Why do some women choose to freebirth in the UK? An interpretative phenomenological study

Feeley, Claire Lauren orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-8013-0352 and Thomson, Gillian orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-3392-8182 (2016) Why do some women choose to freebirth in the UK? An interpretative phenomenological study. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth . ISSN 1471-2393

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Official URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s12884-016-0847-6



Freebirthing or unassisted birth is the active choice made by a woman to birth without a trained professional present, even where there is access to maternity provision. This is a radical childbirth choice, which has potential morbidity and mortality risks for mother and baby. While a number of studies have explored women’s freebirth experiences, there has been no research undertaken in the UK. The aim of this study was to explore and identify what influenced women’s decision to freebirth in a UK context.

An interpretive phenomenological approach was adopted. Advertisements were posted on freebirth websites, and ten women participated in the study by completing a narrative (n = 9) and/or taking part in an in-depth interview (n = 10). Data analysis was carried out using interpretative methods informed by Heidegger and Gadamer’s hermeneutic-phenomenological concepts.

Three main themes emerged from the data. Contextualising herstory describes how the participants’ backgrounds (personal and/or childbirth related) influenced their decision making. Diverging paths of decision making provides more detailed insights into how and why women’s different backgrounds and experiences of childbirth and maternity care influenced their decision to freebirth. Converging path of decision making, outlines the commonalities in women’s narratives in terms of how they sought to validate their decision to freebirth, such as through self-directed research, enlisting the support of others and conceptualising risk.

The UK based midwifery philosophy of woman-centred care that tailors care to individual needs is not always carried out, leaving women to feel disillusioned, unsafe and opting out of any form of professionalised care for their births. Maternity services need to provide support for women who have experienced a previous traumatic birth. Midwives also need to help restore relationships with women, and co-create birth plans that enable women to be active agents in their birthing decisions even if they challenge normative practices. The fact that women choose to freebirth in order to create a calm, quiet birthing space that is free from clinical interruptions and that enhances the physiology of labour, should be a key consideration.

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