Why should Europe concern itself with women having babies? Has modern medicine not solved all the problems? After all, maternal mortality in Europe is very low and perinatal mortality is reasonably low. But a live baby is not enough. It is often forgotten that most pregnant women in Europe could have a completely uncomplicated pregnancy and birth, and a healthy newborn baby without any medical intervention. The growth of alternative birth services testifies to the sense of dissatisfaction felt in many European countries to the medicalization of birth by the official health system.
A WHO Perinatal Study Group was set up in 1979 to study and report on the issues surrounding birth and birth care in Europe and this is their final report. They describe and review the official services, the alternative services, and the information and evaluation services. Information gleaned ranged from systems of birth and death registration, patterns of antenatal visits and provision of intensive care services, to who is allowed to be present during a birth, and what tests and procedures are administered routinely. The variation in the rates for many procedures from country to country, without any resultant variation in mortality or morbidity rates, shows that the use of many of them could be usefully reviewed. Based on these findings, the final chapter summarizes the present state of services for women and their babies during pregnancy and birth and following birth, and analyses present trends and future needs. Copies of the questionnaires used in the study are also included as annexes, as is an extensive reading list, both lay and professional.
This report is intended to be read by those who actually use the birth services, and not just by those involved professionally in providing them, and it has therefore been written as far as possible in a simple style, without jargon. For anyone interested in the arguments about the quality and type of birth services available in Europe, this report provides the necessary information on current practices in birth services both official and alternative, and their varying merits.
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