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Find out what it means, what the benefits are and how you can up your chances of having one.

A straightforward birth means giving birth vaginally, without any procedures or interventions. Some people call it a natural birth. Interventions are carried out in a hospital by a doctor and include:

You can experience a straightforward or natural birth at home, in a birth centre, or in a hospital.

What are the benefits of straightforward or natural birth?

As it sounds, it’s a little more… straightforward. But aside from that, evidence shows that having a straightforward birth has positive physical and psychological benefits. They include:

  • Less pain after childbirth.
  • A stronger chance of starting breastfeeding.
  • More likely to feel satisfied with your labour.
  • Less likely to experience psychological problems like depression.

After a straightforward birth, you have a greater chance of starting motherhood fit and healthy. That will make it easier to cope better with the demands of a new baby (Bastos and McCourt, 2010; NCT, 2010).  

Who can have a straightforward or natural birth?

Some women have a straightforward birth and others need interventions for the safety of their baby or themselves. Maternity data does not record how many births are straightforward as such, but of women giving birth in England:

  • 55.1% had spontaneous onset of labour
  • 59.4% spontaneous delivery  
  • 38% had unassisted deliveries (spontaneous onset of labour, spontaneous delivery, with no episiotomy). (NHS Digital, 2017a).

The way health professionals care for you in labour might affect your chances of having a straightforward birth as mentioned in our article.  You and your birth partner might also help to increase those chances during pregnancy.

Can I do anything to encourage a straightforward or natural birth?

There are no guarantees and you don’t know what will happen on the day. On the other hand, you can do some things in pregnancy and labour to make a straightforward birth more likely. Read our articles about encouraging a natural birth in pregnancy and labour to pick up some tips.

If you’ve had previous labours and are at low risk of complications, your own comfy home or a midwife led unit are strong options. Their rates of interventions are lower and the outcome for your baby is no different compared with having your baby in a hospital labour ward (Hollowell et al, 2011; NICE, 2014; Li et al, 2015).

If you’re a first-time mum, planning to have your baby in a midwife led unit is fine too. There’s no difference in risk for your baby compared to giving birth in a hospital labour ward. However, if you plan a home birth there is a slightly increased risk to your baby (Hollowell et al, 2011; NICE, 2014).

This page was last reviewed in August 2017.

Further information

Our support line offers practical and emotional support in many areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700.

We also offer antenatal courses which are a great way to find out more about birth, labour and life with a new baby.

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.

Bastos HM, McCourt C (2010) Morbidity during the postnatal period: impact on women and society, in: Byrom S, Edwards G, Bick D (Eds) Essential Midwifery Practice: Postnatal care, Chichester: John Wiley & Sons.

Hollowell J, et al. (2011) The Birthplace national prospective cohort study: perinatal and maternal outcomes by planned place of birth. Birthplace in England research programme. Final report part 4. NIHR Service Delivery and Organisation programme. Available at: https://www.npeu.ox.ac.uk/birthplace (accessed 30 January 2018)

Li Y, et al (2015) Perinatal and maternal outcomes in planned home and obstetric unit births in women at 'higher risk' of complications: secondary analysis of the Birthplace national prospective cohort study. BJOG. Epub:1-13. Available at: https://www.npeu.ox.ac.uk/birthplace/publications  (accessed 1 February 2018)

NCT/RCM/RCOG (2007) Making normal birth a reality Consensus statement from the Maternity Care Working Party, Available at:  https://www.rcm.org.uk/sites/default/files/NormalBirthConsensusStatement.pdf (accessed 30 January 2018)

NHS Digital (2017a) NHS Maternity Statistics, England, 2016-2017, Available at: https://digital.nhs.uk/catalogue/PUB30137 (accessed 12 April 2018)

NICE (2014) Intrapartum care for healthy women and babies (CG190), Available at: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg190 (accessed 30 January 2018)

Further reading

Altman DG, Bland JM. (1995) Statistics notes: Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. BMJ. 311:485. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.311.7003.485 [accessed 12 March 2018].

Bollen A. (2015) Supporting women in the transition to motherhood: a research overview. Perspective. 26:16-20, Available from: https://www.nct.org.uk/sites/default/files/related_documents/Bollen%20Supporting%20women%20in%20the%20transition%20to%20motherhood-%20%20a%20research%20overview%20pp%2016-20%20Mar%2015.pdf [accessed 12 March 2018].

Brocklehurst P, Hardy P, Hollowell J, Linsell L, Macfarlane A, McCourt C, Marlow N, Miller A, Newburn M, Petrou S, Puddicombe D, Redshaw M, Rowe R, Sandall J, Silverton L, Stewart M.

 (2011) Perinatal and maternal outcomes by planned place of birth for healthy women with low risk pregnancies: the Birthplace in England national prospective cohort study. BMJ. 343:d7400. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22117057  [accessed 12 March 2018].

Glover V, Barlow J. (2015) The impact of stress in pregnancy, Perspective (28). Available from: https://www.nct.org.uk/sites/default/files/related_documents/Glover%20and%20Barlow%20The%20impact%20of%20stress%20in%20pregnancy.pdf [accessed 12 March 2018].

Hodnett ED, Gates S, Hofmeyr GJ, Sakala C.(2011) Continuous support for women during childbirth. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. (7):CD003766. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23857334 [accessed 12 March 2018].

Hunter S, Hofmeyr GJ, Kulier R. (2007) Hands and knees posture in late pregnancy or labour for fetal malposition (lateral or posterior). Cochrane Database Syst Rev. (4):CD001063. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17943750 [accessed 26 February 2018].

Li Y, Townend J, Rowe R, Brocklehurst P, Knight M, Linsell L, Macfarlane A, McCourt C, Newburn M, Marlow N, Pasupathy D, Redshaw M, Sandall J, Silverton L, Hollowell J. (2015) Perinatal and maternal outcomes in planned home and obstetric unit births in women at 'higher risk' of complications: secondary analysis of the Birthplace national prospective cohort study. BJOG. 122(5):741–753.  Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4409851/  [accessed 26 February 2018].

NICE. (2014) Intrapartum care for healthy women and babies (CG190). Available from: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg190 [accessed 30 January 2018].

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