Planning your birth

Water, hypno, epidural or c-section – whatever kind of birth you’d love, planning it is the key to getting it


There’s lots of evidence that women need to feel in control of their labour for it to be a positive experience. No matter what kind of birth you want, you’ll feel you won’t worry as much if you have good support and can make choices. Like mum Freya Burnham, 27, from Leicester, who’s 34 weeks pregnant. “I didn’t get a good feeling at the nearest maternity unit, so I found a wonderful midwife-led unit 15 miles away. I’d advise anyone to look at the options, don’t just settle for the same as everyone else,” she says. However, be mindful of travelling times when you’re in labour.


So, where do you start? Writing a birth plan should be your first step, as it makes you question what matters to you.  If you need inspiration or want to know more about other mums’ real-life experiences, read on…

Natural labour

Essentially, we’re talking about a vaginal delivery with no pain relief, and while you might think this is the goal for every mum, it’s not! Many want help from the start either with pain relief or medics. Some women are afraid of vaginal delivery and need reassurance. If you want to go ahead with natural labour, you’ll still have to think about where you’d like to give birth – at home or in hospital. You’ll need to choose a birth partner/s and consider non-drug pain relief, such as hypnobirthing or a TENS machine. If you go into spontaneous labour things are usually more straightforward, and if you choose a home birth you reduce the chance of having forceps, ventouse or needing pain relief.

Did you know…

If this is your first baby, opting for a home birth is thought to reduce the risk of having a c-section by 50%.

Water birth

Most women know if being in water would be comforting and relaxing for them. When you had period pains or an aching back, did a warm bath ease the pain? If so, why not plan on using a birthing pool for labour. You don’t have to deliver in it, but when it comes to the crunch you might find that you don’t want to get out. Find out how many pools your unit has, or consider buying or hiring one to use at home. If the pool isn’t available when you go into labour you can still labour in the bath, and by the time you’re further dilated the pool might have become free.

“It’s never too early to plan,” advises Sally Hopkins, 22, from Torquay, new mum to Edward, 4 weeks. “I did hypnobirthing and throughout pregnancy visualised the birth that I wanted, which was a water birth at home, and that’s exactly what I got. I felt relaxed and I’m sure that’s what got me through labour. I feel very lucky to have got the birth that I’d dreamed of.”

Did you know…

Water’s an effective method of pain relief. Try swimming during pregnancy and see how being in the water makes you feel.

An elective c-section

This is major surgery and not a choice that should be taken lightly. However, there are some women who feel that for them, this is the only option. If that’s the case, you’ll need to look into doing it privately, as it’s not offered as standard by the NHS. If you’ve had a c-section before, you should still be given the opportunity of having a vaginal birth, but if you decide you’d rather book a caesarean then this shouldn’t be a problem.

Some women have a true phobia of childbirth, called tocophobia. If this is the case, your midwife should refer you while pregnant to a consultant who will discuss an elective c-section with you.

Did you know…

The c-section rate in England is around 25% and just over 14% of those are electives.

An epidural

An epidural will provide effective pain relief for over 90 per cent of women. Some women know that this is what they want before labour starts, and if that’s the case, you need to make sure that your maternity unit has an epidural service.

Some women feel wonderfully in control not being able to feel their contractions, and even manage to sleep during labour, but bear in mind that there’s no such thing as a ‘free lunch’. An epidural increases the chance of forceps and ventouse birth, which can involve stitches, so if this isn’t in your plan, you might want to rethink it.

Did you know…

The position you eventually give birth in will depend on how powerful the epidural is. Women who have no feeling from the top of their bump down after an epidural will most likely end up lying or sitting in bed, which can slow down labour. But women who have a mobile epidural may find they can stand or kneel to give birth.

Planning for change

Labour can be unpredictable, and while you might not end up with the birth you’d planned, it isn’t a bad thing. There are some procedures you may need that are essential…


  • When you’re more than 42 weeks with no sign of labour starting.
  • If there’s any concern over your health or the wellbeing of your baby.
  • If your cervix is closed you’ll need a hormone pessary to slowly open it.
  • You might need a drip of a drug called syntocinon to start contractions.


  • When women have an epidural, a drip or there are any concerns over their baby, this is the safer option.
  • Belts are attached to your waist with a lead attached to a monitor, so you’ll need to stay in bed rather than walk around.


  • These instruments are used by a doctor to help pull a baby out
  • They’re usually considered when the second stage of labour is lasting a very long time, the birth still isn’t imminent, or your baby is getting tired
  • You’ll need a cut (episiotomy) if forceps are used.

Emergency c-section

  • If there’s an emergency situation, such as placental abruption (the placenta coming away from the wall of the uterus).
  • Any serious concern over your baby’s ability to cope during labour.
  • If the baby’s breech and can’t be turned by a doctor.
  • Sometimes labours that seem to last a very long time, without much progress, may end up with a c-section. 

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