Healthy Birth 101

Healthy, physiologic birth means allowing your body to go through labor under its own innate power. It is the optimal functioning of childbirth, and is a safe process that includes labor, birth, and the first hour after birth for both you and your baby. Healthy birth does not routinely require medical intervention. Characteristics of healthy labor, birth, and the first hour after birth are:

  • Your labor starts and progresses on its own.
  • The process is supported by physical and psychological factors that promote effective labor.
  • Labor results in a vaginal birth with normal blood loss.
  • You and your baby stay together after birth, with the baby remaining directly on your skin.
  • Breastfeeding begins right away.

Why Healthy Birth Matters

During normal, healthy birth, your body releases hormones that help you labor effectively, navigate through discomfort, and bond with your baby. These hormones also help your baby transition to life outside the womb, maintain a normal body temperature, breastfeed successfully, and bond more effectively. When labor progresses naturally on its own, there is less chance that your baby will have difficulties during labor or that you will need a vacuum, forceps, or cesarean birth.

A healthy labor and birth occur as a result of your and your baby’s natural abilities. This type of birth is more likely to be safe, healthy, and free of unnecessary interventions. Some women and babies do have complications that require interventions in order to ensure a safe and healthy outcome. Supporting healthy labor and birth whenever possible can benefit all women and babies.

Understanding Interventions

Many factors can disrupt healthy birth. Some examples to watch for are:

  • Medications to induce or speed up labor
  • Any environment that isn’t private or comfortable, or where people aren’t present to offer you continuous support as desired
  • Not being allowed to assume a position of comfort
  • Continuously monitoring your baby’s heart rate
  • Time limits on the progress of labor
  • Restrictions on food and drink
  • Pain medications, epidurals, or anesthesia
  • Episiotomy
  • Cesarean, vacuum, or forceps delivery
  • Early cutting of the umbilical cord before it has stopped pulsating
  • Separation of you and your baby after birth
  • Any situation where you feel threatened or unsupported

Most babies are born without any problems. All that is needed are careful education, support, and monitoring through pregnancy and birth by a skilled, educated provider. However, sometimes an unavoidable or unexpected problem occurs and interventions during pregnancy or childbirth may be needed. If this occurs, midwives have the education and expertise to manage the process, suggest ways to help with pain management (including medications), order laboratory testing or labor induction, or bring in other members of the health care team if needed.

Maximizing Your Chances of Healthy Birth

Many things can influence your ability to have a normal, healthy birth without intervention. These include:

  • Your overall good health and physical fitness.
  • Your knowledge and confidence about birth (including cultural beliefs and practices and what you’ve been taught about birth).
  • Having the chance to make informed decisions about your birth with your health care provider.
  • Having access to a health care system, health care professionals, a support system, and setting that supports you and helps meet your goal.

It’s also of utmost importance to choose an environment and care provider who supports your choices. Your health care provider can increase your confidence and address your concerns about giving birth. Your provider should:

  • Be committed to helping you learn about the birth process, while providing you with information so that you can make the best decisions for you and your baby.
  • Allow you enough time to make decisions without feeling pressured.
  • Know how to help you cope with pain in labor without using medications, and should assure your comfort, dignity and privacy.
  • Respect your cultural beliefs and preferences.
  • Have the education, knowledge, skills, and confidence to help you achieve your goals.

The location that you choose for birth should have policies in place to support normal, healthy birth. These policies should allow you to:

  • Go into labor spontaneously and not allow induction of labor or the use of Pitocin to speed up your labor without a compelling medical reason.
  • Eat and drink during labor if you want to.
  • Move around freely in labor.
  • Give birth in whatever position you feel comfortable.
  • Receive support from people you choose.
  • Stay with your baby after birth
  • Support breastfeeding

Unless there is a compelling medical reason, there is no need to be attached to an electronic fetal monitor. You should be given the option of having your baby’s heartbeat listened to at regular intervals.

For more information on what midwives consider to be “normal birth”, read the Physiological Birth Consensus Statement by the ACNM, MANA and NACPM.