infants or dealing with potentially fatal postpartum haemorrhage.

Indeed, a planned home birth with the assistance of a midwife who has cared for the mother throughout her pregnancy is vastly different from delivering a child while squatting on the bathroom floor with a frantic spouse.

But registered midwives in Malaysia are few and far in between.

While the jury is still out on whether home birth is as safe as hospital deliveries, the choice for what is deemed a better birthing experience should not take precedence over the safety of mother and child.