'Women are taking back birth!'
Increasing numbers of pregnant women are personalising their labour by choosing alternative methods and locations to give birth.
New research by the parenting website Netmums, has found that seven out of 10 women select how and where they give birth, with choices ranging from outdoor or silent births and slow caesareans, to swimming with dolphins.
Virginia Howes, an independent midwife from the Kent Midwifery Practice, says that in the past women simply accepted whatever happened during labour, even if things were done without their consent.
"But now there's so much information at women's fingertips, they're standing up and saying 'no' to the medicalisation of childbirth," she stresses.
"I think it's instinct - they don't want to be pushed and shoved into how the professionals think birth should be any more.
"Women are taking back birth, and it's absolutely excellent."
The study found 56% of mums-to-be fancy including one of the new wave of alternative birth techniques in their birth plan, with more than a third considering hypnobirthing (using self-hypnosis to manage pain), and almost one in five opting for the experimental slow caesarean - a new caesarean technique which minimises anaesthetic use for a more natural birth experience.
"Caesarian-section mums often feel they miss out on those first few precious moments as the baby is rushed off," explains Virginia.
"In a slow caesarian, a woman can reach down and hold her baby and bring it up to her chest, in the same way as she would during a vaginal birth."
DOLPHIN PAIN RELIEF
Another one in 10 women aspire to an unassisted birth, where there's no medical intervention, 2% opt for a silent birth, where everyone else in the room keeps quiet, 1% want to give birth outdoors, and 1.5% are even interested in swimming with dolphins during labour in a bid to calm themselves and ease pain.
However, Virginia points out: "Swimming with dolphins is such a rare choice because of the practicalities. It will hardly ever be done."
A lot more accessible than swimming with dolphins, 85% of mums in labour use relaxation methods including aromatherapy, visualisation, meditation, water birth, positioning strategies, massage, acupuncture and reflexology.
But although the majority of mums want to choose their own type of birth, 30% still don't write a birth plan, and 8% of mums would rather leave birthing decisions to doctors. Another 23% said they found all the birthing options confusing.
And maternity staff have mixed reactions to their requests - while six out of 10 mums felt well supported in making their birth plans, one in five found it difficult to get the type of birth they wanted, and nearly half said the availability of birthing options depended on factors such as time of day or staffing levels.
KEEPING UP APPEARANCES
You'd think the birthing process was enough to worry about - but today's mums are also concerned about how they look on the big day, with more than 40% considering make-up, hair and outfits in advance.
Gone are the days of wearing an old T-shirt or nightie through labour - 30% of mums plan to buy a special outfit to wear, 31% intend to get a leg or bikini wax, 12% want to get their nails done, 9% will have their hair done in advance, and 5% plan to pack hair straighteners or styling tongs.
"Women seem to think about aesthetics a lot more than they used to," says Virginia.
"When they're actually in labour, they don't care how they look - in the throes of labour you won't care if Brad Pitt walks in and you haven't got any make-up on.
"But leading up to it, it's about having control of the birth and not being passive."
SOCIAL MEDIA SHARING
And mums also want to look good on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, which are now an extension to the birthing experience. More than half of mums (53%) share their newborn baby's first picture on social media, and 10% live post throughout their labour and birth.
Howes says: "Birth shouldn't be hidden, it should be celebrated. Women have been empowered to know birth doesn't have to be like convention portrays it - it isn't something we endure any more, it's something we relish."
Louise Silverton, director for midwifery at the Royal College of Midwives, says: "Midwives will do their very best to support women in the choices they make.
"We would encourage women to discuss the options available with their midwife, so that they can make an informed choice."
Louise says pressure on services often prevents women from accessing choices such as home births, and she stresses: "As a woman's pregnancy and labour progresses, some options are no longer recommended as there may be safety implications at this late stage for both mother and baby.
"We would also strongly discourage, for example, a birth without skilled medical help or one involving wild animals such as dolphins. We want women to have the best possible birth experience, and we also want that experience to be safe."