Sunday, June 22, 2008

HOMEOPATHY in midwifery

Joy Johnston

[This original article was first printed in MIDIRS Midwifery Digest, vol 18, no 2, June 2008, pp 185–187]


Complementary therapies which offer treatment alternatives in pregnancy and birth have been welcomed by many midwives and by women in our care (Tiran 2000). This is particularly so for those who seek to work with and protect the healthy natural processes in birth.

The increasing interest in, and availability of complementary therapies has led to Governments in many countries increasing the statutory regulation of alternative health practitioners (Williams et al 2004). This includes implementing systems which seek to protect public interest by registration of members of the professional group, accrediting courses of education, regulating products, and investigating and acting on claims of professional misconduct.

This article will focus on the use of homeopathy within the current maternity care system and will debate some of the issues that should be of concern to midwives who need to look objectively at the claims of homeopathy, and be conversant with the current, reliable advice and interventions as part of their recognised professional practice and accountability.

A brief history of homeopathy

Homeopathy was first developed and promoted by German physician, Dr Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843). Both proponents and opponents today agree that, regardless of their ability to cure illness, homeopathic treatments were and are likely to do less damage to ill people than many of the practices carried out in the name of conventional medicine at that time. These practices included bloodletting, purging, and blistering. Homeopathy has been called, with good reason, a ‘kinder, gentler medicine’ (Stehlin 1996).

To give context to Hahnemann’s revolutionary theories, he lived prior to the emergence of knowledge about bacteria, viruses and infection. In 1847 Semmelweis identified surgeons’ hands as the route of spread of puerperal infection, and in 1865 Lister developed his system of hand washing and asepsis. (Parker 2008) It is likely that patients of Dr Hahnemann and his followers fared significantly better than those who received the other treatments on offer at that time, and it would not have taken modern statistical methods to observe the difference!

Homeopathy today uses language and concepts that may have been more familiar to the European world of the late 18th and early 19th century, than contemporary concepts and languages. Words such as ‘remedy’, ‘proving’, ‘potency’, and ‘potentisation’ have special meanings in homeopathy (Jones 2007). ‘Repertories’ and ‘rubrics’ list illnesses, symptoms, and treatments. This use of language may be seen as quaint and distinctive, alternatively the same impression may lead one to question the currency, in terms of effectiveness, of homeopathic theory.

[Readers who would like the .pdf version of this complete paper may request it]

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