If you choose to plan for a home birth, you are opting for a natural birth; meaning without medication or medical intervention. A natural birth can occur in a hospital, but note that a medicated birth is not an option at home. Many people wonder why anyone would want to go through labour and birth without the option of induction, pain killers, nitrous oxide (“laughing gas”), epidural anesthesia, episiotomy, vacuums, forceps, and/or a trained surgeon ready to conduct caesarean section at a moment’s notice. Listen, I don’t want to bash the hospital birth setting because it is the right choice for some and it can be a lovely place to experience birth. However, to present the option of home birth I do have to touch on undesirable elements of hospital birth, so here’s the tea. The more accessible interventions are, the more likely they are to be used, and the more interventions are used, the more likely other interventions will be required. For example, if oxytocin is administered to speed up contractions, it is more likely you’ll need painkillers because the process is going faster than your body’s limits. Some of the medications can make you vomit or feel queasy. Others can make mother and baby disoriented and drowsy, which can potentially affect a mother’s wherewithal or the baby’s ability to nurse afterwards. Anesthetics are a barrier to feeling your body’s cues, increasing chances of tearing.
Home is firstly a comfortable and familiar environment for most. One of, if not the most important elements to a positive birth experience, is the comfort level of the mother. That is not to say every mother would feel comfortable giving birth at home; rather that home is an intrinsic source of comfort, which can help some to feel more at ease. Home birth is just as safe as hospital birth, statistically. There is no limit to how many support people you can have with you at home. You may feel more free to make noises that help you cope, and you will have less sensory distraction around you. You have more control over your environment. You have more freedom of movement in labour than you would in a hospital, and that includes freedom to intuitively choose the position conducive to giving birth. Laying on your back in a hospital bed will be strongly encouraged by doctors because it’s the best vantage point for them, whereas midwives will bring their handy flashlight and meet you where you are, whether that’s in a tub, on your hands and knees, or in a squatting position.
Without possibility of intervention, the benefits of natural birth cannot be disrupted. For example, there’s the flood of hormones that is released when the baby is born naturally. It’s no mistake that those hormones relieve pain and encourage immediate bonding with the new baby. Recovery is one of the biggest reasons to consider natural birth, in my opinion, and should not be overlooked. The hours, days and even weeks after giving birth can be so much more comfortable for you. You can get up and go to the bathroom right away, in contrast to being stuck in bed with a catheter and numb legs after an epidural. You are less likely to be dealing with stitches during your healing. You also have a better chance of successful breastfeeding than when certain medications are administered or surgery takes place at birth.
Water birth can be part of your home birth plan. My second birth took place at home in an inflatable pool in the middle of our dining room. Not all home births are water births. Water births can happen at home, at birth centres, and in certain hospitals with some planning. At home, you can use a deep bathtub or rent or buy an inflatable pool. Labouring and birthing in water has many draws. For one, the warmth and the buoyancy of the water can feel soothing for the mother. It won’t take away the pain, I’m sorry to say, but it can take the edge off, and it’s just generally a more comfortable place to be. (Note: You don’t want to submerse in water too early, because that can slow the progression of labour.) You have a lower likelihood of tearing and needing stitches when birth happens in the water. I had no tearing following my water birth. For my first, out of water and unmedicated, I had a minor labial tear. I didn’t experience perineal tearing, which is worse in terms of stitching and healing and occurs relatively often in vaginal birth. I would advise any pregnant woman to consider what can be done, as far as birth choices go, to lower that risk, including natural birth, water birth and an upright or all-fours birthing position.
Water is also a beautiful environment for the baby to transition into. The thought of the baby being under water is a bit unnerving for some, but that is simply an unfounded fear. Remember, in utero the baby is surrounded by amniotic fluid, receiving oxygen through the umbilical cord. A baby born into water will not take its first breath of air until it emerges from the water. As long as the water is clean and the temperature is within range, the baby can safely and happily be born this way.