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Michel Odent

Recently, dr. Odent visited Ljubljana for a three day seminar at the University MedicaI Centre Ljubljana (UMCL) entitled ‘Childbirth in the scientific context of 2016’. I was invited to attend a day of his lectures by Petra Petročnik, who is the departmental Erasmus+ coordinator. Thanks to her efforts, I could even attend the event for free. The day was very well organized by, among others, Anita Prelec, who is the head midwife at the UMCL maternity unit and board member of the Nurses and Midwives Association of Slovenia and president of the professional section of midwifes. Since 2009, she is also a board member of the European Midwives Association.

Not only in the Slovenian labour ward, the practice of knitting midwives also pops up in the ideas of Michel Odent, the well known French obstetrician. According to Odent, many of the current (medical) practices surrounding birth are determined by culture and tradition and do not necessarily favor the women and children involved. He claims that these practices might affect the emotional state and stress level of pregnant women. This, he says, can have a negative influence on pregnancy, delivery, and even the mother-child bond and further development of the baby.

In his lectures, dr. Odent explored the contradictions he perceives between ‘tradition and cultural conditioning’ surrounding birth, and new scientific knowledge. Regardless of one’s own viewpoints, it was a thought provoking exercise, that inspires to really think about what we do as midwifes, and why.

It comes as no surprise then, that Michel Odent pleads for change. He promotes the idea that pregnant and delivering women should basically be left in peace, as this would make the delivery easier. He is therefore firmly against males (doctors, but also the fathers) attending birth. Their attendance would only enhance the risk of stress, hormonal disbalance and hampering of the natural oxytocin flow. Instead of fostering that flow, we give women synthetic oxytocine without, claims Odent, properly understanding the possible long term consequences. He feels that ideally, the only one in the room besides the woman who is in labour should be a quiet midwife. To prevent her from instilling stress in the soon-to-be mother, she should be engaged in… knitting!

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