Book Review: Natural Hospital Birth: The Best of Both Worlds

Natural Hospital Birth: The Best of Both Worlds

by Cynthia Gabriel


This is the essential book for families desiring a natural birth in the hospital. It informs readers of everything I wish I had to time to review with my doula clients. It does not scare or shame parents about their birth environment choice, instead gently and honestly reveals what you can expect when you arrive at the hospital and how to prepare yourself & your birth team to maximize your chances of a natural birth. Gabriel manages to cover the normal birth preparation topics such as stages of labor, pain coping techniques, & birth stories clearly and yet differently than any other author before her. Additionally she includes in-depth examples of what birth teams can say to tired, frustrated mothers during birth & what to say to hospital staff encouraging interventions. This review will cover a few of the books’ highlights.

Finding out how your care provider really feels about natural childbirth & if they will support you

Gabriel suggests these 5 questions to learn about your providers’ attitudes about natural birth. She goes on to unpack possible answers and points out red flags that may not be obvious to parents who aren’t birth nerds.

  • Can you tell me what kind of birth you chose for yourself (or what kind your wife chose), and what did you learn from it?
  • Can you tell me about the most recent natural birth you attended?
  • In your opinion, what helps omen achieve natural birth? What can a woman do to prepare?
  • In your professional opinion, what are the main reasons that women who want natural births do not have them?
  • What do you think birth pain means to women? What is the value of birth pain?


Inductions, Large Babies, & How women describe labor pain in natural childbirth

Interventions, drugs or the unplanned, unwanted cesarean birth is the fear that lurks in the back the mind of most women desiring a natural birth but who are the in hospital. As a doula myself I witness three of the most common reasons that natural births transition to medicated or surgical births: inductions, ‘large babies’, and pain.

A woman being induced and hoping for a natural birth has a long, difficult road ahead of her. A natural birth is still possible with the right baby, the right body, and the right birth team. “Almost 40 percent of American have inductions. Yet about a third of all inductions do not work.” I hadn’t realized inductions numbers are that high or that they are so often unsuccessful. It makes sense to me though, birth is a dance between the mother and the baby, it’s impossible for the dance to begin unless both partners are ready.

I wish I could openly roll my eyes when an OB tells a woman, “Your baby may be too big to come through your birth canal. Look at how tall your husband is! And you know we let you go until almost 42 weeks, babies really grow in those last few days.” Or I wish I was in a position to say, “Deformed pelvic bones were much more common is the 1700s, when our foremothers suffered from vitamin deficiencies. Most North American girls today get enough calcium and vitamin D to prevent rickets, the most common cause of pelvic bone deformity, so it is now extremely rare to find a pelvis that not able to birth a baby.”

Gabriel points out that most of the time the ‘large baby’ excuse is used to convince a family to agree to a surgical birth the problem is the position of the baby. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen many OB’s work with women on the position of the baby, this is where having a good doula and following the authors’ advice of ‘Eat, Cry, and Move’ can come in handy.

Pain is often a huge factor when births shift towards medication. The author sites her own research in the United States & Russia about pain intensity levels, the percent of women who experience them, and possible reasons and connected factors. According to Gabriel 85-96 percent of women report that labor “pain is intense and requires effort (usually, a focus on breathing and relaxing) to get through. Most would agree that labor has been their most painful physical experience. Many compare it to running a marathon.” The good news is only 1-5 percent (the number jumps appreciably if labor is induced) described labor as, “Excruciating, unbearable pain.” The important message here is: labor is hard, AND you can do it, here is the proof.


Eat, Cry & Move

Labor is not a straight line from first contraction to birth. While each and every contraction is indeed helping to prepare your body, it is possible for your cervix to open and close and open again. Contractions may increase or decrease in frequency and duration. Labor may ‘plateau’, the author recommends to Eat, Cry, & Move if this should happen because each of those activities helps to change physical, emotional and baby caused plateaus. ‘Cry’ is short hand for emotional release; which could be laughing or screaming if that is what feels right.

I appreciate that Gabriel suggests eating. While most hospitals don’t allow women to eat once active labor has begun it is unfortunate because I have seen eating give a woman the energy she needs to get through a difficult stage of labor.


Distinguishing Emergencies from Non-Emergencies

A primary difficultly of birthing in the hospital is keeping your calm. “Much of today’s medicine is about evaluating risk, so even normal labors are continuously assessed as potentially hazardous.” The language, attitude, and experience of hospital staff is that danger could always be just around the corner. Part of this is because the hospital is not designed for natural birth, the staff are not trained for a natural birth, design and training is focused around responding when something goes awry, this is why you’ve chosen the hospital.

Nurturing the calm and reassuring atmosphere women laboring naturally need is not the strength of your hospital team. You must be prepared to maintain your relaxation and trust the process while staff around you has some fear in their bodies.

No one said birthing is easy! In a true emergency you will know, otherwise assume the tasks of the staff are not connected to an emergency.

Finally I’ll leave you with one of the most poignant parts of Natural Hospital Birth, Gabriel discusses her experience of relaxation during childbirth:

“The only way I know to get though labor pain is to surrender to it. Achieving surrender is the hardest part. When you feel overwhelmed by contractions you have not yet surrendered. Your are in pre-surrender. A miracle happens in the instant that you yield. Labor stops feeling so hard. You stop feeling overwhelmed. As soon as you accept that labor is overwhelming, it ceases to be so. Relaxing during painful contractions changes the feelings of those contractions. This is just one of life’s paradoxes”.

Prenatal Upper Body Conditioning

Upper Body Strength, It’s Everyone’s Problem

I’m calling this a prenatal workout but really anyone who sits at a desk or has neck and shoulder pain will benefit from this workout. It is important, particularly if you are planning to breastfeed, to have your shoulders strong before birth. Think about it, how often do you carry around 10lbs of wiggling weight with you everywhere?

Post Partum Pain

The number one area of pain for post partum mom’s is their shoulders, their whole chest almost caves in from holding baby all day. Nighttime feeding is really where good ergonomics falls apart, and rightly so, get as much sleep as you can! However, it can be hard to get back into good ergonomics in the morning. However 10 minutes daily for 7 or 8 months will change your posture and give you a good foundation for strength.

Do It!

If you don’t have weights grab a water bottle or some canned food! I really like resistance bands because they fit in a drawer. Also, if you don’t have a balance ball this can be done in a chair. Although I recommend having a ball for stretching, ergonomics, bouncing baby to sleep and being playful!



Coming next: Lower Body Conditioning…

Birth Doula


Birth Doula Services

I wholeheartedly recommend Saralynn to anyone looking for a doula. Having her there to support us, allowed us to be assured and more relaxed during such a wondrous and life-changing experience.

Julie M.

I have attended over 80 births as a doula and midwive’s assistant at hospital, home, and birth centers.

 My practice is guided by two core principles, that all families deserve evidence based care and that every birth is sacred.

I have great relationships with nurses and providers at Cottage Hospital, Community Memorial Hospital, and the Santa Barbara Birth Center. I offer placenta encapsulation, breastfeeding education, and postpartum support to my birth doula families. Depending on my availability I am sometimes able to extend these services to other families.

Check my Availability for your Due Date

Call, email or text today to set up your birth doula consultation

Complete Birth Services Package

Complimentary Consultation

Two 3 hour Prenatal Appointments

90 minute Prenatal Massage

24 hour support from week 38 until you deliver

Continuous Labor Support

1 Postpartum Visit

$12500 (sliding scale available)

Fee Structure

I work on an upward sliding scale. I collect a $600 deposit when we sign the contract. I collect $650 by week 36. The remainder of my fee is optional; it can be paid at our final postpartum visit. It is based on your family’s satisfaction with my services and financial resources.  

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Doula Policies

As a doula I……

  • Provide physical comfort, emotional support, and information to mothers & their partners emotionally before, during, and after birth
  • Provide information and identify when you make choices not on your birth plan
  • Facilitate conversations between you and your medical providers
 Do Not
  • Provide any medical monitoring or clinical tasks
  • Make decisions for you
  • Speak for you or on your behalf to medical providers
  • Provide primary childcare to other children at your birth


Birth Services

 Birth Doula Services 

 All Birth Doula Packages include the following services:

Complementary Interview

This is an opportunity for us to learn more about each other. I am interested in your vision for your birth and any plans you’ve already made for birth. You are welcome to ask me any questions about my experiences. This is a good time to bring any concerns you have about birth up so we can make sure we are a good fit.

If you choose to have me as your doula I ask that you wait a day after our interview to contact me so you have a chance to think about your decision. I ask for a $400 deposit by check within 5 business days after I’ve put your birth on my calendar. This will be subtracted from your balance due.

Prenatal Visits

Each prenatal visit is about an hour long. At the first visit we talk about how your pregnancy is going, the elements of a birth plan, your experience and expectations of pregnancy and birth. I can provide referrals to community resources and suggest ways to be more comfortable during pregnancy. I am interested in learning about your process towards parenthood and your philosophy about birth. I have recorded a guided mediation that I email to you at this point. The meditation helps to establish a familiarity with deep relaxation & my voice. Many of my clients have found it to be very useful.

At the second visit we review your Birth Plan, review labor comfort measures, birth bag contents, look ahead to your postpartum support network and answer any lingering questions you might have. This second visit should happen at least 2 weeks before your due date.

Finally, if two prenatal meetings is not enough to establish a good connection and prepare you for birth I will meet with you until we all feel ready for your birth. Each mother, family, & birth is unique and needs unique support.

Telephone Support

I am available by telephone and email throughout your pregnancy to answer questions, provide support, and adjust our plans. It is very helpful to touch base weekly in the last few weeks of your pregnancy.


Labor & Birth

I ask clients to call me as soon as they know they are in labor, this helps me to best prepare for when you need me. I am available to begin supporting when you feel you want me there; this is different for every woman. I will make every effort to be by your side within an hour of notification. Once I arrive I will be with you until two hours after birth. During labor and birth I will set up the birth room, help you to reduce your pain and be as physically comfortable as possible using the techniques I’ve been trained in, explain the pro’s and con’s of procedures, hold space for the energy of your birth and assist with breastfeeding initiation. I offer massage therapy, essential oils, guided meditation, & unconditional support to your birth process.

What Doulas Do

Postpartum Visits

Each postpartum visit is about an hour long. At the first visit, on the second or third day after birth, we check in about how things are going at home especially how well Baby is eating, sleeping and digesting. We check in about how Mamma is recovering and that your support network is working. If you are having your placenta encapsulated I will deliver them to you at this visit. I will also call to check in on your first or second day home after birth.

At the second visit, about 2 or 3 weeks after birth, we have an opportunity check in on Baby and Family, to process the birth, hear your birth story and say good-bye for now.