Unassisted Birth: some pros and cons

I’m personally a big fan of various forms of unassisted birth. For our third pregnancy and baby, we had a midwife we Skyped with in the the States with our questions. We called her once or twice during the pregnancy, once during the birth, and once for the birth of the placenta.

Our fourth birth, we didn’t really call anyone, though I’d talked with some midwives in the States when we’d been there, with some questions. The birth, I don’t remember that we’d made an agreement with anyone to call with questions, though I guess I had general options if we really had needed it.

Here’s a section from a handout I made about Unassited Birth.

As Pamela Himes-Powell points out in her lecture (at a birth conference), we don’t have to put birth into a box. It doesn’t have to be “unattended” or “unassisted.” There is a wide range of expression for the role of the midwife and the parents in the realm of “Family Birth.”

Let me explain some of the terminology and abbriviations used in the unassisted birth culture.

Unattended Home Births (UHB)—“Childbirth without the presence of trained or experienced attendants.” No lay midwife, just parents, family, friends. (Definition given by Tonya Brooks in “Unattended Homebirths” chapter in Compulsory Hospitalization, vol.2, 1979). Also called Do-It-Yourself (DIY).

Unassisted Childbirth—A home birth where a midwife or “friend” may be present but doesn’t “assist,” per se. (This distinction is elaborated on by Pamela Himes-Powell in her talk from the Trust Birth Conference, 2010)

Family Birth—Coined by Carla Hartley circa 2011 as a more positive expression of Unassisted or Unattended Childbirth

The scary thing for most people about birth is the sense of responsibilty for the outcome. Hospitals give the feeling that they are taking responsibiltiy for your birth and its outcome. And legally, because in America you can sue them if you have the means, I suppose they are taking responsibiltiy on some level, to act according to their guidelines and make sound medical decisions in the moments. It’s similar with legalized midwives, and with anyone who technically “practices medicine.”

But here’s how I’ve come to understand it: You can hand away the power/authority over your birth, but you can’t give away the responsiblity for it. And no one, no doctor, hospital, midwife, no one can guarantee the outcome of your birth. As parents, you gather the information you can, you make the choices you consider best, but in the end, you cannot guarantee the outcome of your birth. However, having said that, I will emphasize that the choices we make during pregnancy and birth do greatly influence and affect our health and the type of birth we experience, to say nothing of the people and parents the process of making these decisions encourages us to become.

So that you can further explore if unassisted and/or unattended childbirth is right for you, here are a few pros and cons I’ve gleaned from listening to others and my own experiences:

Pros and Cons 

Why some couples prefer unassisted childbirth

Some pitfalls couples might experience with unassisted child birth

We are addicted to experts rather than learning to take responsibility for our own choices and listen to our own bodies. Also, we live with the illusion that babies don’t die in the hospitals and that if a baby dies there, the doctor is not responsible, it must have been the mother’s fault somehow or unavoidable. (Panelists, “Why Women Stay Home Alone.”) Tonya Brooks points out that while most births are straightforward, easy for parents to learn to handle themselves, it is usually during labor that problems arise and can be diagnosed, and this ability to diagnose/”see” a difficulty comes with experience, not just textbook study. (p.520)
Women don’t want the interference and discomfort and possible subsequent complications that doctors and even midwives may cause, and they believe that their bodies and their babies will work together to birth smoothly and naturally solve most problems that may, on rare occasions, arise. Tonya Brooks points out that some parents feel the stress of being both the parent and the birth attendant. Rather than being able to relax, experience, and feel the birth as a parent, the parent may feel the need to be present in a more attendant-style, objective, non-emotional role. (p. 520)
Fathers tend to be much more truly involved; they also can make instinctively “right” actions for the baby during the birth, and the parents are not mis-focused on the caregiver but are more intensely focused on the birthing process, the baby, and each other. (Pamela Himes-Powell, “Unattended Vs. Unassisted Birth”) We personally experienced this in our UCs. One factor that was a little hard for me with our unassisted birth was that my husband tended to worry or be concerned about me unnecessarily during our pregnancy. If a midwife had been there to say, “oh, that’s just so normal,” it would have helped him be able to support me without worry. Also, not all men are comfortable with this perceived level of responsibility during birth.

One caution for couples: Sometimes one partner is ready for unassisted birth and the other is not. This can cause resentment and frustration. Remember that you each have your position as an expression of love toward the other and the baby, it’s not that disagreement in this area means that one doesn’t care about the other. It’s not a war where one must win. Focus on building intimacy in your relationship, keeping an open mind, and listening to the other person’s perspective as if it were your own.


  • “Unattended Vs. Unassisted Birth;” Pamela Himes-Powell; Trust Birth Conference, 2010.
  • “Why Women Stay Home Alone,” Panel session, Trust Birth Conference, 2008.
  • “Unattended Homebirths,” by Tonya Brooks. Compulsory Hospitalization, volume 2; Chapter 39 (pp. 517-521); Stewart & Stewart, eds; 1979.

One thought on “Unassisted Birth: some pros and cons

  1. Pingback: Andre’s birth day: I become a kook – Роды в Украине ~ Birth in Ukraine

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *