The risky business of having a baby: why birth interventions are on the rise

C-sections, amniocentesis, spinal blocks, CVS testing - having a baby might be one of the most natural things in the world, but a University of Western Sydney conference will explore why growing numbers of Australian women want modern medicine to intervene in the 'risky business' of childbirth.

The University is hosting, 'Risking birth: culture, technology, and politics in 21st century maternity care' - a conference organised by UWS, La Trobe and Deakin Universities. It's being held at UWS this Friday and Saturday, 23-24 June.

Experts from around Australia will discuss the politics of maternity care - issues such as society's constructions of childbirth, obstetricians' views on maternity care, the shifting role of midwives, the safety of birthing services for Indigenous women in remote communities, and the rise in medical negligence cases and litigation.

The conference is bringing together speakers from across the disciplines, including midwifery researchers, registered nurses and health specialists, obstetrics professors, medical anthropologists, sociologists, and medical litigation lawyers.

Conference co-convenor, Dr Alphia Possamai-Inesedy from the UWS Social Justice Social Change Research Centre, says Australia is going the way of other western countries, with higher rates of intervention during pregnancy and childbirth, particularly among women from wealthier socio-economic backgrounds.

"Recent statistics published by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare show a rise in caesarean sections from 18 per cent in 1992, to 25.4 per cent in 2004, with even higher rates in the private sector.

"Some researchers predict that in a few years, the majority of babies will be born by surgery," says Dr Possamai-Inesedy.

"Today's consumer-driven, desire-for-perfection society has constructed pregnancy and childbirth as a very risky business. Women are bombarded with all sorts of warnings about the hazards of pregnancy and childbirth, and the inherent faultiness of their bodies.

"This preys on the concerns and anxieties of pregnant women, making them acutely aware of all the things that could possibly go wrong, and the need to plan against those risks.

"As a result, the expectant woman more readily engages with the myriad of prenatal screenings, medical tests and other medicalised birthing 'choices', to help ease her fears.

"Increasingly, we are seeing women opt for invasive procedures because it's viewed as acceptable, responsible and a kind of 'insurance policy' against possible prenatal, delivery or postnatal problems."

Dr Possamai-Inesedy says the conference will explore how pregnant women's experiences are being shaped by social and cultural factors, and the current conservative political landscape.

"We'll look at how fear of litigation and medical negligence is affecting Australian women's prenatal and postnatal care," she says.

"The group will also discuss issues surrounding new reproductive technologies, midwife-led models of care, and discuss how women from different cultures and remote areas experience pregnancy and childbirth.

"It's one of the few times that such a diverse group of researchers and health practitioners have come together to focus on Australian maternity policy and practice."

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The conference is sponsored by the Australian Academy of Social Sciences, with support from the UWS Social Justice Social Change Research Centre.

WHERE: Building 5, Campbelltown Campus, Narellan Road, Campbelltown
TIME: 9am to 5.30pm Friday, and 9am to 4.30pm Saturday (interviews possible during session breaks)
MAP: http://www.uws.edu.au/about/locations/campbelltown
Copies of the full conference program, abstracts, and conference papers are available on request.


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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