The medical community is concerned about the impact a new reality show, Born in the Wild, could have on the public. The Lifetime show will follow couples who plan to go "au naturale" when it comes to childbirth. Not only are they going without painkillers, but they're also going without hospitals, doctors, running water, electricity, and even the benefit of four walls and a roof.
Inspired by a YouTube clip of a woman giving birth in a forest, it's certainly sensational and sure to draw eyeballs, but some experts are hailing it as dangerous and irresponsible.
"They're glamorizing potentially dangerous situations," says Sheryl Ross, M.D., an ob-gyn at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA.
Lifetime refutes the danger, saying they're going above and beyond to make sure no one gets hurt. The network says that no first-time mothers will be allowed to participate on the show, and all participants will have a clean bill of health. Additionally a trained emergency professional will be on site. While the couple chooses the birthing location, the production will remain within a certain radius of a hospital, should complications arise.
Lifetime's senior VP and head of nonfiction programming, Eli Lehrer, points out that the cameras are there simply to document what people have already decided to do. "Our presence at these births is going to make them far safer than if they were doing it on their own," Lehrer says.
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However, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) recently warned against home births, citing a study that looked at more than 14 million births and found that delivering outside of a medical setting increased the risk of infant death two to three fold.
Ross says that while she can definitely understand why women might want a different birth experience than a hospital setting, she feels that couples are forgetting to advocate for what their baby needs as well. "So much unexpected can happen during birth and so quickly," she says. Birth is often the ultimate surprise, and despite medical advancements, many complications can't be foreseen.
With options like showers, hot tubs, exercise balls, walking, squatting bars, massage, and no-meds protocols, women have many more choices than they did even a decade ago, but if you're determined to have a home birth, it's imperative that you do everything you can to make it as safe as possible. ACOG recommends having a professional, like a nurse-midwife, on hand. Another factor to consider is proximity to a hospital, should anything go wrong.
"You only have 12 minutes after a baby becomes bradycardic [heart rate dropping too low] before the child sustains neurological damage," Ross says. According to one study, less than half of people in urban areas are reachable by ambulance in less than 12 minutes, and if you are in a rural are—like the woods—response times take much longer.
Another important tip? Keep up on your pre-natal care and have a backup plan. And just like the show emphasizes, this isn't a good idea if it's your first birth (statistically, they have more complications), you have a health condition, or you are considered high-risk for any reason. "The goal is to create a free, open environment where the woman is as comfortable as possible while still minimizing the risks," Ross explains.
As for choosing to birth somewhere outdoors? "It's a gamble, and in the end nothing is worth that kind of risk to a baby's life," Ross says.
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