From water birth to drug-free, your other delivery options in the capital
Determined to stay out of Australia’s hospital system, my mother decided early during her first pregnancy to have a home birth. It went off without a hitch. A doctor and midwife stood by for emergencies, but it was my father who delivered me. Just over a year later my mother had her second child at home, and to this day she calls my brother’s and my birth the best experiences of her life.
Today, many women are evaluating their choices for childbirth, as my mother did decades ago. For instance, former talk show host Ricki Lake’s documentary about the benefits of home birthing, The Business of Being Born, has gained popularity among moms around the globe, from New York to certain pockets of Beijing.
At the end of the day, only you and your doctor can decide the best course of action. But that doesn’t mean you should go into your first consultation empty-handed. Here’s some helpful information to get you thinking about your options.
Back to Basics
Methods of giving birth vary all over the world. The UK has a long history of midwifery and home birthing, while in the US it is increasingly common for women to have a Caesarean section or even plan to induce labor. Before the industrial era, many women gave birth in a squatting or kneeling position generally considered to be the most comfortable, allowing optimum positioning of the pelvis. As births moved into hospitals, women adopted the standard lithotomy position (lying flat on their backs with their feet in stirrups).
The cons of a traditional hospital birth are highly debated, but no one would argue against the benefit of access to emergency medical care in a medical facility. Indeed, it is generally recognized that improved medical intervention during birth has helped reduce infant mortality rates around the world. Medical intervention is not always needed, though. A study by the University of British Columbia in Canada found that women experiencing normal pregnancies were more likely to receive painkillers and other interventions in a hospital than at home.
Into the Pool
Women who have given birth in water tell of the enormous pain relief they experienced during labor, and also what they find to be a less traumatic experience for the baby. According to a study published by the British Medical Journal in 1999, water births don’t present a greater risk than traditional birthing methods.
The first question a water-birth novice might ask is, “What if the baby drowns?” At the moment of birth, babies still receive oxygen from the umbilical cord. They don’t inhale immediately, and therefore do not take gulps of water. Though newborns can be left under water for minutes, experts recommend that you gently lift the baby out seconds after birth.
When in labor with her first child, Beijing resident Ivy Makelin (pictured here) loved the labor pool at Beijing United Family Hospital so much that she didn’t want to get out. Later, with baby number two on the way, Makelin was convinced that water birth would be the best option for her. BJU does not currently allow mothers to give birth in the labor pool, so Ivy opted in December for Xin Jing’an Tai Maternity Hospital, a private Chinese hospital that has hosted water births for more than five years. She made the right choice; after laboring for nine hours in December, Makelin gave birth to a healthy baby boy in Xin Jing’an’s birthing tub, and she couldn’t be happier.
If choosing a water birth at a Chinese hospital, you must either be confident with your language skills or have a Chinese speaker who can translate for you during consultations and on the day. Many hospitals have only recently introduced water birthing facilities, so be sure your doctor and midwife are not only comfortable but also experienced in this practice.
Saying No to Drugs
Mothers who experience a hospital birth and later go on to have a natural birth often say natural birth is less traumatic and even enjoyable. The snowball effect of drugs commonly used in hospitals can result in a more difficult birth for mother and baby. Hospital births often involve an epidural, a procedure that numbs the nerves at the base of the spine, and the administration of Pitocin, a synthetic version of the hormone oxytocin, which is used to accelerate labor and can counteract the numbing effects of an epidural. In an Australian study, oxytocin was found to increase the need for forceps threefold, while an epidural reduced a first-time mother’s chance of a normal delivery to less than 50 percent.
While drugs and surgeries have saved the lives of many mothers and newborns, it is possible to limit their use during a normal, low-risk birth. Like all things in life, preparation is the key. Liora Pearlman, who leads the Beijing Organic Consumers’ Association, had a “wonderfully pleasurable” drug-free birth and advised expectant mothers who want minimal intervention during birth to make sure they have the right birth plan.
Beijing currently lacks the kind of birthing centers found in large Western cities, so a drug-free hospital birth attended by a midwife is the best alternative. Most hospitals in Beijing will support your decision to be drug-free. You may have to make this point quite strongly, however, and be prepared to reinforce your choice on the day.
The Big Question: What If?
My mother used to say she had an “unshakeable confidence” in her ability to birth with little to no assistance. With the long lens of hindsight, however, she now believes that she took an enormous risk, given her medical history.
Home birthing is only an option for women whose health and medical history permits it, though research findings disagree on how much of a risk home births carry. According to a UK study by the National Birthday Trust, approximately 16 percent of first-time mothers having a planned home birth transfer to a hospital.
Though home births have grown more popular in Western countries, they are not viable for most Beijing-based women. China’s Maternal and Infant Health Care Law 2006 does not ban home births, but registered midwives operate in a legal gray area if they practice outside hospitals. In general, midwives do not attend home births in Beijing. Technically, only hospitals can issue birth certificates. A Beijing mother, who asked not to be named, experienced great difficulty obtaining passports for her children because they were both born at home and thus the hospital she was registered at refused to issue the necessary paperwork.
An alternative to home birth is a midwife-assisted birth at a hospital like BJU. A midwife is neither a doctor nor a nurse, but an individual trained to deliver babies with as little intervention as possible. A skilled midwife is trained to use oxygen, painkillers and non-invasive surgical equipment. Midwives work within Beijing hospitals and can quickly call a doctor should you have complications.
A midwife-assisted birth is generally less invasive, and midwives can be especially attentive to mothers’ wishes – allowing them to assume different birthing positions, for instance. Choosing the right midwife is very important. Be sure you both share the same enthusiasm for a natural or low-intervention birth plan.
It pays to be educated. Get involved in mothers’ groups, visit multiple hospitals, and speak with various doctors about your alternative birthing options. Decide on a birth plan that you’re most comfortable with and don’t be afraid to ask your doctor a lot of questions. Remember, all the planning in the world can’t fully prepare you for the experience of giving birth. So while you should have a firm birth plan, remain flexible enough to adapt if circumstances change.
Doing your own research is very important. Check out our recommendations below, but remember to consult a doctor before deciding on a natural or low-intervention birth.
The Business of Being Born. Directed by Abby Epstein, produced by Ricki Lake. www.thebusinessofbeingborn.com
For all your water birthing needs
Got a question? Start here for basic information
For information on all forms of alternative birth
Prenatal Yoga at Yoga Yard
Run by Robyn Wexler (6413 0774) www.yogayard.com
Prenatal Courses at BJU
Contact Kathi Levitan (1352 007 8429, firstname.lastname@example.org) www.unitedfamilyhospitals.com/en