What Makes for a Positive Birth Experience?

by Amber Strocel on June 4, 2010

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My two children were both born in midwife-attended hospital births. I opted against using epidural anesthesia for a number of reasons. But the biggest factor, for me, was that with excellent support and relatively short labors I found the discomfort manageable. I trusted my husband and the midwives who were there with me. Looking back, I feel quite satisfied with my birth experiences.

Recently, a study was released comparing several indicators of childbirth in Canada. One of the findings showed that my home province of British Columbia has one of the lowest epidural rates in the country, at just 30% of vaginal births. There were varying reactions to this statistic. Some people suggested it indicates a shortage of anesthesiologists, and others were concerned that women who requested epidurals were being denied. The truth is, we don’t really know. Epidural rates vary for many reasons, including local economic and education levels.

Smiling between contractions
Smiling in between contractions during my second birth

In the absence of a clear reason, it can be tempting to conjecture. I have my own ideas as to what might be up, too. But I really think that is beside the point. What is most interesting to me is not how many women opt for epidurals – it’s how women feel about their birth experience.

One study reviewed of 137 factors affecting women’s satisfaction with childbirth, and 4 stood out: personal expectations, the amount of support from caregivers, the quality of the caregiver-patient relationship and involvement in decision making. These factors overrode age, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, childbirth preparation, the physical birth environment, pain, immobility, medical interventions and continuity of care. It seems most mothers are more concerned with having people around us who we like, who involve us in decisions, honor our preferences and support us through the process than the epidural rate, specifically.

Baby Jacob
The first photo of baby Jacob, approximately 30 minutes later

One of the principles of Attachment Parenting International is “Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting.” This includes exploring different types of healthcare providers and birthing options, including natural birth and home birth. It includes being alert and physically active during birth, and trusting in your body’s ability to birth. It includes being involved in decisions surrounding birth, and possibly hiring a birth doula. All of these recommendations can help to ensure that we can make informed decisions, and find the support that we need to honor those decisions.

We can’t really say exactly how any birth will go. But if we take the time to prepare ourselves, and find good support, we can maximize our chances of having a positive birth experience, while still ensuring that both mother and baby are safe and healthy.

What do you think makes for a positive birth experience? Please share!

You can read more about Amber’s daily adventures with the two children she birthed on her blog at Strocel.com.

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Amber Strocel (31 Posts)

Amber is a hippie mama to two, a writer, a dreamer, a student, an erstwhile engineer and a lover of chocolate. She lives in suburban Vancouver with her family and one very cranky tabby cat. Keep up with her on her blog at Strocel.com.


{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Carla June 4, 2010 at 8:30 am

As a former labour and delivery nurse I can say that one of the biggest factors in a positive birth experience is EDUCATION. Women who are knowledgable about the process and stages of labour and birth know what to expect and are empowered when their bodies are doing what they have read about. Women who come in with no prior knowledge of what the birth process entails are scared by the pain they are experiencing because they don’t understand it. When a woman comes to the hospital in labour is not the time to learn about the process of labour and birth. That needs to be done in the months leading up to hospital admission.

Of course the factors that you discuss in your post are also very important. As a natural birthing momma of two babies, I can personally attest to the fact that personal expectations, the amount of support from caregivers, the quality of the caregiver-patient relationship and involvement in decision making all play a huge role in whether labour and delivery will be viewed positively or negatively.

Thanks for a great post!

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Kayris June 4, 2010 at 9:11 am

Two hospital births here. The one with the epidural was the more positive one, while the fast, natural one was less so. And it all boiled down to the staff present. IMO, a mother should have a doctor and nurses who are willing to treat her as someone with a brain in her head and not just a pair of birthing hips, and listen to her concerns and opinions. That goes both ways–for the woman who doesn’t want an epidural and the one who does.

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Abbie June 4, 2010 at 10:43 am

My birth experience was very positive, and I was so happy to be surrounded by people I love, and health care professionals who were respectful and nurturing. Though I didn’t have the natural birth I wanted (due to the fact it was so darn long and I couldn’t deal with the exhaustion anymore) I felt really grateful that I and everyone else there had done their best to help me achieve that goal. While I got the epidural and was happy about that choice, I knew it was my last resort in laboring.

I’m already thinking about my next time around, and I’m hoping it won’t be another 41 hour ordeal. I’m hoping to go natural next time, but not opposed to getting the epidural again if I’m in a similar situation. Having my family with me, and health care professionals who really respected my choices and acted in a caring manner were only part of making my birth experience so positive. Having a great big healthy baby after such long, hard work was the really great part!

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Mama in the City June 4, 2010 at 10:45 am

I myself had a high risk pre term birth under the care of an OB in..the hospital where I work as a LDR RN. I love birth and even though mine was a little high tech…I absolutely loved my birth.

I have probably been at over 100 births and way more labours than that. I love to see the differences in women and families during labor. The cultural differences and the expectations of birth that their culture gives them.

I can safely say, in regards to hospital birth, I have seen it all. The woman who gets her requested epidural within a few hours of labor because she is terrified of pain..the woman who labours silently and controlled and all the in betweens.

There is a big variation in the factors that women experience before birth and even before pregnancy. We need to remember that these experiences also shape our own birth experiences.

If you had a sister who loved her epidural and raved about how positive it made her birth experience…you might feel safe in making that your decision as well or vice versa.

Many women I work with come from many different socioeconomic statuses and many different countries. There are women who have always been surrounded by birth and she will birth differently. I find that womens unique personal birth and pregnancy experiences help shape her own experience and can directly influence her own birth, and this can either be a negative or positive influence.

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Kylie Madden June 7, 2010 at 7:22 am

Hi.
I had my son in a birthing unit with two doulas present aswell as the midwifery staff. I had a natural birth.
I think the thing that made for a positive birthing experience was simply the fact that i was able to feel what was going on, and act accordingly….I was not pressured to be anywhere, in any position i didnt wnt to be in…i was able to ride it out. The thought of being controlled by doctors etc, and shoved up on a bed on my back is quite scary thought, as for me this was the most uncomfortable and excruicatingly painful position i experinced….thankfully i was able to get off and move around.
The women needs to lead the labour and everyone present needs to follow….i was blessed having this space and time. I do however understand that this is not the case for many women in public midwifery sections of public hospitals, and they are expected to allow the “doctor” to do his job, and everything is organized at his or her convienience….ludicrous in 2010…

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