Consider two women, both planning a natural birth in their local hospital.
The first woman is excited about her birth. She trusts her body and expects to have no trouble getting the natural birth she wants. She does not however do much beyond a typical hospital birthing class in order to prepare for that birth.
The second woman trusts her body too, but is a little nervous and does everything she can to prepare. She reads, she takes a class that prepares herself and her partner, she hires a doula and is very careful about the hospital she chooses and her group of care providers. When these two women arrive at their prospective hospitals and have the exact same labor, who do you think will have the natural birth she planned for?
For a variety of reasons, many women either need or want to have a hospital birth. In my years of teaching natural birth classes, and preparing for my own natural birth in a hospital, I have found that there are many things a woman can do to better her chances of having an empowering natural birth in a hospital. The truth is that two women can have very similar labor patterns but totally different birth experiences simply because of the choices they make surrounding that birth.
Here are a few tips that are universally important for the many women who plan a natural hospital birthing experience.
Choose Your Care Provider Carefully
First, decide what you are looking for in your birth and then find a care provider known for delivering that kind of birth. This choice is important, but also somewhat tricky. Asking your neighbor or sister who she used and going with that person, “just because,” is not the best way to do this. Find people who had the type of birth you want and then ask them who supported them in that birth.
Carefully consider midwives too. For a low risk woman, a hospital based CNM (Certified Nurse Midwife) can be a wonderful choice and the perfect way to increase your chances of a natural birth. Midwives tend to be much more familiar with what normal birth is and how to support it, rather than only aware of pathologies that may arise.
Don’t ever choose a care provider without asking questions, talking to other people, and plugging in to the knowledge of your local birth experts such as doulas and childbirth educators. This process should be thoughtful and deliberate. Find out their personal policies and opinions on postdates, episiotomy, birthing positions, and induction. Find out their cesarean section rate. Ask questions and get real answers. You won’t regret it.
Your Hospital Matters
Perhaps the most important choice you can make in your quest for a great birth is your birth place. Not all hospitals are the same and the policies that they enforce can literally make or break your chances for the birth you want.
Policies that will impact your birth experience and decrease your chances of a natural birth include: mandatory IVs, continuous fetal monitoring, hourly vaginal exams, supine labor and pushing positions, high induction and Pitocin usage rates, and high cesarean section rates.
Even if you enjoy the company of your care provider, if the hospital itself employs many of these policies, your birth will likely be impacted and probably negatively. What few women realize is that the bulk of your labor will not be spent with the doctor or midwife you have chosen, but with a nurse assigned to you. She will enforce hospital policies, not a conversation that you had at one point with your provider. This fact makes fighting hospital policy incredibly difficult and exactly what it sounds like:- a battle.
Do you want to battle for your birth while in labor?
Finding the right hospital may very well mean driving some distance or changing providers, but this is well worth the effort, time, and dedication. In addition, since almost all hospital based providers work call rotation, the chance of them actually attending your birth is probably fairly low. If you have chosen a hospital that supports natural birth, even if your care provider of choice isn’t present, you can know that the entire staff will support your wishes.
Take an Independent Birth Class
Many hospitals provide their own birth classes, and I do recommend that people take them. However, these classes are often not long enough to cover your needs for labor and delivery, and they sometimes prepare couples more for common interventions than to enjoy and be active participants in their own birth.
An independent class led by an instructor who has also had a natural birth will give you some outside, experienced opinions and knowledge. Such as class can also prove a priceless support group of like minded people, invaluable to a woman aiming for a natural birth. Not only do the friends you make in a birth class help you feel positive and informed, they are an excellent resource and source of support after the baby is born.
Look for a class that is comprehensive, lasts longer than a few weeks (there is lots to learn!), is up–to–date (covering current issues in obstetrics), and deliberately includes the birth partner. Although mom is the one giving birth, the readiness and attitude of her partner are equally important! A class that has a strong focus on relaxation, comfort measures in labor, staying low risk, and basic breastfeeding is a must. If there are no good teachers in your area, consider online classes that meet the above standards.
Hire A Doula
If you have done all of the above then you have a great provider, a supportive birth place, your own knowledge and a well armed partner. Now, you need to hire a doula! Sometimes people ask, “Why hire a doula? I feel totally prepared on my own and my partner will do a great job.”
Ask any woman who is experienced in the realities of labor and birth and she will tell you that one of the greatest things you can have is a knowledgeable, supportive, “extra” person on your side for the delivery.
“Labor brain” is different than your regular brain. No matter how well versed you and your partner are, labor has a way of making you forget everything! An experienced doula can stay with you for the duration of your labor, can help you recognize when it is time to head to the hospital, and can help support your partner so that they can better serve you.
The cost of a doula is a gift to the labor, the mother, her partner, and the beginning of parenthood. Look for one who comes highly recommended, is professional, trustworthy, and who your partner meshes well with. It is likely that he will spend as much time with the doula as mom will and so the relationship must be mutually comfortable.
Sometimes when women plan a natural birth they seem almost apologetic that they are birthing within the hospital. Don’t be! For many women hospital birth may be the best choice.
If you want a great birth experience (no matter where you birth) then serious and dedicated preparation is a must. Not only will it improve your chances of achieving what you planned, but the confidence and joy in the journey as you ready yourself for your birth will last a lifetime.
Having a baby isn’t just about the experience itself, but the path you must take to get there. You can have a wonderful and natural hospital birth experience, and having all the right tools makes a world of difference.