Fewer than 1% of babies have a ‘practically perfect’ birth, study finds

‘Irish Medical Journal’ research says unrealistic expectations among first-time mothers present challenges

The rate of "practically perfect" births among Irish women is estimated to be less than 1 per cent, according to a study published in the Irish Medical Journal.

The study entitled 'How would Mary Poppins fare in labour? Practically perfect? Unlikely' examined more than 18,000 instances of labour at the National Maternity Hospital over a two year period.

The study states that “unrealistic expectations of labour in first-time mothers can present challenges to physicians and midwives”.

It found the number of “practically perfect” births among those giving birth for the first time was 0.8 per cent, a figure the authors described as “astonishing”.


The authors defined a “practically perfect” birth as a delivery after 37 weeks that involved a spontaneous labour without intervention, an intact perineum and a positive neonatal outcome.

Obstetrician Dr Aoife Mullally, who practises at the Coombe Women’s and Infants Hospital in Dublin and at Portlaoise Hospital, last week said there was anxiety among many women about having epidurals, C-sections or being induced. Many were “disappointed” if they had these interventions, despite going home with a healthy baby and healthy themselves, she said.


Among the 18,698 births there were 8,292 nulliparous women, or women who had not given birth before. Some 7,616 of these women delivered after 37 weeks.

Of these women, 4,171 went into spontaneous labour, while 2,753 were induced and 692 had a Caesarean section as a primary procedure. Some 2,111 women were noted to have an artificial rupture of membranes in labour and 857 received oxytocin.

After excluding these, there were 1,203 remaining. A total of 172 women had a fetal blood sample taken, leaving 1,031.

Of the 1,031 women who had a spontaneous labour without any of the interventions mentioned above, 57 had an emergency Caesarean section, 86 had a ventouse delivery, 33 had a forceps delivery, two were spontaneous breech deliveries and five were born before arrival to hospital.

The study included those who received epidurals during their labour. Neither antenatal nor postnatal complications were included which is a potential limitation to the study.