In 1974, French obstetrician Frederick Leboyer published his book Birth Without Violence. It represented his advocacy for gentle and natural birth procedures, vouching for less medicalised births. His message was not conveyed in the traditional text laced with illustrations, but keeping it Leboyer-style, through proses of poetry.

Frederick Leboyer, the man who advocated gentle births – prioritising the baby’s comfort above that of mothers’ and doctors’. Photo credit: Eamonn McCabe/The Guardian.
Frederick Leboyer, the man who advocated gentle births – prioritising the baby’s comfort above that of mothers’ and doctors’. Photo credit: Eamonn McCabe/The Guardian.

“Could childbirth be as distressing for the child as for the mother?” he wrote in the beginning of his book.

“And if so, does anyone care? It doesn’t seem so, judging by the way we treat the new arrival.”

He was of the opinion that during the show, the star is almost always forgotten. Instead of the comfort of the baby taking centre-stage during the birthing process – childbirths were focused on the preferences of doctors and mothers.

Believing that how a baby comes into the world will shape the child’s life in the long-term, he preached for the gentle births he came to be fondly known for.

The Leboyer Method

Leboyer, who preferred to be called Mr Leboyer (rather than Dr Leboyer) in his non-chalance towards how people glorify their education – said that babies too, feel fear and anxiety during births. It is therefore important to keep the baby in mind while the birth is taking place, so that he or she is welcomed into a gentle environment and get a good start to life outside the womb.

In the Leboyer method, the baby is welcomed into a dimly lit room with soft music playing background. The baby is also not made to cry or be immediately subjected to a check-up.

Instead, the baby is put on the mother’s stomach for immediate bonding through skin-to-skin contact and the umbilical cord is only cut when it stops pulsating. He believes the importance of bonding is greater than any prods and pricks of postnatal checks. Soon after, the baby will be treated to a Leboyer bath, to retain womb-like familiarity of being surrounded by liquids.

Leboyer was against any interventions that could take place in a birth. He credited the process completely to the mother, whereby if the mother had opted for a caesarean section, he felt that the mother was taking the easy way and ‘chickening out’. He did not deny that at times caesareans saved lives, but his view stood for mothers having elective caesareans. The same view applied to forceps and vacuums, ascribing it to insufficient maternal effort.

The obstetrician himself had delivered more than 9,000 babies with the standard method and more than 1,000 with his natural methods. He claimed to have been able to relive his own birth in Paris, at the end of the World War.

“They used forceps to get me out, and four people held my mother down because there were no anaesthetics," he said.

"It is because of that, the manner of my arrival, that I have spent my whole life fascinated by birth, because I always knew there was a better way."

Water births, not natural births

His methodology was not received all around, especially among the doctors. The lack of lighting and the absence of a cry might just expose them to legal problems. However, he had fans among the midwives and the mothers. Soon after his book was published, mothers started requesting for the Leboyer method and created a change in delivery rooms around the world.

Through his insistence of the Leboyer bath, he had also inspired the birth of water birthing techniques by a fellow French physician. However, he was strongly against the technique and not pleased that his initial idea had branched out to that. He claimed that comfortable births are only done on land and not in water.

Leboyer recently passed on at the age of 98. In an interview in 2011, he had said that not having children of his own was one of his regrets and that, “having children, is the greatest privilege that life holds.” MIMS

Read more:
Beyond the physical pain of childbirth
3 ways hospitals are becoming more baby-friendly
Justus von Liebig: Momentous birth of the infant formula