Planning a Natural Birth in a Hospital Setting

After my post about my wishes for this upcoming birth, several of you reached out and asked me to compile the advice I have been given for planning a natural birth in a hospital setting. As I mentioned in my previous post, my goal is to go into labor naturally (avoiding induction) and to labor and deliver as naturally as possible, as well. While both of my previous births were beautiful and empowering, they were not “natural,” so I am leaning on others for their wisdom. I am fortunate to know so many women who have given birth naturally – whether at home or in a birthing center or hospital. I reached out to some for their advice and some of you even emailed me with your own stories, so I am overflowing with tips and tricks and I appreciate you allowing me to share your wisdom in this space.

**Please note that my goal here is to provide tips & tricks that were helpful to other mamas. This is not a time to debate about what to do or what not to do, but rather to provide a spectrum of real-life advice for planning a natural birth in a hospital setting. Disrespectful comments will be deleted.

I struggled quite a bit trying to decide how to organize this post and how to include specific advice from the mamas I talked to. I heard very similar things from each of the women I spoke to, so there’s lots of truth and wisdom here. I broke it down by categories, including a little explanation and some real-life advice for each one. Enjoy…

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Choose a great doctor
Nearly everyone I spoke with told me how important choosing a great doctor was in their ability to give birth naturally. Obviously, we have our doctor picked out already, but I have also had several great conversations with her about my desires for labor and delivery. She already made a note to NOT offer me an early induction, which I so appreciate.

Make sure your partner is on board
This one is a no-brainer. Every woman I talked to mentioned how great either their husband or their doula was during labor, and that they could not have done it without them. Phil has been amazing during this entire process and he was a great birth coach when Adair and Ingrid were born, too. I do not doubt his ability to help me through my third birth.

“Jason and I did all of research together and he was in full support and educated on pain control options to help when I was in a weak moment. We watched documentaries, read books/blogs/articles and educated ourselves on the risks of epidurals- which had me more scared than the pain. We made a birth plan with all our goals including requesting pain control not be offered, so I wasn’t tempted. Again, we considered a doula, but they are $300-$500 in KC and we felt if we went into it with the right mindset and education we could succeed on our own.” – Crystal

Know your options
Hospitals vary in their expectations for labor and birth, as well as in what they provide you with during the process. For instance, many women recommended laboring for part of the time in a tub. My hospital doesn’t have tubs! When my doctor and I talked about a natural birth, we agreed that I will only have to have an IV lock (just the port) instead of being hooked up to fluids, etc. We also agreed that I will only have to do fetal monitoring for 15-20 minutes every hour, instead of the entire time.

*Most hospitals offer tours, where they show you what is available and explain their usual protocol, etc.

*I will also say that my first birth plan clearly stated I did not want to receive an episiotomy, which I later found out was pointless to include because my doctor doesn’t routinely do them!

Make a plan
A birth plan might seem like a silly thing to put together, but my doctor and the nurses at the hospital actually prefer it. No, they don’t want an essay, but when they see so many patients day in and day out, it can be difficult to remember one mama’s wishes from the next. Even if it’s just a list of 5 bullet points or something, it gives them a quick overview of my desires.

“The thing that made it all possible was having everyone on board with my wishes. My doctor, husband, family, everyone knew I didn’t even want to be offered medication, and they took it seriously. My birth plan was written out super clearly and direct.” – Deborah

Set the environment
Probably the biggest reason women choose home birth is because they get to labor and deliver in an environment that is comfortable and familiar to them. While the hospital can be an unfamiliar place, many mamas recommended setting the environment how I’d like it. Obviously this means different things to different women. This time around, I did purchase my own delivery gown as I find the hospital gowns to be really uncomfortable and irritating.

“You basically want to go in and kind of claim the room. I put out my own pillows and blankets, put on music, had an essential oils diffuser, a desk top fountain for water sound, those fake flickering candles, etc.” – Kim

Have a laundry list of laboring techniques
It’s completely obvious from talking to all of these mamas that labor is different for everyone. Some women prefer to labor while walking or standing, while others prefer to ball up or squat down. Some women said that low, deep breathing is what helped them through, while others said that words of affirmation or humor is what worked.

“I felt more comfortable in a standing/moving position and had a huge hospital room, so I paced and swayed through contractions. When in bed for fetal monitoring I stayed on my side and Jason or my nurse massaged my lower back. The harder the pressure, the more relief I found.” – Crystal

“Forcing the mouth into the “o” shape helped, but also using a clock with a second hand helped. You lose track of time, you know? And for me, knowing that no natural contraction is longer than 90 seconds was a gift. Contraction would start and I would look at the second hand. The first 30 seconds aren’t so bad, then you’ve got the middle 30 seconds that suck, and then the last 30 seconds it fades away. So really, you only have to do the hard, hard thing for 30 seconds. You can do anything for 30 seconds!” – Dwija

“All of the positions Brad and I tried the first time were just not working…our midwife was awesome and just kept making me try different things…and positions, and eventually I just pushed through 9 1/2 cm instead of 10. I’d say know and practice soooo many different positions and have a cheat sheet! Also, breathing exercises really really helped me! Oh, and yoga ohms…deep and breathy.” – Jane

“Everyone was very good about helping me. My husband was my biggest support. He really helped with meditation, back rubs, words of encouragement. It was really enlightening for him, too.” – Kelley

“Horse lips and cow moans…sound totally stupid, but they’re awesome!” – Lauren

“I would even count backwards, out loud, from 30 to try and keep my face relaxed. Sometimes I made Tommy count with me. “30, 29, 28, 27….” It was weird but sort of meditative.” – Dwija

Have someone to be “your voice”
It’s no secret that childbirth is no walk in the park. When the going gets tough (and I expect it to get tough!) it’s important that Phil can communicate my needs to the doctor and nurses. Most mamas told me that they rarely talked to the doctor or nurses. Instead, their partner or birthing coach did the communicating for them.

“The most important and best thing my husband did for me in that situation is to be my advocate. To basically protect me from everyone trying to interrogate me, to answer all questions for me, to make it so that I didn’t have to insist on being left alone.” – Dwija

Trust your instincts (and your body)
I definitely believe that my body was made to do this and that it will probably function like it was created to when it’s time to deliver my baby.

“The hardest part is the shortest. If you make it to 7 then you can make it to 10. Pushing is the best feeling in the world after laboring because you can actively do something with the pain.” – Deborah 

“One of the best pieces of advice I received in the midst of pushing, when I didn’t feel I could “go on” and that it “hurt too much” and I was nearly screaming with each “bear down”–my ob said to internalize the scream into a hum/sustained grunt in order to center the energy downward. It worked so well and I felt much more in control of the situation instead of feeling carried away by the pain.” – Daryl

“The only frustration I felt was when I went in (to the hospital) with Oak… I knew he was coming soon but the nurses were treating me like they assumed I was just in mid-labor (sweet and slow). Thank goodness my doc came in, took one look at me and said to push anytime I felt the urge (that got the nurses going!)—only 25 minutes in the hospital before he came (so listen to your body and leave waaaay sooner than I did to head to the hospital, if we didn’t literally live only one block away, I think I would have had a car delivery!).” – Daryl

“Ultimately because this is your third I’m sure you will have a quick time in labor. The only thing about it coming faster is you may feel less in control of everything. So surrendering to your body as it knows what to do is the hard part.” – Deborah
Mental Trumps the Physical
This is easily the most important part of being able to deliver naturally vs. on pain medication. (And quite easily the thing I am going to struggle with the most.) So many mamas told me how important it was to keep this in mind (even to repeat it over and over) during the thick of labor.

“I think much of my success was mental- mind over matter, or pain- I just kept telling myself: my body was meant to do this, I can overcome anything, that wasn’t THAT terrible, etc. I honestly did enjoy the adrenaline high that hit in late labor.” – Crystal

“The second birth was as close to “blissful” as I imagine birth will ever be- it still hurt like nothing else, but the entire time I was deeply in touch with the peace of God with me. …the staff and delivering doctor were total angels- 100% respectful and kind- it was a healing experience.” – Sarah

“For me, having a MANTRA that you repeat over and over is super helpful. Mine was something like– I TRUST my body to birth my babies. Remembering that all the pain is temporary and it’s bringing me closer and closer to meeting my babies! I also loved Ina May’s wording of “rushes” and not “contractions”. Everyone else was using that word, but in my mind, rushes were much more positive and “opening” that contractions.” – Callie

Be flexible
Last but not least, I am going into this knowing that a completely natural childbirth might not happen. I am completely aware of how painful labor can be, how stressing it can be to both me and my baby, and how sometimes, interventions are completely necessary.

“You’re gonna have to dig your heels in… or at least that was what helped me. I think regardless of what you end up doing that day, you will have a beautiful, wonderful experience. You have nothing to prove to anyone, so if you end up getting an epidural during labor? No big deal. But, don’t give doubt a foothold.” – Lauren

“I totally agree that medicated birth is just as beautiful and amazing, and shouldn’t be shrugged off as a lesser experience. I ended up having pitocin and epidurals with both of my babies after a very long time of laboring naturally – and even those two experiences were so completely different. One birth was traumatic and nearly killed me and the other was completely amazing and everything I could have wished for.” – Gemma

“There is so much middle ground. …You don’t have to fall in one camp, one tribe, because honestly so many of us are in the middle. You will have an amazing birth! Strong and powerful and will amaze your husband and yourself once again.” – Tessa

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Great advice, right?! I am so thankful for everyone who was willing to both open up to me and let me share their tips here. My hope is that other expectant mamas will find this wisdom helpful as they prepare for their own births. If you have anything to add, leave a comment below. 


  1. Anonymous says

    I have had two natural deliveries in a hospital setting. One thing that I was really grateful for was that when I was admitted I asked to just have the PICC line inserted rather than being hooked up to the IV right away. That way, it was there and in place if I needed it but I wasn’t tethered to anything and are more free to move around. The doctor’s were great about it and I hardly notived the needle in my hand (the worst part of labor for me!). Wishing you all the best!

  2. Anonymous says

    Great post, my friend just told me today that she is pregnant and is interested in a natural labor. I myself gave birth to each of my four children 100% naturally. My biggest surprise with birth was that even though my first two children had almost identical labors/timing (from first contraction to birth was 2.5 hours, and my contractions were short in duration and very erratically spaced apart ) , my third really threw me for a loop when my labor stalled for 12 hours. My midwife wanted to help my labor along, but I kept asking for just a little more time. Finally, baby came in about an hour of labor and 15 minutes of pushing. Now, I had less expectations for my fourth, but I still assumed that labor would be the fastest yet, right? Not so. 12 hours of intense labor with regular spaced contractions, then 1 minute of pushing. Whoosh! Basically, my advise for labor is, especially subsequent ones, is to not assume all your labors will get easier and faster the more children you have. Each baby is unique, and the labor experience is too. If you have no expectations that way, you won’t get mad because the baby is taking so long! Anyways, I will be sure to pass this post on to my friend, and the best to you! PS I hate needles, and refused to let the staff hook me up to anything, because the thought of a pic line in my body was worse to me than the pain of labor! It took convincing the staff, but I knew what I could handle and what I couldn’t; so be persistent if you must; you are not a number/routine, but an individual with unique needs and desires. Again, the best to you!

  3. says

    Thanks for the useful tipps – my sister will give birth next month and is currently thinking where she will do it. I will sent her the article and hope it will be useful for her.

  4. says

    OMG. Has anyone ever told these doctors that giving birth is a natural event not a medical one? All you need to know about giving birth normally is Stay upright (on a comfy chair, birth ball or walking about) and use relaxation techniques to stop you secreting adrenalin which sticks to the cervix and slows it opening. With a low risk pregnancy you do not need a CTG, if fact they cause more problems than they solve and you will end up on one for the entire labour, whatever you do DO NOT LIE DOWN on a bed for a CTG trace, sit down on a comfy chair next to the machine so that your uterus is not pushing baby uphill. It seems that women in the US have a very hard time giving birth with doctors who do not have a clue what a natural birth is. PLUS, WHAT, no pools? For all the info on having a Pain Free Labour as nature always intended see
    Good luck, Ann.

  5. says

    yes… mind over matter is extremely important: if you dreamed it … and you stay firm on your decision (which can be challenging in an hospital setting (make sure you do work on your mind before hand). The earlier you start a training (like hypnosis) or alike techniques; the better for you and your baby… and no doubt your birthing companion or hubby.
    Make sure you go with someone you trust and feel at ease around: a birth doula: they affirm your confidence and will get you through thick and thin!
    My best wish for all these mom who have the courage to take birth into their hands… into their heart.. and whatever happen remember: giving birth it is like engaging in an earthquake: you prepare for the best outcome…and you let go and trust your maker.

    Best wishes to all these new babies to come too
    Truthfullness-Compassion-Tolerance will get you through anything.. as it honors the true nature of our being.

  6. says

    Why not choose a midwife? Midwives have consistently better outcomes and less c-sections…. your chances of a natural birth with an expert in natural birth are significantly higher.

  7. Megan says

    My first birth I labored 17 hours at home and then acquiesced to an epidural when I arrived at the hospital and delivered 2 hours later. My second time was a natural hospital birth. My doctor wasn’t the one on call either time, and for the second I immediately knew that the on-call doctor was one that was going to do things his way, regardless of what I’d discussed with my doctor. My best move was to demand a different doctor. I might not have been very polite about it (I didn’t realize until my husband told me later!) but the next doctor who came in knew I was in charge and was wonderful. She read and respected my birth plan wishes, and I did not have to fight for the delivery I wanted.

  8. Cherriezzzzz says

    I had a natural childbirth in the hospital 8.5 weeks ago… 3rd child :) Can’t wait for my 4th LoL! You cannot always prepare yourself for the pain… please be warned and don’t feel bad to get an epidural when it gets too painful. And I mean TOO PAINFUL! As in you dont know how you could go through even ONE more contraction. (SOME WOMEN ONLY HAVE 3 or so of these! So let yourself feel a few… but you’ll know 😉 This is my reasoning: 1st child: induction, recovery was LONG, too many drugs. So 2nd child: Epidural came late due to the Dr. not coming right away. So I had some extremely painful contractions BUT THEN, once I had the epidural, I relaxed, pain free, baby born shortly after. Recovery? Amazing! I only had the epidural for 20 minutes give or take. And my body didnt feel like it got hit by a train afterwards, like with child 3! After child 2 I could get right up and walk and I honestly felt GREAT! 3rd child: recovery was SO much longer, but not as long as with the first. So I say find your happy medium!!! Epidural for those last transition contractions is where it’s at! Just my 2 cents!! And all my labors and pushing times AND weeks along were about the same 38 weeks, 39 5 days, 39 and 6 days. All same sized babies 7 lbs 7 oz, 7 lbs. 11 oz and 8 lbs. And I pushed 15-20 min. with them all. So these experiences were of medical interventions, not of type of child, how far along I was etc. Would I have another natural childbirth? Immediately after I had child 3 I said NEVER AGAIN! Why would I go through that to have a slower recovery AND more pain? Well, I would (now) have another naturally, but will take an epidural if it is available but ONLY at the last minute. My transition contractions with child 3 lasted 4 hours… yes… so plan accordingly! Be ok with saying enough is enough and take the pain away. I had a midwife and everything, but not the “midwife model of care!” There is a HUGE difference and a Doctor DOES NOT know how to help you other than giving you drugs! Cause I only saw my midwife when it was time to deliver, and she was a MIDWIFE! They’re suppose to stay with you and help you, but not in a hospital setting. I was “alone” (hubby and my mom were there, but didn’t know how to help) and I wouldn’t want ANYONE to have the natural childbirth I had.


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