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How to Keep Birth Simple, Safe & Healthy in a Hospital

The following is a guest post written by Cara Terreri, of Giving Birth with Confidence

Birth today in U.S. hospitals has become an over-managed, intensely medicalized event, even for women with healthy pregnancies. The truth is that birth is a natural and normal process for a woman’s body. When we subject an otherwise healthy birthing woman to practices and procedures that combat the body’s natural instincts, we increase the
possibility for health complications and a negative birth experience.

With knowledge, support and preparation, you can have a simple, safe and healthy hospital birth.

Learn About Birth

Start with the basics—educate yourself on the unadulterated process of birth. Steer clear of TV birth shows and instead, find out what a healthy birth looks like from information found on trusted, evidence-based sources.

Know Your Doctor and Hospital

Your care provider and place of birth will play a big role in your actual birth. Interview your care provider before you become pregnant or in the early days of pregnancy. Learn how he/she approaches birth and what typical practices are in the delivery room. Ask pointed questions about induction and c-section rates (this may take some gusto on your part, but you can do it!). And remember that it’s never too late to change your care provider, even at 38 weeks!

Just as important as knowing your care provider, is being familiar with your hospital. Research your hospital’s intervention and cesarean rates, customer feedback, and find out if it is a mother-friendly care provider—most of which can be found on the Internet. Be sure to attend the hospital maternity tour that is offered, and when you go, ask questions! See if you can meet with a labor and delivery nurse one-on-one after the tour to learn more about a typical birth experience.

Take a Childbirth Class

The right childbirth education class can help you sort through information, alleviate your fears, and make informed choices about your labor and birth. Some women balk at the time and cost involved in taking a childbirth class, but consider this: how much time and money do most women spend preparing for their wedding day? When seeking a childbirth class, avoid the standard hospital class that often teaches hospital protocol. Instead, look for instructors who are connected to a specific childbirth education program that resonates with your own feelings and philosophy.

Arrange for Birth Support

Birth is a physically and emotionally empowering and exhausting event. Even the strongest of women can benefit from support. Because labor and delivery nurses work hard caring for several women at a time, they most likely will
not be able to offer you uninterrupted, individualized support. Plan for solid support during your birth—designate your partner or spouse, a dear friend or mother, or a birth doula to support and advocate for you during labor and birth. Make sure that your birth support person knows your wishes for birth, is comfortable in their role and is able to provide continuous, positive emotional and physical support.

To find a Lamaze class in your area, check out the Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator locator directory.

Cara Terreri is the site administrator for Giving Birth with Confidence, the Lamaze online community for expectant moms, and has worked with Lamaze for the last six years. Giving Birth with Confidence is written for and by real women and men and offers a meeting ground to share stories, find answers and provide support during pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and parenting. In her free time (every last bit), she is mom to two active little boys and expecting her third in August. Through blogging and advocacy, Cara enjoys helping women discover their power and ability in birth.

I had a great experience with natural childbirth in a hospital the first time around and I’m hoping for a natural hospital birth this coming June. For those that have experienced childbirth, what are some positive experiences you’ve had with a natural hospital birth or things you’d like to do different next time around? If you have any questions about a natural hospital birth, feel free to leave them in the comments for Cara.

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21 Comments

  1. Sarah G

    Great post! I just want to encourage women reading who may not have hospital choices or an alternative to the hospital class (common in rural areas). This past June, I had a hospital birth, with a typical OB. There were no natural birth friendly classes of any type offered in my area and I was still able to have an awesome, unmedicated birth.

    I talked to other moms who had chosen to have natural births and used their experiences as inspiration. If you have access to classes, definitely take them, but don’t let the lack of a “class” discourage you from having the birth you want. As Cara said, it really is a natural process for our bodies.

    If you’d like to read my birth story it can be found here: http://joyonthejourney.blogspot.com/2010/10/calebs-birth-june-25-2010.html

  2. Aimee

    I think it is a good idea to have a written birthing plan in place and asking your doctor or midwife to sign off on it…things like “no IV” or “no Electronic Fetal Monitoring” or “ability to give birth in any position and not on my back”, etc. Sometimes we go in thinking it will look a certain way, but then we bump up against “rules” or protocol and it throws everything off. It’s good to understand what you think you need for a successful natural birth and then asking for it ahead of time. I had 2 midwives sign my birth plan and copies were given to my doula and the hospital nurse which went FAR in keeping the hospital nurse off my back.

  3. Princess Leia

    My first was supposed to be born with midwives at a birthing center, but he was breech, so he was turned by an OB (which, even with an epidural was horrifically painful – but less so than a C-Section, I’d imagine!) and then I was induced just to make sure he didn’t do any more flips. After they turned him and his heart rate came back up, I was returned to the care of my midwife. Even so, I had to have antibiotics (strep b), plus the pitocin, so they went ahead and gave me IV fluids too. They left the epidural catheter in, “just in case” I changed my mind about a natural birth. He wasn’t interested in coming though, so they kept ramping up the pitocin (it ended at 28 mL/hr (I think that’s the unit of measure) if that means anything to anyone) and eventually broke my water. At that point, my body decided it was time to go and I no longer had the fluid as a cushion, so it became _VERY_ painful. I made it for several hours without getting the epidural again, but eventually succumbed (no pressure on the part of the nurses, though, thankfully – even so, if the catheter hadn’t been there already, I don’t think I would have done it). That let me (and hubs) sleep for an hour or so (we’d left for the hospital that morning at 6:30 and by then it was midnight). Then I started feeling pain again and the urge to push. Our son took “too long” in the birth canal, so episiotomy it was. For whatever reason, it took three months before I completely healed (not from the episiotomy, just in general).

    With our second, I didn’t have Strep-b and she was pointed the right way. We got to the hospital at about 8:30 PM and she was born at 11:40. I didn’t even have a single IV and was only hooked up to external monitoring for a small portion of that time. Right after the midwife (different set at a different hospital just because they were closer to home) checked and saw that I was 7-8cm, I had about two more contractions during which I really think I felt my cervix open, and then I felt the urge to push. It only felt good to be on my side though, so the midwife couldn’t check me again. Eventually she just gave up and “let” me push. My water broke with the first push, but was immediately stopped by our daughter’s head. After the second push, our daughter was crowning (this had taken about 45 min and an episiotomy with our son). Two pushes later, and she came out, head and shoulders (and amniotic fluid) and all. The midwife still (2 yrs later) remembers the birth because she actually had to _catch_ the baby! And the nurses joked that they wished they’d put on their shoe covers. I healed MUCH more quickly.

    Baby #3 is due March 24th (so I was “full term” yesterday). We know s/he’s head down and I’ll find out about the strep today. Here’s hoping for a birth like my daughter’s and not my son’s!

    We took Bradley classes and they REALLY helped my ADD husband focus on HIS role in the births (not to mention giving us evidence-based reasons to try to avoid interventions).

  4. Rae Wallace

    I had a not-so-great hospital experience with my first. We got pressured into inducing labour just over 41 weeks. I had wanted a natural birth, and when I told the nurse that in response to the “when should we order your epidural?” question, she looked at me and said “It’s 11:00 at night honey. You’re just starting now. You just wait until it’s 3:00am and you’re exhausted and and your pains have increased. You’ll be having that epidural.”
    I was so angry! I did eventually have an epidural because my labour was progressing very slowly and they wouldn’t let me take off the monitors to walk around (also VERY upsetting), but it wasn’t until after that nurse left…there was no way I was going to let her think she was right!
    The over-all experience was a huge let-down. I’m really hoping to have a midwife assisted home birth next time!

  5. Cara @ Giving Birth with Confidence

    @Aimee- Thanks for your input on a birth plan. Creating a birth plan — and going through it with your care provider — are important steps toward planning for the birth you want and helping you to understand the options available. The Lamaze Six Healthy Birth Practices (found here: http://www.lamaze.org/ExpectantParents/HealthyBirthPractices/tabid/251/Default.aspx) provide a good foundation for researching your birth plan.

    @Princess Leia- Thanks for sharing your two very different hospital experiences. I hope that birth #3 is as safe & healthy as #2!

  6. Cara @ Giving Birth with Confidence

    @Sarah- What a beautiful birth story! I loved reading about the encouraging hospital staff. I imagine that went a long way in making your birth experience a positive one.

    • Sarah G

      Definitely, I actually wrote a “super star” letter to the Maternity ward director letting her know the specifics of how helpful the staff was in giving me the birth experience I was hoping for. It’s another great way to promote natural birth friendly practices as well as give the staff some well deserved praise : )

  7. Laura

    I had a positive natural birth experience last year with my daughter (who is my first child), and I know that I owe much of that to the Hypnobabies techniques that I used. There are classes, but they are not as common as Bradley classes are, and I used a self-study course. I will admit it seemed hokey to me at first, but I can’t praise it enough for the in-depth childbirth education it provided for me, as well as the ability to instantly relax and mentally manage my pain so that it never felt like more to me than intense period cramps. The post-birth uterine cramping (when I was no longer attempting any sort of hypnosis!) hurt way more! I also had a doula who came to my house for two long prep meetings while I was still pregnant as well as a post-partum follow-up on breastfeeding, and during the birth especially, she was completely worth the $800 we spent for her services! She is a Bradley instructor and was not familiar with the Hypnobabies techniques that I used, but it didn’t even matter.

    The best things I did for myself were to switch from a traditional OB to a midwife practice at the beginning of my third trimester, to read as much as I could about natural childbirth, to hire a doula, and to take the Hypnobabies course.

  8. Julia

    We had three births in three different countries –Thailand, Vietnam and the U.S. Using the Bradley method principles, all of our births were un-medicated, normal deliveries. I am sorry to say, but our experience with the U.S. hospital was mixed at best. Part of the problem was that our insurance plan would not allow me to use the hospital midwives, even though I was low risk.

    Should we be a next time, I would change insurance plans or self-pay in order to have a midwife rather than an OB assist with the birth. I loved working with the midwife on duty last time, and was sorry when she had to step aside when the on-call OB came on the scene. The midwife was actually advocating for us that our birth plan be considered, whereas the other staff just announced what they were about to do, and rushed ahead whether we were ready or not.

    • Julia

      Oops. I meant to say “should there be.”

  9. Betsy

    Our first child’s due date is fast approaching, and we’re looking forward to having (hopefully!) an in-hospital labor with minimal interventions. It’s been really helpful for me to find articles like this that treat labor as a natural and commonplace thing,… rather than trying to sterilize and over-medicate — simply because that’s “procedure.” I’m all for interventions when they are truly necessary, but it seems to me that sometimes action is taken when the pros don’t outweigh the cons.

    (Sarah and Princess Leia — thanks for sharing your birth stories!)

    • Sarah G

      With that attitude it sounds like you are well on your way to the birth you’re hoping for : ) I found laboring at home much more comfortable that the hospital, so unless you have reason to go in, stay where you’re comfortable! Wishing you the best : )

  10. Jennifer Ott

    I’ve had 4 babies. One was a home-birth that was great, and the following 3 were born in hospitals. I was induced with two, and I hated the experience. This last time (in December), I did some research. I found a great midwife. Finding her was the best decision I ever made! While she did not deliver the baby (one of her partners, also a midwife, did), my care was excellent and relaxed. I also didn’t go to the hospital until I was in active labor. My son was born less than an hour after we arrived. I never saw a needle my entire stay there! It was peaceful and wonderful. He was my biggest baby and needed some help as the umbilical cord was wrapped tightly around his neck twice, but he did fine. The midwife was on the floor to deliver my son, and I got to hold him immediately after she got the cord from around his neck! A simple and safe birth is absolutely possible in the hospital.

  11. Heidi

    I’ve had two natural births in a hospital and I hope to have more. I feel very strongly about how messed up the current system is and wish I could do more to help change it. I think a very important thing to do is write out your wishes. I’m fortunate to live in a small town and I was the only one in the hospital at that time and it was easy for everyone on the team to know what I wanted but in a bigger center it may not be as easy for the nurses and doctors to know what you want.

  12. Alissa

    I have had two AWESOME hospital births. The first one was “induced natural” and I LOVE my OB for helping me understand exactly why it was important to have the baby when I did, and then for inducing in slow, slow, slow steps (breaking water and letting us walk the halls for 4 hours before starting pitocen). I was blessed with amazing nurses that worked with us to keep it as natural as possible under the circumstances. I had to have a fetal heart monitor and the thing would not stay in place, so my nurse SAT ON THE FLOOR and contorted her body to hold it in place while I labored. I remember apologizing for making her sit there, and she said, “Honey, my job is easy. You just do what you need to do.” My OB was also closely involved wtih the whole process and sat with us for the whole 2 hours that I was pushing. Even though I was induced, I never felt like I was on anyone’s schedule but my own.

    The second one was so fast, he was almost born in the parking lot – that’s a great way to avoid any unnecessary interventions!

    Having a “birth vision” is essential – especially to get you and your support team on the same page. Birth can be scary for husbands, too, and getting your hopes on paper gives them more courage to speak up and ask nurses and doctors for what you want (when you can’t becuase you’re laboring!)

    I also think waiting as long as possible to go to the hospital helps. I read that, “If you care what the window curtains look like, you’re there too early!”

  13. Alicia

    All four of my births have been C-sections, despite my birth plans and best intentions (and LOTS of laboring and trying again). Some have been good ones and some very bad, even with the same doctor for all four. The biggest indicator of how well they go is always how much I communicate with the doctor beforehand about every bit of my wishes and how well she’s been able to help me make sure the staff knows to go along with those. Even though I ultimately had births quite different than what I wanted, I’m still so glad that I educated myself during my pregnancies and tried for natural labor and VBAC’s. Knowledge and preparation is never wasted, even when things go much differently than we plan!

    I am now in week 8 of a very surprise, late-in-life pregnancy. I have no idea if this baby will come to be (I have a very long history of miscarriages), but I pity the staff that has to deal with me on baby #5 since I have become more assertive and opinionated with every babe. 🙂

  14. Alison C

    I was hoping for a natural birth, but went in to be induced due to PIH. During the night of prep my water broke naturally, saving me from the pitocin. Unfortunately, the contractions went from none, to every few minutes and extremely painful in about 15 minutes, so I opted in to the epidural (after 5 or 6 hours). It was the best choice I could have made. From there everything went wonderfully smooth, and I gave birth within a few hours, no tears either.

    For the next one I am hoping to be more prepared, get in great shape beforehand and have a water birth with a midwife. My doula for #1 is going to school for midwifery. I’m hoping she will be done by the time we are ready for #2!

    I couldn’t have done it though without my birth plan and my doula. They really helped make my son’s birth a great experience even though I didn’t get the natural birth I had wanted.

  15. Christine

    I’ve had two hospital births, neither of which ended up “natural” and it was a blessing. Natural would have been dangerous in both of my births. I had planned on natural, but first my body (preeclampsia) and with next child the baby (face presentation) did not agree. However, good and minimal, timely interventions by understanding physicians who were willing to work with me helped to keep both my children and me healthy and allowed me to have a natural labor with my second and vaginal births with both.
    It’s always good to be informed and to go in planning for the best, but also to be prepared for the reality that birth can be dangerous for you and baby and that there is a time and place for interventions – and sometimes these interventions can give you more of what you want in the end (the epidural with my daughter prevented a c-section and allowed them to move her).

  16. Martha Artyomenko

    Great tips!!! I am a certified doula and love helping women get a birth that they want. One thing to remember is to be informed and to learn how to navigate the health care system. Doctors love when you trust them, and sometimes we can as natural birth advocates can cause issues when we go in on the defensive. Assume they are on your side, and ask lots of questions. When they order an I.V. instead of saying “I am not having that!!!” ask “Can you explain to me why you want me to have that?” Often a doctor will listen better if you have shown them you are respecting them and their position, the risks they are taking as well as the many years in medical school. Always feel free to still refuse, but I have found in this way, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar….of a sort.
    Use the interventions in the hospitals as tools that you hope you do not need, epidurals can be useful tools in many cases, but not needed in many as well. C-sections as well, sometimes they are needed, but many cases are not.
    Inform yourself whether you really are such a case or not. Use the right language when disagreeing, this helps them to know, you really know what you are talking about.

  17. kat

    Have you read Natural Hospital Birth by Gabriel? It hits the nail right on the head with this. Its a great guide!

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