A mom went viral after giving birth in the ocean. As a labor and delivery nurse, I'd never recommend doing this.

·3 min read
Liesel Teen and her children
Courtesy of Liesel Teen
  • Liesel Teen is a mom of two and has been a labor and delivery nurse for eight years.

  • She focuses on birth education on her Instagram, which has over half a million followers.

  • This is Teen's story, as told to Kelly Burch.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Liesel Teen. It has been edited for length and clarity.

When I saw that a mom had gone viral for giving birth in the ocean, my mind raced through everything that could go wrong.

The baby could get too cold in the water, the mother would be at risk for infection, and there could be undercurrents. Then there's the everyday risk of birth, such as excessive bleeding or exhaustion. But I was also worried about the audience: the hundreds of thousands of people who saw this story and might think that a "free birth" could be a good idea for them. I don't recommend it to anyone.

Interest in free birth is rising, but it's not a risk I'd take

In recent years, I've seen a rising interest in free birth — totally unassisted birth at home or in the ocean. These parents don't get any prenatal care and have no professionals at their birth.

It's different from a planned home birth with a midwife. Those are safe.

A free birth is a risk I wouldn't take. There's too much that could go wrong for both parent and baby. When you're the person giving birth, it's often hard to recognize an emergency until it's too late. Thousands of women and babies die every year because they don't have access to care. So to opt out of care when you're lucky enough to access it is something I struggle to find words for.

Oftentimes, I see women interested in free birth after they've had a traumatic experience with the medical establishment. I understand where these women are coming from. They see this as a work-around to avoid dealing with hospitals and doctors. But rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater, I counsel expecting parents to find a provider who listens to them and whom they trust. There are many safe ways to give birth the way you envisioned, including at home with a midwife who is entirely hands-off.

For me, empowered birth is about education

Empowered birth, in my opinion, isn't about delivering in the ocean. It's about making informed, evidence-based choices about what's right for you. For some people, that's a cesarean. For others, it's a hospital birth without an epidural. And others choose to give birth at home, with a midwife on standby for emergencies.

I try to remind people about nuance. People can be pro-breastfeeding without being anti-formula. They can plan for an intervention-free birth while also learning the questions to ask when complications arise.

Social media has changed the discussion around birth

Social media has done a lot of good around normalizing birth. There are powerful Instagram accounts where you can see beautiful images of pregnant people. Patients often come into the hospital with a more realistic expectation about what birth is like.

The flip side to that is the anecdotal information that spreads like wildfire. If a pregnant person reads about someone's bad experience with an epidural, they might take that to heart — though epidurals are safe for both parent and baby. In a more extreme case, they might see a story of someone giving birth in the ocean and think that forgoing medical care would make for a more authentic birthing experience.

I hope parents-to-be take the good from social media, but also form trusting, open relationships with their medical providers. That's what it takes to have a birth where both parent and baby are safe.

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