You've Got The Power

There's more than one way to give birth. Here's how to increase your odds of having the delivery you want.

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Fifteen years ago, if you told your friends and family that you hoped to deliver your baby in a birthing tub with a midwife and doula in attendance, they might've looked at you as if you were speaking Vulcan. And if you told them you wanted an elective Cesarean section, they might have gasped, "Is that legal?"

Today, these choices may still raise an eyebrow or two, but thanks to increasing awareness about childbirth options, more and more women are realizing there isn't one "right" way to have a baby. And when expecting moms figure out what will make them feel most safe and most empowered during labor, chances are their friends will say, "Oh, I read about that on the Web" or "Cool, my cousin did the same thing."

Something for everyone

The landscape of childbirth has seen enormous changes over the past decade and a half. Granted, some of the changes are unsettling: The C-section rate is soaring (approximately 1 in 3 women in the U.S. will now deliver this way), as the rate of vaginal births after C-section plummets and the number of inductions climbs.

But here's the good news: If you want a natural, unmedicated birth, there are plenty of people who can help you achieve your goal. Midwives now attend around 8 percent of all U.S. births, and the number of certified doulas, who provide continuous emotional support throughout labor, has tripled since 1992.

If you prefer a medicated birth, you'll be happy to know the technology to ease the pain of labor improves every day. "Two significant changes are that the amount of medication administered in the epidural has been dramatically lowered, and the option of patient-controlled epidural analgesia have been introduced," explains William Camann, M.D., a co-author of Easy Labor: Every Woman's Guide to Choosing Less Pain and More Joy During Childbirth (Ballantine Books). "With lower-dose epidurals, most women have some feeling with contractions, and they are able to move their legs, which assists with pushing and allows more emotional involvement with the delivery."

Perhaps the most significant change in childbirth has nothing to do with needles, midwives or inductions. Thanks to the Internet, you can not only find out where to rent a birthing tub or look up the difference between an epidural and spinal, but it's possible for a woman in Kentucky to chat with a woman in Miami about how to deal with the pain of early labor or how to get those pushy in-laws out of the delivery room. The global community has provided more information, more access to resources and—most important—more mom-to-mom support.

Even with these strides, childbirth is not something you can completely control. But you can up your odds of having the most satisfying birth experience by taking these steps:

1. Do your homework Spend some time figuring out what is most important for you in labor. Do you want to move around? Do you want friends and family in the room with you? Is pain relief your top priority? Then, grill your doctor, midwife or birth center about anything that might concern you, especially their C-section rate, their feelings about inductions and alternative forms of pain relief, and how long they will allow you to labor before insisting on interventions. If you are uncomfortable with their responses, look for someone else.

2. Prepare like you're running a marathon Get your support team on board: Who will stay with you in the early stages of labor; who will be with you in the birth room; who will help you at home afterward. If you hope to have a natural birth, take classes on pain-control methods. Talk to women who have had positive experiences and ask their advice. And no matter what your birth plan is, read at least one chapter of one book about C-sections, because even if you try everything possible to avoid one, there is a chance you will have one.

3. Let it go Hopefully, you will have a happy, healthy birth experience. But if it doesn't go quite as planned, know that it isn't your fault. So go ahead and enjoy the best part of childbirth: becoming a mom.

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