The Gentle Birth Book: Practical Guide to LeBoyer Family-Centered Delivery by Nancy Berezin, Pocket Books, 1980

Reviewed by John A. Speyrer

This book, which unfortunately is no longer in print, is an interesting, well-written analysis of French obstetrician Frederick LeBoyer's contributions to immediate post-birth neo-natal care.

After having experienced an unhappy aftermath of the birth of her daughter, the author, a journalist, was assigned to write an article about gentle childbirth. At first she was skeptical, but later she became so thoroughly convinced of the merits of LeBoyer's philosophy of childbirth that she decided to write The Gentle Birth Book. That she has succeeded admirably in conveying to others her excitement and enthusiasm soon becomes evident to the reader.

In discussing birth from the baby's viewpoint, the author provides evidence that the newborn is a sentient vulnerable person. She includes quotations from Dr. Arthur Janov's The Primal Scream and Primal Man:The New Consciousness to show how the pain of birth may be repressed and defended against with subsequent neurosis.

In Chapter 3, Berezin recounts the story of Dr. LeBoyer, who joined the concept that babies could feel with the position that they should be relieved of the pains of their birth. During his psychoanalysis, LeBoyer claimed to have re-experienced aspects of his own birth. In 1975, he wrote Birth Without Violence.

The main key to his understanding how immediate post-birth care could prevent future suffering was that new findings in neurology suggested that the time period immediately following a trauma could be used to nullify the effects of that trauma. Something could be done to prevent the effects of the trauma from becoming a fixed memory. By changing the environment after birth, LeBoyer reasoned that perhaps later neurosis could be prevented. By analyzing all aspects of post-birth infantile experiences, he decided that a more gentle handling of the newborn might provide the necessary means of reducing the infant's agony.

Gentle birth consists of the following elements:

  • A family-centered birth experience with no unnecessary medical intervention.
  • Natural childbirth classes and little use of pain killers during delivery.
  • A darkened, unair-conditioned room for delivery.
  • Delayed cutting of the umbilical cord until it stops pulsating.
  • Placing of the newborn on its mother's abdomen for drainage of mucous and for skin contact.
  • Gentle hand massage of the infant and the use of a body temperature bath.
  • Early (almost immediate) nursing.
  • Extended parent-infant contact during the hospital stay.

The book goes into a detailed analysis of each of the above elements, with the remainder of the book focusing on the attributes of the LeBoyer babies and hints for finding a sympathetic obstetrician.

The only study of the LeBoyer babies was made in France. Intelligence tests indicated more rapid development of motor skills with an unexplained ambidexterity. Toilet training and self-feeding were advanced; however, speech development was at normal rates. There were few complaints from mothers of colic and irritable crying in their gentle birthed infants.

The author concludes by emphasizing that since safe and relatively painless deliveries are realities at the present time, caring for the newborn itself should be the only real issue. The techniques described are only a means to this end, she stresses, and gentle birth in actuality is really a state of mind. Highly recommended reading.