Dolphin-Assisted Childbirth Is a Bad Idea

Peruvian Ety Napadenschi, who is eight months pregnant, is touched by a dolphin named Wayra during a therapy session for pregnant women at a hotel in Lima. The therapy is supposed to stimulate the brain of the baby inside the belly. REUTERS/Pilar Olivares

Dolphins are beautiful, highly intelligent and magical creatures. They can follow a cuttlefish recipe, recognize themselves in mirrors and create nicknames for their peers. Scans have determined that, proportionally, the brains of dolphins are almost as big as those of humans. But should you trust cetacean intelligence with the tall order of, say, assisting a woman in childbirth?

One woman in Hawaii seemed to think so. Dorina Rosin and her husband Maika Suneagle said they planned to rely on the unpaid and untrained help of dolphins to deliver their baby in the Pacific Ocean. The couple, who live on Hawaii's big island and run a spiritual healing center, had planned to employ their flippered midwife on-the-fly by showing up at the ocean once Rosin went into labor. For an added bonus, Rosin said her baby would be able to "speak dolphin" as a result of immediate exposure to the animals.

Rosin is one of several women featured in a documentary about unusual birthing practices. She also communed with the creatures in dolphin blessing ceremony in preparation for her labor. Fortunately for the baby, mom went into labor in the middle of the night, and with no time to head to the sea she had to give birth on dry land.

Dolphin-assisted birth, a newer take on water births, is apparently a trend growing in popularity. The Sirius Institute in Hawaii, a New Age center dedicated to encouraging the bonds between dolphins and humans, offers assisted childbirth. However, it's unclear if any women have actually gone through with it. One couple from North Carolina traveled to the center for prenatal bonding but the actual birth with dolphins didn't happen.

According to its website, "pioneering" Russian midwife Igor Tscharkofsy began assisting births in the Black Sea with dolphins that lived there: "Some of the reported occurrences include a mother and a baby playing with the dolphins within 45 minutes of the birth, another instance of a free dolphin escorting a newborn human baby to the surface for its first breath."

A research assistant working along with Tscharkofsy claimed the babies born in the ocean reached developmental milestones, such as walking and talking, six months ahead of babies born in regular settings.

Dolphin-assisted birthing could come with the risk for both mom and child of drowning and of awful illness or infection. The sea and all of its creatures have a wealth of potentially harmful bacteria and pathogens. And anyone who wants to take a birth out to sea should consider that the dolphin may not be too keen to help out, either. We like to think dolphins are friends of humans but the animal kingdom is unpredictable. Even people who are trained to work with sea mammals suffer injuries, including those working in seemingly innocuous swim-with-dolphins programs. It's also conceivable that another sea creature—such as a shark—could try to "help."

Dolphin-assisted birth is an outgrowth of dolphin-assisted therapy; there are a number of centers throughout the world that offer the service without any credible science to back it up. There are forms of animal therapy that are much better-studied, and safer. Interaction with the certain animals—like dogs—is purported to be therapeutic, especially for children with physical, developmental and psychological disorders.