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Why is cultural perspective important in childbirth education?

We need a global definition of natural childbirth. Some people think any vaginal birth is natural, some think it must be drug-free or forceps-free to qualify, some think it needs to take place at home, or in a birth center, or in a forest to be natural. In any case, we need to look beyond our own cultural viewpoint and discover the elements of birth that are so common to our species that they might bring us closer to a true definition.

Studying birth in other cultures is fascinating. It opens our minds and makes us more compassionate. It is a window into other cultures, as the core values of any culture are reflected in the way new members are welcomed.

We've lost some useful ancient traditions in the process of becoming technologically sophisticated. This study may help us to recoup some of those losses from disappearing peoples. Better yet, it might motivate us to help keep those peoples from disappearing!

It empowers us as mothers. Some women find that seeing traditional women giving birth gives them confidence in their ability to give birth (as opposed to "being delivered.") A declining birthrate in the industrialized nations means fewer births in a lifetime, so there is more concern with the emotional quality of each birth. The declining birthrate also makes for a buyer's market in health care, and thus, in some cases, we have more responsive and sensitive care, and more options.

It gives us perspective on our own birth rituals and beliefs, and enables us to question our ethnocentric assumptions about what is normal, healthy, and necessary. It liberates us from thinking that our culture's way is the only way, or necessarily the best way. It makes us aware of the ritual aspects of American birth styles, so that we can see which procedures are truly helpful and which have more ritual than medical significance.

It helps us to be more sensitive to the special needs of maternity "patients" from various cultures, and to provide more culturally appropriate care for them. The key here is simply to be open-minded, nonjudgmental, and caring, and to hire a good translator. Good care includes:

1. Discouraging harmful practices (severe dietary restrictions, septic care of the cord stump)

2. Encouraging healthy practices (breastfeeding, upright posture)

3. Tolerating harmless or neutral practices (birth rituals)

It makes us think twice before exporting our birth style and technology to other countries, where it may be applied inappropriately to conform to an appearance of "westernization" while missing some essential components of medical safety.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Association of Labor Assistants & Childbirth Educators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Elson, Vicki
Publication:Special Delivery
Date:Jun 22, 1993
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