Babies Have Rights, Too
by Jan Tritten

[Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Midwifery Today, Issue 104, Winter 2012.]

The “Birth Is a Human Right” initiative needs to be expanded to include babies. Everyone who has been to a hospital birth (and some homebirths) has probably seen violations of baby’s rights. A baby’s imprinting in the first 1–6 hours after birth is the foundational experience of life and has lifelong health ramifications, both emotional and physical. Does the baby receive the bacteriological inoculation from her mom or from a germ-filthy hospital? Did the baby get her stem cells from the placenta at three minutes of age or was her cord amputated before this was able to occur?

I love Dr. Diego Alarcon’s words, “Never separate the mother from the baby.” He says this over and over in his beautiful four disc DVD set, Nacer Con Amor, Cambia el Mundo. The Spanish title means “Birth with Love, Change the World.” The term “motherbaby” came into being about 10 years ago in order to reinforce the importance of not separating the two after birth. It is a beautiful image of keeping motherbaby together; not separating them.

If you are pregnant, talk to your baby. In Issue 102 of Midwifery Today, Penny Simkin suggests picking a special song to sing to your baby during pregnancy and afterwards, and in this issue (104), Cathy Fink encourages parents to sing to their unborn babies. A health practitioner doing prenatal care should also talk to the baby with respect. Carol Gautschi really encourages midwives to do this. She says if you need to resuscitate or calm the baby, s/he will know you and your voice. If there is a complication, the midwife should explain to the baby what she is doing and what she needs from the baby. If midwives begin loving the baby while s/he is still inside the mom, the love and respect for baby can open mom’s eyes and heart to communicate with her little one. Babies are human beings with human rights—respect is paramount.

Babies can be treated with respect even in complicated cases. One of Diego’s videos involves a humane cesarean; in this birth, he delivers the baby gently, mimicking some of the motions it would have had coming out vaginally. He brings the baby out without cutting the cord. Then he hands the baby to mom, never to be separated from her. Dr. Diego’s gentle ways are often not the case and the baby is treated like a piece of meat or worse. I have seen babies held under a faucet and the vernix scrubbed off within a minute of birth. What kinds of abuses have you seen? The baby belongs to the mother, who is also often treated like a piece of meat. This has got to stop. We must treat motherbaby with reverence and respect, always.

Carla Hartley says, “More babies prefer homebirth.” We have concentrated on the mother’s rights, which are really important, but let’s not forget the baby’s, which we are very much in the habit of doing when elective cesarean is considered. Being cut open never used to be a choice. Marsden Wagner has said that women have never had the right to demand heart surgery for no reason—why then can they demand a cesarean? I know there are cases when a cesarean might be a reasonable choice, but the baby must be considered and most women will do what is best for their baby, but often no one tells them or helps them think through their issues and choices.

So what are babies’ rights? I believe the baby has the right to live in peace in utero. Baby should not be shot with sound waves when ultrasound has not been proven safe and there are indications that it might be dangerous. The strong movement babies make when being zapped are the result of the baby trying to get away from the ultrasound waves, but there is nowhere for her to hide. Babies don’t like ultrasound and it should be reserved for clinical necessity. Don’t forget that Dopplers use ultrasound, too. Protect each baby and use a fetoscope when listening to heart tones (you are better able to verify a baby’s position and due date with a fetoscope anyway!).

The baby also has the right to an optimal birth, just like mom has—this means the best birth possible under the situation. If a mom has a complication, she is still having a baby and all other aspects should be treated normally.

Do not cut the cord until the placenta is out or preferably until mom asks. This is very disrespectful to the mother and baby. The baby needs her stem cells, and there are many other benefits of delayed cord-cutting as well. If you need to resuscitate, do it on or near mom. While the cord is attached it is still giving oxygen to the baby, and the mother’s voice can be a powerful tool to help calm or stimulate the baby.

And finally, never separate the baby from the mother. Any problem or routine you need to handle can be done right on or next to mom. Always leave the first two hours for bonding. In the words of Michel Odent, “Do not disturb the mother” (this refers to both during labor and after birth).

I am sure there are many rights we can enumerate for the baby, such as immediate breastfeeding, but if we can do these few things, including respecting the atmosphere with quietness, delaying cord-cutting and never separating motherbaby, we have an excellent beginning! Think, what is the most loving thing for this baby, for this motherbaby? This question can guide your actions.

Toward better birth,

Jan Tritten

Jan Tritten is the founder and editor-in-chief of Midwifery Today magazine and a midwife who was in active practice from 1977–1989. She became a midwife in 1977 after the powerful homebirth of one of her daughters. Her mission is to make loving midwifery care the norm for birthing women and their babies throughout the world. Meet Jan at our conferences around the world! [ PHOTO BY ANDREA NOLL ]

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