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How Childbirth Works

Home Birth, Water Birth and Leboyer Gentle Birth
Three boys are introduced to their newborn baby sister by the midwife after a home delivery, August 1946.
Three boys are introduced to their newborn baby sister by the midwife after a home delivery, August 1946.
Merlyn Severn/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

More and more women are choosing to give birth at home. Proponents argue that childbirth isn't a medical procedure, but a natural experience that may require medical intervention. Home births are typically attended by midwives, who may bring equipment such as oxygen for the baby or IVs to provide fluid for the mother if necessary. Many medical professionals agree that women who have low-risk pregnancies can do well giving birth at home with a midwife present, who will advise if moving to the hospital is necessary. However, the American Medical Association is currently lobbying to outlaw home births, claiming that the safest place for childbirth is in a hospital or a birthing center that adheres to strict guidelines. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has officially opposed home births since the mid-1970s.

At the other end of the spectrum are unassisted home births or "free births." This means that the woman gives birth at home without any medical professional present, just friends and family. Advocates claim that this is most natural way to give birth, and women who choose this option have often had bad hospital birth experiences in the past. Most medical professionals, however, claim that it's irresponsible and dangerous. If something goes wrong, the consequences can be deadly. While the majority of women who choose unassisted births continue to see a doctor or midwife for prenatal care and may purchase equipment or take classes to learn medical procedures, some don't.

An alternative to giving birth lying on your back in a bed is to have a water birth, which is usually only available at a birthing center or a home birth. It simply means that the woman labors in a tub or pool of warm water. The warmth and buoyancy can help the mother get more comfortable. Some women labor in the tub but get out for delivery, while others deliver the baby underwater. They believe that this is a more soothing way to come into the world -- going from one watery place to another. Because the baby doesn't begin breathing until exposed to air and receives oxygen through the ­umbilical cord until it's cut, there's minimal risk.

Leboyer Gentle Birth is a way of giving birth that has become popular in some countries (although the United States isn't yet one of them). The birthing room should be calm and quiet, with dimmed lights and gentle music. After the baby is delivered, he or she spends a longer amount of time lying on the mother's stomach before having the cord cut. The baby is then placed into a bath of warm water to simulate the comforting feelings of the womb.

Now that you know some options for giving birth, let's take a look at childbirth classes and methods.