Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Normative Language in Birth

As part of the communication training in my doula course, I recently read the article Watch Your Language by Diane Wiessinger, MS, IBCLC. Here is an excerpt:
When we (and the artificial milk manufacturers) say that breastfeeding is the best possible way to feed babies because it provides their ideal food, perfectly balanced for optimal infant nutrition, the logical response is, "So what?" Our own experience tells us that optimal is not necessary. Normal is fine, and implied in this language is the absolute normalcy--and thus safety and adequacy--of artificial feeding. The truth is, breastfeeding is nothing more than normal. Artificial feeding, which is neither the same nor superior, is therefore deficient, incomplete, and inferior. Those are difficult words, but they have an appropriate place in our vocabulary.

Advantages. When we talk about the advantages of breastfeeding--the "lower rates" of cancer, the "reduced risk" of allergies, the "enhanced" bonding, the "stronger" immune system--we reinforce bottlefeeding yet again as the accepted, acceptable norm.
If we want breastfeeding to be the cultural norm. We have to use language that supports this. I believe the same can be said of childbirth. I often here people say that natural childbirth "has benefits." This is not true. Childbirth without unnecessary intervention is nothing more than a biological norm. If natural childbirth is normal, then medicated birth has risks, drawbacks, and ill-effects. People say babies whose mothers receive no medication are "more alert" and "breastfeed better" right after birth. If we want to normalize natural childbirth, we must say that babies born to medicated mothers are "sleepier" and "don't breastfeed well." Even calling a birth "unmedicated" reinforces the norm to some extent.

Choosing natural childbirth is not about choosing something "better," it is about birthing the way that should be normal for human women. It is about avoiding the risks that come with birthing other ways. This is why I'm glad that Lamaze International chose to use the words "safe" and "healthy" to refer to birth the natural way, in the Six Lamaze Healthy Birth Practices. As their research indicates, many women do not see "normal birth" as meaning birth without medical intervention.

1 comment:

  1. I hadn't thought about it that way, but yes, I do often think of NCB as the "best" birth for me, when really, it's also a "normal" birth for me. While both are true, both wordings have different implications. Thanks for making me think about that.