Lessons about Labor and Birth from April the Giraffe

By Debby Amis, RN, LCCE, FACCE

Today's post is written by long time Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator Debby Amis, co-program manager of The Family Way Lamaze Childbirth Educator Seminars and co-author of the childbirth class text Prepared Childbirth - The Family Way and accompanying guides.  I asked her to share her thoughts as she was the first person I saw connect April the Giraffe's pregnancy, labor, and birth of her calf with common sense advice for expectant families.  I asked her to share her thoughts will all of you in hopes that you might relay these considerations to the families that you work with. - Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility.

Lessons on Labor Birth from April the Giraffe.jpgI am on Facebook. Although it can be a major time-waster and sometimes I grit my teeth as I read certain posts, I love seeing posts and pictures from family and close friends. And I appreciate being alerted to news stories about pregnancy and childbirth by my many birth friends. Over the last two months, the live video of April, the pregnant giraffe at the Animal Adventure Park in upstate New York, would pop up sporadically, exhorting me to watch in case birth was imminent. Such a post popped up this past Saturday morning as I was lazily drinking my coffee, but wait! This time, birth WAS imminent as I could see two hooves protruding from April's back end. While I needed to begin work preparing for our upcoming childbirth educator seminar, I propped up my phone nearby so I could periodically glance over to see if the birth was happening. As I watched in amazement (like I do for ALL births), I couldn’t help but think of the wonderful teaching moments that April provided for me. Here are my top five that you may want to consider sharing with the families that you work with.

1. Let labor begin on its own

It’s better to let labor begin on its own. According to a news report, April had been pregnant for about 16 months. The average gestation period for a giraffe is 13 to 15 months. The live stream of April, and in the next enclosure, her mate Oliver, began in February so people around the world have been eagerly anticipating the birth for several months. Comments streamed below the live feed on Facebook and many asked, “Why don’t the zookeepers do something?” Because the zookeepers trusted mother nature and knew that the baby would come when it was ready!

2. Walk, move and change positions and use gravity to help get the baby out

It’s natural to be upright and to move around during labor. It was quite a while between the time that the hooves first appeared and the birth of the baby. During this time, April patiently walked around her pen, stopping to push with each contraction. 

3. Pushing out a baby takes time

It takes time to push out a baby. Again, as time passed with only the hooves visible, many of the streaming comments had to do with concern that the birth was taking too long. "Can’t they just pull out the baby for her?” many asked. Wisely, the zookeepers mostly left April alone and trusted that she would push out her baby at the appropriate time.

4. Fuel the birthing body

Food provides valuable energy during the hard wok of labor. I said “mostly” in the point above because several times, you could see that someone just outside April’s pen giving her bites of food, even just minutes before the birth, which she heartily consumed.

5. Keep parent and baby together to transition and bond immediately after birth.

The baby doesn’t need to be examined immediately after birth. Although I am sure that the zookeepers were dying to meet the new giraffe calf, they stayed away. Mother and baby were left alone to begin the bonding process. The mother gently licked and nuzzled her baby. After about 45 minutes, the baby struggled to his feet and made his way to nurse.

Lessons Learned

Probably some of your students were among the 1.2 million people who watched April’s birth Saturday morning on either Youtube or Facebook. April’s birth experience provides some wonderful teaching moments to discuss the natural, physiologic process of birth. The Lamaze Healthy Birth Practices are remarkably similar to the common sense circumstances under which April birthed.  A safe and healthy birth is often the one that is left to progress physiologically unless the health of the parent or the baby is compromised.  April demonstrated that beautifully when she gave birth to her fourth calf, a boy who still needs a name. 

Have you discussed April's birth in your classes and with your clients and patients?  What type of questions did they have?  Where the families you are working with making the connection between April's experience and their upcoming births and what they are learning in class?  Let us know what conversations you have been having about April in the comments section below. - SM

Photo source:  Animal Adventure Park. 

About Debby Amis

amis head shot 2017.jpgSix months after my husband Steve graduated from law school our first son, Brian was born. Teaching childbirth classes seemed like the natural next step after having worked in public health and labor & delivery as a nurse. I became certified by Lamaze International and active with a local community-based childbirth group. I had a second son, Ben. The rest, as they say, is history. I volunteered with Lamaze International and have continued to be an active member for many years. I have served as president of Lamaze and currently serve on the Certification Council Governing Body. My husband, Steve, also served two terms on the Board of Directors. Today, my business partner, Jeanne Green, and I run The Family Way, publishing childbirth education materials and training new childbirth educators. I enjoy speaking at conferences around the world. But my greatest joy is my family.  To watch and help my daughter-in-law and my son experience the joy and the challenge of natural births were high points of my life. And the end result – everything they say about being a grandparent is true. Spending time with Ben and James and with Brian, Jordan, and our two grandsons are our greatest joys. We also love traveling, rooting for the University of Texas and Rice, and reading. 


Nature is in control

April 18, 2017 03:52 PM by Camille F.

Debby thank you for posting a story that will be a great lesson to expecting mothers!  This labor for April is so parallel to what mothers go through now.  Friends/family/hospital staff like to give their opinions with the best intentions but not always with the best information.  If we always listen to those people pressuring to induce, restrict food/water, confine to the hospital bed, birth the way I birthed, then the mother is losing out on nature's natural power of labor.  


April 20, 2017 01:25 AM by Alaa

Every thing about nature is amazing. Thank you Debby for sharing!

Nature Knows Best

May 8, 2017 08:01 AM by Megan

I loved this article! I had plenty of friends obsessing about when April would give birth and feeling bad for her when she went so far past her "due date." She was a great example that nature truly knows what it's doing. The medical professionals were right there to help if they were needed but they knew to let April do her thing. Why don't we trust human women's bodies like we do female animals? Also, it's it amazing how technology let people who would never otherwise be able to witness birth observe this occasion? 


November 15, 2017 03:54 AM by Alexandrea Baker, LCCE

Great article! I love using teaching strategies of very relatable topics. For all the expecting mamas, I'm sure April the giraffe was something they watched or at least heard about. I also think incorporating/applying the 6 healthy birth practices was such a great idea! Great article and great idea for teaching!

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