The experience of childbirth differs for women around the world depending on their culture, geographical location, and religion. For moms in the West, where hospital birth and pain relief (and lots of it) are standard, it can be a real eye-opener to discover how the sisterhood in different communities approaches this life-changing event.
The Amish way of life fascinates outsiders. Amish communities, with their emphasis on humility, tradition, and simplicity, appear a world away from the culture and society they live right alongside. Known for shunning modern conveniences, such as electricity and cars, the Amish also shy away from modern medicine and all the technological advances that most women rely on to bring their babies into the world safely.
Choosing to do away with hospitals and pain relief, Amish women prefer to give birth at home with as little medical intervention as possible, just like generations of women have done before. They take things back to basics. While this isn’t so unusual — after all, home birth is a growing trend — the special birthing garments, secrecy, and choice of birth partner might come as a surprise to most modern moms.
The emotion, the pushing, the pain — there are some childbirth experiences that are universal. Other things, however, seem much more unusual.
20 They Do Not Fret Over Labor
We live in a society in which childbirth is talked about as a scary thing. Women grow up being told labor is painful and we are bombarded with birth stories gone wrong. By the time we have our own kids, the message is clear: this is going to hurt, a lot. So it’s no wonder there’s a culture of worry and uncertainty around it.
Amish women aren’t subjected to this same worry. They grow up in huge families and childbirth is a normal and natural part of everyday life. Amish children don’t grow up worrying that there is something wrong with their bodies or that they are incapable of a normal birth. That actually sounds like a good thing.
19 Silence Please! They Give Birth In Quiet
Moaning, roaring, howling, swearing, or even screaming -- a lot of weird, primal sounds come out when you’re in the throes of labor. Low, guttural sounds are the preferred noises of physicians and midwives, because these sounds push down on the diaphragm, adding pressure on the lower body to help ease the baby out. Mothers who are moaning are also breathing deeply and releasing tension, and less tension has a positive effect on the opening cervix.
Amazingly, Amish women are said to give birth in near silence. Believing that the process of childbirth is sacred, they choose to respect it as such by ensuring that the mother remains as silent as possible throughout. Wow.
18 They Have A "Catcher," Not An OB-GYN
Some Amish women are happy to be attended by midwives or doctors, providing they are knowledgable of Amish beliefs and can deliver care that is mindful towards them. But for more conservative communities, it’s not the done thing to accept outside medical help, which is where the “catcher" steps in.
A “catcher” is like a doula who also happens to be part of the Amish community. It’s usually an older woman with no special equipment or formal education past eighth grade. Instead, she relies on traditional birthing methods and herbal remedies to alleviate discomfort and ease labor along.
17 Pregnancy Is A Secret Until The Baby Arrives
We live in a culture in which expectant parents have more ways than ever before to announce their happy news to the world. With social media and gender reveal parties, expectant moms are finding new and creative ways to shout about their joy for everyone to hear. We over-share, if anything. Amish women are way more cautious.
In Amish communities, a pregnancy is never revealed, except to a midwife. Moms go the full nine months not breathing a word of their pregnancies, which only comes to light once the baby has arrived. Kudos, because that takes some serious restraint.
16 They Carry On With Chores
The latent stage of labor, while the cervix starts to soften, can take hours or even days. You may experience irregular contractions, which gradually intensify, but until they do, there’s no reason why moms shouldn’t stay active. In fact, it’s recommended because it helps the baby move down into the pelvis.
So for Amish women, this means business as usual until the labor progresses. Washing, cleaning, even manual labor on the farm, are constructive ways to keep busy while waiting for the baby to arrive. After all, the Amish see childbirth as completely normal and not a disruptor to daily life. If it's beneficial to mom and good for the baby, why wouldn't they get some chores done?
15 They’re More Likely To Have Twins
Naturally, twins occur in about one in 250 pregnancies and there are a number of factors that increase a woman’s likelihood of conceiving multiple babies. Older women (in their thirties and forties) have higher levels of estrogen than younger women, which stimulates their ovaries to produce more than one egg at a time. Also, the more previous pregnancies a woman has had, the higher the likelihood of conceiving twins. Plus, if fraternal twins run in the family, a woman is, again, way more likely to have twins.
Considering these factors, it’s no surprise why there’s such a high incidence of twin births in Amish communities. As birth control isn’t allowed, women fall pregnant multiple times, commonly into their forties, making twins much more likely.
14 Women Commonly Give Birth Well Into Their Forties
Women are always having their “biological clocks” thrown in their faces. We’re told time and time again “not to wait too long” before having kids. While the pressure is exhausting, the science is a lot to take in.
According to the College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a woman’s ability to conceive naturally begins a steep decline around the age of 37, reaching odds of less than 10% a month by age 40. That said, more women are now giving birth in their forties than they were 40 years ago.
For Amish women, giving birth in your forties is no big deal. It’s actually common, which isn’t surprising considering their strict stance on no birth control.
13 A C-Section Is Out Of The Question
In the US, around one in three babies is born via cesarian section, which is well above the optimal rate recommended by the World Health Organisation. This is largely down to woman electing the procedure over the alternative, even when it might not be medically necessary.
The Amish prefer to let nature take its course, so C-sections are very rare in their community. One study of Amish natal care puts the cesarian rate at around just 4%, way lower than the general American population. C-sections aren’t totally unheard of in Amish communities, however, and are permitted if mom or baby is in trouble.
12 They Prefer To Give Birth At Home
In the US, home births are on the rise among women wanting to go down the natural route. But these women are still in the minority. A home birth in Amish communities, however, is standard practice for many moms.
Firstly, they’re not taught to be afraid about birth, so would probably feel more anxious in a clinical hospital setting, and then there’s the question of cost. With no health insurance through work, and typically very large broods, the cost of a hospital birth would be totally unaffordable to many Amish women.
That said, not every woman elects for a home birth, and Amish-friendly birthing centers are a frequently used low-cost alternative.
11 Epidurals Are Not An Option
A whopping 71 percent of US women get epidurals during labor, according to researchers at Stanford Medicine. But Amish women are not among them.
Childbirth is called labor for a reason, and in Amish culture, hard work is venerated and encouraged. The Amish aspire to work hard. In turn, childbirth is viewed as a chore that needs to be successfully completed - like harvesting crops or doing the laundry - and Amish women don’t shy away from it.
Theirs is a culture that lauds fortitude and it’s this mindset that prevents them from relying on pain relief, including epidurals. Pain? what pain?
10 They Don’t Fret About Due Dates
How do you feel about due dates? If you’re someone who gets quiet satisfaction from ticking the days off a calendar, you’re probably all for them. But for many women, they can be a huge cause of anxiety. Plus, who has ever heard of a baby arriving on time? Seriously, who?
There’s something to be said for the Amish approach - they don’t believe in due dates. That’s right, no dates, so no worrying if baby comes early and no panicking if baby is late - just a whole lot of keeping busy until nature decides it’s time.
9 They Give Birth In A Semi-Sitting Position
Think of a hospital birth and you’ll probably think of a woman lying on a bed, legs in stirrups. But it’s widely accepted that lying down is actually a pretty bad position for childbirth. Upright positions work with gravity to help your baby's progress through your pelvis.
Amish women know this fact through lived experience, which is why they often birth in semi-seated positions and use birthing chairs, which support women in a squatting position. Of course, once labor is in full swing, moms - whether they’re Amish or not - will move into whichever position feels the most comfortable.
8 They Keep Their Other Kids Out Of The Loop
For moms with kids, how and when to tell their little ones that another baby is on the way is something that takes careful consideration. Depending on their age, there are right and wrong ways to break the news, and there are entire books written about the best ways to prepare children for a new baby in the house.
Beyond talking to their husbands and a midwife, Amish women don’t discuss their pregnancies with anyone. They don’t even share the news with their other kids. Some believe that this shields children from the real truth behind the birds and the bees. Amish kids just wake up one day with a new sibling, and that’s that.
7 Amish Women Are Very Rarely Induced
With no due date and a preference to forgo medical interventions of any kinds, Amish women are rarely induced. Exceptions are made in the case of complications, but most of the time, they let baby arrive when it is ready, and not before.
For the general US population, inductions have been on the rise. More moms are electing for the convenience of an induced birth because the baby can then be born according to their schedule. However, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), labor should be induced only when remaining inside the womb is riskier than being born.
6 Babies Don’t Have Breastmilk Straight Away
Amish moms are more likely to breastfeed than other moms and it’s also common to feed this way for an extended period of time, until the child is at least one. But whereas most new moms are instructed to get baby latched on as soon as possible to ensure baby can benefit straight away from colostrum (the nutrient-rich first milk), the Amish believe that their babies should not have breastmilk straight out of the womb.
Babies often have to wait hours after birth for their first feed and given things like jello water or watermelon seed tea instead, which is supposed to be good for preventing jaundice. As for why? No one seems entirely sure.
5 Baby Is Dressed As Soon As Possible
The highly distinctive Amish style of dress is deliberately simple and humble. It’s a way of expressing obedience to the church and intended to set the Amish people apart from the rest of the world. Even babies have a strict dress code, forgoing the kind of cute baby outfits that other new moms find adorable.
Expectant Amish moms take great pleasure in sewing simple, home-made dresses and bonnets for their little ones, and newborns are dressed from the moment they arrive. One of the catcher’s duties is to wipe the baby with oil, bind its belly and dress it straight away.
4 They Wear A Special Birthing Garment
Women give birth in all states of dress and undress. Some mammas choose to do away with clothing completely, while others opt for baggy tees and special nursing tops that can provide easy skin-to-skin contact when needed.
Modesty is a big deal in Amish culture, so a lot of Amish women prefer to keep covered up as much as possible. But childbirth, being what it is, does require easy access to certain bits of a woman’s body, which is why the Amish create special birthing garments. These dresses keep the women mostly covered, while allowing access for baby to come out. They usually have an opening near mom’s tummy, so baby can be placed on her skin straight after birth.
3 Young Women Are Hired For Home Help
Of all the things Amish moms do differently, this is definitely the one thing that will appeal most to parents. Any new mom knows how isolating, exhausting and downright worrisome caring for a newborn can be. It’s a test of physical and emotional endurance.
Amish moms, however, live in super tight-knit communities with ample support on hand. It’s also common to hire a young Amish girl from the community to help out with household chores. The hired help stays for around four to six weeks, giving mom time to recover and ease herself back into the daily workload. We are living for that.
2 They Give Birth A Lot
Large families are the norm among the Amish, where birth control is uncommon. Children are believed to be a blessing from God, so more babies is a good thing, which is why the average number of live births per Amish couple is seven. Amish women are tough cookies.
This more-the-merrier approach to procreation explains why the Amish are one of the fastest growing population groups in the US. The Amish population has risen from about 5,000 in 1920 to almost 300,000 today. According to the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College, there were just 84,000 Amish in 1984, meaning the population has more than tripled since that time.
1 They Don’t Have Health Insurance
The Amish aren’t one homogeneous group. Some communities will readily use modern medicine and seek the advice and treatments of physicians, while others prefer natural methods and traditional remedies wherever possible. The approach to medicine varies from community to community.
Many, however, don’t have commercial health insurance and refuse to participate in Medicaid government assistance. This is partly the reason why so many Amish women give birth at home - a hospital birth is way too costly. Nevertheless, they do operate a kind of health insurance scheme. If one member becomes ill, the rest will pitch in to cover the cost through voluntary donations.
Sources: NHS, Reproductivefacts.org, USA Today, AmericanPregnancy.org, HealthLine.