Home Birth Reference Site

Practical Preparation for Home Birth

This page looks at practical preparation which mothers and birth partners can do before labour starts. The mother could also give her birth partner an information sheet, a bit like a birth plan, with jobs for him/her to do on it.

Equipment and 'props' mentioned here and elsewhere are noted in 'shopping list' format on the Home Birth Equipment page.

More suggestions from midwife Mary Cronk are on a separate page, together with a list of the equipment which Mary takes to births.

The labour:

Read up on tricks to try in labour if things are not progressing as you want them to, and let your birth partner know where to look for ideas on the day. It's no use the mother having read about every trick in the trade if she forgets it on the day, and her birth partner doesn't know where to go for more information. Ideally you will have discussed with your midwife techniques which might help in certain circumstances, but this is not always possible. Good books to have on hand: New Active Birth by Janet Balaskas, Home Birth by Sheila Kitzinger. The Midwife Archives website has lots of ideas on it too, if the birth partner can get access to a computer during the labour.

If you're planning on using a birth ball, practise some moves beforehand so you have more in your portfolio of labour management techniques. Links for more ideas on the use of these before and during labour: Birth Ball Uses by Connie Banack, Having a Ball by Kelly Burgess, Doula Lorie, Using a Birth Ball by Angela England


If you would like to have music playing during the labour, provide your birth partner with a playlist and make sure he/she knows where you keep your collection. You could also compile a tape of your favourites during your pregnancy, and perhaps practise relaxing to them, or practise movements that might be helpful in labour - eg leaning against a wall swaying your hips, on all fours moving your hips in circles. Using the same tape in labour might help you to relax.

If you're going to have music during your labour, choose your tracks carefully. If your favourite song makes you feel fired up or arouses strong emotions, maybe this isn't the time to play it. Some people are affected more strongly by music than others; if you feel an adrenaline surge when you listen to Alice Cooper, perhaps he should stay off the playlist!

Complementary Therapies

If you think you might like to use complementary therapies during your labour, you will need to plan ahead to make sure that the materials you need are available just in case you decide to use them. You will then at least have the option. Please note that I am not endorsing or recommending any complementary therapy - simply mentioning some that others have found useful.

If you are interested in aromatherapy, herbal or homeopathic remedies for specific labour circumstances, make sure you have them all to hand - otherwise you may end up sending your birth partner out to scour the shops when you are in labour! Some of the remedies can be hard to buy in the high street so may need to be ordered in advance from specialists. You might also want to mention in your birth plan that you are considering using these substances.

For example, if you want to use aromatherapy, show your birth partner where the oils are and give instructions beforehand for massage oils to be made up, or for oils to be put in a burner or in the birth pool.

Accupressure bands apparently help some women who feel nauseous in labour - available as travel sickness aids from most pharmacies.

Emergency Bag

If you are comfortable with this idea, you could pack an emergency hospital bag in case you transfer. See 'Transferring from a Home Birth' for more information, but the bag could include: disposable pants, maternity sanitary pads, T-shirt or nightdress, phonecard, cash, babygros, newborn nappies, cartons of juice, glucose tablets, camera and film... just the same as the bag for a standard hospital birth, really. The chances are that you will give birth at home as planned, but your effort won't have been wasted as you will then have all these things to hand in one place anyway!

Food and Drink

You might want to eat and drink during the labour. Bendy straws are invaluable for sipping drinks held by your birth companions, as you might not want to move your head to drink. Spillproof toddler drinking cups could be helpful too. Many sources recommend energy-giving drinks such as fruit juice and water, with perhaps glucose tablets for tiring mothers. I loved drinking warm water with honey and lemon juice. Others prefer to stick to plain water. If you want food, eat it - and if there's anything you think you might fancy, have it nearby. Ice lollies perhaps?

Birth partners, children and midwives will also probably want feeding and watering at some stage during the labour.

Birth Companions

Do you have other children who may be present at the birth? See Children and Home Birth for more info. If there is a chance that your other child(ren) will be present, try to have another adult there who can look after them. Brief this person beforehand on things to do or places to go if the children need to be distracted, or if you do not feel comfortable having them there.

Regardless of where they give birth, many families like to have a gift ready for the new baby to give to its older siblings.

Some women have birth assistants with particular skills, eg a doula (dedicated labour companion), or perhaps their antenatal teacher, active birth teacher, acupuncturist, hypnotist, or other therapist. If you might want to have one of these people 'on-call', arrange with them well beforehand.

If you are hiring a birth pool:

Do have a practise run assembling and filling the pool before labour. You know you should do this... but lots of people don't. I didn't! Check you have the right adaptors to fill the pool from your taps. You could leave the pool assembled but unfilled to save time if you want. If the pool has to be assembled when you are in labour, then the mother, her birth partner, or both, will have to concentrate on that for a while, rather than just on the labour.

Splashes around the pool are inevitable. A large tarpaulin placed underneath it before assembly will save your flooring. Be careful about siting the pool on a surface that will become slippery when wet, eg tiles or wooden floors. Have other tarpaulins or old sheets available in case the baby is born outside the pool.

Have lots of towels nearby for when Mum wants to get out of the pool. If she spends time in the pool on her knees or hands and knees, a folded up towel or large piece of sponge in the pool to kneel on will make her more comfortable.

Mirrors are often recommended for waterbirth - both for the mother and the midwife to use. The Howes Birth Mirror has been developed by UK homebirth midwife Virginia Howes specifically for this purpose.

The pool temperature must be comfortable for the mother. You will probably want a cooler temperature during the first stage of labour, and warmer - nearer blood temperature perhaps - for the second stage. In the first stage of labour your muscles will be working hard, and you could think of this bit as a long-distance run - if the water's too hot, you could feel sick or tired. Imagine running a half-marathon in temperatures around 98F/37C!

In the second stage most women like the water to be quite warm - it then acts like a heat pack or compress on your back and tummy, and particularly on your perineum where it does the same job as the traditional midwife's hot compresses. Think about how you will warm the water if necessary. Even if the pool comes with a heater, this will not normally work as quickly as simply tipping in a few buckets of hot water.

If the baby might be born into the water, it should be fairly warm - although you could of course get out immediately after the birth.

Bear in mind that, on the day, you just may not feel like using the pool at all, or you may use it but not find it helpful. It's still a good option to have though... just in case. Many women find birth pools invaluable.

For more on birth pools, including hire and suppliers, birth stories, etc, see the page on Waterbirth at Home.

Pain relief:

See Pain Relief at Home for some of your options. On the day, you simply may not fancy a particular pain relief method, no matter how good an idea it seemed beforehand, so it is sensible to have alternatives available. For example, you could have a birth pool, but also practise active birth movements out of water. You might have a TENS machine and also a stock of 'alternative' remedies.

Whatever methods you think you might use, make sure you have all the equipment you need. If using TENS, have batteries of the correct size available.

The birth:

Tarpaulins or old sheets can save your carpets or bedclothes, wherever you labour or give birth ... your birth partner needs to know where these are. If you are worried about mess, see Blood on the Carpet - just how messy are home births, and how DO you rescue the carpets?

Does a birth stool appeal? You can hire these, just like a birth pool, and they come complete with bowls to catch everything apart from the baby... suppliers change regularly so do a web search for 'birth stool hire uk'. Many independent midwives have birth stools or can advise you where to get them.

Have a hand mirror available in case you want to see the baby's head as it crowns.

Do you want the baby to be born into a certain atmosphere? If you want specific music, candles, dimmed lights etc, then your birth partner needs to know what you want and where the equipment is.

Third Stage:

Decide how you would like to manage the third stage, and make this clear on your birth plan. An actively managed third stage, where drugs are given to speed up delivery of the placenta, is routine in many areas. There are risks and benefits to both actively managed and 'natural' or 'physiological' third stages, and the decision of which to choose is entirely yours.

A natural third stage may take longer than a managed one, but at home this does not matter so much as perhaps it does in a hospital, where you may be keen to get out of the delivery room ASAP! It carries less risk of nausea, headaches, trapped placenta, and blood pressure problems, but a greater risk of bleeding. For more discussion of the issues, see 'The Third Stage of Labour - Choosing between active and physiological management'.

If you do not want to have drugs for the third stage, you should make this clear as often they are given automatically during or immediately after the birth.

If you want to keep the placenta, it will need to go in the fridge or freezer as they go off quickly! Rinsing it in water will also help to stop it going off. You should also let the midwife know if you want to keep the placenta - include it in your birth plan - otherwise she may dispose of it for you.

Care of the baby:

Have you decided whether your baby will have Vitamin K after the birth? This injection is given to guard against haemorrhagic disease of the newborn (HDN). The condition is very rare, but it causes death or serious injury in approx. 1 in 10,000 babies. It is largely preventable by an injection of vitamin K soon after birth, but some parents choose not to have this as they are concerned about possible side-effects of the procedure, or they think that low vitamin K levels in newborns are perhaps there for a good reason, or they simply do not want their baby subjected to an intramuscular injection soon after birth.

For more details, see the Vitamin K discussions from the Association of Radical Midwives.

An alternative of vitamin K drops is available, but this can be hard to administer correctly, and may not be as effective as the injection.The decision of whether your baby should have the injection, drops, or neither is entirely up to you, but you should make your wishes known as the injection is routine in many areas and thus may be given automatically unless you specify otherwise. Put your wishes on your birth plan to make sure they are known.

Have clothes or towels and nappies to hand. You don't need to put clothes on the baby of course - some prefer to keep the house warm and snuggle the baby up to mum under a towel, to maximise skin-to-skin contact. You will need cotton wool or flannels for when the baby passes its meconium (first bowel movement). This stuff is like tar! Many mothers like to use just water on newborns' skin at first, avoiding baby wipes, baby baths and toiletries like soap or lotion. Babies do not need any toiletries on their skin, and by using them on a newborn you do run the risk of sensitising the baby, with resulting allergies.

Postnatal Care

Hypercal ointment (Hypericum and Calendula) is a soothing cream that you can buy at most health food stores and pharmacies, eg Boots in the UK. It is wonderful for a sore perineum!

Find out the phone numbers of local breastfeeding counsellors in advance, from La Leche League International, La Leche League Great Britain, or the National Childbirth Trust for example, and made sure that your birth partner knows where these numbers are, in case you need to call for help.

Counsellors from these organisations are volunteers who will not attempt to judge your method of infant feeding, or to persuade you to do something you are not happy with. They will not touch your breasts or attempt to force your baby to feed. Instead, they offer information to help you solve your own breastfeeding problems, and to make informed choices. Their training is normally far more comprehensive than that given to most health visitors and midwives, so they may be able to offer you a new perspective on any breastfeeding concerns you have.

Equipment and 'props' mentioned here and elsewhere are noted in 'shopping list' format on the Home Birth Equipment page.

More suggestions from midwife Mary Cronk are on a separate page, together with a list of the equipment which Mary takes to births.

You might also find the pages on Home Birth Plans and Antenatal Preparation for Home Birth interesting.


This page updated 14 July 2004.

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