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Natural Awakenings Greater Boston - Rhode Island

Natural Births: A Look at Modern Midwifery

Apr 29, 2024 09:23AM ● By Maya Whitman
pregnant woman on yoga ball

Maridav from Canva Pro

Life’s most wondrous gifts are the babies that come into the world every day, but the clinical birth environment is not always an ideal choice for everyone. Modern midwifery, a safe alternative, honors its ancient roots by aiming to provide a comfortable and beautiful passage for both mommas and little ones. In countries like France, Sweden and Japan, midwives are involved in almost 75 percent of deliveries at birth centers, homes and hospitals. The practice is less popular in the U.S., with only 12 percent involving midwives in 2020.

“The birth experience became very medicalized at the turn of the last century out of necessity. However, midwives have been delivering babies for centuries in all types of settings. Birth is a natural process that does not necessarily need to take place within the confines of the hospital setting,” says Paul Quinn, a certified nurse-midwife in Ridgewood, New Jersey, and author of several books, including Prenatal Possibilities: Recipes for a Healthy Pregnancy…and Beyond.

Prenatal and perinatal psychologist Susan Highsmith, in Tucson, Arizona, notes, “Care in birth centers and at home can be far more personal. For women who experience low-risk pregnancies, a natural, home birth or birth-center birth can be a satisfying and safe alternative to a hospital birth. There are a host of benefits for the baby that are not possible in hospital settings where protocols take precedence.”

One of the advantages of a natural birth is the mother-child bonding encouraged in a non-clinical setting. “Babies should not be placed in nurseries, but should be immediately placed on the mother’s body and allowed to seek and find the breast,” Highsmith explains. “Being taken away from the mother, as is frequently done in hospitals, is anathema.”


Midwives and Doulas

Aside from facilitating the birth process, midwives can provide medical care, prescribe medications and order blood tests and imaging. Many are nurses and well-versed in any situation that might arise before, during and after labor.

Doulas focus on nonclinical care by providing physical and emotional comfort, keeping expectant mothers informed and facilitating communication with the midwives and obstetricians on the team. For Brooke Stenzler, a relationship coach in Bradenton, Florida, bringing a doula onto her birth team was an unexpected blessing. “It freed up my husband to be present in a different way, and the doula provided the tender, maternal care that I needed,” she says. “Prior to the birth, I met with my midwife for regular prenatal checkups. She came to my house a month or so prior to the expected birth date to make sure everything was set up properly for a home birth. I also had a couple of meetings with my doula prior to the birth, so she could get clear on my goals and needs. She also provided a prenatal massage.”

Stenzler and her brothers were all home-birth babies, so when it came time to plan her own pregnancy, choosing to have a midwife and a doula was an effortless decision. Her own midwife was seasoned, thus earning her confidence. “She knew what signs to look for if there were a serious situation that might require transferring to a hospital,” she says. “I trusted that she would let me know if she felt that was necessary.”


Taking the Helm

Choosing to partner with a midwife and/or doula can be the first big step in a happy, healthy birth, but there are some things to consider. State laws differ as to what a midwife can and cannot do, and insurance coverage varies from company to company. Thorough research is recommended to avoid any last-minute surprises.

Quinn recommends beginning a search for the right person as early as possible. “Not all midwives or doulas practice the same. There needs to be a sense of trust, and a woman needs to choose someone who makes her feel safe, heard, respected and valued,” he advises. “It’s okay to ask focused questions and inquire about a midwife or doula’s education. Ask for references. Check the internet for reviews, both good and bad, and verify if licensure is applicable. It’s also a good idea to check for any disciplinary action from the state.”

Bringing the next generation into the world is a hard job, one that demands support for body, mind and spirit. “Ask any questions that relieve fears, doubt or uncertainty beforehand. This is a mutually loving and, literally, life-enhancing relationship,” says Highsmith. “Birth is a sacred event, which deserves reverence.”

Maya Whitman is a regular writer for Natural Awakenings.