This is a book review for Active Birth – The New Approach to Giving Birth Naturally by author Janet Balaskas.
This book review was written by doula, Amber Adin of Halara Doula.
Whether you are intending to birth at home or in the hospital, one thing remains the same – STAY OFF YOUR BACK.
This book is a valuable resource for expecting mothers, and birthing partners, to learn all about how and why this is such an important factor.
The author of this book, Janet Balaskas, is a childbirth educator who founded the Active Birth Movement in the early 1980s in the UK and which has now spread all over the world. This book has been translated into more than 15 languages, and that is a great indicator of how good it really is!
This is the first birth book I ever read, and it really brought a clear understanding of the physiological working of the pregnant body and the reasoning behind the need to labour and birth upright.
“With your body vertical, the descent of the baby is helped by the downward force of gravity.”
I found this book to be both in depth, covering a vast range of topics in its 10 main chapters – from yoga positions in pregnancy, right through to breastfeeding, and equally clearly written so although information packed, it is not overwhelming at all.
1 – What Is an Active Birth?
In this chapter, Janet Balaskas covers what it means by active birth “a convenient way of describing normal labour and birth and the way a woman behaves when she is following her own instincts and the physiological logic of her body”. She goes into why there is a need to rediscover this natural way of birthing and covers why women have come to lay on their backs, some history of birth positions, and the way hospitals incorrectly manage labour and birth.
2 – Your Body in Pregnancy
This chapter is a great learning tool for the physiology of the birthing body. Covering the make up of the pelvis with some clearly drawn illustrations to refer to, I gained a great understanding of how it fits together, what moves, and how the baby fits in. There are also helpful instructions to be able to feel and find all the parts of the pelvis on yourself!
Yoga-based Exercises for Pregnancy
Starting with a history and description of yoga, and why it is useful for the changes in your body through pregnancy, it then gets into a list of yoga movements to be done throughout pregnancy. Each has clear instructions, steps, warnings, and descriptive photos to make it all easy to follow and understand. There are options of doing alone, or with a partner, and also alternative positions given. As someone who hadn’t put much thought into yoga before, it really won me over to the benefits of taking the time to do the movements and stretches, both for in pregnancy and for the labour and recovery.
This book does not include any special breathing techniques for labour and birth. Instead, it covers natural breathing, how to relearn to take deep breathes, and the benefits to our bodies. Even typing this reminds me to focus on belly breathing – easy and effective.
This chapter covers the different types of massage: surface stroking, deep stroking, deep pressure and kneading. There are detailed instructions on giving massages to yourself, or for a partner, and some great massage techniques for pregnancy. Again, we have some illustrations to demonstrate some of these to help with the understanding. These are very useful as a tool to preventing or easing discomfort at any time, with some confidence that you’re helping the muscles rather than causing any distress to your body, which can be a concern when things are changing so much.
Labour and Birth
We learn here the three stages of labour, signs of labour, and sensations of labour. All these things are written in positive language, and there are many quotes from different people that provide some perspective on the way they experienced it. There are in depth explanations of each stage covering each of What Happens to Your Baby, What Happens to You, Breathing, and Positions and Movement. There are some amazing photos of birthing women demonstrating positions, as well as illustrations of what is happening with baby. This chapter is so incredible for women to prepare and envision what will occur – especially for those who have no prior knowledge to the birthing process. It covers why the positions are useful and when to use them, and again provides alternatives for each, as well as tips specifically for the partner when assisting with holding supported squats.
Active Birth at Home or in the Hospital
This is a great chapter for evaluating your options of where you are birthing, when risks are likely to require a hospital birth, and what you can do when encountering a non-straight forward presentation or situation i.e., Breech birth. It also covers creating an ideal environment, your movements, and positions, and use of furniture in either setting.
As it discusses hospital birth, it also gets into things such as monitoring choices, medications, and internal examinations with benefits or not of each, and alternatives – great for knowing your options! Also, for learning that you DO have options.
I love that included here is also ‘A Note to The Birth Attendant’ which provides guidance on understanding how to set up the room, and how to assist a birthing mother choosing active labour.
Featuring lots of quotes from Michel Odent (obstetrician and childbirth specialist), here we have information about the benefits of labouring in water, with practical instructions for set up and use of a birth pool, bath, or shower.
As with anything, it is great to learn what to do and how to do it, with the added understanding that once you are in active labour, you may change your mind entirely!
Again, we have tip for attendants, which I appreciate. What better way to have them gain experience, than with some guidance clearly laid out with tips to keep them confident. As with birth, and anything new, it is the unknown that creates fear and prevents many birth attendants giving women the opportunity to birth instinctually, so bringing them into the learning process really makes sense to me.
After the Birth
Some ‘what to expect’ after births, which are important to know as there is more to the birth journey after baby is born, in terms of recovery, breastfeeding and bonding, that aren’t widely discussed.
How to care for tears or grazes, relieving engorgement discomfort, and what a correct breastfeeding latch looks like, are all covered here. Although these topics are covered in depth, there is also referral advice should you require more information or help.
The final main chapter admittedly had me eye-rolling a bit as is says “However, a few exercises are essential in helping your figure to return to it’s pre-pregnant state in the coming months.” It goes on to state the exercises in the given program “begin the first day after birth” which seemed to me a bit premature.
It is stated that time spent with baby is the priority and moving through the chapter I did agree more with what is being recommended as it is much more about recovery – toning pelvic floor muscles, releasing tension, and promoting relaxation – and are similar to movements given for during the pregnancy. I personally still feel that setting an exercise routine from day one, with that use of wording, is counterproductive to embracing the changes in a postpartum body, even if the exercises in themselves are a useful tool to internal recovery.
The book then finishes with Emergency Birth for the Partner, which could be a really invaluable tool should the situation occur when a woman is about to give birth without a midwife or doctor present, and then with References and Recommended Reading.
Overall, I really do find this book a worthwhile read to gain a full understanding of an upcoming birth. Due to the age of the book (published 1992), there is some out-of-date advice, such as bathing baby an hour after birth and feeding solids from 4-6 months – where the guidelines have since been updated – but considering this was the ‘new approach to giving birth naturally’, really very little has changed in the last 30 years in regards to what birthing mothers need to fight for in ensuring they get to birth instinctively and naturally, and the options they need to be aware of.
I would recommend this book as an ideal place to start learning, but to continue education on your options should a caesarean birth be necessary as this is not covered, and the more you know about all possible outcomes, the more control you will maintain when decisions need to be made.
Many valuable illustrations and photos accompanying the text to really allow you an understanding of what is being explained, and powerful images of birth which can be beneficial for visualisations and knowing what the woman’s body is capable of.
A great resource for mums-to-be, birthing partners, and birth workers alike.
To find out more about the Active Birth Movement, visit:
My name is Amber Adin, and I am a doula who has trained at the Doula Training Academy and I am based in the northern suburbs of Perth.
If you would like more information about my doula services please contact me:
Amber Adin – Halara Doula
0424 769 924