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Active Birth

Image of a pregnant woman kneeling on the floor, her arms leaning over a birth ball. At a CubCare antenatal class

12 Apr, 2023


When you think about birth it is likely you imagine someone laying down in agony, writhing around on the bed and being pumped full of drugs.

We have years of conditioning from what we’ve witnessed our whole lives through film and television. Images like that are not helpful and are damaging for expectant parents.

Active birth Welwyn

Humans are a product of our experiences.

If our only knowledge and experience of birth is from a dangerous fiction, then there is a danger of that becoming our own reality.

It is time to change the narrative, work with our bodies and believe that our bodies are made to do this and therefore absolutely can do this!

The answer – mindset and active birth.

What is active birth?

When thinking about birth it is important to remember that humans are mammals; and look to other mammals giving birth for an idea for how we can do it.

A calm, quiet space. Upright positions. And importantly, there is no doubt from the animal in their ability to birth. If it’s a farm animal then perhaps the farmer will be standing by in case of emergency to ensure that their business is protected, but otherwise it is hands off at a distance.

A human left to labour and birth alone, without medical interventions unless medically indicated, will exhibit similar mammal behaviours.

A person will rock, sway, rotate, move, squat, bend over, crouch, go on tip toes, rest, sleep and move again. They will dance and move in a quest to help baby to move down as they prepare to be born.

That is active birth.

Active Birth is not a series of moves and positions that can be taught and repeated like a choreographed routine. But a series of instinctive behaviours that a birthing person, and the baby will go through to make space, to change position and to be born.

“ACTIVE BIRTH is not new. It is simply a way of describing how women the world over have always behaved during labour and birth throughout history”

Janet Balaskas

But humans are different to animals

The main issue and difference between humans and animals is our brain.

As such a highly developed thinking species our thoughts, worries and consciousness often cause issues in birth. An animal doesn’t have the ability to doubt their approach, it is instinct. Humans do.

Encouraging our thinking brain to switch off during birth is a post that I will get to, but it is something to work on alongside preparing your body for an active birth.

Basically, our human thinking brain instinctively wants to switch off during birth and allow our more animalistic parts of the brain to take over and release the hormones required for birth.

If we struggle to allow ourselves to relax, to feel comfortable enough to let our thinking brain switch off, then that can negatively impact labour.

By being active, listening to our bodies and moving around when needed. This can help release negative energy and adrenaline, making the body and brain more comfortable to facilitate birth better.

What are the benefits of an active birth?

We know that being able to move around freely during birth can:
  • Increase oxygen flow to the uterus and baby – making contractions more efficient and keeping baby happier
  • Utilise gravity – helping the uterine muscle contract and release more efficiently. But also helping baby descend through the pelvis.
  • Increase pelvic outlet size, changing the shape of the pelvis as baby moves through – therefore creating a better positioning for baby and making labour more efficient

This means that potentially, being active during labour and birth can:
  • Shorten the length of 1st (dilation) and 2nd stage (birth) of labour
  • Reduce the chance of needing a caesarean
  • Reduce the chance of needing instrumental support at birth
  • Improve discomfort and lowers the need for medical pain relief – moving releases endorphins, the body’s natural painkiller! But also positioning makes muscles work more efficiently (without restriction, more comfortably)
  • Reduce the need for episiotomy – moving around and instinctively changing positions throughout labour makes more space in the body
  • Make labour more satisfying – even if things do medically change, higher satisfactions rates are reported by those who have been able to move freely during their labour

When written down it is easy to see the benefits of being active during birth.

While it is instinct, the need to move and change position during birth; our social conditioning and lack of seeing this happen means that there is often distrust in our bodies. Or a disbelief that it is possible to have a positive birth experience.

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