Merck Manual

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Quick Facts

Overview of Childbirth


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Oct 2020| Content last modified Oct 2020
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NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
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Childbirth is having a baby. It starts when you go into labor and goes through delivering your baby and finally delivering the afterbirth (the placenta).

What decisions do I have to make about childbirth?

Before having your baby, decide:

  • Who you want with you

  • Where you want to have your baby

  • What kind of pain relief you might want during labor

Who should be with me?

It can help to have someone other than medical professionals with you during childbirth. Having the baby's father or another partner is common. Many partners find that being at the birth strengthens their bond with the mother and baby. But any support person can provide encouragement and emotional support and help you relax.

It's also okay if you want to be alone. And a partner who isn't comfortable being at a childbirth shouldn't be forced to attend.

Where should I have my baby?

You can have your baby in a:

  • Hospital

  • Independent birthing center

  • Home

Hospitals are where most women in the United States have their babies. A hospital may not seem like a comfortable place. But they have the doctors, nurses, and equipment to take care of any unexpected problems you or your baby might have.

A birthing center is a medical facility that has a more homelike environment than a hospital. It may allow more flexibility (such as allowing visitors at all times or letting you go home sooner). Some birthing centers are in hospitals. Other birthing centers are separate facilities that have arrangements with nearby hospitals to handle any complications.

Home birth isn't usually recommended. Although most births have no problems, even healthy women at full term can have sudden, serious problems that no one can predict. Many of these problems are hard to treat at home and can put your baby's health at risk.

How should I prepare for childbirth?

Most childbirth follows a similar pattern. To learn what to expect in a typical birth, you might:

  • Take a childbirth class, either alone or with your partner

  • Read about childbirth (your doctor or nurse can suggest good books)

  • Talk to other women who've given birth

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
Click here for the Professional Version

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