The Smart Woman's Guide To
Birth Options

7 Steps To Cover All Your Bases

Can I tell you a secret that will virtually guarantee you are satisfied with your birth? It's simple. Know your birth options. Whether you are dead set on a natural birth, or you know you want pain meds, being aware of your options is a must.

The bottom line is this:

If you don't know your options, you don't have any.

I didn't realize until after my second baby was born that I could actually take control of my birth experience- that it was my responsibility. Not the doctor's. Not the nurse's. Mine. I didn't realize until I started learning the research about birth options. I looked back and realized I had given complete control to the "system". The "system" of birth. This is routine, so this is just what we do...

That's crap. Every woman deserves to be treated as though her birth is unique, because it is. I had no idea until I immersed myself in the "birth world" just how many women simply don't even realize they have choices when it comes to birth.

It breaks my heart. It infuriates me.

That's really what started my whole journey here.

Knowledge is power. If bringing new life into the world isn't empowering, then what is?

You are smart enough to make informed decisions when you have your baby. I promise, when you do, you won't be disappointed with your birth, even if it doesn't go totally as planned. Why? Because there are always options, so no matter the turn of events, when you are the one making educated decisions along the way, it changes everything.

Follow these 7 steps that cover just about all your birth options, and you'll be on your way to an amazing birth.

Step 1: Choose Your Birth Team

Believe it or not, a stellar birth team is the number one birth option to consider (in my not-so-humble opinion). Seriously, having the proper support can really make or break your birth experience. Don’t skip this step. If you’re getting close to your birth and after reading this you feel like you’ve screwed up in picking a team that’s going to really support you, buck up and switch. It’s OK, I promise.

-Who’s going to deliver your baby- are you going with a doctor or a midwife?

-Are you going to hire a doula? No clue what that is? You’re missing out, my friend. Learn all about doulas here.

-Have you thought about having a birth photographer? Birth photography is seriously amazing. That's all I have to say. Check out some birth photos from one of my favorite birth photographers here.

Step 2: Where Are You Having Your Baby?

Are you having a hospital birth? If so, which hospital? If there are a couple hospitals to choose from in your area, take a look at what they each have to offer for labor and delivery care.

Maybe you want a more laid back environment like a birth center, which offers a more home-like environment and a more hands-off approach.

If you're a little on the crunchy side, you might be considering a homebirth. For a gentle, hands-off birth, you really can't beat doing it at home. Think that is absolutely insane? Believe it or not, homebirth isn't just for women who don't shave their legs. 

Or, hey, get really crunchy and give birth on the lawn, like I did…. That’s another story….

Step 3: Look At Childbirth Methods

Are you using a certain childbirth method? A certain birth method might fit really nicely with they birth options that are most important to you. You can take childbirth education classes in a given method that will help you to have the type of birth you want. 

Here’s a list of the main birth methods:
Birthing From Within

What about hospital birthing classes? Most hospitals provide birth classes. Some are for a certain method, and some are just basic informational classes on what to expect during birth. These cover the basics like what's happening with your body and how an epidural works. These classes may cover some of your birth options, but definitely not all of them.

If you're interested in a certain method, make sure to check whether the classes offered at your hospital teach that method, or if it's just a general birth class. If so, it's best to find an instructor certified in the method you want to use.

Just so you know, winging it is not a method, but it's certainly an option. It's OK if you don't want to use a certain birth method. The important thing is that you know your birth options.

As a side note, if you just really don't want to take the time to go to birth classes and learn a birth method, having a doula can be even more beneficial because she can guide you along.

Step 4: Plan Your Perfect Birth Environment

Imagine, the room is dimly lit. the people you love and trust are calmly supporting you through your next contraction. Music plays softly in the background. Everyone in the room notices when you need peace to concentrate, so they are quiet.

Now, picture this. You’re in a brightly lit room, where nothing is familiar to you. You can’t get comfortable. As your next contraction comes, you try to relax and gut through the pain, but you can’t concentrate because there are two people chatting and laughing on the other side of the room.  You begin to lose focus and confidence that you can handle the rest of your labor. You really badly wanted a natural birth, but now you're seriously considering an epidural.

Do you feel a difference between these two scenes? Listen, your environment matters.

How do you create an environment that helps your labor along much more easily, and even less painfully?

Consider the things that make you comfortable:

-Have things that remind you of home- your favorite pillow or blanket and your own pajamas, which you may even want to wear instead of a hospital gown.

-Do you want dim lighting?

-Plan having music you love, that puts you in the zone, or always picks you up. Music can be an awesome distraction.

-Consider who you are having at your birth. Are they going to be supportive and promote a calm environment, or are you going to allow the sister-in-law that drives you nuts to be there? Don’t worry about hurting people’s feelings. Only invite people who will help contribute to the type of atmosphere and support you want at your birth.

Step 5: Learn Your Birth Options For Active Labor

There are a ton of birth options likely to pop up during active labor, especially if you're birthing at a hospital. Seriously, it is way better to familiarize yourself with these now.

If your birth ends up straying from your plan, this is the best way to make sure you don't feel disappointed with your birth because you are making informed, educated decisions, no matter what happens.

-Labor Induction- First things first, right? Unfortunately, this isn't as straightforward as it should be. Roughly 1 in 5 labors is artificially induced, which does increase risk of C-section and other problems, when induction is unnecessary.

-Routine IV- IVs are used to give you fluids and pain medication, if you decide to have any.

They are not absolutely necessary if you have an un-medicated birth. You have the option to refuse a routine IV, or to opt for a hep-lock instead, which is a small tube usually inserted into your hand that can easily and quickly be hooked up to an IV if needed.

-How do you want your baby monitored? Most often, hospitals use electronic fetal monitoring, where they place straps around your tummy with sensors that measure baby’s heart rate and your contractions. 

The downside to this is that you have to be in the bed. There are other options for monitoring your baby. You can opt to have monitoring done with a hand-held doppler instead, which also accurately measures your baby’s heart rate.

-Labor Augmentation- Tick tock, tick tock... what if your labor is slow? It's very common in hospital birth for Pitocin to be used if labor isn't "fast enough." It's a good idea to decide beforehand how you feel about that.

-Pain Management- if there’s one birth option that you haven’t overlooked, I’m sure it’s this one. Whether you’re determined to go all natural or you want the big guns for pain, there are options to think about either way.

You have several options for medical pain relief. And no, epidurals are not the only option.

On the other hand, just because you don’t want drugs in labor, doesn’t mean you have to bite a rope and bear it. There are plenty of safe, effective options for natural labor pain relief.

Here's a rundown of both medical and natural labor pain relief options.

Step 6: Think About Birth Options For Delivery

Sheesh, does it ever end? Thought the actual delivery was pretty darn straightforward- baby just comes out, right? Nope. There are birth options to consider here, too.

-Do you want a mirror so you can see your baby being born?

-Be aware of the various birthing positions (you don’t have  to lay on the bed with your legs in the air)- squatting, hands and knees, side lying, or using a birth stool (which looks like a toilet without the bowl).

-Do you want to be coached during pushing or would you rather be left alone to push at your body’s urge?

-How do you feel about episiotomy?

-Do you want your baby’s umbilical cord cut right away or delayed cord clamping? Did you know that by cutting the cord immediately, your baby is denied up to half of his total blood volume? The blood in the cord will return to the baby if cord clamping is delayed until the cord stops pulsing. However, delayed cord clamping does increase risk of jaundice.

-Do you want your baby immediately placed on your chest for skin to skin bonding, as opposed to the baby being taken right away for procedures?

Step 7: Decisions About Your Baby's Care

It's hard enough making decisions about our own care, but our babies.... nothing comes close to the anxiety we go through trying to figure out what's best for them!

There are several newborn procedures that are routinely done to babies immediately after birth. I really recommend doing your research on these well before your birth, so you  know exactly what you do and don't want for your sweet baby.

I am working on adding much more info on all of these things, but for now, I'll give you an idea of what decisions you have to make and you can decide what you want to research further.

So, no more wasting time. Here are the common newborn procedures:

-Eye Ointment- Antibiotic eye ointment is applied to babies' eyes routinely to prevent an eye infection that they can contract from mom's genital tract if she has chlamydia or gonorrhea. Obviously, if you know you couldn't have these STDs, this isn't necessary. If you don't want your baby to have it, make sure to let your birth team know because it's usually routine.

-Hepatitis B Vaccine- Hep B is a disease that's spread through sexual contact, infected blood, and needles. Obviously, these scenarios are unlikely for a newborn, but it can also be passed from mother to child during birth.

-Vitamin K- Newborns are given a shot of Vitamin K because they are born with lower levels of Vitamin K, compared with adults. Vitamin K is essential for blood clotting. The purpose of the shot is to prevent Vitamin K deficiency bleeding, which is a rare, but dangerous condition.

-Bath- Seems like a no-brainer, right? Why consider not bathing baby? The vernix that's on a baby's skin at birth is not only amazing for baby's brand new skin, it is full of pheromones that promote mom/baby bonding. Bathing baby washes those love-smells off. You can opt out of having your baby bathed, or even just put it off for a bit while you soak up your new baby-love.

What's Next? Wrap It Up...

Once you decide on all your birth options, you should put it in a birth plan so your birth team knows exactly what you want. Make a copy for your midwife or doctor. If you're birthing in a hospital, take a few copies with you for the nursing staff. Here are a few sample birth plans to give you an idea how to write your own:

Sample Birth Plan - Categorized (my favorite format)
Birth Plan Sample - Paragraph Form
Sample Birth Plan Letter

Overwhelmed with your birth options? I'd be happy to give you a hand and walk you through your birth options, answer your questions, and help you design your own birth plan. Check out my personalized birth planning services by clicking the link above.

Image credits:
Options: Feverpitched/123RF
Birth Room: B. B. Brown/Flickr
Monitoring: Mamma Loves/Flickr
Baby: Author


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