Book Review: Birth Day: A Pediatrician Explores the Science, the History, and the Wonder of Childbirth
By Mark Sloan, M.D.
Ballantine Books, 2009
370 pages, hardcover, $25
Written in a fast-paced journalistic rather than academic style, Birth Day is a biological, historical, and sociocultural look at birth in our species, highlighting the experiences and skills of the fetus and newborn infant. The focus of Birth Day is on childbirth, but as a pediatrician, the emphasis of the journey in this book is on the baby and its development, skills, and remarkable adaptations to the womb and to life on earth. The book contains frequent references to evolution, which is not a concern to me, but may be to other readers.
The author’s personal experiences and observations are interwoven skillfully throughout the book lending an engaging “human” component—I loved his wry and occasionally self-deprecating honesty and realistic sharing. We read about the births of both of his children (one a very long labor eventually with an epidural and the second a scheduled cesarean due to placenta previa), his experiences as a medical student, and his observations as a hospital and clinic pediatrician. Dr. Sloan has been present at over 3000 births as a hospital pediatrician and 20 births as the baby “catcher” (medical school OB rotation). There is no real mention of homebirth, but occasional, supportive references to CNMs and to doulas.
The author has a healthy respect for the process of birth, noting in his conclusion that “…the most striking thing to me after all these years is how often such a complicated process goes right.” As a breastfeeding counselor, an element that I loved in this book was the author’s complete acceptance and integration of the importance and normalcy of the birth-breastfeeding continuum as well as the assumption of breastfeeding present throughout (bottles and formula do not make a single appearance throughout the 370 pages). This presentation was both very refreshing and completely appropriate.
The content of Birth Day was reminiscent of Birth by Tina Cassidy, with the primary difference being the emphasis on the infant’s experiences. There were occasional instances of questionable data such as, “An unattended breech birth, for example, is nearly always fatal to mother and child.” (?!)
Fast paced and often very funny, the author of Birth Day has a knack for explaining complicated concepts in simple terms and using effective analogies. I learned some new facts about the history of birth and was pretty captivated by the whole ride.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes.