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Decompression Baby

I am a decompression baby; during the final months of my mother's pregnancy with me in 1968, she took part in a medical trial being conducted by her paediatrician, Dr. Faulkes.

The trial required my mother to spend about 30 minutes each day in a plastic bubble covered by an air-tight sleeping bag connected to an air pump (probably fashioned from a modified vacuum cleaner motor!). The pump sucked the air out of the enclosure, creating a mild vacuum inside the bag and lowering the atmospheric pressure on my mother's abdomen and the unborn child, i.e. me.

The goal of this clinical trial was to establish whether abdominal decompression during pregnancy and labour could result in:

  • Easier, safer pregnancies
  • Shorter, less painful labour/labour
  • Healthier, brighter children

Unfortunately my parents never discovered the results of the trial, and Dr. Faulkes never followed up after my birth to see if the decompression had achieved the desired results.

I rediscovered the photo of my mother pregnant with me in the decompression machine when I first started putting together my website, and became very interested in the technique of abdominal decompression during pregnancy and labour. What was the idea behind it? What was it supposed to achieve? How was it supposed to work? And were there other people like me?

Eventually, my web research led me to what appears to be the only published book on the subject:

Click the thumbnails below for larger images of the front and rear book jacket, which include some glowing testimonials about the technique from various doctors:

Apparently the technique of abdominal decompression during pregancy and childbirth was pioneered in the late 60's in South Africa by a Dr. O.S. Heyns. The technique then spread to the United Kingdom and the United States and more than 10,000 decompression babies were born before it slipped into disuse and obscurity.

So did it work? First, here is what my mother had to say about my birth (also her first childbirth):

I knew something was happening from the beginning of the day (Sunday), just niggly little pains.  It was not until around 9pm that I first called the midwife but she didn't come out and said it would be hours yet!  It was after midnight when we rang her again and by the time she arrived it was too late to use the decompression unit to offer relief during labour.  You were born around 3.45pm.   The doctor was called and he appeared with his trousers over his pyjamas and sat in the corner of the bedroom with a cup of tea at his elbow, a cigarette in one hand and you cradled in his other arm.  He did not come out for the birth of any of the other three [my younger siblings] - it was just because I had been using the decompression unit.

So, nothing too conclusive there -- either the midwife was too late arriving or I was too early for my mother to get into the decompression machine for the birth!

However, I remember being a very smart kid when I was very young -- almost to the point of being precocious, in fact -- and was consistently in the top 2 or 3 students in my class at school, right up until it stopped being cool to be clever around 11 or 12.

However, despite the claims at the time that it would revolutionize childbirth, the practice of abdominal decompression has fallen into disuse; it seems that everything was published from 1962 to 1974, and since then: Nothing.

Anyway, I'd love to hear from any of my fellow decompression babies, so if you are one, drop me a line at!

Update, November 2009

It's now three years since I first created this website, and I have not been contacted by any other "Decompression Babies."

However, my interest in the technique remains strong, and there is now more medical literature available on the Web. Most of the literature is legacy content that has been digitized, although there have been some more recent literature reviews.

It seems that the original studies performed by the pioneers of the technique were considered deeply flawed by the medical establishment, and subsequent studies with more rigorous scientific methodologies produced inconclusive or contradictory results:

Abdominal Decompression During Pregnancy, British Medical Journal, 11 May 1968.

Alan Coxon, J. W. Haggith. The Effects of Abdominal Decompression on Vascular Haemodynamics in Pregnancy and Labour. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Volume 78 Issue 1, DOI: 10.1111/j.1471-0528.1971.tb00190.x

Thankam R. Varma, Peter Curzen. The Effects of Abdominal Decompression on Pregnancy Complicated by the Small-for-Dates Fetus. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Volume 80 Issue 12, DOI: 10.1111/j.1471-0528.1973.tb02984.x

Abdominal Decompression in Pregnancy, British Medical Journal, 4 May 1974.

Hofmeyr GJ. Abdominal decompression for suspected fetal compromise/pre-eclampsia. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 1996, Issue 1. Art. No.: CD000004. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD000004.

Hofmeyr GJ, Kulier R. Abdominal decompression in normal pregnancy. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 1998, Issue 1. Art. No.: CD001062. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001062.





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