Natalie Meddings. Eynham Press, 2017. 389 pages. £16.99 (pbk). ISBN: 978-1527207363
Review by Rebekah Wells, Maternity Nurse and former NHS Midwife, London and the South East.
Pregnancy, birth and the postnatal period are nothing if not fraught with advice and guidance from a plethora of sources. Is it helpful then to suggest another resource for the pregnant woman? In the case of How to have a baby, yes. This is perhaps the most positive pregnancy and birth book I have ever encountered – inspiring and empowering, it is both commanding and comforting in equal measure.
Natalie Meddings is a (currently practising) birth and postnatal doula with a passion for enhancing the experience of birth and for reducing the all-too-common fear surrounding childbirth. This book is unapologetically pro-normal birth, though reassuringly sensible in its acknowledgment that birth is not without risk and nor does it always go smoothly.
What she manages to do from the outset is emphasise that birth is normal – physiologically there is no denying that women’s bodies are designed to grow, birth and feed babies. Natalie reminds the reader of this, almost poetically, on every page.
The book is laid out in three parts: preparing and pregnancy; labour and birth; and newborns and first days, with each part broken down into mini-chapters that have a specific focus. Its construction and tone make it easy to read, either cover-to-cover or as a reference companion from conception onwards.
As a compendium of advice, How to have a baby is subtitled as ‘mother-gathered guidance’ and never attempts to be anything other than that. However Meddings, a graduate and experienced journalist, has created a book that is not only an eloquent weave of words but references a variety of sources, including the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidelines and Cochrane reviews.
Actions and attitudes of a pronormal birth approach have a tendency to get lost in negative press – positive birth stories translated as a slight on those having medical births; near misses or critical incidents arising from midwives aiming for normal birth ‘at any cost’ (NHS England 2016:31) or natural approaches berated in the media for being hippyish. However, despite a strong leaning towards ‘normal’ How to have a baby is not about forcing, or even encouraging, women to have a spontaneous vaginal birth. It is about informing them that, in the vast majority of cases, it is an option. Health professionals working with women during the pregnancy, birth and postnatal periods may balk at the earthy simplicity of the message in this book.
Perhaps because all too often the companion challenge for birth professionals is to console women and families for whom the experience did not go ‘right’. But the overarching message of this book is two-fold – enabling normal birth where possible and empowering women as individuals to have the best experience they can – both of which are pivotal messages within the Implementing better births document (NHS England 2017).
How to have a baby is a refreshingly positive book. It has the capacity to empower women and their partners in navigating their unique pregnancy and birth experiences. It has the power to inspire student midwives with the potential for normal birth, and their ability to support women through the childbirth experience. It has the certainty to reinvigorate in midwives the belief in women’s ability to birth spontaneously and the significance of their role in the process. The calm, confident and compelling message throughout is one that undoubtedly could have an impact on both professionals in the maternity service and the service users themselves – How to have a baby represents an opportunity to contribute to informed choice which ultimately is the key to individualised care. Pregnancy, childbirth and the early days of parenthood don’t come with a manual, but this offering from Meddings could prove to be just the maternity mascot mothers-to-be and their partners are looking for.
NHS England (2016). Better births. Improving outcomes of maternity services in England. A Five Year Forward View for maternity care. London: NHS England. https://www.england.nhs.uk/ wp-content/uploads/2016/02/nationalmaternity-review-report.pdf [Accessed 1 0 March 2019]
NHS England (2017). Implementing better births. A resource pack for Local Maternity Systems. London: NHS England. https://www.england.nhs.uk/wp-content/ uploads/2017/03/nhs-guidance-maternityservices-v1.pdf [Accessed 10 March 2019]
© MIDIRS 2019
Keep up to date with the latest research and news from MIDIRS by subscribing to our quarterly academic journal. Subscribe to MIDIRS Midwifery Digest