Birth Without Violence by Frederick Leboyer

Read this book if:  you would like to learn more about influencing the environment in which your child first enters this world (dim lights, light sound, interventions like erythromycin in the eyes delayed or denied).   If you like the summary, support the author by purchasing a copy on Amazon.

The version I have is from 1975 so some parts may seem outdated.  However, it’s a short read and a beautifully written book. Read the full book for the poetic verses (the book is split into 3 sections and you should be able to get through in a night or two).


Part 1 “To be born is to suffer – Gautama”

  • Do you believe birth is an enjoyable experience – for the babies? Do you really believe babies feel nothing when they are born? Young children feel 1000x more than us, even on things trivial.
  • Are cries an expression of pain? What makes us assume that birth is less painful for the child than it is for the mother?
  • Babies can communicate without words.
  • Tight shut eyes, twitching eye brows. Howling mouth, squirming head. Hands stretching to us.. Kicking feet. It is we who do not listen.
  • Watch
  • Mother, father and practitioner share joy in new baby’s birth.   All smile but the child.
  • Mother is safe. Doctor has done his job. Everyone is smiling because it’s over. Mother is proud of herself. Father proud for new generation. If he hasn’t created anything before, he has now. Everyone is pleased with themselves. But the child…
  • Today a woman can give birth joyfully – without pain. But how can she be joyful if baby is in pain. We must do for the baby what we do for the mother
  • Begin by understanding. Understanding why the newborn infant suffers so much. Listen to what they have been crying out for so long.
  • The intensity makes being born so frightful. Babies feel everything. Birth is a tidal wave of sensation, surpassing anything we can imagine. This is rendered even more intense by contrast with what life was like before.
  • Claims that newborn infant is blind. You see baby’s eyes opening, and shutting violently when entering world. His face an indescribable picture of suffering with familiar cry. The infant does perceive light. Vividly. The baby is so sensitive to light that he or she perceives it while in the womb. His eyes are exposed to flood lights upon arrival! His eyes have just been burned. A newborn child is not blind; he is blinded.
  • Is baby deaf? Their ears have already been serving them for a long time. They hear joints cracking, intestines rumbling, mother’s heart beat, and her voice. Unborn baby is marked by mother’s voice, its nuances, its inflections, its moods. They hear sound – sounds modulated, transformed. Sounds muted until birth- protective shield of mother’s stomach is gone. Who bothers to lower their voice in delivery room? There is more shouting than speaking. Push! And when baby comes, general excitement. How does baby react? By cradling its head in its hands.
  • Poor baby to be born to loudness and bright lights. Its skin –almost without a protective surface layer- is as exposed and raw as tissue that has suffered a burn. The slightest touch makes him quiver. Suddenly, he is wrapped in harsh fabrics.
  • The air, which enters and sweeps through the trachea, and expands the alveoli, is like acid poured on a wound. Look at a smoker than inhales smoke for the first time damaging his membranes. Or a child who accidently swigs alcohol.
  • When infant emerges, doctor seizes it by one foot and holds it dangling, head down. His body is slippery, coated with vernix caseosa, the thick, white grease that covers him form head to toe. Baby feels vertigo from being upside down. People may be familiar with this nightmare. People are unfamiliar with their own bodies. The spine rules our every mood – whether vibrant and gay, lethargic and sad. Strength is “in the back”, fear “between the shoulder blades.”  Our states of minds are really the states of our back. “Before” was what backbone experienced when infant was trying to find his way into the world – when baby was in utero. Now, it is straightened.
  • Baby passes through 2 stages in utero: two seasons of equal duration, which oppose each other like winter and summer. First is “Golden Age” –the embryonic stage when embryo becomes fetus and begins to move –it’s freedom is limitless. For this first half of pregnancy, the egg (membrane which contains fetus and fluids in which it is bathed) grows more rapidly than the child. Its kingdom grows faster. So baby never suffers sense of confinement. Photographs show completely relaxed expression. Midway through pregnancy everything changes. Infant continues to grow and develop rapidly. But egg that contains him grows only slightly by comparison. Baby begins to feel closed in; slowly the universe is contracting. Walls draw nearer by the day to the point that infant’s back and mother’s uterus seem to be fused together. The spine curls up, the head bends, the whole body makes itself small. Contractions come and return – baby comes to expect them. They last a month – the ninth month. Painless for the mother, they prepare the child for the contractions of actual labor, which will be 10x more intense.
  • Labor starts. Delivery has begun. An intransigent force – wild, out of control – has gripped the infant. Impels it downward. No longer can infant bend its back. It huddles as tightly as it can. Tucks his head. Shoulders hunched together – a little ball of fright. Baby is twisted – infant’s head and body execute a corkscrew motion to clear the narrow passage of the pelvis.
  • The whole world burst open. Child is born. Where am I? Take me back!
  • Infant is crazed with pain – suddenly nothing is supporting his back. And head is almost dangling. Baby is reunited with mother.
  • Baby is put on a scale – often of steel – a cold that burns like fire. Cries redouble. Drops put in eyes – several drops of burning liquid are squeezed in. Eyes forced to open.
  • Infant is alone. Hiccupping, choking. If someone approaches, they tremble even more. Curls into a ball – adopts fetal position. Has taken himself back into the womb.
  • But not for long. Baby is picked up again. Dressed. In things tight, rough, heavy – but so pretty! Baby protests. Cries into it collapses into sleep. Its only refuge. Its only friend.
  • This is birth. The torture of an innocent. What futility to believe that so great a cataclysm will not leave its mark. Its traces are everywhere – the skin, bones, stomach, back…


Part 2 – “The question and the answer are one”

  • It isn’t child who needs preparation while in the womb. It’s us. Let’s see how a modest increase of sensitivity can make an immense difference.
  • Infants begin to miss their former homes, as do prisoners. Both behave in ways that will ensure their imprisonment. Speak with love to baby – the only language they know…through touch. Lovers seek darkness, close their eyes when they want to embrace. They create night for themselves. They are silent. Light strokes. If any sound, a sound of pleasure. Respond with tenderness. Let’s not terrify the child who has come among us.
  • Lamps and floodlights not necessary. As soon as head appears and danger has passed, extinguish all lights except a small night light, which will be enough. It is better a mother discovers her child by touch. Better to touch and feel than look. Later she will have plenty of time to look when baby’s face is relaxed. Speak to baby softly. Both mother and child gain from meeting this way, but more so to child, whose eyes are spared from burning light.
  • Be silent. Not as easy as it sounds. To be silent in another’s company is so unsettling, we rarely attempt it. Women who have birthed their babies in silence feel panicked when don’t hear baby cry upon arrival. How deeply it is ingrained in us that baby must cry. Be aware and listen.
  • Silence important for mother as for obstetrician and attendants. Loud outbursts such as “push” upset mother rather than relax her. Those who assist in deliveries must learn this new silence.
  • This is a sacred place. Be patient with the slowness. Darkness. Quiet. We are never truly “here”. Always in past with our memories or in future with plans – always “before” or “after” – never now. We must rediscover the newborn baby as if it were the first baby we have ever seen. Forget everything else, yourself included. Only the baby remains. Become…this new person.
  • Silence. Ourselves. Time stands still. Child can make its entrance.
  • Now is the moment. Baby emerges – first head, then arms. Help to free by sliding a finger under each armpit, gently upward. Never touch the head. Settle baby immediately on mom’s belly, which has exact shape and dimensions. Like a nest. And rises and falls with moms breath. Umbilical cord left intact.
  • Cutting umbilical cord immediately has ill effects immeasurable. Have physician be patient. Respect baby’s life rhythm. When air rushes into baby’s lungs, it feels like burning fire. Infant’s body temperature and mom’s were always identical until now. Through taking his first breath, he crosses a threshold.
  • Blood arrives in the lungs – dull, depleted of oxygen, heavy with carbon dioxide and other waste products that render it old. Heart sends rejuvenated blood to thirst tissues of entire organism. It draws the old, depleted blood back toward source of renewal, the lungs via the minor circulatory system. Placenta functions as lungs – blood arrives and leaves by way of umbilical cord, which is nothing more than 3 tubes: a vein and 2 arteries in a sheath. The blood regenerates itself in the placenta – the mother breathes for her baby. At birth, the blood which until then has flowed through the umbilicus now ventures into the lungs. Does blood hurl itself like some mad thing into the lungs? Birth can be tragic or peaceful depending on this.
  • Nature, they say, doesn’t move in sudden leaps. But birth. If baby fails to receive oxygen (anoxia), the result is irreparable damage to the brain, so must be avoided. So have oxygen from 2 places at once: umbilicus and lungs. Umbilicus supplying baby until lungs have taken over. Umbilical cord will beat for several minutes after birth – 4, 5 or even more. Baby can settle into breathing without stress. Orifice closes in heart which seals off old route forever. Give child time to adjust.
  • When we cut umbilical cord changes everything about way respiration comes to baby. If severed as soon as baby is born, it brutally deprives brain of oxygen. Entire system reacts.
  • Doubly supplied with oxygen, brain is never threatened, not for a minute. Blood changes course without sudden disruption. Baby utters a cry when infant emerges because the thorax – which until now has been constricted by external pressure- is suddenly relaxed and opens wide. A void is created, air rushes in. Wounded, child responds by breathing out – a cry. Then a pause (sometimes 2-3 cries before pause). Soon, breathing is joyous and abundant. Hear other noises – that baby makes with lips, nose, throat. Does baby have to cry? Yes, but not weep.
  • Baby loses memory of former world. When umbilical cord stops beating, we cut it.
  • Allow the child to enter. Leave the child. Alone. Don’t’ intrude: stay back. Let time pass. Grant this moment slowness.
  • Once respiratory is functioning, all has succeeded. How to place baby on mom’s belly? Never on his back. This would straighten the spinal column, which has been curved for so long. Place child on its belly, arms and legs folder under. Have baby unbend itself. Watch the breathing. Hands reach out to touch mom’s belly (usually right first). Then legs, which kick because there is no barrier anymore. Lend support – touch. Then everything is moving harmoniously. Baby may be placed on side. Move baby slowly, always lending support – placing hand under baby’s buttock and other high against his back. Don’t touch head, which is extremely sensitive, where they bore weight of birth drama – can arouse memories. Put infant on back when all is functioning well, not permanently. Next, raise baby upright. Ease slowly into sitting position and support wavering head.
  • Touch is baby’s first contact with the unknown. Remember slowness, continuous movement of uterine contraction. Womb that embraced. Sensual, amorous relationship. A deep, slow massage.  Travel infants back, one after the other, following like waves. One hand in contact as other begins. “Make love to the child” – return paradise. To make love is to rediscover peace and harmony.
  • Hands remain immobile. They reveal everything – nervousness or calm, clumsiness or confidence, tenderness or violence. They know if the hands are loving. Or rejecting. In attentive and loving hands, child abandons itself, opens itself up. In rigid and hostile hands, child retreats. Hands that are attentive , alive, alert, responsive to the slightest quiver. Hands light, that neither command nor demand. Simply there. In silence.
  • Whose hands? Mothers, naturally. Most cases, woman naturally knows her own body. Even if joy overcomes her, she will not overwhelm child. Do not move. Just be there. Hands of peace.
  • Stimulus that sets labor in motion comes from the child. Acceleration of heartbeat indicates enormous effort and terror it feels. Pacify child immediately. Through your hands, reassure child.
  • First contact with mother and child important. Some moms scared to touch newborn. By touching her child, the woman has at last discovered herself. Has made herself whole.
  • The child is about to leave mother once more. The mother and child have rediscovered each other. Let’s not place a newborn on a metal scale, with all its hard coldness. Nor in fabrics that feel rough after the mother’s smoothness and warmth. Let us place the infant in water! The baby has emerged from water. A bath has been prepared in a basin at body temperature -98 or 99 degrees. Extremely slowly. The infant floats. As in early pregnancy, when baby could move about without restriction in a limitless sea. Infant forgets mother – he is back inside her! First separation becomes a joy. Child opens eyes wide. First look is unforgettable. A person is now there.
  • Child now begins to explore new kingdom, his new home. Head turns – to the right, left, slowly twisting as much as neck will allow. Hand stirs – opens, closes and emerges from the water. Arms follow. Hand caresses the sky, feeling the space around. Legs begin to move. Then feet. Child is playing! A happy, blissful child. Face begins to come alive. Mouth opens, closes. Lips part. Tongue flicks out. Hand encounters face, finds mouth and begins to suck thumb. Child wants whole hand inside. How long to leave child in bath? For child to decide. Be sure relaxation is complete – that there is no resistance in body.
  • Now that all fear has been dispelled, time to leave comforting waters. 4th Baby finds gravity. Lift baby slowly from water. Baby cries. Plunge back into water – body weight gone again. Place in warm diaper. Wrap in layers of cotton and wool – the world is a cold place. Do not cover head or hands, which must be free to move and play. Place baby on side – not back. Leave baby to itself. 5th stage- now immobile. Mom’s body was always in motion in utero. Now everything stops. Baby begins to cry. Cradle the baby. Baby soon learns to appreciate stillness. Baby has reached serenity. This is a grace which radiates in silences that crowns with a halo every child who arrives among us.


Part 3 – “In the pursuit of learning, every day something is acquired. In the pursuit of Tao, every day something I s dropped. Less and less is done. Until nonaction is achieved. When nothing is done, nothing is left undone. The world is ruled by letting things take their course. It cannot be ruled by interfering.” –Tao Te Ching


  • Baby is returned to mother and hears familiar beat of her heart. All is perfect. Now we understand their cries – they are telling us they are in pain in suffering and feel terror. Exercising fear frees women from agony of childbirth, so that now, at times, it can become almost an ecstasy. By sparing the child this severe terror, we can transform its birth into a comparable rich delight.
  • To protect newborn children from fear, we must unveil the world slowly and not overwhelm them with more new sensations that they can handle. Reinforce memories of the past to link past and present. Sensation is total for the infant: not filtered or organized like that of an adult.
  • “How is it that Man, a rational animal of reputed intelligence, acts so irrationally at so important a moment?” Because we all have experienced birth, it is deep inside us. As the climax of every delivery approaches, emotions intensify. Wondering if baby will breathe – remembering our own births, fighting for breath. They cut the cord and baby howls – he can no longer breathe. But practitioner wants to hear the baby breathe on his own. He has rid himself of his own anguish by projecting it onto the child. This process of transference will be endlessly repeated. And the sum of these repetitions is what we, in our ignorance, call education.
  • Must the infant cry? Yes – a good cry – resonant, vigorous, the whole body participating. If not, every step is taken to produce a clear, satisfactory sound. Then the child must breathe. No wails! No sobs! Differentiate between the cry of life, the cry of satisfaction, sorrow, pain and fear. Can every child awake to life as peaceably as the one we have described? Everything is possible. Each person is different, unpredictable, mysterious, has their own destiny. For a brief moment, all newborns has a disturbing oneness – the depersonalizing mask of terror. When this mask falls, we can discover the individual beneath. Each baby travels this path in its own manner. Each infant arrives with its own temperament. Once the child has opened his eyes, the battle is over and won. There are no ugly babies – only those deformed by fear.
  • To live freely is to breathe freely. Not with the shoulders or the chest but with the abdomen, with the sides, with the back. It requires a straight back, a free spinal column, flexible. Just as no two people have the same face, there are no two identical patterns of breathing. Most of the time badly. Your way of breathing was established – at the moment you were born.
  • Birth without violence breeds children who are strong, because they are free, without conflict. Free and fully awake. People who feel aggression makes you stronger springs from a failure of intelligence. Natural childbirth – childbirth without pain – stands as proof of this.
  • I say only one thing: “Try.” Only a little patience and humility. A little silence. Unobtrusive but real attention. Awareness of the newcomer as a person. Unselfconsciousness. And love is necessary, too. Without love, the child will still howl. Babies can sense any suppressed emotions. The baby has a miraculous sureness in understanding us. The baby knows everything. Feels everything – knows the color of our thoughts – all without language. The newborn baby is a mirror, reflecting our image. It is for us to make its entrance into the world a joy.
  • Babies coming out smiling doesn’t happen very often, at least not yet.

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