Book Review: Natural Hospital Birth, by Cynthia Gabriel

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a reader! This post is a review of one my favorite books on childbirth, as well as a few key ways in which I found this book incredibly helpful for my first daughter’s birth. Not everyone’s style of childbirth preparation is to read all the books or learn as much as possible; some people want to get to their place of birth and have someone else tell them what to do. Whatever makes each mama feel the most safe and relaxed, and the least fearful, go with that! For those of you looking for a good read to help inform your path toward bringing your baby home, read on!

naturalhospitalbirthcoverMy favorite book to recommend about childbirth is Natural Hospital Birth: The Best of Both Worlds by Cynthia Gabriel. The author is a medical anthropologist, a professional doula, and a mother to three. Her perspective as someone who has studied the women giving birth and what birth means to people in different cultures is refreshing. Her message is clear: natural birth is the healthiest for mom and baby when possible, and it is possible in an American hospital setting. The combination of case studies, medical facts, and raw enthusiasm for birth makes for a convincing argument.

This book gives a wonderful overview of choices you will need to make prior to labor beginning and provides information on the various options so that you can weigh them carefully. From deciding your support team to dreaming of your ideal birth; from answering the question “Just how bad does [the pain] really get?” to a detailed description of the process of labor; from to-do lists to ignore early labor to coping strategies for intense, active labor; Natural Hospital Birth is an excellent companion and handbook to any woman who is even entertaining the idea of planning for natural childbirth.

Three pieces of advice from this book stand out in my memory as being particularly helpful to me during my first labor:

  1. Choose a provider whose philosophy of birth supports yours. The chapter on building your support team is what originally caused me to realize that my personal beliefs and desires for birth were more aligned with the midwifery model of care than the obstetric approach. Not every reader will fall into that same category, but this book will help you identify what style of care is the best fit for you and give you guidelines to find the best provider for your situation.
  2. Ignore early labor. Gabriel goes to great lengths to help readers plan to strategically ignore early labor. The point of this advice is to conserve your energy for when you really need it as labor becomes increasingly demanding. You can read in Ella’s birth story the ways I tried to ignore the early phase of my first labor in order to get some rest!
  3. “…if you can get from your house to the car in less than ten minutes, you are going to the hospital too early,” (p. 143). This advice comes from a fellow doula in the author’s hometown. The reasons to avoid getting to the hospital too early are that they may send you back home, and your labor may plateau if hospitals aren’t entirely comfortable to you or if something there causes you to feel stressed or fearful for some reason. My husband and I nailed this one on our first round of having a baby, maybe a little too well: it took me twenty minutes to get to the car, and I was more than ready to push by the time we arrived at the hospital.

If you’re looking for a more in-depth look at the physiology of birth, thorough instructions for a labor companion, and a closer look at the medical side of it all, check out my review of The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin. Both Natural Hospital Birth and The Birth Partner are available for clients to borrow from my personal lending library. Contact Me for more information.

Happy reading!


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