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Labor & Delivery

Q&A: Alternative Birth Methods?

Lately a lot of my friends have been talking about alternative delivery methods, like water birth or hypnosis. Can you give some more info about this?

While the “on your back, epidural-numbed” labor has long been the American standard, we're hearing from more and more women who are opting for less conventional birth methods and pain control techniques. Here are a few ways that women are now welcoming their little ones:

Water birth
Ever thought of delivering your baby in a Jacuzzi? With a water birth, you progress through labor in a waist-deep pool of clean, warm (around body temperature) water. More and more hospitals are offering this option. You can also deliver at a birthing center or even rent a pool for your own living room! The big benefit: Hanging out in a birthing pool during the first stage of labor (when the cervix is dilating but hasn’t reached 10 cm yet) has been known to greatly decrease a woman’s chances of screaming for an epidural. Some women choose to hop out of the bath once they’ve dilated, but with a true “water birth,” you stay in the tub until baby is out and swimming along with you. (The doctor/midwife pulls his face up into the air right away.) Fans of water birth say it makes natural childbirth easier on Mom, and the transition to the outside world is easier on baby.

Home birth
A home birth is just what it sounds like — giving birth at home. This option isn’t super common in the U.S. (roughly 99 percent of births still take place in a hospital), but home birth stories are popping up all over the media these days. Celebs like Ricki Lake, Charlotte Church, and Joely Fisher have chosen to skip the hospital for their deliveries. Most docs aren’t into this — they warn of the dangers involved with giving birth outside the reach of a hospital’s emergency care. Others, however, argue that home births are actually the safer route. They say forgoing the hospital protects a woman from unnecessary drugs and episiotomies and that remaining in a comfortable, relaxed environment helps the birth to go smoothly — just as nature intended.

Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese method of stimulating points on the body (usually with strategically placed thin needles) to help balance the natural flow of energy (or qi). What does this have to do with delivering a baby? Well, certain studies have shown that the needles may make labor easier. In one study, patients receiving acupuncture were 50 percent less likely to ask for an epidural; in another, the treatment was effective in inducing labor in women whose water had already broken. Quirky fact: Some say acupuncture can help turn breech babies too.

Think you could talk your brain out of feeling the pain of labor? Some women claim that self-hypnosis methods have helped them to have less painful deliveries. How does it work? These techniques are meant to help you retreat into yourself and essentially program your brain to believe that labor will be totally comfortable. Women that have gone this route commonly allege that when they arrived at the hospital, nurses refused to believe they were in labor (until they had their internal exams, of course)! Kerry Tuschoff, founder of the hypnosis training program Hypnobabies, goes so far as to call her methods “software for the mind.” If you’re skeptical, consider this: Recent studies show that self-hypnosis can reduce the need for pain meds in labor and make for more satisfied mommies.

By Erin Walters