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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.

Are There Any Risks?

There's no specific medical evidence that silent birth is particularly harmful -- but certified "doula" and perinatal educator Rachel Silber Korn, who has attended more than 100 births in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area, wonders if the sudden silence might not be alarming for a newborn infant.

"The baby has been in a very noisy environment for a long time. They're hearing the sounds of blood circulating, digestive noises, Mom's heartbeat, the family dog barking, Mom and Dad talking, maybe even Mom and Dad yelling," she says. "The decibel level inside the uterus has been found to be the equivalent of a jet plane taking off. If all of a sudden the voices go away and things are much more silent, I would think that might actually be very frightening to the baby."

Silber Korn notes that research has found that young infants who don't hear sounds -- especially their parents' voices -- can become despondent. "It's sensory deprivation, and they can shut down emotionally."

This brings up another issue that's appeared in the media about the Cruise-Holmes birth: rumors that Holmes has agreed not only not to speak during the birth process, but to care for her baby without talking throughout the baby's first week of life. If true, that could be a problem, say doctors. "I would think that would have a negative impact on bonding with the baby," says Devine.

"Silently breastfeeding and silently swaddling for a week, while not talking to and cooing with and establishing a verbal connection with the baby, could really impair the bonding process," agrees Alagia.

Scientology doctrine teaches that newborns shouldn't be subjected to medical tests for their first week of life. "That would really be suboptimal care," says Devine. "There are standard screening tests that are very important during the first week. We can't diagnose all problems prenatally, not even close, and all babies should undergo a full, thorough postnatal exam to ensure that they're normal and healthy."

As far as the silent birth itself goes -- there's absolutely no evidence it will help anything, but if it's important to a couple, Devine says, it probably can't hurt either. "If these families want to have this kind of birth experience, then they should have it. But they also need to have realistic expectations and let the caregivers do their jobs, so that at the end they have a safe, healthy baby."

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