Book Review: Optimal Birth: What, Why & How
By Sylvie Donna
Fresh Heart, 2010
670 pages, paperback, £24.99
Reviewed by Molly Remer, MSW, ICCE, CCCE
Written in an energetic and confident tone, Optimal Birth is written for midwives and other birth care providers and emphasizes undisturbed, natural birth. Throughout the text, a unique “birthframe” format is used to share birth wisdom in women’s own words. Donna is heavily influenced by the work of Michel Odent (he attended several of her births) and references him frequently. The author writes in a very straightforward manner and has extremely strong opinions as to what constitutes “undisturbed birth,” but these opinions are backed up with ample evidence-based information. The exquisite sensitivity of a birthing woman to her environment is of primary importance in the book and caregivers are strongly urged to take an extremely hands-off approach to care.
A lengthy volume, Optimal Birth is difficult to describe adequately in summary form—it contains extensive sections about physiological birth, birth interventions, the emotional impact of women’s experiences, prenatal care, and postpartum care. It also includes a week-by-week guide to pregnancy. There are a large number of black and white pictures and each section of the book contains a series of insightful questions designed to provoke self-discovery about physiological birth and the appropriate care of birthing women.
Readers unaccustomed to the midwives model of care or to the principles of undisturbed, physiological birth may find the book’s emphasis on non-intervention heavy-handed or one-sided. Considering that many manuals for care providers focus extensively on labor and birth “management,” personally I find the non-disturbance approach advised by Optimal Birth to be inspirational and encouraging as well as appropriate. As the author notes, “the processes of birth are so delicate that many things can disturb a laboring woman and consequently make her labor slower and more dangerous.”
An encouraging and informative companion book containing much of the same information but from a consumer perspective titled Preparing for a Healthy Birth is also available.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes.