Adapted from Giving Birth with Confidence, 3rd Edition
Healthy Birth Practice 1: Let Labor Begin on Its Own
Letting your body go into labor spontaneously is almost always the best way to know that your baby is ready to be born and that your body is ready for labor. In the vast majority of pregnancies, labor will start only when all the players—your baby, your uterus, your hormones, and your placenta—are ready. Naturally, labor usually goes better and you and baby usually end up healthier when all systems are “go” for birth. Every day in the last weeks of pregnancy is vital to your baby and your body's preparation for birth.
If your labor is artificially started, or induced, it becomes a medical event and proceeds quite differently from spontaneous labor. Unless you or your baby has a health problem that necessitates induction, it makes sense to wait patiently for your labor to start on its own. Even if your due date has passed and you’re longing to hold your baby, remember that nature has good reasons for the wait.
Healthy Birth Practice 2: Walk, Move Around and Change Positions Throughout Labor
Moving in labor serves two very important purposes. First, it helps you cope with increasingly strong and painful contractions, which signals your body to keep labor going. Second, it helps gently wiggle your baby into your pelvis and through your birth canal.
Healthy Birth Practice 3: Bring a Loved One, Friend or Doula for Continuous Support
In childbirth, as in many aspects of life, we humans do better when we’re surrounded by those we trust, people who tell us we’re doing well and encourage us forward. Good labor support is not watching the clock and checking IV lines and fetal monitor printouts. It’s making sure you’re not disturbed, respecting the time that labor takes, and reminding you that you know how to birth your baby. Your helpers should spin a cocoon around you while you’re in labor—create a space where you feel safe and secure and can do the hard work of labor without worry.
Healthy Birth Practice 4: Avoid Interventions That Are Not Medically Necessary
Although research shows that routine and unnecessary interference in the natural process of labor and birth is not likely to be beneficial—and may indeed be harmful—most U.S. births today are intervention-intensive. A majority of women surveyed for Listening to Mothers III experienced one or more of the following interventions during labor:
- Continuous electronic fetal monitoring (EFM)(93 percent)
- Restrictions on eating (80 percent)
- IV fluids (62 percent)
- Restrictions on drinking (60 percent)
- Epidural anesthesia (67 percent)
- Artificially ruptured membranes (31 percent)
- Artificial oxytocin augmentation (36 percent)
- Episiotomy (17 percent)
Download the Lamaze Healthy Birth Practice Paper, available in eleven languages, to learn why these interventions are usually unnecessary and sometimes harmful.
Learn how to keep your birth as normal as possible if you need:
Healthy Birth Practice 5: Avoid Giving Birth on Your Back and Follow Your Body's Urges to Push
When it’s time to push your baby out, remember that instinct, tradition, and science are all on your side. Current evidence shows that letting you assume whatever position you find most comfortable, encouraging you to push in response to what you feel, and letting you push as long as you and your baby are doing well are all beneficial practices.
- Download the Lamaze Healthy Birth Practice Paper, available in eleven languages, to learn about how upright and "gravity-neutral" positions benefit both you and your baby.
- Learn how to keep your birth as natural as possible if you have to use directed pushing.
Healthy Birth Practice 6: Keep Mother and Baby Together — It's Best for Mother, Baby and Breastfeeding
Experts recommend that right after birth, a healthy newborn should be placed skin-to-skin on your abdomen or chest after birth and should be dried and covered with warm blankets. Any care that needs to be done immediately after birth can be done with your baby skin-to-skin on your chest. As midwife Ina May Gaskin says, you’re entitled to "keep your prize."
For additional information and resources on the Lamaze Healthy Birth Practices download the Six Healthy Birth Practices infographic or participate in our online class for expecting parents: Safe and Healthy Birth: Six Simple Steps.
Regardless of your baby’s size, your labor’s length and complexity, or your confidence level, these care practices will help keep labor and your baby's birth as safe and healthy as possible.
The Lamaze Six Healthy Birth Practices are also available in eleven languages: English, Mandarin, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese, Czech, Polish, Romanian, Greek, Arabic, and Hebrew.