Natural births possible, encouraged in hospital setting at University of Michigan

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Nadine Naber labored with a midwife, who guided her through her pain. Her husband was at her side, holding her hand, as she gave birth to her youngest son in a water-filled tub.

It was everything she dreamed a natural childbirth could be. But it didn’t happen at home — her son was born in the hospital.

Naber is one of many women who find that a natural hospital birth — a childbirth without medication or other intervention — is possible at Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital at the University of Michigan. U-M has eight nurse midwives on staff and encourages women to set a natural birth plan that still offers the advantages of being in a hospital setting.

“I truly and deeply experienced what I would dream of with a natural birth, in every way possible, without any sense of it being medicalized,” says Naber, a 42-year-old mother of two and Ann Arbor, Mich. resident.

Naber says the natural hospital birth offers the best of both worlds: a birth plan without unnecessary medical intervention but also the safety net of the hospital setting.

U-M will host a panel discussion, “Supporting Natural Birth in Hospital Settings,” on March 24, featuring author and professional doula, Cynthia Gabriel. Gabriel’s book, “Natural Hospital Birth: The Best of Both Worlds,” features a forward written by U-M’s Timothy R.B. Johnson, M.D. , who is professor and chair of the U-M Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

“Nature often presents unexpected challenges and these need to be anticipated and accepted. For many women, selecting the relative safety of a modern hospital for a natural birth can be a way to reduce risks,” says Johnson.

“I always try to remember and teach that childbirth is a natural process that with little or no intervention turns out well.”

At U-M, about 20 percent of the births annually are assisted by nurse midwives, says Joanne Bailey,C.N.M., Ph.D., of the U-M Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Bailey says one reason many women seeking natural births are considering doing it in a hospital, because most health insurances will not cover a home birth, but will cover costs of a natural hospital birth.

Also, Bailey says having the support of a hospital setting in case something goes wrong can allay a lot of fears.

It’s important to encourage more women to consider natural births, Bailey says. Currently about one-third of births nationwide are done by C-sections. C-sections often aren’t as safe as natural births, and usually are more costly.

“For essentially healthy women, keeping interventions to a minimum is healthier for both mom and baby. The perception is a hospital birth is more interventive and more medicalized, but we want all women to have access to a natural birth and a wide range of options,” Bailey says.

“We know almost one-third of women are giving birth by C-section. Promoting natural hospital birth is a way to counteract that trend.”

For Naber, the hospital setting was an advantage. For her older son, she also had a natural childbirth plan in the hospital, but the baby’s heart rate began dropping. Doctors did end up assisting her and both she and her baby were fine. “In that case, I was kind of relieved I was in the hospital,” she says.

On March 24, the event begins with a talk from the author, Cynthia Gabriel, followed by a panel discussion featuring Bailey and Carrie Bell, M.D., clinical assistant professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at U-M; along with others. Vistiors can tour the new Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital Birth Center following the presentations. The event begins in the 12th floor conference room of the hospital.

The presentation also can be watched live online at

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