5 things you need to know to protect yourself from the seductive marketing tactics of the natural childbirth industry


Natural childbirth advocates may be wrong about nearly all their empirical claims, but when it comes to marketing brilliance, they are second to none. Indeed, their marketing tactics are so seductive that many people who would have no trouble recognizing conventional marketing are chastened and distressed when they realize they’ve fallen for the marketing tropes deployed by natural childbirth organizations, celebrity natural childbirth advocates and by the legions of lay women who have been taught to proselytize the beliefs of the faithful.

However, knowledge is power, and you can protect yourself from even the most seductive marketing if you learn to recognize the tactics.

Here is a list of the top 5 marketing seductions that are the hallmark of contemporary natural childbirth advocacy.

1. Never forget that natural childbirth is an industry

This is the gateway seduction that many people, even sophisticated people, fail to recognize

Natural childbirth did not start as an industry. It started in the 1930’s and 1940’s as a way to control women (Lamaze originated with Russian adherents of Pavlov) and encourage more births (Grantly Dick-Read was a eugenicist who wanted white women of the “better classes” to have more children). The philosophy of natural childbirth crossed the Atlantic in the 1950’s, and, as with many imports, was adapted to the particular needs of American women.

Childbirth in the US in the 1950’s and 1960’s was, like most of contemporary medicine, afflicted with quite a few patriarchal practices that made things easier for doctors but were not beneficial, or perhaps even harmful, to women. These included assuming that women would rather be unconscious for their births, and banning fathers from the delivery room. It was natural childbirth advocacy that questioned those harmful practices and eventually ended them. The contemporary patient experience is far better than ever because of natural childbirth advocacy.

Natural childbirth advocates could have declared victory in the 1980’s and gone home; all their demands had been met. The moment that natural childbirth became an industry was the moment that they refused to declare victory and instead moved the goalposts. The original goalposts of the American natural childbirth movement were conscious deliveries, fathers in the delivery room, childbirth education, and research into and abolition of practices like perineal shaving and enemas that either had no benefit or were harmful. The new goalposts are no pain relief in childbirth, no C-sections, the promotion of midwifery, the promotion of doulas, the promotion of childbirth educators and the defiance of standard obstetric and public health recommendations. In other words, the promotion of itself and its continued existence.

Why do even sophisticated people fail to recognize that natural childbirth is an industry? Probably because they equate “industry” with massive amounts of money. True, individual professionals natural childbirth advocates don’t make a lot of money, but for most, it represents 100% of their income. That’s why they have a tremendous financial incentive to convince you to buy their products and services.

2. The primary product being sold by the natural childbirth industry is distrust of obstetricians

Read any natural childbirth book, website or message board and you will see that obstetricians are denigrated in the most scurrilous terms. Obstetricians supposedly don’t follow the scientific evidence. They aren’t up to date on best practices. They just want to get to their golf games. They will ignore or dismiss your most important desires. The derogation of modern obstetrics is absolutely critical to promoting the natural childbirth industry. They have chosen to set themselves up in opposition to obstetricians and have created a zero-sum calculus whereby natural childbirth advocacy can only “win” when standard obstetric preventive care “loses.”

This tactic isn’t merely grossly unprofessional; it is startlingly unethical. Most women, by inclination or through emergency need, will have to interact with obstetricians, so to deliberately encourage suspicion, derision and hostility does women no service; it only benefits the natural childbirth industry.

Run, don’t walk, far from anyone who sets out to destroy your relationship with the care providers whom you almost certainly will have to employ.

3. Natural childbirth advocacy seeks to create personal conflict and hostility between women and their obstetricians

The surest way to encourage distrust of obstetricians is to create conflict between patients and their providers. Natural childbirth advocacy creates that conflict by making false empirical claims about childbirth and obstetrics. They say that childbirth is inherently safe, but that’s a bald faced lie. They say that obstetricians don’t follow the scientific evidence, when it is natural childbirth advocates themselves who wouldn’t know the scientific evidence if they fell over it. Most pernicious, and most outrageous, in my view, is that natural childbirth advocates insinuate or proclaim that obstetricians don’t care about you or your baby and will actively work to harm your baby unless you aggressively resist that harm.

Consider the birth plan. It is now, through the influence of natural childbirth advocates, consider di rigueur for every birth, despite the fact that it has NEVER been shown to affect outcomes in the slightest and its only measurable effect is to decrease satisfaction among women who create one. The primary purpose of a birth plan, in my view, it to create conflict between a women and her obstetrician by encouraging a confrontational attitude, including demands that are outdated (no perineal shaving) or nonsensical (no vitamin K). Natural childbirth advocates tell you to create a birth plan and then demand that your doctor follow it; of course they warn you in advance that your doctor will become wary of you and react unfavorably to your plan (not surprisingly since it is filled with irrelevant, nonsensical and even harmful demands), and then when your doctor does react unfavorably, they claim that that means he or she cares less about you and your baby than they do.

4. Natural childbirth advocacy seeks to divert attention from having a healthy baby to having a natural childbirth experience.

Presumably you got pregnant because you wanted a baby and you fervently hope, and will do nearly anything to ensure, that your baby is healthy. But focusing on a healthy baby diverts attention from what natural childbirth advocacy offers, a preapproved scripted “experience.” Hence you will find natural childbirth advocates telling you that a healthy baby is guaranteed (false), a health baby is not enough (false for most women) or that anyone who doesn’t give priority to your experience is providing substandard care.

5. Natural childbirth uses flattery to disarm opposition.

In ordinary circumstances most of us recognize marketing tactics. We understand that those trying to sell us something have a vested interest in the sale, denigrate the competition in order to elevate themselves by comparison, and most of us would never fall for elevating the experience of a product over its safety. So why are so many women hoodwinked by the same marketing tactics when deployed by the natural childbirth industry? The reason is flattery. The natural childbirth industry flatters you into believing that you know as much (or more!) than your obstetrician, that you are so powerful that your very thoughts can ensure the perfect birth, and that by entering the fellowship of natural childbirth advocates you demonstrate that you are “educated,” strong enough to defy authority, an authentic woman, and, most important, that you are superior to other mothers. Who wouldn’t want to believe all that?

So how do you protect yourself? You recognize that you are being subjected to marketing; you recognize that you are being manipulated into distrusting your obstetrician; you refuse to engage in the confrontational behavior recommended by natural childbirth advocacy; you recognize that a healthy baby is not in any way guaranteed and that you may have to compromise your desires for a specific experience to ensure that your baby is healthy; and you recognize phony attempts at flattery for what they are.

The bottom line is this: a group of lay people who profit only when you choose the products and services of the natural childbirth industry are trying to convince you that they, the lay people, know more about pregnancy and childbirth than the women and men who have devoted 4 years of college, 4 years of medical school, 4 years of internship and residency, and many years of experience to protecting the health of mothers and babies. And though these lay people of the natural childbirth industry refuse to take ANY responsibility for your health or the health of your baby when you follow their advice, they are trying to convince you that they care more about the outcome than the doctors who take full legal and ethical responsibility for your health and the health of your baby.

The only remaining question is whether you are capable of seeing through the marketing rhetoric to the truth.