Birthing Better skills developed in the early 1970s when three skills-based childbirth methods had been well known in the US from the 1950s: Grantly Dick-Read, Lamaze, and Bradley Method. These methods focused on three specific goals:

  • Natural birth
  • Pain-free labour
  • Less medical care

In 1970 when Wintergreen first gave birth, Lamaze was taught in every hospital in the United States. Wintergreen and her husband used Lamaze (first group of fathers permitted into the local hospital). She was induced and told by the Lamaze teacher after birth that ‘Lamaze doesn’t work with inductions’.  Wintergreen was stunned. Skills should work for ALL births!

Although Lamaze and The Bradley Method skills helped many, many women in the US after a generation these three goals had not been achieved by enough women even for those who really tried.

Until I immigrated to New Zealand in 1995, I did not know that New Zealand had a similar experience from the 50s-70s using Grantly Dick-Read and the development of Parent’s Centre.

But after a generation in New Zealand, the same thing happened.

 Women who strived for those three goals were often left feeling disappointed …

‘… if the expected natural birth didn’t occur. They were outside the magic circle’.

The Trouble with Women p. 44

Skills for both our individuality and commonality

Birthing Better skills were developed by hundreds of fathers and mothers with whom Wintergreen worked in the early 1970s. They staunchly faith-based families, ethnically diverse and medically high-risk.

Wintergreen had no interest in the politics of childbirth. Wintergreen was a naturopath with no medical or scientific background. She worked hands-on with people with severe physical disabilities, spine and brain injuries and of course, pregnant women will bad backs!

One older woman who birthed 50 years earlier had damaged her tailbone during the birth of her first child. Her tailbone was as long as Wintergreen’s little finger. Wintergreen felt her own. It was just a nub.

Families taught Wintergreen a phenomenal Truth …  while each woman is unique and different, pregnancy and birth share much more in common. A woman is either pregnant or not and 100% of pregnant women will give birth.

We can share a common body language but not a Life experience language.NZ Midwife 2-year Training/Birthing Better Childbirth Preparation

Birthing Better skills are based on our commonality

  • We share a human body (men and women all blink, cough and can tighten up our rectum)
  • 100% of pregnant women will give birth one way or another
  • Birth is always an activity each woman does with her baby
  • Humans thrive on being skilled
  • Birth is one-off and infrequent
  • Pregnancy/Birth is life-transforming to each mother, father, and family
  • Pregnancy/birth is physiological, normal and natural in all forms
    • The good, bad, easy, difficult
  • Skills can prevent and reduce some normal, natural and physiological ‘issues’ from becoming ‘problems’ for both mothers and babies that can lead to increased interventions.
  • Skills can reduce and prevent long, exhausting 1st and 2nd stages that can lead to increased interventions.
  • Skills increase the ability to cope, manage, deal with, handle, work through, stay on top of and feel in control during the normal, natural and physiological and often intense pain of labor contractions that may lead to increases in medical interventions.
  • Skills can be used while driving to the hospital, being prepped, during and after a non-labouring Cesarian as well as used when moving from labour to surgical birth.
  • There are no risk factors that prevent a woman and partner/other from using skills throughout their birth.
  • There is no number of interventions that prevent a woman and partner/other from using skills throughout their baby’s birth.
  • Skills bring the missing 4th dimension to Birth Stories. Presently, Birth Stories focus on 3 dimensions:
    • Timeframe (‘I went into labor at 3 pm’)
    • What they did or didn’t do (‘I loved my midwife, she gave me so much time’ or ‘They didn’t catch that my baby was in trouble soon enough’)
    • What the woman experienced (‘My birth was so fast, I thought I was going to die’ or ‘My birth was almost pain-free’)
    • Birth Stories rarely focus on what skills a woman uses or vague (‘I focused on my breathing more’ or ‘I relaxed’)
  • Skills build confidence even when a woman feels fear or is anxious.
  • Skills enhance instinctive responses

Birthing Better families discovered

Birthing Better skills focus on three elements:

  • Prepare the pregnant body to give birth by creating space, mobility, softness, and openness in pelvis and birth canal
  • Birth skills so each woman can cope, manage, work through, handle, deal with, stay on top of and feel in control throughout her baby’s birth journey.
  • Birth-coaching skills so all fathers/others can effectively help their birthing loved one … to prepare her pregnant body and to cope, manage, work through, handle, deal with, stay on top of and feel in control throughout her baby’s birth journey.

None of the Birthing Better skills come from traditional cultures or from professionals. Birthing Better skills do not focus on outcome or type of birth but rather on a sense of self-capability as expressed in 1961 NZ Brant childbirth study

Fathers and mothers alike developed the Birthing Better skills. Families tasked Wintergreen to:

  • Hold all those skills
  • Find a way to create a self-learning resource for families
  • Advocate for a healed childbirth conversation by growing a skilled birthing population for all births without exception … The Concept

Editor note: 

Keep in mind The Concept for this NZ midwife 2-year trial did grow from Birthing Better skills.

  • Each skilled family impressed, relaxed, and thrilled their birth professionals … whether midwives or obstetricians.
  • Skilled families were also more able to negotiate pragmatically about medical assessments, monitoring, and procedures (now called ‘Interventions’) rather than from a philosophical ideology.
  • Skilled families always felt better about their births even when aspects were irritating or when birth was challenging or outcomes incredibly sad.
  • Skilled families experienced much less long-lasting birth trauma even when birth was traumatic.

Birthing Better’s relationship to ‘choice’

In the mid1970s, a new generation of birth advocates, famous authors, and homebirth midwives rose up.

Everyone knew after a generation those three skills-methods had not achieved even a reasonable increase in normal births, pain-free labor with less medical care for the majority of women.

Rejecting any concept of skills became the catchphrase: ‘Cats and cows aren’t taught to birth, women don’t need to be taught how to birth’. 

This new generation of determined birth advocates turned their attention to the right of Women to make ‘choices’ to achieve those same three goals.

  • Choices were much needed without a doubt.
  • Birth Plans became the rage.
  • The choice-based childbirth trend replaced the skills-based trend instead of both moving forward and evolving.
  • The Choice-based childbirth trend strongly exists today.
  • In New Zealand ‘respecting Women’s choices’ is the bedrock of the Midwifery Partnership.


‘The partnership model is identified as: a relationship of ‘sharing’ between the woman and the midwife involving trust, shared control and responsibility and shared meaning through mutual understanding’. The supporting ‘structure’ for this partnership is a set of underlying philosophical beliefs:

Pregnancy and childbirth are normal life events
Midwifery is independent
Continuity of care 

Women’s Business p. 95 


Choices, however, have also never been able to achieve those three natural birth goals for the broadest number of birthing families any more than skills were able to. In fact, many more women accept and ‘choose’ more medical care.

While speaking at many home birth, childbirth education and midwifery conferences from the mid1970s-90s in many countries, The Concept all families should become skilled was not well received. Birth advocates and midwives at that time did not see the benefit of skills evolving alongside choices as they were becoming available.

Now and New Zealand

We are now two generations of a Choice-based childbirth trend and a generation of our very precious New Zealand midwifery partnership, continuity of care, midwives as lead maternity carers and midwifery-led maternity care.

Now’s the time to trial, experiment with, play around with, asses, evaluate, identify, and experience the coupling of ‘choices’ with ‘skills’.


Further reading:



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