Why lie about childbirth pain and bonding?

The theory of the “big lie” is that if you say it loud enough and long enough, people will believe it regardless of how ridiculous it is. Such is the case with Dr. Michel Odent’s claim that childbirth pain is necessary for mother-infant bonding. It is ridiculous, there is no evidence for it, which is not surprising since he made it up.

Odent went public with his fabrication in July 2006:

Women who choose to have Caesarean sections may be jeopardising their chances of bonding properly with their babies, a leading childbirth expert has claimed.

Obstetrician Michel Odent said that undergoing the planned procedure prevents the release of hormones that cause a woman to ‘fall in love’ with her child.

Speaking at a conference in Cambridge, Dr Odent warned that both C-sections and artificial inductions with drugs somehow interfere with the natural production of the hormone oxytocin.

The French expert said: “Oxytocin is the hormone of love, and to give birth without releasing this complex cocktail of love chemicals disturbs the first contact between the mother and the baby…

“It is this hormone flood that enables a woman to fall in love with her newborn and forget the pain of birth.”

He added:

What we can say for sure is that when a woman gives birth with a pre-labour Caesarean section she does not release this flow of love hormones, so she is a different woman than if she had given birth naturally and the first contact between mother and baby is different.

Why is this a big lie?

  1. There is no evidence that oxytocin is required for bonding.
  2. There is no evidence that a complex interaction like maternal-infant bonding is mediated simply by hormones
  3. If oxytocin were the source of bonding, women who received pitocin would be more bonded to their babies than anyone else.
  4. Odent and his supporters get around this difficulty by claiming that pitocin is different from oxytocin (false) or that the only oxytocin produced within the brain can have an effect on the brain (there’s no evidence for that).

The claim that childbirth pain is required for bonding is nothing but an offensive smear. No doubt Odent and his supporters wish it were true, so that simply asserted it.

Interestingly, this is not the only time that Dr. Odent has made up a theory to support his personal prejudices. Evidently, he could not stand to support his own wife when she was in labor, so he has made up a theory that the presence of fathers at birth is “dangerous.”

In April 2008, Odent declared:

That there is little good to come for either sex from having a man at the birth of a child.

For her, his presence is a hindrance, and a significant factor in why labours are longer, more painful and more likely to result in intervention than ever.

As for the effect on a man – well, was I surprised to hear a friend of mine state that watching his wife giving birth had started a chain of events that led to the couple’s divorce?

What is the genesis of this theory? Dr. Odent’s personally discomfort with attending the births of his children.

As it happens, at the exact moment our son arrived in the world, the midwife was on her way down the street and I, having made my excuses realising he was about to be born, was fiddling with the thermostat on the central heating boiler downstairs.

My partner did not know it, but I had given her the exceptionally rare, but ideal situation in which to give birth: she felt secure, she knew the midwife was minutes away and I was downstairs, yet she had complete privacy and no one was watching her.

I raise the issue to point out that Michel Odent fabricates his theories about childbirth out of thin air. In this case, as in the case of his offensive claims about childbirth and bonding, he announced a brand new scientific theory without any research and without any evidence. He seemed to think that it was enough that the theory made sense to him and confirmed his personal preferences.

It is easy for lay people to understand that Odent’s “theory” of fathers at birth is nothing more than a projection of his own anxieties and prejudices. It is important for lay people to understand that his “theories” of natural childbirth and bonding are also nothing more than projections of his own anxieties and prejudices.

This piece first appeared in July 2009.

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