Five Ways to Prepare for Natural Birth in a Hospital

Written by NPN Guest on January 13th, 2011

Birth, Pregnancy, Preparing for Parenting

I am a huge supporter of home birth, and a believer in the idea that we should trust the natural process of birth. I do not believe that a normal birth is a medical event, and I feel that in most cases, medical intervention is a detriment rather than a help. I also birthed in a hospital.

I sincerely wanted a home birth, but there were many reasons why I eventually decided that a hospital birth this time around was the wisest decision for me. I never intend to birth in a hospital again, but I know that I made the right decision for my first birth. I have heard many horror stories about women’s attempts at natural birth in a hospital, but mine was absolutely perfect. So, for those mothers who desire a natural birth, but for whatever reason must have (or simply would rather opt for) a hospital birth, I want to share my story.

I did not just luck out and end up in a particularly naturally-minded hospital – in fact I birthed in a military hospital, with the OB on call. I didn’t know which OB or nurse would be present for my birth until I arrived at five centimeters dilated. I still had a wonderful experience, and I hope that you can, too!

Here are the things I found to be integral to my success in having the birth I wanted, even though it was not in conditions that I considered ideal:

1. Educate yourself about pregnancy and birth.
When preparing for birth in the medical system, any number of tests, procedures, and medications may be suggested. If you’re not well versed on normal (natural) pregnancy it’s hard to decide what is sound advice, and what is unnecessary or even harmful for you and/or your baby. When you’re proactive and know what to expect, it’s easy to respectfully decline any or everything doctors suggest.

2. Learn to smile and nod.
Doctors will give all kinds of advice, and may even attempt to tell you that you must do x, y, or z. Ultimately, every decision is yours to make. Learn to trust yourself and your body and take their advice with a grain of salt. Smile, nod, go home, do your own research, and make your own decision. Of course some will choose to share information with their doctor, in hopes of opening their eyes to alternative ways of doing things. I chose to avoid debate in my attempt at a stress-free pregnancy.

3. Have a birth plan.
There are differing opinions on the usefulness of a birth plan. For me, it was indispensable. I was working with multiple OBs and did not know before my birthing day which one of them would be attending my birth. Because of that, I brought my birth plan to prenatal visits and had each and every doctor look it over and talk to me about anything I was planning that they were uncomfortable with. This was extremely helpful because I was able to share sound research to support my decisions in advance, so that when the big day came, there were no disagreements and no questions.

One doctor, for example, had never had anyone ask to delay the cutting of the umbilical cord. It was against his usual way of doing things and he was not comfortable with the idea at first. I had the opportunity to explain to him why I wanted to delay, and why it was actually better for my baby to do so. In the end, he was supportive of my wishes and I was at ease, knowing that everyone knew what to expect.

Even if you choose not to share yours with the hospital you’re working with ahead of time, at least have it for yourself, so that you know how you will respond to every choice you’re faced with at the time of your birth. This is especially important since many things aren’t presented as a choice, but rather as simply-the-way-things are-done. Everything is a choice. It is your birth.

In my case, I opted to wear my own clothes instead of a hospital gown so that I wouldn’t feel like a “patient.” I chose not to have an IV. I chose to eat and drink during my birth. I wanted the lights in my room low and for those who came in to use soft voices. I wanted my daughter placed on my chest immediately, and didn’t want her to be bothered with a bath on her birth day. Had I not specifically stated my wishes, I would have been told to put on a gown at arrival, given an IV, and subjected to the usual overhead lights and whatever noise level the doctors and nurses were used to. Every doctor has their way of doing things, and often they forget to consider that their way does not work for every patient. Make your voice heard.

4. Have a support team that is respectful of your wishes and that will put you at ease.
I absolutely love the idea of having another mother, another woman, there to ‘mother’ you through your birth. The idea of a doula is a fantastic one and I think that every woman who wants a doula ought to have one. I also know myself, and I don’t like people in my space. I’m not comfortable with having things done for me. It can be hard for me to accept advice and support and help without feeling patronized. I met with the doulas in my area and ultimately decided that anyone other than my husband would put me on edge rather than at ease. I chose to have only him at my birth.

I discussed my birth plan with my husband and we worked through a number of “what-ifs” together, in hopes of being prepared for anything and everything. He was wonderful, and I was pleased with my decision to make our birth just about us. Of course I know many women who adored their doula, or are so happy that they had their mom, their sister, their best friend, but everyone is different! Assemble your team, and make sure they’re there to protect your wishes.

5. Take a childbirth preparation course and/or do plenty of reading on birth.
Taking a childbirth preparation course or reading a book like Pam England and Rob Horowitz’s Birthing From Within will give you strategies that you can use to work through any discomfort that you may feel on the day of your birth. It will also help you to know what to expect during each stage.

Personally, I used the Hypnobabies Home Study Course and read several books such as Birthing From Within and Dr. Sears’ The Birth Book. On my daughter’s birth day, I had intense “back labor,” but thanks to my reading, knew of several ways to ease the discomfort and work through it. Thanks to Hypnobabies, I was also well-practiced with a number of relaxation tools to help me remain calm until the discomfort passed. At one point during my birth, I began to think I may not be able to handle much more. Fortunately, I had read several times that this was a common feeling during “transition” (or as Hypnobabies refers to it: “transformation”), and knew that this meant my baby would likely be born very soon. Instead of becoming frightened and questioning my ability to continue without pain medication, I became more excited and worked through the intensity.

Natural birth may not belong in hospitals, but the two can coexist peacefully with mindful


Statements on this website have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products and/or information are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat, or prevent any disease. Readers are advised to do their own research and make decisions in partnership with their healthcare provider. If you are pregnant, are nursing, have a medical condition, or are taking any medication, please consult your physician. Nothing you read here should be relied upon to determine dietary changes, a medical diagnosis, or courses of treatment.


Melissa Kemendo, Author of Vibrant Wanderings

Melissa has perfected the art of working from home without being gainfully employed. She is mom to two vibrant, curious children, with whom she and her husband live and adventure in the Washington, DC area. When she’s not baking, pushing swings, and attempting yet again to summit laundry mountain, she’s working on the Montessori community program for which she acts as teacher, to her own daughter and a handful of other children. She can also often be found writing about something Montessori-related, or just motherhood in general, on her blog, Vibrant Wanderings.

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28 Responses to Five Ways to Prepare for Natural Birth in a Hospital

  1. AJ  

    Thanks for sharing this! It definitely has some good advice. I too had a “perfect” natural birth in the hospital and work with families as a Birth Doula to help them have the same wonderful experience!

  2. Kat

    Great suggestions! I think it’s great you point out that you can set the mood, so to speak in the delivery room; many women don’t know or don’t feel comfortable having their wishes heard because they think they aren’t supposed to ask for things their way. Another thing I found out about from my doula was that our hospital has stuff like birthing balls and bars and mirrors..but the nurses/doctors hardly every offer them, so if someone didn’t know they would never ask!

    • Melissa K.  

      Great point about asking for things like birthing balls – so glad you mentioned that! Our hospital had a birthing ball and a squat bar, which really (pleasantly) surprised me.

      • Bonnie Greene

        The birthing ball was the best thing for me for two births….great article. Definitely se the mood for yourself and ask questions.

  3. Alica  

    This is a great post. I carried through with each of these important steps and was able to labour and give birth naturally in a hospital. The nurse assigned to me was very accomodating and encouraging and my husband was my biggest cheerleader. I found the biggest things for me was my knowledge and support.

  4. Crystal - Prenatal Coach  

    Great post! I’m going to share it with my readers as I’m sure many of them are wanting to have a natural birth in a hospital and this is a great article 🙂

    I do think a doula is a valuable addition to the birth team for many couples (especially for first-time moms wanting natural birth in a hospital) but I completely respect your decision not to have one because it didn’t feel right for you. Good for you for tuning in and determining what YOUR needs were!

    I’m so glad to hear that you had a great experience with Hypnobabies. I’m training to become an instructor in March and I can’t wait!!

  5. kate

    great post! I had a natural delivery at a hospital too (I <3 homebirth, but for reasons I too decided to have hospital birth instead). Actually 2 of them with my two sons – both went splendid! my husband and I had the same doula for both deliveries and we couldn't have asked for a better experience anywhere – your points are right on target!

  6. Amy  

    “Natural birth may not belong in hospitals, but the two can coexist peacefully with mindful

    I appreciate that you talk about preparation as it is certainly key in having the birth experience you’re looking for. 🙂

    I have had 2 births in the hospital and 2 at home. Each one was unique and beautiful. I liked giving birth at home so I didn’t interrupt the transformation going to an unfamiliar place, but I also liked the feeling of safety I had when I chose hospital birth.

    It really is up to us to make a choice about what we feel is appropriate at any given time.

    Thank you for sharing.

  7. Momma Jorje

    My most recent natural birth in a hospital went well, but I wouldn’t call it perfect. I was irritated that the nurses called my birth plan a failure plan (or something to that effect). I have heard from several OB Floor nurses that they dislike birthing plans, but my doctor had encouraged me to have it and was familiar with it.

    I am over 35 so my next birth will also likely be in a hospital, but… hopefully I’ll have an even closer to perfect natural birth at a hospital than I did with my last 2! 🙂

  8. 6512 and growing

    Thank you for this. I had my daughter in the hospital with a doula (my son was a preemie, so he was most definitely born in the hospital), and it was a beautiful, natural birth. I felt totally comfortable with my big naked body contracting and dancing around that hospital room.
    I can see how a home birth might have been more intimate, but I felt supported and safe and free to birth my way, and I cherish both of my births as some of the most transformative experiences of my life.

  9. Kate Wicker @ Momopoly  

    I’ve had three amazing natural birth experiences in a hospital – including my first, which was deemed a high risk pregnancy where they really wanted to hook me up to pitocin, but we fought and trusted our instincts and they respected our wishes. My last two births were even better. I spent most of my time laboring at home and then quickly popped the babies out at the hospital. I held, nursed, and cuddled with my babies before anything else was done (measuring, etc.). I also spent only one night in the hospital with my last. I share all of this because it can be done. I didn’t even have a doula – just an awesome, informed husband and and a really great midwife. Trust yourself and stand up for your right to a non-medicated, low intervention birth!

  10. Mama Mo @ Attached at the Nip

    I so needed to read this. Thank you.

    I prepared for a natural birth in the hospital, but ended up fighting pre-term labor for 10 weeks before having a very unwanted c-section. I’m still trying to work through the birth trauma and the NICU experience afterwards.

    It is so good to read about women who have done this! I will bookmark it for when the time comes to prepare for my next birth!

  11. Janine  

    I feel like a doula can be a must! I had a very fast labor (Under 7 hours from no contractions whatsoever to baby in my arms, for my first baby) and opted for an epidural despite really wanting a natural birth. I am not positive I could have made it through without meds but I wish someone had suggested a ball or birth tub, both things I had specified wanting but didn’t occur to me in my laboring state. I was happy with my hospital birth but do feel some regret wondering what could have been different with different support.

  12. Libby Hunt  

    Thanks for such great advice! My first birth was medicated, but an overall great experience, but I am hoping I can hold out for a natural birth this time. Thanks for the vote of confidence!

  13. Emily Sue Hartman

    I know this was written awhile ago, but I was just curious as to which military hospital you gave birth in. I realize my chances are probably slim to none of giving birth in that hospital, but I was just curious. I really want to do natural child birth but dread military hospitals from experiences so far. I have many of the same ideas you had but am afraid my wishes won’t be listened to. I’m going to be in a different state during each trimester because 1st, We’re stationed out here in HI, 2nd my husband re-enlisted and has Recon training for 3 months. During those 3 months I’ll be going back to MT (still have to get my Tricare figured) then 3rd when my husband is done with training we will PCS in a new location, either NC or CA….Sigh, so much to think about

    • Melissa  

      Hi Emily,
      It sounds you really do have a lot to think about, and a whole lot of transition to deal with during your pregnancy! I’m wishing you an easy, uncomplicated move and the same in the planning and preparations for your birth. I always admire women who can handle a PCS pregnant!

      I birthed at US Naval Hospital Guam myself, but I have heard from a few moms with positive military hospital experiences. Just remember it’s *your* birth, and you get to make the decisions! 🙂 A doula may a great thing to have as well!

  14. katy

    I love this! Try reading Natural Hospital Birth by Gabriel, if you’re interested in knowing more about this. It is so lovely and thorough. Such a great guide. I also recommend a doula to support you and advocate for you when you need it. Its great to have a birth professional in the room, someone who has been working with you and is on YOUR side. 🙂

  15. Sarita

    Thank you for this. It was wonderful to finally hear from someone in my shoes. Choosing a prepared childbirth and having to do it in a military hospital. I’m active duty myself. Child number 3, first natural birth. Due Valentines day 2013.

    • Melissa  

      Sarah, I’m so glad this post was useful for you. I have great admiration for active duty women who balance mothering and a military commitment. I just want to send some peace your way, and wishes for a beautiful birth. What an exciting time!

  16. Brianna

    Thanks for sharing! I’m 37 weeks with my second daughter and will be having her in a military hospital as well. I’m preparing for a natural birth and trying to educate myself as much as possible.

  17. Christy

    Im a first time mom to be, 35 weeks pregnant. I am also delivering at a military hospital. It really seems they put you in a sort of “conveyor belt”. I haven’t discussed a birth plan. Like you said, I don’t know who will be there so I don’t know who to discuss it with. Your post is very helpful. Where do you find info on things like not cutting the umbilical cord and no bath? I know I want those things, but don’t know why or what other things to consider.

  18. Ursula Ciller  

    I can definitely relate to doing the research and going prepared. I also refused IV (one of the more experienced midwives even said she was glad I didn’t take them – much to my surprise). I actually delayed going to hospital because, on the phone, one of the nurses said she would have a doctor ‘lecture’ me about this decision – but then when I went (when the contractions were every 2 minutes) they didn’t pester me about this. Bathing is not standard in my local rural Australian maternity ward so no drama there 🙂

  19. Julie

    Thank you so much for sharing! I’m 3 months away from having my third baby (my second VBAC!) in a military hospital and absolutely terrified about it! I’ve been able to choose the hospital/ OB with the previous two, but not at this base. You give me hope!

  20. shiloh

    Thanks for writing this down in a public place where people can find it! I had my first child at home and it was just the way I wanted it. I had my second child at a hospital due to having to move 2 weeks before she was due and I didn’t know a thing about a hospital birth, and because of that, it was not at all how I wanted it to be. I have since educated myself and hope that more women take the time to know they have choices and rights at a hospital. As a doula, I attended my friend’s natural childbirth at a military hospital and it was pretty much exactly what her whole team wanted. Thanks for helping to raise awareness.