Pregnancy involves many decisions, large and small. While many of the decisions are inconsequential (what color should you paint the nursery?), others can have a lasting effect on your child’s health.
In our society, we assume often certain things about childbirth without really knowing there’s an alternative. For example, there’s a strong societal assumption that you’ll have your baby in a hospital because that’s the safest place for both mom and baby. But is it really?
This is a topic that has long interested me. Home birth is definitely not for everyone, but it is an alternative that should be presented, I believe, just as there are alternatives to what a “traditional” daily diet looks like, as well as to drugs, meds, and surgeries in many cases. Here is also a recent email I received from a reader:
I’d really like to see you post about alternatives to hospital births for babies. Before I got pregnant, I started to do a lot of research, because I really wanted to give my baby the best start possible. I was alarmed at many of the statistics I discovered about hospital births and birth interventions.
My research led me to make numerous non-traditional choices about the birth of my son. Even before I got pregnant, I’d arrived at the conclusion that, barring pregnancy complications, I wanted to have my baby at home with a midwife rather than going the more traditional route of an obstetrician and the hospital. While I was very comfortable with this choice, as was my husband, my family felt quite differently. My sister, who is a nurse practitioner, was very concerned that I was endangering my own health, as well as the health of my baby. As a result, I had a lot of family pressure to “do the right thing;” however, I was very comfortable with the results of all of the research I’d done leading up to my decision.
When I got pregnant, I began seeking recommendations for a licensed midwife. One name kept coming up from both alternative health care professionals and other women who had enjoyed home births: Nancy. When I met with her, I discovered Nancy had been working as a licensed midwife for more than 20 years and had assisted with hundreds of births. She had a birthing center for moms who would feel more comfortable going to a facility, but most of the mothers chose to have their babies at home. Nancy also maintained a close association with an obstetrician and a nearby hospital should birth complications arise.
Nancy was wonderful throughout my pregnancy. In my first few months, I saw her once a month at her center, where she carefully monitored my pregnancy for any of the common complications that can arise such as preeclampsia or gestational diabetes. She also provided thorough consultation about nutrition and pregnancy symptoms such as morning sickness. We frequently discussed common birth interventions such as eye drops, vitamin K shots, and immunizations, examining the pros and cons of each. Never did she push her views on me – she merely gave me the information I asked so I could make an informed decision.
As my pregnancy progressed, I began seeing Nancy once per week. She was very clear on what I could expect during both labor and delivery. By the time I was ready to give birth, much of my anxiety about labor had abated.
The night I went into labor, I called Nancy and reported to her the length between contractions, the strength of them, etc. She told me to make myself comfortable, and suggested I call back when the contractions were closer together. I sat up most of the night as the pains intensified and got closer together. Finally, I decided I’d try to sleep and crawled into bed at about 5 a.m. I’d been in bed for about 10 minutes when my water broke. My husband called Nancy, who arrived within just a few minutes.
From that point, my labor and birth took about five minutes. It was fast and relatively easy. I gave birth to a 9-pound baby boy. While it was, of course, uncomfortable giving birth, it wasn’t nearly as painful as I’d imagined. I was able to assume any position I chose to assist the birth, and I didn’t have the stress of having to lie on my back in a hospital for hours hooked up to monitors. Instead, I was comfortable in my own environment and in very good hands.
To this day, my son (who is now 16) is a tremendously healthy kid. He’s been on antibiotics once in his life, and he’s seldom sick. Just the other day, he reminded me he hasn’t missed school due to illness since he was in the eighth grade.
I believe much of his excellent health has to do with the fact that he was born at home naturally, and that I opted out of the traditional birth interventions that are “mandatory” during a hospital birth. Because I could position my body in the way that was most comfortable for me while I was giving birth (and being able to use gravity to your advantage during a home birth as opposed to being on your back and fighting gravity during a hospital birth is a big deal), my son’s birth was relatively quick and quite comfortable.
While I realize home birth isn’t feasible in every situation, I believe it’s a great place for moms-to-be to start. I’ve always thought it odd that, in this country, we treat pregnancy and childbirth like an illness instead of the natural event that it is. Working with a midwife allowed me to experience birth as a natural life event as opposed to an illness requiring medical intervention. I would encourage women to look into the option to discover whether it is the option for them.
What Do Statistics Say?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of cesarean sections in the United States is 32.9 percent. Annually, more than 1.35 million babies are born by c-section. Since 1996, the c-section rate in the United States has risen 53 percent. A 2010 study printed in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology analyzed childbirth data from 19 hospitals across the country between the years of 2002 and 2008. The study showed that approximately 44 percent of the women attempting vaginal delivery were induced, and that once they were the women were twice as likely to deliver by cesarean section. In fact, about half of the c-sections in the study were provided to women whose labor had been induced. Once you’ve had a c-section, the statistics get even grimmer. Only about 16 percent of the women in the study who’d had a previous cesarean section delivered vaginally in subsequent births.
Risks of C-Section
Unfortunately, cesarean sections pose risks for both mother and baby. Mothers’ risks include:
Twice the rates of transfer to neo-natal intensive care
Double the risk of developing a pulmonary disorder
Risk of injury during delivery
Of course there are cases where a C-section birth is absolutely warranted. I in fact, who was a 10.5 pound baby, was delivered via C-section. My mother is a very petite woman and the labor was indeed difficult for her. So of course there are no judgments about getting a C-section or not. But one has to wonder why the rate overall has increased so dramatically. Can really one in three women not have a natural birth through the birth canal? Though most women have the power to birth naturally, do some doctors/hospitals quite automatically schedule C-sections or go to this option, either because they don’t want to risk potential issues leading a lawsuit or they treat vaginal birth as a trauma?
Of course, home birth isn’t for everyone. Home births are safest in low-risk pregnancies. Some women, however, should seek more traditional routes, and they feel safer that way which is critical to help reduce anxiety. Complications and conditions that may be contraindicated with home birth include:
High blood pressure
Previous pre-term labor
Is Home Birth for You?
Many women who have experienced home births report really enjoying the experience. They like the ability to be in a familiar environment surrounded by the people they love, and with people that give them confidence that their bodies have the power to go through with the birth without medical intervention. They also report enjoying the immediate and ongoing bonding allowed with the baby, since they are at home instead of in a hospital.
I believe that a woman should be in the position that innately feels right to her during giving birth- rather than just having to be forced to be on her back. Think how much harder it would be to have a bowel movement on your back! In research with home births I’ve found that this position is often on the hands and knees. During the second stage of labor, it is also found that women who squat instead of lie supine increase the size of the vaginal outlet naturally, because this position distributes equal pressure equally throughout the circumference, helping to bring the baby’s head down. Squatting also increases the diameter o the pelvis front to back, and keeps the uterus off the pelvic blood vessels leading to the heart, resulting increased safety for mom and baby.
If you are considering home birth:
Find a licensed midwife or nurse-midwife
Seek recommendations from other health care professionals
Educate yourself about all of your birth options and make the decision that best suits you and your partner
There is so much on this super personal topic. I also recommend the book by legendary midwife Ina May, Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, if you are interested in learning more.
Whatever you choose, I am sure it is done with the very best interests of your whole family in mind, so I applaud you for that. Many blessings to you and yours.