This post is the first in a series I'm doing about preparing for birth and postpartum. If you have specific questions about labor, birth, or the postpartum period that you want answered, send them to me here and write "Birth Prep Question" in the "Subject" line!
Birthing at Home
Homebirth can be a hot topic depending on who you talk to! But the reality is, people all over the world have given birth at home or in other non-hospital settings since the beginning, and continue to do so today. For a thorough understanding of homebirth as an option, please check out this great article entitled "The Homebirth Choice," by Midwifery Today.
For my very first interview, I've chosen my good friend Alison Zingaro, birth and newborn photographer at A. Zingaro Photography. One of her many talents is capturing the raw emotion and intimacy of homebirths - perhaps because she's done it herself! Because of her background I thought she'd be the perfect person to inform us about how to prepare for a homebirth.
Q: What equipment/items/resources do you recommend having on-hand for a homebirth?
A: That really depends on each person's personal preferences. It is probably easier if I break this down into several different categories.
There are the "essentials" that most midwives require you to have:
- A birth kit, which usually includes chux pads, post partum pads and underwear, a peribottle, infant thermometer, gloves, alcohol wipes or a bottle of alcohol, cord clamps, surgical scissors (for cutting the cord), gauze
- A cookie sheet and heating pad to act as a warming bed if baby is in distress
- Lots of pillows (preferably wrapped in garbage bags with a pillowcase over them to keep them from getting ruined
- Tons of towels (at least 10, and not your nice "guest" towels. They don't always come out looking the same after you've wrapped a newborn baby fresh out of the womb in them) and washcloths (great to wipe up small messes and also as a cool compress for mom)
- Receiving blankets for baby immediately after birth (again, at least 10, and not your favorite ones that your grandmother gave you)
- A shower curtain liner, waterproof mattress cover or even plastic tarp for wrapping your mattress (and extra sheets to go underneath and above!)
- Extra blankets in case things get wet.
- Gallon trashbags
- Oil of some kind (olive, almond, coconut, etc) to apply to the diaper area instead of vasoline to keep the meconium from sticking.
Other things that are usually good to have on hand can be:
- A birth tub for laboring or just pain management
- Liner for the birth tub if it's rented
- A potable water hose and an adaptor to connect it to your sink or shower faucet
- More plastic to put on the floor under the tub
- A large bucket for emptying the tub if the hose cannot be used. Also helpful if the tub water gets cold and some needs to be bailed out to refill with more warm water (babies like it warm, but not more than 100 degrees!).
- Lots of postpartum pads and even some of those mesh hospital panties (though your own work fine too if they aren't too tight)
- Yoga or birth ball for sitting or bouncing on during labor. Another option is a peanut ball, which opens the pelvis while you lie down and can help give baby room to move while allowing mom to rest when she can.
- Witch hazel and aloe to use for making post-partum padscicles.
- Food. Lots and lots of food. Anything you may want to have during labor. I like to have both a stock of perishable foods and non-perishable as labor can be unpredictable. Foods like nuts, dried fruit, cheese, yogurt, applesauce, dates, protein or nut bars, oatmeal, toast, peanut butter, honey sticks, etc are great because they don't expire quickly so keeping a larger stockpile can be easier. Nothing worse than going into labor on grocery day! Another great option is to prepare and freeze easy meals, or buy prepared frozen meals, such as soups, lasagna, chili, pizza, and various casseroles. This will allow you to pop it in the oven during early labor as something to eat once the baby arrives or as something nutritious to much on during labor.
- Going hand and hand with food is having various drinking options. There is a possibility that during labor a favorite drink may become distasteful or even nauseating. Having various options, such a juices, water, electrolyte powders or beverages, coconut water, flavored water or even fruits to infuse water with can keep you hydrated while giving you options for the unknown.
- Baby hats and onesies. As with before: Not your nice ones.
- Lots of paper towels, toilet paper, trash bags.
- Large trash can for trash and large hamper or upright laundry basket with trash bag in it for wet or soiled linens
- Camera, batteries and extra memory cards
- Extra phone charger so you can charge it whether you are in the bathroom, bedroom or living room
- A flashlight
- Child-safe essential oils. Many people put them on cotton balls in a bag, so that if you don't want to smell it anymore or if it's nauseating, it's easy to put away.
- Pain management medications or homeopathic remedies for after birth.
- Electric candles or real unscented candles (as even your favorite smell can be too much) to create a low light environment to help relax you.
Some of my personal "Must haves" are:
- Favorite music. At my last birth, we danced to Bob Marley and Meghan Trainor all the way up to pushing
- Straws. This will help get more fluids in you, especially towards the end when you may be less inclined to drink or eat due to nausea.
- Bathing suit top for in the birth tub with easy access for skin to skin and breastfeeding.
- Vomit bags like they have in hospitals. Lightweight and easy to hold on to. And the best part, they are disposable! (Lots of grocery bags and a small trashcan would also be adequate)
- Birth affirmations
- A footprint kit
- Ice packs
- A robe and slippers. Sometimes you can get very hot then very cold during labor, even with being able to control the temperature in the room.
- Post-partum herbs to make padscicles.
- My favorite book of birth stories "Baby catcher" by Peggy Vincent
- Birth documentary movies
Now, these are resources that are totally invaluable during and after a homebirth, but may require more work to find the right fit.
- A doula: she (or he!) will not only physically help you cope with the pains of labor. They also will help with the emotional side of it. Having limited access to pain relief (no epidural or gas here) can make the later stages of homebirth a little more daunting, especially if the labor is longer. This person will help you find your way through it and encourage you when things seem difficult to bear.
- A birth photographer: I know. Cell phones nowadays are amazing, but wouldn't you rather have your husband or support person engaged with you and not just the phone? Having someone there to document your interactions with those around you will help fill in the blanks when things really start heating up. They also have cameras capable of catching sharper images in lower light with no flash to distract you from the work that is labor or while you are taking in all those little details on your new baby.
- A chiropractor for both before and after labor to make sure baby is in a good position and align your spine to get optimal performance from your body. It can also help to "put things back together" after the baby is here.
- A homebirth-understanding (or even supportive!) pediatrician. Many will allow you to wait a couple weeks before bringing baby to see them as long as the midwife is checking up on you and baby in the days after birth.
- The name of a good lactation consultant. Many mothers do not realize they need help until it's very late in the game. Having someone to reach out to if necessary is so important. Best case scenario, you don't make the call because baby is a champ nurser. It is okay to reach out for help if you need it though.
- Some people also choose to have their placenta encapsulated, so finding a professional placenta encapsulator is important before birth. Many doulas offer this service.
Q: Does the house or birth space need to be prepared in any special way?
A: Not necessarily. If you set up a birth tub, it's important to make sure the midwives can get to most of the sides in case they need to monitor baby or assist in some way. It's also a good idea to put something plastic or blankets underneath to catch dripping water. Putting up birth affirmations or Christmas lights can add a lot to a birth space. Putting out sentimental or spiritual items or candles on a table can add to the ambiance, which can help you stay in the right head space during labor. Having a table for the midwives to put their things on is also helpful. Whether it's clearing off the bedroom dresser or bringing in the coffee table. The benefit to homebirth is that if you don't want a tub, there's really no need to do any major changes to accommodate your birth space. Babies have been born in very small bedrooms and huge livingrooms, in tiny bathrooms and luxurious soaking tubs. Your midwife can better advise any minor furniture movements that need to be done when they arrive or during a home visit.
Q: What preparations can be made ahead of time to make things easier once labor starts?
A: Have all of the items you want during labor all in one location so you aren't running around looking for them. Making meals ahead of time and freezing can also help make sure you and your team are fed. The best way to make sure you are prepared is to come up with a big list of everything your team needs to do when labor starts, like call childcare, call doula, take dog to sitter, boil herbs for postpartum pads, call midwife, take food out to thaw, etc.
Q: Are there any special preparations that can be made to accommodate older siblings? Special ways they can be involved?
A: Some people want their children involved in the labor process, some want grandparents to take them or just be with them, some hire childcare doulas. This is another factor that is entirely up to your personal preference. It is recommended that you have at least one support person other than your spouse in case there is a need for transfer or if the children are making it difficult for mom to labor. Even if you don't want anyone at your home with the children, having someone on call in case there is a need for them is a good compromise.
For those that want the children involved, there are many, many ways. They could help "doula" you by rubbing your back or cuddling. Some children get in the birth tub with their mothers or snuggle with them from outside of the tub. Others help to cut or burn the umbilical cord to separate mama from baby. There have even been older children that have helped the midwife catch their siblings. Homebirth is a great way to really involve the entire family in the birthing experience. Children and extended family get a greater chance to bond with the baby during labor, birth and immediately postpartum. It's not for everyone, but it is a great opportunity for those families that want their children to stay close as the newest member makes it's way earthside.
Don't forget your free download!
How do you feel after reading this post? Prepared and ready to jump in that birth tub? Well, it's your lucky day - I've created a Homebirth Supplies Checklist just for you! It's got all the items from Alison's list above, plus room to write your own and make notes. Get it by clicking the button below.
Do you have some questions or need some clarification on what you read? Comment below or contact me and we'll make sure you get the info you need!
Are you having a homebirth? I can help!
I customize my prenatal education classes based on the client's individual needs - if you're having a homebirth, your classes will be designed around that, as opposed to information pertaining to hospital birth. As Alison stated above, doulas are a great addition to a homebirth team. Contact me to talk about how I can help you bring your baby into the world on your terms!
Alison Zingaro of A. Zingaro Photography is a birth and family photographer based in Boston. She is also an affiliated volunteer photographer with Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep, a non-profit that provides professional photography to families suffering the loss of a baby, and a member of the International Association of Professional Birth Photographers.