While giving birth at home or at a birthing center can be most advantageous for having a natural childbirth, the vast majority of women in the U.S. give birth at the hospital (over 98%!)
Sometimes, women choose a hospital birth for medical reasons or if they are a high-risk pregnancy. Other times, there are no other options. Birthing centers are few and far between in more rural areas, and some states outlaw home births attended by midwives.
But, just because you give birth in the hospital doesn’t mean you can’t give birth naturally. A natural hospital birth can absolutely, 100% be done!
Here are some tips to help you have a natural hospital birth.
Accept that the system is (probably) against you
This may sound harsh, but it’s better to be prepared if you want a natural hospital birth. Most hospitals specialize in interventions. Some doulas and midwives believe the moment you step into the hospital and put on their gown, you’ve had your first intervention.
As we know, one intervention like Pitocin can lead to another intervention like an epidural, which could ultimately lead to a c-section. This is such a common occurrence that there’s a term for it: The Cascade of Interventions.
Over 85% of U.S. women will have at least one intervention during birth, so the odds are set against you, especially at the hospital, if you don’t take decisive action.
But remember, over 90% of women can have an unmedicated vaginal birth, so know that it is not only possible but probable if you’re prepared! If you need to have your natural birth in a hospital, it’s your job is to get educated, get empowered and get support!
Commit to a natural hospital birth!
In our society, where birth is medicalized, a woman doesn’t just stumble into a natural birth, especially if it’s her first baby. Women who want a natural hospital birth need to have a strong “WHY” or reason(s) to work against the system. Your why will drive your birth and give you the strength to go the distance.
Here are some things you can do to really, truly commit to going natural.
- Sign a pledge. Say it out loud. Do whatever it takes to commit to yourself, to others and to God or the universe that your intensions are to have a natural hospital birth.
- Read, read, read! If you only have time for one books choose Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. It has helped many mamas who were on the fence about natural birth embrace it. (be sure to bring them in your hospital bag too).
- Get on the same page with your partner. If your partner is not on board you will need to explain to him why you want a natural birth. Many people just don’t know why natural birth is so great and why trying for one in the hospital is more difficult.
- Surround yourself with natural birth advocates. Find natural parenting groups in your area. Check out a La Leche League group (many members are naturally minded). Immerse yourself in the natural birth and parenting world.
- Stay away from nay sayers, Debbie Downers and scaremonger-ers. You don’t need to hear all of the exception-to-the-rule stories or negative experiences. Remember that over 90% of women can have a vaginal and unmedicated childbirth. Read some of the amazing natural childbirth stories in our gallery. Stay positive and know that many scary stories may have started with unnecessary interventions that you can avoid.
Research your hospital
If you have a choice of hospitals, it’s a good idea to research your options and try to find the most natural-minded practitioners. Scour online forums for your area and check local parenting groups to get an idea of what other mamas experienced at your chosen hospital. Moms and doulas are the best resources for finding the right place to plan a natural hospital birth.
Additionally, you’ll want to call the hospital and ask for a tour. Some will be able to do a private one and others will require you to sign up for a group tour. In either case, make sure you have a list of questions you want answers to that may not be obvious just by looking around. Here are some ideas:
- Is the hospital baby friendly?
- Ask them what their c-section rate is. (Or, if you know who will attend your birth, what is their c-section rate? Hint: if they don’t know their stats, it’s not good!)
- Are there any restrictions on who is allowed in the room?
- How does the hospital support breastfeeding? Do they have an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) on staff?
- Can I eat and drink during labor?
- Can I walk and move around during labor? Do I need continuous fetal monitoring, even though it isn’t evidence-based?
- Can I stay in the same room the entire time?
- Can I choose what position I deliver in?
- Can I have access to a birth ball?
- Can my partner stay with me after the baby is born?
Also, take a look around at the birthing rooms. Would you like to be in labor there? Are they homey? Do they have soft lighting or comfortable beds and chairs? Do they have natural birthing accessories like squatting stools, large bathtubs, birth balls, etc.
Take a good birth class
There is no better way to prepare for birth, especially a natural hospital birth, than to take a good birth class. Unfortunately, many of the classes offered by the hospital talk more about how to be a good patient than how you can work with your body to give birth naturally. Take a look at this post about choosing the right birthing classes for you.
You’ll see that the hospital class doesn’t make an appearance in our post. That’s because hospital birth courses are also shorter, not in depth, and generally not supportive of natural birthing techniques and ample breastfeeding education. Furthermore, you’re less likely to find other like-minded, natural mamas to bond with in the hospital class! Instead, choose a natural childbirth education class that supports your goal of a natural birth.
Hire a doula for a natural hospital birth
A doula can make a huge difference in whether or not you can have a natural hospital birth. Not only can your doula help be your advocate for an intervention-free birth, but studies show that a doula at your side during labor increases your chance of spontaneous vaginal birth without vacuum or forceps assistance.
Women who had continuous support from a doula were also less likely to have any pain medication or epidurals, vacuum or forceps-assisted births, C-sections, or negative feelings about childbirth.
And doulas aren’t just for moms—birth partners rave about them too! Your husband, your partner, your mother, your sister—these people aren’t professionals when it comes to birth. They know you. Doulas know birth. Together, they make up a powerful support team!
Learn more about how doulas improve birth outcomes and then grab these doula interview questions to help you find the right one.
Consider a birth center in a hospital
If for some reason you can’t deliver at a birth center, or if you don’t live near enough to one, check and see if you a hospital near you has a birthing center. The difference between the two is subtle but important.
A free standing birth center doesn’t have obstetrical surgeons (OBs) or advanced medical care available in-house. A birth center in a hospital does have access to emergency medical treatment if needed but are still primarily run by midwives, usually nurse-midwives. Yes, the midwives have to follow hospital protocol, but you probably have a better chance at your natural hospital birth in one of these birth centers than in a hospital maternity ward.
I gave birth to both of my kids in this type of facility and had 2 natural, vaginal births.
However, be careful! Many hospitals are calling their labor & delivery units “Family Birth Centers.” Almost always, these are not birth centers at all but normal labor & delivery units with all of the interventions that come with them.
A true birth center within the hospital will have obvious signs that it’s different–maybe a queen size bed, a big tub, and the inability to get medical interventions without transferring to a regular labor & delivery room. Hospitals have realized that the demand lately is to “go natural” and have changed their marketing to fit the bill.
Write a birth plan
Writing a birth plan is a great way for you to become familiar with what you desire for your birth, and with what choices you will make if circumstances change. A birth plan also helps to educate your birthing team and your doula can help advocate your choices for you.
Unfortunately, many nurses don’t take detailed birth plans seriously, so it’s good to keep it to a single page. Here’s an easy visual template you can use to build a plan that nurses won’t scoff at.
Stay at home as long as possible
Home is much more relaxing and comfortable for most moms giving birth. By being in your own space, you feel the safest and can get into your own labor rhythm. With your doula by your side, you will have lots of time to learn to manage the pain without the temptation (or pushing) of pain meds. You will also be free… to walk, squat, moan, eat, drink or do whatever you need to do to help birth your baby.
It’s also good to stay home as long as possibly because most hospitals put you on a timeline as soon as you arrive at the hospital. Remember, hospitals specialize in interventions. You go to the hospital to have the baby, so the hospital expects that this outcome will happen soon. (Or they will help make this happen!)
The moment you walk into the hospital, the interventions begin. From wearing a continuous fetal monitor or being pressured for Pitocin. Keep in mind that you can refuse any intervention, but it can become exhausting for mom. This is where your doula or partner can take over to advocate on your behalf.
Also, if your contractions stall on the ride to the hospital or at the hospital, dim the lights, create a small safe place, have you partner close and try to recreate an intimate space for birthing your baby. We have hormones that will actually work against us if we feel threatened or the light is too bright.
Natural hospital birth: It can be done!
You really can have the natural birth you are hoping for even if you have to be at the hospital. You can enjoy the experience of working with your body to birth your baby and surprise (and delight) doctors and nurses as they watch the miracle of natural birth unfold before their very eyes.
How about YOU? Did you have a natural hospital birth? Share with us!