Top Ways to Prepare for a Positive Birth Experience

The top ways to prepare for a positive labor and birth experience begin long before the actual labor starts. At Midwife360, we talk about our “Recipe for Success” when we are discussing a client’s birth plans. 

The core of our recommendations include self-education through reading books and online resources (see the reading and web organization list at the end of this article) and commitment to a healthy lifestyle through clean eating and regular exercise. We strongly advise eliminating processed foods, dairy, and inorganic foods. Through clean eating and regular exercise, it is likely that there will be an absence of disease processes such as diabetes and high blood pressure which can make a pregnancy cross the line into a truly high-risk status. If the pregnancy can be maintained in the low-risk status range, then recommendations such as induction of labor are more easily declined. 

Our “Recipe for Success”

Our “Recipe for Success” also includes hiring a doula and taking a deep meditation for labor course such as Blissborn or Hypnobabies. Many times the doula will be the one who teaches these courses. Doulas are invaluable as educational resources and typically have a wealth of information regarding comfort measures and labor preparation activities. They will meet with the client usually two times prenatally and will be the first to show up at the labor. They help with labor support if things are not progressing, and will let you know when to call the midwife or leave for the hospital. Meditation or hypnosis is a tool that can be used to cope with the surges of labor. It helps to keep the mind occupied with positive thoughts to allow the body to perform the work of releasing the baby unimpeded.

Positioning of the Baby 

The most common reason that labor doesn’t progress is the positioning of the baby. We recommend becoming familiar with an online resource called “Spinning Babies” that teaches postures that can be used prenatally to help ensure proper positioning of the baby in relation to the mother’s bony pelvis. This will ease the baby’s passage and create a more efficient labor process. Your doula will most likely be familiar with this resource and have the ability to guide you through the postures as well as know when to employ them in labor.

Using a Birth Tub 

The final recommendation in our “Recipe for Success” is to use a birth tub for labor and birth. The benefits of hydrotherapy have been recognized by midwives and laboring women for years. Some people call it a ‘liquid epidural’ as the sense of relief is so great when entering a warm tub of water in active labor. Sitting on a yoga ball or stool in the shower can have some of the same sense of relief, but immersion in water is better and helps lift the belly to remove the heaviness caused by gravity. Also, releasing the baby into the water helps with vaginal and perineal stretching and reduces tearing.

Visiting a Chiropractor and Acupuncturist 

In addition to the “Recipe”, we strongly recommend developing relationships with a chiropractor and acupuncturist who are skilled in caring for pregnant people. Get regular massages and take yoga classes or do yoga at home. All of these adjunctive therapies contribute to a body that is well adjusted and free from muscular and energetic blockages that can inhibit the passage of the baby when it’s time for birth. 

Preparing for a positive labor and birth experience ideally starts before pregnancy. However, with a determined mindset and a willingness to do the work, preparation for a positive experience can easily be accomplished in the 40 weeks of pregnancy. Decide where you want to give birth and hire a care provider that you trust. Check out the resources listed below and prepare to have an amazing, informed, respectful labor and birth experience!

An Open Letter to Hollywood Producers and Screenwriters

I am writing this letter to appeal to you to stop portraying birth in the manner that nearly every single movie, sitcom, or miniseries has always seemed to portray birth – that of a screaming, sweaty woman lying on her back with her feet up in stirrups and everyone else in the room standing over her, yelling at her to push. The baby comes out and the cord is immediately cut (even in Call the Midwife – the truest to real-life series which portrays childbirth) – this is not beneficial to the baby, was not likely done back in the 1950s in England, and shouldn’t be done today.

Human birth has been domesticated much the same way we have domesticated animals for our benefit. Human birth (especially for low, risk, healthy women) is the only physiological, normal process of the human body that takes place inside a hospital. It doesn’t belong there. It doesn’t work well with bright lights and loud noises and strangers hovering around. Much like our mammalian counterparts, humans do better to birth in a familiar environment, with dim lighting and no distractions. It is a bodily process that requires no input from the thinking mind.

Ask some of the Hollywood actresses and singers who have chosen to birth at home (or in a birth center) how they feel about this. Every one of them have raved about their experience and found an amazing bond with their baby and an easing into motherhood that doesn’t always happen so easily when babies are born in the hospital. Oftentimes, mothers and fathers are frightened by well-meaning care providers and may be treated disrespectfully or even neglected due to the assembly-line nature of hospital birth.

If birth was portrayed in the media as physiological, natural, and low tech (which it actually is for a low risk, healthy person). Then perhaps more people would have the courage to take responsibility for this bodily process that is more of an intimate experience involving the 2 people who created the baby than of the institutions who seek to profit from it.

After all, having a baby is a lot like pooping – what if we had to go to the hospital and get permission to poop? That would be weird… Clients can easily find well trained medical providers to assist them in the out-of-hospital setting to ensure that any potential complications are handled appropriately. This will have a dual benefit of making birth better for birthing people and unclogging the medical system that exists to help those who truly need it.

Let’s start seeing real birth scenes on TV and in the movies – please.

Birth Your Own Way

I saw a Facebook post recently, a fundraiser, for a woman who wrote about her search for a provider who would assist her in having a vaginal birth for her 4th baby after having 3 previous cesareans. For whatever reason (VBAC ban, or just no supportive providers to be found) she moved 3 states over just to give birth with a supportive provider. It seemed from the post that they actually moved their family to that location to be in proximity to this supportive provider. Due to moving during the pregnancy, they did not have the funds to pay for the birth upfront, thus the Facebook fundraiser.

How did we get here?

How is it, in our medically advanced culture, that someone has to actually move to a different state to achieve this kind of support? I know that we don’t have supportive providers in our community here in south Florida that would support a vaginal birth for someone with 3 or more previous cesareans. Though, I know that I would support such a person under the right circumstances. Those circumstances are that the pregnant person has to be in excellent health with a healthy, otherwise low-risk pregnancy. She has to be fully committed to her birth plans, to the point of saying “I am doing this with or without you”. In other words, fully committed to the choice for an out of hospital birth.

While there is no guarantee for the outcome, an otherwise healthy low-risk pregnancy has little added risk for VBAC or other complex physiologic circumstances like twins or breech. With good counseling on risks and benefits and the understanding of the limits of any guarantees, clients should be free to make the decision to birth outside the hospital in these situations. Actually, clients should be free to make the decision to birth vaginally and should be able to access a supportive provider wherever they feel the safest – whether that is in the hospital or outside of it.

I am a provider that supports VBAC, twins, and breech for a vaginal birth.

I have found that my sister midwives are not happy that I do this. They report feeling threatened by my choices to support these births out of the hospital due to the possibility that any bad outcome would reflect negatively on the birth community as a whole. They believe that if I have a bad outcome I am giving home birth a bad name. I believe that I am giving people options they would not otherwise have. There are only about 2% of people that choose to birth out of the hospital. Most of those that choose home birth are die-hard home birthers who would not go to the hospital unless someone’s life was in danger (literally). They understand that there are no guarantees in life (or birth) and they typically have educated themselves on the risks and benefits of out of hospital birth and willingly, gladly, sign the consent waiver for home birth under complex physiological circumstances.

Enter the twins

I recently assisted a couple with twins who wanted very little prenatal surveillance, and home birth with mostly a hands-off approach. She went into labor the day she turned 40 weeks. The first baby came fairly quickly and it was the most serene beautiful water birth! Soon after, we attempted to get FHT (fetal heart tones) for Baby B and were unable to locate them for a few minutes, then when we did finally find them, they were very low – the 60s. Mom was instructed to push to try to encourage baby to come quickly, and within minutes, someone called out, “head’s out!”.

When I reached over to touch, it was obvious that it was not a head, and I tore the sac to find 2 legs unfolding into the water. I instructed Mom to get out of the tub as it was a surprise breech (baby had been head down at the last ultrasound at 28w) and I was concerned because of the low FHT. The baby then came fairly easily, but her placenta was sitting on her head and plopped out right after her – complete placental abruption. This is likely the scariest and most serious complication that can happen at home. Luckily Baby A and mom were doing well, no bleeding noted and Baby A was transitioning beautifully.

We immediately began going through the NRP steps that we learn and practice for just this eventuality. We also called 911 as a baby that requires CPR needs to be closely monitored for 24 hours in case there are further issues with the heart and breathing. The paramedics arrived within 6 minutes and by then she was only requiring breaths with the bag and mask as her heart was beating on its own at the appropriate rate.

It was difficult to watch her go without the ability to witness her recovery, but we had no choice as we still had the first baby and mom to care for. One assistant and the dad accompanied the baby to the hospital, the rest of the team stayed at the house. Ultimately, she made a full recovery. She began breathing on her own before they even arrived at the hospital, and was discharged home the next day due to a lot of questioning by and the determination of her parents. She seems to be completely normal and adjusted to life outside the womb.

This couple had 3 previous birth center births and were only having a home birth because their favorite midwife was unable to support a twin birth at her birth center. They were completely uninterested in a hospital birth. I’m pretty sure they would have chosen to birth at home with or without trained medical assistance. Had there not been someone trained in neonatal resuscitation present, their baby could have died. I wonder how our community would have felt about that?

When I help clients with a breech baby, or twins, or VBA3C or 4,5,6,7C or VBAC twins or breech, or past 42w. They tell me there’s no way they will birth in the hospital or no hospital provider will give them a chance to try for a vaginal birth. I believe it’s better to have a trained provider than for them to try a free birth and have a tragic outcome. If there’s a tragic outcome anyway, they have taken full responsibility for their choices.

Think about the big picture

However, I truly believe that our job as out of hospital birth providers is to monitor and observe the big picture at all times and identify an emergency before it becomes one in order to access the proper medical care. This means that we are alert and focused on one mom and her baby(ies) at all times during the experience. This is why we love to work with doulas. It gives us the luxury to arrive in active labor, which is the ideal time to be sharp and ready as birth becomes more imminent.

While I do not relish the added stress of caring for a more complex physiologic situation. I do believe in women’s bodies and the birth process as an inherently normal, natural process. In situations such as those with previous uterine surgery, twins, breeches, or post dates, it is unlikely that there will be any major complications if the pregnancy is healthy and otherwise low risk.

In every situation, as long as the provider is on her toes, focused and present, a major complication can be handled without turning into a tragedy. This is why I will support these clients. I wish more of my colleagues could do the same. I understand that the CPMs would be risking their licenses to do so, but this is not the case for my CNM and OB counterparts. In their case, the fear of birth and mistrust in women’s bodies limits their understanding of what is possible and safe. I have found that many people are seeking healthier living, especially when they are growing a baby. Many are super open to discussions of the importance of a healthy diet, adequate water consumption, and exercise in pregnancy, which all lead to safer birth for everyone.

Don’t judge anyone for their choices in birth. Not when they choose a repeat cesarean or even primary cesarean, and not when they choose home birth – no matter what their circumstances. Every client has their own reasons to choose what is right for them and their families. And don’t judge the providers that help them when they have a track record of good outcomes. It is better to have a trained provider present and we shouldn’t have to hide or suffer unwarranted criticism for our willingness to help.

What’s wrong with the Medical Model of childbirth?

Medical_Model_Childbirth

Let me tell you a story…

Let’s talk about what’s wrong with the current Medical Model of Childbirth. We recently attempted to assist a client to achieve a successful home vaginal birth after 2 previous cesareans. She was a little more than one week passed her due date, and she had tried to induce her labor with castor oil. The oil didn’t seem to do much, but her water broke and she was having contractions soon after. Her labor progressed quickly, but her baby remained high in her pelvis and it took a lot of maneuvering with Spinning Babies postures (Walcher’s Brim is a great one for this problem) and the baby finally began moving down into the birth canal.

Things take a complicated turn… 

However, after hours of pushing, seeing the head and thinking that the baby was coming any minute, she began having some bleeding. It was significant enough that the midwives elected to transfer by 911 to the hospital. All of mom’s and baby’s vital signs were good, but unexplained bleeding in a mom with 2 previous cesareans is a potentially life-threatening sign. Our job is to recognize potential emergencies and get to the hospital before the train wrecks. This momma continued to push in the ambulance, and within minutes of getting into the hospital she pushed her baby out! 

Hallelujah!!! The baby came through the door, not the window! 

But wait…The baby was a bit shocked, but instead of allowing him to get his full placental transfusion and administering PPV (Positive Pressure Ventilation)* with a bag and mask to help the baby inflate his lungs, they immediately cut the cord and rushed him over to the warmer to tortuously stimulate him into taking his first breath. I had a hard time watching the video due to the roughness and lack of respect afforded this brand new being. 

How does this impact our society?

For the nurses and midwives on duty, it is just another case, just another hour in their day. However, for that baby, it is his BIRTH. That happens to every one of us just ONCE in this life. We clearly do not appreciate the importance and significance of this event for our species. I am frightened to see the future generations coming up in the world when they have embedded in their primal memories this episode fraught with pain and fear and separation from the source of their sustenance. We are not building generations of people who will have love and trust as their core values. Else wise we must figure out how to overcome a beginning like this. Prolonged skin to skin contact with both parents initially and prolonged on-demand breastfeeding with baby-led weaning will both go a long way to repair the damage.

Hospital L&D should be a place that all women feel comfortable, respected, and supported… The other thing that really bugged me about this experience is that when the midwives showed up (they followed the ambulance), they were greeted by a seasoned L&D nurse who was shaking her head and clearly upset by the situation. She said something to the effect that the client is an RN at their facility, and that she should have known better than to attempt a home birth. Really!?!?! Excuse me, but maybe your facility should do a better job at supporting women with their choices so they wouldn’t see home birth as their only option. 

We at Midwife360 would be happy to encourage our VBAC moms to birth in the hospital. We acknowledge that it is the safest place to be for someone with a complex physiologic pregnancy. We also believe that the way someone is treated during their pregnancy, labor, and birth will have far-reaching consequences for them, their baby, and their entire family. It can mean the difference between having postpartum depression or not. It can mean the difference between successful breastfeeding or not. It can mean the difference between having a vaginal or cesarean birth. On an individual level and ultimately on a societal level, these things matter!

What’s wrong with the NICU?

The next situation evolved because the baby had a ‘lesion’ on his head. It was in such a position that it was likely caused when he was trying to get under her pubic bone and the length of time that he was in the birth canal. Neither parent had a history or tested positive for herpes – which is what the hospital providers were worried about. They started the baby on an antiviral, and on an antibiotic, since mom was GBS positive and had received her antibiotics just shy of the 4 hours recommended by the protocol. The baby was not sick and had no abnormal WBC (white blood cell) nor a positive culture. They insisted on performing a spinal tap for this well-baby because they were sure he had herpes somewhere that was gonna kill him. The mom knew her baby was fine, but every time she said she was taking her baby home, the nurse practitioner would tell her that her baby could die. This baby spent 10 excruciating days in the NICU and received multiple doses of antivirals and antibiotics, with multiple IVs in his little body, and endured a spinal tap – FOR NOTHING! A huge NICU bill later for a normal baby with a skid mark on his head. I believe we can do better in our hospitals. 

What can we do? 

Expose the neonatologists who up-sell services for healthy normal newborns and get evidence-based care into standard practice. We must not stand for this medical model of childbirth any longer! This family was so relieved and ecstatic for the vaginal birth they knew was possible, only to be traumatized and beaten down by having to advocate and protect their new baby. It doesn’t have to be this way! It’s up to individual parents who have these types of experiences to write letters and submit evaluations of their experience to the hospital and local media. Also, seek out respectful maternity care and demand respectful newborn care as well. We as a society can do better for our pregnant people and newborn babies!

*This is giving the baby breaths with the bag and mask and is the first step in neonatal resuscitation. 5 long slow breaths.

Natural Birth After C-Section

Can I have a vaginal birth if I already had a c section?

The short answer is, “YES! YOU CAN!” While the long answer requires a conversation about various risks – risks of a VBAC, or vaginal birth after cesarean, AND risks of repeat surgery. Unfortunately, it is the second set of risks that are routinely left out of the conversation when you speak with a hospital provider (OB or CNM) about it. And, also, unfortunately, these same providers often offer the VBAC and then find a reason at the end of the pregnancy that either induction of labor is ‘necessary’ (not the best plan for a successful VBAC) or a repeat surgery if the pregnancy goes beyond 39 or 40 weeks. 

Where can I have a successful VBAC?

This drives many women to seek an out-of-hospital birth provider for their planned VBAC, even though everyone agrees that the hospital is the best place due to the easy and quick access to emergency services. Since VBAC is prohibited in Birth Centers, this leaves home birth as the only option. And home birth is not for everyone. It is certainly not the best idea for someone whose main reason for choosing it is to avoid the hospital. It is always better to run towards something rather than running away from something. In other words, the choice to have a home birth should be driven by the desire to have your baby in the comfort and safety of your home, not by the fear of the hospital.

Successful home birth requires dedication and preparation

We have seen a situation like this where the client chose to have her baby with us because of her fear of having another c section and her inability to find a hospital provider who would support her decision to birth vaginally. She did not have a doula or take a birth preparation class. (These are 2 of Midwife360’s 3 keys to successful, efficient birthing. The 3rd is using the birth tub.) Consequently, she was unprepared and unsure when her labor did start, and did not request the midwife presence in a timely manner. She birthed on the toilet and her baby actually went into the toilet! They had the midwife on the phone throughout the process and she was able to guide them verbally (the part about the toilet came out later!) and everything turned out well. 

This is an example of how normal the process is for most people – even those who have had previous c sections – and for most babies. Babies are resilient and born to survive and know how to start breathing with little to no help in most cases.

Most predictions by OB providers are wrong

“Your baby is breech, and even if it turns, your pelvis is too small to push. There’s an 80% chance you’ll have to have a c section if you try, and then it would be an emergency surgery, which is more dangerous. So let’s just schedule the c section as this will be safer.”

I’ve heard this same speech from many clients over the years. This particular client told us this story of her first birth – the baby turned out to be 5#5oz. When she got pregnant the second time, they said she would have to have another surgery – it would be safer, they said. “But my mom had a c section and then pushed my brother out right after – he was over 10# – can’t I at least try?” “No”, they said, “it’s not safe”. There was no discussion of the risks of surgery, all focus is on the risks of trying a vaginal birth.

You can do it!

When this woman got pregnant a third time, she knew that she could birth her baby vaginally. She drove an hour away from her home to find a provider that believed in her and would support her. And although she did not take advantage of the 3 keys to success, (she used the birth tub only), she was so determined and dedicated that she was able to adequately prepare herself mentally for the big day. She was able to birth an 8#3oz baby vaginally in the birth tub with her sisters, husband, mother-in-law, and daughters all present and cheering her on! She pushed for over 2 hours, but barely tore and the baby came out quickly with no problems.

Our bodies and our babies are made for birth

When will OB doctors and other birth providers stop telling women what their bodies cannot do? Women are created with the social imperative to create life and deliver it to the outside world. Among many other things, we are very well designed birthing machines! If you didn’t know this already, then you do now!

Be empowered, be informed, stand up for yourself and your baby!

High-tech Childbirth is Not Always Better

Baby girl few minutes after the birth

America excels in high-tech medicine

When it comes to healthcare and medicine, America is the greatest country in the world. If you get into a car crash or have a heart attack, or need a life-saving surgery, then you are very grateful to have that happen in the US of A. However, this statement is not true if you are pregnant and healthy. It is well known that the US scores shamefully low on the two standards used worldwide to evaluate how well a country is doing in the area of childbirth – infant mortality and maternal mortality. And it’s not a mystery as to why this is the case. We know that the standard interventions performed on pregnant women in the hospital on low-risk, healthy moms and babies are not evidence based. Withholding food and fluids by mouth.  Limiting movement and positioning in labor.  Use of continuous fetal monitoring for low risk labors.  Non-medically indicated inductions.  Immediate cord clamping.  Overuse of Pitocin for labor augmentation. All of these standard interventions can lead to perceived and real problems that trigger the cascade of events leading to an operative delivery – forceps, vacuum extraction, or cesarean (and occasionally a cesarean with forceps or vacuum delivery!).

Low-tech better for physiologic childbirth

When it comes to childbirth, high tech is not better than low tech. I have been privileged to attend many out of hospital births and many more in hospital births. Even a ‘normal’ birth in the hospital typically comes with continuous fetal monitoring and epidural. And unless it is the middle of the night and the lights are kept dimmed, the nurses use intermittent monitoring, the cord is left alone for at least 10-15 minutes, and the baby is kept on the mother AT ALL TIMES, no hospital birth worker has truly witnessed natural birth. There are many, many videos of home birth on the internet and it can be seen time and again the beauty and wonder of birth as it is meant to be.

Out-of-hospital birth should be first-line care for all low-risk childbirth

We have such great prenatal care standards, that any significant problem with the mom or the baby will most likely be detected prior to labor so that a baby that may need more high tech assistance can be born in a place where she can receive that assistance in a timely manner. It is so unlikely that a healthy mom and baby will have a major life-threatening problem during the birth process, that out of hospital birth and midwifery have been approved through legislation in most states. And statistics have proven that most transports from an out of hospital setting are done for non-emergent reasons. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have suggested that the out of hospital Birth Center should be the first level of care for healthy pregnant women. They recommend only moving up the chain to a hospital capable of performing a cesarean if there are risk criteria that have been demonstrated.

Low-tech interventions for childbirth

So that means in order to fix the problem, more doctors need to be trained in the low tech hand skills that are truly helpful to laboring women. These include Leopolds maneuvers (feeling the baby from the outside to determine it’s position), which, when performed properly, can assist the provider to be able to tell not only the baby’s position but if there is adequate fluid around the baby. Keeping hands out of the way other than to provide warm compresses during the actual birth. Turning a breech baby to avoid a breech delivery. Even being able to perform a breech delivery – these are skills that are slowly being lost to us because they are not being taught in medical schools. And delayed cord clamping is probably the single most important non-intervention that can be supported at a birth! We have been complacent, and have allowed an intervention – immediate clamping and cutting of the umbilical cord (that typically happens in the course of surgical birth) – to become standard of care for all births without studying the effects. It is part of the OB culture and doctors and CNMs are taught to do it without question. This is what happens when you put surgeons in charge of a physiological event.

Women’s complacency has really been the main cause of our loss of control over our bodies and our labors. It is time for us to stand up and reclaim our bodies, our labors, and our births. Support your local midwife, demand respect and evidence based care. Maintain a healthy lifestyle and prepare yourself for an out of hospital birth – it will transform your life!