What is an Active Birth?

by Suzanne Swan

While an active birth involves the freedom to move and use upright positions, it is more than just positioning.  “An active birth is one in which the birthing mother is in charge of her choices and decisions, thus enabling her to enjoy a productive and mutually respectful partnership with her birth attendants.” (Janet Balaskas). 

With this in mind, any birth, whether it is natural or assisted, may be regarded as an active birth.

How to prepare yourself for an Active Birth?

In every uninhibited labour, there is a marked restlessness: you may walk, stand, squat, kneel, lie down and move your body freely to find the most comfortable and appropriate position.  It is the way a you behave when you are following your own instincts and the physiology of your body.

Preparation for an active birth involves:

  • developing comfort in upright positions;
  • practicing deep relaxation skills for mind/body;
  • understanding the birth process & hormonal physiology*;
  • managing the fear/tension/pain syndrome; and
  • trusting in your innate ability to give birth.

How to prepare your birth partner/s for an Active Birth?

Your birth partner/s is the guardian of the birth space, so educate them on the stages of labour and what to expect. Give them opportunities to learn how to use the natural forms of pain relief like breathing, massage, water, sound and birthing positions. They are there to give you emotional and physical support in labour and help you to make decisions when dealing with the unexpected.

How to prepare your surroundings for an Active Birth?                                                 

  • choose a homelike, private, warm, dimly lit environment that feels physically and emotionally safe for you;
  • If you are birthing in a hospital environment, take items from home to help create this environment for yourself; and
  • choose birth partners who will protect and support you and your birth environment so you can labour comfortably and feel safe and supported without unwanted intrusions, distraction and interruptions.

Activities to promote an Active Birth

  • Deep breathing
  • Conscious relaxation techniques
  • Massages
  • Acupressure
  • Warm water immersion, showering or hot compresses
  • Provision of sweetened foods or fluids
  • Stimulating the Oxytocin* hormone through skin to skin, hugging and kissing (in privacy)
  • Keeping distractions and side conversations to a minimum
  • Having a constant supportive presence in the birth space
  • Masking external noises with music or the shower to decrease disturbance

*Oxytocin creates efficient strong contractions and is a calming and connection hormone.  High endorphins help you become less responsive over time to the physical stress of labour.  Both these hormones have an analgesic effect in your brain that help you manage the increasingly arousing effects of adrenaline, the body’s natural way of priming the baby for adapting to life outside the womb.

An active birth is a way a woman behaves when she is following her instincts and the physiological logic of her body."
- Active Birth Manifesto by Janet Balaskas -
Written by Suzanne Swan, 2017, founder of yogababy, Senior Yoga teacher and Childbirth Educator.  www.yogababy.com.au.  Suzanne can be contacted at info@yogababy.com.au