While the world waits with baited breath on the arrival of the new Royal baby, everyone and their mother has an opinion on whether or not the Duchess of Sussex is right to plan a home birth. While I could weigh in with my two pennies worth, I thought it would be useful to get some information from someone in the know.
I spoke to doula Emma Fraser from Belfast Baby Co. about home birth and why more women are choosing home over the hospital.
What does a home birth entail and is it much different from a hospital birth?
Home birth in a physical sense is not all that different from hospital birth. When you’re getting ready for a home birth, you aren’t focused on the hospital bag and when to leave to go to the hospital. You are thinking about things like “Should I get a birth pool”, “Do I have some old towels?”, and “Where will the dog or cat be when the midwives arrive.?”
In hospital you have a totally different environment, that is potentially unfamiliar, with a number of strangers present. Most home birth midwives will meet pregnant mothers during their antenatal care. So you have a better chance of knowing the midwives there for the birth. Plus you are in the comfort of your own home. This is the perfect place for all those love hormones to get working in your favour for labour.
Many mums would be concerned about the risks of home birth. What are the risks and what happens if things don’t go to plan?
Pregnancy and birth is a straightforward physiological process for most women. But it is always worth doing your research on potential risks in terms of your own individual situation.
The most common risks you hear about are postpartum haemorrhage, shoulder dystocia and baby not breathing at birth. When you look at the guidelines for care around these potential issues, these are dealt with at home in a very similar way to how they are dealt with in the hospital.
Midwives are highly trained and regularly get updated training on these complications. Steps such as manual massage of the uterus and drugs to stop the bleeding can be done at home. Manoeuvres for shoulder dystocia can be performed. If a baby isn’t breathing a midwife will follow the usual steps to get baby breathing as they would in hospital.
Research such as the BirthPlace study has shown that complications are less likely to occur at home for women with low-risk pregnancies. However, it is always worth researching how far you are from a hospital and what your local ambulance provision is. Just in case.
The Duchess of Sussex is reported to have hired a doula. What is a doula and what do they do?
A little bit of everything! If you hire a doula during pregnancy they will be there to support you as you prepare for the arrival of your new baby. This may be through information and knowledge sharing. Teaching you and your partner skills and techniques to help with labour and birth. Or simply being available at the other end of the phone to listen, reassure and support.
When it comes to birth, doulas are all-rounders. In a caesarean birth, they can be with you as you arrive to get ready. They can also support your partner as they wait to get into theatre or be in the theatre supporting you. Then helping you and baby recover afterward.
Labour support is very exciting for a doula. Again information and skill sharing come into it, but so does silly dancing, distraction, and massage techniques. Anything to help you feel more comfortable, to try to relax. This will help the baby in their journey into the world.
Your doula can support you in making decisions in the moment. They can make sure you have space and time to consider all of your options. Sometimes this is the absolute key to making a birth a more positive experience. Because of the pressure our health service is under, often decision making can be rushed or overlooked.
Once your baby is here a postnatal doula can help you adjust to life with your squishy little bundle. Postnatal doulas help with baby care, feeding, light housework, meal prep, and being a reassuring presence and support. Doula work really is a wonderful honour, to be invited into such a precious time in a family’s life.
And finally – we see so many mums pitted against each other be it because of type of birth, method of feeding, etc. Why do you think this is such an emotive subject and how can we move away from “mummy wars” into being more supportive communities?
We have lost our village, our sense of community in many ways. The history of birth, infant feeding and parenting is full of conflict in the last century or two.
Mothers are laden with huge expectations as soon as they find out they are pregnant (or even once they start trying). Many of the big decisions are put in front of them right from the start.
Lost sense of community
We now live in an isolated society. Most people only interact with a very small number of others face-to-face on a daily basis – often most of these are work colleagues or people in service roles. This has eroded our sense of support for one another. Decisions are made, not on shared experiences, but on what is posted on social media and in the news.
If we make a decision based on our own on limited information, then, of course, we will feel judged or guilty if that decision is questioned.
Rebuilding our village
We need to rebuild the village. To make it the norm for women to meet and talk about birth, feeding, and the difficulties of parenting. Women and men need to be part of these discussions well before they are ever having children themselves.
Think about it, if when you are at school you learn about how your aunt or older sister is managing with a baby who won’t sleep, or if you see your teacher breastfeeding when you are out at the shops at the weekend – wouldn’t it all start to feel more normal?
Couldn’t we have more empathy for one another if we understood those experiences on a more personal level? I am not sure how we get there, but I try to do my bit by bringing women together for events and informal meetings to talk about their experiences.
Hopefully one day all young adults will be able to join freely in these types of conversation and learn from them before becoming a parent themselves.
Emma Fraser is one half of the dream team that is Belfast Baby Co. an all-round birth support service that provides antenatal support, doula services, and postnatal support. Both women are strong advocates for evidence-based information around pregnancy and birth and want to empower women to have their birth, their way.