In recent years, Greek media have been increasingly talking about how widespread Caesarean birth is among women. In most cases, it is not applied in connection with the health of the mother and child but rather for the convenience of obstetricians to plan births. It is not an accidental finding that most children in Greece are born between 07.00 am and 3.00 pm as this allows doctors to work in their private offices without unexpected surprises.
"At the moment, Greece ranks first in Caesarean birth globally. Officially, the Caesarean birth rate is 50% but it is actually 70%. Until a few years ago, Brazil ranked first, but Greece has already taken the lead," said Elsa Pimenidou, a journalist and presenter of the information broadcasting "5 +" in the Greek public television ERT and a member of the organization Birthchoices.
It was founded in Thessaloniki in 2008 and its main purpose is to inform women about the benefits of natural birth and the continuing commercialization of obstetric services in Greece. To my question whether women have shown stronger interest in these topics lately, Elsa replied that not a particularly strong trend is observed. "It is mostly due to the crisis, because some benefits for birth in public hospitals and under the national health system have been cut. But we are very far from our goal. Many women still give birth by Caesarean section, without a medical reason. Moreover, health funds pay all their costs, because they accept Caesarean section as an ordinary operating intervention. "
Another objective of the organization is to inform women about breastfeeding as a process that is not only the best nutrition and protection for the child, but also creates a unique relationship between the mother and child. Unfortunately, the situation here is not very good either.
"The percentage of women who breastfeed their children is very low in Greece. It is about 20% and it is possible that this figure is exaggerated. Only three out of ten mothers continue to breastfeed their children after the age of six months, although it is recommended that breastfeeding should continue for at least one year.
The reason lies in the fact that women in Greece are not well informed and that at hospitals and clinics, babies are fed with infant milk as soon as they are born. I gave birth in a private clinic and had to say hundreds of times that I did not want my baby to be fed with infant milk."
Elsa described how health workers themselves direct child feeding to infant milks, not encouraging the uninformed and in most cases confused mothers:
"After leaving the hospital, the baby is used to drinking from a bottle, from which milk flows like water, while it takes several days for the mother’s milk to "come down" to the breast. It is difficult for the baby to suck, the mother gets nervous and at one point, she decides to stop breastfeeding and to start feeding the baby with infant milk. Patience and perseverance are necessary. Babies gradually get used to it and the mother’s milk starts flowing normally over time. We do not deny bottle-feeding as some women have no alternative because they have to go back to work and have virtually no ability to breastfeed. But it would be better to at least express mother’s milk and give it to children instead of feeding them with infant milk."
According to the organization, clinics use other, completely illegal methods to help, but not free of charge, producers of infant milk promote their products. "Midwives and nurses provide the producers with mothers’ personal data. The companies, in turn, send to their homes packages of milk and bottles as a gift. "The truth is that this happens only in Greece. It is illegal, but they do it."
The organization indicates the presence of a group of factors that take women to infant milk. The involvement of pediatricians in it is crucial. The offices of many of them are full of posters and flyers. "Even in children's health books the standards for their development are on the basis of infant milk, not on feeding them with mother’s milk, which vary according to the World Health Organization. I have heard that a household pays around € 300 per month for infant milk, which is not a small amount. Therefore, we tell women to breastfeed, at least because breastfeeding is free and they do not have to deal with sterilizing bottles etc. "
The organization hopes that due to the crisis and the reduced staff in hospitals, the babies will stay with their mothers most of the time and they will breastfeed them. "Until now, the babies were in a separate room, where nurses fed them with infant milk and the mothers breastfed them every 3-4 hours. We do not say that midwives are against breastfeeding, but they tell the mothers to do it every four hours. This is silly. During the first month, and shortly thereafter, babies should be breastfed whenever they want."
The organization has made leaflets; it has a website and organizes events and speeches to inform women before and after giving birth. It also involves health professionals who provide information including the World Health Organization standards for infant milks and the dangers of Caesarean birth for the mother and the child before the 39th week of pregnancy.