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the process of giving birth to a baby at home and without the help of a doctor, midwife or other medical professional
'But what about those who decide to go one step further and give birth without any medical help whatsoever? These women are choosing freebirth and there is now a growing on-line community of freebirthers sharing their opinions and experiences.'Woman's Hour, BBC Radio 4 16th August 2007
'I have not freebirthed my children, however I have supported a client in her birthing journey which resulted in the most amazing birth of her fourth child at home into the arms of his father. So, my question is, have you freebirthed or have you supported somebody freebirthing?'Your Birth Your Way 12th October 2007
'Canadian doctors warn against freebirthing … The small but troubling faction of "do-it-yourself" childbirth advocates who encourage unassisted childbirth are courting danger, warns the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada.'CTV, Canada 21st June 2007
For many women, giving birth to a baby is one of the most significant experiences of their lives, combining some of the most intense physical and emotional sensations. In developed nations, the majority of women go through this experience in a highly managed environment, either within a hospital setting or accompanied by midwives at home. However, inspired by the idea that childbirth is a natural, rather than a medical, process, a growing minority are opting to give birth to their babies without any professional help whatsoever, an approach now referred to as freebirth.
underpinning the concept of freebirth is the ethos that childbirth is a natural process and not a medical emergency
Freebirth, also often called unassisted childbirth, is the process of giving birth to a baby away from a hospital, usually at home, and without the presence of any medical staff or professional birth attendants. (This contrasts with home birth, which is a birth at home but with a midwife.) The expression is only used where a woman has made a definite choice to give birth without medical assistance, and not because she has given birth unexpectedly or in an emergency situation. Coined freebirthers, most women choosing this option would be accompanied by either their partner, a member of the family, or close friend, though some choose to give birth completely alone.
Underpinning the concept of freebirth is the ethos that childbirth is a natural process and not a medical emergency. Proponents also argue that childbirth is a private thing, so the presence of medical professionals, who are usually strangers, is unnatural, and can actually have a negative influence on the speed and progression of labour, because women feel less relaxed.
Women who choose freebirth often educate themselves about the birth process so that they have some level of preparation for unexpected complications. Many also choose to have conventional antenatal care so that any risk factors or complications can be identified before the birth. However, critics say that freebirth is not as safe as its proponents claim, pointing to infant mortality rates in poorer countries where there is a lack of qualified birth attendants, and also the high death rates associated with childbirth before the advent of modern medicine.
You can find out more about freebirth at this dedicated website.
Freebirth is a recently-coined synonym for the more formal expression unassisted childbirth, often abbreviated to UC. The expression unassisted childbirth was coined by Laura K. Shanley, a freelance writer, childbirth advisor, and author of a book of the same name (Unassisted Childbirth, Greenwood Press, 1993). Shanley had been inspired by Grantly Dick-Read (1890–1959), a British obstetrician thought of by many as the father of the natural childbirth movement.
The new noun freebirth follows the grammatical pattern of birth, used both countably (e.g. unplanned freebirths are very dangerous) and uncountably (e.g. the growing trend for freebirth), and with a noun derivative freebirthing. It has also spawned a related noun freebirther to refer to proponents, and a verb to freebirth, used both intransitively and transitively, for example: She freebirthed all our four children.
This article was first published on 23rd June 2008.