Having a Baby? Four Birthing Alternatives


I wrote many stories for MSN’s Health Channel. My editor assigned me this one after several celebrities were vocal about their “alternative” births.

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Do celebrities know something we don’t?

While most Americans are having babies in sterile hospital rooms, a recent slew of famous people are doing their own thing.

Katie Holmes supposedly pushed in silence. We hear Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are planning a water birth, and Rod Stewart’s fiancee had their baby with Rod sitting behind her in a tub. Cindy Crawford talks openly about having her children at home.

But it’s not just the stars who are opting for a different labor experience: Going outside the norm is starting to catch on. Here, four common alternatives to the standard way to birth a baby:

Water birth

What it is: Sitting in water—usually a special, deep tub—and giving birth.

Its popularity: Water Birth International, which sells special birthing tubs, said that in 1991, just two hospitals in the U.S. used its tubs. Now, that number is at 300 and counting.

The pros: It’s more comfortable and there may be less chance of the vagina tearing. “With my first child born in a bed, I had six stitches,” says Dawn Glossa, a 35-year-old who recently had a baby in a Chicago hospital’s tub. “But with my second baby, I didn’t have any [stitches]. Labor was faster, and I broke my water naturally this time. The water made everything easier.”

The cons: Though it’s rare, babies can drown, their umbilical cord can snap and mom or baby can get an infection.

Home sweet home

What it is: Having your baby, usually with a midwife, at home.

Its popularity: Ten years ago, there weren’t any certified professional midwives—midwives who only deliver babies at home. (Nurse-midwives, on the other hand, can perform deliveries in the home or medical setting.) Now, there are 1,000 of these home-only licensed midwives, and they’re busy.

The pros: You’re in the comfort of your own home. Jessica Lee, a 25-year-old from Franklin Park, Ill., recently tried it. “I labored leaning over the washing machine, couch and sitting on the toilet,” Lee says. “Then I gave birth on our bed, lying on my side. Being at home was an amazing experience.”

Lee had a doctor with her, but others opt for a midwife or a nurse instead.

Plus with a home birth, you can feel like you’re reverting to an earlier era. “With the exception of the last 50 years, people have been having babies at home,” says Kimber Pasquali, an editor at Mothering magazine, who herself gave birth at home.

The cons: If your pregnancy is considered high risk, it’s not a good idea. Most insurance companies don’t cover at-home midwives. If there are complications, you are rushed to the hospital, losing precious time.

Hypnosis for labor

What it is: You learn how to hypnotize yourself to get rid of the fear and tension, which in turn alleviates pain. Mantras include “I don’t need an epidural. I don’t bleed much.” Husbands can give moms prompts during delivery.

Its popularity: In the late ’90s, there were only a few hundred labor-hypnosis teachers in the U.S.; now there are more than 3,000.

The pros: Sheri Menelli, author of Journey Into Motherhood: Inspirational Stories of Natural Birth and a birthing hypnosis instructor herself, says hypnosis “allows you to think about childbirth as a natural sensation.”

“Don’t think, ‘I am being torn apart,’ ” says Menelli, who lives in San Diego. “Giving birth doesn’t have to be excruciating; you just have to change how you feel about it.”

The cons: It might not work for you.

Going part-alternative

What it is: Bringing your doula (a person who provides emothional and physical support to the mother before, during and after birth) or midwife to the hospital; choosing a birthing center or a hospital’s birthing area.

Its popularity: DONA International, a longtime doula organization, has grown its membership from 750 in 1994 to more than 5,500 today. Barbara Harper, author of Gentle Birth Choices, says many of her reader e-mails are from women who are “too afraid” to have babies at home, but want to incorporate alternative methods in the hospital.

The pros: You get the best of both worlds. Having a doula around can ease the stress. If you’re in the birthing area of a hospital, you get a homey room, with pretty bedding, paintings on the walls, sometimes a jetted tub and full medical services just a floor away. But even if you’re in a regular room, you can still  create an atypical experience.

Cara Halstead Cea of Pleasantville, N.Y., had a midwife-nurse help her through delivery. “The labor was long and grueling, and I used soothing music, aromatherapy, acupuncture and hypnosis,” Halstead Cea says. “I truly was peaceful throughout the ordeal.” She’s glad she was at the medical center: Her son was born with respiratory problems and was whisked away to intensive care.

The cons: Some hospitals might not be as flexible with your music and aromatherapy choices, especially if you’re not in a birthing room.

Sally Farhat specializes in health topics, food, travel and parenting. She has written for In Style,Parents, the Seattle Times and Detroit Free Press. She’s editing the Northwest Best Places guidebook, out in 2007.

Daniel McNeive, MD, is board certified in obstetrics/gynecology and in private practice at St. John’s Mercy Medical Center in St. Louis, Missouri.

This article was originally published on the MSN Health blog.


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