Childbirth reality TV shows overdramatize labor and delivery

Have you ever watched any the reality childbirth TV shows? These compelling television shows document real women during pregnancy, labor and birth experiences. Formerly a staple of daytime cable programming, a new childbirth reality series premiered this year in a prime time spot on a popular cable network. 

I'll admit that I used to be addicted to childbirth television. My husband teasingly accused me of wanting to work even when I was home. I loved watching the exciting and sometimes heart-wrenching snapshots of babies entering the world. 

But eventually I started to get annoyed with these shows. Cameras record every minute of the birth experience, but viewers only get a thirty minute synopsis that has been edited to elicit as much drama, excitement and emotion as possible. 

Many of my pregnant patients love these shows, claiming that it prepares them for childbirth in a way that no class can. I disagree. I think these shows are deceptive and often show a skewed perspective.  

Rarely does a labor and birth last thirty minutes or less and much of the labor process can be downright boring. If a television network aired all of a labor and delivery, most people would change the channel rather quickly. But I find that after watching enough of these shows, patients expect their labors to be like the ones they see on TV. 

Many of these shows place an undue emphasis on pain and the complications of birth. I'm not saying childbirth is comfortable, easy or always simple, but I believe that the more we expect to feel pain, the more pain we will feel.  Not every woman screams and cries during birth, though a few minutes of childbirth television will have you believe otherwise.   

Midwives, doulas and women seeking natural childbirth are frequently portrayed by these shows as weird or crazy hippies. One even showed nurses mocking a woman who wanted to labor in the shower and demeaning a couple that was trying to advocate for the type of birth they wanted.

Is it any wonder that some of my patients who watch these show worry about how they will be treated by the hospital staff? 

Watch childbirth reality shows for fun, but not for facts. They differ from “ER” or “Grey's Anatomy” in that they portray real couples and real births, but like television medical dramas, they are designed to entertain and generate ratings.

Have you had similar experiences with your expecting patients? Tell us about it in the comments section below.

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