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Does Home Birth Work For First-Time Moms?

By Kristen Burgess

A recently published study reported that home births had very good outcomes and were safe for mothers— unless, of course, they were first-time mothers. The study reported higher rates of complications and issues with first-time mothers choosing home birth over those who had their babies in the hospital.

When I read the study, I was glad for the validation that home birth is safe, and only mildly annoyed that it might discourage mothers. The news reports in the following weeks, however, have been infuriating. Rather than letting moms know that home birthing is safe, the only part of the study they’ve highlighted has been that it’s not safe for first-time moms.

First-Time Moms…

I had a home birth with my first baby, and I thank God every day that I did. Don’t get me wrong: I realize that obstetricians are going to say I was lucky and that my baby could have died. I realize plenty of people are going to say that I’m only one person, so I don’t count. And lots of moms will say they had great births at the hospital.

Lucky for me, this is my article, and I can say what I want to, regardless.

But luck had nothing to do with the fact that I had a great birth with my first baby… at home. And I’ve home-birthed four babies since then. There was no “luck of the draw.”

I do think that first-time moms are more likely to experience exhaustion and fatigue in labor, and get overwhelmed by the pain. But I think that happens because they’re not quite prepared for the experience. Birth is really hard work. Even natural birth is hard work. It’s not always flowering roses and equally flowery language.

Getting Prepared

First-time moms can have a rewarding and safe home birth. I think an experienced midwife helps a lot, but unassisted birthers can and do have great home births.

I think it’s vitally important that moms be well-nourished. Despite skeptical obstetricians arguing otherwise, there’s no doubt that good nutrition makes a difference in the health of mothers and babies—and in the outcome of birth. A strong, well-nourished, healthy woman has a body that performs better in labor, and recovers more quickly. Issues like blood loss are nowhere near the risk when mothers have an ample blood supply and strong uterine muscles.

Moms need to realize that birth is hard work. I also think that birth skills make huge difference. I didn’t really have skills with my first baby, and, looking back, I think things would have gone more smoothly if I had. My baby didn’t want to come down all the way, and I spent a lot of time being scared and working against her efforts to be born. I pushed for two hours, mostly because I was scared and not sure what to I could do to help her.

My midwife even encouraged me to try other things, but it wasn’t until I was so tired that I just wanted her out that I actually began using some techniques to move her down and out. And out she came—like a rocket!—when I did.

I don’t think that the solution to our modern problems with labor and delivery lies with putting first-time moms in the hospital. But after a decade of advocacy in the natural birth world, I don’t think it lies with midwives and home birth, either.

Families

The solution lies with families.

Our responsibility is to educate each other. In the past, our cultures had strong written and oral traditions that guided our young men and women. Children were taught how to gain the skills they needed to be adults. Girls saw and learned childbirth from their mothers. In cultures where fathers were included, boys learned how to properly care for pregnant women. (Often young men were assigned to bring expectant women special foods!)

These families learned skills and passed them down. That’s where the responsibility lies. We need to teach our children so much, and teaching them what’s normal for birth, and what they need to know about having children, is important.

Right now, it’s our responsibility to learn the skills we were not taught, so that our babies are born healthy, via an empowered birth—be it at home, a birth center, or a hospital, with a doctor, a midwife, or unassisted. Then we can pass that legacy on to those babies.

That’s how first-time moms have healthy births. They don’t just have “book knowledge.” They actually have birth skills, and have practiced them.

We don’t drive our cars after simply reading about how to do it. We go out and practice with people who can already drive. We get the information we need about driving, we read about the skills, and then we practice! Our parents may be slamming on imaginary brakes while we go through our first-time driver period, but we generally get through just fine.

First-time moms can have a great birth experience anywhere. Families need to know what to expect and what the professional will be doing. Most important, they need to understand their responsibilities, and practice for when the big day arrives.