Tips on encouraging a straightforward birth during pregnancy

There are things you can do during pregnancy to make a straightforward birth more likely. Here we provide tips and information.

This article covers a number of things you might want to consider in pregnancy to increase your chances of a straightforward birth. You can:

Choose midwifery care

Giving birth at home or in a midwife-led birth centre

Choose your birth partner(s) with care

Help your baby into the best position

Prepare your mind, body and spirit

Overcome your anxieties

Choose midwifery care

Research shows that with midwife care you are more likely to go into labour yourself and to be more satisfied with your antenatal care. You don't have to see your GP, even when you discover you are pregnant. Instead, you can ask in your GP’s surgery if a midwife works from the surgery. If she does, then you can ask to see her directly. If not, you can ask to be referred. 

Alternatively, if you have a health centre or children’s centre near you then you can ask if a midwife works from there. You can also write to the Head of Midwifery at your local hospital and ask to be put in touch with a midwife. When you have your first antenatal check with your midwife she should discuss your preferences for care during pregnancy as well as where you might choose to give birth. A midwife can arrange any antenatal tests and will provide more of your care closer to home.

Unless you have a medical need during your pregnancy, there is no need to see a hospital consultant and you can have all your care from your midwife (or your midwife and your GP).

Giving birth at home or in a midwife-led birth centre

There is good evidence that natural home birth is as safe as hospital for both you and your baby if you are both in good health without medical problems. You are less likely to have interventions such as drips and an episiotomy if you avoid a consultant unit for your birth. You are also less likely to have a forceps or caesarean birth – even if you do transfer to a consultant unit during labour.

This was confirmed most recently by the Birthplace study 2011 from the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit (NPEU), which found that women planning to have their baby at home were more likely than women planning for birth in other settings to have a normal birth: 88% of planned home births are ‘normal births’ compared to just under 60% of planned obstetric unit births.

The results of the Birthplace Study 2011 provide parents with detailed, up-to-date information about the four different places for planning birth. (The results are specific to England.) The study compares planning to use a ‘midwifery unit’ or birth centre with planning to have a baby at home. It also compares planning to have a baby at home with planning to have your baby in hospital.

The main focus of the study is outcomes for women who are ‘low risk’, i.e. those who are healthy, with a straightforward pregnancy, no previous obstetric complications that might affect this pregnancy. The study finds that there are positive reasons for considering planning to use a birth centre or to have a baby at home.

Choose your birth partner(s) with care

Don’t assume that your partner is the best person for supporting you as a birth partner. If you feel close and very comfortable around your partner, able to do your own thing and express yourself without feeling inhibited, then being together when your child is born may be a special experience for you both. However, if your partner is likely to feel anxious and uncomfortable then it might be preferable if they stayed outside for some of your labour with someone else to support them and you.

A close female friend or relative can be a helpful labour supporter for you. You might find it helpful to choose somebody who has had a straightforward birth themself, who is calm and quiet and with whom you can communicate openly. It is useful to discuss roles and boundaries and what you expect of them before labour starts. You may only want them there for part of the labour and possibly not when the child is actually born. It's your choice.

Help your baby into the best position

Your labour will be easier if your baby is in the optimum position – head down with the back of her head towards your front. There are various things you can do in pregnancy that may encourage the baby into the best position for labour. Try kneeling on all fours for a few minutes at a time, or leaning forwards when you are standing up (e.g. resting your forearms on a shelf) and gently swaying your hips in a circular motion. Positions that are best avoided (wherever possible) include sitting with your knees higher than your hips (like on a soft sofa or in a car), and lying on your back. Ask your midwife or antenatal teacher for more details.

Prepare your mind, body and spirit

It’s common for some women to feel some level of anxiety during pregnancy; perhaps about their changing body, concerns about birth or the development and health of their baby.

Try to address your concerns or worries by talking to your partner, family, friends or midwife. Support and reassurance can make a difference to how you feel.

Many women find attending antenatal classes helpful too, as it provides a chance to talk through positions for labour and your feelings about birth. 

Yoga can also be beneficial in pregnancy. Many women have found that learning how to ‘centre themselves’, to relax and to let go of any inhibitions is of direct benefit when labour gets going.

Overcome your anxieties

Everyone is different and some pregnant women might feel more anxious about one aspect of labour than others. If you are feeling anxious about anything, trying to overcome your concerns will really help you feel more in control and confident on the day. Maybe give yourself the time and space to sit quietly for a few minutes every day.

If you are having relationship difficulties, try to deal with them openly, or seek help – resentment and anxiety are not helpful mental states for a straightforward labour.

Read more in our article on Encouraging straightforward birth: what to do in labour.

Further information

NCT's helpline offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700. We also offer antenatal courses which are a great way to find out more about labour and life with a new baby.