For low-risk births, look beyond traditional care

Halle Reynolds

Preparing to become a first-time parent (or second, third, and so on for that matter) and the events leading up to that big day when you finally attain parental status can be incredibly daunting. Being a mother myself, I can lend my own first-hand experience when it comes to vouching for all the decisions to be made preceding your little one’s grand entry into the world.

Parents contemplate which car seat to buy, which provider to choose, and even what name to pick before their child’s birth. These are common thoughts held by many parents wanting to ensure they are well equipped for those first milestones.

However, in recent years the idea of becoming better prepared not only for the moments right after your child’s arrival, but the happenings directly before have become more heavily considered by those seeking a different birthing experience than one might typically expect or imagine.

When most picture a traditional delivery, they see a woman lying for hours in a hospital bed on her back. Many women opt for an epidural early on (which is perfectly fine and normal) that leaves them bound to their bed during labor—-unable to walk around or limiting certain positions due to the dangers of their lower limbs being numbed.

Centuries ago, women gave birth at home, surrounded by women from their communities who assisted them during the birthing process. It wasn’t until the modernization and technological advancement of medicine women became familiar with the use of anesthesia, cesarean sections, and fetal monitoring.

These advancements have significantly decreased infant and mother mortality rates and have proven time and time again to save lives. However, that hasn’t stopped the growing movement of natural, non-medical intervention births that gained popularity in the 1970s from being on the horizon for many expectant mothers.

In the last few decades, more and more women have been introduced to the idea of having a support person—-most always a woman—-who is well educated in birth coaching and provides hands-on, emotional, and mental support throughout labor and delivery, educates mothers and partners on a variety of techniques to help ease labor and get the baby in optimal positioning, and communicates with the mom-to-be throughout pregnancy to ensure her birth preferences are in place prior to D-day so new parents can advocate for their needs during labor.

These supportive birthing educators are called doulas, and they actually do so much more than what you see described above. However, the concept of a doula has been around for centuries, long before medical technology and hospital births became the conventional method of giving birth.

Many often confuse the responsibilities of a doula with those of a midwife. Although they do very similar things in that they both provide women with tips, tricks, and support throughout pregnancy, labor, and delivery—only a midwife can provide medical advice and care, including actually delivering a baby, postpartum check-ups, well woman exams, and prescribing medication.

One significant difference between midwives and OB GYNs is that midwives are equipped to handle mainly low-risk pregnancies with little to no complications. Whereas OB GYNs are trained to manage pregnancies of all kinds, including high-risk, and can perform surgeries if necessary.

This is likely the reason over 90 percent of American women opt for care delivered by OB GYNs in contrast to the 8.7 percent who utilize midwife care. To most, this is what you are supposed to do and the mere thought of considering having a low-intervention birth, or even a conventional birth with a doula or midwife in attendance might seem senseless and terrifying because—what if something goes wrong?

I’ll show you where we get it wrong. Research shows having a doula and/or midwife can decrease the possibility of potentially traumatic or unnecessary interventions by lowering risk of c-sections, offering continued support throughout all of labor and delivery, lessening the duration of labor, and offering women a more empowered experience.

So, why is it that even with studies showing so many benefits to having a doula or midwife present—-whether hospital birth or home birth—-are we as Americans still skeptical even when so many other countries have standardized this model of care?

I believe it is because there is an underlying sense of discomfort and fear-based decision making ingrained within our culture when choosing which route to go. Even I have fallen victim to this mentality, where I was making decisions based on the slim chance something might go incredibly wrong rather than doing what felt best for my body and my baby.

Through medical advancements we have been able to accomplish so much as a society and save many lives in the process. However, just because the interventions and options are there, doesn’t mean we have to utilize them if we don’t feel comfortable doing so if we are having an otherwise healthy pregnancy, and continue having a safe labor and delivery.

Having a hospital birth doesn’t always mean sticking to one plan only. Educate yourself on the options so you can have the experience you want. Even though plans and preferences don’t always go according to how we envisioned, it is liberating to understand you can be in control of your birth (so long as emergency interventions aren’t necessary).

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