In Part 1 of this series we discussed Holistic Birth Planning: Healthy Pregnancy & Labour through Nutrition & Acupuncture.
In Part 3 we covered Mental and Emotional Labour Preparation to bring the mind, body and spirit together for a true holistic birth.
In Part 4 of this series we’ll be focusing on the Who, Where, When, How and Why of the labour process.
This is the first question we often ask ourselves when we find out we are pregnant. Who will be delivering our baby? The answer is always the same though – you! In the end, you and the baby will be doing most of the work, so preparing yourself is most important.
So the real question is, who will be there to support you? Now, I’ve only ever had a midwife, so it is difficult for me to compare a midwife vs. OB/GYN (Obstetrician/Gynecologist). However, I will say that my experience with midwives has only been positive. Every decision I have made around a natural birth was respected and I always felt very well supported. The support after birth, especially when it came to breastfeeding. was invaluable and I don’t know what I would have done without it.
A midwife is statistically more experienced with natural births than an OB/GYN.
The next biggest question after who, is where? Where will you deliver your baby? At home? In a hospital, or in a birth centre? The main difference between a birth centre and a hospital is that a birth centre is solely run by midwives. Therefore, not all medical interventions are available.
My first birth was at the Toronto Birth Centre, which is its own individual space located in downtown Toronto. For us, a birth centre was preferable to home, as it was a nice reassurance to be closer to a hospital, should something go wrong. This second birth is planned for the Alongside Midwifery Unit at the Markham Stouffville Hospital. Both the Toronto Birth Centre and Alongside Midwifery Unit at Markham Stouffville Hospital are designed to promote natural labour. There are no hospital beds, but instead a bed that will fit both partners, so that dad, or a labour partner, can be close by the entire time. The beds are often off to the side or even fold-up, so there is room to move around during labour. There is also a lot more equipment available such as birthing stools, birthing balls and even a birthing pool.
What is unique about this Alongside Midwifery Unit is that it is solely run by midwives, however interventions such as an epidural or episiotomy are still available if requested. OB/GYNs are close by, so should the need for an emergency c-section arise, you can easily be transferred to a different unit of the hospital. To me, it provides us with the best of both worlds. The option of natural birth with the security of modern medicine to provide the optimal birth experience for all individuals.
The main difference between a birth centre (whether it’s the Toronto Birth Centre or Alongside Midwifery Unit at Markham Stouffville Hospital) and a hospital, is that you do not stay overnight. You only stay for 4-6 hours after giving birth, so that is something you need to be prepared for. Instead of staying at the hospital longer, the midwife will visit you at home. I prefer this, as then you can quickly adjust to taking care of your baby in your own environment.
There are so many options now for a natural birth and different tools you can use, especially at a birth centre. You can use a tub or birthing pool, a stool or birthing ball. One thing I recommend is to decide at the moment what you want to do. I thought I was set on a water birth the first time around, but when I arrived at the birth centre, the last thing I wanted was to have water touching my skin and to climb in and out of a tub. Instead, I opted to sit on the birth stool.
Speaking of stool, a birthing stool is basically a low stool with a hole in the middle. This, allows you to squat during delivery, because why not let gravity do some of the work for you? During active labour, I either walked around or sat on the bed. Then I moved to the birth stool when the baby started crowning. One thing I don’t recommend is lying down to give birth. It has been shown that this puts the pelvis in an unfavourable position for delivery.
Why is having a natural birth important? First of all, going all-natural will mean avoiding what is called the “cascade of interventions.” This is the theory that one medical intervention will lead to another when it comes to labour, ultimately leading to a caesarean section. While this is certainly not always the case, I think it’s important to discuss with your midwife or doctor in advance of the potential repercussions of each medical intervention and how it may ultimately affect your birth.
For example, it has been shown that excess Pitocin, a drug that mimics oxytocin meant to hasten labour, can cause some fetal distress. It can also cause a lot of discomfort for the mother, meaning she is more likely to ask for an epidural. However, an epidural can often slow down labour requiring more Pitocin. Epidurals can also cause a drop in blood pressure or fever, and cause difficulty pushing.
I don’t think there should be this fear of medical interventions, just as there should not be this fear of pain in a natural birth, but it’s important to assess each medical intervention individually and do your research. I did not have any Pitocin administered to me during labour, but I did get a small dose after birth due to some excess bleeding. I asked my midwife to have the Pitocin ready and only administer if absolutely necessary and after I delivered. Whether you choose to have interventions or not, staying informed and feeling confident in your choices is most important.
When a baby naturally passes through the birth canal, they are inoculated with all of the mother’s good bacteria. As we now know, the microbiome comprises 70% of our immune system. It is essential for gut health and mental health. The documentary “Micro-birth” explores the correlation between the rise in caesarean sections and the increase in chronic illness and auto-immune conditions. One thing we know for sure is that our microbiome diversity is diminishing with each generation.So while caesarean sections can be both necessary and life-saving, it may mean that a baby will have a less diverse microbiome. However, in the case of emergency c-sections, it’s also best to err on the side of caution and worry about probiotic supplements later on in life.
A woman is also more likely to be able to breastfeed if she delivers naturally. It helps set those hormones in motion to trigger the milk to come in.
However, at the end of the day, what’s most important is a healthy baby and healthy mom, by whatever means necessary.
I am grateful that these medical interventions are available to me, should I need them, but I am also grateful that I have the option to choose a natural birth.
In the four preceding blogs, we have covered a lot of what you need to consider and plan for when giving birth. In our fifth and final blog of the Holistic Birth Planning series, we summarize all of the topics into 12 basic steps.
Our upcoming blog will discuss:
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