The Green Party’s ‘harmful’ proposed birth policy deserves the backlash it’s getting, according to an expert

It's been branded 'dangerous' and 'archaic'

Woman running finger over her c-section scar
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The Green Party proposed a ‘harmful’ birth policy that is out-of-date and silences women's voices. An expert shares why the suggested measures deserve the backlash they're getting.

In the run-up to the General Election and looking at what parents need to know about each party's plans before deciding where to cast their vote, political campaigns can't afford a misstep. However, it appears the Green Party might've made quite a blunder when it comes to women's safety and choices when revealing their proposed birth policy. 

Suggesting implementing measures that will increase the existing stigma surrounding medicalised births and women who ask for elective c-sections, the Green Party proposed increasing the number of natural births, branding childbirth a 'non-medical event' - this in itself has angered medical professionals who believe the notion is harmful. It also impacts the health and safety of women to have the birth that's necessary, not the one proposed by a policy-maker who appears not to be aware of the recent Birth Trauma Inquiry.

To further understand the potential implications for women the policy could have, we spoke to Lesley Gilchrist, founder of My Expert Midwife. As a registered midwife, Lesley tells us "We know that the stats are showing that inductions and c-sections are increasing all the time, certainly over the last 20 to 30 years. That’s an inescapable fact, birth is becoming more complex.  

Some women are getting pregnant who wouldn’t have been able to get pregnant due to modern-day innovations, fertility treatment and medical treatments where women were advised not to get pregnant but now they can, such as diabetes. We can’t guarantee that things would go wrong if we didn’t intervene in these or any cases. So, until we have a crystal ball and are able to look forward with accuracy, we will always treat childbirth as a medical event."

"Until we have a crystal ball and are able to look forwards with accuracy, we will always treat childbirth as a medical event."

Lesley Gilchrist, registered midwife

Amid the backlash, the Green Party removed their statement of intent for maternity services from their website. However, it read "The incidence of medical intervention in childbirth has escalated in recent years, particularly the rate of caesarean sections, which are expensive and, when not medically required, risky.

We will work to reduce the number of interventions in childbirth, and change the culture of the NHS so that birth is treated as a normal and non-medical event, in which mothers are empowered and able to be in control."

Lesley adds thoughts to this statement, sharing with us "There are some women who have a very low risk of anything going wrong with their labour and birth and have been predicted to have a very straight forward vaginal birth – no medications, no pain relief and that is classed as a physiological birth but we don’t really know 100% that there won’t be complications. And that’s why we talk about low risk and high risk, not ‘no risk’. So, by saying that birth is not a medical event is saying that it’s not a medical event for everyone and that is not the case."

Why it's dangerous to push women into a 'natural' birth

Women might choose a c-section for a number of reasons, but the main priority is their reasons are listened to, and their choices validated. Pregnancy can be a frightening time for any woman, and nobody wants to feel they've 'failed' before they've even begun, if they have a medicalised birth.

It also breeds unnecessary competition in what has already been turned into a highly competitive time of life - with feeding and sleeping methods and screen time highly contentious in terms of what is 'right,' there's no need to add competitive birthing to competitive parenting. 

Lesley shares "It’s dangerous to push women into believing they ‘should’ have a natural birth because it works on the assumption that birth is absolutely risk free for the majority of women and that’s simply not true. So, women need to be given all the facts and all the information to make the choices that they want. Whether or not women are being frightened about giving birth without pain relief or they’re frightened about pain relief, we just don’t know. 

But women should always have that choice about how they want to give birth and they should certainly be counselled about that and we should spend time exploring why a woman doesn’t want a vaginal birth, she wants to be given a c-section. The doctors in clinic need to be given the time to explore that so that the woman is making that decision based on facts and evidence and not on fear."

"It’s dangerous to push women into believing they ‘should’ have a natural birth because it works on the assumption that birth is absolutely risk free for the majority of women and that’s simply not true."

Lesley Gilchrist, registered midwife

In failing to consider the rights of women, the Green Party could've potentially alienated a great deal of potential voters. However, as Lesley suggests, they're fuelling a dangerous narrative and the backlash is deserved. 

Lesley concludes "A women’s choice needs to be respected because it’s enshrined in law. You can offer different plans and you can offer intervention but you can’t do it without  consent as then it’s assault. Equally though, if women are asking for pain relief during labour or they want to opt for it as part of their birth plan, that also needs to be respected. 

Otherwise, it’s unethical to expect a woman to go through childbirth without pain relief if that is what she has asked for. In much the same way as it is illegal to do any kind of intervention without any form of informed consent – informed consent is where they need to understand it first." 

For more on the General Election, we look at whether schools close on election day, and the negative reaction to Conservative plans to increase school fines and their stance on teaching gender identity.

Lesley Gilchrist
Lesley Gilchrist

Lesley Gilchrist is a regular speaker at The Baby Show, and founder of My Expert Midwife. Lesley began her career as a staff nurse in intensive care before starting her midwifery training in 2001 in Newcastle. Throughout her career, Lesley has worked in large teaching hospitals both on delivery suite and within the community. She is also qualified to undertake the Newborn & Infant Physical Examination (NIPE).

Lucy Wigley
Parenting writer - contributing

Lucy is a mum-of-two, multi-award nominated writer and blogger with six years’ of experience writing about parenting, family life, and TV. Lucy has contributed content to PopSugar and In the last three years, she has transformed her passion for streaming countless hours of television into specialising in entertainment writing. There is now nothing she loves more than watching the best shows on television and sharing why you - and your kids - should watch them.