Understanding Natural Birth and How to Prepare for It
Natural childbirth is typically described as labor and delivery with little or no medical intervention.
If the natural delivery of your little one is something you’re considering, then find out more about what it is, how to prepare for it, and what some of the potential benefits are.
Keep in mind that natural childbirth may not always be possible. Labor and delivery are unpredictable, and in some cases medical intervention may be necessary to protect the safety of you and your little one.
Still, it’s great to know all of your options in advance so that you can feel comfortable with your choices should natural childbirth be something you’d like to try.
What Is Natural Childbirth?
Natural childbirth is, at its essence, letting nature take its course with a vaginal delivery. Of course, giving birth is a deeply personal experience, and it’s really up to you to decide exactly what natural childbirth means in your situation.
Natural childbirth may include any or all of the following:
Going through labor and delivery without any pain medication, such as an epidural, or with only limited medications
Allowing yourself to lead the process of childbirth in any way you’re comfortable with, and taking all the time your body needs to give birth
Avoiding medical interventions like continuous heart monitoring of your baby or an episiotomy (when the skin between the vagina and anus is cut to quickly widen the opening of the vagina with the aim of preventing the skin from tearing), unless there is a medical emergency.
You might choose natural birth because you want to feel more deeply connected to the physical experience or because it might help you feel more in control.
Keep in mind that you might prefer getting the “best of both worlds” and choose to have some medical intervention only, for example, by allowing the monitoring of your baby while experiencing childbirth in its natural form by foregoing pain relief.
Generally speaking, natural childbirth may be an option for you if yours is a low-risk pregnancy. Talk to your healthcare provider to determine if it is a safe option for you and your baby.
Some of the Benefits of Natural Childbirth
One common component of natural childbirth is avoiding or greatly reducing the use of pain medications during labor.
There are some potential benefits of giving birth without pain medications:
Reducing the chance of having a slower or faster labor than you otherwise would
Preventing a blood pressure drop that’s caused by medication
Preventing changes in your baby’s breathing rate due to medication
Increased possibility for a faster recovery after giving birth
Potentially less pain after childbirth
Increased potential for easier breastfeeding
Providing a sense of empowerment if avoiding pain medications is meaningful to you.
Alternative Pain Relief Methods
There are many alternatives to medication when it comes to pain relief and comfort measures during labor.
These are some popular pain-management methods for natural childbirth:
Breathing techniques such as those you might learn in Lamaze or other prenatal classes
Taking a bath or shower, or even laboring in a warm bath
Walking during labor
Various birthing positions such as squatting, or the use of equipment to support various positions such as a birthing stool or a birthing ball.
Ask your healthcare provider about any options you might have to ease the natural pain of childbirth, and think about which you might prefer. Just keep in mind that the options available at each hospital or birthing center might vary, so it’s a good idea to discuss your options in advance.
Learning about and practicing the methods ahead of time will help you feel more prepared for natural childbirth. You'll probably cover some of these methods in your childbirth classes.
Preparing for Natural Childbirth
Preparing for natural childbirth can increase the chance of everything going well, and it can reduce some of the worries you may otherwise feel.
Consider the following ideas to help you prepare for giving birth naturally:
Exercise. If you aren’t already, one of the first things you can do to prepare for natural childbirth is getting regular exercise. Be sure to obtain your healthcare provider’s approval and guidance first, especially if you haven’t been exercising much before pregnancy.
Create a natural birth plan. Creating a birth plan can help you learn about your options and help you clarify your preferences. It’s also a great way to share your preferences with all those involved in the birth of your baby, such as your birth partner, doula, and healthcare provider. Check out our downloadable birth plan guide as it can help you create yours.
Choose a healthcare provider you’re comfortable with. If you can, choose a healthcare provider who is supportive and understanding of your wishes for natural childbirth.
Find support. If you’d like, find someone who will be your support during labor and delivery. This could be your partner, a midwife, or perhaps a doula. (Doulas are trained professionals who provide labor support and/or postpartum care.) The person you choose should be there to encourage and help you through the entire labor process. Keep in mind that studies show that having continuous support from an experienced, trained companion may lead to shorter labor times, needing little (or no) medication, a reduced chance of needing a cesarean section, and feeling more positive about the experience when it’s finished.
Choose a location for giving birth. Think about where you might like to give birth, and ask your healthcare provider what options you have. Your choices may include:
Home birth. You may prefer the comforting familiarity of your own home for the natural birth of your baby. Talk to your healthcare provider to make sure this is a safe option for you. If you opt for a home birth, it’s still important to have an emergency plan that includes quick access to your healthcare provider and/or the hospital should any complications occur.
Birthing center. This type of facility is home-like and often has amenities like whirlpool tubs, soft lighting, and comfortable areas for your family. Birthing centers might be best if you’ve already given birth or if yours is a low-risk pregnancy. Doctors usually aren’t on site in birthing centers, but doulas and registered nurses are. Plus, in case of unforeseen emergencies, accredited birthing centers have basic medical equipment such as IV lines or oxygen if needed.
Hospital. Giving birth in a hospital might be best for you if there’s a high chance, per your healthcare provider’s assessment, that you’ll need an induced labor, a cesarean section, forceps or vacuum extraction, a blood transfusion, treatment for vaginal tears, or access to pain medications. If you don’t have a low-risk pregnancy, you may still aim for natural childbirth, but doing so in a hospital will ensure you have immediate access to doctors and emergency medical care should it be needed.
Childbirth classes. Childbirth education or prenatal classes can be invaluable in preparing you for natural labor and delivery. Consider signing up for a class that begins in the third trimester, or even a little earlier. In natural childbirth classes, for instance, you’ll typically learn about pain relief options and comfort measures that might work for you. There are several different childbirth philosophies in the US, but the two most common are:
Lamaze. This philosophy revolves around the concept that you should feel empowered and approach giving birth with confidence. Lamaze teaches you how to manage pain through relaxation techniques, breathing methods, distraction, and a supportive coach partner. Lamaze maintains a neutral stance toward the usage of pain medicine and encourages you to make this decision based on what seems right for you.
Bradley. This method is also called Husband-Coached Birth, and it stresses the active participation of your baby’s father as the birth coach. The Bradley method advocates for avoiding medications unless it’s necessary. This method focuses on a healthy lifestyle with exercise, good nutrition, relaxation, and deep-breathing techniques to help manage labor pain.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
When Natural Childbirth Might Not Be Best for You
There are circumstances in which natural childbirth might not be the safest choice for you or your baby. Your healthcare provider can provide guidance on this.
It’s also important to remember that labor and childbirth are unpredictable. Things might change on the day you go into labor, which can mean that natural childbirth may no longer be the best or safest course of action.
For example, if there’s a medical emergency, a cesarean section might become necessary. Or, you may find that, when the time comes, you’d like some form of medicated pain relief.
The key is to be informed about your options, and keep an open mind. Know that your healthcare provider is doing her best to keep you and your baby safe and as comfortable as can be. Giving birth is a spectacular event no matter how you choose to do it.
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