Category Archives: Freebirth

Respect for the moment of birth

Today I read a lovely article about just why it is so important to respect the moment of birth.

I would go even further, by suggesting that women are empowered and facilitated to catch their own babies, which will almost certainly also mean sharing some of this information with her so that she can see why it helps and how it works.

Intrigued?  The article, from the Journal of Perinatal Education, is here.

Malloy ME (2011) Waiting to Inhale: How to Unhurry the Moment of Birth. The Journal of Perinatal Education20(1), 8–13.  doi:10.1891/1058-1243.20.1.8

Cord Clamps

I’ve posted links about the benefits of delayed cord clamping elsewhere, here is a quick thought on methods of clamping the cord, should you decide to do it.

Essentially your options are:

•  Clamp the cord as soon as possible after birth.  This is usually recommended for a managed third stage where a syntocinon or syntometrine injection is given as the baby is being born.  Although the evidence supporting this is far from clear, it may be that the fast rush of blood as a result of syntometrine and the side effects of the drug itself reaching your baby has the potential to be harmful.  The clamp can be released to allow a lotus birth when the placenta has delivered, or the cord can be severed at any time to suit mum, or sometimes her midwife or other member of the medical team.

Delaying Cord ClampingWith early clamping the baby can easily lose 30% of their available blood volume, which has several major health implications.  Leaving a placenta engorged with blood may also make it more difficult for it to separate from the wall of the uterus and more difficult to pass, especially if the cervix has closed under the influence of oxytocic drugs. See here for more information.

•  Clamp the cord when it has finished pulsating or after the placenta has been birthed, using the same methods as above.

Lotus Kit•  Lotus birthing – where the placenta and baby remain attached until the cord snaps or comes away from the umbilicus as healing of the site takes place.

If the cord has finished its job of transferring blood to your baby, and the placenta has come away from the uterus, the cord can actually be severed without clamping at all as it is sealed at the umbilicus (belly button) and by Wharton’s jelly along its length. The mechanism is largely the same for all mammals, although the timing of cord separation and placental release vary from species to species.

Cords do not have to be cut, as well as leaving them, they can be burned, bitten, cut with a ceremonial blade or other methods that suit you or the culture you follow.

Plastic Cord ClampIf you choose to sever the cord and wish to seal it, then there are alternatives to the traditional plastic peg type clamp.

It is possible to tie the cord with a thread, dental floss or embroidery thread ties have become popular recently.  Whist they do not have to be sterilised, parents often boil them either when they wish to use them or just prior to the birth.  Sealing in a clean bag or wrapping and freezing have been suggested as ways to keep a fabric cord tie clean.

If you do opt for a plastic clamp you can always ask for the cord stump to be left long, and then once the cord has dried you can cut it off, or you can tie a tie between baby and clamp whilst the cord is soft and remove cut the clamp off later.

CordRingAnother way to seal the cord is with a rubber ring.  Unlike bulky, scratchy cord clamps, cord rings are virtually weightless and almost invisible.  There is no clip to catch in clothes or nappies, or to dig into mum and baby whilst enjoying skin to skin.  It also makes changing your new baby easier as the clamp does not catch or snag or get stuck in clothes or nappies.

Cord TieMany mums express a firm dislike for traditional cord clip, so here is an alternative that is secure enough to reassure parents and their care teams and soft enough to avoid the common disadvantages of plastic clips.  You can also tie a cord tie over a rubber ring if you like.

The most popular are available from Cetro, as they are applied with the kind of forceps carried by midwives and do not require a specialised application tool.  You can buy them as single units here and download a printable instruction sheet here – Cord Ring Application Instructions.

Why did I choose a freebirth?

Ultimately, it is because I wanted privacy and intimacy for the birth of my babies, not dissimilar to the conditions under which they were conceived.  I firmly believe that if birth really was dangerous then the human race would not be such a successful species, or we would birth multiple babies with close spacing, as is biologically normal for those species which have a low survival rate.  I grew up round birthing animals, and knew that disturbing birth was a dangerous thing to do, and then I realised the full consequences when I had a preventable caesarean, one which was a direct result of a cascade of intervention from a whole bunch of people who I realised had no idea what an undisturbed birth looked like.  I wanted to birth like a cat under the bed, not like a goldfish in a bowl.

The more I read, the more I realised that our modern model of birth is relieving the problems of intervention and disturbance, it is not necessarily preventing danger, it is simply treating it, and that there was another way of doing it, a way which not only gave me the privacy and intimacy I craved, but also one which INCREASED the safety for me and, more importantly, for my baby.

What was it like, giving birth alone?

It was amazing, it was beautiful, it was serene, it was easier than running cross country at school!

Was I worried at any point?

Yes, I was worried that I would get unwanted intrusion, but I was not worried about the birth itself.

I had a back-up plan, to call an ambulance and put my faith in the emergency services and the emergency care the NHS is best at.  There was no half-way house for me, either it was normal and was going to be, whatever form that took, or it was the kind of emergency for which a midwife would call an ambulance, and in which case I might as well call one myself…

One of my fears what that the medical establishment is not very understanding and supportive of alternative choices.  There is a great deal of fear, and an unhealthy dose of arrogance, in those professionals who think that they know better what is good for a woman than she does herself.  If something goes wrong, ultimately the woman is the one who bears the pain for the rest of her life, not her care-givers, wherever she births, so only she can make the decisions about what risks she is and is not prepared to accept, because the only reasons that matter are the ones she can come to terms with.  Death of my baby is not the only outcome that will distress me for the rest of my life.  I have lost a baby, and it is a pain that I cannot describe, but it is not always something that technology and chemicals can prevent.  Disempowerment, feelings of having been abused, fear of death or danger in a situation which leave you feeling out of control, harsh treatment, feeling violated in the birth process all can cause trauma which will go with a woman to her grave.  Does she not deserve to feel like a goddess when she gives birth, and to be able to remember that feeling every anniversary of her child’s birth?  Every time a woman says “Birth was awful, but my baby is worth it” I feel sad that they did not have chance to have a birth that makes them say “It was the most amazing thing I have ever done, and it gave me confidence to grow into the parent I want to be.”  Parenting is hard enough without leaving women separated from their babies or with feelings of pain and trauma!

Why did you want to avoid birthing in a hospital?

I had two births in a domino unit (where your midwife gives 1:1 care and comes to the birth centre with you).  They were good experiences, but a service that is not available everywhere.  It was a compromise, we were camping in a renovation project without carpets or running water when my first child was born, and were a similar situation (different property) with my second, otherwise I would have elected to birth at home.  Then I had my third child in hospital (we moved) which led to a caesarean that would have been completely prevented had I had time and privacy to labour in my body’s own time.  As it was I was ‘timed out’ but in labour it is extremely difficult to be assertive and if I had thought it would help my baby they would have easily been able to persuade me to cut my own arm off.  It is only with hindsight that I realise that they used fear to persuade me into accepting things I never, ever wanted.  I realised that all I had known before about birth applied to humans just as much as cats and horses, and I set about my research, which was when I came to the conclusion that privacy and intimacy was the way forward…

With my 5th baby I did have an emergency, a massive bleed and pre-term labour.  Our baby was born by emergency caesarean (a direct complication of the previous caesarean) and whilst it was one of those rare life-saving surgeries it was not something I would actively seek, nor something that felt reassuring.  The hospital stay was tiring and miserable, more like trying to sleep on a bench in King’s Cross Station than a beautiful family moment!

The very last thing I wanted in my birth space was someone else’s fear of my choices, either because they did not believe it was safe, or because their supervisory structure expects stats and records.  I did not want anyone there checking and poking, I did not expect anything to go wrong that either instinct could not handle, or that would not need an ambulance anyway, so I decided that I did not want any strangers or semi-strangers in my birthspace or anywhere near it.  I did not want to be observed in birth, no matter how kind or well intentioned that person was, and I figured if I did not want checks, and I didn’t want a stranger in the house, even in the next room, then there was no point at all in having one.

Do I think all women should consider freebirthing?

Yes, if only to know that it is definitely not what they want.  It is not right for everyone, some women want to birth surrounded by others, some women want others to take responsibility for them, even with the same information we will not all make the same choices.  That is a good thing.  I no more want every woman to have a freebirth than I do for every woman to plan caesarean surgery.  I do want every woman to have a complete choice of where she gives birth and who is with her.

And the risks?

Do you know the risks of birthing in a busy hospital?  If not, then it is hard to compare the safety of home birth with a midwife, home birth without, or birth in a medical establishment.  Information is the key.  For all those who are adamant that medical care saves women and babies, it is important to remember that for healthy women and healthy babies, birth does not kill, infection does, malnutrition does, hip malformation due to rickets makes birthing a baby dangerous, disturbance makes birth dangerous because your body can not produce adrenaline and oxytocin together.  To make birth safe you have a choice, either protect your own oxytocin or make sure you have medics on standby to bail you out when your adrenaline pathway takes over running your body.  It is the area in-between that is the most dangerous way to birth a baby, and that happens in hospitals more often than it does at home.  Birth at home is as safe for babies and safer for mothers than birth in a hospital, and babies need well mothers to keep them healthy and safe!  It is not an ‘either/or’ it is as safe a choice as any other.  It might be an idea to look at the stats, birth in California is no safer than birth in Bosnia…

 And the mess?

For those worried about the ‘mess’, all I can say is ‘heck, you are about to have a child, birth is the least messy, and least painful, bit of the job of being a parent.’

Would I recommend it to anyone else?

No, it is a choice a woman must come to for herself.  I can say how it was for me, and the best bit was the privacy.  The special time, the lack of intervention.  If you could have good sex whilst someone is taking your temperature, listening to your heart-rate, telling you when to thrust and when to pant, then go for it, but for me that was so very disturbing and distracting that ultimately it increased the danger to both of us, because making a baby and birthing a baby require a very similar hormonal symphony.

Why is freebirthing becoming more popular?

I don’t think it is, I think women have become more open to talking about it, and the media has become more critical of those who make alternative choices and so it has become a recent target.  My first freebirth was in 2005 and I got a great deal of support from other women who had birthed their babies unassisted or were planning it.  The internet has made it easier for women to gain support from each other, and to talk openly about it with others who understand their choices and will not pass judgement. It is easy to blame the failings of an NHS to stretched to provide women with 1:1 care from a midwife they know, or to blame the crisis facing independent midwifery, which both undoubtedly deny women care and choice, but it seems that most women make the decision to freebirth from a position of choice and empowerment rather than from a place of fear or no alternative.  It is important to distinguish between those women who wanted to freebirth (and are happy with that choice) and those women who wanted support that was not there or did not turn up in time and they were left feeling afraid and abandoned.  There are, of course, those women for whom freebirth was an accident who then realise just what it was that others were trying to describe, who are eternally grateful that their support was too late.  They are often amongst the most vocal supporters, because their choices are ‘acceptable to the masses’ and yet the got the kind of birth that so many women crave, and they are most able to speak about it without feeling harshly judged for their choices, or risk being told that their decisions somehow mark them as dangerous or uncaring, which is a criticism regularly (and unfairly) levelled at women who make choices outside of the mainstream.

What did my partner think?

He knew that what felt safe for me was safe for me.  He trusts me completely to know what my body needs, and so fear was not part of his equation.  He tells everyone how wonderful it was.

If you want to know more, please do ask, I am happy to talk about it.



Here is a Sample Birth Plan for Freebirth and Transfer