What is a ‘butter birth’ and is it something to plan for?

Posted in Birth.

In December 2019, back when the pandemic was just beginning to become a reality, The New Yorker magazine published a fascinating article: A Midwife in the North Countrya profile piece on Sunday Smith, the only certified midwife offering out-of-hospital births within a 160 kilometre radius in New York state’s North Country – a largely rural area consisting of seven counties. 

What is a butter birth?

The whole piece is excellent and a recommended read, but this reference to “butter births” caught me by surprise:

“Smith has attended a 180 births since moving to the North Country, and the vast majority went according to plan,” The New Yorker story explained. 

“Several, she said, were what she calls ‘butter births,’ in which everything goes so smoothly, even peacefully, that it can seem like a mother ‘just melts her baby out’.”

Butter births? Melting babies out?! Are ‘butter births’ a thing? I wondered. And was this a term other midwives used?

A little bit of digging showed that ‘butter birth’ really does seem to be a descriptive term used by the birthing community. Perhaps you knew this already? I didn’t!

Butter birth 101

Another birth insider explains more:

“If you’ve been in the birthy world long enough, you’ve heard the term ‘butter birth’,” birth blog The Bitchy Birth Bloggess says on her site. “Essentially, this means a labour and birth that was smooth as butter. A labour where mom hardly had any pain, a very short pushing stage, no extra bleeding, and probably not any tearing.”

(Incidentally, The Bitchy Birth Bloggess suggests this term may do women a disservice by categorising and idealising a particular sort of birth.)

My digging revealed that other references to ‘butter births’ have popped up online too, confirming this term really has been adopted by some childbirth professionals.

For instance: “there are [few] sweeter motivations for us to enter this awe-inspiring field,” Jan Tritton wrote in a 2017 issue of Midwifery Today. “It is the most precious experience to be there when ‘motherbaby’ emerges as a new mother and new person Earthside, especially when the birth goes well – as some of my friends call it, ‘a butter birth!’ ” 

new baby

“Smooth as butter”

Registered nurse and doula Amanda Willis also described a birth she attended where there were no complications and the baby even arrived on her due date as a ‘butter birth’.

“These beautiful butter births do happen and can happen!” she wrote, documenting the “buttery” arrival of a baby named Ava.

Nurse and doula Donna Hayes described a similarly uncomplicated birth she attended on the blog The Adventures of a Doula, noting the mother “went on to have an unmedicated easy birth of a beautiful baby girl. ‘Smooth like butter’ is how we, in the doula world, describe the birth. It wasn’t my first ‘butter birth’, but it’s always amazing to watch.”

Birth goals? It’s not that simple

Clearly not everyone will have a ‘butter birth’ and it shouldn’t be held up as some sort of ‘birth goals’ to put pressure on mums-to-be, either.

Every labour is different and comes with its own set of circumstances, challenges and sometimes, trauma. And all births are significant in their own unique ways.

That said, these ‘buttery’ uncomplicated births are an interesting phenomenon … and definitely a relief and a blessing for birthing mums and the midwives who attend them.


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