Why Women Choose Unassisted Childbirth

This article was originally published under the title “Why a growing number of mamas love birthing unassisted” in Holistic Parenting Magazine No. 6 November-December 2014. (www.holisticparentingmagazine.com)

Why Women Choose Unassisted Childbirth

Unassisted childbirth is not new. Technically, women have been birthing this way for millennia. Unassisted childbirth happens when a mother gives birth without being attended by a medical professional. While some women give birth alone, many women choose to have their partners present. Back in the days when people lived in close-knit communities, older women would attend births. They were often relatives of the birthing women with childbirth experience, for example, mothers, aunts, or grandmas.
There are a lot of reasons for women to contemplate having an unassisted birth. Some unassisted births happen by accident: when labor happens to fast to call for help, when the midwife doesn’t make it on time, or when the baby is born en route to the hospital. But intentional unassisted births are on the rise for several reasons:

  • Midwife-attended homebirths are not legal in every state
  • Giving birth at home is the best way to avoid unnecessary interventions
  • Childbirth is natural and doesn’t require a medical degree
  • Giving birth unassisted allows you to take control of your birth experience
  • Birthing at home allows women to have a stress-free birth
  • It’s easier to bond with family members without strangers

Many studies have shown and proven that homebirths are safe. Most homebirths happen under the watchful eyes of midwives, but that’s not necessarily the reason why giving birth at home is safer than giving birth in a hospital. Homebirths are safer because intervening with the natural process of childbirth (whether it’s inducing labor, augmenting labor, using forceps, or scheduling a C-section) is more harmful than letting things happen naturally.
While midwives who attend homebirths and birth center births help keep childbirth close to what nature intended, they can still hinder the process. While the mother-to-be can establish an intimate bond with her midwife over the course of her pregnancy, the midwife is still essentially a stranger, especially compared with the mother’s own family members. This means the laboring woman may still feel inhibited when it comes to letting go during labor and childbirth.
In addition to that, midwives still have to obey certain rules. In most states, they are unable to attend births that happen before 37 weeks or after 42 (or 43) weeks of gestation. Additionally, most midwives may not feel comfortable delivering twins or even breech babies. A midwife might also not be able to attend a birth when the mother has certain health problems.
It can be frustrating for an expecting mother to be told that she is not allowed to give birth at home because of pre-existing medical conditions. While there are certainly good reasons to go to the hospital, giving birth isn’t necessarily one of them.
When it comes to due date limitations, midwives might not be flexible enough. Newest research has shown that your estimated due date can be off by as much as five weeks. (The Independent, 2013) Unfortunately, the medical community doesn’t allow babies to be born too early or too late. When a woman exceeds 41 weeks, most doctors will start talking about induction if not sooner. The problem is that an induction (however natural) is still an interference with the natural process of birth. If your baby had been ready to be born, then labor would have already started.
Most midwives will try to induce labor before 42 or 43 weeks. Many expecting mothers will agree to a membrane sweep by their midwives in order to give birth away from the hospital (I have personally done that with my second child). Unfortunately, even a natural induction isn’t really what your baby intended. But the only alternative to inducing a post-term pregnancy is to give birth on your own without the midwife’s support, and most women are not ready for that.
For some women, unassisted birth is the ideal way to give birth even if they could have a midwife-attended homebirth. While you can save a lot of money by giving birth on your own, that’s never the main reason for choosing an unassisted birth (in fact, it shouldn’t be the reason). Being able to birth your own baby is very empowering. The great thing is that it’s also extremely easy as long as you can just go with the flow and stop worrying about everything.
In order to give birth unassisted, a woman will need to have faith in her body. Obviously, the mother-to-be is likely to conduct extensive research about giving birth at home, but the only thing that’s truly needed is the belief that your body can handle it. Your body is perfectly capable of giving birth to your baby just as it’s perfectly capable of nourishing your baby during your pregnancy. But somewhere along the way, our modern culture has lost faith in the process.

How to Give Birth Unassisted

Technically, you don’t need anything outside of yourself to give birth. At its basic, a birth only needs to involve a woman in labor and her baby. Of course, most people want to prepare for the event just a little bit more. Even a minimalist will try to have some blankets or towels on hand. But contrary to what popular movies have you believe, you really don’t need several buckets of hot water.
Fortunately, with access to information through your local library and the Internet, it’s easy to determine which supplies you should get. Your shopping list for an unassisted homebirth will look very similar to a supply list for a midwife-attended homebirth. For example, you will probably want to stock up on old sheets, old towels, mattress protector, pads, a mirror, a clock or watch, nursing bras, nursing pads etc.
When you don’t hire a midwife, you’ll also be concerned with finding a way to cut the umbilical cord (unless you plan on having a Lotus birth during which you don’t cut the cord at all), and getting a suction bulb (in case you have to suction baby’s mouth and nose), a scale, and possibly a stethoscope or Doppler. Some women also choose to have certain herbs on hand in order to stop postpartum hemorrhage if it occurs, for example, Shepherd’s purse.
When it comes to birth supplies, you can get very elaborate and purchase homebirth kits, or you can just deal with the basic items you already have. You can rent or purchase a birthing pool, or you can give birth in your bathtub. Of course, you don’t have to have a water birth at all if you don’t want to. For your first unassisted birth, you might purchase more supplies than you’ll really need. But this phenomenon also happens to first-time parents when it comes to other baby stuff.
The hardest part about giving birth unassisted is the fact that you might need support during pregnancy and labor. While many mothers are giving birth to second or subsequent children by the time they choose unassisted childbirth, every pregnancy, labor, and birth tends to be different. For example, you may experience hemorrhoids with one pregnancy and bloody show without contractions in another.
The one great thing about hiring a midwife is that you’ll have someone to talk to. Ideally, she is there to reassure you as well. Fortunately, it’s easy to research almost everything online on your own. Additionally, there are quite a few very active Facebook groups in which mothers support each other to have a natural or even unassisted birth. And if all else fails, you can always choose to make a prenatal appointment with a doctor or midwife in your area.
Giving birth unassisted doesn’t necessarily require you to go without prenatal care altogether. Depending on your situation, you may decide to go to an OB/GYN or midwife for regular prenatal visits. Some women decide to give birth at home without telling their providers, others are upfront about it. However, some providers may not keep you as a patient if you don’t plan on showing up for the birth.
Of course, you can also do your own prenatal care at home. Nowadays, you can purchase anything you could possibly need online, for example, urine test strips and a stethoscope. You can easily track your weight gain, and you can even measure the size of your uterus. Of course, you don’t have to do any of that. Alternatively, you can just have faith in the process. After all, your body knows how to grow a baby even if you don’t.
Prenatal care is actually pretty similar to other health checkups. It’s designed to spot problems (although it doesn’t necessarily do that reliably), but it can’t really change the outcome. Healthy mothers are more likely to have healthy babies. Therefore, taking care of yourself is the best prenatal care you can have.
According to John A. Haugen, “You do not need to do any screening or diagnostic testing. The benefits of any prenatal testing include reassurance, or in the event of a problem, preparation, optimal medical management, or termination of the pregnancy. The risks include additional worrying if you have abnormal screening tests but don’t do diagnostic testing and the miscarriage risks associated with diagnostic testing. This risk of not doing any testing is not knowing about a birth defect, or a higher risk of one, before delivery.”

 The Challenges for Freebirthers

Women who give birth unassisted, also called freebirthers, have quite a few challenges to overcome. First of all, they may face resistance from their significant others. Second, their family may not be supportive, either. Another problem is that they might encounter very unsupportive doctors if they end up in the hospital after all. And finally, it can be a challenge to get a birth certificate for their newborn.
You may choose to give birth unassisted without any support at all. However, most women need the moral support of at least one person. Generally, the closest person tends to be the significant other. Depending on his beliefs about the medical system, it might be challenging to get him to embrace an unassisted homebirth. Fortunately, there is a lot of research out there that shows the dangers of medical interventions without playing up the perceived risks of childbirth.
Some women who choose to give birth unassisted run into very unhelpful extended family members along the way. Some people might even threaten to call child services. To them, childbirth is scary and dangerous. But while they may think they’re acting in your best interest by trying to force you into receiving medical care, they’re not. Therefore, many women choose to leave everyone in the dark until after the fact because it’s the easiest way to avoid this type of situation.
A woman who gives birth unassisted usually chooses to do so to keep her child and herself safe from harm. However, sometimes there are legitimate complications in childbirth (however unlikely) that truly require medical intervention. It’s important to recognize the signs and act accordingly. After all, no matter how much you may desire an unassisted birth, you certainly don’t want to put your health or the health of your baby at risk for it.
If a woman ends up in the hospital after having planned an unassisted birth, she may run into unsupportive caregivers. While you can certainly find a midwife or a doctor who will support a natural birth, you might not get the kind of person you want in an emergency. In that case, it’s important to be prepared to stand your ground when it matters to you. Ideally, the laboring woman will have a support partner with her who can help with that.
Every state has different laws about documenting a birth. It might be challenging to get a birth certificate for your child after an unassisted birth, but it’s your legal right. In order to report the birth, you will probably need to go to the Vital Records department in your county (same place where you’ll order a birth certificate). It might be a good idea to find out what kind of proof you will need. Most likely, you will need to provide proof of pregnancy and proof of a live birth, which could be in the form of prenatal records, medical records, baptism, or a signed affidavit from someone other than the parents.
Unassisted childbirth certainly seems to be on the rise. It’s definitely a small movement (kind of like unschooling), but it’s gaining popularity. In the end, it all comes down to the fact that people realize that having a medical degree doesn’t make you omnipotent. Furthermore, mothers and fathers are making more educated choices about pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting in general. The more you research, the more you will realize that you are the expert on your body and your child.
The Independent (Aug 7, 2013) “Length of pregnancy can vary by up to five weeks, scientists discover” Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/length-of-pregnancy-can-vary-by-up-to-five-weeks-scientists-discover-8749081.html
Haugen, John A. (n.a.) “The Facts on Prenatal Testing.” Retrieved from http://www.haugenobgyn.com/prenatal_testing.aspx?AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1