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Originally published Thursday, April 10, 2014 at 5:38 PM

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Guest: Childbirth T.M.I. — when too much information is a bad thing

Information about childbirth is more available than ever thanks to the Internet. It’s not necessarily a good thing, writes guest columnist Susan Fleming.


Special to The Times

Author reading

Susan Fleming will read from her book at 7 p.m. Friday at University Book Store in Seattle.

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Great article! It is so important to encourage patients to talk to their provider, rather than seek advice from apps... MORE

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IN 1900, my great-grandmother, Alice Ada Wood Ellis, traveled to Seattle on a locomotive steam train from Wisconsin. She had answered the call to serve the last of the eager gold diggers and entrepreneurs who were the remnants of the Klondike Gold Rush in Alaska.

As a single mother with two daughters, 2 ½-year-old Myrtle and 6-month-old Marie, she needed an income. So she placed two beds in her front parlor and opened a confinement home in Green Lake where Seattle women could give birth and recover in her home under her care. Alice had fulfilled her calling as a pioneer nurse-midwife.

During Alice’s time in the early 1900s, many women feared the unknown of childbirth. They often relied on their families or sought guidance about preparing for childbirth from midwives, physicians and nurses.

A century later, the unknown appears to be obliterated. Pregnant women may feel they can glimpse their future delivery via Internet videos and envision what is known about birth.

Unfortunately, dramatic and often terrifying images may unravel in unrealistic time frames, such as a four-minute cesarean section or a one-minute natural birth. Giving women an unrealistic vision of what lies ahead may not prepare them for birthing.

Birthing information is a fingertip away, and can be accessed within seconds from an electronic world where everyone claims or appears to be an expert. This newly acquired information may be fragmented, weakly linked and poorly referenced. If birthing information is gathered in a random, unsupported way, mothers-to-be may find themselves struggling to make sense of what they have learned.

As a perinatal clinical nurse specialist and a nurse scientist with 30-plus years of experience as a registered nurse, I investigate the American birthing experience with colleagues. For our research, we interview women about giving birth in the hospital, birthing centers or in their homes.

On one hand, we have found childbearing women very knowledgeable about birth. However, we have also found a few of the same women, particularly the young, who are very naive.

Some mothers from our studies reported that they had “chatted” with their “new friends” online and unquestioningly believed their advice. Sadly, this advice was taken out of context and the mothers did report that harm had followed.

This phenomenon of childbearing women self-educating on the Internet without support can impact their ability to relax during delivery. This can be harmful for the mother and her infant.

At times, women reported their fear was unfounded. Other times, they said they knew too much. In addition, we have witnessed the emergence of thousands of birthing apps that often do not reveal the developer or provide a contact link. I find this trend tremendously bothersome. It could have negative ramifications worldwide.

What can pregnant women do? They should talk to their providers about the credibility of websites and apps.

Follow in the footsteps of the pioneer women who sought out my great-grandmother Alice.

Seek out support from doulas, midwives, obstetric nurses, doctors, trusted friends and family members to help you navigate your options.

Susan Fleming is an assistant professor at the Washington State University College of Nursing and author of the book “Seattle Pioneer Midwife: Alice Ada Wood Ellis Midwife, Nurse & Mother to All.”



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