For my second birth, I did a lot of research. I took two formal classes. I went to the library and checked out every book I could find on natural childbirth. I bought a few other books. I watched YouTube videos, read articles online, and did a lot of praying.
I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for, but I knew I wanted something different than my first birth and postpartum experience. And I got it.
My second birth was a beautiful, empowering experience that I look back on happily and proudly. It was a positive start to my relationship with my baby, and it brought my husband and me together, too.
Now I can say I’ve been the mainstream hospital/pitocin/epidural route, and I’ve done the midwife/doula/water birth route. I’m ready to share my reviews of some of the key resources I used in taking this challenging journey.
If you’re curious about the natural birth world, this is a great place to start. I’ll go through my review of the natural birth community, classes, books, and more.
The Natural Birth Community as a Whole
I met with midwives, doulas, birth instructors, and even a couple chiropractors and a massage therapist who all made a career of supporting pregnant women. Overall, I was very impressed with the natural birth community.
It impressed me just how committed they are to the cause. They really believe in it. They also really believe in empowering women. (Most of them are women.) I feel like the natural birth community is the underground feminist movement. And most of these women were extremely well-educated; although most of them need less formal education to perform their jobs than a labor-and-delivery hospital staff might, they hadn’t stopped at the required level of education. They truly wanted to do all they could to be the best support they could be, and to provide the highest-quality care possible.
Much, but not all, of the community is a little short on data and good statistical analysis. It’s a shame, because there is a good amount of data that indicates the safety and, in many cases, superiority of a more natural approach to childbirth. Insurance is much less friendly to natural childbirth. Of course, there are women and pregnancies that require a more medical approach to childbirth, so it can’t be for everyone.
Who it’s for
If you’re pregnant, might be someday, or are married to someone who is pregnant or might be someday, meeting and learning about the natural birth community is for you.
If I had had a doula for my first birth, I think it would have been instantly a drastically better situation. I didn’t know how to stand up for myself or that I would really need to. My doula for my second birth was fantastic. She helped me walk through pregnancy challenges, prepare for birth, embrace the experience with confidence and proper tools, and recover smoothly after birth.
Doulas are awesome. They are wonderful advocates to have in the room during your birth—a time when your attention is usually pretty absorbed. They can help your partner stand up for you and your goals. They can help with pain relief strategies, remember to move, remember to eat, and just helping you feel confident and supported. Depending on the package you pay for, they can support you through pregnancy and a few weeks postpartum by helping you make a birth plan, pointing you to ideas to relieve pregnancy symptoms, and/or even helping you with the dishes.
They can be pretty expensive and often not covered by insurance. It may also take some work to find a good fit for you.
Who they’re for
If you’re pregnant, and especially if it’s your first baby, and especially if you can find a good match, a doula is for you (regardless of your birth goals).
My midwife requires all her clients to take a birth class. My mom, who used to be a labor and delivery nurse, said that of the women she saw who came in wanting a natural birth, only those who had taken a class were usually successful.
In my opinion, taking a birth class with your husband/birth partner is key to both an anxiety-free pregnancy and a smooth birth experience. A birth class helps you work together to practice relaxation techniques and create a written birth plan. (A plan can be helpful to give to your birth team, but perhaps even more importantly it helps you and your partner get on the same page about what to do in many situations.) I definitely would recommend getting into a physical, in-person class if possible, but virtual classes can still be very good.
They can be costly and hard to fit into your schedule. It can also be hard to find a class with a birth technique you can believe in enough to really try, not to mention an instructor you love. Beware of emotional appeals and sweeping claims; natural birth instructors may care more about anecdotes and theories than about statistics—even though many statistics do back up many of those claims. It will take a little extra skepticism and work to seek evidence of such claims.
Who it’s for
If you think you might want to have a natural birth, and especially if you have a partner who will attend with you and be at the birth, a birth class is for you.
The Mighty Mama Movement Birth Class
I would rate this as just okay. The actual content of the course was generally good, and it was enough to get me started. It was one of the first things I explored as I began researching natural birth, and clearly it encouraged me to keep learning.
It’s an accessible, at home, on-demand video course with supplements. It is a fairly comprehensive course, including some postnatal units. It’s a spinoff of hypnobirthing and comes with a few free tracks. You also get an invite into their Facebook group, Mighty Mama Movement (even though I found out you can still join without purchasing the class).
The cost was similar to other birth classes, but I definitely rate this as a lower quality course. For one, the production quality was quite low (but I know they were beginning the process of improving it). There was very little data or statistics used throughout the course. I was unimpressed with the ethics of their business model when I discovered that their “live” webinars were not just heavy-handed advertisements (which is normal for webinars) but also pre-recorded; even the chats were fake.
Who it’s for
If you want to learn about natural childbirth from on-demand videos and don’t care as much about perfect quality, this class may be for you.
Local Zoom Hypnobirthing Class (Mongan Method):
My husband and I took a Hypnobirthing class over Zoom. It was 6 weeks long, about 3 hours each Saturday morning. It was good, but I wouldn’t say it was an incredible experience. It also wasn’t my first choice; I had really wanted to take a Hypnobabies class. I had found a great teacher and had registered for her class, but it was canceled at the last minute due to low enrollment. The Hypnobirthing class was my fallback; I barely finished it in time for baby to be born.
A Zoom birth class was really good for us. Since we had a toddler underfoot, it would have been very hard to have attended an in-person class for us; however, it would have been nice to have had an in-person class, if COVID and family situations had permitted. The content of the class was good. Most of the content was covered in the text (Hypnobirthing: The Mongan Method, reviewed below). I liked the intimate class size and that we got to go through the class, experience pregnancy, and prepare for birth together. We got some new relaxation scripts and tracks to use, which were very helpful, and got to use some class time to practice together. It was good to have the class to motivate my husband and I to do the daily relaxation practices, which were key to the success of our class and birth experience.
Take this all with a grain of salt; many of my cons are specific to me. Because I had done so much reading already, most of the class time was information I had already learned a few times over. In other words, I was bored out of my mind. The teacher was not a great match for me; I think I would have gotten a lot more out of the class if I had had a teacher who was a little more my style. (She was fine, but a little on the… extra side.) I also just didn’t totally love the text for the class.
Who it’s for
If you’re interested in learning about a childbirth method that aims to nearly eradicate pain and are willing to put in the time to practice daily and do some extra research, this class may be for you.
I won’t bother to review books generally. Duh, I endorse reading. These are the books I read all or most of and would recommend:
The Gift of Giving Life: Rediscovering the Divine Nature of Pregnancy and Birth
I think every woman (and maybe every member) in the Church should read this book. It is a book about pregnancy and birth from the medical, historical, and personal perspectives of women of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It brought the Spirit into my heart as I planned and prepared for this birth. It helped me feel peace and even some excitement about giving birth. I felt connected with the many mothers in my ancestry, as well as with early mothers in the Church. I felt that I better understood my Savior, my Heavenly Parents, and myself because of this book.
This book clearly embraces the divinity of each mother’s pregnancy and birth journey, from miscarriages to healthy babies, from home births to hospital births, from cesareans to natural births, from infertility to multiple births, from trying to conceive to postpartum recovery. It was frank and informative about what you might be able to expect in pregnancy and birth. It is faith-building. Despite being a large book, it is easy to read; the book is broken up into several sections with many short stories and articles within.
While it does give many anecdotes and teach many principles, this book does not go into much detail about specific, practical steps to prepare for pregnancy or birth. If you want to learn much in detail about any sort of birthing method, for example, this is not the book to read.
Who it’s for
If you are a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this book is for you.
Childbirth Without Fear: The Principles and Practice of Natural Childbirth
This was the first book I read when I started exploring alternatives to my last hospital experience, and as it turns out, it was a good place to start. It’s written by Dr. Dick-Read, perhaps the first big name in revolutionizing childbirth, so if you’re interested in learning more about childbirth, his name and book will probably come up. If you’re anxious about childbirth, natural or otherwise, I definitely recommend this book. It opened my mind and heart up a lot to tackling my immense phobia of birth. I daresay it is life-changing.
It’s a great introduction to the history of birth and obstetrics. I learned a lot about where various practices come from. It was a great book to help me begin to break through some of my biggest mind blocks to the idea of childbirth.
The new book cover is a major con for sure. (Thankfully, I read an older edition of the book—good thing, too! I’m not sure I would have checked out the book with its current cover.) It’s dated and sometimes slightly cringy and sexist. It’s a bit of a slower read. There is some advice in it that is unquestionably incorrect (e.g., some outdated dietary advice), and I found small parts that I morally don’t agree with. It depends a little too much on anecdotal evidence and is too light on statistics to bring some points home. (That said, as a pioneer in the field of natural birth, there wasn’t much to go off of.)
Who it’s for
If you’re scared of childbirth, and if you go in prepared for the cons, this book is for you.
Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth
This might be the most popular book these days about natural childbirth in general. I read it fairly early on, and it was pretty helpful. I learned a lot from it.
It’s a pretty good introduction to natural childbirth and childbirth in general. It isn’t the most dated book out there. One major pro is that it is not specific to any particular childbirth method; this means it can apply to any you choose and can also work as a pretty good starting point as you decide your childbirth method.
Like many sources in the natural birth community, it is too attached to ideology to the point of being perhaps overly judgmental of medical birth. The entire first half of the book is just birth stories, which I wasn’t really happy to have paid for. It also just gets pretty granola, if you know what I mean.
Who it’s for
If you’re interested in learning about childbirth, this book is for you.
Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way
I liked this book pretty well. It’s the more popular out of the two main books about the Bradley Method. With a refreshing matter-of-fact approach, the Bradley Method is all about being well educated about birth, the inherent struggle and pain thereof, and how to embrace the experience. (Disclaimer: I did not purchase this book and read it now months ago, so my memory on it is a little foggy.)
The book is actionable and realistic. You can expect lots of diagrams and actionable advice. It was a pretty easy read. And it’s a landscape-shaped book, and that’s pretty cool (unless that kind of thing bugs you). I believe it would also be a pretty good basic introduction to natural childbirth.
I remember the girls in the illustrations were wearing some really wonky clothes.
Who it’s for
If you’d like to learn about a natural childbirth method that acknowledges and embraces the pain and the tough stuff, this book is for you.
Hypnobirthing: The Mongan Method
This one was perhaps my least favorite book on the topic. In fairness, I read this one last of all, so almost none of the information was new to me. If it’s the only book you read, you will probably find it more helpful. However, I don’t recommend reading it alone; this book was about the worst as far as bringing in facts, data, and statistics. Be prepared for a lot of discussion about her pet cat’s birth. (Yes, it was helpful and interesting, but it’s not necessarily the best reason to follow this book’s advice.) Despite all this, I chose hypnobirthing for my birth. This book was my childbirth class textbook. In this book, you will learn to relax your mind and let your body do its job. (It’s amazing how powerful your brain is in determining how it experiences sensations and emotions.) The book includes a few hypnosis/relaxation scripts your partner can do with you.
If you want to look into hypnobirthing, this is a good place to start. It is very helpful for learning the very basics of natural childbirth and for the ins and outs of the main hypnobirthing philosophy. It’s eye-opening and has a decent amount of actionable advice.
It’s extremely heavy on the anecdotal evidence and the philosophical push, and it’s very light on statistics, data, and cited facts. This doesn’t necessarily mean each claim is false, but it does require you approach it with a critical mind. If you aren’t ready to do some additional research on your own to find evidence for the claims, you set yourself up to fall for emotional appeals and potentially faulty conclusions.
Who it’s for
If you want to learn about a childbirth method that aims to nearly eradicate pain and are willing to do some extra research, this book is for you.
Because they were much more minor parts of my journey, and because they have a lot of free resources for you to check out on your own, I’m not going to write full reviews about these sources. Please know that by linking them I do not endorse everything from them, but I do consider them to be helpful sources to refer to on the topic.
Bridget Taylor (YouTube channel)
Evidence Based Birth (website)
What would you add?
If you’ve done any sort of research about birth (medicated or unmedicated), what sources would you point someone to to learn more? Share in the comments. I would love for this page to become a wealth of knowledge for new moms.
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