Birth Prep Danish Style

As a first time mother, I was invited to three birth prep modules which were run by my team of midwives.

The first module was about the mechanics of birth. The second was about the first few days. The third was about my relationship with the baby’s father and mental health following birth.

The mechanics of birth module was Just The Facts, Son. They went through the different stages of labour and discussed what could be expected. There was a tour of the labour ward and a rundown of all the pain relief options. They also gave out enemas to women that were planning homebirths and wanted to use them before the midwife got there.

Mostly, what I took away from the module was that they didn’t want the dads to feel useless. Indeed, much of the discussion centred around “remember! you’re playing an important role, dads! Mums say they couldn’t have done it without you afterwards”

Have to admit, it sort of grated on me. Can’t a guy go for a few hours not being the centre of things without needing his ego plushed up like a flat cushion? Seriously.

The second module was really about breastfeeding. I found it interesting that all the other mums were up for trying breastfeeding from the get go. In my country, there are plenty of women who already know breastfeeding is not for them. Or maybe it is the same in Denmark but they know better than to voice this in public? There was a little bit about how bonding takes place and the different types of poos to be expected in the first few months.

The third module was basically a plea from the Danish state (which planned the module and made the resources), to the parents “not to keep score” about who was having the least sleep or doing the most work. (There was also some stuff about spotting post-natal depression)

I am going to go out on a limb here and say that there are three ways that a relationship can divide labour with a newborn: equally and unequally at the expense of one of the partners. As most women in Denmark appear to be up for breastfeeding in at least the first few weeks/months, I am going to surmise that either the lion’s share of the childcare is performed by the mother or the couple manage to balance the duties out fairly. Cases where the father is doing so much more than the mother that he wants to start a fight about it are going to be very rare.

So, if there are heated discussions amongst hetero couples about this topic, it is almost always going to be the mother asking the father to do more. And the Danish state thinks this is such a bad avenue of conversation that it needs its very own module in childbirth prep class to serve as a warning against.

Fine, keeping score is a rotten way to run a relationship but it is not like the Danish state, via my midwives, offered an alternative schema. Just a blanket injunction against arguments about a lack of cooperation.

Anyway, the end of the session came and they asked if there were any questions. A course mate raised her hand

“I know this is off-topic but I was just wondering, how many hours a day/night should my baby sleep on her belly so she doesn’t get a flat head?”

The midwives reacted with shock

“Goodness, no, babies should never sleep on their bellies! It is associated with sudden infant death syndrome!”

“Alright, on her side then.”

“No! They have to lie on their backs! Their backs!”

“Really?”

“Yes!”

And it highlighted for me how strange it is that the UK’s sleep advice for newborns is completely at odds with the Danish.

One big difference is that the UK recommend babies do not sleep separately from adults (even for naps in the day) for the first 6 months, where Danish families happily pop their babies outside alone in all weathers for naps.

Another is that the UK recommend that newborn babies do not have duvets (overheating risk). Danish hospitals actually put baby duvets on the the “hospital bag” list for expectant parents.

Meanwhile, we get a whole session on avoiding conflict with partners in the first few months but only get told to put the baby on its back to sleep if we specifically ask?

 

Fact Checking: Denmark is the safest place to give birth

The Danish media is a law unto itself. All it takes is one reassuring spokesperson to say

“Don’t worry that we sent you home during an induction and some people have been badly injured in this process, keep in mind Denmark is one of the safest places in which to give birth”

and the subeditor will write the following headline

Denmark is the safest place in which to give birth

Is this true?

Sadly, no.

If you wish to compare Denmark with countries such as Somalia, South Sudan and Afghanistan, Denmark looks pretty good.

If you prefer to compare the risks in similar developed countries (in the OECD, for example), Denmark is  poor to middling.

(Statistics were unavailable for any year after 2009.)

Maternal mortality per 100 000 live births in 2009

Denmark was the second most dangerous country in the OECD. Better than Mexico but worse than Hungary, Turkey, Chile, Slovak Republic, the UK etc.

Neonatal mortality per 100 000 live births in 2009

Denmark was the 13th safest country in the OECD. This puts it in the middle of the table.

There are other statistics available from the UN but these are estimated based on access to midwives/hospitals/prenatal care. Denmark is doing worse than it should be, given the advantages Danish women have in their country.

Is sending someone home during an induction safe? I don’t know. Is Denmark a particularly unsafe country in which to give birth? Probably not.

To say that Denmark is “one of the safest” is technically true but then so are a lot of countries. Saying it is THE safest is demonstrably untrue. Especially since on International Women’s Day,  The Independent said Greece and Norway were the best. Strangely, Denmark did not pick that story up.