Frédérick Leboyer, a French physician whose natural-birth methods were adopted in delivery rooms around the world, died May 25 at his home in Vens, Switzerland. He was 98.
His death was confirmed by his nephew, Antoine Leboyer.
Leboyer’s pointed criticism of the modern medical establishment was not to be found in peer-reviewed articles, in large-scale studies and trials, or in mountains of data. Rather, in his seminal work, “Birth Without Violence,” it appeared, unusually, in a form of prose poetry.
In the book, published in 1974, Leboyer argued that the modern delivery room bowed to the needs of doctors, women and procedures while often overlooking those of a primary player in the birth: the baby.
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“Could childbirth be as distressing for the child as for the mother?” he wrote in the first part of “Birth Without Violence.” “And if so, does anyone care? It doesn’t seem so, judging by the way we treat the new arrival.”
Leboyer argued that babies feel pain, anxiety and suffering, and that the manner in which they come into the world shapes the adults they will become. While he was not the first to advocate natural methods in childbirth, like eschewing unnecessary drugs and medical procedures, Leboyer set himself apart by focusing primarily on minimizing the baby’s suffering.
In the Leboyer method, the delivery room is kept quiet and dimly lit, to spare the baby from sensory overload. The newborn is not held upside down and spanked, and it is not whisked away to be examined directly after birth.
Instead, the baby is gently placed on the mother’s stomach and lightly massaged. The umbilical cord is cut only when it stops pulsating. After a few moments with the mother, the baby is given a warm bath.
Leboyer drew scorn from the medical establishment. His ideas, his critics said, could endanger the baby and leave doctors open to accusations of…