Labor Shaming

How to resist the peer pressure to have your birthing experience be “perfect.”


Labor shaming is subtle bullying that takes between women when one feels very strongly about a particular style of birth and condescends to women who choose a different birthing option, or who aren’t really concerned about how they give birth, only that the baby be born alive and healthy. And yes, this is a thing. Just ask any recent mom. There is pressure to go “natural” with a homebirth or without meds. It can be about doing a vbac instead of another caesarian. Regardless of the form it takes, it hits women when they are emotionally vulnerable and scared and most susceptible to peer pressure bullying.

As my child was born through scheduled caesarian – I was subjected to some of this sort of “well-meaning pressure.” I say well meaning, because this was more about what these individual women wanted and needed for themselves and the sort of pressure they were putting on themselves. It wasn’t really about me because these women didn’t even bother to ask me for my medical history to know WHY a scheduled c-section was planned. But this didn’t stop well-meaning women from telling me that I should attempt a VBAC and attempt to lecture me about why c-sections are bad. I was lucky in that I was very confident in my birth plan. A confidence I had only because I had already gone through hell with a still birth via emergency c-section. Some women, especially first time moms, may not have my level of confidence and/or – hell no you aren’t going to lecture me attitude I have/had about my son’s birth.

While I can’t address the psychological reasons labor shaming occurs, I can give advice on how to handle it. Labor shaming is a form of bullying. So for any woman out there who thinks she knows better than women who have chosen differently from you – you are on notice. Don’t bully your fellow moms.

How to stop labor shaming if you are targeted? The technique I teach is from behavioral psychology – specifically operant conditioning – a technique known as extinguishing a behavior. It’s how you will get the shame to stop. This is the same technique I teach to stop any type of bullying.

Basically – have something ready to say. Something along the lines of – “thank you for sharing, however, every pregnancy is different.”

This should be said while making eye contact with the shamer. It should be said in a calm matter of fact tone of voice – and you should practice it so that you can say it when challenged. You should repeat this exact phrase every single time they try to shame you or someone else. It’s a mantra and it’s not an accusation. It’s a simple statement of fact.

This is a polite way to let the shamer know – you aren’t going to take their advice, and you aren’t going to shame them back for their choices. In other words, it’s a way to shut down the discussion – if they start to shame you or others for their choices.

The shamer will likely try to argue that some ways are better (that is their way of trying to re-exert control over the conversation). That’s fine; it’s to be expected as it is predicted behavior under the operant conditioning model). Just repeat, “thank you for sharing, however, every pregnancy is different.” Do not argue with them. Just repeat the practiced line until they stop shaming others. And yes, this really does work.