Humanizing the Birth Experience

For those birthing in a hospital, birth can seem more like a medical event and less like a, well, birth. Here we'll discuss a little tip you can use to turn your birth into a celebration of a new life entering this world.

Hospitals can sometimes seem like an intimidating landscape to navigate. They are set up to be very hierarchical, meaning that there are people "above" you with more power and people above them that have even more power. Learn some tools to undercut that hierarchy to humanize your birth experience.


Pushing During Birth

Just because you your cervix is 10 cm, or “complete,” doesn’t necessarily mean that your body is ready to begin pushing. Sometimes baby needs to turn a little, come down a little, before everything is aligned. Waiting for an “uncontrollable urge to push” before actively pushing can conserve your energy and shorten this stage of labor.


Birthing Positions

In television and media birthing people are almost always portrayed in bed on their backs. This, however, is not usually the best position for birth. Being upright opens your pelvis, opens the sacrum (lower back), and allows for the most room for your baby to come out. People that are able to be mobile and upright have shorter, less complicated births. The same principle applies to birthing your baby.

Think about getting a ring off your finger. If you try and pull it off straight it gets stuck and it’s painful. If you wiggle around and move, it comes off easier. In the second stage of labor (pushing and birth) your baby needs to complete the last of the Seven Cardinal Movements of Birth. Changing positions and using gravity helps give baby as much room as possible to make these rotations.


Skin-to-Skin With Your Baby During Birth

After birth and beyond, your newborn baby’s habitat is skin-to-skin, ideally with you, but with your partner or relative as well. Babies are born with immature nervous systems. Having a baby snuggled up against your body helps them regulate their breathing, temperature, and heart rate. Skin-to-skin also promotes bonding and helps breastmilk come in.

In normal, physiologic birth your body is baby’s natural habitat, in utero and out. After birth, even though they become more separate, babies still form a symbiotic, connected unit with you. The newborn is also seeded with good bacteria from their parent's skin that helps them thrive in their home environment.


Delayed Cord Clamping After Birth

As babies are squeezed into the birth canal, one third of their blood is “backed up” into the cord and placenta. At the moment of birth, it floods back into the baby, protecting their internal organs and helping inflate their lungs. Baby gets 80% of this cord blood within the first 30 seconds after birth, and close to 100% around 5 minutes.


Limit Interruptions After Birth

After birth is the “magical hour” where baby is quiet and alert. After this period of wakefulness your baby (and hopefully you!) drift off into a long, restoring sleep. It’s tough work being born! The best time to bond and initiate breastfeeding is within the first few hours after birth. This is easiest when done with limited interruptions from others.


Dim Lights After Birth

Even during labor dimming the lights can create a calm, intimate atmosphere. At birth, low lighting can help ease your baby into the world. Think about it: Your baby has known nothing but softness, warmth, and watery darkness. How can you create an environment that doesn’t startle them as much? An environment that lets them take stock of their surroundings and experience you for the first time with the least amount of overstimulation?

Prior to birth, think about the place you are birthing. When it comes to atmosphere, home births allow for the most amount of personalization, birth centers come in second. Hospitals are usually less so, with bright lights and beeping machines. More hospitals now offer lights on a dimmer switch which is nice. Also consider bringing LED candles or Christmas lights to provide low light ambiance and turning off the overhead spotlight as your baby is born.


VBAC - Vaginal Birth After Cesarean

A VBAC is a vaginal birth after cesarean birth, also called a "TOLAC" (trial of labor after cesarean). If you are healthy and have a low transverse incision, the odds of complications like uterine rupture (where the scar opens up on your uterus during labor) is very small (.38-.87%). Some care providers may say, "Once a cesarean, always a cesarean," but having a repeat cesarean poses significant risks to you and future pregnancies. You must weigh the options and decide what is best for you and your baby.


Suctioning Baby After Birth

Babies develop in a warm, watery world. They swallow and gulp amniotic fluid to help their lungs develop, and their nose and mouth are filled with water and mucous. If they are born vaginally, that "last squeeze" helps force some of the fluid out of their nasal passages. Most babies that are healthy and vigorous can clear substantial amounts of fluid from their mouth and nose, but some providers may want to suction the fluid out using a bulb syringe or DeLee suction catheter.


Birth Photography

A professional birth photographer’s role in the birth space is to document your labor, birth, and immediate postpartum period. Typically, the photographer will be on call for you once you reach around 36 weeks. These photos will be professionally edited and delivered to you usually in an online gallery for you to view and order prints. Every birth photographer has their own specific process.


Catching Baby During Birth

As long as birth is uncomplicated some families might prefer a "hands-on" approach to birth. Being the first person to touch your baby can be an intimate and exhilarating experience. Also, you may be able to catch your own baby, either by doing it all on your own or by having your partner or care provider help with the head and shoulders then guiding your hands to reach down and bring baby up to your chest.


Stretching and Episiotomy During Birth

An episiotomy is a cut made with scissors to the perineum (tissue between vagina and rectum) while baby is crowning. It was first recommended in 1920, supposedly to prevent tearing and reduce trauma to the baby. In the last few decades many studies have shown that it actually causes more trauma to your body than it prevents. Thankfully it has fallen out of practice in many areas, though is still utilized in some circumstances. Ask your care provider what their episiotomy rates are.


Birth of Placenta

In normal, physiologic birth after your baby comes out it's time to birth the placenta. Your nurse or care provider will rub on your belly to check and make sure that your uterus muscle is clamped down and firm, as well as check for excess bleeding and large blood clots. Usually within 5-10 minutes after birth your care provider might notice a "separation gush," a small gush of blood signifying that the placenta might be starting to come away from the uterine wall. You may feel "crampy" and can bear down while your care provider gives gentle traction on the cord, making sure not to pull to hard or the placenta could tear and get stuck. Birthing the placenta can feel like you're passing a big jello mold. After the placenta is born, your care team will continue to rub on your uterus (fundus) to make sure that your bleeding is normal.


Betadine Wash Before Birth

Though it depends on the care provider, hospital, and region, some providers wish to cleanse the vulva and vaginal area with betadine: an antiseptic solution. This is done because some feel the need to sterilize the area before birth.

**Ask your care provider if they do this, it's not very common anymore in certain areas.



Some people today are choosing to ingest their placenta after birth (called placentophagy). Usually the placenta is dehydrated, ground, and put into pill form, but some families also make smoothies, tinctures, and a homeopathic. Benefits claimed are: balancing your system, replenishing iron in the blood, helps milk come in, and prevents postpartum depression. Other experts say it could lead to milk supply issues and failure-to-thrive babies.


Siblings at Birth

Ages ago, when birth was a family matter at home, it wasn't uncommon for children and adults to witness birth many times before giving birth themselves. Though a personal and individual decision, some people choose to include their children at their births in a variety of ways.