Is Natural Birth in the Hospital Really Possible?

birth_photoI read a book recently specifically directed to women who want a natural birth, but for whatever reason, don’t want (or can’t have) a home birth.

There is this fallacy out there that to have a natural birth you must be outside of the hospital.

I hate this, and not just because my first birth (and first natural birth) was in a wonderful hospital. I dislike this idea because all by itself it discourages women from even trying to have the birth they want because they are birthing in the hospital.

Truth: You can have a great birth anywhere. Yes, even in many hospitals.

Lauren Rauseo recently wrote a book on just this subject: Natural Birth for the Mainstream Mama. Easy to read and both humorous and practical, it is a great guide to getting the birth you want in the place you want to have it.

Here are some more tips from the author herself:

Sarah: Welcome to Mothering and congratulations on your book! First, I would love for you to tell us why you decided to undertake something this big. Did you see a need and decide to fill it?

Lauren: When I was pregnant with my first baby in 2009, I wanted to have a natural birth in the hospital. In preparation, I read many books and articles about natural birth, but most of them were targeted to women having a home birth. It seemed that I would be up against many obstacles having a natural birth in the hospital. Ultimately, I had a wonderful hospital birth, even with some unforeseen circumstances. After I had my baby, friends and acquaintances started reaching out to me for advice about having a natural birth in the hospital, and I talked to each of them on the phone for hours. I thought to myself: I should just write all of this down to make it easier next time someone asks me! And that’s how the idea for the book began.

Sarah: Tell me, why did you choose hospital birth and why do you feel it is a perfectly valid choice for women, even those planning a natural birth?

Lauren: For some women, especially having their first baby, the hospital provides a safety net in the unlikely event that there is an emergency. Even though birth centers and homes can be safe places to give birth in most scenarios, some families just feel more comfortable being at the hospital. For me, I would have considered a birth center had there been one closer to my house. But once I found a wonderful midwife practice at a nearby hospital, I was so happy that I no longer minded giving birth at the hospital. Having a supportive care provider is the most important factor in having your birth plan respected, no matter where you give birth.

Sarah: I know you have three babies, all born in the hospital. Could you give us a quick rundown of how those births went?

Lauren: My first ended up coming early at 34 weeks. For this reason, I was glad to be planning a hospital birth, because even if I hadn’t, I would have ended up there when my water broke so early. I was at the hospital for 2 days before my contractions really began. I was “allowed” to stay pregnant for so long even though my water had broken because the baby would be a preemie and it was better that he stay in longer. Once labor began on its own, he was born 6 hours later. I was afraid I wasn’t really in labor at first and we didn’t call my doula to come until I was ready to push. Rookie mistake!

With my second, my body held out until 37 weeks (officially full-term!) before my water broke. And again, my labor didn’t start right away. I stayed at home trying everything I could to naturally bring on contractions. After 36 unsuccessful hours, I went to the hospital to be induced. So depending on your definition, you might say this birth wasn’t completely natural since I had an intervention (Pitocin). But because my voice was heard and respected, it was an empowering experience for me. And I didn’t use pain medication despite the induction, which was very difficult and made me very proud of myself, and grateful for my husband and doula who made it possible. My husband caught our daughter.

They say third time’s a charm, and for me, it was. I stayed pregnant for 38 weeks and 2 days (a record for me!), and then of course, my water broke. This time, thankfully, contractions started on their own right away. I labored at home for about 9 hours. When I got to the hospital, I was 6 cm dilated. I’d never experienced a car ride while in labor before and it was one of the worst parts about the whole thing! The hospital had installed a birthing tub only a few weeks earlier, and my baby was the fourth to be born in it, just one hour after we arrived. I caught her myself, which was amazing. The whole thing went exactly how I’d imagined it: full term baby, no interventions, and water birth.

Sarah: Beautiful stories. I love how you were able to have great, informed, natural births even against what many would consider great odds. It speaks to how capable you were in writing this book and speaking from a place of personal knowledge.

I love quick lists- so tell the people- what are the three most important things a woman can do to ensure a positive and natural hospital birth experience?


1) First and foremost, choose a care provider who is truly supportive of natural birth and a hospital without policies that hinder it. If I were giving only one tip, this would be it. With a care provider who knows your intention and respects your wishes, you can trust that you won’t be offered or forced into interventions that aren’t necessary.

2) Second, assemble a supportive birth team. This will most likely include your partner (who needs to be completely on board with natural birth) and a birth doula. In the hospital setting, your midwife or doctor will only pop in your room from time to time if everything is going smoothly. The rest of your birth team will be there for the long haul. Choose people you are super comfortable with so that their presence doesn’t inhibit your labor.

3) And number 3, make a commitment to see your plan through. Having natural birth at the hospital is hard because all the interventions you are trying to avoid are right there. And in the midst of labor, an epidural can be tempting, even to someone who has spent 9 months planning not to have one. Do whatever is necessary to retrain your brain to know that you CAN do it.

Sarah: I know that everybody loves to check things out on the internet. What are your favorite resources online for women interested in natural hospital birth?

Lauren: I’m a huge Googler so I don’t have just a couple sites in mind. When something comes up that I want to learn about, I research it until I start reading the same information over and over again. For instance, with my last baby, she was breech for a few weeks during my pregnancy. I knew this would ruin my plans for a natural birth at the hospital, so I became an expert on ways to turn a baby.DSC_2583

Many women planning a natural hospital birth don’t have friends who are doing the same, so I recommend that they find a like-minded community online by following natural birth bloggers (such as yourself!) through social media. It’s a great way to get small bursts of inspiration and put you in the right frame of mind.

Sarah: Last but not least, how can we find your book?!

Lauren: It’s available on Amazon in paperback and e-book.

I hope you enjoy it! You can also follow me on Facebook.


Photo credits: Right: Twist PhotographyTop: Stumberg Photography

22 thoughts on “Is Natural Birth in the Hospital Really Possible?”

  1. Loved this article! I couldn’t agree more! I had both of my babies naturally in a hospital and used a squat bar to push them out. Amazing experiences and I would do the exact same thing again for both. I think this advice is spot on! Especially #3 – see your plan through. Great post! If you would like to read about my birth stories here are the links:

  2. Natural birth is definitely possible in a hospital. I’ve spent my career promoting natural hospital birth as a doula, author, and anthropologist. I believe that all of us who understand and appreciate the innumerable benefits of natural birth need to be adamant about reclaiming the space of birth in hospitals since 99% of American women are giving birth there. As the author of “Natural Hospital Birth: The Best of Both Worlds” I am excited that there is a new book on this topic! We need to take over the shelves at all the bookstores. Natural birth is not “hippie” or “out there,” it is natural and deserves to be mainstream.

    1. Cynthia, thank you for writing that book! In preparation to have my second child in a small town hospital, I read over 20 books on having a natural birth. I could have thrown out 17 of them. Yours was wonderful and sooo helpful! Thank you so much for that. I now recommend your book to my friends who will be in the same situation.
      And my daughter was born naturally in the hospital. It was a wonderful birth!

    2. I had no idea that books like this we’re put there, and I’m an avid reader who scoured shelves for pregnancy books! I just wanted to comment to say that I had a natural birth at my local hospital. I had a caring, supportive midwife, a wonderful doula, and was gifted with an amazingly supportive nurse who made it all possible, not to mention my supportive and loving husband. I only received one intervention, which I asked for: they broke my waters. After more than 48 hours of labor, I was sure that if the waters broke, my baby would be out quickly, but I just couldn’t get them to break on my own. I was right: our son was born an hour after they broke my waters. I’m so grateful for the many people at the hospital who helped make such a wonderful birth possible. As a first-time mom, I was comforted by knowing that if anything went wrong, an excellent NICU was right there.

  3. Thanks you for this article! Home birthing is not a comfortable option for me right now as my husband and I just moved thousands of miles away from our house, friends, family and community and our current living situation is not a place I feel that I can be supported, find privacy, and feel comfortable in having my first birth in. Unfortunately we moved to a state that until recently did not support birth centers so very few are in operation. I definitely want an as natural as possible birth and believe I can have it in the hospital we’ve chosen. Lauren’s three tips make perfect sense and our part of our plan!

  4. For what it’s worth, I’ve had three hospital births all without an epidural or medication. The last one, 7 weeks ago, was the best experience yet. No Pitocin, no episiotomy, no tearing, fairly quick labor and pushing stage. In fact, it was almost too much like a homebirth experience for my taste. No one came in to check how dilated I was or anything until I asked them to. When they said I was at 10 cm they asked me whether I wanted to push or wait and what position I wanted to be in to push (squatting, all fours, etc.). I was so overwhelmed by the intensity of the contractions at that point, I really just wanted someone to tell me what to do like I was used to from previous hospital births!

    1. Hahahahaha! It sounds like a great experience to me (and a very supportive hospital)! Glad you got the natural hospital births you hoped for, even if you would have appreciated a little more guidance! 🙂

  5. Thank you for this great article. I had a natural hospital birth, exactly what I wanted. I would say most of my success went to picking the right provider, in my case a midwife (actually an office with four midwives) who encouraged the birth I wanted as a matter of routine. No IV, no pitocin, no epidural – just some local anesthetic and stitches after the fact. I didn’t have to ask for immediate skin to skin or delayed cord clamping, its just what they did. I don’t want to say that having the right provider is the most important part of having your natural hospital birth, but I think without that part, it makes it so much harder.

    1. Emily, I’m so happy you had the birth you wanted! I’m sure your supportive midwife practice played a large part in your successful and positive experience. I’d say more than half the battle is won if the provider routinely practices in such a way that is already in line with your birth plan. Finding them was a great step you took in owning your birth.

  6. Natural childbirth in a hospital is absolutely possible…I’m preparing for my third one in September. I’ve been very lucky to have great prenatal care, easy pregnancies and quick, complication-free births so I’m sure all of those things contributed to making it easier for me to have the birth experience I wanted. When I was pregnant with my first, I was sure that a natural, intervention-free childbirth was what I wanted and, according to nearly everything I read on the subject, I needed to be prepared to fight to have that experience in a hospital. What a pleasant surprise to arrive at the hospital and receive zero pressure to consider any drugs or interventions of any sort! I also had immediate skin-to-skin contact with my baby (cord-clamping wasn’t particularly delayed since we elected to bank our firstborn’s cord blood) and had tons of support and encouragement for breastfeeding while in the hospital…the nurses were wonderful. The funny part is, this time I am with midwives rather than a doctor for my prenatal care (my amazing doctor moved to another city) and this is pretty much the first time I feel like I’ve felt any pressure…to consider a home birth since I would seem like an ideal candidate. I am not considering it because we are temporarily living in a small rental condo with our two kids and I just don’t feel particularly comfortable with the idea of a home birth here (plus, would we get our damage deposit back if the owners knew…hahaha!). Also the idea of being in a hospital where, should anything go wrong, all necessary medical experts, equipment etc. are available makes me feel most comfortable. May all mamas get to experience the birth they want, where they want!

  7. Hypnobirthing is a great resource for those wanting a natural birth. It gives you focus and methods to relax during labor to help your body do what it knows how to do.

    1. Agree. I took Hypnobirthing when I was pregnant with my first baby. I used the CD with affirmations throughout all three of my pregnancies to practice relaxation, and during much of my first two labors.

  8. While I understand why this article was written, I have major issues with the following statement: “There is this fallacy out there that to have a natural birth you must be outside of the hospital.”

    This writer implies that “natural birth” means “home birth.” I put forth that “natural birth” and “home birth” are not, and should not be referenced as interchangeable terms. Home births can be medication-free or medication-assisted, with or without the assistance of a medical professional.

    More to the point – neither I, nor my colleagues, or friends, have ever supposed that one cannot give birth (without medication and with minimal medical support) in a hospital. Rather our support of a birth away from a hospital is based on the following question: if you don’t need to pay for a birth at a *hospital rate*, why subject oneself to the extended cost?

    I sincerely hope that the editors at continue to evaluate their language style and refine their approach to educating and empowering its similarly-minded community.

  9. Thank you, Lauren, for writing this book. I agree with everything you say here. Both my births were hospital births. For the first birth I got an epidural because I’d been in labor three days and needed to rest before pushing, but the second birth was natural. I would add to your list thoroughly educating yourself about the stages of labor, the possible complications, and the benefits and risks of all the possible interventions. Understanding the negatives of an epidural, for example, will give you the strength to avoid one.

  10. I’ve had great homebirths with exceptional midwives and a horrible homebirth with an horrible midwife. I’ve had one negative hospital birth (but natural) and one great hospital birth (also natural). The author points out that the number one priority is the care provider. I 100% agree with this. Not all midwives are awesome and few OBs are awesome. Look until you find the right one!

  11. I had 3 amazing natural childbirths in a hospital. I had the same awesome midwife for all 3. She understands the importance of a peaceful birthing space and protects that. I also had the same awesome doula for all 3 births….a real godsend…perhaps the best money I have every spent. My first 2 labors were very long but I spent as much time at home as possible. My 2nd, my son, was 9#6oz and I had no tearing thanks to lots of different positions throughout the pushing phase. My 3rd was a mind-blower. After 2 births where I spent 8-12 hours in the hospital before birth, I arrived, was found to be 9cm @ 8:21 PM and she was born @ 8:55 PM. There was no I.V., no monitor, and no eye drops afterwards. There are amazing midwives and doulas out there, ready to guide you and help you trust your body. A book that really inspired me is “Spiritual Midwifery” by Isa May Gaskin. After reading that, I just knew my body could do this.

  12. I had the most amazing natural birth in a hospital with my first child! I labored at home for a few hours, and then met my midwife at the hospital. Everything was very calm and soothing, with my husband and mother by my side the entire time and my midwife coaching me through every contraction. I had absolutely no drugs on board and was allowed to use warm water, breathing and focus tools for pain management. My daughter was born after nine hours of labor with absolutely zero interventions. It was such a pressure-free, supportive environment and I will always be grateful to both my midwife and the hospital staff for allowing me to give birth in such a normal, natural way.

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