illustration of a birth circa 1800

Pioneer birth scene of two women and two men assist during childbirth of ca. 1800. Illustration from HISTORY OF BIRTH OF ALL PEOPLES. Source: Superstock.

History of Birth

Women have been birthing instinctively for millennia. Find any historical image of birth and it is almost universally showing the woman in an upright position. They were attended by other women, experts in birthing – midwives and doctors played a peripheral role throughout the process unless any complications arose. If women wished to labour on the floor, or on all fours, then the midwives would support her and monitor her well-being without disturbing her.

birth image from 16th century

Two midwives assisting a woman in labour on a birth chair in the 16th century, from a work by Eucharius Rößlin. Source: Wikipedia

During the 1800s anaesthetics started being used in medicine and were also administered to labouring women. Ether is a classic example of a highly potent drug used to knock patients out for operations, but was also given to women in childbirth.

This meant that doctors needed to keep a much closer eye on labouring women. Many of them were semi-conscious and so the obvious place to place them was on bed, lying on their back so that the doctor could easily assist in “delivering” the baby.

Even women who did not choose drugs found that the presence of a doctor was more prevalent anyway and being male and well-educated, they were reluctant to get down on hands and knees so as not to disturb the mother.

Thus the convention for women to birth lying on their backs at the mercy of their doctors and midwives became the norm.

Fast forward a few hundred years and medical interventions in birth have had a profoundly positive effect on birth. We have amazing pain relief options and doctors have helped prevent millions of deaths of both mothers and babies buy incredible procedures.

But the interference in birth has become the norm. Natural birth has become a fad that celebrities and hippies want to do.

Our media and culture hugely supports this idea that you must labour and birth lying on your back, in a hospital bed. That it is inhumanly painful and something to fear. That no-one can do it without “help”. And that midwives and doctors have to  “allow” you to take control over your birth.

Janet Balaskas & the Active Birth Movement

Janet Balaskas, founder of the Active Birth Movement

Janet Balaskas, founder of the Active Birth Movement

Janet Balaskas taught pregnancy yoga in North London in the 70s and 80s. Many of her mums came back to her classes after having their babies and reported that the doctors  forced them to labour and birth lying on their backs, many of them against their wishes.

Birth rally in 1982

The Birth Rights Rally in London in 1982

Janet was outraged and a sit-in was organized at local hospital to protest. Within 3 weeks, that sit-in tuned into a demonstration on Hampstead Heath attended by over 6000 people! Clearly there was a need to do something about the way women were being treated during their births.

And so the Active Birth Movement was born!

Janet wrote the ‘Active Birth Manifesto‘ outlining what the philosophy of active birth was, based on academic studies that proved every statement that was made.

Janet has gone on to influence policy in many countries and now lectures to medical and birth professionals all over the world.

She still teaches active birth to couples and trains active birth teachers at the ‘Active Birth Centre‘ in London and is respected and honoured by everyone she meets. Her Active Birth Teacher Training course was accredited by FEDANT in 2013.

Birthzang trained with Janet in 2013 and runs Janet Balaskas Active Birth Workshops © as well as other Active Birth inspired workshops covering many aspects of birth. Birthzang is also accredited by FEDANT.