What You Need To Know About Home Birth
Guest blog from Bex @the_wholesome_mummy:
I hadn’t even considered home birth for my first baby… It wasn’t really discussed with the midwives and it’s not something that I would have naturally thought of… It seemed like something that was just for “hippies”, but oh how wrong I was. I have since gone on to have 1 home birth and 1 free birth, both pain relief free, both empowering as F*ck and both memories I will keep with me forever… My opinions have very much changed from those early pregnancy days, so let me tell you a bit about my journey and the things that made a difference to my home birth experience.
So what made me actually decide to go for a home birth? Well in part the idea of giving birth in a hospital made me uneasy… You know what I mean, ‘One Born Every Minute’ style; screaming, legs in the air, vagina out, being shouted at “push, push!”, the idea was not exactly welcoming. Plus as much as my friends would tell you I’m fairly “chatty” (sometimes overly so), I’m actually quite a private person. No, the hospital was definitely not for me. I was originally set on the Midwife Led Unit (MLU), but I’m a bit of a geek and love to research things A LOT, so when I actually started to look into it, home birth ended up making the most sense.
My 1st birth went pretty quickly to be honest, my other half had only just got the birthing pool set up and I was desperate to get in it, 10 mins later, before the midwives had arrive, baby Finnlay was born. It wasn’t scary, I knew what to do and trusted my body… Yes I had some wobbly moments, but on the whole, it was AMAZING! The midwives arrived and burst my bubble a little as they were very chatty, but my other half was amazing and spoke to them, asking for some peace.
The placenta wasn’t as easy, I knew I wanted to do it naturally but the midwives wanted it out as it had been 1/2 hour, I was still in my post birth bubble, so I agreed to the injection and had what I feel was the most painful part of my birth, my placenta being pulled by the umbilical cord whilst I was laid down, horrible. But it is all learning and this was certainly something I remembered for my second baby.
My 2nd was a little more complicated (not the birth, that was fine), it was first lockdown, we knew we wanted another home birth but the NHS wasn’t supporting them and there were no independent midwives in our area. The idea of giving birth in hospital was making me so anxious and I would have to do most of it alone due to restrictions, this went against everything I wanted. So my husband and I talked it through and decided to go for a free birth. Our hospital was really close if transfer was needed, we had an independent midwife to call for advice if needed and we had done all the extra research. When it all kicked off it was night time. Our almost 2 year old was in bed, but we had planned on him being around. It was quick again and honestly felt pretty much like my first except my body wanted me to move differently and I listened to it. The water birth wasn’t working for me so I paced. I didn’t get in the water until I was literally crowning (that was a little awkward), and baby Kai came very quickly after that. I was nervous about the placenta after the experience with our first, but we gave it time, meanwhile I breastfed, snuggled and enjoyed skin to skin. It was beautiful. The placenta came 1.5 hours later with me squatting and there were no issues. I felt so tired, proud and empowered. We had done it… I had done it.
So what had made the difference, what made it such a natural and empowering experience?
WHAT MAKES A SUCCESSFUL HOME BIRTH?
From all my research and experience, here are the 6 main things that can make a homebirth one of the most positive experiences and memories for you:
Understanding your Body and Mind:
I know this may seem pretty obvious, but if you have a vagina and a womb, you were pretty much made for this, your ancestors have been doing it since the dawn of time, so why don’t we trust our bodies anymore? Well without getting too political for you, it's the media. Boring, calm, positive births at home don’t get good ratings and aren’t juicy enough to hold most peoples attention. So everything we see about birth is pain, screaming, or crazy hippies. But it's perfectly reasonable to plan for a birth that does not include these things. It’s all in the preparation and listening to your body.
Your contractions are the womb trying to widen the cervix and move baby into position and out, so if something feels uncomfortable, move and try something else. If you feel you need to move and walk around, do it. You’ll be amazed the difference it makes. However if you go into birth not believing you can do it, this fear will totally hold you back, so you need to work on this beforehand. Do some reading. Books like; Mama Natural - Genevieve Howland, Mindful Hypnobirthing - Sophie Fletcher and Why Home Birth Matters - Natalie Meddings. Or if you want to go a bit deeper, Guide to Childbirth - Ina May Gaskin, is a must have.
Oxytocin focussed Birthspace:
Oxytocin is the key hormone for Birth, but it is a shy hormone and needs some very particular things to come out and play: Security, Dark, Warmth, Love. So you need to make sure your birth space reflects this; only have people you trust in it, Light some candles or make the lighting low and calming, have music you love ready, have birth affirmations and positive images up on your walls, have towels and blankets to make you feel warm and cozy
Confident and prepared birth partner who is in your corner:
This is so important. When you are in labour and birthing, you need to stay in that bubble, but sometimes people will want to ask you questions, do checks, etc. You need to make sure you have discussed this all with your birth partner/s beforehand and that they are happy to be your advocate, your voice, your gatekeeper. It really important as if you have to come out of your bubble, it can scare away the oxytocin and slow labour. Vaginal exams may be useful for your midwife, but they are not essential and they are not the only way to know how far along you are. You may want them and that is fine, but if you don’t, don’t feel you have to.
Natural focussing labour techniques:
Some people want all the drugs in labour, some don’t, you need to decide what is right for you. Now I know that some people don’t like to focus on “pain” and other give birth pain free. I was not one of those people but I didn’t use painkillers at all during my births either. That doesn’t mean I didn’t do anything to manage the sensations and using some of the techniques below I can honestly say the pain / surges were not overwhelming at all. One of the first things to remember is that the pain is often there for your body to communicate something to you, so listen to it. If something is super uncomfortable, change how you are sat or stood. Here are some amazing things to try to help manage the pain / surges that come with birth:
Massage / Pressure
Love and stimulation
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, let your body guide you, it really helps. If you are feeling uncomfortable pressure or pain in one position, then move, find something that works for you. There are a range of positions which are great for labour and birth, but often just keeping mobile can help move through each contraction or surge. Positions that can help with labour are:
- Kneeling on all fours, still or swaying
- Kneeling and leaning on a birthing ball, chair, birthing partner or end of bed
- Sitting on a birthing ball, rocking or circling your hips
- Standing and leaning against something lower down like a table of chair
- Standing and leaning agains your birth partner for support, or a wall
- A birthing ball can be really useful as it allows hip movement and opening of the birth canal. There are also a range of positions which can be helpful to birth in.
Knowledge is power so get your birth plan in order:
Some may have you believe that there is no point in planning for birth as it can be so changeable, that “going with the flow” is better. This is simply not true. Studies show that planning for a homebirth leads to far less medical interventions and c-sections, so if someone tells you to go with the flow, I think we know our reply. The key gain from making a birth plan is knowing your options and deciding what is right for you, they say knowledge is power, but that is only when it is used and writing a birth plan, discussing it with your midwives and making sure your birth partner/s are on the same page as you, is so important.
The facts home birth vs hospital:
So do loads of people give birth at home?? Well no, the rates of home birth in the UK vs midwife led units (MLU’s) or hospitals is really low. In fact in 2017 only 2.5% of birthing people in England and Wales were choosing to home birth, but the number is going up. Most people worry about home birth is safety, and I totally get this. We are taught from very young that birth is painful, scary and needs to be highly medicalised, through the TV, films and society. This is simply not true.
Home births are a lot safer than you may imagine… and if you look at some up to date research, you’ll see it can actually be safer to plan a home birth instead of planning to birth in hospital. In fact for the majority of people, a planned home birth means you are likely to experience less medical interventions or untoward maternal outcomes (which include; caesarean section, operative vaginal birth, epidural analgesia, episiotomy, oxytocin augmentation, 3rd or 4th degree perineal tear, maternal infection or postpartum haemorrhage) than if you planned a hospital birth. Giving birth at home though does not mean rejecting medical support if required, and it is always good to have a back up plan. If you like to geek up and know the facts, take a look at the review by the Lancet.
Even if you have a “higher risk" pregnancy, it does not discount a home birth, they are still very safe environments unless hospital care is essential for you. By this I mean actually essential, not you have been told you should due to a “big baby” or due dates, these are not normally home birth cancelling reasons. This is often confused, so again, make sure you know your rights.
So what should you do?
Ultimately, it’s all about what feels right to you. If the idea of giving birth at home makes you super stressed out or uncomfortable, there are some great MLU’s and Hospitals out there. And you could still have a very personal birth experience. If you're not sure what’s right for you, there are loads of people, like myself, who would be happy to discuss options and help you decide what’s right for you. Either way, I really hope you have an amazing birth experience.
Well that was a bit longer than anticipated… I can really talk when I get going (did I mention I am quite chatty). If you do ever want support or just to ask some questions, give me a shout via my instagram, Facebook or Website. I’m always happy to help!
A note from the HotTea Mamas:
We are grateful to have Bex's story and take on all things home birth, but as she points out, it is all about what feels right for you as everyone is different with different experiences.