Many expecting parents find themselves watching video after video of real birth online. Videos can give you an idea of the sights and sounds commonly present during childbirth, which can help you feel like you have a better idea of what to expect during the big day.
If you're watching online birth videos, it's important to know that not all videos are created equal. You'll see quite a wide range of types of birth as well as different kinds of care practices used, including practices that are not based in best medical evidence for a healthy birth. That doesn't mean you shouldn't watch all kinds of birth videos, but it does mean you should watch them with a careful eye. To give yourself a more knowledgeable and accurate perception of birth, keep the following tips and questions in mind when watching birth videos:
Birth videos are heavily edited: You don't see how long it really takes for most people to give birth. Of course, editing is necessary to make watching birth videos possible, but it's important to keep in mind how much time has passed (many videos, but not all, note the time/number of hours). It's also important to know you don't see all of what happens during the course of labor and birth -- depending on how the video was edited, you may see only the more quiet moments or only the more loud/intense moments. Most births have plenty of both.
First or subsequent birth?: If the video shows a parent who has given birth previously, make note. A parent with a prior birth often has a shorter labor and may feel/appear more confident with the process. People who are giving birth for the first time often experience longer labors.
Routine practices/interventions: Just because you see a practice being used in the video, and even if you see it performed in 8 out of 10 videos, it still may not be a necessary or helpful practice for birth. Make note of the practices used in the videos you watch and then, learn more. Do your research on things like IV fluids, induction, artificially breaking your water, cervical checks, laying on your back to labor and push, pitocin, and wrapping baby in a blanket (instead of skin-to-skin with you). You will find that many of these practices carry risks and are routine but not necessary or helpful. Taking a good childbirth class will help you spot unnecessary routine interventions.
You don't have all of the details: Many videos don't explain why the person giving birth is having a certain procedure or type of birth. The videos will likely not discuss the risks and benefits of practices/interventions either. With edited snippets of conversation, you also won't be able to hear key conversations between the parent and their support person/doula, or midwife, or OB. Those conversations should include moments where the parent is asked for consent before performing anything to them or their baby. Again, when you take a quality childbirth class, like a Lamaze childbirth class, you learn all about the details and decision-making points common in childbirth.
Think like a doula: What in the video do you notice (if anything) that could be more helpful for the person laboring? Maybe they would have been more comfortable getting out of bed during contractions, or maybe they needed support from someone to help them focus through a contraction, or maybe they could have pushed without someone loudly counting to 10.
Watching birth videos with a critical eye will not only help you get a clearer perspective on the nuances of labor and birth, but it will also help you decide in advance what kinds of care practices you would prefer to have or avoid during your own birth. This will give you the opportunity to have important discussions surrounding your care with your midwife or OB before you go into labor.