The birth of your child will be one of the most important and memorable experiences of your life. It is worth the effort and time to learn about all of your childbirth options so that you can make the decisions that are right for you and your family. Once you’ve identified what’s important to you, you’ll be able to clearly communicate your wishes and choose a care provider and birth environment that will respect and honor your choices.
We’ve put together a list of 5 basic steps that will help guide you through the process of making these decisions. We encourage you to identify a birth partner (spouse, partner family member, close friend) and invite them into this process and to go through each step together. Your partner will ideally be your primary support person and advocate during labor and birth. The more prepared your partner is to ask questions and make requests on your behalf, the more you’ll be set-up for an empowered and healthy birth.
The Five Steps to a Healthy Birth
Step 1: Educate Yourself
Start this exciting new phase in your life from an empowered position! In today’s world you have access to a seemingly limitless amount of information about pregnancy and birth. Dive in! Sign up for a comprehensive childbirth education class, read healthy pregnancy and birthing books and magazines, and watch documentaries on childbirth. Reach out to parents, providers and birth organizations in your area to find out about local resources and to get a sense of what birth options are available to you in your community. Check the CIC website (choicesinchildbirth.org) for resources, our list of recommended books and films, and to find childbirth educators and parenting support classes in your area.
Step 2: Listen to your Body
Your body is about to embark on an epic journey! Pregnancy and childbirth will challenge you in all kinds of new and exciting ways. Despite the fast pace of life, this is a time for you to really listen and connect to your body’s messages. During this time your needs will be changing almost continually. Take time to check in with yourself each day and really listen to what your body is telling you. Making this connection now will not only optimize your health during pregnancy, but will also be invaluable during labor and birth.
Some of the things you will want to consider are your diet, the rest and exercise you’ll require, and the levels of stress in your life. Nurturing yourself and your body is the very first step in caring for your baby. Reach out for support when necessary and enjoy putting yourself and your body’s needs first. Visit the CIC Provider Network (choicesinchildbirth.org/network) for listings of nutritionists, body workers and fitness instructors in your area.
Step 3: Create Your Personal Birth Philosophy
Now that you’ve started to educate yourself about pregnancy and birth it’s time to make some choices. Step 3 is about identifying your own personal philosophy and creating a vision for your child’s birth. It is time to get really honest and clear with yourself. For example: Do you believe the process of birth is: Safe? Scary? Sacred? Do you believe that labor and birth require medical assistance? Do you feel it is a normal, natural process? Do you fear labor is potentially dangerous? Do you want medical assistance throughout? Do you want to deliver in the most natural way possible? Do you fall somewhere in between, believing that birth is usually safe but feeling that you want a higher level of medical expertise on hand, just in case?
Ask yourself big questions and listen honestly to your answers. Notice what fears come up for you and talk them through with your partner, support people or a counselor. Once you have a sense of your beliefs about birth you will be ready to make the maternity care decisions that are right for you such as where, how and with whom to birth.
Step 4: Choose Your Care Provider
Choosing a maternity care provider is the single most important decision that you will make. Take the time to interview providers to ensure that you find the best possible match. Ask your provider many questions to make sure he/she supports and agrees with your personal birth philosophy (to get you started, see “Questions to Ask Your Provider” https://www.choicesinchildbirth.org/resources/10QuestionsToAsk.pdf). You should feel confident that your provider is skilled AND that they will respect your wishes. Trust your gut! Once you’re in labor you won’t be able to convince your care provider to go against their own birth philosophy and follow your wishes. This is an unrealistic and often disappointing expectation. Listen to your instincts NOW as to whether or not the provider is the right one for you. Options for maternity care providers include Obstetricians, Midwives, Family Physicians, and Osteopaths.
Step 5: Choose Your Birth Environment
Your personal philosophy and vision for your birth will help you determine the right birth environment. The vast majority of women in the United States birth in hospitals. While this is the dominant choice, it is not necessarily your only one. In many locations, women may also have the choice of birthing in free-standing birth centers, hospital-based birth centers or in their own homes. Which of these choices best matches your philosophy and vision? For instance, women wishing to have a natural, unhurried birth generally have a hard time finding support for this choice in a hospital setting. Likewise, women who believe that birth is potentially dangerous might not feel safe birthing at home. Where will you feel best supported and safest birthing your child?
“If only I’d known then what I know now. “
These are heartbreaking words.
Birth doesn’t always go the way that we expect it to. Sometimes women are disappointed when their birth takes an unexpected turn. This is understandable. But there’s a big difference between not having the birth that you hoped for because of unforeseen complications and not having the birth that you hoped for because the providers serving you didn’t share your philosophy or respect your wishes.
We strongly encourage you to take the time to become educated about your options, connect to your birth philosophy, develop your vision, and select the providers and setting that will support you to the fullest.
For more information including local provider listings, resources and recommended books and films, visit www.ChoicesinChildbirth.org.