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Grantly Dick-Read was an English obstetrician in the 1920s when the management of birth pain was handled by knocking the women unconscious with chloroform. After watching a woman refuse chloroform and deliver her baby without trauma or pain, Dick-Read came to believe that fear and tension were the cause of labor pains. He noticed that no other animal species experienced suffering, pain, or agony during the birth process and hypothesized that a woman's fear of labor pains caused blood to be filtered away from the uterus, so it could be used by the muscles that would flee if the fear were caused by a dangerous situation (sometimes called the flight-or-flight response). As a result, the uterus did not have the oxygen supply it needed to perform efficiently or without pain. He believed that by eliminating the fear, women could return the uterus to its normal function—without pain.
In 1933, Dick-Read put his ideas into a book called Natural Childbirth that was not well received by the British medical community. In 2012, his book entitled "Childbirth Without Fear" (pictured to the right) was reprinted as a paperback with a cover that is today as paradoxical and controversial as some of Dr Dick-Read's insights were at the time they were originally published.
Because of the ground breaking nature of his work, we own a couple of original copies of Dr Dick-Read's books on our easyBirth book shelf. By today's standards, some of what he advocated seems archaic, and there is no modern Dick-Read school of thought or birth programs like there are for Lamaze and Bradley. Also, some of the early books show actual xrays of fetuses in utero, which is a horrifying thought and something that one would never see in a modern book.
Dick-Read died in 1959, but his theory remains the basis of many of today's childbirth classes. His ideas are still quoted in books and papers by many of the world's most notable childbirth educators. He believed that education about the birth process and relaxation exercises during labor were the keys to reducing labor pains. Today, few disagree with this insight.
You might also enjoy reading Post-War Mothers: Childbirth Letters to Grantly Dick-Read by Mary Thomas (University of Rochester Press, 1998).