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Unassisted Birth


Updated February 04, 2012

Mom and Newborn Baby
Photo © Frank Herholdt/Getty Images
When you hear the words unassisted birth, or free birth, the thought of giving birth alone in a cabin in a snow storm or in the car on the way to the hospital might crop up. However, these are technically, emergency births. What we really are talking about is a woman or couple who chooses to give birth without the aid of medical or midwifery care.

By choice, thousands of women and their families are making this decision for a variety of reasons. Some believe that it is a spiritual calling, something that they believe in religiously. Others believe that medical or even midwifery care are interventive and will interfere with the natural process.

When you talk about do-it-yourself births one of the most mentioned names is Laura Kaplan Shanley, author of Unassisted Childbirth, and mother of four. All of her children were born at home without the assistance of medical or midwifery care, and the last three without the assistance of her husband.

R. Who is a good candidate for unassisted birth?

L. Good candidates for unassisted birth are people who believe in themselves. A belief in some sort of God or spiritual reality is helpful, but an overdependence upon organized religion can be a detriment. Church leaders are seldom supportive of independent birthing, and couples who are eager to get official sanction for their birthing choices, often feel a conflict. Because our bodies are so responsive to our thoughts - especially in labor - this conflict can make for a problematic birth. This same phenomenon can occur when couples are overly dependent upon family, government, or community support. Independence of thought is essential for those who choose to give birth without medical assistance.

Women who plan to have unassisted births should be physically healthy, but they don't necessarily have to be in excellent shape. A woman should be comfortable with her body, and accepting of her sexuality.

R. One thing that we hear a lot about in this society is prenatal care and how important it is. Can you talk a bit about prenatal care?

L. I don't go to doctors when I'm not pregnant, so I saw no reason to go when I was. Pregnancy is not a disease, and it requires no special care, as far as I'm concerned. I took good care of myself during my pregnancies. For me this meant getting fresh air and exercise, and eating all kinds of foods - fruit, vegetables, meat, sugar. I don't think we need to get fanatical about our diets. Our bodies are capable of taking just about anything we give it and making good use of it. But, as Julia Child says, if we are afraid of our food, we won't digest it well. Women should eat whatever they want during their pregnancies. If they are at all intuitive, they will know what their body needs.

Some women who choose to have unassisted births do have some sort of prenatal care from either a doctor or midwife. And some choose to do their own prenatal care. It's really a personal choice.

R. How many women are choosing this? Are these numbers on the rise?

L. I would say that thousands of women around the world are now choosing this option, and yes, the numbers are on the rise. Of course, in some parts of the world, babies have always been born unassisted.

Unassisted birth, to me, is a very natural choice. Most babies are conceived without assistance, and they can be birthed without assistance - provided a woman doesn't stand in her own way. Fear causes major problems for women in labor. When a woman is afraid, she sends messages to the body telling it there is a danger out there she must fight or run away from. Blood and oxygen are instantly sent into the muscle structure enabling the frightened woman to fight or run. But the blood and oxygen must come from somewhere, so the body drains it from organs it considers non-essential for "fight or flight." This is why the face turns white when we're afraid. The body assumes that the arms and legs of the frightened person need blood and oxygen more than the face does.

Unfortunately, the body considers the uterus non-essential when it comes to fight or flight. According to Grantly Dick-Read, author of Childbirth Without Fear, the uterus of a frightened woman in labor is literally white. Because it doesn't have the fuel it needs, it cannot function the way it was designed to, nor can waste products be properly carried away. Consequently we have pain and problems. So the first step towards creating a good birth is to eliminate the fear.

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  5. Choosing a Practitioner
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