Male Midwife: Agony of Labour A ‘Rite of Passage’

An associate professor in midwifery at Nottingham University is speaking out about his views on childbirth and what he calls the ‘epidural epidemic’. He believes that more women should endure the pain of childbirth because anesthetic drugs undermine the mother’s bond with her baby.


Dr. Denis Walsh said the agony of labour should be considered a ‘rite of passage’ and a ‘purposeful, useful thing’.

The pain prepared women for the demands of motherhood, he argued.

Dr. Walsh criticized the overuse of epidurals saying maternity units should abandon routine pain relief and embrace a ‘working with pain’ approach.

Moms requesting an epidural injection or spinal anesthetic have doubled in 20 years to around 37 percent.

‘A large number of women want to avoid pain, but more should be prepared to withstand it. Pain in labour is a purposeful, useful thing which has a number of benefits, such as preparing a mother for the responsibility of nurturing a newborn baby.’

‘It has never been safer to have a baby, yet it appears women have never been more frightened.’

Dr Walsh warned that epidurals increased medical risks such as prolonged first and second stages of labour and the chance of the baby’s head being in the wrong place.

They also led to lower rates of breast-feeding. He added:

‘Emerging evidence shows that normal labour and birth prime the bonding areas of the mother’s brain more than Cesarean or pain-free birth.’

The Doctor is now calling on the Health Service to abandon routine pain relief and encourage women to use yoga, hypnosis, massage, support from their partners, hydrotherapy and birthing pools as natural ways of alleviating pain.

He said labour pain was a timeless component of motherhood, but warned:

‘There has been a loss of rites-of-passage meaning to childbirth, so pain and stress are viewed negatively.’

I think this doctor may have read too many books.

His information is interesting, but he forgets to mention that allowing a hysterical mom who can’t manage her labour pains to have an epidural could give her the boost she needs to have a successful delivery. Nothing can fully prepare you for childbirth. It is different with each child.

Quoting facts from a book doesn’t hold up when your body is being pelted with a series of ‘electric shocks’ each 1 minute apart.

Had he of been in my delivery room, he would have gotten the ‘Wrath Of Mommy’.

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About the author

Lisa Arneill

Mom of 2 boys and founder of and World Traveled Family. When I'm not running around after my boys, I'm looking for our next vacation spot!


  • I believe you misunderstand him. No woman should ever have to be reduced to a “hysterical mom who can’t manage her labor pains.” It’s awful and degrading. All women should have the support to give them the strength to birth without invasive procedures that raise the risks of birth and increase their chances of having even more invasive procedures.

    Our culture has taught women that birth is awful and painful and something to be afraid of. It doesn’t have to be that way. Yes, birth is painful and intense, but the pain helps get the baby out – it’s not signaling that something is wrong, it’s signaling a healthy process.

  • i don’t believe he wants epidurals to be outlawed. they are a valid medical procedure with very important uses.

    i think the point he’s trying to make is that we live in a culture now where doctors expect the mother to go for the epidural immediately, even pushing her to do so. a lot of women end up going into labor without ever being told that they are strong enough to do this on their own.

    i think he’s proposing a move towards more discussion and introduction of alternative pain relief methods that do not use drugs.

  • I am an anaesthetist in Sydney, Australia. Mr Walsh’s claims that epidurals prolong labour were refuted years ago. After 30 years of helping women in labour with pain relief, I regard epidurals as far superior to amy other form of pain relief.They allow both mother and baby to be less “stressed” physiologically. Epidurals are safer than general anaesthetics when Caesarean Sections or other necessary are needed. Saying that women need to feel pain is turning the clock back 150+ years to pre- Queen Victoria and her praise of chloroform given to her by Dr JOhn Snow for the birth of Prince Leopold.

  • The comments by Associate Prof. Denis Walsh have caused uproar in the Australian Media, with many mothers condemning his ideas. He says that 20% of epidurals are not necessary. Such judgments can only be made in hindsight. When a woman is in severe pain there are few reasons to withhold pain relief unless she is so close to delivery that the epidural cannot be effective within the timeframe.

  • Dr. Jim, I think it’s possible that labor and delivery could be viewed as a more natural, as opposed to a medical process. Providing laboring women more access to birthing tubs, massage therapy, and freedom to roam and move as they please whilst they labor I believe would reduce the necessity of such epidurals.

    I don’t think the professor is saying there is no place in childbirth for epidurals, but like c-sections, they are used as a first resort, instead of last.

  • The baby’s body has a higher chance of being “pelted with a serious of electric shocks” if an epidural is given since epidurals almost always lead to Pitocin which consequently produces “tetanic” contractions. love your baby? skip the epidural.
    I know it’s painful, I went through natural childbirth myself, it was the most painful thing I ever experienced, but worth if for a happy healthy alert baby coming out. Apgars 9/9
    Read “safer childbirth” by marjorie tew if you are interested in statistical evidence proving the superior safety of natural childbirth. If you need something a little more watered down try “the thinking woman’s guide to a better birth” by henci goer. Towards better birth…

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