What Birthing Options Do Women Have Today?

Discover all of the childbirthing choices that are available to you today.

Years ago, women didn't have many options when it came to giving birth. Not surprisingly, many women felt powerless at what may be the most important moment in our lives. However, our new level of medical technology and awareness that women should play a more active role in her childbirth experience has given women more options than ever before. Now childbirth is safer than ever, and women have the freedom to give birth in the manner that they choose.

Where can a woman give birth?

A hospital is the most popular choice. In the hospital, a woman knows that she has access to the best medical technology should an intervention in a high-risk birth become necessary. Some women choose to have cesareans, and these are scheduled in advance if the woman and her ob/gyn have agreed it upon in advance. The experience of giving birth in a hospital will vary, depending on the hospital that you choose. Many modern hospitals have birthing suites with amenities such as nice furniture, a stereo and a Jacuzzi in the bathroom. The ambience isn't hospital-like at all, as monitoring equipment and other medical related items are generally kept hidden in a wooden cabinet. Other hospitals may not have such amenities, and may not have the same comfort level.

Other women choose to give birth in birthing centers. Some of these birthing centers are attached to hospitals, or very close to them, so that if a woman needs to be transported because of a complication, she will not have very far to travel. They usually have monitoring equipment, and are staffed by certified nurse-midwives. They may also have an obstetrician on staff. Birthing centers strive to give the woman a gentle, calm environment in which to give birth, working off the theory that childbirth goes easier and fewer painkillers are required if the woman feels relaxed. Birthing centers are not a good choice if you are set on having an epidural, as this requires an anesthesiologist.

A few women decide to give birth at home. They may not be satisfied with the quality of care at their hospital, may have concerns about the germs that are in a hospital or may simply feel more comfortable at home. Depending on the state, either a lay midwife or a certified nurse-midwife can assist with the birth. Of course, some home births are unintentional, and have a frightened husband attending the birth! A drawback to homebirths is that medical intervention may be miles away if it is needed. Also, painkillers such as epidurals are not an option with a home birth. However, most people who choose to do a home birth prefer not to use painkillers or any medical interventions that they deem unnecessary. A home birth can make the woman feel as though she is more in control of the birthing process.

What are pain control options?

Many women decide to have an epidural, which is a shot in the spine that blocks nerve paths, thus causing the pain to be blocked as well. There is some evidence that epidurals given too early in labor can interfere with labor. The Lamaze and Bradley techniques both focus on pain relief through breathing techniques. Many women decide to combine Lamaze and an epidural. Sometimes a small dose of Demerol may be given during labor.

Women who do not want to have artificial pain relief may decide to go with the Lamaze or Bradley methods alone, or try other methods of relaxation and alternative focus such as massage or a Jacuzzi bath. Acupressure is also gaining in popularity. Another trend in childbirth is the presence of a doula, a specially trained birth support person who is familiar with pain relief and relaxation techniques. Although having a doula does not guarantee that a woman will have a medication-free childbirth, studies show that the use of epidurals and other pain-relievers go down when such a support person is available, and that labor may even be shorter. This is an option definitely worth looking into!

How can I make sure that my preferences are honored?

While nothing is guaranteed in childbirth, it can be a good idea to make a birth plan. In it, you can state what sort of pain relief you would like, if you want to be able to walk around without being attached to continuous monitoring equipment, what position you would prefer for the pushing stage of labor, whether or not you want an episiotomy, and all sorts of other things, down to what music you would like to listen to while in labor. You can also include what you would like to have happen after the birth, such as who you would like to cut the cord, and whether or not you would like to hold your baby immediately, as opposed to after the baby has been cleaned and weighed. Of course, things may not go exactly the way you want them to, as your health and that of your baby will always be paramount, but this plan will help your partner be a good advocate for you. You should share this plan with your doctor or midwife at least two months before your due date.

Today, while childbirth may not exactly be pain free, it can certainly be a more pleasant experience than it was twenty, or even ten years ago. Be sure to continue to educate yourself about the options available to you in your community, and best of luck with your beautiful journey towards a new addition to your family!

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