It has been thirty years since active birth campaigner Janet Balaskas rallied in support of a mother’s right to give birth in whichever position she finds most comfortable.

For much of the twentieth century, women were discouraged from moving freely whilst in labour. Standard practice in hospitals throughout the UK saw women lying on beds and giving birth on their backs.

“It was like the plan was to get us into hospital, strap us into beds, pump us full of artificial hormones to get the process going, give us an epidural and if that didn’t work then give us a Caesarean section,” Balaskas told BBC reporter Clare Bowes.

“It was almost like the need for a woman’s body was becoming obsolete, once she’d carried the baby to term.”

Balaskas’ antenatal training and birth research inspired her passion for active birth. She came to understand the importance of positioning and freedom during birth and labour.

“As soon as you lie the mother on her back, the diameter of the pelvic outlet is reduced,” she said. “No wonder women were struggling to give birth on their back, no wonder it was so unmanageably painful.”

On April 4, 1982, Balaskas and obstetrician Dr Michel Odent, a proponent of active birth, led the revolutionary Birthrights Rally a short distance from Hampstead Heath hospital.

Describing the event Balaskas said: “I saw a massive column of people walking towards us… I just saw a sea of faces, posters and banners… women, babies and dads with kids on their shoulders – an amazing crowd of people who were all there because they were concerned about birth.”

Today, many hospitals across the country have birthing units dedicated to active birth and minimal medical intervention, and Janet Balaskas is still as passionate about women’s birth choices as she was thirty years ago.

“Our needs are very similar to any other mammal,” she said. “We need a safe, quiet, warm place and no-one telling us what to do because our bodies know it all.”

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