Giving birth naturally — preparing for a natural (home?) birth

One week to go to my due date now…! As I said before in my post about packing my hospital bag, I’m not sure yet if I will stay home or go to the hospital for the birth. But in any case, I am preparing to give birth naturally for the fifth time! Following the un-ignorable nesting instinct, I’ve made sure my house is in order and our bedroom looks the way I like it. Cosy and tidy with a nice candle next to my bed and the nursery corner sweet and inviting.
I’ve listened to TED talks and read blogs about giving birth naturally and coping with stress and pain. Of course I’ve read the bible of giving birth naturally — Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth. I make sure to walk daily and eat healthily, try to sleep well, stay relaxed and positive. I feel ready!

Breastfeeding Ava just after she was born.

giving birth naturally

In the hospital, walking though contractions. And sending messages to my girlfriends! Check the clock: Casper was born at 18:35.

In case you’re curious — here are some thoughts and notes that I have gathered about giving birth naturally. It’s really all quite simple — most important is to feel safe and relaxed, and to actually believe that YOU CAN DO THIS.

Giving birth naturally

Last year, at our local manage (where Sara, Pim, Ava and I ride), a foal was about to be born. I remember how big the mother mare was, and how everyone was waiting anxiously for the birth. The owners of the manage knew what they were dealing with. As prey animals, mares instinctively look for a quiet, safe place to deliver their foals. So they zoned off the part of the stables where the mare’s stable was, to give her privacy, peace and quiet and to make her feel secure. They also knew, that even though they could do their utmost best to shield the mare and give her as much privacy as possible, she would probably give birth the moment everyone was least expecting it. (Mares are known to hide signs that foaling is near, even pretend to be asleep — only to give birth the moment the caretaker runs to the house for a quick cup of coffee!)

Even though humans partly are predators themselves, they are also very much prey. We still have strong instinctual responses to predators. Just like a mare, we need a safe and secure place where we can give birth. It really is MOST important to feel safe, cared for and positive while giving birth! If your body and mind do not feel safe and relaxed, birth will be stagnated…

Here are my tips for giving birth naturally:

  1. Take charge of the birth with a positive mindset. Trust in your body and in nature. You have to believe that you can do it! Women were made to do this, and have been doing so since the beginning of time. You’re surrounded by all of the women of the world, your mothers, your daughters, your sisters… they have done this before, and they will do this after you.
  2. Make sure your environment is calm and relaxed, so your mind can calm down and relax as well. Dim the lights, maybe light a candle… Play music if you like! Don’t have anyone in the room with you who you don’t feel 100% comfortable with. Be free of fear (fear will make your body tense which will stagnate the birth and can make it more painful). Remember: this is natural, and you can do it!
  3. Be active. Walk for as long as you can! The pressure of your baby on your pelvis will stimulate it to open up faster. I personally also feel that walking around, and chatting to my husband, works distracting and relaxing. In the beginning of my labours I walked outside, after that I tried to keep walking up and down the delivery room. If you eventually feel the need to be inactive or lay down, try to change positions regularly. Remember that gravity is your friend — you may try squatting. (I never liked squatting myself, but I know it works for lots of women!) Drink sips of water regularly, have something to eat if you can. Try to keep smiling (remember the positive mindset!)! A warm bath or shower can help to keep you relaxed and cope with contractions as well.
  4. Breathe! Try deep belly breathing in the first stages. Focus on long exhalations. Later in labour, during the difficult stage of transition, there are techniques like the so-called horse lips (deep belly breath in — long breathe out while flapping your lips like a horse). Here in the Netherlands, we are told to ‘puff’ breathe — breath in through the nose, then exhale through the mouth, with loose lips ‘pffffff’. In the last stage, just before pushing, you can try ‘hahaha’ breathing — a short breath in, breathe out in three times: ‘ha-ha-ha’. Whichever technique works best for you — don’t hold your breath! Keep breathing as rhythmically as possible.
  5. Open up. Literally! Make sure to keep your mouth and throat relaxed and open. Keep your jaw loose and your hands relaxed. And focus your energy! An open and relaxed mouth, throat and jaw will help directly to open your cervix. So open your mouth and relax your throat during a contraction and when birthing your baby! When it’s time to push, try to relax and open up your vagina. A good way to practise this in advance is when you do your Kegel exercises: lift up in three times, let go in three times, but then go one extra level ‘down’ (to the ‘basement’). Focus on the feeling of relaxing and opening up your vagina. This techniques has worked well for me after my first birth, where I was told at my first urge to push, to hold back (to prevent tearing). Thus, when it was time to start pushing with full force, I unconsciously had trouble surrendering and it took over two hours to push Sara out! (And I still tore.) With later births, this ‘lift to the basement’ technique has worked really well for me (Pim, Ava and Casper were pushed out quickly in two to three contractions! And without tearing…).
  6. Surrender to your contractions. Don’t fight them! Go with the flow of the wave of energy. Visualise your baby going down, see yourself opening up like a flower. Remember that every contraction will bring you closer to meeting your baby! Try to make low moaning or humming sounds, putting your energy in riding the ‘wave’ instead of fighting it with yelling or screaming.
  7. Instruct your birthing partners to affirm your awesomeness with loving and positive words. They can massage or push down on your lower back and upper legs, tightly hold your left ankle. Tell them to remind you to keep breathing and to relax your hands, jaw and mouth. Tell them to keep telling you that you are a wonderful and strong woman and that you can do this!

Of course, giving birth the natural way is just one way. If you prefer (or are scheduled in) for a medical birth, that is perfect as well. Or, if you were aiming to give birth naturally and end up having a medicated birth — just remember that the most important thing is to deliver a healthy baby to a healthy mother! We all make our own choices, and we all sometimes have to follow a different direction in life than we first envisioned. Remember: stay calm and relaxed, give in to the flow of giving birth — you can do this! Whatever way : ).

xxx Esther

PS My first two children were born in London. Home birthing at that time and place was basically impossible (especially since I was following the NHS system), so instead I chose to go to a birthing centre — a midwife led unit within the hospital. Both Sara and Pim were born naturally this way.

Back in the Netherlands, Ava and Casper were also born naturally in a hospital here in Amsterdam. Not specifically in a midwife led unit, but because in the Netherlands birthing is not regarded as a medical ‘problem’, there was just one or two midwives present in the birthing room. (Although a team of doctors was obviously standing by in case a medical intervention would be needed.) The birthing rooms are nice and spacious here in Amsterdam and have their own lovely bathroom. All good!

After-birth care is provided for at home in the Netherlands. A home maternity nurse will come to your house for at least 8 days after the birth, to take care of the usual tasks of the household, help care for baby, and to make sure the new mother can rest and recover. So most women who choose to birthe at the hospital and have gone through an uncomplicated delivery, leave the hospital within a few hours after giving birth.

Dutch home maternity nurse

Our ‘kraamverzorgster’ (Dutch home maternity nurse) with baby Ava

But there is still a large percentage of women who choose for a home birth. A few months before the due date, all women receive the ‘(home) birth box‘ from their insurance, with all the necessities needed for a home birth or for the after-birth care at home. This keeps the options open to choose at the last moment — stay home, or go to the hospital!

When contractions start and have been regular for a while, your midwife will come over to your house and assist with the birth. (The home maternity nurse will also come over and she will assist as well.) The midwife coaches the mother through the birth. She makes sure the environment is safe and relaxed, and helps with coping with pain or anxiety.

Of course the wellbeing of the mother and baby is closely monitored during the process and if there are any signs of trouble or distress, an ambulance will be standing standby. The midwife also brings oxygen and other first-aid care just in case, so she can administer the same immediate care as in the birthing room in the hospital. All in all, it feels safe and normal to give birth at home in the Netherlands. (But it is totally normal and accepted as well to choose to give birth at the hospital). I feel lucky to be in this country where birthing is considered a natural, uncomplicated process with free choices!


Comments (18)

Kate Heming Panchal
February 28, 2018

Wonderful post, Esther! And perfectly timed! I’m in the home stretch of my first pregnancy and am feeling so excited and empowered by your advice. Fantastic tips & suggestions. Good luck in your final days and can’t wait for the announcement of this magical fifth babe!! What will Babyccino do now!? It needs another founder to get pregnant ASAP! 😉 Love from Canada xo

Esther in Amsterdam
February 28, 2018

Haha — I know! Oh well, at least this ‘extra baby’ came as a bonus ;). Good luck with the last stretch! So exciting!! xx

February 28, 2018

I appreciate the good intentions of this post and wish you well as you welcome your little one. I thought I’d bring to your awareness that the term “natural birth” to refer to one kind of labor & delivery can feel divisive and competitive to the many other ways babies are born. I realize it has become short-hand to mean a certain thing but it’s inherently shaming — though again I trust that is not your intention. Using terms like “vaginal birth” or “home birth” feels more accurate and also removes the judgment for those who choose or need otherwise.

Esther in Amsterdam
February 28, 2018

Hi ‘Anonymous’, what I mean with ‘natural birth’ is to let nature take its natural course, without (planned or unplanned) medical intervention. A ‘vaginal birth’ doesn’t need to be unmedicated. And a ‘natural birth’ can also very much take place in the hospital, or in a birthing centre — it’s not necessarily a ‘home birth’ at all. So I believe a ‘natural birth’ is maybe the correct term? But I’m not married to this terminology, nor do I think it is very important. In any case, if you choose to try to have such a birth, then these tips might come in handy. I’m not sure why you feel that simply writing about a ‘natural birth’ is ‘shaming’ or ‘judgemental’ about giving birth this or any other way? As I pointed out in my post — I personally think there’s a way for everyone, and in the end, all that matters is that a healthy mother is giving birth to a healthy baby. Whatever way. I don’t think there is a right or wrong. Also, we can try to go one route, but it can end up another way. It’s not the first time someone is aiming (or at least hoping) for a ‘natural birth’, and ends up having a medically induced labour, an epidural or a C-section. Or that someone would like to have an epidural (and still have a ‘vaginal birth’) but ends up giving birth the natural way (meaning, unmedicated). That’s me, by the way, with my 3rd baby :). I honestly don’t think that just by talking about one way of giving birth, is being judgemental about other ways. If I give tips about what to pack in my hospital bag, am I inherently shaming women who would like to give birth at home? I certainly don’t mean to… Anyway — thanks for your well wishes!

March 1, 2018

Other than natural birth, the only alternative would be unmedicated birth. I think it great you are having a natural birth—I did not have the courage. Wonder how the pregnancy and birth is for the fifth child versus the first child. All the best!!

February 28, 2018

Thanks for all your posts/articles regarding your pregnancy and upcoming birth- I’m due to deliver my second in a few weeks and this information is so good and comforting!

Looking forward to hearing (reading) more from you and best wishes for an amazing delivery!

Esther in Amsterdam
February 28, 2018

Ahh, thank you! And good luck to you too!! xx

February 28, 2018

I just had my third home birth a couple of months ago. It was amazing. We have planned for this to be our last, so it was more of a celebration. We had the exact same birth team we had for the other births. My births are blessedly short (under 3 hours total), so we are all prepared as soon as my water breaks. Everyone knows to get moving. As I danced around the house in the middle of the night, my husband made coffee and called the birth team. My contractions got strong, but we all just chatted and laughed in between until it was time to push. After my beautiful baby made her appearance, we opened a bottle of champagne and everyone drank a glass (including me!) even though it was 5 in the morning. I loved having my babies at home. After birthing, I could sit in my own bed, or my own chair. My kids were there, and we could all be together. Here is my biggest tip for anyone who is having a vaginal labor: lay on your side to push. It can help make the pushing faster and easier with less or no tearing. Good luck, Esther! Having a baby is such a wonderful time, and it is good you are doing it on your terms.

Esther in Amsterdam
February 28, 2018

Hi Poppy, congratulations! And thank you for your well wishes and advise. I’ll try the side approach if I get the chance! xxx
PS I always have had a glass of champagne after the birth as well : )

February 28, 2018

i found this blog post about a home birth that didn’t go as planned a while ago, and i thought i would share it here. i cried reading it, so emotional…i guess every birth is a bit surprising 😉
good luck with baby number 5 🙂

Esther in Amsterdam
February 28, 2018

This made me cry as well… we can never plan life, can we… Thanks for sharing and for your well wishes xx

March 1, 2018

Of course there are endless stories about hospital births going equally badly. At least in the US, we have a ridiculously high rate of maternal and fetal death. It’s a natural process that can have sad consequences.

March 1, 2018

Of course there are endless stories about hospital births going equally badly. Birth is a natural process that can sometimes (though thankfully rarely in the developed world) have sad consequences. I’m pretty shocked that someone would share something terrible to a person about to give birth. Tactless, IMO.

March 5, 2018

Very sad story indeed. I always feel that we need to hear about those sad stories… Not to be afraid of giving birth, but to be aware that things don’t always go as planned. Every birth is a different story…

Lizzy in Minnesota
February 28, 2018

What wonderful advice! I was hoping for an unmedicated birth with my first daughter, but I ended up being rushed into the OR for an emergency C-section – all very traumatic! I completely agree that at the end of the day, a healthy ending for both mother and baby is the most important thing!

With my second, I found lavender essential oils to be incredibly helpful and calming when I was feeling anxious and stressed, and ginger oils when I was feeling nauseous.

March 1, 2018

Hello Esther! and I with my 39 years old that I do not know if it’s too late to make the decision to have the third child!

March 1, 2018

Wonderful post again! Thank you, Esther! And so true, no matter what kind of birth and what kind of term for it, hopefully mother and child are healthy in the end.

All the best for you – at home or in hospital! What better time to trust your gut feeling than pregnant 😉

March 13, 2018

A friend of mine was about to die in childbirth. The doctors do not know why, but she had an intense hemorrhage that was not cut in any way. The uterus did not stop bleeding. It took 6 hours to cut the bleeding. Giving birth at home must be very nice, but the safety of a hospital is not in your home because there are emergency measures that can not wait. The normal thing is that everything goes well, but if it does not, in a hospital you will be better attended and the risks will be handled better. It is my opinion and I am grateful to live in Spain, a country with a Social Security system that gives us a complete coverage and with great health professionals. However, whatever you choose, I honestly wish you the best.

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