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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.

Doctors Sound Off About Silent Birth continued...

"Babies have heard noise and responded to noise for some time before they are born," she says. "There's absolutely no scientific evidence that taking that away at the time of delivery will have any effect on outcome for the baby or the mother."

If "silent birth" is something the parents want, Devine says, then their wishes should be respected. "People have different desires for their babies' births. The most important thing for care providers to understand is what the woman is looking for as far as her birth experience," she says.

"I think that all people would agree that having delivery occur in a calm environment is pretty important," says Devine. "If a silent birth is how someone wants to achieve that, it's reasonable. But remember: You can't banish words completely. It still has to be a birth environment that's safe. If the goal is to have it quiet and peaceful, that's fine -- but it can't be enforced to the point that it would hinder clinical outcome by preventing care providers from communicating."

Devine also notes that birth plans can often change on the fly. "Especially for someone having their first child, labor is a long and very uncomfortable process. Women are in pain, and they often want to know, 'Am I OK? Is everything going all right? Am I doing what I'm supposed to be doing?' Or they want to hear supportive words from family members. If you're willing to be flexible, it makes it much more likely that you'll have that positive experience at the end."

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."

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