Nothing is worse than natural, unmedicated childbirth right?
Otherwise how did the “this hurts so much it is worse than childbirth” saying come about??
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Well, I am here to tell you that actually natural labor and unmedicated birth is quite fantastic.
Yes it hurts (some amazing people don’t feel it!!) but your body is well equipped with magical chemicals that make normal delivery totally doable.
Natural Birth: How to Achieve a Natural Labor + Normal Delivery
What is a normal delivery
Why Choose Natural Childbirth?
What are the chances of a normal delivery
How do I prepare for natural childbirth?
Going Into Labor Naturally
Tips for normal delivery
Natural birth vs c-sections – pros and cons
What is a Normal Delivery?
Normal delivery is the natural way of bringing the baby into this world. It is what happens when we just let nature take its course without interrupting or rushing it.
The natural birth process increases the chances of a healthy baby and also helps the new mama to recover more quickly (1).
A natural birth is unmedicated, and it is done without intervention. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) 85-90% of women should be able to give birth vaginally (2) (although, this number is not necessarily births totally without intervention).
Studies show that the less intervention you have, and the less we meddle with nature, the higher the odds are of a normal vaginal delivery.
Why Choose Natural Childbirth?
Why would anyone want to have a medication-free, natural childbirth?? Because it is the way we are designed to have babies. Our bodies were made to do this. The rush of endorphins and oxytocin help with the instant bonding between mama and baby as well as providing natural pain relief.
Choosing natural childbirth is choosing to trust your body.
Even more than that, it’s knowing that you already possess all the tools you need to give birth inside you.
Having a natural birth doesn’t mean choosing pain. There are many things you can do to help ease the pain without drugs.
However, to make these natural techniques work, you usually have to practice them a lot before giving birth. They are not a “quick fix”. Mothers who choose natural childbirth need to devote the necessary time to hone these skills well before labor sets in.
Planning a natural childbirth does not mean going without all interventions. Situations may arise when interventions become life-saving necessities. You must carefully weigh the costs and benefits of any interventions.
Great questions to ask when you are faced with the option of intervention are “What are the risks/benefits” “What will happen if we wait?” Followed by, “May we have a minute to talk about it and think please.”
Natural childbirth empowers women. It instills self-confidence. But this is not why women choose it, it’s not about them at all, it’s about making the safest, gentlest choices for the well-being of their child.
Benefits of Natural Childbirth
- Freedom to move during labor
- Avoid the cascade of interventions – one thing leads to another
- Reduces the risk of cesarean delivery
- Shorter, easier labor
- Safer for baby
- You are alert for the birth and the time immediately after
- It is empowering for the mama
- Immediate breastfeeding after the birth
- Quicker recovery time for mama
- Beneficial gut flora development in baby
What are the Chances of a Normal Delivery?
Your statistical chances of being able to have a natural delivery really depends on where you birth and who you have as your attending help.
In the hospital I work in, many months 50-60% of all women are given a c-section. The World Health Organization (WHO) says that we should be able to have a c-section rate of under 16%.
Ways to increase the odds of having a natural childbirth in your favor are:
- Eat a quality pregnancy diet
- Keep active
- Choose an OBGYN or (preferably) midwife carefully
- Get a doula
- Practice natural pain relief strategies before hand – hypnosis, breathing, massage
- Have had a previous normal vaginal delivery
- Keep well, keep any chronic medical conditions well mananged
- Labor at home as long as you can
- Choose your birthing place very carefully
How do I Prepare for Natural Childbirth?
Pick your provider carefully
Choosing who will be with you when you labor and give birth is a big deal. You are, quite literally, trusting them with your own life, and that of your unborn baby.
Ask around and get recommendations from friends and family. Make an appointment to meet with them, and go armed with a list of questions.
Ask them about natural birth, ask them what their c-section rate is, ask what natural birth options they provide, ask what their stance is on induction and augmentation (speeding up labor) with drugs, ask what position they expect women to labor and deliver in, and what their policy on fetal monitoring is.
Trust your instincts, that is what you have them for! If any of the answers, or even the vibe you pick up is not sitting right with you, move on. Find someone else.
Evidence shows that midwives are the safest providers for low risk women, because they result in fewer interventions and better health outcomes for mom and baby (4).
Choose one-to-one labor support
Having a doula is one of the best things you can do to lower the chances of having a c-section, forcep or vacuum assisted birth, or epidural(5).
A doula is a professionally trained birth attendant, who will meet with you throughout your pregnancy to establish a relationship. She’ll be with you and coach you throughout your entire labor, and will follow up with breastfeeding and newborn care.
Don’t listen to horror stories
Only read positive birth stories. Focus on the good, block out the bad. Your mind is a powerful thing, don’t let it sabotage your birth with fear!
Breathing exercises and visualization
Most childbirth classes cover focused breathing and visualization techniques. You and your partner may be given specific breathing patterns to practice, and your instructor may coach you on using visualization (imagining a place that soothes you, for example, or the safe, easy birth of your baby) to help you work through the pain.
Techniques like progressive relaxation, in which you release tension by zeroing in on a particular muscle, tightening it up, and then letting it go until it’s as loose as possible, are a good way to relax.
Personally I really liked the hypnobabies program with my second and third children. I found it really useful, and I loved spending time each evening laying listening to the recordings. It is well worth the investment.
Positioning and movement
When you’re not medicated, you can try a variety of positions during labor, including standing or leaning on your partner, sitting, and kneeling – either upright or on all fours.
You may find movement comforting too, I really found it useful and found I did it naturally. Try walking around or rocking in a chair or on a birthing ball.
Moving around can make you feel more in control, which may ease your anxiety and pain. And a meta-analysis of studies looking at positioning and movement during the first stage of labor suggests that being upright or walking around may shorten your labor by about an hour.
Massage, touch, and hot and cold therapy
Some people hate being touched in labor, and that is OK. For others, a massage promotes relaxation, soothes tense muscles, and may reduce labor pain.
You can get a massage from your doula or other support person, or from your partner – a loved one’s touch can be very reassuring if you’re feeling anxious.
A hot water bottle, or heat pack to painful areas may also help, though some women prefer to use ice, or to alternate between the two.
A birthing pool
This was my favorite thing!! My midwife called it ‘natures epidural’ and I called it wonderful!
Nothing feels as amazing as hopping into a nice warm, deep pool of water when everything from your boobs down is sore and tired. It is bliss. The combination of the pressure from the water, the warmth and the buoyancy is quite magical.
Acupuncture or acupressure
There are certain points on your body that are known to speed up or slow down labor, as well as to relax or to relieve pain.
Acupuncture, used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine, involves inserting and manipulating fine needles at specific points on your body. Acupressure uses no needles and entails applying pressure to these points.
The downside of acupuncture is that it requires a skilled practitioner, and few doctors or midwives are trained in this technique. If you’re interested in trying this method and are having your baby at a birth center or at home, you may be able to arrange for a certified acupuncturist to be on hand.
Going Into Labor Naturally
To achieve a natural labor and birth, the best place to start is to allow your body to go into labor on its own. This may mean you go “overdue”. And in most cases, that is just fine!
A normal pregnancy is expected to go from 38-42 weeks. Going past 40 weeks is OK. It is fine. You might feel like you are going to explode, and you will be well and truly over the whole thing, but it is safe, fine and natural to go up to 42 weeks of pregnancy.
The most recent statistic I’ve seen shows that almost 1/4 of all women (in the US) are induced and do not go in to labor naturally. While medical induction can be necessary, many of these cases are simply elective and induction alters the important and delicate hormones that occur during labor and birth.
Labor is often induced because a doctor may think that the baby is too big (tests determining this are often wrong), mom is tired of being pregnant, there are scheduling issues for doctor or mom, or for a genuine medical reason.
Having had one induced labor and two natural ones, I can tell you the induction drugs make for a much rougher experience than natural labor. So if you have the choice (I didn’t) choose to wait. You will thank yourself for it later.
What is the process of normal delivery
Each labor and birth is as unique as the baby it produces. But a “typical” vaginal childbirth is described in textbooks in three tidy stages:
1. First Stage: Dilation and Effacement of the Cervix
a. early phase 0-5cm
b. active phase 5-8cm
c. transition phase 8-10cm
2. Second Stage: Pushing and Birth
3. Third Stage: Delivery of the Placenta
The reality is that it can be a mushmash of speeding up and slowing down, and it can even go backwards or stop altogether if the mother feels frightened or threatened. You might spend 3 days in early phase of stage one, the only 10 minutes getting to pushing.
Or (like one of my friends) only discover you are in labor when you are in the bathroom trying to poop and there is a baby coming!
How long does the labor last?
For first-time mothers, the average is 14 hours, though of course it can be much longer or much shorter. For moms who’ve given birth before, the average labor and delivery lasts around 8 hours. Mine were 12 hours and 5 minutes, 1 hour + 10 minutes and 1.5 hours in order of them happening.
If your mother had shorter labors, chances are yours will be too, and visa versa, this is not always the case, but there does seem to be a genetic component.
How do you know when to push when you are in labor?
Once you are getting to the end of the crazy time that is transition (you know, the bit where your common sense leaves and you say to hubby, “I’m done, can you take over now?”) there is a change in the labor pattern.
Contractions often space out again a bit, and sometimes pause altogether for a little bit, or you might be like me and your body keeps ploughing on without a stop.
There are some signs that it is coming time to push:
- Pain with the contractions, though possibly not as much
- An overwhelming urge to push (though not every woman feels it, especially if she’s had an epidural)
- Tremendous rectal pressure (ie you feel like you gonna poop)
- A burst of renewed energy (a second wind) or fatigue
- Very visible contractions, with your uterus rising noticeably with each
- An increase in bloody show/mucus plug
- A tingling, stretching, burning or stinging sensation at the vagina as your baby’s head emerges
- A slippery wet feeling as your baby emerges
PRO TIP: Push as if you’re having a massive poop.
Relax your body and thighs and push as if you’re having the biggest poop of your life.
And speaking of bowel movements, put all your concentration and focus into the pushing — not into worrying about whether you’ll be emptying your bowels or passing urine while you’re at it (that happens to every delivering mom — and people who attend births for a living understand this, expect this and don’t think twice about it).
You cannot clench your butt and push out a baby at the same time. It will not work!
How painful is natural labor?
The answer of this, depends very much on your perception of pain. People feel pain very differently, nerves are unpredictable things.
There are studies that compare labor pain to all sorts of horrendous injuries. BUT if you embrace the natural, instinctive labor experience, and allow all the natural hormones to do what they are designed to do, your pain will be quite tolerable.
Real pain comes when adrenaline and stress hormones interrupt the oxytocin pathway so it slows the labor down (and can stop it all together! Just in case a tiger arrived while a woman was in labor and she needed to run away, of course).
Stress hormones also interrupt your body’s release of endorphins, which are your body’s natural opiates (strong pain relief and mood elevators).
To allow your body to provide the best natural pain relief that you can you can:
- Labor in a dark, dimly lit room
- Keep the atmosphere calm and quiet
- Play your favorite music
- Labor in water
- Reduce the number of attendants
- BREATHE – deep and slow – a lack of oxygen make your muscles cramp up
- Sing/meditate/self hypnosis/dance/walk in nature
- Allow space – don’t rush the process
- Find a positive mantra and repeat it to yourself
Tips for normal delivery
- Pick a health care provider who’s into natural birth
- Go for a low-intervention pregnancy – avoid the intervention snowball!
- Find a supportive birthing environment – home, birth center or supportive hospital
- Learn various coping techniques – hypnobabies, breathing, relaxing
- Spend early labor at home – more relaxing and less fiddling/intervention/pressure to perform
Normal Delivery vs C-sections: Pros and Cons
Why do some women prefer C-section, and why do doctors recommend C-section if they are so bad? A C-section is not bad, just that natural birthing is better, if you have the option to safely do so.
One of the biggest benefits of a C-section is that it is convenient. You can schedule the surgery as per your convenience. It means that you can thoroughly plan the arrival of your baby. Some doctors also use a c-section to schedule babies around games of golf. Be wary of doctors suggesting c-sections when you have’t even tried labor yet!
2. No labor pain:
This is the most obvious benefit of a C-section birth! For women with a low threshold for pain, C-section can be a blessing. However, many women that get a c-section, get them after labor has already started!
3. No injuries to the vagina:
One of the biggest fears women have while giving birth is vaginal tear. And the fear is not unfounded. In some cases, tears are so severe that they require stitches.
You might escape this in a C-section, but the stitches will be there on your body on the abdomen. You *might* need stitches from a vaginal birth you will definitely get stitches with a c-section.
The risk of infection, adhesions (internal scar tissue that can cause issues with your bowel) and risk of placenta accreta with later pregnancies all are related to c-sections.
4. C-section is painful:
If you thought pain is associated with normal delivery, think again. C-section is painful too. In fact, in a natural birth, pain is gone the moment the labor is over, but in a C-section, the pain continues to be there for weeks.
5. Good for your future deliveries:
If a woman undergoes a normal vaginal delivery in her first pregnancy, she is most likely to have a normal delivery in her future pregnancies too. The same holds good with C-section as well. This does not mean that you cannot have a vaginal birth after a c-section. Except in rare circumstances, a vaginal birth after Cesarean (VBAC) is perfectly safe (8).
7. Risk of death is low:
According to studies, women are 3.6 times more likely to die during a C-section than during a normal delivery (9).
Natural Birth: How to Achieve a Natural Labor + Normal Delivery
There are several things you can do to increase your chances of having a natural labor and normal delivery.
However, if you end up having a c-section, induction or other interventions PLEASE DON’T beat yourself up if you don’t have the natural birth of your dreams. Life happens, we can only choose between the options that are presented to us at the time.