What is Active Birth?

ActiveBirth“The essential definition of an active birth is one in which the birthing mother is in charge of her choices and decisions.”  – Active Birth Manifesto 1982

An active birth is characterised by uninhibited movement. The woman sometimes walks, stands and sways, kneels down, rests in a forward leaning position or squats. She instinctively finds the most comfortable and appropriate positions throughout her labour.

This comfort is essential to the birthing process. For the physiological process of labour to happen spontaneously the uninhibited release of birthing hormones is needed. To enable this the mother needs to feel safe and secure. Calm, dimly lit environments offer her the privacy and sense of protection she needs if the hormonal process is to work effectively.

Optimal release of the hormone oxytocin, which is known as “The Love Hormone”, is essential. It results in:

  • Efficient contractions throughout labour.
  • An effective expulsion of the baby and placenta.
  • Quick retraction of the uterus after birth to minimize bleeding.

Endorphins, known as “The Pleasure Hormones”, produce feelings of pleasure, euphoria and dependency. They are produced throughout pregnancy and increase during labour. High levels of endorphins are essential to enable the mother to cope with the intensity of labour without needing intervention or medication.

When a woman labours in an active birth environment, with people who she is at ease with, she has the maximum opportunity to birth her baby with joy and pleasure. She will feel a huge sense of achievement and empowerment which helps her begin the next chapter of her life as a mother with confidence.

There is a long history of women spontaneously giving birth in various forms of upright, standing, kneeling or squatting positions, from around the world over thousands of years. Whatever the race or culture, the same upright positions were the most common. Sadly, in post industrialised countries today the most common position is recumbent or semi-recumbent. In addition our hospital setting has turned birth into a medical event.
Research tells us that freedom of movement in labour can result in shorter labours, more efficient contractions, greater comfort and less need for pain medication and interventions. Movement and changing positions are more important than any single optimal position. Movement moves the bones of the pelvis and helps the baby move through the birth canal and upright positions use gravity to assist the process.

“Freedom of movement is important in making the birth of your baby easier. It is the best way for you to use gravity to help your baby come down and to increase the size and shape of your pelvis. It allows you to respond to pain in an active way and it may help to speed up the labour process.”
Lamaze International

Active Birth involves acceptance and trust in the function and involuntary nature of the birth process. It also needs the freedom to adopting appropriate birthing positions that are determined by the mother herself. Women need to practice deep relaxation of body and mind, to access and trust their instinctive potential.

By Sue Boughton

Sue Boughton is a Pre and Post Natal Massage practitioner at Shine, Church Street and a private doula.

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