Is home birth really messy? And what if you DO get blood on the carpet?
When planning a home birth, you are guaranteed to hear the following:
The rest of this website should give you plenty of ammunition for the first question, and as for the second... it's even less of an issue. Below are some comments on how messy home birth was for members of the Homebirth UK email group, followed by practical tips for removing bloodstains from carpets, just in case...
Virginia Howes and Kay Hardie of Kent Midwifery Practice say:
We find that birth isn't messy actually, but perhaps that's because as midwives we have seen so many births! Provided there is adequate protective covering, everything can be folded up and put into a dustbin sack and you'd never have known a baby had been born. So many of our clients comment afterwards that they are so pleased that the carpets are clean!
Mess - there wasn't any. We had a sheet of plastic to cover carpet and a waterproof sheet on the bed. The midwives brought inco (incontinence) pads, bin bags, sharps pot and a tub for the placenta. The room was a bit cold when Isobel was born and we wrapped her in all the old towels we could find, so these needed washing. As did the bottom sheet from the bed. Neither any problem with modern bio washing liquid!
Midwives wouldn't go until the place was tidy and insisted on changing the bed, which was a slight pain because I was in the bath and I'd lost the spare bed sheet. My husband never has a clue where things are, he can't keep track of his own clothes let alone any other laundry!
I had a homebirth followed by a retained placenta and had to be taken into hospital. My husband and I left together, leaving the midwives in the house with my mother. When we returned there was no sign that I had given birth in the house (other than our beautiful babi!) and my mother assures us that she certainly did not 'clean up'.
We were showed a video of a homebirth in 'parentcraft' classes of a woman giving birth with newspaper spread on the floor, and were warned that we should cover our carpets etc. - we pointed out we've got stripped floorboards and the midwife pulled a face and said 'ooh you don't want the blood going down between them' :-( I think that video and the midwife's attitude are the sort of things that perpetuate the 'messy myth'.
I've had two home births. Both babies were born in birth pools - not by design, just because it felt nice and I wasn't getting out without good reason. I put a tarpaulin under the birth pool, to protect against leaks and to give me a large waterproof mat to step on all around it. First time around, the pool water was a bit mucky after the birth, as I'd torn. I simply climbed out of the pool, and sat on a towel on the bed. There were a few splashes of blood on the tarpaulin where I climbed out.
Later I sat on the bidet to deliver the placenta and a few tiny splashes made their way to the bathroom wall - easily wiped off. We pumped the pool water out into the bath, where it drained away, and that was that.
Second time around was even tidier. In the sitting room, birth pool & tarpaulin again (in between, my best mate had given birth on the same tarpaulin twice - once in a birth pool, and once directly onto it! The good thing about a tarpaulin is you can just hose it down outside.).
I found it helped having several old bathmats on the floor near the birthpool, so that if I wanted to step off the tarpaulin, there was something soft, non-slip and washable there. That stopped water getting spread around and was also good for catching drips of blood etc..
I managed to resist any voluntary pushing at all, and did not tear this time (although it seemed to take forever for the baby's head to be born!). The water was lovely and clear, and there was no blood to get splashed anywhere. I climbed out again, and sat on a towel on the sofa, then squatted on the floor to deliver the placenta into a bowl. No splashes, no mess - nothing except a bit of blood on the towel, and that came out in the wash.
I gave birth in the lounge where we have pale yellow sofas (good match for baby sick). I had a birthing pool, which did admittedly end up pretty yucky, but I was only in there for about 20-30 mins. Process very quick this time, midwife got me in the pool just after she arrived. I was managing contractions OK leaning on Pezzi ball while DH (my husband) filled the pool). DH emptied it with the pump provided the following day. My three-year-old helped, so he obviously didn't think it was too bad.
I had a couple of plastic sheets covering the carpet. The midwives had loads of inco (incontinence) pads, which were used when I got out to deliver the placenta. The midwives cleared up all the mess in the lounge while I went with the student for a bath upstairs. Dh was impressed! They left more inco pads for me to use, which I never managed to get through. No blood etc on sofas or carpet.
Using my own bath, shower and toilet, only shared with dh was another reason (of many) for a home birth. I am not fanatical about cleanliness, but I prefer my own germs! Especially for my newborn.
My experiences, briefly...first homebirth, 2 hour labour, waters broke in bathroom, I delivered on couch in living room, big absorbent pad under me, no mess whatsoever. Bit of blood round the tub after I had a post-partum bath, but one of the midwives cleaned the bath before she left.
Second homebirth, 12-15 hour labour. I delivered on my knees leaning forwards over a chair in the living room. Waters broke there too. Small amount of very slightly bloodstained fluid on the floor under me. My mother wiped it with a damp cloth an hour later, & left it to dry...nothing visible the following day.
Heck, I've made more of a mess making dinner :-)
Emily says: "The midwives left less than an hour after they arrived, after leaving the house spotless for me!... By 6.00pm I had had a bath, baby was sleeping and I was enjoying a salad. Being in my own house was the loveliest thing ever."
"There was a bit of mess to deal with, but one load of washing dealt with that and nothing was ruined that mattered."
Pete said the place looked like an abattoir, but it felt pretty cosy to me as I cuddled Zoe - and the midwives did a great job of clearing everything away, once we had all had a very good look at the afterbirth!
Rosie Taylor's husband wasn't keen on her homebirth plans at first: "I think he had visions of blood up the walls and having all sorts of unthinkable 'bits' to clear up afterwards!" In the event, " There was a huge mound of towels left by the washing machine. The midwives did a pretty good job of tidying as much as they could, but they didn't empty the pool - DH got to do that later in the day.". Glad to hear DH didn't escape scot-free!
Charlie Paris writes: 'I told J that I thought I'd just delivered the placenta (I wasn't actually sure!) he said I had, so I turned round to see it roll off the towels and onto the carpet, which is ruined (insurance man has since been round to inspect the damage so we're getting a new carpet for free!!!)'
Charlie sounds so pleased with the new carpet being free that I would feel mean even suggesting she tries hydrogen peroxide on the old one ;-)
Virginia Howes, an independent midwife in Kent, remembers one birth with evident anxiety:
I have a funny story about mess.....I had been called to a client having her 2nd baby. When I arrived at 11pm she was pacing the floor but was calm and relaxed. She did not appear to be in active labour and knew it herself. She apologised for calling me too early and asked if I minded going upstairs for a sleep as she preferred to be alone. This is really common and lots of women benefit from being alone as long as they feel someone is close by should she need them. I was more than happy to oblige and told her to call as soon as she needed me.
At 3am a knock on the door woke me up and the client's partner ask me to come downstairs. I walked into a dimly lit room and found the woman crooning and now in obvious labour. A big sheet covered the floor. Very soon a big contraction caused a rupture of membranes and lovely clear water cascaded out. The woman crouched onto the floor and there, not too soon after, birthed her beautiful baby. I helped her get sorted with the placenta etc and finally settled her down on the sofa with her baby to have a lovely breast feed. I then began to clear up....... but.... oh my goodness!!!!!!! As I began to roll up the sheet from the floor I realised there was not any plastic beneath it!!! I looked up at the client's partner in horror.......
As I was asleep, he had been given the task of going to the cupboard where the woman had stored all her bits and pieces ready for the birth. However, even though she told him there was some plastic sheeting there too, he had not heard her instruction and had only put down a large cotton sheet. I had no reason to check the preparation area - in fact there was hardly the time to anyway. All the birth blood and water had soaked through and not only was it covering the lovely cream carpet but it was also on the Chinese rug which was in the middle of the floor.
I began to clean it up. I am sure all midwives are the same, but I pride myself that when I leave a homebirth there are only memories and photos to prove a baby has been born. I clean and scrub any birth stains till none are there. I have scrubbed many a blood spot off of carpets and I am an expert at cleaning toilets, but this was beyond me.... THEN to make things worse the partner, thinking he was helping, came in and dumped a bowl full of water on the bloodstain!!! Oh No!!! That just made it much worse as the diluted pink stain just spread further across the room.......
Luckily for them the family had contents insurance which covered against spillage and they got new carpets and a new rug. Lucky for me I have a funny story to tell and a lesson learned......You may like to think about getting a birth box ready......if this client had taken my advice it would have been obvious that the plastic sheet was still in the box and therefore not protecting the carpet as it should.
Virginia Howes - Kent Midwifery Practice
According to the Stainbusters Bible by Don Aslett, bloodstains should be blotted while still wet, then sponged with COLD water. Keep the stain wet until you have dealt with it, as dry blood is harder to remove.
What if you can't deal with the stain until it's already dry? Hopefully you will be too busy with your newborn baby to worry about sponging carpets, but just in case nobody else does the cleaning for you, there is a midwives' trick which you can use to remove dried blood from carpets.
Midwives in the know take Hydrogen Peroxide with them to home births. This substance can be bought cheaply at any pharmacy. It is often used to clean out cuts, or in stronger solutions to bleach hair. Pharmacies normally sell it in 5% solutions, which will not bleach most carpets if used carefully, but test first on an inconspicuous patch to make sure.
Simply pour the solution on the carpet, and it will bubble and fizz as it removes the blood. Blot with a damp cloth, and continue applying solution and blotting until the stain has gone.
For lots of other practical tips on all aspects of planning a home birth, see Practical Preparation for Home Birth.
This page updated 2 November 2008
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