Alternative Childbirth Options to Consider

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For generations, regular hospital childbirths have been the norm. But an increasing number of expecting parents are now looking to alternative options. Women are wanting to be more connected to their birthing process, shunning cold, sterile environments, and seeking to minimize medical interventions. While 99% of childbirths still occur in the traditional way, options are opening up for mothers and families to meet these desires.

Of course, factors such as medical conditions and whether the pregnancy is high or low risk need to be the first considerations. High risk pregnancies and women with medical conditions that need to be monitored are not good candidates for most alternative birthing methods. Also, pregnancies with two or more babies and being under 17 and over 35 years old can limit your options.
But for expecting parents with low risk pregnancies and no serious medical conditions, there are several options out there that may be worth investigating.

The oldest known alternative is home birth. As most know, this was the norm before hospitals. Home births allow the mother to remain in familiar surroundings, have as many loved ones with her as she wants, move around, eat and drink, and even take a bath or shower. They are usually attended by a doctor or midwife, and sometimes a doula. However, in some states, having a midwife present is illegal so it’s best to check your states legislation on this. It’s also important to have a plan in case mother or child need to be transferred to a hospital for complications.

Water births are a popular at home birth method. Here, mothers are placed in birthing pools with warm water during labor and/or delivery. Warm water relaxes the mother, providing relief from both pain and anxiety, while providing the baby with a less stressful environment, similar to the amniotic fluid it is leaving. Some expecting parents have concerns about the baby drowning in the pool but it is important to note that it receives oxygen through the umbilical cord until it is cut, therefore this is unlikely. While water births often take place at home or in birthing centers, more and more hospitals are beginning to accommodate this option as well.

Water is also one of many techniques available in natural births, which mainly connotes no chemical pain relievers and limited medical interventions. Giving birth without an epidural can be terrifying for some women, but others find that it allows them to participate more actively in the birth. Natural birth utilizes methods such as movement, massage, hydrotherapy, acupuncture, hypnosis, visualizations, and breathing exercise to deal with pain. While these methods lessen pain, they do not relieve them, as medication would. If you decide to go this route, it’s important to have a birth plan and sustain a low intervention pregnancy so that less intervention needs to occur during childbirth. It’s also easier to give birth naturally at home where you have more space to move around and change positions.

All three methods often involve a midwife. Midwives not only assist with labor and delivery but provide gynaelogical exams, antenatal care, and guidance on breastfeeding and newborn care. Nurse-midwives are trained as nurses and midwives, as the name suggests, and can work in hospitals as well as homes. Direct-entry midwives, however, are trained solely as midwives and are not permitted to work in hospitals, usually practicing in birth centers and homes. Licensing and certification for midwifery varies by state. As previously stated, so is whether or not they may assist in home births, so it is important to look into your states laws.

Another resource some women find invaluable is hiring a doula. Doulas provide emotional, educational, and physical support to mothers-to-be before, during, and after birth. In essence, they are birth coaches. While doulas do not have medical training, they are usually very knowledgeable and can answer many question and concerns expecting parents may have. They can also assist in creating a birth plan and provide a more positive child birth experience.

These are only a sampling of the options out there. Investigating possibilities on your own as well as speaking with a childcare educator is a great way to find more information. Choosing the best childbirth method for you and your family can be an empowering exercise that adds even more depth to a beautiful occasion.


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By Alecia Stanton of Expecting Parents Alliance of America

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