Expert suggests women should grin and bear the pain of childbirth

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An expert in midwifery who has suggested that women should grin and bear the pain of childbirth has come in for a fair amount of flak.

According to Dr. Denis Walsh, an associate professor in midwifery at Nottingham University, pain in childbirth is 'a good thing' and may have benefits which women who opt for painkilling epidurals miss out on.

Dr. Walsh suggests that pain is a "rite of passage" which often helps regulate childbirth and also strengthens a mother's bond with her baby and prepares her for the responsibility of motherhood.

He says epidural rates have doubled over the last 20 years and have effectively become 'on demand' for mothers even though they increase medical risks during labour and despite the fact that alternative, less invasive ways to manage pain in labour are available.

Dr. Walsh says pain in labour is known to have positive physiological effects, such as helping to establish a rhythm to childbirth and also triggers the release of endorphins which help women to adjust to pain.

The pain of having a baby is very intense and should not be under-estimated and for many women epidurals which reduce or eliminate the pain of contractions are an important option during childbirth.

Dr. Walsh says epidurals are known to increase the risk that hormone treatment could be needed to boost contractions, and devices such as forceps would be needed to complete the birth successfully and he is concerned that the long-term impacts are unknown.

Dr. Walsh warns that normal birth is in danger of being "effectively anaesthetised by the epidural epidemic" and a culture has emerged where most hospitals effectively offer women epidurals on demand and his claims are supported by official figures which show the use of epidurals has risen in many developed countries.

Dr. Walsh advocates the encouragement of alternative ways of dealing with pain such as yoga, hypnosis, massage and birthing pools and many obstetricians are in agreement, saying that alternative ways to manage pain are available.

Most however agree that in labours which are very prolonged or very complicated, women must have access to epidurals and that women who ask for an epidural are not made to feel they have failed in some way.

While Dr. Walsh has support from many in the field who believe it is too easy for most women to have an epidural, often when it is not needed - many women have criticised his views because as a man he has not endured the pain of childbirth.

Some Australian experts have also suggested Dr. Walsh's views are "dangerous" and say there is a time and place for epidurals - but in Australia too increasing numbers of women are demanding some sort of pain relief during labour.

Dr. Walsh's article is published in the journal Evidence Based Midwifery.

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