Thursday, November 20, 2008

There's one born every minute - Homeopathy & Pain-free child birth

Exactly. Pain free. That's what the article says - Pain free.

I am willing to put this down to an over-sycophantic headline writer, but the article in this week's Carlisle News & Star is a textbook case of what's wrong with the media, in particular, local media.

The article describes local homeopath Janine Whitfield MLCHom, MARH from New Path Homeopathy and her quest for the perfect childbirth.

Uncritical, sycophantic, factless, un-researched and vacuous, the feature takes us through Janine's plan for (I assume) her first childbirth experience. Now, we have been reproducing pretty successfully in one form or another since the primordial soup, and it's fair to say that we are getting better at it.

This graph is taken from Inequalities in infant mortality: trends by social class, registration, status, mother’s age and birthweight, England and Wales, 1976–2000, the .pdf of which can be found here. (I tried to find a suitable one on Perinatal mortality but time didn't permit). I was surprised to see even such a dramatic change in the 25 years or so the graph covers - so despite Janine's insistance on using quackery to safeguard her from the spills of modern childbirth, her chances are pretty good already, which is lucky given that she is giving everything over to sugar pills; even her independent midwife who will be present at her homebirth, is a homeopath.

Janine "understand[s] the way they work" which puts her ahead of every other person in the world (including other homeopaths) who can't agree on why they think it works, despite being continually demonstrated to be no better than placebo.

Then we get into the sticky ground - the ailments. Janine believes that the following, experienced during childbirth, can be relieved by homeopathic remedies:
nausea, low energy, swollen legs and high blood pressure

Well, the sugar in the pill might help with the low energy, but apart from that it's all looking pretty dodgy. Indeed her website goes further claiming
[Homeopathy] has also been used effectively with people suffering from severe illnesses such as cancer or HIV and AIDS, where it can help to treat the often distressing associated symptoms, and provides much-needed mental and emotional support for patients and their families.

But homeopathy doesn't treat symptoms, it treats the person, I thought? Up is down, black is white, square is round, same old nonsense.

Next we get to (admittedly, a new one on me) Biochemic Cell Salts. These are from the same stable of quackery as Hahnemann's homeopathy, but not quite as dilute:
The tissue salts are prepared in dilute form, are non toxic and safe to use during pregnancy.
The month by month programme can help circulation, reduce the chances of heartburn, help prevent swollen ankles and help prevent stretch marks.
They also have post natal benefits, helping with speeding up the recovery, healing, problems during breastfeeding and post-natal depression.

Woah! Post natal depression? Stretch marks? The journalist shows no incredulity and accepts this nonsense as perfectly reasonable. No questions, just resigned acceptance - any nonsense this woman said will be unreservedly copied and pasted to the readership. Post-natal depression - sure just take this useless pill and get on with life! This isn't a self-limiting minor problem, someone in this state needs care, support, help - not quackery.

There is an argument going on in meeja circles about the future of regional media outlets. The BBC is expanding its local online news services much to the chagrin of the local newspapers' owners. One would hope that whatever happens, local newspapers would be forced to raise their game a touch - printing uncritical nonsense like this does no-one any favours (except, perhaps giving the homeopath a few extra clients), does nothing for the public understanding of science and (at least in this case) some competition from a (usually) more thorough news outlet would serve the local population an awful lot better.

Earlier in the week, I blogged about the Tragic Case of Russell Jenkins, a man whose belief in alternative medicine and shunning of modern medicine appears to have led to his death. I hope in the extremely unlikely event of a problem during the birth, both Janine and her homeopath midwife have the sense to revert to real medicine and forget the quackery.



  1. Worrying. I wish Janine the best of luck.

    Although fairly low risk, things do sometimes go wrong during childbirth, and I really hope she's not too woo-addled to ask for proper medical help if required.

    Let's not forget the tragic case of Jaspar Tomlinson; an important warning to people who shun conventional medicine.

  2. When I was learning acupuncture, one of my tutors became pregnant. Despite every alternative therapy known to mankind, her morning sickness developed into hyperemesis gravidarum and she spent a large proportion of her pregnancy in hospital on a drip.

    Let's wish Janine well. I hope she does a follow-up article in due course.

  3. The National Childbirth Trust has a section on homeopathy on its site and I'm sure I've seen ads for CAM there too. It doesn't actively endorse it but the wording is open to interpretation.

  4. 50% of people with depression have suicidal ideas. About 20% of people with depression will die from suicide. Some of the factors that increase the risk of suicide include being male, substance abuse, and having recurrent episodes of depression. We know that in the Asia Pacific region, there are more people who die from suicide than from Tuberculosis. Thus, treating depression reduces suicide.