Why Sophie Walker wants to change Australia’s birthing education

Two years later, while pregnant with her second son, Louis, Walker wanted to feel more mentally and physically prepared. She immersed herself in birth education and the birth stories of others to see how different women navigated moments when they felt out of control or wanted to give up.


If confidence is trust in your ability to figure it out, whatever happens, Walker found it through education, and it was transformative.

“I did a lot less of tensing with the contractions. I really listened to my body and tried to lean into the physiology. I wasn’t kind of actively bearing down … the birth was just unfolding.”

It was a profoundly healing experience that sparked the idea of sharing her story and the stories of other Australian women. Sharing is cathartic and hearing the techniques other women use, especially when things don’t go to plan, could give those in the throes of labour more to draw on: “You need to empower yourself and go in informed. Going with the flow is not really a birth plan.”

But perhaps her ultimate hope was to prevent the trauma she – and so many other women – experience during birth.

So, she began her podcast as a hobby on the side of her part-time work in cancer research. Today it is a million-dollar business with a waiting list of 5000 women wanting to share their stories.

Walker, alongside prenatal yoga teacher Jodi Wilson, has also now written the book she wishes she could have read when she was pregnant:The Complete Australian Guide to Pregnancy and Birth, out on January 31.

It contains Australia-specific information about interventions, resources and hospital processes, but also explores the sort of experiences that are often shrouded in silence: like how one in four women experience miscarriage; how women are at greater risk of experiencing domestic violence during pregnancy and postpartum; the one in five women who have perinatal depression and anxiety; up to 7.5 per cent of all pregnant women who suffer eating disorders; and stillbirth, which affects six families around the country every day.

Pregnancy is not always just beautiful baby bumps and bliss, and as important as it is to hear all the positive stories and outcomes, Walker believes it is equally important to be informed about all the possibilities and challenges women can face during pregnancy.

“We wanted to – without scaring people – hold space for all of those different experiences,” she says, adding that the book focuses on the mother’s health and wellbeing as well as the baby’s.

Ensuring the mother’s health, and minimising the likelihood of emerging from their birth experience traumatised, starts with continuity of care. Research shows that having a care provider the woman knows and trusts throughout her pregnancy and birth reduces the likelihood of pre-term birth and of the baby dying. It also reduces the likelihood of interventions, and improves the mother’s mental health.

Claire Danes as Rachel Fleishman in ‘Fleishman Is In Trouble’ presented a picture of a woman struggling with post-natal depression after a difficult birth.

Currently, only about 15 per cent of pregnant women in Australia have access to continuity of care.

“We know statistically that women need continuity of care, whether that’s with a known midwife or obstetrician, whichever she chooses,” Walker says. “We want to reduce that… and yet we’re not supporting the system that that will carry us through. We’re not funding education for midwives, staff and access in the hospitals to give women what they need.”


While Walker strongly advocates for change in the way women are supported throughout their pregnancies and births, she also wishes other first-time mums had the knowledge she does now.

She wonders if her first birth might have been different had she had known that having an epidural and lying on her back might mean she would need an episiotomy and forceps, which might then lead to prolapse issues and, later, a sense of disempowerment about how it all played out.

“I didn’t entertain the idea that anything might go outside the square,” she says. “And so now I really encourage people to listen to a variety of stories and understand all the interventions. I think if I’d listened to more birth stories and done better education, I would’ve felt less shell-shocked after that birth.”

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