caregivers are alarmed by the ‘all-natural’ childbirth fad

At a time when influencers are taking up health issues on social media, caregivers are seeing their word increasingly questioned by certain patients who are skeptical or attracted to more “natural” care, especially during pregnancy and childbirth. . General practitioners, specialists and midwives tell about this paradigm shift they have had to face in recent years.

“Today a youtuber is listened to more than a professor of obstetrics”, denounced at the end of September the head of the maternity ward of the Necker hospital in Paris, on the sidelines of the publication of a worrying report by Public Health France on health of pregnant women and their fetuses between 2010 and 2019. In an interview with ParisianProfessor Yves Ville made no secret of his concern at “the general trend” of patients attracted by “a return to nature that would oppose medicine.”

An increasing number of women are choosing to give birth at home, for example, Professor Yves Ville tells Caroline Combot, general secretary of the ONSSF (National Trade Union Organization of Midwives), also confirms the explosion in the number of requests for “natural” births in recent years.

A longing for the natural.

Thus, the number of families followed by accompanied home birth increased by 115% between 2019 and 2020, according to a report by the Professional Association of Accompanied Home Birth (APAAD). An increase that “could have been much higher”, but “the professional offer was not enough” and “many women were rejected either due to lack of means, or due to late or insufficiently thought-out requests”. .

Consequently, “the number of couples who resort to unassisted births (by health professionals) is also increasing considerably, most of the time due to the lack of an available midwife.”

This is where Caroline Combot, a liberal midwife in Belfort, gets her shoe pressed. “Couples have that desire to respect the physiological rhythm of birth. That is not a problem in itself. The problem is that since Covid, my colleagues and I see more and more couples who have this project but no longer want it to be” . medicalized,” she laments.

“They prepare this in their corner, they organize themselves and give advice in Facebook groups dedicated to this,” explains the caregiver.

“There is a real aspiration for the ‘totally natural'”, also explains Yves Ville, who sees “more and more women demanding that we no longer medicalize childbirth and rejecting the start of childbirth”. Pregnancy is not a disease, so women have a natural tendency to think that it does not necessarily need to be medicalized. It’s become common for them to tell us ‘I’m not sick, everything is fine and the baby will come out when she wants to come out’.”

The rise of unconventional drugs

For the specialist and head of service, “this new trend arises as a reaction to the rather intense medicalization of pregnancy that was fostered between the late 70s and 90s, with recommendations in favor of numerous consultations and systematic ultrasounds.” “Now, we are in a very skeptical current regarding medical messages. Women say to themselves ‘what are you bothering me with medicine when it’s a natural phenomenon that happens? The Internet”.

“Today I have the impression that sometimes we believe more the girlfriends who gave birth in the hay and those who did well than the doctor who tells you to be careful because you are 43 years old, you have had IVF and diabetes during your pregnancy. , it may not be very prudent to go until 41 weeks”, explains Yves Ville.

“A pregnancy is not trivial”, also reminds Amine Saïd, general practitioner and emergency doctor at La Timone hospital in Marseille.

“Some people think that since it’s natural, it’s risk-free. So it’s certainly doable, but a woman giving birth alone in her bathtub can be extremely dangerous if she’s not prepared or if the conditions aren’t met.” . ” the day D.

In general, the doctor has noticed “a growing mistrust of patients regarding conventional medicine but also the pharmaceutical industry.” Patients who question his advice, diagnoses or prescriptions, he says he meets at least one a day. “With some it is possible to discuss and show pedagogy. With others it is much more difficult because it is ideological. They come with prefabricated ideas and reject drugs or constantly ask if they can replace this or that product with something. plus”.

“A confusion between facts and opinions”

“The Covid crisis served as a catalyst because doctors did not agree with each other on issues related to the pandemic. In fact, they did not speak with a single voice and that confused the scientific messages”, analyzes the general practitioner.

An opinion shared by Raphaël Veil, a doctor at the Bicêtre hospital in Paris, who is currently researching on the subject. The researcher believes that “the words of the experts have been diluted in a media hype” and that we are now facing “a form of relativization of know-how that is mixed with the confusion between facts and opinions”. In short, from now on all opinions are valid and the word of a health professional is worth more than that of a health influencer.

“The influencer is going to talk to me about this topic with aplomb, I feel like I know this person, I identify with him. A trust has been established even though he has no medical training so I will trust him”, develops Amine Saïd who says that he strives to do pedagogy, either online or with his patients.

“In the end, his word has the same credibility as that of a health professional and it is very frustrating,” he laments.

“The health sector wants to refresh itself,” Stéphanie Laporte, director of the digital social media agency Otta, explained last May to Numerama, for whom the field of medicine is “still extremely codified.” According to her, “health influencers will bring that freshness and rejuvenate audiences” because young audiences “are more sensitive to information relays that are not official.”

“If some influencers give useless advice on the networks like dietary supplements to cure baldness, I mean that’s fine…. but others can be more dangerous for patients. And that’s where ‘We have to intervene’, says the doctor Amine Saïd emergency room.

A consequence of lack of access to care?

The rise of advice on these “alternative” drugs on social networks has a second possible explanation, for him: it is the lack of access to care in France. Without having a doctor readily available close to home, people turn to alternative methods found online.

“It is something that we find a lot in certain areas far from maternity wards, such as border areas or in the mountains,” says Caroline Combot, the spokesperson for midwives in France.

“We are deeply concerned that some people no longer want to go with a healthcare professional and set it up themselves with advice found here and there… It’s DIY and it’s risking a completely avoidable tragedy.”

The caregiver, like her colleagues, is concerned that some couples are now turning to perinatal trainers or doulas, new professions they have seen flourish in recent years. Professional pregnancy companions, in short, without medical training.

Professor Yves Ville also warns and reminds that this home birth method “is not suitable for all women and all pregnancies, especially when we know that the average age of pregnant women is progressively moving towards 35-44 years. An age where the risk of complications is higher.

For this reason, it is important to remember that a home birth as publicized as that of the famous American model Ashley Graham, last February, “is not normal” and even very dangerous. Earlier this year, the 34-year-old mother shared the story of her twins being born at her home on social media. A fact that she did not go as planned and that could have cost her life.

Juana Bulant BFMTV journalist

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