Reviewed by Cathy Daub, BirthWorks International Director
A natural birth, or “pure birth”, is the term used when a mother elects to have a vaginal birth without the use of medications to relieve pain. Instead, the mother focuses on practices such as deep breathing and other relaxation methods to work with the contractions and manage discomfort in her body. Many women feel that the use of medication gets in the way of such a natural event. Natural births are not about being brave or strong, although many women who go through a natural childbirth do feel a sense of empowerment.
There are many advantages, disadvantages, methods, and treatments available to expectant mothers who do not wish to receive medical help for the pain.
Advantages of a Natural Birth
Here’s a quick look at some of the advantages a mother has when doing a natural birth:
- Fewer medical interventions, such as fetal monitoring
- Less chance of episiotomy (incision made in the perineum)
- Natural births are not invasive
- Reduces chances of harmful side effects to baby
- Helps woman feel empowered and strong
- Mother is aware and alert during entire process
- No need for IV’s or monitors
- Less chance doctors will need to assist birth with tools such as forceps or vacuum extraction
- Partners are able to be a part of the process more efficiently, working with mother as a team through the entire event
- Uninterrupted secretion of hormones is ensured
Disadvantages of a Natural Birth
Here’s a quick look at some of the possible disadvantages associated with a natural birth:
- Mother needs to be willing and encouraged to learn to work with labor contractions. This can be accomplished by attending a credible childbirth preparation class.
- There’s no way to know if labor will be delayed or prolonged. Many variables come into play, including the mother’s emotional state, if she feels safe in her birth location, if she feels comfortable with her birth team, etc.
- Prodromal labor (labor before 4 cm dilation and/or progressing regularly in dilation) may last for a couple days but these contractions are generally mild and manageable.
- If complications arise, mother may need medical interventions.
Preparing for a Natural Birth
The first step in preparing for a natural birth is to make up your mind and have a well thought out plan early in pregnancy. This isn’t something you decide while in route to the hospital. Developing a birth plan during the first or second trimester can help you understand what you want to do throughout your pregnancy and leading up to birth.
Things that you may want to consider in your birth plan that will affect a natural birth are:
- Your caregiver
- Type of support you have during labor
- Type of medical interventions that are off limits
- Education about coping techniques
- Birth place
In today’s world it’s possible to have a natural birth while in a hospital setting. Many times, people think they need to have their baby at home or at a birth center to receive drug-free assistance. Birthing centers also are a great location to enjoy a natural birth, as they are designed to assist families who are taking this route. Having a natural birth at a hospital needs to be discussed with your caregiver so you can understand routine interventions that happen, and how you can avoid them. For example, IV’s are medical interventions that are routine for a hospital, but can limit the mother to one position. As a mother who wants to experience a natural birth, you are probably going to want to move around often to cope with the pain.
A midwife can be a great asset to a mother who wants a natural childbirth. Midwives are trained to help you cope with the pain and discomfort of labor without drugs. In most cases, midwives are allowed to stay with you in the hospital while you are in labor. This can be particularly helpful since doctors tend to come and go while waiting for delivery. Labor and delivery nurses are usually assigned to monitor the patient while labor progresses, but nurses come and go as shifts change. Doulas can assist midwives in hospital settings.
Another factor in preparing for a natural birth is attending classes early in pregnancy. The birthing parents need to be educated about what can happen during labor and delivery, and in the different pain management or coping techniques. In classes they will learn that breathing patterns and relaxation methods can increase neocortical stimulation, which is “brake” for labor, and that slow deep breathing is the most helpful for relaxation. Still, the most important bit of information is this: Birth is a normal and natural process. Each woman will labor and birth in her own way and this will be a positive experience for her if she is in an environment that feels safe and with a birthing team who respects and honors her wishes.
Some of the coping techniques you may want to educate yourself about include:
- Importance of slow deep breathing
- Visualization exercises
- Walking or changing positions
- One-on-one labor support
- Affirmations (positive thought patterns) such as “I am strong” and “My body knows how to give birth”
- Taking a bath or shower
- Listening to soothing music
- Immersion into water
Considerations for Natural Birth
Having a baby naturally is one of the healthiest and most natural things you can do for you and your baby during labor and delivery. Every woman is born with the knowledge about how to give birth. Good childbirth preparation helps a woman to have more trust and faith and increased confidence to birth in her own unique way.
It is essential that pregnant women seek care providers who respect their wishes and who believe in normal, natural birth for most women. If a complication occurs during labor and birth, they will then be able to work together with their care provider during the decision-making process to ensure health and safety for the mother and baby.