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Health & Pregnancy

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'Silent Birth' Now a Noisy Controversy

Doctors are sounding off about a childbirth method favored by Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes.

WebMD Feature

The pregnancy of actress Katie Holmes -- fiancee of Tom Cruise -- has shined the media's spotlight on "silent birth," a childbirth method practiced by supporters of the Church of Scientology.

Holmes has been studying Scientology, which counts Cruise as one of its most famous (and devoted) adherents. Founder L. Ron Hubbard preached the idea of "silent birth" as a way to shield newborns from supposedly harmful words heard during the traumatic birth process.

In his writings, posted earlier on the Scientology web site, Hubbard stated that "for the benefit of the mother and child, silence should be maintained during childbirth. This is because any words spoken are recorded in the reactive mind and can have an aberrative effect on the mother and the child."

During Holmes' pregnancy, photos have appeared showing six-foot-high "birthing boards" being carried into Cruise's Beverly Hills mansion, with instructions such as "Be silent and make all physical movements slow and understandable."

Other famous Scientologists, like John Travolta and his wife, Kelly Preston, and actress Anne Archer, have spoken out to defend "silent birth," saying that it's about creating what most women want -- a quiet and peaceful birth environment. Laboring women aren't told they can't moan or grunt, they say, but just to avoid speaking. Everyone else in the room is also supposed to refrain from using words as well.

Doctors Sound Off About Silent Birth

Is there any medical evidence behind any of this? "It may be in the Scientology literature, but it's not in the scientific literature," says Damian Alagia, MD, associate clinical professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at George Washington University Medical Center.

"In my understanding, L. Ron Hubbard never spent any time in medical school, studying pediatrics or studying neonatal development. To think that a baby born in silence is going to do any better than a baby born, say, listening to Hank Williams is just foolhardy."

Babies in utero have heard their parents' voices from the time their auditory capacity develops --and certainly throughout the last trimester, say experts like Patricia Connor Devine, MD, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist who directs the Labor and Delivery Unit at Columbia University Medical Center.

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