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Thank you Michel Odent

Thank you Michel Odent for your concept of Primal Health and your research database.

Michel Odent’s first talk to our budding birth support group in Cambridge in 1988 was entitled ‘Childbirth at a turning point’. I still remember the slides of women’s faces and bodies through labour as they were supported to ‘move to another planet’ in the darkened rooms and birth pools of the Pithiviers maternity wing in central France.  Michel’s presentation of the hormonal process of a birth with minimal interference was new and breathtaking at the time.  His argument, inspired from ethology (Niko Tinbergen in particular), that the mammal quality of human birth needed to be considered with its implications for the future health and wellbeing of both mother and baby, convinced me even though as an anthropologist I had issues with his statements about maternal instincts. Since the first edition of his book ‘Primal Health’ (1986)1, Michel has indefatigably collected and published research showing the fundamental importance of the physiological processes in the perinatal period, from conception to the second year, in his London-based Primal Health Research Centre (founded in1987). From 1993 onwards, the arrival of the quarterly Primal Health Newsletter in the post was a high, sparking connections between other books and articles I was reading at the time (Vivette Glover, Marie Claire Busnel, Marshall Klaus, David Chamberlain, Terry Brazelton, Ashley Montagu 2, Tiffany Fields).  The positive focus on health creation in these newsletters (now freely accessible through informed and shaped my weekly classes for pregnant women, birth partners and post-birth classes, on land and in water, as well as my role as a birth attendant (the term Doula had just been introduced from the USA by Sharon Ledbetter and was not yet popular). Designing ways of translating this research into embodied practices for new parents and babies seemed to me the most important thing to do in the whole world besides being a mother even though I loved my ‘day job’ as a medical anthropologist. Seeing the wondrous effects of very simple practices that helped mothers, couples and babies thrive through this critical primal phase was a real privilege.

Thank you, Michel, for always been at the end of the phone to answer questions and for always reinforcing the positive outlook that infused Birthlight from the start.

'There are obvious similarities between the "studies testing the fetal/infant origins of disease hypothesis" and "Primal Health Research". One of the main differences is that our key word is "health" instead of "disease". This gives an opportunity to stress that my first preoccupation has been to understand the genesis of a good health, while the "Barker hypothesis" leads to focus on the origins of a small number of specific illnesses, particularly metabolic and cardiovascular pathological conditions. Improving our understanding of health may appear more fruitful than studying the origins of particular diseases.’ (See Gluckman et al 2008) 3

Thank you, Michel for creating an easy to use, formidable research database in which new relevant articles increasingly strengthen the hypothesis that ‘our health (including our capacity to love) is shaped during the primal period’. The five areas of training, practice and research of Birthlight draw on the important concept of Primal Health.Articles published in authoritative medical and scientific journals, accessible in the Primal Health Research Database, inform (and sometimes to confirm) our Birthlight practices before and after birth. The more we share this information with colleagues and parents, the greater the awareness that nurturing the foundations of life is a social priority.

Access to the Primal Health Research Database is free.

Françoise Freedman

  1. Odent M. Primal Health. Century Hutchinson. London 1986 (paperback 1987). Odent M. Primal Health. 2nd edition. Clairview Books. Forest Row (UK) 2002.
  2. Montagu, Ashley 1987 paperback ed. (first 1971). Touching: Human significance of the skin. New York: Harper & Row.
  3. Gluckman PD, Hanson MA, Cooper C, Thornburg KL. Effect of In Utero and Early-Life Conditions on Adult Health and Disease. NEJM 2008; 359: 61-73