Natural Childbirth: A Beginner's Guide to Understanding Your Options
While natural childbirth isn't exactly mainstream yet (especially childbirth in America), it is something that interests and intrigues many naturally-minded women. When I was pregnant with my oldest, I wanted to learn about natural birth, but was fearful that I wouldn't be able to do it, or that I'd feel like a failure if I 'took the drugs'.
It's not uncommon for women who hope for a natural birth to end up with an epidural and/or c-section during labor and I wondered why so many women who wanted a natural birth were unsuccessful in their attempts.
I have since learned that while there are some aspects of labor and birth that are unpredictable, there are many things a woman can do to maximize her chances for a low intervention, healthy, happy birth experience.
If you are embarking on a similar journey, these are a few considerations that I want to share.
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Women's Bodies Know What To Do
It's hard to believe in something you haven't seen or experienced. When I gave birth to my first son, I really hoped those relaxation techniques would help and all that stuff about endorphins and my body was really true, but I didn't KNOW it until I experienced it for myself. Eight years later, I have had this fact confirmed to me over and over again.
Ordinary women can give birth (and it doesn't have to be complete torture).
Those of us who desire natural childbirth do so because we feel it is safest for us and our babies, and many of us question the necessity of common interventions routinely performed during childbirth in America. Naturally-minded women are not opposed to interventions when needed, but are skeptical that they are needed as frequently as they are performed.
It may interest you to know about The Farm Midwifery Center in Tennessee, which provides care for relatively low risk women. These women are motivated to labor naturally and benefit from physical and emotional preparation throughout their pregnancy (as well as excellent support from midwives at birth).
Most are successful in achieving a natural childbirth; complications are rare. This holistic center reports only a 1.4% cesarean rate among their clients!
The overall cesarean rate for childbirth in America is over 33%, with individual hospitals ranging from 9-72%. Have you ever considered that the choice you make about birth location and provider can powerfully impact the type of birth experience you have? Doing a little bit of homework about your local options can make a huge difference!
Women Can Have a Natural Childbirth at a Hospital
The hospital is the place where most women give birth, but if you are interested in being a natural childbirth mama there are a few challenges you will need to navigate if you too birth in the hospital, especially if you are planning a natural childbirth in America.
Many women are able to have a natural childbirth experience (or one with few interventions), but it is important for you to know that this is not 'the norm'. There are MANY routines in place that make it difficult to successfully experience a 'natural birth' in hospital (not to mention that most women who birth in hospital WANT a medicated experience and it often caters to them).
Please recognize that hospital staff ultimately have the same goal as you: a healthy mom and baby, but also know that they may have a very different view of how best to achieve that.
You will successfully be able to bridge this gap, if you communicate well (and positively) with your providers well in advance, and very clearly define both of your expectations during labor. You may decide you want to bring your own doula to help create a more comfortable birth environment, as well as help you to make sense of hospital routines and procedures. It also doesn't hurt to ask for nurses interested in/experienced with natural birth (so many of them are wonderful!).
No matter who you have with you, your own knowledge and communication skills will be key to a successful hospital birth experience.
Women Can Have a Natural Childbirth at Home
Homebirth can be a great option for naturally-minded women who are experiencing a low-risk pregnancy. It allows you to remain in your own space and have access to comfort measures that might not be available in hospital (and you won't have to worry about those hospital routines).
Check into your local options for midwives and be sure to understand the differences between certified nurse-midwives, certified professional midwives, and lay midwives.
Although it's not a fun part of preparation, you should keep in mind that the possibility of hospital transfer is about 5-10%. The relationship between your care provider and their OB back-up will be important to understand and investigate for your situation. If a transfer occurs, will there be smooth continuity of care? Will the midwife be able to remain with you? The location/distance to the hospital should also be considered. Knowing that you have a back-up plan, you will be able to truly relax and focus on the job of birthing.
If you are lucky, you may also have the opportunity to consider a Birth Center, which tends to be a middle-ground option and often offers some of the advantages of both hospital and homebirth for your natural childbirth.
As you prepare for your birth, it is important to remember that there is no "one size fits all" approach to natural childbirth. The best care is the care that meets your individual needs. Keep an open mind, do your best to educate yourself on your options, and make the right decisions for you and your baby.
Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn (4th Edition): The Complete Guide by Peggy Simkin et al. is a must-read for expectant moms, no matter what type of birth they are planning. It contains excellent chapters devoted to pregnancy, birth, as well as the newborn stage. It references the latest evidence-based maternity practices (including the National Institutes of Health 2010 VBAC review) and emphasizes the birthing woman's rights and responsibilities.
Ina May's Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin is a classic. It alternates inspiring birth stories with practical knowledge for birth and illustrates how possible it is for women to have natural births with proper support.
The Birth Partner - Revised 3rd Edition: A Complete Guide to Childbirth for Dads, Doulas, and All Other Labor Companions by Penny Simkin is a wonderful, informative guide about the process of labor and how those who support women in birth can be most helpful. It contains several, charts, graphs, and illustrations, so it serves well as a reference in addition to a standard text.
Active Birth : The New Approach to Giving Birth Naturally, Revised Edition (Non Series) by Janet Balaskas explains the advantages of women choosing to remain upright and move according to what their body suggests during labor.
The Thinking Woman's Guide to a Better Birth by Henci Goer discusses research related to childbirth and reveals the wide range of maternity care practices that often do not align with the best evidence.
Cindy Crosby is a childbirth educator, doula, and blogger at www.birth-smart.com. She specializes in meeting women where they are, without judgement, and supporting them as they create their own individualized birth experience.