When I tell people that I want a natural birth, I’m almost always asked why. I’m usually a little hesitant to go into the topic, because I never want anyone to think I’m judging other birth methods. I know a natural birth isn’t for everyone, and there are definitely times when medication and intervention are absolutely necessary, especially if the health of the baby or the mother is at risk. And I don’t hold judgments against anyone opting for a medicated birth from the start. Everyone must do what feels right for them! And no matter what birth method a mother uses, every mother is strong and brave for bringing a child into this world.
For me, I always knew I wanted to try a natural birth. I believe that a woman’s body was made for this, and in most cases we have the natural tools to deliver a baby without any medical intervention. I was able to go natural for my first birth and am planning to do the same for my second (another boy due on June 4!). But I also know that every birth is different and things don’t always go as planned, so I will go into the experience with an open mind and positive attitude.
As far as my reasons, there are both personal reasons and scientific reasons for wanting a natural birth. Here are a few of mine.
Having an epidural or continuous fetal monitoring usually means you’re hooked up and confined to the bed, with no ability to walk or change positions. Natural childbirth allows you to move more freely and find positions that make you more comfortable, giving you a better sense of control. During my first labor, I walked around the room and got on my hands and knees to try to alleviate some of the pain. When it came to the pushing stage, I was laying on my back – but that was my choice.
I was able to have snacks and water during the course of my labor. I brought peanut butter packets to the hospital with me, which gave me an extra boost when I was feeling exhausted. I was also able to drink whatever and whenever I wanted to. If you have an epidural, many hospitals do not allow you to eat and drink during labor.
I’ve always disliked hospitals – the feel, the smell, the look. I wasn’t completely comfortable giving birth at a freestanding birthing center without access to certain medical equipment, so I opted for a hospital-affiliated birthing center, which was just a separate floor at the main hospital. I knew I wanted to get in there, give birth, and then bring my baby home. Narcotics during labor can cause side effects including bleeding, infections and adverse reactions (such as nausea and vomiting), which all lead to a longer recovery time. They can also lead to disorientation and grogginess immediately after the birth. During my first labor, I suffered a very minor tear but was otherwise felt strong and healthy and was able to leave the hospital the next day.
During a vaginal birth, an epidural can slow things down and lengthen the pushing stage by 2-3 hours (yikes!), possibly because moms can’t feel the natural progression of labor, such as the need to push, or because the epidural has numbed the vagina, which usually signals the extra oxytocin release that pushes the baby out. Since epidurals slow progression, the doctor may give Pitocin to push labor along, which has the potential to create intense and frequent contractions that don’t allow mom or the baby to rest, reducing the oxygen supply to the baby. If the baby becomes distressed, many doctors will recommend a C-section.
For me personally, I pushed for about 15 minutes. Don’t get me wrong, the pain was very intense, but I’d prefer just 15 minutes of pain over 3+ hours of pushing any day!
There are a variety of health benefits for both mom and baby when opting for a natural birth. First, vaginally born babies have more diversified microbiomes, less allergies and a lower risk of diabetes, obesity and asthma later in life. Babies also receive protective bacteria from the birth canal that helps build their immune system. Second, narcotic drugs such as an epidural, can cross the placenta to reach the baby’s bloodstream and can affect the baby’s heart rate during labor as well as their transition to breathing and breastfeeding immediately after birth. They also affect babies the same way as they do the mother, by producing grogginess, disorientation and depression of heart rate and breathing. And even if the baby only receives small amounts of an epidural, studies have found that it takes babies much longer to excrete medications, which can negatively affect the baby’s immune system and may compromise fetal heart rate and blood supply at birth. Third, epidurals can cause a fever in the mom during labor, and babies born to moms with a fever are more likely to require resuscitation, have seizures in the newborn period and have low APGAR scores. Fourth, some studies have concluded that babies born to mothers who used an epidural demonstrated more disorganized behavior in the early days and weeks of life, as well as a reduced ability to initiate and continue breastfeeding. More studies need to be done on this, but it’s just one more reason to be cautious when considering an epidural.
Epidural use puts moms at increased risk of severe perineal tear, cesarean birth (a C-Section), need for Pitocin, persistent posterior baby position, instrumental birth and complications from instrumental birth, and pelvic floor problems such as incontinence and sexual dysfunction. My greatest fear around a C-section is the potential for long-term side effects. This is a major abdominal surgery with side effects which may include severe bleeding, infections, bowel problems or a uterine rupture, which is a rare but very serious complication.
So, those are some of the reasons I chose a natural birth for my first pregnancy and hope to do the same for my second. But, I’m not here to tell anyone that it’s going to be easy. Natural birth is painful. Probably the worst pain I’ve ever experienced. But I believe that pain has a purpose – it’s part of nature’s plan and is important to the birth of a baby. It helps a mom find what works for her to bring her baby into the world and the choices she makes will help her labor be as efficient and productive as possible. For me, pain was the worst during the transition stage, which occurs right before pushing. And that was my body’s way of telling me that it was time to push! I listened to my body, trusting that it knew what to do, and pushed through the pain. With the help of my doctor, my doula and my husband, I was able to push the baby out in 15 minutes. So even though it’s painful, I strongly believe that the pain is worth it.
I felt lucky to be supported by a wonderful hospital staff who respected my wishes, a doula who helped me through each stage and offered me ways to deal with the pain, and most especially my husband who supported me through all nine months and held my hand as I screamed at him (trust me, it will happen!). So be sure to surround yourself with people that will support and encourage you, because no mom can do it alone!
And while we can spend nine months preparing for how we want our labor to go, it’s an extremely unpredictable process. At the end of the day the most important thing is that your baby is healthy. So plan and prepare carefully, but don’t be hard on yourself if things don’t exactly go your way. Because no matter what happens, remember that you are strong, brave and amazing for creating another life and bringing a beautiful baby into this world!