Unmedicated Childbirth: Why Every Mom Needs a Midwife
Childbirth is a special, life-altering process that sets the stage for a child’s development throughout life. Award winning science shows that when done correctly, unmedicated birth encourages health and parental bonds throughout life. It also serves as nature’s way of preserving moms hormone balance, output and sensitivity later in life.
Unfortunately, many misconceptions and fears exist when it comes to pregnancy and birth. In my own experience, many doctors act as if it’s a “high-risk” situation, requiring emergency medicine and medical intervention. Sadly, this aggressive approach is contributing to the growing infant mortality rate in the US, which has one of the highest among industrialized countries.
That’s why you need a midwife. Their vast experience helps moms better understand the dichotomy between a high-risk and low-risk pregnancy. Once done, a birth plan can then be made specific for parents that circumvents the need for unnecessary medications and interventions like c-sections and epidurals.
To help parents learn more about this, I interviewed Elizabeth Bachner. She’s our family’s midwife and the owner of GraceFull (www.gracefull.com), Los Angeles’ first Accredited Birthing Center.
“If more women interact with medical professionals who respect birth, trust the process, and support the physiology of the body, then more women would have unmedicated births without as many interventions — and America would have better birth outcomes,” says Elizabeth.
TPC #1: Please explain what a midwife is, and what they do exactly?
Elizabeth: Hi! I’m excited to be here and answering your questions. The word midwife means “with woman.” Midwives are primary health care professionals who support other women throughout pregnancy, labor, childbirth, and the postpartum period.
Midwifery licensure varies state by state, and there are even some states that consider midwifery illegal! Midwives who practice outside the hospital are considered experts at “low risk” childbirth and work collaboratively with doctors who are experts at “high risk” childbirth.
In California where I practice midwifery, we have two different types of licensed midwives who can support women for ‘out-of-hospital’ births (which includes home births, water births, and birth center births). First are Certified Nurse Midwives (CNM) who have nursing licenses, must be supervised by a doctor, and have had most of their training in a hospital. Next are California Licensed Midwives (LM & CPM) who have medical board licenses, do not need the supervision of a doctor, and are expertly trained in out of hospital births (home births or birthing centers).
TPC #2: What are some of the top misconceptions people have about childbirth?
Elizabeth: I love this question. So many people think every birth is a “high risk” birth and will need emergency interventions. This, unfortunately, is the thinking of uneducated people who don’t know the difference between “high risk” and “low risk” childbirth.
Believe it or not, many doctors fall into this category, as medicine is taught from a place of a “problem” that needs to be fixed.
While this philosophy is important when having surgery or if a mom is in need of interventions to manage her high-risk pregnancy, there’s almost no required training for doctors on how to support mothers who are considered low-risk and who don’t need interventions to birth her baby.
This is part of the problem as to why so many people are anti-hospital. The birthing culture in most hospitals neither educates families nor supports the choice for having safe, evidence-based, unmedicated births where the family is seen and heard, treated respectfully as adults, and the physiology of the body is worked with to ensure a safe birth.
TPC #3: What, exactly, is involved during a home birth?
Elizabeth: Before the birth even happens, we meet with the families the same way doctors do —once a month until 28 weeks, then twice a month until 36 weeks, then once a week until the mother gives birth.
The difference is that our prenatals last for 30 – 60 minutes. In addition to checking mom’s blood pressure and pulse as well as listening to the baby and measuring mom’s belly, we discuss mom’s diet and exercise routine. We help her prepare to give birth outside the hospital by discussing how the body works physiologically and how extra people present at the birth can affect labor. We find out what mom’s fears are and try to come up with a plan before she goes into labor. This way, she’s mentally prepared to surrender and trust.
Birth needs to be respected and the process trusted. At GraceFull we help families prepare for all of this before mom goes into labor.
At the home birth itself, the midwife arrives when mom is in a good active labor pattern (around 6 cm) and is joined by a trained assistant when mom begins pushing. The midwife will bring all the necessary medical equipment (IV fluids, lidocaine — for numbing the perineum if it needs to be stitched — suture equipment, drugs to stop heavy bleeding, antibiotics and oxygen if we need to resuscitate). During the labor we follow evidence-based protocols when it comes to listening to the baby’s heartbeat with our hand-held doppler (which can even listen in the water) and taking mom’s vitals.
The midwife will sit on her hands unless the mom’s body or the baby has communicated through vitals, heart tones or words that some management or intervention is needed. If not, we work with the anatomy and physiology of the body and let it do what it does really well: birth a healthy child!
Once the cord stops pulsing, the placenta is ready to be born. During the immediate post partum, both mom and baby’s vitals are checked to make sure everything is stable.
Then we tend to leave the family alone to integrate this huge event while we fill out the paperwork. About an hour after the baby is born, we cut the cord and start a newborn exam. After we check mom for tearing, we help her get into a shower and then put her back into bed with her baby, encourage breastfeeding and then sleep.
Birthing at home is an easy clean-up for the family, as the birth is contained in one spot. Also, because both mom and baby are considered “low risk,” they can stay at home in the family bed to recover, with a midwife checking in with them by phone daily. There’s usually a home visit from a midwife within 24 hours, then another visit at 1 week, 3 weeks and 6 weeks back in the office.
TPC #4: What’s the difference between a birth center and a hospital?
Elizabeth: Again, this varies not only state by state but also by your local birthing culture. We are an Accredited Birthing Center with https://www.birthcenteraccreditation.org/ which has helped us create a formal structure for protocols and risk assessment and makes sure that we continue to adhere to their standards and are practicing Evidence Based Care.
Culturally we pride ourselves in being a home birth practice within a birthing center. We go slow and honor the natural rhythms of both the body and the baby, practicing what is called bio-dynamic childbirth. This philosophy works with both the anatomy and physiology of the body and goes slow, as to allow for integration of the nervous system, which can minimize emergencies.
In general, birthing centers have queen size beds for the whole family and supportive tools such as birthing chairs, birthing swings, birthing tubs (which many moms report ease the pain of labor), nitrous oxide, as well as one-on-one care with someone you have met before. These tools can all help a mom achieve her goal.
TPC #5: What are some of the top dangers of delivering a baby at a hospital?
Elizabeth: The #1 issue with birthing at a hospital is most hospitals don’t know the difference between low-risk and high-risk childbirth. As a result, they treat everyone as though they were high-risk, which can create problems that are not actually there.
Physicians are not taught about nutrition or exercise, so they’re unable to help you be physically at your healthiest and fittest for the birth. They’re not taught about physiological childbirth, meaning they’re not taught how the body releases the appropriate hormones at the right time to help a mom birth her baby. They’re not taught what is needed for the body to release the appropriate hormones (a dark room, being unobserved, a warm room, feeling safe…).
It’s rare for me to meet a physician who has been taught in school about hands-off childbirth (or how to “not manage” a birth); therefore, they’re not experts at low-risk childbirth. The doctors we consult with are trained to deal with advanced pathology, and we love them for that.
TPC #6: Other than an emergency situation, are there ANY legitimate reasons for a woman to give birth at a hospital?
Elizabeth: There are many legitimate reasons for a woman to give birth at a hospital. If she is considered “high risk,” she should be birthing with a surgical room down the hall and a good NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) nearby. Some reasons that come to mind are high blood pressure, gestational diabetes that can not be controlled via diet and exercise, and a fever during labor. Also, if a mother wants to get pain relief that numbs part of her body so she is unable to move, she will need a surgical room down the hall as there is a higher chance of her having a complication during labor.
[TPC note: During and after all four of our children’s births, my wife used all natural Relief FX, a safe pain relief solution created with ingredients from Mother Nature. Relief FX is non-toxic, works within minutes…and there are ZERO side effects. It’s much safer than using painkilling drugs during childbirth!]
TPC #7: Is it possible to have an unmedicated childbirth at a hospital?
Elizabeth: Yes!! It is! You can have a great unmedicated birth in a hospital, but it is still a hospital birth. A great hospital birth is not a home birth, it’s a great hospital birth complete with florescent lights, small beds, a nurse, and possibly a doctor whom you’ve never met before. In that kind of environment many women have challenges feeling vulnerable, open and safe with someone they’ve met not even once.
I do know I’m making broad generalizations. I’d like to give a shout out to those few doctors and hospitals that support a woman’s choice, honor her body and even offer water births. In Los Angeles we’re fortunate to have quite a few of these practices where you have one-on-one doctor care, can set your hospital room up with battery-operated candles, bring in essential oils, have a photographer and not just labor but also push your baby out in any position you want.
It’s important to remember, doctors and nurses became care providers because they wanted to help people. They’re not bad people. Many have become tired because of the rigorous training they had to endure where they saw one emergency after another (while sleep-deprived from their long shifts), without ever being exposed to a trusting unmedicated birth where a mom gently breathed her baby out on all fours.
On top of that, you have protocols and paperwork that are demanded of them from hospitals to make sure they’re protected in case of a lawsuit (which is sometimes called “Med-legal”). If you do go to a hospital and want a good birth experience, speak to a healer who chose to become a medical professional. Invite that part of the person in front of you to show up in your birth rooms and you might have a really lovely hospital birthing experience.
TPC #8: How do you educate women about a C-section?
A Cesarean section is a surgical birth in which a surgeon makes an incision into the low abdomen through the layers of skin, fat, muscle, and uterus to help the baby come out and into the world.
The most common risks are: infection, heavy blood loss, a blood clot in the legs or lungs, nausea, vomiting, a severe headache after the delivery (related to anesthesia and the abdominal procedure), bowel problems (such as constipation or when the intestines stop moving waste material normally), the injury of another organ (such as the bladder) in mom, or an injury to the baby from the scalpel during surgery.
A C-section is still a birth — a surgical birth that should be respected as a birth. Sometimes it’s a necessary surgery that carries with it big emotions. A woman may be disappointed and need to mourn the loss of her unmedicated birth, while also feeling excited to meet her new child. Both of those experiences can be there at the same time, and both need to be honored.
I’ve heard some birth professionals call this type of birth a “vaginal bypass.” That wording is shaming and degrading. We need to stop judging other women’s choices and start respecting each other and lifting each other up!
We will never be standing in another women’s shoes and will never know why she might need or choose a surgical birth. We don’t know what kind of abuse a woman may have encountered in her life, so the thought of a vaginal birth takes her so far into her PTSD that she will never be present for her child. We don’t know who is being diagnosed with what pregnancy illness that makes a vaginal birth out of the question. Babies ultimately need to come earth-side sooner rather than later, so the body does not terminate the pregnancy.
We don’t have a crystal ball, but current studies are letting us know that in the past we used to think a surgical birth could “save” children because they’ve been dying from the birthing process. Studies around surgical births show we’re not ‘saving’ as many children as we thought, sometimes Mother Nature is cruel, and babies are dying in utero regardless of whether the birth is vaginal or surgical.
Yes, cesarean births are surgeries and do come with surgical risks. But it’s the right of every woman to choose what she wants to have happen to her body. We need to respect her right to choose a Cesarean birth, if that’s what she thinks is best for her family.
TPC #9: What’s the #1 thing you wish people knew about the birthing process?
Elizabeth: This is easy. Moms are strong and babies are smart. They are both really great communicators and let us know when they need extra support or interventions to be born safely.
I also want moms to know that low-risk births are just that: low-risk. Yes, challenges can come out of left field, but if you’re low-risk, talk with your care provider because you have more choices (home, birthing center, or hospital) and should not be treated as high-risk, and exposed to undo medicalization.
TPC #10: Do you believe ALL women should opt to have midwifery support when giving birth? Why or why not?
Elizabeth: Yes. I believe all women deserve someone who will listen to them, hear what they have to say, offer nutrition and exercise information, look at them as an individual and consult with a surgeon when they go from low-risk to high-risk. I think if more women interact with medical professionals who respect birth, trust the process, and support the physiology of the body, then more women would have unmedicated births without as many interventions, and America would have better birth outcomes.
I want to end by saying that we need to start respecting all choices. Pregnancy is a risk. Parenting is a risk. Having your heart outside of your body in the form of another human being is a risk.
What needs to change is that parents need to research and own their choices, because only THEY will be parenting their child — not the obstetrician, the pediatrician, the midwife or the nurse.
Medical professionals need to start implementing education for themselves and their families about how the anatomy and physiology of the body is made to birth babies. Once families are educated with evidence-based care then we need to start trusting that parents are well researched, well meaning, well educated and are making their own choices so that their baby can be safe. Just because a parent makes a choice that you personally don’t agree with does not make the choice wrong.
We as women need to stop tearing each other down and start lifting each other up! Respect birth and trust the process. That is our motto here at GraceFull and I’d like to see more medical professionals and families adopt those words.
About the Author
My name is Shane “The People’s Chemist” Ellison. I hold a master’s degree in organic chemistry and am the author of Over-The-Counter Natural Cures Expanded Edition (SourceBooks). I’ve been quoted by USA Today, Shape, Woman’s World, US News and World Report, as well as Women’s Health and appeared on Fox and NBC as a medicine and health expert. Start protecting yourself and loved ones with my FREE report, 3 Worst Meds.