Why Natural Birth?

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“If you don’t know your options, you don’t have any.” – Unknown

“If a woman doesn’t look like a goddess during labor, then someone isn’t treating her right.” – Ina May Gaskin

“Why natural childbirth? The more important question might be ‘Why not?'” – Judith A. Lothian, RN, PhD, LCCE, FACCE

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As a doula…

I don’t believe there’s one ‘best’ way for every person to birth. In fact, the great beauty of birth is in the clever, surprising way each writes its own story. Forget the idea of perfection — birth throws that out the window and gifts us a big lesson in exchange for our trust and patience. I believe the best birth is that which plants the fondest possible memory within a birthing person, gives the warmest possible welcome for baby, and allows the best possible health outcomes for both. You are your own marker, your own standard for comparison, your own measure for success and accomplishment.

As a childbirth educator…

I teach about the variations of both natural and medicated birth. Many expecting parents who find themselves attracted to Birth Boot Camp classes intend to labor and birth naturally. Alas, this page is for those who are interested in natural birth, who plan to birth naturally, or who simply wish to understand why many people choose it.

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When you hear “Natural Labor” or “Natural Birth,” it usually refers to one of the following:

(1). A low-tech labor, birth, and possibly even third stage (delivery of placenta) that proceeds without drugs or medical intervention.

(2). A labor ending in a vaginal birth; may involve drugs or interventions.

(3). A painless labor, with or without drugs.

(4). A positive birth experience.

You may have also heard about “Responsible Birth” or “Prepared Birth.” I won’t get into those terms here but you may have seen them used interchangeably with “Natural” definitions.

For sake of clarity in my writing and to avoid confusion, I will generally refer to (1) as “natural birth” and (2) [with drugs and/or high intervention] as “medicalized vaginal birth.” Beyond the scope of this writing (in reality), I believe in deferring to the birthing person’s subjective description of their own birth. So what does a natural birth mean to you? There’s your answer, for all purposes that matter in 3D.

For the record, my goal for you is (4): what every single birthing person deserves!

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When it’s time to plan our own birth we impose a lifetime of ideas upon it, for better or for worse.

  • You may have grown up with images and ideas of natural childbirth as merciless pain, which a pregnant person should gratefully mute with epidural or other drugs.
  • You may have learned somewhere along the way that childbirth is to be feared, or understood birth without the normally intended sensations to be ‘easier.’
  • You may have heard childbirth and related body functions are gross, embarrassing, or inappropriate.
  • You may have imprinted an idea of natural childbirth as being ‘ancient,’ not for modern people, undignified.
  • You may be surprised to learn the intense impressions of birth can also include positive, delightful feelings.
  • You may have learned that a naturally birthing person is stronger or more worthy, or must have an unattainable kind of willpower and control.
  • You may have encountered shaming attitudes or martyr accusations directed at those who decline numbing drugs.

Illuminating a number of these possibly socially biased, non-evidence based preconceptions can help you decide what’s really best for you.

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After decades of the birthscape routinely managed by a medical model, current research corroborates that natural birth under the physiological care model is noted for:

  • active participation of the laborer
  • loving assistance from supporters
  • freedom to respond to contractions in a variety of ways
  • a reasonable expectation of occasional complications & interventions

Following is an excerpt [Judith A. Lothian, RN, PhD, LCCE, FACCE in J Perinat Educ. 2000 Fall; 9(4): 44–46] that describes nature’s intentional design. Though we view this from a biological perspective, we should understand childbirth remains a mysterious and highly adaptable event on many levels. I share this not to impose a blueprint for a ‘perfect birth’ but rather the idea of a ‘normal birth’ in physiological and anatomical terms. (Please note gendered language is used).

“In the last month of pregnancy, the cervix softens and ripens like a piece of fruit. Contractions of the uterus become noticeable, and the baby settles into the pelvis. The contractions become stronger, the cervix stretches and opens, and the baby moves lower and rotates, eventually moving down the birth canal. With each contraction, pain sends a signal to the brain and oxytocin is released. With the release of oxytocin, the contractions increase in intensity. As the pain of contractions increases, more oxytocin is released and the contractions become harder.

The pain of labor is what most women worry about. It is important to understand that the pain of the contractions in labor is valuable. It is an important way in which nature actually helps women find their own ways of facilitating birth. In a very real sense, the pain of each contraction becomes a guide for the laboring woman. The positions and activities she chooses in response to what she feels actually help labor progress by increasing the strength and efficiency of the contractions and encouraging the baby to settle in and move down the birth canal. When the pain is entirely removed, the feedback system is disrupted and labor is likely to slow down and become less efficient. As labor progresses and pain increases, endorphins (much more potent than morphine) are released in increasing amounts. The result is a decrease in pain perception, quite naturally. Nature’s narcotic! The rising level of endorphins also contributes to a shift from a thinking, rational mind-set to a more instinctive one. Endorphins create a dream-like state, which actually helps women manage the tasks of birthing. Inner experiences become more important than the external environment. As labor progresses and the pain of labor increases, women “go into themselves,” become much less aware and, at the same time, much more focused on the work of labor, and are able to tap into an inner wisdom.

A woman surrounded by family, friends, and health care providers who remind her of the power of labor and encourage her quietly and patiently is a woman who is not afraid. Her support team is totally present and comforts her as she does the hard work of labor. She eats and drinks and, even if labor lasts a long time, she has the energy she needs to persevere. She rests between contractions. No one looks at the clock. Everyone trusts the process of birth and believes that she has the strength and the wisdom to give birth.

In a very real sense, the pain of each contraction becomes a guide for the laboring woman.

The woman moves in response to what she feels. Whether she gives birth in a hospital, birthing center, or at home, she is able to use a wide variety of comfort measures; for example, moving freely, listening to music, taking a shower or bath, and having her feet and hands massaged. She is able to create an environment that is just what she needs as she does the hard work of labor and birth. She pushes her baby down the birth canal, responding now to the pressure of contractions and the baby as he rotates through the pelvis and moves down the birth canal. She moves, changes position, and grunts, sometimes holding her breath—all in response to what she is feeling. In this way, she not only protects the muscles of the birth canal and perineum but also protects her baby as he is born. A great surge of adrenaline insures that the mother is alert, even if her labor has been long. She is totally focused on her baby, ready and eager to embrace him. Baby is eager and alert, too. The stimulation of his journey has primed him for the transition to life outside the womb.

With her baby in her arms, the mother is engrossed, excited, at peace, proud, and astounded at the miracle she has produced. No one tells her what to do. They know that she knows what to do—not because she and her baby have read the books or attended Lamaze class, but because their journey has physically and emotionally prepared them both for this moment. The weight of her baby on her belly helps her uterus contract and expel the placenta. Baby stays warm in his mother’s arms. Baby knows just what to do to survive in the world he has entered. He is awake and looks around. Within seconds or minutes, he has his hands in his mouth and is smacking his lips. Unpressured, he slowly but methodically crawls to his mother’s breast and self-attaches. As he nurses, his mother’s uterus contracts, insuring that bleeding will not be excessive. The two greet each other unhurried, confident, and unpressured. Together, over the next hours and days, they will get to know each other and fall in love.”

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Safer

  • No drugs or toxins that baby must flush from the body
  • No side effects from drugs/medications
  • No additional medications needed to counteract these side effects
  • Decreased risk of fetal distress

Natural hormones

  • Endorphins, prolactin, oxytocin, cortisol & catecholamines, relaxin, prostaglandins, progesterone, estrogen…
  • If your provider hasn’t explained the purposes of these birth hormones to you, it’s time to get acquainted!
  • Even if vaginal birth isn’t possible, laboring for as long as possible before surgical birth can give baby the benefit of hormonal preparation & thus fewer breathing problems

At birth, a healthy baby is:

  • Alert & easily oriented
  • Impressionable & sensitivities heightened
  • Susceptible to environmental stimuli
  • Hardwired for exactly this

Better start to breastfeeding

  • Rooting instincts aren’t depressed by secondhand medication
  • Immediate and sustained skin-to-skin contact for early bonding
  • The ‘Birth Crawl’ is more feasible (natural discovery of mother’s breasts)
  • Baby is less groggy so latching attempts are stronger

Quicker recovery

  • No period of detox from drugs received via placenta
  • Less risk of separation from mother, thus greater chance to thrive
  • No injuries sustained by forceps, internal fetal monitor, etc.
  • No residual fetal distress caused by labor induction/augmentation drugs
  • Shorter hospital stay; get home sooner

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Safer

  • No “epidural hangover” / “epidural headache”
  • No itchiness from epidural
  • No impaired mobility
  • Blood pressure not impacted by medications
  • Avoid cascade of interventions
  • Decreased risk of cesarean birth

Natural hormones

  • Endorphins, prolactin, oxytocin, cortisol & catecholamines, relaxin, prostaglandins, progesterone, estrogen…
  • If your provider hasn’t explained the purposes of these birth hormones to you, it’s time to get acquainted!
  • Feelings and instincts are conspicuous, making it easier to discern worrisome pain from productive intensity

At birth, you are:

  • Alert
  • More easily oriented
  • On a glorious “birth high”

Freedom during labor

  • Can move where and how you please
  • Can eat and drink as needed
  • Opportunity for water birth

Rite of passage

  • Sense of accomplishment
  • Many women enjoy giving birth instead of “suffering through it”
  • Many women appreciate a deepened connection to their sexuality
  • Prepares you for the challenge of motherhood in postpartum

Less expensive

  • Cesarean, average cost: $50,000
  • Vaginal birth in hospital, average cost: $10,000
  • Home birth, average cost: $2,000 – $5,000
  • Birth center, average cost: $3,000 – $5,000
  • Epidural, average cost: $2,132
  • Cesarean surgery may prohibit you from resuming work; lost wages

More agency in decisions

  • Make your own choices without coercion
  • No need to be coached through pushing

Easier start to breastfeeding

  • No IV fluids or drugs to interfere with milk production and latch
  • Alert baby can better focus on transferring milk; mother is more aware and receptive
  • Baby less likely to be separated from mother for observation
  • Important sensations like touch, smell, sight aren’t interrupted
  • Natural oxytocin promotes bonding and milk ejection reflex

Quicker recovery

  • No episiotomy or cesarean wound to heal
  • No period of detox from drugs received
  • No need for strong pain-killing narcotics in postpartum
  • No surgical healing protocols in postpartum
  • Less physical pain in postpartum
  • Shorter hospital stay; get home sooner
  • Experiencing the “natural birth high” elevates mood
  • Decreased risk of postpartum mood disorders

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Do you like the idea of a natural birth? To manifest your wishes, start planning for one! Simply expecting one, vaguely hoping for one, or casually mentioning this desire to your provider without further discussion — these aren’t effective ways to maximize your chance of a natural birth. So, what to do?

Make A Plan!

Eat well: Stay healthy with whole-foods based nutrition and mindful nourishment. Plant-based families, click here for resources.

Move well: Prioritize your prenatal exercise routine. (Birth Boot Camp students, you can look forward to the awesome fitness program included in your classes!)

Find like-minded care: Find a health provider who is supportive of and experienced with natural birth.

Build your birth team: Hire a doula as early into pregnancy as you’d like.

Sign up for a quality natural childbirth education: A well-rounded comprehensive course is encouraged for first-time natural birthers. Check out the various natural birth classes I offer here. There are also many other great programs run by excellent instructors.

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