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Hey there mama-to-be! So, you might be feeling a little overwhelmed with all the information (or lack thereof) about your options when it comes to having a birth that is not only safe but also ENJOYABLE. As a doula and birth photographer, I have witnessed almost every type of birth and experienced firsthand the good, the bad, and the ugly about our hospitals and healthcare system when it comes to serving birthing people. Let’s just say that there are quite a few norms surrounding our birth culture, especially here in Indiana, that I would love to see evolve. While these tips aren’t going to revolutionize maternal healthcare in and of themselves, I don’t believe we are completely helpless when it comes to taking ownership in our birthing experiences! Here are 5 reasons to break the “rules” of traditional childbirth, and ways to challenge some of these outdated norms in order to set yourself up for a beautiful and PLEASANTLY memorable birth experience!
1. You don’t actually have to give birth in the hospital at all.
Giving birth at home with a certified midwife or in a birth center can provide a more relaxed and intimate setting for the birth of your baby. It allows you to have more control over the birthing process and can provide a more personalized, comfortable experience. This option is safe for low-risk pregnancies when attended by a midwife, and has similar or better outcomes compared to hospital births.
Around here, there are plenty of misconceptions surrounding the safety of out-of-hospital birth. To quote Nicole Ramsey, a doula local to central Indiana (see this post for sources referenced): “In 2010, ACOG cited a study on home birth that claimed babies were 3x as likely to die after a home birth than a hospital birth (though maternal outcomes were still better). If this were true, mothers need to know. But it turns out the researcher referenced did an incredibly shoddy job. And people need to know that, too. First, for the front page report and conclusion, they didn’t distinguish between unattended births and births attended by certified midwives. Buried in the fine print, they mentioned that when they only included midwife attended births, the outcomes were the same. Second, while they included older studies (with some poor research methods), they completely excluded a newer, more rigorous study on 300,000 women done in the Netherlands. This Dutch research found no poor outcomes for babies. Good research matters. Women’s health matters. Home birth might not be for everyone, but we certainly should be asking ourselves what in that environment makes birth better for women and replicating it in our hospital settings.” I mean……..*MIC DROP*
2. Even in the hospital setting, you can choose a midwife as your provider.
There is so much evidence in support of the midwifery model of care when it comes to both outcomes for mothers and babies. A quick google search will bring up many reasons why this is the case. Not to mention the fact that most other industrialized countries (all of which have FAR better maternal/fetal outcomes than us) have already made midwifery care the standard for normal pregnancies. I want to be sensitive to those that absolutely need the surgical expertise of an OB doctor and acknowledge that OB care will always be so very vital in our hospitals! But for women that are low risk and prefer birthing in a hospital for any variety of reasons, choosing a hospital midwife can be a great option. Here in Indianapolis, we are fortunate to have a few hospitals that have chosen to invest in midwifery care within the hospital setting (Community Hospital North, St. Vincent Carmel, and IU Health Riley) and it is my hope that more will soon realize the value in providing this option to Hoosier birthing families! I’m lookin at you, west side!!
3. Epidurals are not the only form of pain relief available during labor.
Okay hear me out…I in NO WAY want to give the impression that I am anti-epidural. I personally have researched the risks and benefits of epidurals, and have chosen to have one with each of my own labors. And let me tell you, mine were mercifully perfect and side-effect free and I have no regrets! But for the mamas that have NOT had that experience (or the ones that simply prefer to avoid them altogether for any reason), I see you and I want you to know there are other options!
Other forms of pain relief during labor can include nitrous oxide, using a TENS Unit, and other natural methods such as hypnobirthing, hydrotherapy, accupuncture/accupressure, aromatherapy, and massage. If going unmedicated is important to you, my best advice would be to 1. hire a doula, (so many reasons why!) and 2. take the time to read, educate yourself, and prepare your mind and body in whatever ways feel right to you.
4. You can have some control in creating your birth environment–even in the hospital.
This one has more to do with simply taking ownership of your own comfort than going against a norm, but it’s just as necessary to include. Especially when birthing in a hospital setting, I think it can be so helpful to make your environment as home-like as possible. This means doing what you can to take control of the sights, smells, and sounds around you to enhance relaxation and help those labor hormones flow! Most hospitals will allow you to bring a diffuser with essential oils (though keep in mind some smells that you love at one moment during labor might repulse you at another moment! So applying them to cotton balls or a washcloth to sniff might be a good alternative).
When it comes to labor, mindset is everything. Hang some affirmation cards or motivational images to help remind yourself of your strength. Music can also be so helpful in drowning out the hospital noises and keeping you centered, relaxed, and motivated.
Another great way to keep yourself comfortable is to bring your OWN labor gown/clothing. After all, you’re (most likely) not there at the hospital because you’re a sick patient! You’re also not a prison inmate, so if you find yourself with a provider that tells you that you can only wear that scratchy, flappy gown…I’d run away fast, mama. You are there to bring life into the world, which is a normal and beautiful event. I understand that lots of women opt for the hospital gown because birth is “messy,” but I promise you these are all completely normal bodily fluids that come right out in the wash!
I’d recommend choosing something that is easily unfastened for skin-to-skin/breastfeeding and unbuttons down the back if you want an epidural (this one is my personal fave), but wear whatever makes you feel most like the birthing goddess that you are.
5. In most cases, it is SAFE to eat and drink throughout labor.
Just going to end here on the most controversial topic, because why not!? 🙂 Anyone who knows me knows that I always get a little fired up inside when an authority figure states a rule or policy without a good reason to back it up. The fact that “it’s always been how we do things” is just never going to be a good enough reason for me! And I don’t know about you, but when it comes to getting hangry, I don’t want anyone telling me I have to starve (especially during an event equivalent in physical demand to running a marathon) unless there is a GOOD reason for it, ha! To be fair, there was originally a good reason behind the no food/drink policy in hospitals. But with today’s advancements in modern anesthesiology, that reason is kind of outdated at best. Not to mention restricting nutrition during labor can absolutely backfire in negative ways. I never tell clients to go against their provider’s instructions, but it’s simply important to educate yourself on the actual current risks and benefits of any policy. It’s also important to remember that YOU are paying THEM for a service…and that, again, you are not a prison inmate. You can read more about the risks and benefits of eating during labor here!
Bonus Tip – hire yourself a birth photographer!
I mean I can’t NOT include one of the best ways you can celebrate your strength and make your birth memorable! I have heard from so many clients that one of the best decisions they made for their birth was to have someone document each moment, and many have described having these photos as “healing” and “empowering.” It is so powerful to be able to look back on those images and films and be reminded of your strength and the love of your support people. So much of labor and birth becomes hazy in your memory over time, and it’s just too important of a life event to forget!
Ready to learn more about what the birth photography experience could mean for you? Whether you’re still trying to decide if photos will enhance your birth experience or you’re officially on the search for an Indianapolis birth photographer, Let’s connect!
Mackenzie Thada is a photographer in Indianapolis specializing in all things birth, baby, and motherhood. You can learn more at mackenziethadaphoto.com!